With most international forces concluding their military missions in Afghanistan, the brisk advances of the Taliban have raised serious questions over the sustainability of the nascent Afghan security forces.
Within weeks folks President Joe Biden’s announcement of an exit strategy in May, the Taliban insurgents marched on to capture quite 150 districts within the face of estimated 350,000-strong Afghan government forces.
Edge over Taliban in air
“The air force is clearly a foothold the Afghan government has over the insurgents and their regional backers,” former head of the Afghan Air Force Gen. Atiqullah Amarkhail told Anadolu Agency.
Much more was needed, however, in terms of coaching, equipping, and leading the Afghan Air Force to rework it into a typical force, he said.
Afghan officials are charging neighboring Pakistan and Iran with supporting the Taliban rebels, which Tehran and Islamabad have denied.
The Taliban have recently claimed to possess a downed variety of military choppers, with analysts pointing to their having access to Iranian anti-missile technology.
As of Dec. 31, 2020, consistent with the Special military officer for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the US had appropriated roughly $88.3 billion to create, equip, train, and sustain the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. That sum represents 62% of the roughly $143.3 billion appropriated for all Afghanistan reconstruction since 2002.
In a 2021 High-Risk List which outlines specific areas of the US government’s reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, SIGAR head John F. Sopko categorically pointed to “capability gaps” and therefore the Taliban’s violent attacks in clear defiance of the peace affect the US because the reasons behind the high casualty rates among forces and civilians.
For its decisive effect on the battlefronts, even off-duty Afghanistan Air Force pilots are increasingly faced with targeted assassination bids by the Taliban.
On Sunday, the Taliban’s main war front spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed the group had killed a pilot, Aziz Ullah, during a “tactical” assault within the Bani Hisar area just outside Kabul.
He wasn’t the primary among his peers to fall prey to attacks in recent days.
For the Afghanistan Air Force, the Pentagon has since 2010 appropriated over $8.5 billion, consistent with SIGAR.
Questions regarding aircraft maintenance and training of maintainers remain elusive. Fewer US and coalition forces will increase reliance on contractors, creating additional operational and oversight risks and challenges. Further, the potential withdrawal of contractors from Afghanistan may leave the Afghanistan Air Force and Special Mission Wing without vital support if the US Department of Defense doesn’t identify alternatives.
Afghanistan was set to receive a minimum of seven more Black Hawk helicopters from the US this month to feature strength to its aviation.
Commandoes, militias, and ‘ghosts’
In the face of a hardened Grassroot Taliban insurgency, analysts believe another ray of hope for the Afghan government has been its elite forces of the military, which are more commonly referred to as commando forces.
The number of those elite units is claimed to be relatively small but quite effective in terms of reach and capabilities. With an estimated strength of around 25,000, the Afghan National Army Commando Corps has been instrumental in pushing back the Taliban from Ghazni, Kunduz, Badakhshan, and other provinces.
Army veteran Brig. Ali Khail told Anadolu Agency that even the commandoes if overstretched, cannot prove sustainable within the wake of insurgents’ advances in small towns and villages amid alleged “conspires and deals” between local strongmen and therefore the insurgents.
“This (Afghan National Army Commando Corps) may be a conventional force not necessarily trained to always attend villages to suppress and push the rebels out, who return back thanks to weakness and loopholes in other parts of the safety apparatus,” said Ali.
He added that the Taliban’s advances might prove temporary as they lack the grassroots support that they had within the 1990s when people saw them as saviors during the war.
The Afghan government has meanwhile authorized the revival of local police units, which have a tainted past.
Deputy Interior Minister Naqibullah Fayeq said during a statement last week that the move was approved by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani during a bid to counter the insurgents on their assault spree.
“The local police are not any different from the national police. they’re going to be trained, are going to be subject to law, are going to be paid and can work 24 hours each day,” he said, adding the sole difference is that the local police will serve within the community with the support of the locals.
It is worth noting that the thought of the Afghan local police was first conceived by former US General David Petraeus back in 2010 and was seen as very effective against the Taliban though charged with rights abuses.
SIGAR in its report also pointed to the existence of “ghost soldiers” who only exist on paper for the aim of monetary corruption. It noted that there are some 180,869 Afghan National Army and 91,596 Afghan National Police personnel enrolled and accounted for, which clearly fell in need of the general estimated strength of 352,000.
The Afghan government has rejected these assertions, however.