Taliban Video Shows Militants Occupying Afghan Army Base And Celebrating Openly — Pointing To A Fatal Flaw At Heart Of US Strategy

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • A new Taliban video shows insurgents openly celebrating the capture of an Afghan army base.
  • It is the latest example of the inability of Afghan security forces to defend themselves against Taliban assaults.
  • Continued battlefield catastrophes call into question the viability of President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan war strategy, which assumes Afghan security forces will be able to force the Taliban to the negotiating table.

A remarkable new Taliban propaganda video paints a grim picture of the Afghan army’s prospects against the insurgent group and, more broadly, the Trump administration’s plan to win the Afghanistan war.

The video, which was highlighted Thursday by the Long War Journal, shows the aftermath of a Taliban seizure of an Afghan National Army base in northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province.

In it, Taliban fighters can be seen milling around the interior of the base in broad daylight, openly celebrating their victory over Afghan forces. Taliban flags fly atop the base’s observation towers.

The footage appears to have been taken some time last week, according to Long War Journal editor Bill Roggio. A statement posted Sept. 11 to Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website, claimed militants overran “15 posts and 1 base in [Chimtal] district,” killing 13 Afghan troops.

That account was partially corroborated in local media reports. Government sources told Afghan network TOLOnews that four police outposts had fallen to Taliban militants after Afghan troops withdrew from a nearby army base — likely the one depicted in the Taliban video.

It was the latest reminder of the volatile security situation in Afghanistan, which has largely deteriorated since the beginning of 2018. Taliban forces have notched a string of stunning victories in recent months, overrunning Afghan army units and nearly capturing a key provincial capital in a five-day battle. Hundreds of Afghan security forces and civilians were killed in the fighting.

The attacks have served as bloody evidence of the Taliban’s capacity to launch multi-pronged attacks against Afghan security forces at will. Some notable examples occurred in mid-August, when Taliban fighters near-simultaneously overran Afghan army bases in two separate provinces, Faryab and Baghlan. (RELATED: US Downplays Insurgency As Taliban Assaults Kill Hundreds Of Afghan Troops)

A total of at least 80 Afghan soldiers and policemen were killed in those attacks, and dozens of others were captured after being forced to surrender due to a lack of reinforcements. In other recent Taliban assaults on provincial capitals such as Farah and Ghazni, the insurgents were only stalled and driven away after U.S. commandos and air assets arrived to reinforce Afghan troops.

“Over time, these attacks have had a demoralizing effect on Afghan police and military units,” Roggio wrote Thursday in the Long War Journal. “In some cases, Afghan security forces surrender their bases without a fight, and in others, security personnel surrender to the Taliban after failing to receive reinforcement and resupply.”

The Afghan army’s poor record in the face Taliban attacks calls into question the viability of President Donald Trump’s strategy for the Afghanistan war. A central component of the plan calls for continued U.S. support of Afghan security forces until they can inflict enough damage on the Taliban, leaving the group no choice but to come to the negotiating table.

Given the Afghan army’s performance and attrition problems, that result appears to be far from certain, says Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center.

“No matter how you slice it, the strategy hasn’t been very effective at all,” Kugelman told Voice of America in August. “The main objectives — getting Pakistan to crack down on terror safe havens, putting the Taliban on the defensive — haven’t come close to being achieved.”

Even potential bright spots, such as a June holiday ceasefire and the opening of direct talks between Washington and Taliban leadership, have been marred by the Afghan army’s inability to roll back the insurgents. Emboldened by their recent battlefield success, the Taliban rejected Kabul’s most recent offer of a temporary truce and have continued to carry out deadly attacks across the country.

The Taliban now sees itself as entering future negotiations from a position of strength, and “that’s not something Afghanistan, the U.S. or the U.S. strategy would have wanted,” Kugelman told VOA.

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