Marines patrol in southern Afghanistan. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)
Since U.S.-led forces unseated the Taliban in 2001, springtime in Afghanistan has generally brought increased fighting between insurgents and coalition forces. Many Afghans expect this year to be no different.
In the winter, leafless trees provide few hiding spots for guerrilla fighters, who usually cross the border — mainly into Pakistan — to regroup and wait for spring’s green cover, said Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost‘s correspondent in Kabul.
When they return, the fighting resumes, along with retaliation by international forces. Pre-emptive airstrikes already have begun, she said. “People are bracing for a violent spring. Everyone expects an uptick in violence.”
One of the tacks the Afghan government has taken to try to stem the violence is entering a dialogue with members of the Taliban, but the substance of those talks and the results remain unclear, said MacKenzie. The Taliban has had no real desire to talk with the Afghan government when their real problem is with the presence of U.S. forces, she said. And Afghan President Hamid Karzai has little power to bargain on behalf of the U.S.
As for the administration’s desire to engage the Taliban, prerequisites include the fighters laying down their arms, re-entering Afghan society and accepting the Afghan constitution — conditions the Taliban have repeatedly rejected, said MacKenzie.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underscored the need to dismantle the insurgency in remarks at the Asia Society on Friday, in which she described the cooperation between al-Qaida and the Taliban:
“Before 2001, al-Qaida was protected in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Al-Qaida and the Taliban, along with various associated groups, still maintain an alliance, based largely in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Taliban continue to wage a brutal insurgency against the government in Kabul in an effort to regain control of the country. The Taliban and al-Qaida are distinct groups with distinct aims, but they are both our adversaries and part of a syndicate of terror that must be broken.”
The difference between this year and previous years is the Taliban is in a weakened position, said MacKenzie. U.S. forces have been targeting the Taliban’s mid-level command, which destabilizes their structure but also could have an unintended consequence, she said.
If the commanders are being replaced by younger and more radicalized people, they might not be willing to negotiate, she said.