CENTCOM commander wrongly suggests ‘splinter’ Taliban group carrying out large number of attacks in Afghanistan

The head of U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, suggested that the spate of Taliban attacks throughout Afghanistan may be caused by a Taliban “splinter.” McKenzie’s suggestion is contradicted by the Taliban itself, which claims dozens of daily attacks on its official website.

During his testimony at the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 13, McKenzie said that the Pentagon and CENTCOM were grappling over the question of whether the Taliban’s attacks against Afghan security forces is a “core strategy” of the group or are being executed by a rogue “splinter” faction of the Taliban.

So the question is, do the Taliban attacks represent a core strategy of the group, they’re going to continue the attacks?  Or is it a splinter of the group and are they not monolithic?  We’re still assessing that.  If it’s directed from the top, then obviously that’s not a good thing.  Because it shows that they’re not — they not acting in good faith.

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, March 13, Senate Armed Service Committee Testimony

McKenzie’s puzzlement over the Taliban’s operations is curious, as the Taliban itself claims attacks against Afghan forces in its name daily. The Taliban publishes accounts of the bulk of its military operations at Voice of Jihad, its official website, in five different languages, including English. These reports are featured in its “News” section.

Between March 3 – when the Taliban resumed military operations after a 10-day long “reduction in violence” for the signing of the U.S. – Taliban withdrawal deal – and March 15, the Taliban claimed credit for 247 attacks – for an average of 19 a day.

The number of daily attacks is actually much higher because the Taliban does not report on every military operation. (The Taliban’s Voice of Jihad site is currently down, so updated figures cannot be readily obtained.)

So far, the attacks have spanned 28 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces – a key indicator that the operations are not the result of a rogue Taliban commander, but are part of the Taliban’s strategy to put pressure on the Afghan security forces across the country.

McKenzie’s “splinter” idea echoed that of his boss, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who suggested that the Taliban’s resumption of full scale military operations against Afghan security forces was being carried out by Taliban “hard-liners” who were operating outside of the chain of command.

McKenzie, Esper and a host of U.S. officials and generals have somehow been searching for answers to a question that the Taliban has already answered. Immediately after signing a withdrawal deal with the U.S., the Taliban’s official spokesman made clear that the agreement did not stop it from attacking Afghan forces. There is nothing in the text of the agreement that calls for the Taliban to continue the “reduction in violence.”

The Taliban has since simply lived up to the letter of the agreement.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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