Since the fall of Zaranji, the first provincial capital in Afghanistan returned to the Taliban, only 72 hours have passed since the subsequent conquest of four other large urban centers – Sheberghan, Sar-i-Pul, Taluqan and Kunduz. Insurgents also break through in the most important cities – Zaranji for example is a hub on the border with Iran that allows the guerrillas to have control over the fourth of the six Afghan border crossings (this means controlling the various traffic and having logistical advantages as well as cheap).
These recent attacks violate the 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States, as terrorist insurgents have pledged not to target provincial centers like Kunduz. As the expert Claudio Bertolotti (Ispi) analyzed in these columns, in some of these capitals – such as in Herat, the former headquarters of the Italian contingent – the initial effects of a “widespread resistance” can be seen, but elsewhere the situation is critical. Afghan forces are fighting, but they do not seem able to contain the insurgents, so much so that the United States has increased the intensity of its air operations in support of the local army.
President Joe Bidenhas given orders to use the strategic bombers B-52 “Stratofortress” and the flying gunboats AC-130 “Specter” against the Taliban. That is, the Americans will no longer limit themselves to targeted actions via drones or punctual sorties, but will carry out carpet attacks with two full war assets. The Kabul army has announced a counter-offensive on Kunduz (with almost 400,000 inhabitants the main center among those lost) and it would be the third time this has happened after the fall-and-reconquest of 2015 and 2016. But this time the Afghans are from alone on the ground, for this you need US air power.
The AC-130 Specter gunboats – armed with a 25mm Gatling gun, a 40mm Bofors gun and a 105mm M102 howitzer – are the perfect craft for Close Air Support. It was the Specter of the Special Operations Command that was decisive in the first days of the war against the Taliban (and al Qaeda) to conquer Kunduz. It was 2001: now, twenty years later, they are called into action and in itself the image of the debacle. Afghanistan is practically on the point where it was before the start of the longest war in history, the one that was first to erase terrorist realities and then, by ambitious expansion, becomes an attempt to build a new democracy in the country.
The Taliban are also advancing through Afghanistan because they took courage after the US-led coalition withdrew from the country, leaving the nation’s defense forces struggling to confront jihadist rebels. The conquest of Sheberghan, for example, was particularly functional because it is the stronghold of the Uzbek warlord (US ally) Rashid Dostum, whose militias are among those resurrected to help the Afghan national security and defense forces. They had to lend a hand to the soldiers of Kabul, they ended up quickly losing their bases.
President Biden is aware that the actions of the bombers alone are not enough to stop the insurgents, but he also knows that something must be done. While the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department tell of the withdrawal that will be completed by August 31 (also because more than 90 percent of the contingent is already out of the country), according to the slogan “responsible exit”, it becomes necessary to make the responsible exit also militarily. The sending of the area power is more part of the need to give consistency to the communication rather than the confidence that it can be a real game changer. (Specification: it could be, mind you, but if thought of as an asset of a larger and more lasting operation that is not mentioned so far, also because it would in part be a contradiction with the disengagement policy).
The B-52s and AC-130s are operating from Qatar, while the aircraft carrier “USS Ronald Reagan” deployed in the Arabian Sea could add additional firepower if the embarked F / A-18 Super Hornet fleet were to be called into action. . American forces are concentrating on trying to repel jihadists from capitals such as Lashkar Gah, Herat and Kandahar, which have suffered heavy attacks in recent days. The duration of the mission is not yet clear, which also has as a secondary purpose that of giving courage and confidence to the Afghan forces.
The problem is also technical: with the American withdrawal, the army of contractors who were used for the maintenance of Afghan helicopters and jets is also leaving. The most realistic estimates believe that more than a third of the 162 aircraft of the Afghan Armed Forces are out of order due to the absence of repair personnel and the lack of spare parts. All while the Kabul pilots – who have also been targeted by the Taliban with personal vendettas – would be exhausted and demoralized by non-stop missions, and ammunition is running out. The arrival of the American planes and a form of minimal support at this point.

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