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A Dangerous Escalation in Afghanistan
A Dangerous Escalation in Afghanistan
Survivors walk after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan 13 March 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Commentary / Asia

阿富汗暴乱升级的代价

塔利班组织在喀布尔发动的袭击部分地体现了阿富汗的暴乱正在升级。在异常激烈的冬季战火中,当地的平民则首当其冲。

在短短一个星期里,喀布尔遭受双袭击,造成130人丧生,其中大多是平民。塔利班组织宣称对两次袭击负责。1月20日,5名塔利班自杀式袭击者突破大厦的重重保安设施袭击了洲际酒店,造成至少22人死亡,其中大部分是外国人。几乎一半的死者是阿富汗航空公司卡姆航空的员工。在长达14个小时的围困里,被困人员家属和朋友当晚在酒店外面零度以下寒冷的天气里焦急等待亲人的消息。

一周后,塔利班发动了更为致命的攻击,造成100多人死亡,其中大部分又是平民。这次袭击发生在一栋旧的内务部大楼附近,使用了一辆救护车实施袭击。尽管塔利班之前不对对此类袭击承担责任,这次却很快宣称是自己的行动,但否认其中有平民被杀害。国际红十字会发表了一份声明,谴责这次袭击是“无理智的”,指出救护车应该被用来“拯救生命,而不是摧毁生命”。

第三起自杀式袭击事件是发生于1月29日对阿富汗军队一座军事学院的攻击。“伊斯兰国”组织在当地的分支“呼罗珊行省”宣称对此负责。

这些袭击激起了民众对塔利班的广泛愤怒,促使一些阿富汗政治领导人和积极分子敦促政府镇压塔利班叛乱,而不是和他们寻求和平谈判。一些人甚至要求处决塔利班囚犯;政府官员表示他们正在考虑这个选择。阿富汗总统阿什拉夫·贾尼形容1月27日的袭击为阿富汗的“911事件”,发誓要采取针对塔利班的大规模行动。总统贾尼、其他政客和阿富汗民众都对巴基斯坦表达了类似的愤怒,指责巴基斯坦窝藏塔利班领导人,并把巴基斯坦视为塔利班叛乱组织的关键国外促成者。

这些袭击加重了阿富汗人民对政府的不满。许多人认为,面临2019年总统大选,阿富汗政府由于深陷与潜在政敌的权力斗争而分身乏术,无法充分预防武装分子的袭击。

这些袭击不仅引起了阿富汗人民的愤怒,而且招致了来自国外的强烈谴责。1月29日,美国总统唐纳德·特朗普表示:“他们在到处杀人”。他似乎排除了与塔利班领导人进行对话的可能性:“我们不想和塔利班对话。我们将完成我们必须完成的任务,其他任何人都无法完成的任务,我们有能力做到这一点。”

在特朗普总统发表声明后第二天,副国务卿约翰·沙利文访问喀布尔,似乎要“收回”特朗普总统的声明,表示这是为了突出塔利班最近恐怖袭击的邪恶本质,并没有反映出政策的转变。沙利文在接受记者采访时说,美国总体上仍希望进行和平谈判。

尽管有沙利文的重新声明,但特朗普的话在阿富汗和周边地区有影响力。他的言论应视作美国在阿富汗的新战略。至今为止这些新措施涉及到加大美军在阿富汗的部署和对塔利班的军事行动升级。美国发放的吸引塔利班——至少是吸引塔利班领导人与阿富汗政府进行会谈——的信号则呈现混杂。原则上,即便有特朗普总统1月29日发表上述讲话,但美国高级官员表示,新战略仍同时包括军事和外交方面的努力,以期实现与塔利班的政治和解。然而,美国的外交政策显然已经落后于军事行动。奥巴马政府后期在与塔利班领导人进行的有限接触似乎已经渐趋消逝。

更为广泛的动乱升级

塔利班最近的袭击是在战争广泛升级的情况下发生的。袭击次数增加在过去几年来并不是第一次。尽管如此,阿富汗现在正遭受着2001年以来暴乱最为严重的一个冬天——而冬天通常是停战的季节。

