An insurgent attack on Kabul International airport Wednesday during a high profile visit by Secretary of Defense James Mattis reveals the ability of militants to use rural safe havens to attack major population centers.
Both the Taliban and the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack that entailed firing dozens of rockets at the airport. U.S. and NATO officials arrived during this time in Afghanistan to discuss a prolonged western troop commitment.
The attack was reportedly mounted out of a safe house in the middle of Kabul that took the U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces over six hours to clear of insurgents. Suicide bombers also participated in some way after the attack, a U.S. military release following the incident revealed.
“16 years in and the Taliban, can move, deploy and launch 20 rockets at the most heavily defended city in the country,” veteran Pentagon reporter Thomas-Gibbons Neff remarked on twitter after the incident, adding: “Which, to say, is the whole point of the attack. To prove they can do it and dictate the day’s headlines.”
The deterioration of security in urban areas comes as the Taliban controls nearly 45 percent of the districts in all of Afghanistan. Many of these districts are in rural areas of the country.
“Rural areas in Afghanistan are essential to the Taliban’s resilience and ability to consistently undermine Afghan security,” the Long War Journal noted recently, citing the insurgent group’s ability to use rural districts to mount attacks on urban centers. President Donald Trump has deployed an additional 3,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bolster the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), but it is unclear how much of an effect the troops can have. The Trump administration insists its strategy will be successful because they will crackdown on Pakistani safe havens and deny the Taliban an outright battlefield victory forcing it to the negotiating table.
The Taliban, however, have little reason to negotiate. The insurgent group controls more territory than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001, and it contests ANSF on multiple fronts spanning hundreds of miles. The group’s success is bolstered by pervasive corruption and casualties within the Afghan forces.
A troop increase of a few thousand “may prevent a near-term backsliding, but it is not going to be decisive in turning the tide of this war,” Center for New American Security CEO Michèle Flournoy told The New York Times in late July.
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