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.
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.