Taliban Conflict Continues
Jun. 2, 2016
Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed in a US drone strike, but the path to peace in Afghanistan remains unclear.
The United States called his death "an important milestone."
"This action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan," US Secretary of State John Kerry said.
The Taliban quickly promoted Haibatullah Akhundzada to the top position.
US President Barack Obama has indicated he believes the new leader will carry on with the aggressive approach of his predecessor.
NHK World anchor Sho Beppu spoke with Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban, who was visiting Japan.
Beppu: So my first question is related to the latest developments of the situation. Well Mullah Mansour was killed. But what kind of impact do you think this could have on the overall situation?
Rashid: Well, you know, the Taliban were already becoming deeply fragmented. There was already a lot of opposition to Mullah Mansour so some Taliban will be welcoming his killing, other Taliban will be very upset. This doesn’t mean that the Taliban are weaker but that for the Taliban now to come to a political decision, such as, for example, having peace talks, is going to be much more difficult.
Beppu: So are you saying that the killing of Mansour was basically an error?
Rashid: No, I think Mansour was very much against talking to Kabul. He had intensified the war effort. He had increased Taliban attacks, and he was taking help from more neighboring countries. So I think he was quite dangerous in that sense. But we have to see, will the new leader make any difference?
Beppu: This new leader, Mr. Akhundzada, is not yet well known. What kind of person is he?
Rashid: Well, the first thing to understand is that he’s not a warrior. He’s never commanded Taliban troops in battle. He’s not a politician. He is a real Mullah in the sense of he has run a religious school, a madrasa. He’s been chief justice of the Taliban legal system, and of course many of the very difficult and tough fatwas against women have been given by this man. So socially he’s very conservative and very reactionary. What we don’t know is that politically, how will he act now? But for the time being you can say that certainly he will continue fighting. Because only through fighting can he try and reunite the Taliban and bring them together to oppose the Kabul government.
Training Intensifies Against Taliban
The US-led international coalition is boosting training of Afghan forces against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The southern Afghan city of Kandahar was the Taliban stronghold. It now plays a key role in military operations and distribution of goods for the Afghan government.
Over the past year, Taliban militants have been intensifying their offensive in southern Afghanistan, including Kandahar and neighboring Helmand Province. Afghan troops have been driven out of some areas.
The atmosphere in Kandahar is tense, as security has been tightened to prevent Taliban insurgents from entering the city.
Our crew obtained special permission to report from an Afghan special-forces base near the city. Orders are issued from the base to military units across southern Afghanistan.
Troops spend many hours training every day. The elite special forces are taking on an increasingly important role in missions to destroy Taliban targets.
"We're getting weapons and training from US troops," says a trainer of the Afghan commandos.
US military officers take part in operational meetings at the base.
The US military is focusing on southern Afghanistan because a massive training camp for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters was spotted last autumn. The lack of intelligence by the Afghan military on the camps shocked the US.
The close ties between Taliban and al-Qaeda militants alarmed an Afghan military commander.
"There are many al-Qaeda training camps in southern Afghanistan. Taliban fighters are receiving training there," he says.
Gen. John Nicholson is the commander of the international forces in Afghanistan. He visited Kandahar to meet local influential figures.
"We international community will continue to give our full support to accomplish this process, to accomplish the peace process," he said at the meeting.
What strategy does the Taliban have? Our crew interviewed Taliban members.
"There are many Arab and Chechen al-Qaeda members in southern Afghanistan. They're beefing up training for Taliban fighters. We'll continue to fight under our new leader," says a commander with the militant group.
The Afghan military and international forces are continuing intermittent fighting with Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists in a bid to drive them out of southern Afghanistan.
Beppu: So the fight does go on in Afghanistan. But, a very basic question though, why do you think Taliban doesn’t get weakened?
Rashid: Taliban is not weakening largely because the government is so weak. For example, there’s no bureaucracy. There has been none in the 15 years that the Americans have been there. So there are many failings I think of the West’s action in Afghanistan over the year and that’s why the Taliban have become stronger. Not because there are more popular, they’re not more popular. They’re probably less popular today. And the second reason is that they have sanctuary. As long as a guerilla force has its sanctuary, a safe haven where they can get ammunition, food and rest, it’s very difficult to defeat them.
US Legacy in Afghanistan
US forces have been playing a major role in the fight against the Taliban.
The American intervention in Afghanistan began after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Al-Qaeda was the terrorist group behind the attacks. They were sheltered by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
US President Barack Obama took over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from his predecessor. He pledged to end both before leaving office.
"We'll begin take responsibility in Iraq to peace for people, for the harder peace in Afghanistan," Obama said.
Obama sent more US troops into Afghanistan. At one point the number reached nearly 100,000.
The US then began a gradual withdrawal. Obama's initial idea was to remove all US forces by the end of this year.
But the deteriorating security situation forced Obama to rethink his pledge.
"I've decided to maintain our 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan to most of next year in 2016," Obama said in October.
US military involvement in Afghanistan has continued for nearly 15 years. Some are calling it the longest war in US history.
Beppu: Do you see in this particular point, in terms of the zeal for commitment, do you think that the Bush administration was slightly better, at this particular point, in terms of commitment?
Rashid: Yes, I mean they were committed to a point, but let me remind you, that in 2003 they all went off to Iraq. And then Afghanistan was forgotten. So the commitment from Bush was in the beginning, very half-hearted. They should have started building a new army. They didn’t start building the new army until 2005, 2006, and so half the time it was wasted.
Beppu: With Obama at least then, do you appreciate his decision to delay the total pullout of American forces from Afghanistan?
Rashid: I mean yes, obviously I do appreciate that, but I mean, the point is no.1, there’s not enough forces. Secondly, Obama does not seem very interested in Afghanistan. He has not launched a major diplomatic initiative. So for the time being we will see continued fighting but I hope that now is the moment when the international community, the Americans, NATO, and even countries like Japan, must reach out to the Taliban, and try to engage them in a dialogue.
Beppu: If the international community doesn’t change the way it deals with Afghanistan, meaning that it doesn’t increase the level of commitment to the country, what kind of scenario do you see for the country?
Rashid: I’m worried very much about the state of the government. I think the government is in a very weak position at the moment. It doesn’t control much territory. It could lose one of the big cities to the Taliban. We’ve seen that the consensus that existed since 9/11 where all of the world came together, and agreed to elect President Karzai as the president, and we saw that they were working together with the international community, with the Americans, with each other. That consensus is broken down now.
Beppu: But, look, at the same time that the countries are asking for Taliban to join the peace talks, the United States is killing its leader. So seeing this from Taliban, isn’t there a big contradiction here?
Rashid: I agree with you completely. I really, I think it’s a huge mistake, either to help Pakistan as the moderator or to have America because both are involved. Pakistan has been backing the Taliban, the Americans have been fighting the war. So what we need is a mediator. I think we need a strong United Nations mediator, which will be endorsed by the Security Council, and which should be endorsed by the whole international community.