TLDR Up Front: The Afghan capitol of Kabul has reached the tipping point where conditions are ripe for a coup within as little as a few weeks. In the most likely scenario Abdullah Abdullah, the second highest politician in the country would seek the ouster of President Ghani. Understanding the conditions requires understanding the ethnographic factions at play in the capitol – and how they are tied to six key individuals and their shared interwoven history with one another. Atop this volatile mix has been a recent uptick in violence, including the unexplained violence of the last two weeks followed by civilian protests against the government for lack of security and sit-in camps. If a coup were to occur – it would likely signal a general collapse of the country. Watching the Friday protests-after-prayers and the actions of the six leaders, whether they choose to escalate or deescalate tensions, will help assess whether the threat of coup heightens or fades. And that will heavily influence whether a new US troop surge launches in the country or not.
Notional & Illustrative this was actually supposed to help simplify things.
FullContext in the Back: It’s been a busy two weeks in the Afghan capitol. It started with a huge truck bomb that killed over 150 and wounded over 500. Protests the next day about the governments inability to protect civilians were met with truncheons, armored vehicles and live ammunition by security forces loyal to President Ghani, resulting in more dead and wounded.(1) One of the slain protestors included the son of a prominent Senator of the Jamiat-e Islami political party.(2) At a funeral for the slain the next day, attended by the who’s-who of the Jamiat, a complex attack of three suicide bombers killed another dozen and sent hundreds fleeing for their lives. Among the dead of Jamiat-e Islami included a well known preacher and a former deputy attorney general and the wounded included the speaker of the Afghan Senate and several senior party leaders. (3) To demonstrate he was in control, President Ghani announced he would execute 11 Taliban prisoners, a high ranking Deputy-Emir and son of the founder of the terrorist Haqqani Network. The Taliban responded with a threat, they would execute hostages they held – including two Americans captured from the American University in Kabul. (4) Ghani has appeared to back down, or least hasn’t carried through with his threat yet. The city remains on lockdown and anger is mounting. Sit-in protests familiar from Zuccoti Park to Euromaiden to Tahir Square have cropped up in multiple locations across the city – drawing condemnation from the government, and becoming potential targets for bombing attacks.
That’s just the last two weeks.
The InfoMullet leaves the prediction business to gentlemen named Nate but does observe system conditions, momentum trends and the removal of previously existing system constraints and structure. When combined – these factors make this summer ripe, even in the next few weeks, for a coup to occur in Kabul as Afghan’s #2 Dr. Adullah Abdullah seeks to oust Afghan’s #1 President Ghani. Such a coup would likely lead to a general collapse across the country and a return to the warlord system that has existed periodically in Afghanistan’s recent history. What these conditions are and how such a coup and collapse would play out are explained below in four stages.
Stage 1: Begin with a complicated ethnographic terrain interwoven with personal rivalries.
To understand these acts in context it’s important to understand ethnographic envelopes in Afghanistan, and how they overlap in Kabul. In 2006 Lt.Col Renzi described ethnographic intelligence as understanding a human terrain which “indigenous forms of association, local means of organization, and traditional methods of mobilization… or latent forms of social organization to hostile organizations.” (5) Unlike Iran’s suspended equilibrium of institutional formal and personal informal power, Afghanistan has almost no formal institutional power to speak of and the role of the ethnic/tribal kin network often subordinates an individual’s identity. These networks form a web cemented and defined by relationships, marriage, patronage, hostilities and vendettas often coming to a peak in a single super-identity. This super-identity is the one identity that emerges above and becomes the identity of the kin network itself. In the past this might be an effective mujahedeen military leader or warlord, today it might be the charismatic politician who can provide patronage to his networks. These overlapping representations of power: ethnicity, tribe, network, leader – create a projected “envelope” of influence.
