Arts, Culture & Media

Taliban Strength and Strategy

This story is a part of a series

This story is a part of a series


Caroline Wadhams


Center for American Progress

Lisa Mullins talks with Caroline Wadhams of the Center for American Progress about the Taliban and what Tuesday’s attacks in Kabul tells us about their current standing.

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Lisa Mullins: Caroline Wadhams is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington.  So, Caroline, Jean MacKenzie there in Kabul tells us the Taliban is still a viable and destructive force which is exactly what they’re seeing today in Kabul.  What does Washington do with this?  I mean how does a day like today affect Washington’s calculation of the Taliban’s strength in Afghanistan’s future?

Caroline Wadhams: I think that the administration for some time has been very concerned that in fact, the United States is not winning in Afghanistan, that NATO is not winning.  And these attacks are just another example of the resiliency of this insurgency.  It is able for the first time to conduct a very coordinated set of attacks.  Yes, they were not able to breach walls or do significant damage in terms of lives lost, but still, the fact that they can hit the most secure part of Afghanistan I think shows that this insurgency is not going away. And I think the administration sort of understands this, which is why they have shifted the strategy to move into a desire to reach out to the insurgency and to try to come to some sort of political settlement which the insurgents…

Mullins: Does this mean talking, having a conversation with the Taliban which has been happening behind the scenes?

Wadhams: Yes, the fact that this insurgency is more resilient than was imagined, there’s a sense that there has to be some kind of deal with these insurgent groups.

Mullins: And have the insurgent groups themselves, has the Taliban changed in recent years or is this the same group we’re talking about now that we were talking about 10 years ago when the US first went into Afghanistan?

Wadhams: It’s uncertain, I mean what’s clear is that they are much more technologically savvy than they used to be.  They have only increased in strength.  In terms of their ideology it doesn’t seem that it’s significantly shifted.  You know, you get an indication from some that maybe some members of the Taliban are more receptive to decreasing the extremism around women, and others deny that, so it’s uncertain…

Mullins: But what about, sorry, but what about in the bigger picture though?  What is the ideology now?  What was it then and what is it now?

Wadhams: Well, they want to basically impose an Islamic form of government throughout all of Afghanistan.  And where there is debate is whether they have to be linked in with al-Qaeda.  al-Qaeda itself, which is why we went into Afghanistan to begin with, we saw them as sort of interchangeable. There is a belief by many people looking at this that those are very distinct identities, and that al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened.  That has been one success story within Afghanistan, that al-Qaeda is basically not a presence anymore.  And so there is a belief by many that the Taliban is its own local Afghan movement that does not have global aspirations. Now others may, there are some that disagree with this notion and it’s hard to know, but the Taliban at least publicly, they have tried to distance themselves from al-Qaeda and have, there was a recent statement by Mullah Omar where he was speaking about economic development in Afghanistan and the mineral sector, and you know, it’s the public rhetoric, it’s hard to know where the truth is underneath it.  But Mullah Omar and his insurgency, they’re trying to present themselves as a viable political movement within Afghanistan.

Mullins: So what is in your opinion the way forward for Washington?

Wadhams: I think the best way forward probably for Washington is to seek some kind of political settlement with the insurgency, as difficult as that’s going to be.  There has to be some kind of negotiation where more Afghan groups and especially there, both the armed and unarmed groups, are brought into this process, and brought into a political system in Afghanistan.

Mullins: Caroline Wadhams, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, thank you.

Wadhams: Thank you.

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