Small Wars Journal

Afghanistan's Warlords Prepare for Civil War

Afghanistan's Warlords Prepare for Civil War by Scott DesMarais - Institute for the Study of War

Key Takeaway: Key Afghan warlords have begun preparing for a potential civil war as the U.S. nears an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw from Afghanistan. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has observed indicators that Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara leaders are taking steps to mobilize their ethnic communities in preparation for a looming power struggle as the U.S. and NATO leave Afghanistan. Afghan Pashtuns will also soon likely mobilize, if they have not already begun.

The U.S. is about to finalize a bilateral agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan.[1] The Taliban in return is reportedly promising to prevent transnational jihadists (including Al Qaeda and ISIS) from conducting global attacks from Afghanistan. It has also ostensibly committed to subsequent negotiations with other Afghan political leaders over the future of Afghanistan. The exact terms of these negotiations remain unclear, but the U.S. has declined to explicitly support a leadership role in the talks for the current Afghan Government – implying that talks would focus on establishing a new Government of Afghanistan.[2] The apparent decision to sideline the current Afghan Government is a major concession by the U.S. and NATO. The existence and terms of this bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, when finalized, will sideline and severely weaken the Afghan Government. It will remove the government’s core source of leverage over the Taliban – namely, the military forces and international aid money brought by the U.S. and NATO to Afghanistan.

Afghan powerbrokers are already taking precautions against the likely collapse or cancellation of the promised future talks with the Taliban. They are preparing to defend their communities against the Taliban and to compete with their current and historical rivals in the ensuing power vacuum. Multiple Afghan warlords already retain independent military forces or have coopted government forces to serve their own ends. Others have begun to mobilize new militias from their historical support bases. These preparations in and of themselves raise the likelihood of a new civil war by increasing the strength of power centers outside the Government of Afghanistan and setting conditions for a rapid dissolution of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF)…

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