Northern offensives conducted by Afghan Army achieve impermanent gains

The Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps, accompanied by highly trained Afghan Commandos, conducted offensive operations in the northern province of Kunduz last week. Sources told FDD’s Long War Journal the offensive killed between 60 to 80 Taliban fighters, but with other reports suggesting the Taliban quickly retook the targeted territory, it appeared the offensive is in line with past short-term strategies that failed to fully deny the Taliban strategic footholds in the region.

According to 209th Corps commander Sayed Qurban Musavi, the clearing operations – which took place in a number of villages north of the historically contested Kunduz City – lasted approximately a week. Local accounts suggested airstrikes were conducted in support of the offensive, although it’s unclear whether they were carried out by Afghan or Coalition air assets. Taliban-friendly social media accounts labeled the airstrikes as American in origin, but LWJ could not substantiate their claims.

NATO’s Resolute Support issued a press release following the conclusion of the offensive touting the success of the operations. The press release also included details about a similar Dec. 2017 offensive by the same units in the Imam Sahib district about 70 kilometers north of Kunduz City, near the border with Tajikistan. Resolute Support claimed that over 100 Taliban fighters were killed in last month’s offensive, while local reports estimated the number of fighters killed around 75.

Hollow Victories

Even when operations succeed in removing Taliban fighters from the battlefield, offensives of this nature generally fail to achieve lasting security improvement. Almost immediately after the ANSF’s supposed victory in Kunduz, local accounts from residents suggested the Taliban re-entered the area to re-capture lost territory. The Taliban, through its media arm, claimed that counter-offensives were mounted to thwart coalition progress.

This points to a larger issue with offensives of this kind. Typically, once these operations conclude, ANA and Commando security forces do not remain to hold and protect the cleared territory from potential Taliban counter-offensives. Instead, responsibility falls to disorganized local commanders and comparatively under-trained forces to act as a holding force. These forces are far less capable of building up defense infrastructure and strategies to fend off the Taliban’s resilient and relentless insurgency. As seen elsewhere in the country, such as Farah City, local forces simply are incapable of long term security stability without the support of federal firepower.

Earlier this month Resolute Support stated that Afghan and Coalition forces will “be on the offensive in 2018, building on the successes of 2017.” However, with numerous high-profile attacks from the Taliban and the Islamic State rocking the country already this month, the Afghan military and NATO’s Resolute Support are certainly feeling pressure to demonstrate progress to the people of Afghanistan. Up until last week’s press release, offensives of this kind have not regularly been vouched-for by Resolute Support, pointing to a concerted PR effort to bolster support for a government increasingly in the crosshairs.

Phil Hegseth is a social and digital media specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal.

6 Comments

  • chris akerley says:

    you would think with the standing threat the Taliban has due to the clan that runs it that macs would back off. one would think. and I wonder, if the clan has the certain branch under control, that I’m not privy to that.

  • Moose says:

    I doubt these strikes are meant to achieve lasting security. The ANA is probably using strikeforces to discombobulate the Taliban ahead of their spring offensive. I bet Resolute Support has intelligence that the Taliban is preparing to take Kunduz City again. These strikes may be an attempt to thwart that effort.

  • Chucklehead says:

    Sayed Qurban Mousavi is commander of Pamir 20th Division, not the 209th Corps Commander. That is BG Amanullah Mobin.

  • KW says:

    As the tactics used the the successful surge/awakening in Iraq showed, it is better not to clear an area until you have the ability to hold it. If someone is seen supporting you, as soon as the enemy comes back they will be killed. Once point of the spear troops clear the area some Federal troops that can call in air support have to remain to protect newly forming police and militia units.

    • irebukeu says:

      I agree with everything you said except “Successful surge/awakening in Iraq showed”That sounds like a political spin off FOX news. Did you see the result of the surge?
      You link the two? surge and awakening. That is OK if you are looking through a tube at the problem and only at that time. The surge provided the security needed so that the government could come to agreements and work out the issues. The issues were never worked out. The agreements were never quite made. al-Malaki put on the big “Sunni stomp’n boots” and played Jane Fonda records. The surge was a total waste. Tactical success but laid on top of a strategic failure= faliure
      The premature awakening which should be known as the Sunni “sleepwalk” succeeded in arming people the government didn’t want armed, giving them hope that they could fight to secure their land without the government, not from Al qaeada or Islamism but from Shia boots and rape gangs. Securing it for Sunni based Islamism.
      It was al-Malaki was who was being supported in the surge. That worked out well yeah?
      He was a mini Sadamm and the Sunnis knew it. Only when IS was rumored to be about to strangle Baghdad and Obama refused to support al-malaki (the man was smart enough to see 2 moves ahead and saw the problems with al Malaki) was he removed by Iraqis themselves.
      The surge cant be seen in some micro scoped context not considering the other factors that were ignored or lied about at the time which made the entire surge MOOT!! MOOT
      Remember the American and British raid on the Iraqi government to rescue Sunnis who were being tortured (with drills, saws and torches) in the basement of the Iraqi Interior building.? We protected that government and paid the salary of the people with the drills. Yeah,Good times!

      The surge was a minor correction to a flawed and failed intervention that killed or injured over 1/4 million American soldiers and American civilians for zero gain.
      The real Sunni awakening was yet to come and came with the support of ISIS.

      It IMO, is better for Americans not to clear any land in Afghanistan.
      Defend an airbase, they will mortar the airbase. Put a security ring around the base and they will mortar the security ring. Put FOBs out to protect the security ring and they will rocket the FOB. If you could clear Afghanistan 100% they would rocket and mortar the border posts from Pakistan and still slip through.
      The opportunity cost to America in securing Afghanistan is enormous.
      The Afghan army will NEVER be able to hold Afghanistan. They had better figure out what is worth holding, try, and see what happens.

  • Rob says:

    The ANCOP seem to be the only real professional policing force that can act as a “hold” force. They’re relatively disciplined, well-led professional police officers. A good portion of districts don’t even rely on actual Interior Ministry forces, they just use whatever warlord or local commander’s militia(s) are nearby at the time. It happens constantly: The Afghan government will pay militia leader X and Y, to protect Z. Weeks/months later when those disorganized militias can’t do anything because they don’t cooperate with each-other, (prey on the people as well) and have no real training or resources, they either run or join the Taliban. There’s also been a marked drop in security when a Civil Order Police unit is pulled from an area, and replaced with a normal ANP one. You also have warlords/commanders who co-opt police/military forces to act as their personal militias or bodyguards.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis