Security

Afghan forces keep up military pressure on Taliban during winter months

By Najibullah

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An Afghan special operator stands watch as Afghan special forces raid Taliban compounds in Baraki Barak District, Logar Province, October 10. [NATO courtesy photo]

KABUL -- Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) have been stepping up offensive operations against the Taliban and the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in a change of strategy from the typical lull in fighting during the winter.

"These offensive and defensive operations against the enemies of the Afghan people are meant to fulfill two objectives: to improve security throughout Afghanistan and to reduce the security forces' casualties," Nusrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Salaam Times.

"We are very close to realising both of these objectives as we see an improvement in the security situation in Kabul and other provinces," he said.

The operations have killed, wounded and resulted in the arrests of hundreds of militants over the past month, according to officials.

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An Afghan National Army soldier last January 28 fires an artillery shell during an anti-Taliban operation in Farah Province. [HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP]

"Between 10 and 15 Taliban leaders, as well as dozens of their lower ranking fighters, get killed every week," Rahimi said.

The operations will continue for as long as necessary, said Defence Ministry spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Jawid.

In the period between December 6, 2018, and January 6, 2019, Afghan National Army (ANA) troops conducted an average of ten clearing operations, as well as 89 special commando missions, daily, according to the Defence Ministry's press office.

"During the last month, 748 Taliban and 11 ISIS militants were killed, 255 Taliban militants were wounded, and 13 others were arrested," the ministry said. "Among the dead were 24 Taliban commanders and 3 ISIS commanders."

Intensified pressure on the Taliban

In previous years, the intensity of ANDSF operations against the Taliban faded during the winter, but this year the Afghan government has stepped up operations against the militant group.

Winter operations are very important, said Gen. Mirza Muhammad Yarmand, a Kabul-based military analyst and former deputy minister of interior.

"During the cold season, the enemy wants to restock its supplies, increase its level of training and preparation, and create opportunities for itself to take an offensive position once the warmer season begins," he told Salaam Times.

To prevent the Taliban from regrouping, the government has therefore intensified offensive operations.

"Making the best out of the on-going peace talks, the Afghan government has increased pressure on the Taliban, especially after they refused to show flexibility in negotiating with the Afghan government," Yarmand said.

"The government has every right to shift its approach and strategy from defensive to offensive," he said. "This is a good approach as it expands the government's potential in the battlefield. Our security forces are quite numerous. If used properly, this strategy could cripple the enemy."

Peace efforts gaining momentum

"The Afghan government and the Taliban have intensified their attacks on one another just when the peace efforts are gaining momentum," Brig. Gen. (ret.) Muhammad Taher Yarghal, a Kabul-based military analyst and retired Interior Ministry official, told Salaam Times.

Both sides are attempting to solidify their interests in peace talks, he said.

"The capabilities of Afghan forces have been improving day after day in every area, including combat, planning, operational and technical skills," said Rahimi of the Interior Ministry. "The Afghan forces have been leading the fight against the country's enemies since 2014."

"Our Air Force conducts an average of 90 flights every day in order to support the Afghan National Army, including supplying it with equipment," he said. "The Afghan Air Force has carried out 336 air strikes targeting enemy cells during last month."

During a single 24-hour period, 69 militants were killed in Almar and Qarghan districts of Faryab Province, the Defence Ministry announced January 7.

The dead included the Taliban shadow governor for Almar District, Mullah Sarwar; the Taliban deputy shadow governor for Qarghan District, Mullah Zikrullah; and Taliban Red Unit commander Mawlawi Habibullah, the ministry said.

Muhibullah Nasiri, a 27-year-old Kabul employee of a local NGO who withheld his employer's name for security reasons, welcomed the intensified pressure on the Taliban.

"If the Taliban consider themselves Afghans and Muslims, then [they must realise that] that the only solution is a direct dialogue with the Afghan government," he told Salaam Times. "Otherwise, the government should continue its military operations until [the Taliban] are left with no choice but to enter the peace talks."

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