NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan released a video of a U.S. airstrike that killed an ISIS-K leader on April 5, 2018. The video is meant to highlight progress the U.S. and NATO are making in the war in Afghanistan. But others question if the war is succeeding.
The NATO press release for the video stated that, “A U.S. airstrike killed Qari Hikmatullah and his bodyguard in Bal Chiragh district, Faryab province, Afghanistan, Apr. 5, 2018.” Hikmatullah “was the senior ISIS-K commander and the main facilitator of ISIS-K fighters into northern Afghanistan.”
“ISIS-K” stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or Syria)-Khorasan, and is a part of ISIS that “emerged in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2014.” ISIS-K “is primarily made up of former disaffected mid-level leaders from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as a faction from the IMU.”
NATO touted the killings as part of an ongoing, successful campaign against the Islamic terrorist group. “‘ASSF and U.S. counter-terrorism forces killed Hikmatullah and they will kill any successors,’ said General John Nicholson, commander, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. ‘ISIA-K [sic] will be eliminated.’”
But others question that assessment.
US military commanders have touted the killing of IS-K’s leaders as a major defeat for the group and has predicted its eminent [sic] collapse. However, the Islamic State’s Khorasan province – which has far fewer resources and personnel, and a smaller base a [sic] of support than the Taliban and its allies – has weathered a concerted US and Afghan military offensive in Nangarhar and the persistent targeting of its leaders for nearly three years.
Roggio also questions the overall U.S. assessment of the war in Afghanistan. On March 30 he wrote an analysis called, “Can Resolute Support possibly still not understand Taliban strategy?” He concludes the analysis by writing:
For nearly a decade, top US military leaders have provided wildly optimistic assessments of the capabilities of the Afghan security forces and downplayed the status of the Taliban’s insurgency. Yet the Taliban is stronger today than at any point since the initial US invasion.
He also is specifically critical of General John Nicholson, noting that:
Gresback is parroting the line given by his boss, General John Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support. Two months ago, Nicholson claimed Afghan forces had a successful 2017 in that it “[denied] the Taliban any of their stated battlefield objectives … In 2017 the Taliban failed to take any provincial capitals.”
Of course, Nicholoson [sic] falsely attributed a strategic goal to the Taliban that it never claimed. (For more background on this, see Afghan and Coalition forces prepare for 2018 offensive against the Taliban.)
The war in Afghanistan has drastically faded from the public consciousness yet it remains in full swing nearly 17 years after it started. U.S. and NATO leaders will likely continue issuing videos and statements of success, but every time they do so, careful analysis will likely show that victory remains elusive.
Note: The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.