Sitting It Out

Posted by lex, on November 28th, 2011

NATO’s senior civilian in Afghanistan sees the Taliban on the ropes, and predicts that – with continued US investments in training security forces – a potential positive outcome * in that war-blasted land:

In mid-October something interesting happened in Afghanistan. In Helmand province, the Pashtun heartland, U.S. Marines prepared to fight their way north as far as the strategically important Kajaki Dam. They expected a tough battle. Route 611, the main supply route, runs through country that in recent years has been crawling with Taliban fighters who desperately want to keep control of an important assembly area. I feared heavy casualties when we set out. But that didn’t materialize. The Marines met relatively slight resistance as they cleared and secured the road to the north. Most of the Taliban fled rather than fight.

Perhaps we should have expected it. The Taliban have taken a ferocious beating over the past year in what were once their strongholds in southern and southwestern Afghanistan. They are demoralized and finding it harder to resupply with men, money and weapons. The fighting campaign they boasted of this summer has been a flop. And that is because the troop surge by the United States and other NATO and international partners provided the military means to take on the insurgency and beat it…

But make no mistake: Taliban commanders in Quetta and Peshawar have plenty to worry about. Nobody should think they are winning or can have any expectation of winning. The Afghan people don’t want them back…

But if we’ve learned anything over the last 10 years, nothing positive can be done in Afghanistan without positive contributions from Pakistan. And in the Washington Times, Rowan Scarborough offers an alternative explanation * for the Taliban’s reticence to join in stand-up fights:

James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said Pakistan aids militants such as the Haqqani Network because it fears a Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan one day will form an alliance with India.

“To preclude such an alliance, the Pakistani military historically has encouraged Islamist radicals inside Afghanistan because it knows that they will be willing allies against India and will be less likely to foment a Pashtun nationalist rebellion inside Pakistan,” Mr. Phillips said.

He said Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which helped bring the Taliban to power, is eyeing President Obama’s 2014 troop exit date from Afghanistan as a time to re-exert power across the border.

“The ISI, which controls Islamabad’s Afghanistan policy, works covertly with the Taliban, Haqqani Network and other insurgent groups to gain a hammerlock on Afghan politics after the U.S. withdraws,” Mr. Phillips said. “Regrettably, by emphasizing the exit timetable arbitrarily imposed on the U.S. troop surge, the Obama administration has encouraged ISI’s belief that Washington is only concerned with rushing for the exit and that it can continue its duplicitous policy with little consequence for the bilateral relationship.”

The Afghan surge flooded certain zones with well-trained and highly motivated infantry who left their encampments and vigorously patrolled their areas of responsibility. The Taliban met that surge head-on, got terribly bloodied and withdrew, preserving their forces. The shift to terroristic attacks that harmed more Afghans may have reduced popular support for the Pashtun-led insurgency.

But they’ll be back once the surge forces withdraw. And it’s a still open question Afghan national institutions to include not merely the army and police but also the central government will be able to repel them. Or whether a commitment of additional resources to buttress those institutions will be sending good money after bad.


** 06-11-2018  Old links gone; new ones added – Ed. 

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Filed under Afghanistan, Best of Neptunus Lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, GWOT, Lex, Politics and Culture

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