The insurgents struck a military base outside the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, though the full extent of their assault has yet to be verified. While official tallies have veered between roughly 130 to 150 deaths, Voice of America reported that Afghanistan’s largest television station, TOLOnews, put the figure much higher at more than 250 and accused the authorities of a cover-up. Regardless of whatever the true number is, the fact remains that this attack was an astounding success from the Taliban’s perspective, considering that it was only launched by a handful of operatives.
In order to understand why such a dramatic attack happened, recent events need to be placed into context. The Afghan National Army had supposedly assassinated a few key Taliban leaders, and just a few weeks ago the US dropped the so-called “Mother Of All Bombs” near the country’s mountainous border with Pakistan. Although Daesh and some of its Indian members were the targets of that strike, it may have raised fears among the Taliban’s leadership that they too could be next, which could have contributed to pushing them to take the offensive in ordering the attack on the Mazar-i-Sharif base. The aftermath of that onslaught led to the resignation of Afghanistan’s Defense Minister and Army Chief of Staff, and shortly thereafter US Defense Secretary James Mattis paid an unannounced visit to the country to boost troop morale.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the US still has approximately 8,000 troops in Afghanistan alongside around 5,000 from other NATO and partnered countries, and Mattis’ visit was read by some analysts as signifying that he may be seriously considering a so-called “troop surge” in order to assist the embattled Afghan National Army. Reuters reported in early February that the US’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimated that government forces could only claim to control or influence 57% of the country, so the Pentagon will surely have an uphill battle ahead of itself if it’s serious about the rumored “troop surge”. Putting two and two together by pairing the Taliban’s latest attack with the US’ presumed military plans, this year’s spring fighting season already looks set to be one of the most turbulent in recent years.
In this episode of Trendstorm, Andrew Korybko is joined by Sabena Siddiqi, foreign affairs journalist and lawyer, and Shahid Reza, geopolitical analyst currently serving as the director of the geopolitical research project CommandEleven.
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