In Kabul – three-to-four of these ethnographic envelopes intersect and overlap one another in a volatile mix that creates the conditions which are contributing to the likelihood of an imminent coup. Beginning in the north with the ethnic Tajiks, the most numerous ethnographic group in Kabul – have long been represented by Jamiat-e Islami which at times has been both a political party and a mujahedeen military force. (6) Jamiat-e Islami was founded by Burhanuddin Rabinni in 1972 based on an identically named group in Pakistan. The early members included Ahmad Shah Massoud(7) and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.(8) Hekmatyar split from Jamiat in 1976 to found his own organization, Hezb-e Islami. This is important background because the two figures, Massoud and Hekmatyar would both go on to have intertwined political and military dynasties in Afghanistan with widely different results, the Starks and Greyjoys one might say.(9)
During and after the Soviet occupation and afterwards during the Taliban consolidation during the Afghan civil wars, Jamiat-e Islami formed the anchor of what became known as the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance resisted Taliban control for over nine years, led by Massoud, who became known as “the Lion of Panjir.”(7) By Massoud’s side was Abdullah, first as a health care administrator and advisor during the mujahedeen period, then as Minister of Defense in the post-Soviet Afghan Government, and then again as advisor during the Northern Alliance. When Massoud traveled abroad in 2001, it was Abdullah who translated. Just days before 9/11, Al-Queda operatives masquerading as journalists gained access to Massoud under auspices of conducting an interview, explosives hidden in a fake video camera. The assassination of Massoud could’ve been a death blow to the Northern Alliance. The strategic miscalculation by Al-Queda however, was that the United States would not invade Afghanistan post 9/11. With a willing partner in the Northern Alliance US covert operators had more than enough intelligence, and local fighters, on the ground that when backed by air support rapidly rolled up Taliban forces leading to a collapse of resistance within a few months.
The other party arising from Rabinni’s work, Hezb-e Islami was tied to no ethnic group but instead represented a vision of a ‘pure’ Islamic state imitating Saudi Arabia’s structure.(8) It never enjoyed the military success or prominence of Jamiat-e Islami, nor did its founder ever enjoy Hekmatyar enjoy the respect or influence of Massoud. Hekmatyar became a sort of Alcibiades of both the Soviet and later Afghan Civil Wars. He would work with any faction, betray any trust, and cut any deal with a new partner to save himself from the justice of the last one he betrayed. Switching sides again Hekmatyar led an insurgency against the newly formed government, even going so far as to direct unrestricted rocket and artillery fire into Kabul in the early 1990s before his forces were driven off by Massoud’s.
The largest ethnicity of Afghanistan and dominant in the south of the country are the Pashtuns. One of the most influential mujahedeen leaders during the Soviet Occupation was Jalaluddin Haqqani who ended up serving in Rabinni’s administration alongside Massoud and Karzai as the Justice Minister. However, Haqqani joined the Taliban when the new arrivals overthrew the Islamic State of Afghanistan and eventually became their military commander by the time of the US attack after 9/11. Many Pashtuns did not join the Taliban however, and have formed a powerful bloc in the post-Taliban government as well. The current President, Ghani, lived abroad during both the Soviet Occupation and Taliban rule. Western educated western residing educator and technocrat. He returned only to Afghanistan in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban to support President Harmid Karzai as advisor, a role he maintained until he ran for President in 2014. Speaking of Karzai, the former President is himself a Pashtun. He also served in the post-Soviet Afghan Government alongside Massoud and Abdullah as Deputy Foreign Minister. But he was declared a spy by no other than Rabinni, who was no President for working alongside – wait for it- Hekmatyar while was leading the insurgent group which shelled Kabul. Karzai was arrested, thrown into jail and only escaped via a dramatic jail break involving rockets by Hekmatyar’s militants.
After freeing Karzai, Hekmatyar largely disappeared from Afghan politics for the better part of two decades, living at times in Pakistan and later under what was effectively house-arrest in Iran. But he resurfaced in 2008 as a leader of the insurgency against the Afghan government and working with the Taliban. That was before he joined ISIS for a stint in 2015. Was Alcibiades mentioned already?
Karzai, either out of loyalty to kin networks or a recognition that it was required to keep the country intact reached out to former warlords and Taliban members when he took office and offered many positions in the government. One of these was his former co-minister, Haqqani, who declined and ended up forming the Haqqani Network, which was affiliated with the Taliban where Jalaluddin served on the Quetta Shura, the Supreme Council of the Taliban until he died in 2014. It was the Haqqani who specialized in the more brutal tactics of insurgency: suicide bombings, targeting of civilians etc. Despite some confusion early in its existence that the Haqqani was a separate network, the evidence points to the Haqqani just being a division within the Taliban.(10) While Jalaluddin was a member of the Quetta Shura it is alleged that he participated in giving the orders that led to the assassination of Burhanddin Rabbani who was killed by Taliban suicide bombers in 2011.
