The Taliban has grown stronger in parts of the countryside, and followers of the Islamic State are emerging as a growing threat. U.S.-backed Afghan security forces have been taking heavy casualties as they struggle to contain the insurgency.
The Taliban denied any connection to Wednesday's bombing. The devastation caused by a truck bomb triggered in a supposedly secure part of the city near embassies and government offices. The bombing is the latest example of how insurgents can infiltrate the country’s capital to wreak havoc. The attack appeared to be sophisticated and well-planned since the truck carrying the bomb got through multiple layers of security inside the city. "There could have been cooperation with Afghan security forces or, at a minimum, very detailed planning and coordination," said Jack Keane, a retired Army general.
The violence comes as the White House is weighing a request from military commanders to add more American troops to train and support Afghanistan’s security forces. NATO has about 13,500 troops in Afghanistan, including about 9,000 U.S. forces.
The top commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, has said several thousand more troops are needed to turn the tide of war there. He has described the war with the Taliban as a stalemate.
Trump traveled to Brussels last week and discussed the issue with his NATO counterparts, who are also being asked to boost troop levels. The White House has not yet decided on requests for more troops. “The major issue we’re facing is that with the status quo the war is not winnable," Keane said. "President Trump is facing an indefinite protracted war if nothing is done, and if we pull away Afghanistan turns back into a terrorist safe haven. Alternatively, we can do something that is decisive. The Taliban should have been defeated and a political settlement should have been reached years ago.”
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently that NATO should be prepared to act quickly if more troops are approved, since Afghanistan is entering another “fighting season,” when mountains become passable and insurgents step up attacks.
“If the political decision is to do more, let’s do more as fast as we can,” Dunford said after meeting with NATO’s military leaders this month.
The bombing highlights the risk of withdrawing coalition forces from the country, said Seth Jones, an analyst at RAND Corp. "This attack does reinforce the precariousness of the security situation," he said. But the bombing is not necessarily a sign that the Taliban or Islamic State is gaining an upper hand over government forces, analysts say. Insurgents have launched bombings in the capital in the past, and Wednesday's attack does not suggest that militants are in a position to control major cities, which would be a more alarming development, Jones said.
"The fact you can get a bomb into Kabul doesn't mean the situation is worsening," he said.