这些形势伴随着美国公开表示其将对塔利班采取越发强硬的军事姿态——冬天将不会提供喘息的机会,而春天则带来愈发猛烈的行动。事实上,阿富汗安全部队和美国军队对塔利班发动的空袭和袭击次数已经再创记录。他们的明确意图是在战争季节之前占据上风,消弱叛乱,让塔利班领导人相信他们不可能在军事上取得胜利。

整个12月和1月期间,空袭和地面突袭似乎已经影响到塔利班在全国各地的战场机动性,并给其造成了前所未有的冬季损失。面对日益增加的战场压力,塔利班似乎改变策略,开始向阿富汗政府及其安全部队和美国施压,同时减少暴露自己的部队。最近塔利班警告说,他们将更多的利用渗入阿富汗安全部队及其安全盟友的组织分子进行自杀式袭击和攻击。塔利班还威胁进一步对阿富汗和美国军队进行大规模袭击。攻击杀伤力也会由于使用先进的现代设备而增强,如使用狙击步枪、激光瞄准器和夜视镜。

自杀式袭击长期以来一直是塔利班城市战术的一部分。随着2017年对塔利班的军事行动升级——甚至在新的美国战略正式宣布之前——自杀式袭击也随之升级。去年,这类袭击的次数比2016年上升了50%:塔利班自己的记录为48比32(这可能不包括其没有声称负责的袭击)。由于今年塔利班面临进一步的压力,大规模攻击和城市战斗的节奏可能会继续,因为战场上的压力不大可能从根本上削弱其发动此战术的能力。在喀布尔两次遭到上述塔利班攻击的同一周,南部的赫尔曼德省和坎大哈省的首府也遭到自杀式炸弹袭击。

喀布尔的袭击事件表明塔利班在发出自己的信号:美国不能通过军事行动走向和平之路。塔利班发言人扎比胡拉·穆贾希德在一份声明中表示,塔利班 “要向特朗普和巴结他的人传达一个明确的信息,如果美国继续采取攻击政策,不要指望阿富汗人为其奉上鲜花。”通过把喀布尔变成战场,叛乱分子获得更广泛的关注,动摇公众对政府的信心,同时展示他们有继续发动强势袭击的能力。

美国军方加强了美国特种部队的空袭、袭击和行动。2017年12月,美国和阿富汗军队进行了455次空袭,而在2016年12月只有65次。即使在2012年12月,有近100,000名美军驻在阿富汗,当时空袭也仅有200次。总计来说,去年8月至12月期间进行了2,000次空袭,几乎同2015年和2016年的空袭总和一样多。

频繁的空袭可能伤害到了塔利班。但似乎阿富汗军队没能夺取更多领土的控制,而领土控制是美军为衡量军事进展而定义的一个关键指标(美国国防部官员在1月底的报告中表示,2017年10月的数据显示更多的领土被塔利班从阿富汗政府手中夺取了)。

平民苦难不断加重

军事行动的升级显然并没有改善阿富汗民众的安全——这是任何行动是否成功的另一个关键指标,尽管美国政府并未提及。美国阿富汗重建总检察长(SIGAR)在1月下旬的季度报告中表示,从2017年6月1日到2017年11月27日期间的平民伤亡人数(4,474)与去年同期相比增加了13%。由于空袭造成的平民伤亡人数也有所增加。联合国驻阿富汗援助团称,在2017年前9个月的时间里,空袭中平民伤亡人数与2016年同期相比增加了52%。在空袭中伤亡的人口主要来自农村,与塔利班空袭的喀布尔相比,他们的苦难受到的关注要少得多。事实上,塔利班自己宣传的一个重点就是他们声称西方和阿富汗媒体持有双重标准。

并且,尽管代价很高,但军事上的压力并不一定会加强塔利班领导人进行对话的意愿。事实上,情况可能恰恰相反:它会增强塔利班内部更为抵制和解的势力。

塔利班自己也面临着内部斗争。那些主管政治和民生方面的势力,包括多哈政治办公室的部分领导和代表,近年来似乎已经承认他们不大可能在军事上获胜,并暗示有意和谈。这些领导人的意愿并不总是与战场上的形势相一致。尽管塔利班内部的指挥和控制仍相当连贯,但位于阿富汗之外的领导人发现,越来越难以影响战地指挥官的日常决定,因为这些指挥官在很多情况下享有相当大的自主权,并且他们的部队正在遭受着重大伤亡。这可能意味着倾向谈判的领导人的影响力正在减弱,而态度更强硬的战地指挥官们则掌握更多的权力。

