Afghanistan: The Spreading Insurgency
Afghanistan: The Spreading Insurgency
The Insurgency in Afghanistan’s Heartland
The Insurgency in Afghanistan’s Heartland
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Podcast / Asia 6 minutes

Afghanistan: The Spreading Insurgency

Insurgent activity in Afghanistan has now spread beyond traditional strongholds in the south to districts surrounding the capital, exposing the slow erosion of security in the Afghan heartland. Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Afghanistan, discusses the implications of U.S. withdrawal for the evolving Afghan insurgency.

In this podcast, Candace Rondeaux discusses the implications of U.S. withdrawal for the evolving Afghan insurgency. CRISIS GROUP

You can find below a transcript of this podcast.

Welcome to this podcast from the International Crisis Group. I'm a Kimberly Abbott. In a major speech to the American public on June 22, President Obama announced the beginning of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, but if anything the insurgency has only grown stronger in recent months. Insurgent activity has now spread beyond traditional strongholds in the south to districts surrounding the capital, exposing the slow erosion of security in the Afghan heartland. To discuss the implications of US withdrawal for the evolving Afghan insurgency, I am joined by Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Afghanistan. Candace is on the line from Kabul.

Candace, what is the feeling on the ground in Afghanistan about Obama’s speech?

This is obviously a pivotal moment for both Afghans and Americans and for the world at large. Afghans are extremely nervous. There is a lot of anxiety about what the withdrawal will mean in terms of stability in the country.  The number of assassinations in the country has gone up in the last couple of months, and in the last week we have seen a number of prominent non-Pashtun politicians targeted by the Taliban. We see this as a direct reaction to the growing anxiety inside Kabul, inside political circles, over the withdrawal.     

You mentioned a recent increase in attacks. Can you give us a broader look at how the insurgency has changed over the past few months and how withdrawal will affect the insurgency?

The surge has brought with it a number of changes. There has been some progress on the ground, but it has been very fragile. Across the country, the insurgency has gained a lot of territory and has been able to strike at targets on a regular basis with impunity. What this shows is that the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Hizb-e-Islami are growing not only in strength but also that the support for the insurgency is growing, in large part because the government is so weak

So are you really saying that the surge has backfired outside of the capital? 
There are clear signs that the surge has backfired outside the capitol. In areas close to Kabul such as Wardak, Logar—these are big provinces with large populations—you see the insurgency growing. You see them connecting with government officials.
There is a great deal of collusion between the government and the insurgency. What you have today is a situation where an organized crime network has essentially taken over the state. You have state capture in the largest possible sense — and the insurgency has taken advantage of this. They have gained so much ground, and they plan to extract so much more over the next two years as withdrawal takes place, that we can expect a lot more violence and bloodshed at a much more rapid tempo.
Let's go back to this idea of government collusion. How has it happened? How have government officials worked so closely with these insurgent networks and gotten away with it?

In this kind of climate, in an atmosphere were insecurity runs so high, those who stand to gain the most from the conflict are those in positions of power and those who have hold over territory. So you see officials in the national directorate of security, which is the Afghan Intelligence Agency, officials in the Ministry of Interior, officials in the Ministry of Defense oftentimes collaborating with local insurgents to create diversionary attacks in order to facilitate drug smuggling, as well as other kind of smuggling.

What we’re talking about here is the growth of organized crime at a massive scale, at a pace not seen before in this country, and the influx of billions of dollars in cash from the U.S. and other donor countries has resulted in a massive amount of corruption. From this the insurgents have benefited. Politically they have benefited in so much as the government is unable to present and deliver services, and so they are able to play up on that on the local level. Financial they have also benefited because, increasingly, you see groups like the Haqqani network colluding with government officials and co-opting licit businesses.

What we also know about the organized crime rates here is that it is very difficult in a country like Afghanistan to move the amount of product, whether it’s drugs, whether its minerals or otherwise, without the collusion of government officials. Oftentimes you see—particularly in the northern areas near the boarder and in the east—a great deal of collusion between insurgents and government security officials.         

Can you explain some of the structural and ideological differences between the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Hizb-e-Islami? How do they interact with each other?

Over the last 10 years there has been a lot of cooperation between the three major insurgent groups—between Hizb-e-Islami, which is the group run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, between the Haqqani network, run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, and then the Taliban, which of course is run out of Quetta in Pakistan. All three of these groups, on various occasions, in all parts of the country, have collaborated together on attacks. We have seen this in places like Kabul, especially running up until 2008-2009.

More recently, as the U.S. Special Forces campaign to target and assassinate and capture Taliban and other insurgents has increased its tempo, we have also seen a great deal more competition on the local level between all three of these groups. For instance, in Wardak in the last month we have seen a number of scrimmages between the Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami group, in large part because they are seeking control over areas near the roadways. Smuggling is the name of the game in Afghanistan. For insurgents and for organized crime networks, having access to the roads is everything.

What has all this meant for the ordinary Afghani?  Describe their lives now compared to 10 years ago when this war started.

Many Afghans feel pressed on all sides. They don’t trust the government. They don’t trust U.S. troops. They don’t trust the insurgency. And yet, when it comes down to it, the insurgency often has the greatest influence in many of these local, rural areas, particularly in the areas around Kabul, and so they end up capitulating, essentially, to rule by terror. I think that what we have seen from the counterinsurgency strategy is that a lot of Afghans are unclear about U.S. intentions in Afghanistan. They often say we don’t know which messages to believe. You hear Robert Gates say one thing, and you hear President Obama say another, and this confuses the population a great deal. That has given a lot of leverage to insurgent groups and criminal networks to operate very freely. Without having the support of the people, U.S. and NATO troops and Afghan government troops simply cannot make the kind of headway they need to in the counterinsurgency campaign.

Let’s get back to the report for just a second. What are some of the things that Crisis Group believes should be done to fix the mess you have described in terms of the counterinsurgency strategy and in terms of quelling this insurgent violence?

For U.S. and international partners in Afghanistan, the key action that needs to be taken is to recognize that the counterinsurgency campaign is deeply flawed and that the number of civilian casualties caused by US troops NATO troops, while although small, is significant and has created the impression that Afghanistan is an occupied country.

Also, I think that it is very important to press the Afghan government for greater accountability. It is no longer acceptable to spend billions of dollars in Kabul on a government that refuses to be accountable to its people and that refuses to be accountable for corruption. At this time, I think the most important challenge that this country faces is corruption and organized crime. More than anything else, if this is not brought under control, then this country is on a fast track for failure.  

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