Three men were kidnapped and shot dead in a car on Thursday, in Kabul, Afghanistan. They were Indian, Macedonian and Malaysian, and Afghan authorities have stated that they worked for Sodexo, a French food services and facilities management company — one of the largest multinational corporations in the world. The men were en route to the airport when they were taken and murdered.
The kidnapping of foreigners for ransom is common practice in Afghanistan these days. In early May, seven Indians were kidnapped in the Baghlan province, and the Taliban were believed responsible. A year ago, a Finnish medical missionary working for Operation Mercy was kidnapped but eventually released after several months. What has been made clear is that hostage-taking is not purely relegated to the obviously rich, nor is it confined only to Americans. Aid workers, contractors, and missionaries are all at risk just as someone working out of the embassy.
As security continues to deteriorate throughout Kabul, the U.S. Embassy has released several warnings to American personnel in the area. The latest, released on July 13, 2018, reads as follows:
Event: The U.S. Embassy in Kabul advises U.S. citizens that insurgent groups and criminal organizations continue to target U.S. citizens and foreigners for kidnapping and hostage taking, including doctors and other medical professionals, engineers, teachers, aid and development workers, government employees, journalists, and visitors. These groups may target places where civilians are known to congregate, including banks, markets, hospitals, guest houses and hotels, and public gatherings.
Actions to Take:
· Keep a low profile
· Be aware of your surroundings and carry a charged cell phone
· Vary your travel routes and times
· Review your personal security plans
· Notify a trusted person of your travel and movement plans
· Consider travel via armored vehicle when possible”
This comes shortly after the U.S. has begun talks with the Taliban, negotiating out of Doha. The Taliban have only ever expressed interest in talking to the U.S. (as opposed to the Afghan government) in regards to peace, as they see the United States as the ultimate authority of the forces they fight in Afghanistan. Brokering a peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government could be essential in a way forward that doesn’t involve perpetuating more violence in a deteriorating country. It could potentially mean a positive outcome for the Afghan people, but it would realistically require the U.S. leaving in order for the peace to become a reality.
Many people express skepticism when it comes to the words, promises, and policies coming from upper echelons of all parties involved, and how it never seems to reflect the situation on the ground. However, it’s a little far-fetched to believe that a war — especially one that has been continuously running for almost 17 years — would simply magically solve itself after a few policy changes or even significant events.
First of all, the Taliban will not change their tactics in the slightest based on the goodwill policy changes of their perceived enemy. The fatwa banning suicide bombings may very well have positive long-term effects, and so it may be a landmark decision (or maybe not), but it certainly does not mean that the Taliban will all of a sudden stop their suicide attacks. One wouldn’t expect the United States to pack up their things and leave the second the Taliban said (hypothetically) that they were ready for peace. It would be a process. The Taliban will continue to assume that they are in an all-out war up until there is a definitive change in the minds of their leadership. The question is whether the measures necessary for the Taliban to accept peace are realistic or not and if the entire organization accepts it (instead of fracturing into groups of opposing opinions).
The thing to look out for is policy changes within the Taliban. This is why the three-day truce over Eid was significant, as it was a real, tangible change coming from the Taliban, not rhetoric from U.S. or Afghan government officials. Only when the Taliban agrees to changes can we expect distinct change.
Similarly, if you were looking for changes in U.S. operations on the ground, you would consider the words and policies of the Afghan government, as well as the Taliban, but you wouldn’t expect tangible change until the U.S. general in charge actually got on board.
When it comes to the pipeline from policy change to implementing those policies on the ground, there is another small, operational consideration as well. The Taliban don’t always have a firm grip on their operatives throughout Afghanistan. If you have a couple hundred fighters assaulting an Afghan Army checkpoint, then yes those fighters are going to be connected to a chain of command through a militaristic hierarchy. However, a suicide bomber, or even sometimes an arms dealer or IED maker, is not necessarily at this level of connection to their “higher-ups.” So there is a significant delay between even the most ardent policy changes and some of the men on the ground.
For example (and this is hypothetical), let’s say someone planned to carry out a suicide attack in a major Afghan city. He would likely cut himself off from Taliban command long before he traveled to the city — perhaps even months. This is to protect himself and the people who he works for. It doesn’t have to be a standardized procedure; it just makes sense. But let’s say the U.S. brokers a peace and the Taliban accept — this guy might not even know it and could detonate himself among a throng of civilians two weeks after peace is promised. Many of them cut themselves off from the media, and it is always surprising how little they know of what’s going on in the war in which they are fighting.
The same often goes for other jobs within the Taliban, aside from suicide bombers. These are the types of complex logistics that the U.S., the Afghan government, and the Taliban will have to deal with if they are even able to agree on peace at the highest levels.
Featured image: In this Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 photo, Habibullah, an Afghan policeman stands guard at a check post in Kabul-Bamiyan road, on the outskirts of Maidan Shahr, capital of Wardak province Afghanistan. Locals call it “Death Road.” The 30 kilometer (18 mile) stretch of road heading west from here has seen so many beheadings, kidnappings, and other Taliban attacks in recent years that it’s become a virtual no man’s land, cutting off the Hazara minority from their homeland in Afghanistan’s rugged mountainous center. | AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini