Tal­iban Kun­duz takeover echoes IS Mo­sul rout

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - B Y TH OMAS WA TKINS WITH GUIL­LAUME DE­CAMME

The Tal­iban takeover of Kun­duz in north­ern Afghanistan this week dealt a sting­ing blow to the coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces, in some ways mir­ror­ing an of­fen­sive in the Iraqi city of Mo­sul last year.

In both cases, Western-backed se­cu­rity forces boosted with bil­lions in U.S. dol­lars in train­ing and equip­ment crum­bled in the face of sud­den as­saults from a smaller con­tin­gent, leav­ing observers won­der­ing if the ex­pense and ef­fort was worth it.

And in the af­ter­math of both defeats, ex­perts ques­tioned the lead­er­ship of the na­tional gov­ern­ments.

“It’s re­ally a scary par­al­lel to Mo­sul, it’s re­ally un­canny,” said Pa­trick Skin­ner, di­rec­tor of spe­cial projects for The So­ufan Group in­tel­li­gence con­sul­tancy based in New York.

“A decade of spend­ing un­be­liev­able amounts of money, procla­ma­tions of an im­prov­ing mil­i­tary ... they were not sup­posed to be able to take Kun­duz, and last year when Mo­sul fell, (the Is­lamic State group was) not sup­posed to take that.”

Afghan troops backed by lim­ited U.S. air sup­port launched a coun­terof­fen­sive Tues­day to try to re­take Kun­duz, a day af­ter Tal­iban in­sur­gents over­ran the strate­gic north­ern city in their big­gest vic­tory since be­ing ousted from power in 2001.

Iraqi se­cu­rity forces also pledged to quickly re­take Mo­sul af­ter it fell in June last year — but the city re­mains an IS strong­hold.

“The im­me­di­ate re­sponse is ‘We’ll take it back,’” Skin­ner said. “Well, that’s not the point. The gov­ern­ment was sup­posed to be able to hold it.”

Stephen Bid­dle, a mil­i­tary ex­pert and pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity, said an im­por­tant sim­i­lar­ity be­tween Kun­duz and Mo­sul is that in both cases, the se­cu­rity forces had suf­fered from years of cor­rup­tion.

“Mil­i­tary ef­fec­tive­ness is a lot more than just hav­ing the right weapons and sit­ting through a bunch of train­ing classes,” he said.

“When the chain of com­mand is politi­cized or cor­rupt, it’s very hard for them to gen­er­ate com­bat mo­ti­va­tion in the ranks.”

In a draft pa­per touch­ing on the prob­lems Amer­ica has train­ing and equip­ping for­eign fight­ers, Bid­dle notes that the U.S. aim of hav­ing a pro­fes­sion­al­ized al­lied force sel­dom jives with the goals of rul­ing elites in Iraq, Afghanistan and else­where.

In such places, lead­ers of­ten try to en­sure the per­sonal loy­alty of the of­fi­cer corps through cor­rup­tion and crony­ism.

“Lead­ers of such states ... can­not treat their mil­i­taries as dis­in­ter­ested de­fend­ers of the state against for­eign en­e­mies; the armed forces are nat­u­ral ri­vals and po­ten­tial threats,” Bid­dle wrote.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pak­istani au­thor and jour­nal­ist who is an ex­pert on the Tal­iban, told AFP the Afghan forces num­bered be­tween 5,000 to 7,000 in Kun­duz but were routed by a much smaller Tal­iban con­tin­gent, per­haps of just 1,000 men.

“The gov­ern­ment is to­tally dis­or­ga­nized and the de­fense min­istry is in a sham­bles,” he said.

“There was no strat­egy, no abil­ity to de­fend the city. There is a lack of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship.”

Sim­i­larly, in Mo­sul, many thou­sands of trained Iraqi forces fight­ers melted away when con­fronted with a far smaller at­tack­ing group of IS ji­hadists.

But Pen­tagon press sec­re­tary Peter Cook cau­tioned against draw­ing par­al­lels.

“We are look­ing at uniquely dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions; I am not sure you can com­pare these two di­rectly,” Cook said. “The cir­cum­stances and the play­ers are dif­fer­ent.”

Some ex­perts also cau­tioned against mak­ing too swift of a com­par­i­son.

Jawid Ko­his­tani, a Kabul-based mil­i­tary an­a­lyst, stressed that Mo­sul has be­come an Is­lamic State strong­hold that threat­ens other Iraqi cities.

“But here in Kun­duz, the whole province is not un­der Tal­iban con­trol. And there is no threat to neigh­bor­ing prov­inces from Kun­duz yet,” Ko­his­tani said.

A Western of­fi­cial who asked to re­main anony­mous said the Mo­sul com­par­i­son was “overblown” be­cause the Tal­iban have not yet demon­strated a strong de­sire to hold Kun­duz.

“Chas­ing away the se­cu­rity forces and pos­ing for self­ies is a very dif­fer­ent thing from ce­ment­ing con­trol of ter­ri­tory,” the of­fi­cial said.

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