The Taliban launched its spring offensive on Tuesday, kicking off what many say will be a difficult year ahead.
“The difference this year,” says Mujib Mashal of the New York Times, in Kabul, “is that there was never really a winter lull. It’s been continuous fighting, unlike previous years where the fighting would slow down.”
“So, in one way, people are not so worried because the fighting never stopped,” adds Mashal. “In other ways, it’s also a sign that if this is just the beginning of a new season, then the violence will probably be much more than it was during the winter.”
Over the last few years, the war in Afghanistan has become bloodier and bloodier. 2015 was the worst, with 11,000 Afghan civilians killed, along with 6,000 members of the security forces. There are no figures for insurgent losses.
Afghan forces are increasingly on their own as the US and NATO mission has drawn down to mostly an advisory role. The US is also providing air support, and special forces remain present.
The Taliban is not very popular, says Mashal, even in traditional strongholds in the countryside of the south and east. But he adds that the group remains strong because of its hold on the narcotics trade, the intrinsic strength of networks established over the course of 20 years, and possibly the continued support of at least part of Pakistan's military-intelligence complex.
The lack of economic opportunity for most young men and the ideological appeal of fighting the continued foreign presence in Afghanistan also help with recruitment.
ISIS is much less of a threat, says Mashal. It was gaining momentum last year, but a combination of attacks from the government and from the Taliban has greatly reduced its presence.