Afghan insurgents usually start major operations in late April or early May as weather warms up. This time Taliban will fight with an apparently strong position due to increased territorial gains. ”We will start spring operations soon. We will launch offensive as soon as it is possible for fighters to stay in open in the night in cold areas,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Daily Times when a query was posted on his WhatsApp.
Last year, the Taliban started annual offensive on April 28, which was named after Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the supreme leader who was killed by the US in a drone strike in May 2016.This winter also witnessed several deadliest Taliban attacks despite a surge in American troops and increase in NATO air strikes following Trump’s new Afghan strategy.
Days ahead of the announcement of the major offensive, the insurgents have staged deadly attacks in recent days that the Taliban spokesman describes as a ‘teaser’ for the spring offensive.
On April 18, the Taliban killed Col Janan Mama, a top commander of the border rapid reaction force, and three of his police bodyguards in Kandahar. Taliban described Janan as a big asset for the US-led foreign forces in southern Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters also briefly overran Khawaja Omari district in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province on April 12 and killed district governor and more than a dozen security personnel.
Taliban sources say their main focus would be on southern parts of the country where the Taliban military chief Ibrahim Sadr is personally advising the Taliban troops. Taliban Helmand governor Abdul Manan Akhund, one of the few influential Taliban commanders, is also a main character behind the Taliban gains in the south.
Mullah Younas, a senior leader, is dealing with the Taliban military affairs in the east and the north, according to the Taliban sources. Taliban deputy Mullah Siraj-ud-Din Haqqani, is looking after the whole military and other organizational affairs, they said. In a recently circulated audio message, Haqqani ruled out any compromise on what he called ‘Jihad’ unless the American invading forces are stationed in Afghanistan.
The Taliban are set to launch the spring offensive at a time when the recent US military report said Afghan forces control was evading. A US watchdog says the Resolute Support Mission has identified the southern provinces with the largest percentage of insurgent-controlled or -influenced districts as Uruzgan Province, with four of its six districts under insurgent control or influence and Helmand Province (nine of 14 districts).
The Trump’s strategy announced in August last year, which mainly focuses on use of force, is seemed to have failed to weaken the Taliban insurgents. The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in its quarterly report said the percentage of districts under insurgent control or influence has doubled since 2015.”The percentage of contested districts has risen by nearly 50 percent since 2015. The percentage of districts under government control or influence had decreased by over 20 percent since 2015,” said SIGAR, which regularly provides analysis of the now-releasable data for Congress and the public.
Taliban have discredited all regional initiatives on the plea that they have not mentioned withdrawal of the foreign troops as they insist foreign invasion is the lone reason of their armed resistance.
No doubt president Ashraf Ghani offered unconditional dialogue offer to the Taliban in February with some new suggestions but the peace overture could not convince the Taliban as the beleaguered leader skipped the issue of foreign troops. Pakistanis believe president Ghani cannot publicly speak about the foreign troops because Americans don’t want it.
Although the Kabul Process received support from all key stakeholders including Pakistan, Taliban did not give any importance to the process. Similarly, the Tashkent conference in March also did not make any change for the Taliban because it also did not address the basic issue.
The Tashkent conference on Afghanistan in March was thought to be a political endorsement for the Kabul Process. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev wanted to please both the US and Russia but he could not speak about the fundamental issue. However, President Mirziyoyev’s offer to host direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban representatives was a positive step. However, Taliban have ruled out any direct talks with the Kabul administration and want face-to-face talks with the US in first phase.
The Taliban this week rejected President Ghani’s call to the Taliban to register themselves for the upcoming parliamentary elections and insisted nothing is legal under the foreign invasion.