As reported by the United Nations, civilian casualties in consequence of military operations are on the rise; 8 per cent more civilians casualties in the first quarter of 2015 than in the same period in 2014.
On the military front, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have suffered record casualties this year as they combat Taliban largely without the support of US and Nato (in particular the air power). Statistically, the number of Afghan military and policemen killed or wounded has increased 70% in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the same period last year (casualties have averaged about 330 a week). This result is a direct consequence of the reduced number of airstrikes and cutbacks in surveillance and support by US-led military coalition that has given the Armed Opposition Groups (AOGs) more freedom to move on the battlefield.
On the other hand, the newcomers Foreign Fighters in Afghanistan claim allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS) recruiting militants. In fact, the consequence of the successful operations in Syraq and the efficacious ‘Web offensive’ – thanks to the effective capacity to penetrate the social level overtaking physical borders and political countermeasures – is the capability to attract young militants intended to fight against foreigners and Afghan government labeled by insurgents as ‘illegitimate’.
In addition, a further new actor emerged in the regional competition: ‘Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent’ (AQIS, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent), leaded by the al-Qaeda ‘Emir’ Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the purpose of waging jihad in India (including Kashmir, Gujarat and Assam). From Pakistan and with its close links to Lashkar-e-Taiba and other terrorist organizations, Al-Qaeda represents a perilous menace to India. The move was part of al-Qaeda's plan to take advantage of the partial withdrawal of US led forces from Afghanistan, and boost its influence in the ‘Af-Pak-Ind’ region.
At present, the most dangerous consequence of the newcomers‘ presence are the indirect dynamics influencing the security as well as the political agenda (with explicit reference to the peace talks attempts in progress).
Despite the new impulse to this phase of the Afghan war represented by the ISIS attempt to be a ‘first-line’ actor (competing with al-Qaeda), and considering the Islamic State a direct threat to the Afghan stability and security, what is important to emphasize is the fact that the main security threats still remain the regional AOGs; in particular the Taliban and other experienced insurgent entities, especially the Haqqani Network, the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP - splitted into two sub-groups, one supporting Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, the other supporting ISIS) militants and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (particularly in the east of the country). The competitive approach to the local battlefield adopted by the new actors – especially in southern Helmand, and Ghazni and Farah provinces – stimulates all the other ‘old’ actors in competing for the success on the battlefield, as well as on the social field; these aggressive dynamics representing one more negative factor for the unstable security situation which is boosted by the ongoing new Taliban spring offensive called ‘Operation Azm’.
Brief analysis, assessments, forecasts
In the short term, it is assessed a significant augment in AOGs activity, both external and domestic. In line with the last years’ trend, we can consider as probable an increase in number and intensity of the offensive actions against the ANSF
Besides, Afghan AOGs are contrasting the centripetal dynamics moving part of the younger generations from Taliban to ISIS affiliates groups (a specific example of this evolution is the aforementioned splitting process of the Pakistani TTP).
As consequence, the Afghan government will face difficulties on the peace-process in agenda which would involve directly the Afghan AOGs. On the one hand, the unstable diarchy Ghani-Abdullah would involve Pakistan as facilitator in the dialogue with the Taliban; on the other hand this peace-process, based on the dialogue, is uneasy because the internal dynamics of the Taliban which could lead
- to a dangerous splitting-process of the movement in favor of ISIS or
- to the most dangerous scenario characterized by an increasing of conflicts (involving the galaxy of the regional and transnational AOGs).
In addition, from a geo-political perspective, Iran’s regional ambitions are growing, on the one hand as consequence of the nuclear dialogues involving Teheran and Washington and, on the other hand, as result of the Iran’s role in contrasting ISIS in Syraq. Moreover, Iran stated the intention to take part to counter-terrorism initiatives involving Pakistan and Afghanistan: this could open a new political season of the Iran’s role at regional level.
Concluding, regarding the threat of ISIS, from a double ‘time’ and ‘space’ perspective what appears as necessary is a defined political intent based on holistic and nonclassical approach: first fundamental step of a strategy intended to contrast and defeat ISIS must considers it as a transnational and ‘glocal’ threat.
Furthermore, it is necessary to avoid considering conflictual episodes and terror attacks in MENA area as separated: because each single event, even if not coordinated, is part of a wide political plan based on ideological, revolutionary and destabilizing principles and intents.