World View: U.S. Military Commitments Grow in Afghanistan and Syria

Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images
Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

This morning’s key headlines from

  • ISIS claims responsibility for hospital attack in Kabul, Afghanistan
  • CENTCOM commander: Afghanistan ‘stalemate’ requires ‘thousands’ more US troops
  • Report: Trump administration shuts out Russia and Turkey in Syria

ISIS claims responsibility for hospital attack in Kabul, Afghanistan

Afghan Taliban (AP)
Afghan Taliban (AP)

Militants dressed as doctors on Wednesday stormed the largest military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. The militants were armed with guns and grenades, and gained entry after one detonated explosives at a hospital gate and then opened fire on staff and patients.

The attack began at 9 am. One hospital staff member who was able to get out saw an attacker “wearing a white coat holding a Kalashnikov and opening fire on everyone, including the guards, patients, and doctors.” More than 30 people were killed, and dozens more were wounded.

The Afghan Taliban have conducted similar terror attacks in the past, but they have denied responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. The so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) did claim responsibility, once again raising the question of what it means for Syria-based ISIS to be taking responsibility for a terror attack in Kabul.

In Syria, ISIS was formed mainly by thousands of young men coming from over 80 countries around, wanting to fight Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad after he began massacring and committing atrocities against innocent Sunni women and children. These included young jihadists from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Now that ISIS has become a brand name (like al-Qaeda), it’s using the same model to form ISIS branches in other countries, including Afghanistan. According to Afghanistan’s national security adviser Hanif Atmar said:

First of all, the violent extremist organizations that we are confronted by are not just Taliban. There are four groups — first, Taliban and Haqqanis; second Pakistani groups including LeT, JeM, LeJ, TTP and others; third are regional groups like ETIM [East Turkestan Islamic Movement (mainly Uighurs)] and IMU [Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan], and fourth are international terrorists like Daesh [ISIS] and Al Qaeda.

These four groups have a symbiotic relationship with the Afghan terrorists. They need the Afghans, the Afghans need them. Second, they have symbiotic relationships with the two other relationships I described earlier, the criminal economy and state sponsorship…

Our response cannot be peace and reconciliation. We can make peace and reconciliation with the Afghan groups based on certain principles, but cannot reconcile with the other three groups. They are not fighting there for anything related to Afghanistan. They want to have a sanctuary there to fight others. LeT would like a sanctuary to fight India, ETIM to fight China, and so on. We told our Pakistani interlocutors that Taliban will allow sanctuary to the TTP, your enemy. Therefore, blind support to the Taliban will be creating a frankenstein again.

Of particular importance is that the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban or TTP) are distinct groups, though they’re both from the Pashtun ethnic group, and they provide havens for each. As I’ve described in the past, their behaviors are significantly different, because they’re in different generational eras. Pakistan’s last generational crisis war was the 1947 Partition war that created Pakistan and India, and so the Pakistan Taliban are in a generational Crisis era. Afghanistan’s last generational crisis war was the 1992-96 civil war between Afghan ethnic groups, and so the Afghan Taliban are in a generational Awakening era. That’s the reason why Atmar can say that “We can make peace and reconciliation with the Afghan groups based on certain principles, but cannot reconcile with the other three groups.”

One fascinating sign of this that I wrote about in 2008 was a study by the Jamestown Foundation that showed that Afghan Taliban suicide bombers almost never kill anyone but themselves. That study appears as part of a lengthy article that I wrote at the time on the Sunni-Shia conflict. It’s a fascinating example of how a societies beliefs and behaviors can differ radically and predictably, depending on what generational era they’re in. Tolo News (Afghanistan) and CNN and Times of India

Related Articles

CENTCOM commander: Afghanistan ‘stalemate’ requires ‘thousands’ more US troops

A month ago, General John W. Nicholson, command of the US forces in Afghanistan, testified to Congress that the war in Afghanistan was in a “stalemate,” and that thousands more American troops would be required. After Wednesday’s attack in Kabul, CENTCOM command Joseph Votel said that he agreed with those statements.

I do believe it will involve additional forces to ensure that we can make the advise-and-assist mission more effective.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Hamdullah Mohib, said his country would welcome additional troops. He said that he’s encouraged by what he’s seen so far from the Trump administration:

They’re not hesitant. There is no hesitancy that I noticed with the previous administration on the war on terrorism and their engagement in that aspect.

