MANAMA, Bahrain -- A successful peace process with the Taliban will allow the Afghan government to focus its resources on countering the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and its attacks on soft targets, Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib said Saturday (December 5).
Afghanistan is grappling with a surge in violence that has worsened despite landmark peace talks with the Taliban that began September 12 in Qatar.
The ISIS Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) has claimed a series of assaults on vulnerable targets, including the November 2 attack on Kabul University. Three terrorists -- one of whom blew himself up -- rampaged through the campus, shooting students in their classrooms and killing at least 22 people.
ISIS claimed a similar attack on Kawsar-e-Danish education centre in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of western Kabul that occurred October 24. That suicide bombing killed 24 people and injured more than 50, most of them young students.
Although ISIS has been dislodged from the territory it controlled and its funding sources disrupted, the group maintains a "network of terror", Mohib said.
"Of course those attacks by themselves are quite damaging, they bring a lot of fear to our people, and we are working very hard to prevent them from attacking our cities," he told AFP.
"We do face a lot of threats... so our resources are stretched," he said on the sidelines of the International Institute for Security Studies Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain.
Focused on peace
"One of the reasons we're focused on this peace process with the Taliban is that if we were to achieve peace with the Taliban, our security forces will be able to divert their capabilities onto terrorist groups like [ISIS] and then we can contain them much easier," Mohib said.
The Doha talks have made headway in recent days, setting out a code of conduct that will allow the process to move to the next stage of setting out the agenda for negotiations.
"It has been a long conflict, four decades -- to end that conflict, there are, of course, a lot of grievances that need to be addressed," Mohib said.
"Everyone's tired. The demand of the Afghan people is to end this conflict, but there are a lot of differences," he said. "But I think in good spirit, we will be able to achieve peace."
The Afghan government and the Taliban have been engaging directly for the first time, following a peace agreement signed in February by the Taliban and US negotiators.
Under that agreement, the United States agreed to withdraw all foreign forces by May 2021 in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban pledge to hold talks with Kabul.
However, the peace process has been overshadowed by the surge of violence in recent weeks, with the Taliban launching near daily attacks against government forces.
"The Taliban wanted to get the maximum advantage at the negotiating table, and I think they perhaps were testing the Afghan security forces, maybe also on how far it will go before our allies come to our support," Mohib said.
Afghan forces 'ready to defend' country
The withdrawal of foreign forces will force the Afghan military to speed up plans to make the air force self sufficient, said Mohib.
"We still rely on US air power for a lot of the conflict, and we need that to maintain our advantage over the Taliban until our own capabilities are built," he said.
The Pentagon on November 17 announced its intention to withdraw 2,000 US troops from Afghanistan, reducing the total number to 2,500 by January 15.
"We are not worried," Afghan Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid told lawmakers following the announcement.
"At the moment, 96% of military operations are being conducted by our own army," he said. "Only in 4% of our operations do we have air support from our international allies."
"We are ready to defend our country independently," Khalid said.
The US military will "continue to stand" with Afghanistan as the "government works toward a negotiated settlement for peace", said US Acting Secretary of Defence Christopher Miller.