8 / August 2016 | 2 Comments

On 8 June, armed insurgents kidnapped several passengers on the Kunduz-Takhar highway. Although there are conflicting claims on how many people were kidnapped, the spokesperson for governor of Kunduz, Mahmood Danish, said that 17 people were abducted, while seven managed to flee the scene.

This is, however, not the first instance of kidnapping in recent times. Earlier, on 1 June the Taliban kidnapped around 100 passengers on the same highway, later, killing 17 and releasing the rest. The insurgents claimed that those killed were members of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF).

While rejecting insurgents’ claims of targeting security personnel traveling among civilians, the government has said that the recent kidnappings in the north are a part of the Taliban’s new strategy. Not only did the Taliban continue their kidnappings in Kunduz, but also abducted 17 passengers in Balkhab distrct of Sare Pul province, who were later freed. They also killed another 12 people in Ghazni.


A scene of Afghan civilians abducted by the Taliban in Kunduz

Ghzani police chief, Aminullah Amarkhel announced that the Taliban had kidnapped these people across various locations while conceding that some of them might have been members of Afghan security establishment.

A tactical shift

The Afghan president’s office has said that the new wave of kidnapping by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan is part of a new strategy to try and flare up ethnocentric sentiments in the country. In a recent interview with BBCpersian, Shah Husain Mortazavi the deputy spokesman for the president said that the kidnappings were a part of the Taliban’s efforts to continue targeting the Hazaras.

“Kidnapping, based on ethnic identities, is one of the tactics the Taliban are using. You are aware that last year they kidnapped a number of Hazaras on Zabul-Kandahar highway and tried to blow an ethnic conflict in Afghanistan. They are again doing the same.” Said Mortazavi In 2015, the targeting of Hazaras in southern Afghanistan resulted in major demonstrations and protests. In fact, considering the fact that the Islamic State (IS) had claimed responsibility for the  hostage taking of the Hazaras in Zabul last year, the Taliban are most probably following in their footsteps.


Targeting the judicial system

Apart from targeting civilian passengers in northern Afghanistan, the insurgents have focused on conducting brutal suicide operations on the Afghan judicial system across various vulnerable areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Following the Afghan government’s announcement of hanging senior members of Taliban in Kabul on 25 May this year, the group carried out a bloody suicide attack, targeting a minibus carrying Wardak court employees in Kabul during the morning rush hour, killing 11 people. Soon after this, the second attack took place in Ghazni city where, on 1 June, the insurgents attacked the provincial courthouse killing  four and injuring one.

The following week , on 5 June , Taliban gunmen stormed a court complex in Puli Alam city, south of Kabul, killing at least seven and wounding another 23 prosecutors. This was their third so-called “revenge” attack to avenge last month’s execution of Taliban-linked prisoners.


Taliban’s attack on Afghan provincial court in Ghazni

While the government has announced a comprehensive plan to protect the Afghan judicial system, the recent serial and continuous bloody attacks on provincial courthouses illustrate the insurgents’ flexibility in changing their tactics on a short notice and their capacity to swiftly maneuver their assets across different parts of the country.

A lethal terror group

Afghanistan faced the maximum number of terrorist attacks in 2015 as per a US State department annual global terrorism report . With 1,093 terror strikes in 2015, the Taliban, in fact, surpassed even the IS, which carried out 931 attacks. This has also prompted the Afghan National Unity government to call the group “terrorists”, “vampires”, “insurgents” and “evil,” for the first time in 14 years.

A week after the Kabul terrorist attack, President Ashraf Ghani, in his 25 April speech in the parliament, called the Taliban terrorists and the enemies of Afghanistan.


Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has changed his strategy towards the insurgency and reconciliation

This tough stance and the execution of senior Taliban members clearly signal the changing attitude of the government towards dealing with insurgents in Afghanistan.

U.S. back in War

The U.S. too seems to be reinforcing its strength to fight the Taliban.

On 10 June, officials in the U.S. security and defense establishment said that after months of debate, the White House had approved plans to further expand the military’s authority to conduct airstrikes against the Taliban when necessary and to better support and assist the Afghan forces when needed in critical operations, using the U.S. troops already in the country.

AP reported that there is a broad desire across the Obama administration to give the military greater ability to help the Afghans fight and win the war.

The 9,800 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, however, would still not be involved in direct combat.


The US forces in Afghanistan are allowed to wage attacks on the insurgents and terrorists

While direct combat will not be on the table, the expansion of U.S. commanders’ authority comes at a time when Afghanistan needs more support as it faces a growing insurgency and strategic threats that Kabul alone might not be able to suppress. That is why the U.S.  Needs to send a strong message that it is not abandoning Afghanistan, and this should be welcomed by the Afghan authorities.

Will the calculus of war change?

With increased U.S. engagement back in the Afghan war and the understanding that insurgents can once again ruin what has been achieved in the last fifteen years, there is hope that the calculus of war will change in 2016. Considering the fact that the government has been fighting on various fronts, putting more resources in re-building the country’s economy amid raising domestic discontent, even as it faces an expanding insurgency that now reaches 33 out of 34 provinces of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s ability to change their tactics on the battlefield and continuity of their coordinated attacks while experiencing fragmentation in their leadership, only mean that the regime needs to prepare better and assess in advance to counter them.

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