Afghanistan (GPA) – In one of his final moves in office, president Obama has committed another 2,300 US troops to Afghanistan to help the government curb the resurgence of the Taliban.
After a year of territorial gains by the Taliban in their fight against the weakened Afghani government, the US is sending around 2,300 troops from armor and aviation brigades to assist in attempting to turn the tide. The troops are being sent as part of operation Freedom’s Sentinel to “advise and assist” the Afghan security services in their ongoing fight.
The Afghan forces are also combating the still-active al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan as well as a new cell of the Islamic State that materialized in the country earlier this year. The US forces have have their work cut out for them judging by the failures of the Afghan government in the past few years as well as the rampant corruption within the security services.
The variety of threats on Afghanistan has led to a strange web of geopolitical relationships involving all the regional powers, allegedly even placing Iran and Saudi Arabia on the same side of the conflicts at certain times. The Islamic State cell in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to be connected to any state actors but is still probably taking money from wealthy gulf citizens as they do everywhere else yet they are still at odds with the other two largest militant groups in the country.
While al Qaeda in Afghanistan is a shell of its former self and the’ leaders have lost their authority across the spectrum of jihadists in the Middle East, IS has now taken up the mantle. This puts them at odds with the former ideological partner of al Qaeda, the Taliban. The threat of a rising IS influence in Afghanistan has made for some strange partnerships with the Taliban.
The Taliban still pulls a lot of their funding and support from Pakistan but has also been put back on the list of beneficiaries of Saudi Arabia. Yet with the threat that an IS cell poses to regional stability, it is also rumored that Iran has stepped in to find partners to curb their successes.
Since the Taliban’s primary objective always has been control of Afghanistan, Iran has begun acknowledging, if not supporting the group to keep a safe buffer area between their border and the territory controlled by IS. While this is probably not a partnership Iran wished to engage in, it makes sense in the moment. Iran has even invited Taliban leaders to Tehran to attend an “Islamic Unity” conference earlier this month.
This indicates how little faith that even countries that support the US backed government in Kabul – such as Saudi Arabia- have in their partner’s ability to control radical militants such as IS. Iran would also probably avoid jumping in to support the Taliban unless it were a final option. This has of course resulted in the Taliban gaining ground in Afghanistan, as was highlighted in the discussion around the 2015 US bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz.
So now, with the war entering its sixteenth year (although not officially considered a war by the US anymore) it seems that all this time US forces have spent in Afghanistan has amounted to very little actual progress. Afghanistan is still under siege by a group propped up by the CIA in the late 1970’s and then later made an enemy, and it doesn’t seem likely that will change anytime soon. The 2,300 soldiers will have a hard enough time combating incompetence and corruption in their allies ranks before they even get to dealing with a 35 year old insurgency.