Jalaluddin had two sons. The first, Sirajuddin is now the leader of the Haqqani Network and also Deputy to Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Emir of the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan Border. Jalauddin’s other son, Anas was a military leader of the Haqqani and reported to have “has special skills in computer and was considered one of the master minds of this network in making propaganda through social networks. He was responsible for collecting and preparing funds from Arabic countries to carry out operations of this network.”(11) However he along with the Haqqani Commander Rasheed Omari, were detained in 2014 after visiting the five Taliban commanders in Qatar placed there under ‘house arrest’ as part of the prisoner exchange authorized by President Obama for Staff Sergeant Bowe Berghdal. (12) (*) (**)
Also in 2014 the then multi-term President Karzai, is stepping aside pushing his faithful right hand Asraf Ghani – the technocrat reformer as a replacement. Abdullah, now the leader of the Jamiat-e Islami party runs against him and the two end up in a head-on mess of electoral crisis of accusation and counter-accusation of fraud. President Ghani always won every count, but Abdullah skillfully played the spoiler each time claiming fraud, which is like claiming water is wet in Afghanistan, even setting up his own shadow government until the two reached a power-sharing agreement. Abdullah gets the second highest political office in Afghanistan, the Chief Executive.
In September of 2016 two key events occur President Ghani sentences Anas Haqqani and Rashid Omari to death. The act so infuriated the Taliban that they conducted a string of attacks on judicial facilities and the sentences have never been carried out. In contrast, at the same time President Ghani offered a peace deal between the Afghan government and Hezb-i-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. This drew askance from Jamait-e Islami as Ghani had served under former President Karzai, the same Karzai who Hekmatyar had saved from a prison.
Hekmatyar has only returned to Kabul in the last few months. Thousands did turn out to greet him, but thousands more did not. In a country where the word for generations-long blood feuds (badal) is literally part of an ethical code for a large percentage of the population, Hekmatyar’s return to Kabul, where his attacks have caused so much destruction, is treated with all the joy of a Greyjoy returning to Winterfell. The embrace of such a figure by President Ghani and Karzai has exacerbated the perception they are weak on security among the residents of the city.
So let’s review where we stand before the last two weeks of intense violence and the six current power-players who’s interests are directly clashing in Kabul:
- Abdullah Abdullah leader of Jamiat-e- Islami a former mujahedeen group representing the Tajik tribes and successor to Massoud, a former warlord.
- Gulbuddin Hekmatyar leader of Hezb-i-Islami a former mujahedeen group and a former warlord.
- Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani insurgent group, Deputy Emir of Taliban, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani.
- Harmid Karzai, former fundraiser for mujahedeen.
- Anas Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin and brother of Sirajuddin, commander of Haqqani and sitting on death row in Kabul.
- President Ghani, ineffectual technocrat. Holds the trigger over Anas and backed by Karzai and Hekmatyar. Has a profile on LinkedIn. (13)
Not only do these six have history, some of them have unfinished personal business with one another in a script that would put Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad to shame for subpar levels of intrigue in comparison. Three of them lead strong, heavily armed, military groups. At least three of them are themselves, or served at the right hand of, powerful warlords in Afghanistan’s recent history.
Step 2: Add an escalating momentum of violence and protest.
The overlapping interest and personal conflicts of these six and their respective ethnographic envelopes has coincided, or caused to incur, a massive increase in violence in Kabul in the last twenty four months. In the past attacks in the city were limited to periodic Haqqani attempts to seize a building or a single large suicide bomb, limited in frequency and usually contained. But in the last year the attacks have increased in both frequency and severity. As this graphic from Al-Jazeera depicts, this year alone over 300 civilians have been killed and well over 700 injured. (14)
A bloody year.
Most of those attacks, as bad as they were, were claimed by the Taliban, Haqqani or ISIS. Even the Greeks knew that the monster unseen offstage is often scarier than the one in front of you. Two weeks later the massive truck bomb and funeral attacks remain unclaimed. ISIS would claim a ham sandwich if it swore bayat to al-Baghdadi on Facebook prior to making an attack. Despite the attacks occurring during ISIS’s annual Ramadan offensive, ISIS has not made a peep. The Taliban has twice denied involvement. (15) Its unlikely to be a new player. A sewage truck bomb and the simultaneous attack of three bombers speak of sophistication, resources, and a network of support.
President Ghani and official government sources were quick to blame Pakistan and the Taliban, even producing an alleged fourth bomber who decided not to attack the funeral and provided a ready made confession in a neat package. (16)
Few seem to be buying what Ghani is selling. Protest camps have sprung up over the city, cutting off street access and creating visible clusters of discontent to focus the cities rage at the President. The only thing that could be possibly get worse for Ghani is if a three-time loser everyone hated stood up to take sides with him.
