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FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF VIOLENT RETALIATION BY TALIBAN ACTORS AGAINST REMAINING US TROOPS

FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF VIOLENT RETALIATION BY TALIBAN ACTORS AGAINST REMAINING US TROOPS AND DIPLOMATIC OFFICES IN RESPONSE TO US AIRSTRIKES

Team: CENTCOM

Week of: Monday, July 19, 2021


F/A-18 Super Hornet, the reported jet that struck Taliban targets [1]

The Counterterrorism Group is issuing a FLASH ALERT to the United States (US), including all relevant government offices, military forces, diplomatic officials, and aid organizations within Afghanistan. The current CTG threat matrix indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that the Taliban will conduct retaliatory attacks for the recent airstrikes carried out by the US at the request of Afghan security forces. The high-risk assessment is justified by threats of unspecified consequences issued by the Taliban in an official statement in response to the strikes on Taliban positions. The assessment is also attributed to what the Taliban views as a violation of the original withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban under which a withdrawal of foreign troops by May 2021 was agreed upon.


On Wednesday and Thursday, July 21 and 22, 2021, the US conducted airstrikes against the Taliban in support of the faltering Afghan security forces.[2] These airstrikes come as the US is approaching its August 31, 2021 troop withdrawal deadline after almost two decades of involvement in the country. The airstrikes targeted Taliban positions in several locations including Kandahar, where insurgents have been threatening to capture the key southern city. These Kandahar airstrikes were requested by Afghan forces and targeted stolen military vehicles and equipment that threatened Afghan military operations.[3] The other strikes targeted neighboring Helmand, killing three Taliban members and destroying two vehicles.[4] The Pentagon has confirmed that more airstrikes are expected near Kandahar in the coming days, further increasing the likelihood of a Taliban retaliation.[5]


US diplomatic facilities and personnel in Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan are at increased risk for retaliation because the airstrikes mark US forces’ first significant kinetic action against the Taliban since May, demonstrating US intentions to continue supporting the Afghan government following their departure. Outnumbered and out-armed, the Taliban may be emboldened to advance into Kabul’s Green Zone to attack the well-fortified US embassy. Alternatively, the Taliban may also opt to indirectly target the US by killing more Afghan civilians in return. This will likely force the US to reconsider its withdrawal plans, likely to postpone the final troop withdrawal. In the event of US casualties, the response will likely be more aggressive, including a full military campaign aimed against the Taliban, drawing the US into another “forever war.”


The airstrikes were not only intended to stop Taliban advances into key cities but also likely to demonstrate the US’ robust and over-the-horizon capability to counter terrorists emanating from Afghanistan and reduce Taliban momentum after General Scott Miller symbolically returned to the US. The targets also signify that US officials are paying attention to the situation regarding the seized US equipment and are attempting to prevent this equipment from being used against Afghan forces. Because US airpower has been crucial throughout the war in Afghanistan, Afghan forces are highly likely to continue requesting US sorties as demonstrated by the recent strikes. How many of their requests will be granted remains unclear because General Frank McKenzie has stated that airstrikes against the Taliban will cease after the withdrawal is complete, focusing only on Al-Qaeda and ISIS afterward.[6] Afghan officials have stated a new strategy in consolidating their forces around population centers, and these airstrikes likely serve to complement this new strategy of ceding rural areas to the Taliban to better protect urban areas. Because the Taliban expect more strikes, they are likely to increase their operational security by hiding military equipment, moving in more dispersed and decentralized formations, and operating more clandestinely. Other terror groups like ISIS-K may likely also capitalize on the opportunity to conduct attacks to make it appear as a Taliban attack in an attempt to spur additional US actions towards the group to weaken it.


CONCLUSION


CTG assesses that the risk of retaliatory attacks from the Taliban in response to US airstrikes is HIGH. Our analysis indicates that increased violence against US military personnel and other diplomatic interests is very likely given the Taliban’s many warnings against continued escalation against their forces, a violation of the terms agreed upon during its negotiations with the US. Afghan leaders should also change travel routes and increase security because they are likely seen as culpable for the airstrikes since they had called for them.


Afghan President Ghani’s security staff should be on high alert for rocket, mortar, or bombing attacks breaching the Presidential Palace. It is recommended that the President be located in a predetermined safehouse for the foreseeable future. CTG warns that US facilities should expect Taliban retaliation in the coming weeks and ensure countermeasures like Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar batteries and perimeter security are at increased alert. They should also review emergency and contingency plans and secure access to Kabul’s international airport in the event of an escalating military situation to evacuate US diplomats and servicemen safely. The US should also be prepared to designate a Taliban-led Afghanistan as a pariah state, thereby losing international recognition.


If any individuals are interested in learning more about security measures to protect their facilities and personnel, please contact The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone202-643-248 or email info@counterterrorismgroup.com

1]F/A E/F Super Hornet” by Naval Air Systems Command licensed under Public Domain

[2] U.S. is still carrying out airstrikes against Taliban in Afghanistan, CNBC News, July 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/u-s-still-carrying-out-airstrikes-against-taliban-afghanistan-n1274791

[3] U.S. escalates airstrikes on Taliban, officials say, as Afghan military loses ground, Washington Post, July 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/07/23/us-afghanistan-airstrikes/

[4] U.S. launches air strikes in aid of embattled Afghan forces, Reuters, July 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-launches-air-strikes-aid-embattled-afghan-forces-2021-07-23/

[5] U.S. Strikes Taliban Targets in a Show of Force in Afghanistan, New York Times, July 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/23/world/europe/us-airstrikes-afghanistan-taliban.html

[6] CENTCOM Head Says US Will Not Support Afghan Forces with Airstrikes After Troop Withdrawal, Voice of America, June 2021, https://www.voanews.com/usa/voa-exclusive-centcom-head-says-us-will-not-support-afghan-forces-airstrikes-after-troop

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