The Afghan Taliban announced the opening of their 2018 spring offensive today, named the “Al Khandaq Jihadi operations” after the battle in Medina in 627 AD in which the Prophet Muhammad’s forces were significantly undermanned and besieged by Arab and Jewish forces yet still prevailed. US forces in Afghanistan are the primary target of operations, while Afghan government and security forces would be secondary, according to the Taliban statement.
The previous two spring offensives were named after the Taliban’s first two emirs: Mullah Omar, the group’s founder and first leader, and his successor, Mullah Mansour. Mullah Omar died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013, while Mullah Mansour was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2016.
“The planning and strategy of the Al Khandaq Jihadi operations are organized by the expert and proficient skilled cadre of the Military Commission of the Islamic Emirate which is based on guerilla [sic], offensive, infiltrated and various other new and intricate tactics against the new war strategy of the enemy,” the Taliban said in the statement.
Sirajuddin Haqqani leads the Taliban’s Military Commission, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub – Mullah Omar’s son – served as a senior leader before being appointed along with Sirajuddin as one of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada’s top two deputies. Sirajuddin is considered to be a skilled tactician and strategist, and has guided the Taliban to claim control or actively contest at least 58 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, its greatest measure of control or influence since the war began in 2001, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.
Al Khandaq Jihadi operations are “mainly focusing on crushing, killing and capturing American invaders and their supporters.”
“Its primary target will be the American invaders and their intelligence agents,” the Taliban statement continued. “Their internal supporters will be dealt with as a secondary target while the present and future mischievous plots of the mischief-mongers will be nipped in the bud.”
The Taliban claimed that it would take care to prevent civilian casualties and warned Afghans to stay “at sufficient distance from all enemy bases and convoys so that they are not unnecessarily harmed during these operations.”
While the Taliban’s yearly announcement of its spring offensive is often viewed as a propaganda exercise, Taliban military and political operations often closely adhere to the announced goals. In 2017, the Taliban said that Operation Mansouri would focus on foreign forces as well as Afghan security forces. Additionally, it claimed that it would focus on governance in “areas that have been cleansed from the enemy.” During the 2017 offensive, the Taliban steadily increased its measure of control, and emphasized its governance of areas under control.
In 2016, the Taliban promised that Operation Omari would “employ large scale attacks on enemy positions across the country” and launch “martyrdom-seeking and tactical attacks against enemy strongholds.” The Taliban put pressure on six provincial capitals, overran multiple districts, and launched successful assaults on major military bases during the 2016 year’s offensive.
The Taliban’s 2018 offensive may shape up to be the most important in the war. The Trump administration has deployed several thousand additional troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to halt the Taliban’s recent gains. However, US and NATO officials believe that military pressure can force the Taliban to the negotiating table. This strategy failed under the Obama administration, which had more than 120,000 American soldiers in country. Currently there are more than 15,000 US soldiers on the ground.