Taliban Release Plan “To Conquer” Afghanistan
Last weekend, the QST or Afghan Taliban announced through their website that their spring offensive, al-Fatah (Arabic for “to conquer”) will be kicked-off in grand style to coincide with President Karzai’s visit to DC. As in years past, the offensive commences enemy attacks that spikes during the summer months and curtails in late-fall. Taliban tactics of “ambushes, detonations of explosive devices, assassinations of government officials, suicide bombings and detainment of foreign invaders” are what we can expect to see. But this year, unlike years past, the Taliban’s day-to-day operational leader, Mullah Baradar, will not be running the show. How will this affect the Taliban?
If this year’s announcement is any indication, the Taliban are getting along just fine. Mullah Zakir, the Taliban’s former military commander for southern Afghanistan has stepped into the leadership[ void and is now considered to be running the show. Zakir’s jihadists credentials as a former Guantánamo detainee and prowess as a military commander means that, militarily speaking, the Taliban are in good hands. There are however a few noteworthy differences in the Taliban’s announcement this year.
This year,he Taliban allude to inter-city operations, likely referring to the impending battle for Kandahar. The Taliban know that ISAF is coming and they have been gearing up for the fight. According to ISAF, insurgent activity, supplies and assassinations have peaked over the past several months. Second, there is a noticeable attempt to avoid harming civilians—in practice, Taliban COIN. The Taliban urge fighters to ensure the safety of life and prevent the destruction of property.
Both these changes bear the hallmark of Zakir. In Taliban circles, he is known for his battlefield abilities as an organizer, motivator and tactician—described by influential insiders as a “legendary battlefield commander.” However, Zakir also understands that the population is at the center of the fight. He knows that all he has to do is prevent the population from siding with the Afghan government and he wins. Even if the population remains neutral, that might be good enough. That said, he has urged his fighters to adhere to a code of conduct or “rule book” that is the Taliban’s version of FM3-24, the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency field manual.
While Zakir may not have the organizational control as his predecessor, this may not mean a less-effective insurgency. On the contrary, Zakir’s impressive reputation as a skilled military commander could pose additional challenges to an already complex operation this summer in Kandahar.