Afghanistan The Mis­guided Bomb

The US had all its pri­or­i­ties mixed up when it de­cided to drop the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan’s Nan­garhar prov­ince.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Hafiz Inam The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

The Amer­i­cans treat the land as a re­gion for war ex­per­i­ments.

Since as­sum­ing the pres­i­dency in Jan­uary 2017, Don­ald Trump has not de­lib­er­ated at length on how he would deal with the chronic Afghan cri­sis he in­her­ited from his pre­de­ces­sor. Ap­par­ently the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pears more ob­sessed with the grow­ing Is­lamic State (ISIS) threat than a Tal­iban up­ris­ing in Afghanistan. The ob­ses­sion was man­i­fested on 13 April, 2017 when the US dropped its largest non-nu­clear bomb on a tun­nel com­plex pur­port­edly be­ing used by ISIS mil­i­tants in Nan­garhar prov­ince in eastern Afghanistan. It was the first time the US un­leashed such a bomb in a bat­tle. Given the fact that the US sup­ports di­a­logue with the Afghan Tal­iban, the test­ing of the so­called Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) in­sin­u­ates that the US has de­clared the ISIS its real en­emy in Afghanistan. This im­plies a ma­jor shift in US pol­icy vis-a-vis fight­ing the war on ter­ror.

The war in Afghanistan is the long­est the United States has ever fought. Even af­ter spend­ing more than $1 tril­lion over a pe­riod of 16 years, the US has failed to con­sol­i­date its ini­tial gains against the Tal­iban who are ex­pand­ing their ter­ri­tory each year. How­ever, there is an­other threat in the off­ing for US and govern­ment troops. Tal­iban de­fec­tors, Al-Qaeda sym­pa­thiz­ers and ex­pelled Sunni Arab fight­ers from Iraq and Syria, have es­tab­lished their foothold in eastern Afghanistan un­der the ban­ner of the ISIS-Khurasan chap­ter. Their emer­gence has given weight to the ap­pre­hen­sion that prospects for peace in Afghanistan are bleak.

The ISIS which is known for its macabre sup­pres­sion of its sub­jects has spread its ten­ta­cles into Afghanistan’s law­less ter­ri­to­ries in a bid to es­tab­lish its in­flu­ence. This has com­pli­cated the six­teen-year war which was fought

with the long-stand­ing mis­sion of fight­ing the Tal­iban. The emer­gence of ISIS has brought old ri­vals, the US and Tal­iban, closer as both are aware of reper­cus­sions of the ISIS spread­ing in Afghanistan. ISIS con­trols many small towns and cities along the AfghanistanPak­istan bor­der. Sur­pris­ingly one hun­dred and eighty thou­sand Afghan sol­diers have not been able to van­quish the out­fit which barely com­prises a few thou­sand fight­ers, ac­cord­ing to US of­fi­cials. Around $80 bil­lion have been spent on re­vamp­ing and re­struc­tur­ing the Afghan Na­tional Army, yet it lacks com­pe­tence in fight­ing and with­stand­ing the in­cur­sion of any en­emy.

A cou­ple of years ago, no Afghan could be­lieve that Daesh had reached Afghanistan. But it was in June 2015 when ISIS came to the fore af­ter cap­tur­ing the vil­lage of Manan Bagh in Nan­garhar prov­ince from its ri­val Afghan Tal­iban. As it is known for its bru­tal meth­ods, ISIS forced in­no­cent lo­cal peo­ple to sit on ex­plo­sives and hanged Tal­iban cap­tives pub­licly. Since then it has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for many deadly at­tacks in­side Afghanistan. The Kabul sui­cide bomb­ing in July 2016 and the Sar­dar Daud Khan Hos­pi­tal at­tack in 2017 which cost more than hun­dred lives were car­ried out by ISIS.