We welcome that because what we need now more than anything is an attitude of winning, an attitude of ending this conflict once and for all. And we have had a lot of positive hints from the administration in that regard.

On Thursday, the White House said that the administration is reviewing its Afghanistan policy, including whether to send more U.S. troops. Military Times and ABC News and Defense One (2-Feb) and Senate Armed Services Committee hearings (2-Feb)

Related Articles

Report: Trump administration shuts out Russia and Turkey in Syria

In yesterday’s article, I wrote that the deployment of hundreds of additional American troops into the Syrian battles at Manbij and Raqqa continues the policy from the previous administration of minimal involvement, only supporting local forces with airstrikes and artillery. Thus, Russia, Iran and Turkey would continue to take the lead.

However, according to Debka, the administration of president Donald Trump is being far more aggressive than that description suggests.

As long-time readers know, I like to reference Debka’s subscriber-only newsletter (sent to me by a subscriber), which is written from Israel’s point of view, because they have military and intelligence sources that provide valuable insights. However, as usual, I have to warn readers that they definitely do get some things wrong. The information that I’m presenting here from their newsletter is not confirmed by any other sources I’ve seen, but it is generally consistent with other reports.

Elements of the 25th Rangers Regiment, spearhead of the forthcoming offensive to liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State, flew in from Fort Lewis air base, Washington, to the US air facility in Rmeilan, near the Syrian Kurdish town of Hasaka. They were equipped with light Stryker tanks. More tanks and heavy equipment reached the base overland from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Coming in from Iraq was the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, part of an artillery battery with M777 Howitzers for firing 155-mm shells. The Marine unit’s ground force consists of the Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines for manning the guns and providing fire support for the local forces assigned to the assault on Raqqa. Additional infantrymen from this unit are available to provide security.

Gen. Dunford did not need to explain to the Russian and Turkish generals what had happened. It was obvious that President Donald Trump had jumped the gun on Moscow and Ankara. At one stroke, he had knocked over all … question marks hanging over his administration’s Middle East orientation:

  • The United States had decided to come down heavily on direct military intervention in the Syrian conflict. …
  • America was ready to go to war on the Islamic State terrorists without the standard wrapping of a ‘coalition’ and only a competent local force…
  • The local force chosen for the Raqqa operation is the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force, an alliance of 45,000 Syrian Kurdish fighters of the YPG militia, which has proven its prowess in combat against ISIS, and 10,000 members of the Arab Shammar tribe of northern Syria. …
  • Neither Russia, nor Syria or Turkey received invitations for their armies to join the US Raqqa offensive. Therefore, Vladimir Putin, Bashar Assad and Tayyip Edrogan are cut out of any say in the American military operation. …
  • The prominently posted images of US tanks flying the Stars and Stripes and the Pentagon spokesman’s description of ‘deliberate action,’ posted a keep-out marker for the Russian and Turkish forces at the scene. …
  • Gen. Dunford notified his Russian and Turkish colleagues that the American army’s first mission in Syria was to capture the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, following which the troops would make for the Deir ez-Zour province and undertake the task of cleansing northern and eastern Syria of Islamist concentrations…
  • [Turkey’s] President Erdogan [expressed] strong objections to the American plan and raise his voice in particular against the Kurdish-led SDF’s integration in the Raqqa operation.
  • The Turks were not content with angry words. US Air Force jets preparing to take off from the southern Turkish Incirlik air base were slowed by official red tape over the necessary permits. The air crews picked up rumors that Erdogan was about to cancel permission for the US warplanes to use the base.

The Debka report is not confirmed by other sources, though it’s consistent with other media reports. If it’s true, then it marks a substantial change in Mideast policy by the Trump administration, in contrast to the Obama administration. In particular, for the first time, American forces are taking the lead in defining and implementing a clear objective – the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa. Whether this is a change in outcome or just a change in tone remains to be seen. USA Today and Debka

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Afghanistan, Kabul, Pakistan, India, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Afghan Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban, TTP, Pakistan Taliban, Pashtuns, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Hanif Atmar, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, ETIM, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, John W. Nicholson, CENTCOM, Joseph Votel, Hamdullah Mohib, Turkey, Syria, Manbij, Raqqa, Kurds, Russia, Iran
Permanent web link to this article
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.