The Taliban continues to pose an imminent threat not only to the survival of the democratic system in Afghanistan, but also to regional and international security. Following the premature withdrawal of international combat forces from Afghanistan, the terrorist group has been able to establish a strong presence in rural Afghanistan. It has launched numerous suicide, car bomb, roadside IED, and ambush attacks, killing thousands of civilians, and inflicting heavy human and material casualties on the Afghan National Security Forces. Using terror and intimidation, the Taliban has been able to push the government out of many districts around the country and fill the security gap left behind by the international coalition forces in vast swaths of the country.
The Taliban aims to secure a space in which it can operate freely, planning and launching further assaults on districts and provinces neighboring the territory already under its control. By gaining ground and influence in a number of localities, it could once again host other terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda on Afghan soil. Thus, while the Taliban remains an existential threat to the Afghan government, it also serves as a potential danger to regional and international security.
The war in Afghanistan was launched in 2001 as retaliation for the 9/11 attacks in American. Will the Taliban of today be willing to once again sponsor a terrorist group potentially capable of launching an attack on U.S. soil? The likelihood is high. The Taliban’s perception of and attitude toward the West is similar to that of other terrorist groups operating in the Middle East. The militant group shares an ideology with al-Qaeda and Islamic State, founded on the assumption that Christians and Jews are the “enemies of Islam” and Muslims must resort to whatever means necessary to inflict harm upon them. The Taliban has never failed to conceal its unfavorable views and feelings toward Western nations. It has repeatedly declared the United States and its allies to be “invading crusaders” whose aim is to enslave Afghans and assert their dominance in the region.
In its videos and articles, primarily designed to galvanize support and recruit new members, the Taliban argues that, according to Quranic teachings, it is the duty of Muslims to wage jihad against the American eshghal-gar, or occupiers. In videos produced and distributed by Taliban’s Al Emarah Jihadist Studio, it is repeatedly argued that Afghans serving or collaborating with the U.S. and its “puppet regime” are mulhedin (apostates) and deserve to be killed. Assessing hundreds of Taliban articles, commentaries, narratives, chants, audio, and video documentaries, it is easy to conclude that harming U.S. citizens remains a priority in the Taliban agenda. Clearly, jihadists remain inspired by a shared anti-U.S. ideology and aspirations to inflict harm to any predominantly Christian or Jewish populated nation.
Therefore, the Afghan Taliban’s ability to open and secure a space in which it could safely operate and offer sanctuary to other terrorist groups is a matter of major concern. Let us remember that prior to September 11 terrorist attacks, although the United States had not taken any hostile measures toward the Taliban regime, it gave refuge to Osama Bin Laden. The self-proclaimed Amir-ul Momenin, Leader of the Faithful, Mullah Omar provided Bin Laden a sanctuary from which he plotted and launched attacks on the United States.
Ever since, pro-Taliban online publications such as nunn.asia.com and the Taliban’s webpage, Alemarah1.org have repeatedly argued in countless articles and commentaries that “Christians have waged a crusade against Islam.” The leaders of al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Shabab, and other jihadist groups in Pakistan have all been insisting on the same line of reasoning to justify their “jihad” against the “infidels.” Today, it is well within the realm of possibility that the Taliban could attain the capability to host foreign terrorist groups similar to al-Qaeda. This will also help the Taliban neutralize rivalries and gain monetary, human, and material support from its jihadist counterparts. It could achieve this utilizing its territorial gains, political leverage, and established roots among the local population.
The Taliban’s success in launching terrorist attacks has seriously jeopardized the legitimacy of the Afghan state. Most recently, it launched an offensive on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), killing more than 100 soldiers in Balkh province. Such deadly offensives have frequently led to the killing and wounding of thousands of civilians. Since the withdrawal of international combat forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban has overrun dozens of security posts in districts and cities around the country. According to the Long War Journal, in 2016, it captured and controlled 42 and contested 55 of the 407 districts throughout the country. The Taliban even captured the capital of Kunduz province in October of 2015, and once again raided the city on the same month in 2016.
Due to diminishing Western support, training, and effective leadership from the center, in general, Afghan security forces have not been able to counter Taliban offensives in various districts. This has led to improved morale among the group’s leaders, and subsequently an increase in the number of suicide, ambush, and IED attacks in and around major cities such Kabul. Furthermore, widespread insecurity weakens morale among the Afghan security forces as well as public confidence in the ability of the government to protect them. This terrorist organization has killed thousands of Afghan security forces, civilians, as well as Western civilian and military staff. In 2016 alone 3,498 civilians were killed and 7,920 were injured due to the ongoing conflict between the Taliban and the government security forces. The Taliban poses a grave threat to the very existence of the Afghan government and the democratic system that has cost thousands of American lives and billions of dollars to establish.
Without further international support, the Taliban is likely to secure space in which it could expand its operation beyond Afghanistan, as it did in the past. This will indeed prove devastating to the United States’ and its allies’ anti-terror efforts in preventing attacks on the U.S. and other pro-Western states. Assessing Taliban’s 2016 terrorist operations throughout Afghanistan, it is reasonable to presume that it will launch even more deadly and frequent attacks on major districts and cities, including Kabul, in 2017. Its success in Afghanistan will prove detrimental to the Afghan government’s rule and legitimacy in vast regions of the country.
To ignore the Taliban as a serious threat to regional and international security is a grave mistake. The United States and its allies must take serious measures to strengthen Afghan National Security Forces and enable them to effectively fight against this dangerous terrorist organization.
Wali Shaaker is a political analyst and the author of The River Village: A Novel of Struggle, Sacrifice and Survival in Afghanistan.