A ceasefire between Afghan government forces and Taliban militants appears to have come to a bitter end as an attack on Afghan security forces in Western Afghanistan on 20th June killed 30 soldiers.
The initial eight day peace had been brokered to allow both sides to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid, and following successful joint celebrations between the two sides, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on June 16th that the ceasefire was to be extended by 10 days. This day was also marked by a suicide bomber killing 24 Taliban and Government officials, with the rival militant group Islamic State (IS) claiming responsibility.
The ceasefire had appeared to be an opportunity for peace and reconciliation between the Afghan Government and the Taliban, who have been at conflict since the establishment of the democratic Afghan government in 2004. The newfound cooperation between the two sides could have provided a unique opportunity to coordinate a joint military response to tackle IS.
However, any further communication between the Afghans and the Taliban now appears wholly unlikely as an attack by Taliban militants on 20th June killed 30 Afghan soldiers across multiple military sites. Western Afghanistan provincial council chief Abdul Aziz Bek was quoted as accusing Taliban militants of using the ceasefire to collect vital intelligence to plan this attack.
The Taliban was officially established in 1994 but its predecessors had waged a bitter insurgency against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the aftermath of the Afghan Civil War, the Taliban were able to gain control of vast swathes of Afghanistan. Throughout the 1990’s they controlled 90% of Afghan territory and imposed a strict Islamic code of Sharia law, with human rights abuses frequently recorded. The Taliban is also highly active in Pakistan with President Ghani describing Pakistan as the ‘centre of the Taliban.’
A US-led invasion in 2001 significantly reduced Taliban control and allowed for the establishment of a new constitution in 2004 to enable democratic elections. NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014 but have continued to fund the Afghan military to continue suppression of the Taliban insurgency. However, since January 2018, where a BBC study publicised that the Taliban was active in 70% of Afghanistan affecting up to 15 million civilians, Western forces have been increasing their commitments to the region. A NATO summit on 12th July saw UK Prime Minister Theresa May commit 440 troops to assist Afghan Government forces in non-combat roles. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is aiming to persuade the alliance to continue funding Afghan forces up until 2024. US President Trump’s administration sent 3,000 additional troops to support Afghan forces in September 2017.
However, it is unlikely that these commitments will make a significant difference. Attempts by the Soviet Union failed to eradicate the Taliban, and in the height of the US-led invasion in 2011 140,000 NATO troops were required to suppress the Taliban. These numbers committed by the US and allies today do not reflect the level of military influence they held five years ago and will only lead to further casualties. With the Taliban pushing for Sharia law, the Taliban is not just an organisation, it represents an ideology. Suppressing an ideology with military clout is completely impractical, so to tackle the Taliban insurgency the only realistic option is further negotiation between the government and the Taliban, and schemes to help tackle radical Islamic teaching.