Responding to India’s request not to abandon support for the beleagured Afghan government , strategic partner US has unleashed a wave of massive airstrikes on Taliban troops massing up for decisive offensives .
The heaviest attacks have been on the Taliban forces near Kandahar, but those in other provinces have managed to stop them in their tracks.
The airstrikes have boosted the spirit of the Afghan military loyal to the Ghani government and Taliban’s execution of 22 army commandos have only steeled their resolve to fight rather than surrender to them.
India will host two interesting guests tommprow : US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Afghanistan army chief Gen Wali Mohammed Ahmadzai.
There is no plan for the Afghan army chief to meet US’ top diplomat on Indian soil.
But it is possible Gen Ahmadzai , who meets Indian army chief Gen M M Navarane and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, leaves behind some key messages to be conveyed to Blinken . Or leave with some comforting news that US ” armed overwatch” will continue and Washington will do whatever possible to stop a Taliban sweep.
India is as upset at the sudden and complete withdrawl of the US military from Afghanistan as the present Ashraf Ghani government in the country.
Delhi has opened a line of communication to the Taliban, whose offensive after the Feb’2020 has delivered them control of more than 200 of the 400 plus districts. But India knows its secret Taliban outreach is unlikely to cut much ice and is at best a belated effort to protect the $ 3 billion plus investment in major projects.
For India, even as it connects to the Taliban, its best option has been to lobby hard with the US to continue calibrated and forceful, though not so visible, assistance to the Afghan military . That’s what ‘armed overwatch ‘ is all about.
Since 2001, the United States has used a varied mix of CIA and special operations forces, airpower, and aid to security forces to weaken terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Libya.
This is now being adopted in Afghanistan for achieving modest goals : prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a terrorist safe haven, thwart the Taliban from controlling the entire country, reduce the possibility of a humanitarian crisis, and blunt the unfavourable external actors .
That may help address a key Indian concern : prevent Taliban support for the jihad in Kashmir.
India may lobby , on behalf of Ashraf Ghani government, to ensure United States and its international partners continue to provide funding to the Afghan government and its panoply of military, police, and intelligence units.
The United States could provide around $3 billion per year to aid Afghan security agencies to fight the Taliban and sustain the Afghan forces’ infrastructure, equipment, transportation, training, and operations, specially the Afghan government’s high-end army, air force, and police units.
Second, the United States could consider regular missions for the purpose of striking targets and gathering intelligence from U.S. bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan.
Russia is opposed to allowing these countries from hosting U.S. military bases in their Central Asian sphere of influence. But the latest version could, after subtracting the 12-hour of US Reaper drones can make round trips from Qatar, spend roughly 26 hours flying over Afghanistan, conducting surveillance and striking targets.
A former Special Adviser to the US Special Operations Command, Seth Jones, strongly recommends that the US “could complement its drones with manned aircraft, including F-15E strike fighters, F-16 fighter bombers, A-10 ground attack jets, and B-52 strategic bombers.”
” These aircraft could assist Afghan forces by offering close air support—missions that would prove particularly useful when the Taliban start to mass their forces and conduct large conventional operations,” Jones argues.
He also pitches for special operations forces from the CIA and the U.S. military to train and equip Afghan forces, as well as allied militias in Afghanistan.
Armed overwatch in Afghanistan cannot be a panacea and may not be sufficient to prevent the Taliban from seizing and holding some cities.
But it may be able to minimize the likelihood that Afghanistan again becomes a terrorist sanctuary, prevent the Taliban from controlling the entire country, and counter external influences dangerous for both US and India.
Afghan military’s counter-offensives in Kunduz and Herat in the last two days, with US aerial strikes backing them, has got the Taliban furiously complaining about American violation of the 2020 accord. But by trying for an outright military victory , it is the Taliban who violated the promises of peace and reconciliation agreed by all sides in the Doha agreement.