Afghan militants reportedly attacked 13 police and military checkpoints in Badakhshan province Monday leaving 18 policemen dead, according to a hospital director in the provincial capital. Badakhshan borders both Pakistan and Tajikistan. The attack is yet another sign, with the Taliban’s spring offensive against police, military, and government officials well underway, that Kabul’s counteroffensive lies on tenuous ground. Militants seem increasingly comfortable fighting far from their center of gravity, in the bloody provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, which have seen the bulk of the fighting over the past fourteen years.
Afghanistan’s police have long been a target of militant attacks. With the Afghan state still taking small steps toward self-sufficiency, the Taliban has used suicide bombings, green-on-blue attacks, and infiltration within the ranks of Afghan security forces to stir up dissent and decrease morale for the underpaid, overworked, and overstretched hand of Kabul’s law enforcement.
Is the group’s strategy working?
It’s tough to know for sure. Those attacks, though costly for the Taliban, have wounded and maimed thousands of Afghans, including many police and military personnel. According to recent figures published in The New York Times, nearly 130,000 Afghans have been wounded while serving in the police or security forces, leading to 40,000 amputations, putting many of these law enforcement officers out of the workforce. In a text message to journalists, Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack, as well as an explosion in Kabul that targeted the Afghan Attorney General’s shuttle bus. The latter attack left one dead and 13 wounded.
The Times highlighted a police battalion in Helmand’s Sangin District, one of the most violent in Afghanistan, which lost 154 of 344 members to injuries in battle, a staggering 44.7 percent casualty rate. Those numbers will damage recruitment efforts and encourage attrition from an already beleaguered force, at an especially critical time for Afghanistan’s fight. The government hopes to push the Taliban into accepting concessions at the negotiating table.
The thorn in the young government’s side won’t go away any time soon. In Kunduz, attacks on government and security forces have been particularly devastating. Last week in the Northern city, police got the better of the fighting with insurgents, killing more than two dozen militants who conducted a wave of attacks on police and army checkpoints. The militants continue to put pressure on the war-torn provincial capital, threatening to overrun the former Taliban stronghold, killing eight members of the security forces in last week’s attacks, narrowly missing Ahmad Zia Massoud, the head of President Ashraf Ghani’s government coalition in the region.
What can American forces do to counteract the threat? Certainly, continued training of Afghan security forces, on a provincial level, will be critical. A focus on community policing–echoes of which still reverberate in the military discourse despite the struggles of Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus to implement counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan–could be enhanced. All of this, of course, would come on top of U.S. efforts to fight the insurgents directly. The United States is slowly running out of time: it will be out of the country as early as next year, leaving the Afghans to fend for themselves.
The insurgents think they can win a war of attrition. At this point, there’s no telling if they’re right, but Afghanistan shouldn’t wait to find out.