At a press conference, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar threw in his lot with Ghani. “No one can take power by force. Every Afghan has the right to make demands but not to close roads,” Hekmatyar said without irony perhaps forgetting the time he used artillery fire on the capital to take power by force.(17) Or joined the Taliban, or ISIS. Both groups perhaps singly defined by their use of violence to seize power. Tragic irony aside Hekmatyar does command several tens of thousands of supporters in his party of Hezb-i Islami and could be leveraging that support to sell his favor to the Ghani government in return for his support. Given Hekmatyar’s track record of success Ghani should keep the receipts.
With the Taliban denial and the government story not gaining much traction – speculation has turned to a potential inside job, or at least inside collusion. The truck bomb took place in the most supposedly secure district of the city – yet somehow got past all safeguards. Foreign Minister Salahuddin Raabbani, leader of the Jamait-e Islami party alongside Dr. Abdullah has said that “terrorists inside the system” are behind the attacks. If that last name sounds familiar, yes, he is the son of that Burhanuddin Rabbani who was the onetime mentor to both Massoud and Hekmatyar before turning on the latter and the former President of the 1990’s Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. (18)
It’s not clear what Ghani or his faction would gain from such a large attack, especially since it only serves to expose their own weakness. InfoMullet has been able to find no evidence suspecting Jaimat-e Islami of being behind the truck bomb or an attack on its own funeral. If a coup is in the interests of Jaimat-e Islami and a pretext is needed for a coup then the twin attacks makes one hell of a pretext.
Step 3: Remove constraints on the system.
A casual observer might point out of the above context that former-warlords and politics, is nothing new in Afghanistan. Or that cycles of heightened violence come and go without producing a coup in the last fourteen years. What’s different this time is that explicit and latent constraints in the system that previously held escalations from getting out of control have been removed even as volatile elements have been brought into ever closer proximity.
The most obvious explicit constraint removed is the exodus of the vast majority of foreign armed forces from the country. Although a valid debate to be had from a foreign policy perspective, President Obama’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from Afghanistan has had disastrous consequences to the country. No longer constrained by a military presence powerful enough to stop it, the Taliban have been on a mostly uninterrupted campaign of conquest taking district after district for the better part of three years now. The latest estimates have the Taliban controlling between 40-50% of Afghanistan districts.(19)
As the Taliban grows in power, latent constraints are removed on other factions in Afghanistan. These are the constraints ethnographic groups put upon themselves when they choose to forgo the path of warlords for elections and the rule of law. It is a choice however, the factions in Afghanistan remain heavily armed and ever watchful for their own self-interests. When the Americans provided on overall guarantee to the integrity of the country, they might forgive an occasional spurt of Taliban violence here or there. With the trend of American disengagement and a central government appearing helpless to stop the Taliban’s advance, they may decide that the path of their own self-interest lies in either taking over the government for themselves, or returning to the ways of warlord governance.
This choice-making process to opt out of the internationally recognized system and return to warfare has precedent. In 2014, during the extended crisis between Abdullah and Ghani, an alleged coup was almost launched on behalf of Abdullah to seat him in power as described the New Yorker:
“On Monday, July 7th, that changed suddenly. A network of northern Tajik governors, former intelligence and defense officials, along with an unknown number of army and police commanders, apparently activated a plan for a coup to install their favored Presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. They believed that Abdullah’s opponents had stolen the vote. Their target would have been the presidential palace in Kabul occupied by Hamid Karzai.There is little doubt the coup makers could have succeeded; they have the lion’s share of Kabul’s guns. The wider war they would have triggered would have turned hard and bloody, however. The northern militias would have found themselves in a conflict not only with the Taliban but also with previously pro-government Pashtuns aligned with Karzai and his favored Presidential candidate, Ashraf Ghani. The progress Afghanistan has made in health, education, life expectancy, communication, and urbanization since 2001 would have crumbled quickly. At a critical moment, however, apparently late in the night in Washington, President Obama telephoned Abdullah and talked him and his armed backers into standing down. After a shaky few days, during which it was not clear whether Abdullah was in full control of his supporters, Kerry landed in Kabul and opened negotiations.”(20)
Almost three years later another constraint removed is laid bare by the question: “Who would take that call in the Trump administration?” Who would care? President Trump’s primary concern in Afghanistan appears to be the ISIS Province of Khorasan, and he may not care whether it’s a President Ghani or Abdullah who helps him clear it. Or, desperate for distraction from his Comey-waterboarding the President might confuse geography and ally to tweet credit for another ‘victory’ over a terrorist-state due to his recent visit to Saudia Arabia.
