Thursday, January 21, 2016

Obama administration allows the Pentagon to directly target ISIS in Afghanistan. Washington Post.

Afghan troops train in Kandahar. Washington Post/Reuters. 

The Obama administration has changed the rules of engagement in Afghanistan to allow the military to target ISIS fighters directly. Washington Post. In the past, the United States was only able to use airstrikes in defense of US, allied, or Afghani troops on the ground or if the militants were identified as al-Qaeda members. The new rules allow ISIS fighters to be targeted the same way al-Qaeda is, based on nothing more then there membership on ISIS. America has launched airstrikes against ISIS in Afghanistan in the past, but they did not use this logic to target them. Instead those fighters had demonstrated "hostile intent" to forces on the ground. Though this is not a major change in the policy, it does go to show that the United States feels that ISIS is a threat in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has become unstable lately due to advances by the Taliban, which has created an opportunity for ISIS to grow there. 

My Comment:
ISIS is a large threat in Afghanistan and I am glad that they are at least trying to take the threat seriously. If we had done so in Iraq back before the fall of Mosul, it is possible that ISIS would have never expanded to the extent they have now. Targeting these ISIS fighters probably won't do much but if we can kill some of their leadership we might be able to cut out the cancer before it becomes malignant. I wouldn't hole my breath though. 

Despite the new rules of engagement, there are limits to what this policy can do. Our air power is already stretched thin due to our operations in Iraq and Syria. Afghanistan is the backwater in the current war and our resources are being spent elsewhere. What little is left is being used to prop up the Afghani government and to fight the Taliban. Those targets are taking up the priority and I think that is probably justified. Instead of bombing ISIS into submission with a huge air campaign, expect to see a tiny uptick in targeted assassination bombings aimed at high value ISIS targets. We will try and kill their leaders if we find them, but when it comes to actually defeating ISIS, it will be up to the people on the ground to win the war. 

Afghanistan is a mess right now, and I mean that for every party involved. The Afghan national government is having massive problems with their military. They have suffered tremendous casualties against the Taliban and have lost quite a bit of territory from them as well. Their army is on the verge of falling apart and right now the main thing that is propping them up is US air strikes. Corruption is still a huge problem and one wonders if the government will survive, even with our help.

The best news for the Afghans is that the Taliban is having problems as well. After the death of Mullah Omar, the Taliban has split into factions that disagree with the way the war is being handled. Some members want peace and to reach a settlement with the Afghan government while others want to continue the war and destroy the Afghan government. Both sides are also fighting ISIS, who is drawing recruits from both groups. Still, their main focus is on fighting the Afghan government.

For ISIS, this represents a huge opportunity. If they can siphon off enough recruits from the Taliban, they could become a major force in the area. Then they could take and hold territory in Afghanistan. Though this territory won't be anywhere near as rich as the places they have captured in Iraq, Syria and Libya, they could still draw taxes and recruits from anyplace they control. ISIS also draws its legitimacy as a Caliphate from all the territory it holds. Even though the land in Afghanistan is largely worthless in comparison to other prizes ISIS has taken, it still gives them quite a bit of prestige and power if they take territory there. 

Afghanistan could also represent a safe haven of last resort if Syria and Iraq fall. Though Libya is a much more lucrative and closer place to go, there is no reason that Afghanistan couldn't be used as a backup base as well. I have said before the fight against ISIS is going to be a tough one for this very reason. If you stamp down on them in one place they are likely to pop up somewhere else. Should ISIS get a major foothold in Afghanistan then they have one more place they can flee too. Along with Nigeria and Libya, Afghanistan represents a second chance for ISIS. 

Hopefully, these new rules of engagement help. I am not optimistic though. President Obama wants to get out of Afghanistan at almost any cost. Though I don't think he will abandon the country completely, I do think it is possible he could leave it in such a sorry state that the Taliban or ISIS could take over and the Afghani government could be destroyed.

I have no idea what the next president will do in Afghanistan. I haven't heard much of anything about the country in any of the debates I have watched. Though every candidate seems to have a plan for Syria and Iraq, I haven't heard them say that they have concrete plans for Afghanistan. And this goes for candidates in each party. I'm not sure I have any ideas myself, but I would be very interested in seeing a plan that can effectively keep the Afghan government it power and destroy the Taliban and ISIS once and for all. I guess I will just have to keep waiting, and I might not find out until we have a new president... 

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