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Islamic Defence Force of Afghanistan

The Islamic Defence Force of Afghanistan is the army and air force of the Taliban-ruled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It first existed between 1997 and 2001 and was re-raised from 15 August 2021. Confusingly, the intervening American-sponsored Islamic Republic of Afghanistan also styled its military as the Islamic Defence Force of Afghanistan.

When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, they began training its own army and commanders. But this army was virtually disbanded after 2001. For a few years thereafter, the Taliban militia consisted of a strange assortment of armed groups with varying levels of loyalty, political commitment, professional skills, and organizational integrity. Many of them were free to switch sides, change loyalty, voluntarily join or leave the group. The country suffered from the lack of the highest political levels to control individual and group violence.

Despite U.S., Afghan, and other international targeting of Taliban fighters over the years, the group had nevertheless been successful in recruiting new members. As one Taliban recruiter remarked: "It’s not easy being in the Taliban. It’s like wearing a jacket of fire. You have to leave your family and live with the knowledge that you can be killed at any time … You can’t expect any quick medical treatment if you’re wounded. You don’t have any money. Yet when I tell new recruits what they are facing they still freely put on this jacket of fire."

In August 2021, the Taliban re-captured most of the provincial capitals, including the capital Kabul, in a virtually unopposed, lightning military sweep that brought back memories of US-trained Iraqi troops fleeing battlefields in face of marauding ISIL fighters in 2014. The former government’s decision to withdraw government troops from remote areas backfired, as it allowed the Taliban to build momentum and strike fear among the remaining troops.

The Taliban launched its military offensive in May 2021 as US-led foreign forces started to withdraw from Afghanistan as part of an agreement the group signed with the US on February 29, 2020, in the Qatari capital Doha. Afghan security forces either surrendered (after mediation from local tribal elders) or withdrew, giving the Taliban fighters a walkover in some northern and western provinces.

With almost all of Afghanistan under their control and fewer than 100,000 active combatants, the Taliban were stretched thin. The Taliban found it easy to seize a large number of districts, but holding on to major cities is another proposition – one requiring significant amounts of manpower.

The Taliban announced a general amnesty for government officials as it looks to retain as many people in their current roles as possible. Unless it boosts the number of law enforcement personnel, the country is susceptible to unrest and lawlessness.

At the tactical level, the Taliban relied on ambushes, raids, assassinations, and bombings against the Afghan government and foreign forces. The Taliban had been good at one thing – fighting. The war against a foreign occupation united the Taliban’s rank. After 2021, when these fighters became governors and mayors and had access to incoming revenues and authority – would they go down the same route previous governments followed, and end up accused of corruption and abuse of power? The Mujahideen struggled with this in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal when they no longer had the unifying cry of defeating the godless communists and turned their weapons on each other.

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Page last modified: 08-09-2021 13:04:17 ZULU