The calculus for Jaimat-e Islami remains the same. From the same reporting in 2014:
“In Afghanistan, however, the incentives for compromise had always looked stronger. Afghanistan is a ward of the international system. It receives billions of dollars in international aid to pay salaries for its security services. Its weak state would not function without outside subsidy. The power brokers behind Abdullah and Ghani all benefit from international support. And the Afghan public around them has a living memory of isolation and perpetual violence, during the civil war of the nineteen-nineties; they would prefer to reclaim the part of their history during the middle of the twentieth century characterized by peaceful independence…..The case for a coup, as northern hawks see it, is that by launching an outright war now, the Panjshiri Tajiks and their allies would be free to concentrate on fighting the Taliban without the distractions of managing sometime Taliban sympathizers like Karzai and his cronies. The loss of billions of dollars and high-tech military equipment from the United States might be painful, but Indian, Iranian, and Russian arms and money would eventually fill some of the gap. The Panjshiris have been in this position before, and they and their Tajik and Hazara allies believe deeply that their political claims are legitimate. They are not going to readily sacrifice those claims for short-term American support; it is not clear how long Congress or the White House will keep the financial spigot open, in any event. Many Afghans, therefore, fear that a post-American civil war is only a matter of time;” (20)
Unlike in 2014, the international system is beginning to break under the strain of deteriorating security. NGOs and donors have to gauge the risk to personnel and resource. Some have already pulled out. More will follow after the truck bomb. Others will watch the escalating tension between the power-brokers and in a reinforcing feedback-loop instability will beget self-fulfilling instability. Saber rattling by would-be warlords fret aid providers into leaving which leaves less incentive to keep the sabers sheathed.
The context of the ethnographic envelopes and past histories clearly demonstrates the feuds and vendettas, the badal, that exists between many of these six leaders. Either directly or on behalf of their mentors or fathers.
Step 4: Bring the harvest in. Then set pot to high head and bring to boil.
What what will signal the arrival of the coup? Or the collapse? InfoMullet makes a heavy caveat that this is written from approximately the farthest distance one can be from Kabul, and without the benefit of any local language proficiency. Also no one can successfully predict the future. Rather than calling a date or time, looking for trends of escalation or de-escalation will help identify whether or not Kabul will tip into a coup.
The pacing of escalation or de-escalation will likely follow a weekly rhythm of the Fridays as imams with political connections turn the dial up, or down, with their supporters. If the protest camps increase in number, are rousted by police or more are killed – things will get worse. There is supposed to be a peace process underway in Kabul, it would be nice if that could show some progress.
If a coup does occur it would likely target the Presidential palace, happen with organization, overwhelming force and little violence. Ghani and Karzai would exit stage right on the first flight out of the country, Hekmatyar would be nowhere to be found having left – as he always does – just a few hours before the hammer comes down. That’s the theory at least. Both Ghani and Karzai have private security forces, but they play at this game. As pointed out during the negotiations in 2014 both seemed to be operating under delusions of guerre:
“Reportedly, Karzai and Ghani have indicated privately during the latest crisis that if they rejected Kerry’s deal, defied the United States, and joined up with the Taliban to fight against the Northern Alliance, the Taliban would welcome them as Pashtun nationalist heroes. It has been more commonly assumed that the Taliban would hang them from the nearest post, as traitors to Islam. This is not a hypothesis either Karzai or Ghani would be wise to test. If war comes, a better bet would be an early helicopter to the airport, en route to condominiums in Abu Dhabi.”(20)
But that does not mean a coup would be bloodless. The jail holding Anas Haqqani and Rashid Omari would be emptied, and 11 high-value Taliban would hang within the day. If that happens, that would likely be the signal both of a successful coup and collapse of Afghanistan. The Taliban and Haqqani, tied both by ideology and kin networks, would now be bound as well in seeking badal the blood vendetta and another generation of violence would begin.
Depending on when the coup happens however would determine the pace of collapse. Opium is the most important cash crop in Afghanistan, and a major funder of the Taliban which as an emerging-state actor gains access to the land-intensive resources that fall within the territory it controls. In Afghanistan, those are the poppy fields from which the insurgency gains 50-60% of its war chest. So important is the poppy agriculture, that the InfoMullet once did a analysis of conflict seasonality and one could set a clock to the end of the fighting season with the sowing of the opium crop in fall, and a resumption after the harvest in late spring/summer. The harvest is not fully in, some areas have already begun harvesting but it won’t be fully brought in until likely nearer the end of June. Until those fields are in – everything else takes a back seat.
