Ali Mohammad Ali, former security adviser to Afghanistan’s National Security Council and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy, sheds light on the web of Afghan militant groups in this conversation with CGP senior fellow Kamran Bokhari.
Sixteen years after the 9/11 attacks, several thousand U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan to provide training and support for Afghan security forces. Ali explains that Afghanistan lost substantial territory to the Taliban and affiliated groups in 2014, and that different Taliban groups control territory throughout the country. Besides the Taliban, al Qaeda still has a strong presence in some parts of the country, and now ISIS has moved in. After a period of marked rivalry, the various militant groups have reached an understanding in order to avoid stepping on each other’s toes or causing a turf war.
The complexity of the militant web in Afghanistan has created concerns for other countries in the region, including China, Russia and Iran, Ali says. All of these countries are concerned about militant activity spilling over the Afghan border, but the alliances and cooperation between militant groups has made it difficult to get involved in stabilizing Afghanistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan are accusing each other of allowing militants to find cross-border sanctuaries. Though some believe Afghanistan is supporting the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Ali says that assertion is not true.
Though the focus of conversations about Afghanistan tends to be security, Ali says diplomacy and political support are just as important. After all the country has been through, the people do not have enough confidence in the social contract to allow the Afghan government to operate effectively. Ali says the state needs to support the people, and other countries in the region that want to stabilize Afghanistan need to support the government in Kabul. The best things the United States can do to strengthen the Afghan government, Ali says, are to engage regional powers to build a consensus on Afghanistan, expand training and advising for Afghan security forces, and economically engage more with Afghanistan.