Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani announced Monday that he finally has a clear plan to counter Taliban offensives across the country after his government was heavily criticized for its seeming lack of strategy in the last three months.
The militants have made unexpectedly swift territorial gains, including taking over several key international border crossings as foreign forces withdraw from the country.
“I want to tell you that a clear plan is prepared for reaching stability in six months and the implementation of the plan has started,” Ghani said in his address to a special joint session of the Afghan parliament. This was the first time since the withdrawal announcement that he was addressing lawmakers.
Without sharing specifics, Ghani said the military will be responsible for defending strategic targets while the police, under the Interior Ministry, will defend cities and strategic district centers. The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, will coordinate the people’s militias called the anti-Taliban uprising forces.
“The reality is that we have faced an unexpected situation in the last three months. . ...We are facing an influx of domestic and foreign propaganda," said President Ghani, calling on all parliamentarians to help mobilize the population in support of Afghan security forces.
He blamed the deterioration in the country’s security to a “sudden decision” by the United States and NATO forces to leave but said it was now up to Afghans to manage the fallout.
For many years, the U.S. has publicly expressed its desire to leave Afghanistan, with multiple statements by former President Donald Trump and the campaign promises of President Joe Biden.
There was an expectation, however, that President Biden, unlike his predecessor, would listen to his Pentagon advisers who wanted to keep a small military footprint on the ground.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country,” Biden said last month about the U.S. drawdown.
The U.S. and Taliban signed a deal in 2020 that would see the U.S. leave Afghanistan in exchange for the insurgents reducing violence and finding a negotiated end to the long-running war with the government in Kabul. Violence, however, has increased since then. The United States blames the Taliban for the unrest.
Ghani has ruled out repeated rumors that Taliban advances were caused by a secret deal. Instead, he acknowledged that lack of preparation and weakness in mid-level leadership caused district after district to fall to the militants, often without resistance.
Ghani accused the Taliban of oppression as well as strengthening their relations with international terrorist groups rather than cutting them as per the deal they made with the Americans in Doha in February 2020.
“Reports of Taliban atrocities are spreading across Afghanistan. I follow all these reports closely,” he said.
The Afghan president made it clear that he thought the Taliban would not partake in meaningful peace negotiations until the situation on the battlefield changed.
In a joint statement following Ghani’s address, parliament reiterated its support for the country’s democracy, human rights, including women’s rights, and freedom of speech.
Ghani’s former political rival and the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) lauded the statement, followed by the senior most U.S. official in Afghanistan.
“Today alongside other leaders of the country I attended the extraordinary joint session of the AFG National Assembly. They declared their unanimous support for the republic, the #ANDSF & a just & durable peace in the country. I thank & commend them for their historic decision,” Abdullah Abdullah tweeted.
Today alongside other leaders of the country I attended the extraordinary joint session of the AFG National Assembly. They declared their unanimous support for the republic, the #ANDSF & a just & durable peace in the country. I thank & commend them for their historic decision. pic.twitter.com/68Lbc64oFH— Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (@DrabdullahCE) August 2, 2021
“As friends and allies of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, we support you, the Afghan people,” tweeted the U.S. chargé d’affaires, Ross Wilson.
As friends and allies of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, we support you, the Afghan people. https://t.co/QdcHvIYdVW— Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson (@USAmbKabul) August 2, 2021
Ghani’s address comes at a time when the Taliban have increased attacks on Afghan cities, besieging several of them simultaneously. At least three cities, Kandahar, Herat, and Lashkar Gah have seen intense fighting over the last few days.
“In Lashkar Gah, #Helmand province, fighting in the city has brought life to a standstill. People are trapped in their homes and there are many casualties due to airstrikes, bullets and mortars. The @MSF supported Boost hospital treated 70 war wounded patients from 29-31 July,” said a statement from Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) on Twitter.
In Lashkar Gah, #Helmand province, fighting in the city has brought life to a standstill. People are trapped in their homes and there are many casualties due to airstrikes, bullets and mortars.— MSF Afghanistan (@MSF_Afghanistan) August 2, 2021
The @MSF supported Boost hospital treated 70 war wounded patients from 29-31 July https://t.co/g7VSUu7JPK
The international non-profit aid group said it performed an unprecedented 10 surgeries in one day in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.
The Afghan Defense Ministry confirmed that the U.S. Air Force helped push back Taliban advances. Most of Helmand’s districts are under Taliban control.
“#US Air Forces targeted #Taliban terrorist in #Lashkargah city today morning. 7 terrorists were killed and a large amount of their weapons and ammunition were destroyed as a result of the #airstrike,” Defense Ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said. He later revised the Taliban death toll to 18.
The Taliban issued a statement in Pashto blaming “American drones” and Afghan “gunship helicopters” for bombing and injuring civilians in Lashkar Gah, including women and children.
On Sunday, the Afghan government boosted Herat city’s defenses with hundreds of special forces troops. The city had seen intense fighting on its outskirts and many credited 70-year-old former warlord Ismail Khan and his militia for saving the city from falling under a Taliban onslaught.
Late Saturday, Taliban rockets hit Kandahar airport, partially damaging a runway and forcing authorities to temporarily shut down the airport.