The killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour severely crippled Taliban operations in Afghanistan as it disrupted the flow of funds to militants, Gen John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in the war-torn country, said on Wednesday.
Mansour, killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in May, controlled the Afghan Taliban’s funds from drug sales and overseas donors.
The Taliban offensive through last winter exhausted their stocks of arms and money, said Nicholson, who was on an official visit to India. This year, though they have attacked checkpoints, “we don’t see anything where they hold terrain” except for brief periods, he added.
Mansour had a very tight control over revenue sources. The Taliban finance commission “frankly doesn’t know where the money is” following his death, said Nicholson, though the group is trying to re-establish funding streams.
Over the past two weeks, US and Afghan forces carried out a major drive against the Islamic State Khorasan in which about 300 fighters were killed. This was about a quarter of the IS’s strength in Afghanistan. “There is a clear connection” between the IS Khorasan and the IS in Syria and Iraq, Nicholson said.
In a change from the past, troops have seen the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) conducting operations in Afghanistan and US forces are now “putting pressure” on them, Nicholson said.
Though these disparate groups didn’t seem to work together, some Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters from the Orakzai tribal region joined the IS Khorasan when the US attacked the latter.
Nicholson confirmed that Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif had raised concerns about Indian military assistance to the Afghan Army. The US response, he said, was to say this aided the creation of a “strong, prosperous and independent Afghanistan” which was in Pakistan’s interest.
Sharif, Nicholson said, had welcomed his decision to visit New Delhi where he has met India’s national security advisor and foreign and defence secretaries.
US welcomes Indian gunships for Afghans
The top US commander in Afghanistan welcomed India’s gift of four Mi-25 gunship helicopters to the Afghan military, reversing Washington’s long-standing opposition to New Delhi providing lethal weaponry to Kabul.
Nicholson said “there is an immediate need for more aircraft” and a repair facility for the Afghan Air Force.
Western sanctions against Russia have disrupted the ability of Afghans to get spare parts for their Russian aircraft, he said. Because of the sanctions, $4.5 billion in international donations for the air force cannot be used for such parts. “Spare parts by India would be most welcome,” he said.
An aircraft repair facility in Afghanistan would be useful, he added. Aircraft needing maintenance are currently sent to eastern Europe. This would seem to be a thumbs-up for Indo-Russia plans to build a repair facility for the gunship helicopters.
Nicholson also said India’s provision of education and training for thousands of Afghan soldiers and students was having a “tremendous impact on the human side”. India’s professional training is helping the young Afghan Army “fill the junior and mid-level ranks”, who are new to the ways of a professional military.