Important thread here👇from @bsarwary on how the country’s northernmost Badakhshan province appears to be rapidly falling under Taliban ctrl.

The Talib’s focus on this province is a highly significant geopol dvlpmnt as US forces are about a month away from a complete pullout.
Badakhshan was the one province that did not fall under Taliban control even during the heyday of the jihadist regime prior to 9/11.

Thus it served as the staging grounds from where the U.S. backed Northern Alliance forces began the ground offensive to topple the Talib emirate.
Given its location the former Northern Alliance forces were supported by Russia, India & Iran from across the border in Tajikistan.
By focusing on Badakhshan, which is a majority Tajik province the Taliban are trying to eliminate the core of any opposition to their efforts to dominate the country.
They have been targeting Badakhshan for several years now. Here is a map I designed back in 2016 for a @GPFutures deep-dive assessment.
The anti-Taliban alliance has been dominated by ethnic Tajiks who make up about 30% of the country’s pop. From the POV of the Talibs, if the Tajiks are in disarray then the Uzbeks, Hazaras and others, whose numbers are in the single-digit %age points, cannot offer resistance.
There is a major difference between how the Taliban took over these non-Pashtun regions in the northern and western parts of the country in the late 1990s and how the jihadist movement has been resurging in these regions in the past decade or so.
In the late ‘90s the Taliban - leveraging the anarchy bcuz rival Islamist factions were fighting each other after the ‘92 fall of the communist regime (the last strong state in the country) - spread northwards from its southern core turf as its militia forcibly seized territory.
In sharp contrast, the Taliban spread to these northern & western parts during the past dozen years or so represents far more of a threat.

Being able to project an insurgency in areas from their southern & eastern core turfs means it has developed deep support among the locals.
In other words, the most troubling aspect is that the Taliban spread into these areas has been more organic because it has taken place in the face of a hostile operating environment and as part of trying to augment an insurgency.
Gaining support among a population with whom you do not have ethnic or ideological affinity is not easy. That the Taliban were able to make deep and broad inroads represents the failure of not just the Afghan state but also the local and regional political elites and factions.
These areas of ctrl & influence is a key part of the method to the Taliban madness. A serious presence in traditionally hostile areas helps the Talibs make sure that when they go after the bigger cities & Kabul, there aren’t areas for their opponents to regroup.
Thanks to @abdsayedd for explaining here👇how the Taliban made strategic inroads into the Tajik-majority areas, especially Badakhshan.

This situation reminds me of a moment in grad school in '99. The Taliban had seized Taloqan. My advisor, who I also TA'd for, had me enlarge this really good topographical map of Afghanistan to poster size to track Taliban forces as they moved closer to the Tajikistan border.
It’s imp to recall that it took only 5 weeks for Northern Alliance forces to take Kabul after the US began mil ops to topple the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Until Oct 7, ‘01 anti-Taliban militias had been confined to a small area in Badakhshan.

AirPower made the difference.
And all throughout the years of the Taliban insurgency since 2002-03 #airpower is what has prevented the Taliban from mobilizing a large enough force to retake any major urban centers.
Since the collapse of the communist regime in ‘92 and 2007 when the US-led coalition began rebuilding an Afghan air capabilities the country did not have an air force. Both the anti-Soviet Islamist factions and the Taliban largely relied on ground offensives to seize territory.
Over the past 14 years the Afghan state has developed air capabilities, which could help the current government keep Taliban forces from advancing into the urban centers. But it will need US support and DC should and will likely provide.
The parallels with the collapse of the communist regime three years after the Soviet mil withdrawal are not entirely accurate because the USSR itself was imploding around the same time & the Kremlin had to end all forms of support (mil, fin, fuel, etc) to the PDPA govt in Kabul.
While the US is withdrawing forces from the country it is not about to stop supporting the Afghan government. In fact, DC is also relying on int’l financial assistance as a way to shape Taliban behavior.
There is not much the U.S. can do to augment ANSF ground capabilities but it can certainly help with air support, which could help with maintaining a balance of power between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
DC’s approach to an intra-Afghan dialogue that it would happen after its own agreement with the Taliban was flawed.

With an upper hand in the battlespace, the Talibs were not compelled to talk to the Afghan government.
As I argued at the time, the Talibs would be ready to talk only after they made further gains against the Kabul government post-US pullout.
So, they are now hoping to make as many gains as possible. Ideally, they are hoping the Kabul govt will fall and they can dictate terms to their opponents. But they also know that that is anything but certain.
The Talibs know that if they took Kabul militarily that would trigger a global backlash. They have been there before and know it is easy to takeover but much harder to govern. This time around the former isn’t easy. But when all is said & done they wanna have int’l recognition.
Therefore they will want to negotiate but only after they are in a position to dictate terms to their opponents. Last Sept I outlined in detail what v. 2.0 of their emirate would look like in this @NewlinesInst #NetAssessment…
The next few months will thus be crucial & the @POTUS should provide all the support it can to the Kabul govt so as to limit the gains of the Taliban. A #balanceofpower must be maintained. The Taliban confidence that they can push aside the Afghan govt has to be broken.
All the blood and treasure that the US invested in the country was never going to get rid of the Taliban. But it did lay the groundwork to contain the jihadist resurgence, which does not require US forces to be in country. But there is a lot that can be done from the outside.
Taliban InfoOps👇

"Although we (Taliban) have the upper hand on the battlefield, we are very serious about talks and dialogue."…

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More from @KamranBokhari

18 Apr
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The head of the Haqqani Network - a terrorist group with close ties to al-Qaeda - gets an op-ed in the NYT to speak on behalf of the Taliban (as opposed to its central leader Mullah Haibatullah) - ahead of the signing of a peace agreement with the US.…
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