Country Risk

NATO prepares for Taliban spring campaign, with focus on south

03 March 2017
An Afghan soldier on operations in Ghazni province in December 2016. Sources with the country's NATO-led 'Resolute Support' mission have expressed optimism over the current capabilities of the ANDSF compared with previous years. Source: Xinhua/PA Images

Key Points

  • The NATO-led 'Resolute Support' mission in Afghanistan is expecting the Taliban's spring offensive to focus on the south
  • This year, however, there are raised expectations regarding the capabilities of the ANDSF

As in past years, coalition forces in Afghanistan expect a substantial spike in spring fighting from the country's Taliban insurgency in 2017, particularly in the latter's southern stronghold regions. Despite the continuing deadly attacks on Kabul and other areas, NATO said the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) are better prepared compared with just four months ago to confront the insurgents.

"The Taliban will typically kick off [their insurgency campaign] in mid-April, so the fighting will pick up soon," Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the NATO-led 'Resolute Support' mission in Afghanistan, told reporters in Brussels by video conference from Kabul on 1 March.

Noting that US forces used an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strike on 26 February to kill Mullah Abdul Salam, the senior Taliban leader responsible for multiple attacks in Afghanistan's northern Kunduz region, Brig Gen Cleveland said this would shift the insurgency's focus to Kandahar and Helmand in the south.

"We think Salam's death means the Taliban's main effort will be in the south due to all the poppy that grows down there, which funds their insurgency. They will want to protect their narcotics business and thus we think the south will see a lot of fighting as a result," he said. At the same time he added that the ANDSF, which suffered heavy casualties throughout 2016, "will be stronger in 2017, though it will be a challenging year".

Brig Gen Cleveland pointed to a quartet of changes affecting the ANDSF that could be expected to boost its combat capabilities. First, he said the Afghan forces are shifting to a centralised, merit-based process where multiple officers review a candidate's performance as the criterion for promotion: a long-needed move to eliminate cronyism in the ranks.

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