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Today, April 19, 2016, the Taliban launched an attack on the Afghanistan capital of Kabul killing at least 28 and wounding another 320. The Taliban used a combination of suicide bombs and gunfire against the government security building in the capital. Reuters reports this the most lethal attack on the Afghan capital since 2011.

The Taliban have continued to challenge the Afghan government, and they will continue to launch strikes like the one today until they are met with substantial force. President Obama hopes to leave 5,500 soldiers in the country by the end of his presidency, but General John Campbell has suggested that the U.S. force in the country should remain at upwards of 10,000. While President Obama has allowed for a contingent of 9,600 to remain in the country, this has done little to deter the Taliban from its campaign of making territorial gains in key areas.

The Taliban reclaimed roughly one-third of the country following the end of NATO combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. While around 13,000 international troops remain in the country they have taken a largely logistical role, with some counterterrorism functions. The Afghan forces are far less capable of deterring the Taliban, and there are reports Government soldiers are defecting to the Taliban.

While today’s attack was the worst attack since 2011, it certainly was not the first since 2011. The Taliban have been active around the region, launching attacks on Afghan government, security forces, and international forces personnel.

  • June 22, 2015, the Taliban detonated a car bomb outside the Afghan parliament building, and followed this with a gun assault on the building. The attack killed 2 and wounded another 28.
  • June 30, 2015, the Taliban detonate a suicide car bomb near a NATO convoy in Kabul, killing one and wounding another 21.
  • October 11, 2015, the Taliban attacked a UK military convoy in a residential area wounding seven people.
  • February 27, 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his vest killing 12.

The Taliban were formed in the early 1990s from a faction of mujahedeen fighters. The group was quick to gain control of major cities including Kandahar, and by 1996 they had control over Kabul. The Taliban strictly enforced Islamic law of Sharia over all its controlled territories, ruling roughly 90% of Afghanistan at the time of the U.S. invasion following September 11th, 2001.

Despite the lethality of the Taliban campaign, Afghan leaders, as well as Pakistan, the U.S., and China have continued to push for peace talks, in failed attempts convince the Taliban to integrate into the government.

Afghanistan, the U.S., Pakistan, and China have held two rounds of talks in which the Taliban have been absent from each. The Taliban has insisted that key members be removed from sanctions blacklists or released from prison prior to engaging in talks.

The Taliban are not the only group that the Afghan and U.S. forces have to focus on. The Islamic State has begun to grow within Afghanistan, and they have already launched attacks in the country. The U.S. and Afghan forces have been able to engage IS successfully, but the more they are forced to focus on IS, the less they can focus on the Taliban.

The current number of international soldiers in Afghanistan has done little to deter either Islamic State or the Taliban, in large part because U.S. and coalition forces are not engaged in combat operations.

While General Campbell has said current numbers are adequate for force protection and the support mission, U.S. troops lack permission to undertake offensive operations against Taliban forces. Until that changes, its highly unlikely the Taliban remain confident that it can acquire through force of arms more than it will be offered in negotiations.

If establishing a stable Afghanistan government is a U.S. interest, it may be time for the U.S. and NATO to regain control over the fight.

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