The collapse of the Afghan government attacked by the Taliban, which conquered yet another strategic city in the country on Thursday (12), reveals the failure of the American strategy aimed at increasing the military musculature of the allies in Kabul.
The current offensive, launched last Sunday, has seen ten provincial capitals fall into the hands of the Taliban since Friday (6). Ghazni, 150 km southwest of Kabul, is an important link between the capital and the country’s second largest city, Kandahar.
With the north of the country, more hostile to the Taliban ethnic base, practically dominated, it is the turn of the south – the base of the Taliban, Kandahar is the point of emergence of the movement after its formation in Pakistan in the 1990s.
There are attacks in other regions, with great brutality. In Herat (west), Taliban forces were seen fighting in the center of the city, and their downfall appears imminent. Folha has learned from the Foreign Ministry that 300 to 400 soldiers die every day.
The advance of the Islamic fundamentalist group, which ruled 90% of the country from 1996 until its expulsion by the American invasion in 2001, surprised the West with its speed.
Should not. In-depth work by Jonathan Schroden, director of the Center for Stability and Development at the CNA Corporation, a think tank in Arlington (Virginia, USA), warned in January that the planned withdrawal of US forces from the country would have exactly the effects that ‘he sees now.
The final departure, scheduled for August 31, motivated the Taliban to tear up the peace agreement with the Americans. Analysts still bet on the resistance of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, the pompous name of the country’s army, air force, paramilitaries and police.
It was forged, trained and equipped by the Americans during the 20 years of their longest war, which began after the Taliban housed the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, which plotted the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan. 2001 in the United States.
The idea was to create unified armed forces, which did not exist in a country that had gone through ten years of Soviet invasion (1979-89), civil war and Taliban rule. On paper, it is a success, admittedly costly: in 2020, the United States invested 3.3 billion dollars in the region, against a total budget estimated at 5 billion dollars.
In his book, Schroden lists six areas and compares Kabul’s power to that of the Taliban.
Without the presence of American forces, he said, “it would be wise for the United States and the Afghan government to vigorously pursue negotiations while American forces are still in the country, avoiding tempting the Taliban to exploit the advantage. military that they will have in their absence ”.
The central government has an advantage in only two areas. One, slight in the author’s assessment, is the size of his forces. There are 178,600 men out of 100,000 members of the security forces. This is less than the 350,000 allowed by law, desertion being the law in a tribal society given to local loyalties.
The Taliban, in turn, are an irregular force and therefore unaudited. Various sources point out that it has 60,000 regular fighters and up to 140,000 allied militiamen across the Afghan provinces.
This is not little, especially since according to Schroden the group wins by the coup of the government in the cohesion and motivation of its troops. It also has a strong funding advantage, as amounts of between US $ 300 billion and US $ 1.5 billion per year are more than enough to maintain its small arms.
The money comes from outside supporters such as the Pakistani secret service, the opium trade and various crimes. By the way, foreign support is a link between the Taliban and the government.
The big advantage of Kabul lies in the equipment. While the Taliban use small arms and objects such as artillery and vehicles taken from the enemy, the government has a lot of modern equipment and, most importantly, an unprecedented air force.
The star of this air force is Brazilian: Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, manufactured under license in the USA. The US Air Force has purchased 26 and has already delivered 23 to Kabul.
The aircraft, in use since 2016, is considered ideal for counterinsurgency actions, with a low operating cost: it is cheaper to use a well-armed turboprop than a heavy fighter.
The United States spent $ 8.5 billion from 2010 to 2020 to build this force. About 30 pilots and 70 technicians for the A-29 were trained in the United States.
Air actions by Afghan forces accounted for a third of total bombings of Taliban targets two years ago. Now, without the presence of American planes in the country, that has changed.
The United States carried out targeted attacks against the Taliban offensive, using MQ-9 drones, F-15 fighter-bombers, B-52 bombers and AC-130 planes from its base in Al Udeid ( Qatar) and aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf.
It was insufficient, and reveals another problem: the departure of technicians who supported the Afghan fleet of new planes and helicopters has left the country in a logistical blackout.
According to a June report from Parliament in Kabul, a third of the planes are on the ground, and of about 18,000 Western forces hired to help Afghans in 2010, only a few hundred are in the country.
There are numerous reports of helicopter mechanics being tutored by Zoom’s U.S. government contractors, and the laser-guided bombs used by the Super Tucanos are simply out of stock.
All this explains the ineffectiveness of Brazilian planes in stopping the advance around Kandahar and Herat, in addition to a human factor: the few pilots in the country are the target of a campaign of selective assassinations which has already killed at least 7 of the 30 qualified to pilot the Super Toucan.
As the US Inspector General for Afghanistan, John Sopke, said in his April report, the escape of pilots and especially technicians is serious. As of April, there were only 39 Super Tucano technicians in action.
Finally, in addition to the high morale of its troops, the Taliban have a more defined strategy. As Kabul focused on protecting major cities, the group occupied the various villages and mountain passes around them, biding their time for a major offensive.
Tired, demoralized and without decisive Western support, government forces have become easy prey. An exception occurs in Lashkar Gah (southwest), where the special troops are still resisting after a week and a half.
The government in Kabul says it is ready to respond, but signs point to the contrary so far.
In short, as Schroden predicted in his January essay published by the West Point Military Academy’s Counterterrorism Center, the rapid withdrawal of US support quickly thwarted Kabul’s apparent power and material advantage.