Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Stanekzai today conceded that the nation’s military is facing “difficulties” in its battles against the Taliban, as Taliban forces have overrun multiple districts in the southwestern Helmand Province in recent weeks.
The most recent Taliban gain was in Musa Qala District, an important area both strategically and economically, at the center of the opium trade. Though some analysts are downplaying the military significance of the defeat, the Taliban are holding public celebrations in the district, which they last held in 2007, and are scoring a big PR gain on it.
Stanekzai insisted that the Afghan military was committed to “firmly resisting” the Taliban, and anyone else who poses a threat to the country’s security. That reassurance only goes so far, however, as the forces have had limited success actually stopping the Taliban’s big offensives across the country.
The losses in Helmand have clearly also raised some eyebrows in NATO, with the alliance returning its troops to the ground in Helmand in recent days to try to stem the tide of losses. They so far seem to be trying to keep these deployments limited, however, so they can still spin the combat as being handled by the Afghan military itself.
The Taliban’s offensives have been more aggressive in recent weeks, likely a function of the recent leadership change, and reports that the new leader, Mullah Mansour, is not universally accepted. Some quick, high-profile victories could go a long way toward Mansour bringing more commanders on board with him in the leadership position after a quick, hotly disputed vote at the Quetta Shura.