Interviewee: Stephen D. Biddle, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Defense Policy
Interviewer: Zachary Laub, Online Writer/Editor
October 9, 2015
The Taliban's brief seizure of Kunduz marked its first capture of a provincial capital in the fourteen years since the U.S. invasion. It also signaled the vulnerability of Afghan security forces, which were able to reclaim Kunduz only with U.S. air support. Ultimately, the only acceptable outcome is a negotiated settlement between the government and Taliban, says CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Stephen Biddle, but that could be a long time off, given turmoil within the Taliban. Ahead of any talks, Afghan forces will have to maintain a stalemate with the Taliban, says Biddle, but without air power and hobbled by political divisions, they will require U.S. support well beyond the narrow mission that President Barack Obama articulated in June 2014.
Kunduz was the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since 2001. What does that say about Afghan forces' ability to hold territory beyond Kabul?
If you want to defend everywhere, it requires a lot of people. The United States has been trying for a long time to get the Afghan government to make decisions about places that it doesn't need to hold so that it can concentrate in places that matter, but the Afghan government is reluctant to give up any territory, and it has ended up overextended.
The second problem has to do with the combat capability and motivation. Afghan special forces are quite good; the Afghan Local Police and Afghan [National] Police are often corrupt, poorly equipped, poorly armed, and poorly trained. The Afghan National Army also has corruption, which can sap combat motivation. Kunduz suggests that when the Taliban are able to concentrate against particular points, there's some risk that Afghan defenses might not be able to hold [the territory].