北约领袖延斯·斯托尔滕贝格对塔利班针对喀布尔的袭击发出承诺,北约将继续加大对阿富汗军队的支持。但他也强调了加大外交努力的必要性:“必须加倍努力实现和平与和解。”尽管和平谈判有许多困难,他和美国的其他盟友还是应该敦促华盛顿去做:保持与塔利班领导人进行沟通的渠道敞开,继续与阿富汗的邻国和其他区域大国一起寻求和解方案,最起码要为和平谈判建立基础。

如果不这样做,美国的战略就有可能进一步加剧阿富汗全国范围内的暴乱,使和平之日遥遥无期。位于前线乡村地区的平民遭受战争的苦难最重,但如果塔利班继续实施类似上周的恐怖袭击,首府和其他城镇的民众也也将会被殃及。

Commentary / Asia

A Dangerous Escalation in Afghanistan

The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is likely to continue unabated in 2018, despite the U.S. effort to step up its military campaign. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to utilise its influence with Afghan political actors to help rebuild trust and increase prospects for mediation.

This commentary on the escalation of danger in Afghanistan is part of our annual early-warning report Watch List 2018.

In 2018, Afghanistan is likely to witness escalating violence and could also face political crisis. President Ashraf’s National Unity Government (NUG) should work with U.S. officials to ensure Washington’s new strategy has a political, not merely military, component. It also should reach out to opposition politicians and parties, advance preparations for credible parliamentary elections and counter the perception that power is being centralised along ethnic lines – all measures the EU and its member states, which retain influence in Kabul, should encourage. With the U.S. for now determined to escalate its military campaign against the Taliban insurgency, prospects for progress toward a political settlement in 2018 appear dim. Still, beyond their contribution to the training, advising and assisting of Afghan security forces, the EU and European leaders and member states should continue to emphasise the importance of such a settlement and help preserve channels of communication to the insurgency.

A military strategy with no political framework

Washington’s new Afghanistan strategy involves stepping up the military campaign against the Taliban through U.S. airstrikes and mostly Afghan-led, U.S.-supported ground offensives. U.S. President Donald Trump removed deadlines for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, while increasing the number of troops on the ground by 4,000, to reach a total of 15,000 (still far below the 100,000 deployed as part of the 2011 surge). European NATO allies have committed to sending more military personnel to train and advise the Afghan security forces. Although the increase is modest – less than a thousand officers – it is a symbolically significant expression of support. U.S. officials maintain that the goal is to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and leave the group no choice but to enter into talks about a political settlement, although when such talks would take place is unclear. U.S. efforts to engage the Taliban – or at least encourage them to enter talks with the Afghan government – appear to have petered out.

Over the past year, the Taliban have stepped up their offensive, launching massive high-casualty attacks, sometimes by driving military vehicles – usually stolen from the Afghan army – laden with explosives into military and police compounds. These demoralising bombings are likely to continue. The Taliban also could continue their pattern of spectacular urban attacks to shake public confidence in the government; a 27 January attack, which saw insurgents detonate explosives packed in an ambulance on a busy Kabul street, killing more than 100 and injuring at least 200, mostly civilians, is only the latest such strike. For some years already, insurgents have used increasingly sophisticated equipment and, in some places, engaged Afghan forces in direct – as opposed to asymmetric – confrontation. The Taliban also appear to enjoy stronger connections than ever before to outside powers, not only their traditional patron (Pakistan), but also Iran and Russia. Afghan civilians are likely to bear the brunt of any escalation.

The U.S. undertook only a single observable political effort in 2017, which was to pressure Pakistan to stop harbouring and supporting the Taliban and their Haqqani network allies. Even that initiative is unlikely to bear fruit.

