As events in Eastern Europe continue to unravel and occupy the Obama administration’s attention, questions surrounding Afghanistan have supposedly stabilized. The Bilateral Security Agreement, which involves an explicit, adumbrated relationship between the United States and Afghanistan after the scaling down of American troops, remains unsigned to this day. Afghan President Karzai refused to sign the agreement toward the end of last year and the U.S. has had to wait for Afghanistan’s Election results before proceeding further. Without a clear winner in the Presidential Election, however, the waiting will continue until June’s runoff election.
Whereas passive endurance defines American relations with Afghanistan thus far in 2014, those relations could actually be much worse. Aside from leaving behind a stable and functioning Afghan state, one predominant goal of the United States involves bolstering security forces in Afghanistan. Having ousted the Taliban from power in 2001, American forces continue working to make sure the Taliban is unable to regain power after an American exit in 2014. These past elections in April were consequently a test of not only Afghanistan’s security status, but also the Taliban’s strength.
Surprisingly, the Taliban was both absent and relatively quiet throughout the elections, which garnered impressive turnout figures. This absence of conflict was unexpected considering the press’ focus on the elections. With a stage that large and widespread, many observers believed the Taliban would be foolish to not take advantage of a headline-making opportunity. Nevertheless, Taliban fighters stayed home for the most part and voters made it to the polls, by and large, undisturbed.
Two implications resulted from the Taliban’s decision on Election Day. First, as the spotlight shined on Afghanistan, analysts and commentators could conclude that American efforts over the years have been so successful that the Taliban determined the costs of such militant action outweighed any benefits. In short, United States policy toward and cooperation with Afghanistan finally paid off. Second, one could conclude that the Taliban is simply too diminished to carry out serious coordinated attacks anymore. Another tribute to American policy, the Taliban has been run down and is unable to even threaten voters.
No matter how valid these two conclusions may have been after April’s elections, recent events in Afghanistan may render them both absurd. In a considered statement, the Taliban has officially announced its annual spring offensive. The language used in the statement derides any notion that American efforts in Afghanistan should be taken seriously or that the Taliban is anything but strong.
Without mincing words, the Taliban delivered its announcement last week. Claiming the offensive will be against “the invaders and their spineless backers,” the Taliban has named its campaign ‘Khaibar.’ Khaibar refers to a battle in the seventh century between Jews and Muslims, led by Muhammad, and the Taliban have adopted it as the title for this year’s campaign in Afghanistan. According to the Taliban, “the main target of the current year’s blessed Jihadi operation shall be the foreign invaders and their backers under various names like spies, military and civilian contractors….”
The year 2014 could turn out to be a decisive year in American foreign policy and the month is only May. Whether one considers Putin’s behavior in Ukraine or Assad’s actions in Syria, the White House has already faced tests on numerous fronts. For the Taliban’s part, another test is on its way. With U.S. troops on their way out of Afghanistan, this ‘Khaibar’ offensive will test the Taliban’s strength and the state’s security’s capabilities, two variables to which American policy has paid a great deal of attention.
Taliban fighters have made both their goals and methods explicit for this spring. In its announcement the Taliban goes on to say, “martyrdom strikes, infiltrator operations, targeting large and well fortified enemy bases with heavy weapons and missiles…shall be some of the main techniques used in these spring operations.” With a new Afghan President soon assuming office and American troops increasingly leaving, the results of this ‘Khaibar’ offensive become very important.
The American public has grown weary of and confused about the Afghanistan War, and a disastrous spring would be more inexplicable still. If anything is clear, however, it is the motivations and techniques of the Taliban this spring.