Even if a coup happens in Kabul, a total collapse of the country into factions may be held back for a few weeks afterwards if for no other constraint than the ground truth that to the farmers the crop is more important than what occurs to some far away government. Plenty of time to pick sides later.
But if a coup occurs in Kabul, and the opium harvest is in, then a general collapse into factions along roughly ethnographic envelopes is conceivable. The InfoMullet subscribes to anthropologist’s Joseph Tainter’s viewpoint of societal collapse which is the “rapid reduction of societal complexity.” Collapse in Afghanistan will see the end of an altogether too complicated, far-too centralized, western-federalized governmental system bolted from afar onto a culture and geography poorly adapted to it. This isn’t to say Afghans don’t deserve a government free from corruption and abuse – far from it. If there are any people on this planet more deserving for their turn at good governance InfoMullet would be hard pressed to think of them. However, the concept of remote seats of power issuing federal edicts enforced locally through multiple layers of federal bureaucracy is simply unsustainable in Afghanistan, especially without at least some supporting infrastructure maintained by the US military in terms of security.
A collapse in this scenario will, unfortunately, likely revert to a pre-9/11 landscape where the Taliban gobble up the lion’s share of the southern parts of the country from Kandahar south. Jaimat-e Islami at the head of a reincarnated Northern Alliance takes Kabul and Bagram and otherwise stays to the mountains. Bit players such as the Khorosan Province of ISIS and Hezbi Islami may seize a district here or there and other smaller warlords will carve out their pieces until there’s a patchwork. Whether the Taliban stop at some point to consolidate, and turn instead to perhaps focus on making gains in other countries – or seek to return to the power they held before US intervention is beyond speculation at this point.
Such an outcome isn’t guaranteed. Ghani and Abdullah can work out some sort of compromise, perhaps with direct intervention by the US to bring both sides to the table. This is the week of a major peace initiative in Kabul, so that would be nice if it could produce something. The rapid infusion of significant US or other foreign forces above and beyond the 13,000 already present (about 8,000 US and 5,000 European) might brush Abdullah back off the batter’s plate and give some pause to the Taliban. There’s no question of returning to the surge levels of 110,000 troops but reports have surfaced of a strategy of increasing by 5,000 troops the current military strength and increasing air strikes against the Taliban. (21) Such a strategy apparently is not designed to defeat the Taliban, but bring them to the negotiating table which will draw inevitable comparisons to Operation Linebacker. (22)
On the other hand the greatest successes the US has had in Afghanistan was when it had a small troop-footprint that wasn’t-in-the-face-of-every-villager and let indigenous forces do the heavy lifting supported by special forces backed by air power. The Achilles heel of emerging-state actors is in their inability to counter air power and being able to successfully apply it without triggering an Accidental Guerilla syndrome in the process.(23) A pattern being replicated in both Syria and Iraq to very effective success against ISIS. Whether either strategy could survive a coup, even if unsuccessful is questionable. At that point its likely that a troop withdrawal could occur and a posture might revert to supplying arms, equipment and/or training to whichever faction or warlord is backed – if any – to fight the Taliban and ISIS.
Ultimately, the fate of Afghanistan will be decided by Afghans, regardless of external influences or desires. Over the long run the ethnographic envelopes that matter most are always the ones located within the boundaries of the system.
(*) If a bunch of light bulbs aren’t going off yet in relation to the recent isolation of Qatar by several of the Gulf Cooperation Council States, and what’s going in Afghanistan they should start flipping now. If more switches are needed – read today’s earlier InfoMullet on the conflict between the two most dangerous leaders in the middle east Qasem Solemani of Iran and Abu al-Baghdadi of ISIS. Behind those two the third most influential leader in middle eastern affairs according to an unscientific review by the InfoMullet is Father Emir of Qatar Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani. And he’s only #3 after getting nudged out of the #2 spot of the rise of ISIS and subsequent worldwide expansion under al-Baghdadi’s leadership. Can you see me now?
(**) It’s not entirely clear if the Qatari were involved in the capture, potentially tipping off US forces as to the arrival and departure of Anas and Rashid. Taliban claimed that the two were actually captured in Oman upon leaving by US forces. As I’ve said before, it’s not always so clear what’s going on in Qatar other than “it’s complicated.”