Prospects in 2018 for serious progress toward a peace process are slim. U.S. officials say their new strategy integrates diplomatic and military efforts to achieve a political settlement with the Taliban. Yet diplomacy clearly has been downgraded. The U.S. undertook only a single observable political effort in 2017, which was to pressure Pakistan to stop harbouring and supporting the Taliban and their Haqqani network allies. Even that initiative is unlikely to bear fruit, however, as cuts to U.S. military assistance almost certainly will not alter the strategic calculus of Islamabad’s security establishment that drives Pakistani support for Afghan insurgents.

U.S. and Afghan officials pay increasing attention to what they describe as a growing threat from foreign terrorist groups, particularly the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP). In truth, however, non-Taliban groups contributed only a small percentage of the violence in 2017. Despite dramatic and shocking attacks in urban centres, the IS-KP has, for the most part, been held in check by U.S. and Afghan forces, on the one hand, and the Taliban, on the other.

Politics in crisis

National politics are likely to suck oxygen from counter-insurgency efforts as President Ashraf Ghani’s unity government may well face a political crisis in the coming year. Parliamentary elections, already postponed in October 2016 and now scheduled for July 2018, are at risk of further delay while presidential elections are scheduled for 2019. Delayed reforms and preparations risk undermining prospects for clean polling, according to Tadamichi Yamamoto, UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Afghanistan. Insecurity across much of the country may also obstruct a credible vote.

The government faces a political opposition that is larger and more diverse than previously has been the case during the post-Taliban era. Afghan politics may be factious and fluid, but, at least for now, several groups have aligned against the Ghani government, in part because they see stalled election preparations as evidence it is looking to manipulate the vote. Many accuse the president of tightening his grip on power and deepening ethnic divisions.

Ghani’s vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord who left for Turkey amid a criminal investigation into allegations (which he denies) that he abducted and raped a political rival, has formed an alliance with influential Tajik and Hazara leaders. A spat between Ghani and Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of Balkh province who is resisting the president’s efforts to remove him from his post, also threatens turmoil. Atta has the support of a major part of Jamiat-e Islami, one of the largest political parties. That he seems ready to defy the central government so brazenly, even violently, sets a dangerous precedent for regional power brokers seeking to slip Kabul’s grip.

Powerful politicians also are arrayed against the government. Ex-President Hamid Karzai has been mobilising to convene a Loya Jirga or grand council of tribal elders to debate the country’s future. While Karzai argues a council would unite the bitterly divided Afghan polity, his critics accuse him of trying to shake up politics and regain power.

President Ghani has tried to fend off his rivals and shore up his legitimacy with the backing of Western powers. But external support is an inadequate substitute for domestic approval, particularly with elections looming. Ghani needs to invest more in building national consensus, which will be critical to manage conflict and street protests should a political crisis unfold.

Making external influence more constructive

The EU and member states have difficult tasks ahead: they must simultaneously help keep the government from unravelling; support, along with the UN, election preparations; encourage President Ghani to reach out to his opponents; and assist the U.S.-led battle against the Taliban, all the while talking to the insurgents.

Although EU influence in Kabul suffered when it closed its special representative’s office and downgraded its diplomatic presence last year, there may at some point be opportunities for Europeans to help bring the Taliban to the table.

In this respect, the EU continues to enjoy clout with various Afghan political actors, even if less than some years ago. Their reduced footprint in Afghanistan notwithstanding, the EU and member states provided €30.5 million in humanitarian assistance in 2017 to help the country’s growing numbers of displaced people and other civilian victims. More broadly, over the past decade the EU has provided some €756 million in life-saving aid. It should now use the resulting influence to push for progress toward a political settlement to the conflict. Specifically, it should press and encourage the Afghan and U.S. governments to go down this path, while ensuring that lines of communication to the insurgency remain open. If signs re-emerge that the Trump administration is planning to close the Taliban’s political representation office in Doha, Qatar – which it threatened to do in 2017 but then apparently reconsidered – European leaders should actively discourage such a move. Although EU influence in Kabul suffered when it closed its special representative’s office and downgraded its diplomatic presence last year, there may at some point be opportunities for Europeans to help bring the Taliban to the table. Indeed, mistrust between the Taliban and the Ghani government means credible third parties will, at some point, need to step in.