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Six men found guilty of crimes against “civilian national security” were hanged on Sunday in Afghanistan. The executions, which were meant to set an example to future extremists, including the Taliban, mark a shift in the Afghan government’s crackdown on extremism. The six people hanged were respectively convicted of involvement in the 2011 assassination of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, as well as the 2009 killing of deputy intelligence chief Abdullah Laghmani.
The Taliban recently announced plans for its 2016 Spring offensive in Afghanistan, which it calls “Operation Omari.” The organization has steadily been making gains in the southern, eastern and northern regions of the country since the US pulled all but 13,500 of its troops from the region. Amidst the Taliban’s promise for “large-scale attacks,” there has been concern about whether Afghan security forces will be able to fend them off without help from the US.
The relationship between the Afghan government and the Taliban has been particularly rocky as of late. Under former President Hamid Karzai, the government had ceased executions of Taliban insurgents in hopes that the Taliban would partake in peace talks. Upon taking office in 2014, current President Ashraf Ghani promised to initiate peace talks, only to retract his statements after an especially deadly suicide attack that killed 64 people in Kabul last month. The attack was one of the deadliest in recent years, and afterward Ghani asserted that he was no longer interested in peace talks, and promised to “deal severely with those who shed the blood of our innocent people and soldiers.”
The Taliban stated earlier in the year that it would not talk “face-to-face” with the government until it is removed from a United Nations blacklist, all foreign forces vacate the country and its members are released from prison.
To make matters more complex, the Taliban is not the only extremist organization in the struggle for power in Afghanistan; the Islamic State is also fighting to become a dominant military force in the country. In a letter addressed to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last year, the Taliban warned IS to stay out of Afghanistan, stating that “the fight against the country’s Western-backed government and the push for strict Islamic rule should be undertaken ‘under one flag and one leadership.’” Although Taliban spokesmen have continuously denied that the Islamic State is a threat to them, the latter undoubtedly has more money to its name and a superior arsenal of weaponry. Furthermore, IS has been successful in bribing members of the Taliban into switching their allegiance. US intelligence has even reported that the Afghan and Pakistani faction of IS is made up mainly of ex-Taliban members.
The Taliban and the Islamic State both follow a hardliner interpretation of Sunni Islam, but past this fact the differences greatly outnumber the similarities between the two organizations. Firstly, IS seeks to create a caliphate among the international Muslim community and is broken up into smaller factions across the region, whereas the Taliban’s goal is solely a united Muslim Afghan state. Secondly, the Taliban, which follows a less-strict version of Sunni Islam than IS, has rejected the Caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. IS has even denied that the Taliban rules by Islamic law at all.
Although the Obama Administration has repeatedly asserted that American troops no longer partake in close-quarter combat against the Taliban, the increased conflict and instability in Afghanistan has created “ill-defined parameters” with regard to which missions American forces are supposed to be fulfilling. The Administration allows troops to remain in the country in order to train the Afghan army, but recently American Green Berets lead a four-day-long offensive against the Taliban to take the Afghan city of Kunduz after the Taliban had gained control of the city for the first time since 2001.
Although the White House has stated that Americans’ combat role in Afghanistan is over, the sheer mess between the Islamic State, the Taliban and the weak Afghan government may in fact elicit further American involvement in a war has already been drawn out for far too long.
Photo courtesy of the BBC