At this junc­ture the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is not will­ing to alien­ate the Tal­iban by turn­ing a blind eye to ISIS pen­e­tra­tion in a wartorn Afghanistan. This comes as no sur­prise when Is­lamic State fight­ers are of­ten pum­meled by US airstrikes. First, the US elim­i­nated ISIS chief and deputy chief in Afghanistan, Hafiz Saeed Khan and Ab­dul Rauf Al­iza, re­spec­tively, in airstrikes last year. Later Afghan forces with US sup­port launched ma­jor op­er­a­tions twice in Nan­garhar to stamp out ISIS. Al­though both op­er­a­tions helped Afghan forces to drive ISIS out of Achin and Shin­war dis­tricts of Nan­garhar, the mil­i­tant out­fit some­how man­aged to hold its pres­ence in the prov­ince. De­spite the re­peated rhetoric from Afghan of­fi­cials that there is no safe haven for ISIS in Afghanistan, the ground re­al­ity sug­gests ISIS in­sur­gents have with­stood the brunt of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions launched against them time and again.

The use of the so-called mother of all bombs in Achin district was against the Law of Armed Con­flict that bars in­dis­crim­i­nate killing in a bat­tle. The very ob­jec­tive of drop­ping the bomb was to in­duce a sub­stan­tial psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect on those who wit­nessed it. It was an omi­nous mes­sage given to rebels fight­ing govern­ment troops. Nev­er­the­less the sup­pos­edly largest non-nu­clear de­struc­tive bomb did not reap the de­sired re­sults for the US as ISIS con­tin­ues its spree of vi­o­lence in­side Afghanistan.

The war strat­egy de­vised by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to com­bat in­sur­gents in Afghanistan is faulty and de­void of ra­tio­nal plan­ning. The new war plan en­tails the use of in­tim­i­dat­ing weapons and de­ploy­ment of more US troops in a bid to turn the tide in favour of the Afghan govern­ment. But mea­sures such as drop­ping the MOAB will not help the US heal its mis­eries in a long-stand­ing Afghan war. Rather, it will in­duce an an­tag­o­nis­tic re­ac­tion from highly xeno­pho­bic Afghans to­wards for­eign troops and the USbacked Afghan govern­ment. The anger of the lo­cal Afghan peo­ple is ob­vi­ous from the state­ment that came from former pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai who de­plored the at­tack and said, “This is not the war on ter­ror, but the in­hu­man and most bru­tal mis­use of our coun­try as a test­ing ground for new and dan­ger­ous weapons.” The Tal­iban also con­demned the at­tack and said, “Us­ing this mas­sive bomb can­not be jus­ti­fied and will leave a ma­te­rial and psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on our peo­ple.” How­ever, Gen­eral Ni­chol­son com­mand­ing US troops in Afghanistan was of the view that “it was the right time to use the bomb tac­ti­cally against the right tar­get on the bat­tle­field.”

The US de­ci­sion to drop a bomb has ex­posed fault lines that ex­ist be­tween Kabul and Wash­ing­ton. Gen­er­ally both have al­most di­a­met­ri­cally op­pos­ing views re­gard­ing the prob­lem. US of­fi­cials are of the view that the Is­lamic State and Al-Qaeda pose a real threat to their in­ter­ests in Afghanistan while the Ashraf Ghani-led govern­ment per­ceives the Tal­iban as a ma­jor chal­lenger to its rule. The dif­fer­ence of opin­ion pre­vents the de­vel­op­ing of a co­her­ent strat­egy.

The mil­i­tary de­ci­sion to use a su­per bomb in Afghanistan has only un­der­scored the shal­low­ness of US po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic strat­egy. The US needs to un­der­stand that us­ing heavy bombs and weapons will not end an in­dige­nous in­sur­gency. This will fur­ther ex­ac­er­bate the al­ready de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion to an ex­tent that the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion would start hat­ing for­eign troops for us­ing Afghanistan as a test­ing ground for out­ra­geous weaponry. The drop­ping of the MOAB also demon­strates a ma­jor shift in US pol­icy in re­la­tion to in­sur­gents op­er­at­ing against the govern­ment. It shows that the US takes ISIS as its big­gest en­emy in Afghanistan whereas the govern­ment-sup­ported Afghan mili­tia thinks oth­er­wise. “The big­gest threat to the se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity of this coun­try is Tal­iban in­sur­gents, not Daesh forces,” said Mir­wais Yasini – an in­flu­en­tial Afghan mem­ber of par­lia­ment from Nan­garhar.

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