The Strategy Page has an essay this morning that is important to read since it appears the war in Iraq is winding down and action in Afghanistan is heating up. Jim Dunnigan provides his readers with insights into the tactics of the Taliban and how they intend to handle European forces currently stationed there. One quote (out of many) caught my eye:
The Europeans have allowed their armed forces to waste away since the end of the Cold War in 1991, and the general attitude is more receptive to making some kind of deal with the Islamic radicals, rather than hunting down and killing them. The Islamic radicals know this, and are willing to say whatever the Europeans want to hear in order to get Western troops out of Afghanistan. To help that process, al Qaeda is concentrating suicide and roadside bombing attacks on European troops, because of the potential political payoff back in Europe.
June 29, 2008: While the Taliban get all the headlines, the main source of the violence in Afghanistan is the money from the heroin trade. This is what pays to arm and encourage (with payments to the gunmen, or to their families after their sons die in action) young men to get involved. The Taliban also take advantage of the ancient Pushtun tradition of fighting outsiders. The result of all this has been a few thousand Taliban and al Qaeda fighting wandering around southern Afghanistan, terrorizing locals into supporting them (with food, and no cell phone calls to the police). Because most of the Pushtuns want nothing to do with more violence, more and more of the gunmen are foreigners. Most are from Pakistan, but hundreds are from outside the region, mostly Arabs.
The majority of Afghans have nothing to do with all this. Partly this is because about 60 percent of the population are not Pushtuns, and consider the Taliban another example of Pushtun madness they want no part of. The rest of the country still has the usual problems of corruption, banditry and tribal politics, but nothing as nasty as the Taliban and their murderous religious fanaticism.
U.S. and NATO commanders know they cannot be beaten. The combination of more capable troops, air reconnaissance (especially hundreds of UAVs) and smart bombs, enables Taliban fighters to be killed quickly, whenever the enemy stays in one place too long. But there are more groups of Taliban running around southern Afghanistan than there are Western troops available to go kill them. NATO commanders know their history, that the Pushtun tribes can be beaten, but that it will require,they calculate, another three brigades. This will enable a large enough number of Taliban fighters to be killed, in a short enough period, to break the morale of the Pushtuns still willing to go out and carry a gun for the Taliban. Getting those additional troops will be difficult, largely because of domestic politics in the West. Europeans, in particular, are eager to find a way to not get involved. The Europeans have allowed their armed forces to waste away since the end of the Cold War in 1991, and the general attitude is more receptive to making some kind of deal with the Islamic radicals, rather than hunting down and killing them. The Islamic radicals know this, and are willing to say whatever the Europeans want to hear in order to get Western troops out of Afghanistan. To help that process, al Qaeda is concentrating suicide and roadside bombing attacks on European troops, because of the potential political payoff back in Europe.
The Taliban have been unable to come up with any tactic to neutralize this Western advantage. However, the Taliban believe that if they keep up the violence long enough, many of the nations, especially the Europeans, supplying troops will tire of the effort and pull their forces out. If a leftist president is elected in the United States this Fall, the Taliban see an opportunity for reducing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Even without that, the Taliban leaders believe they can simply outlast any foreign efforts to “pacify” the Pushtun tribes.
The Afghan government, which is dominated by Pushtuns, see the Taliban as an uprising by some tribal factions seeking power in the traditional way. As the Taliban did in the 1990s, the Taliban want to restore their religious dictatorship, which would be dominated by Pushtun tribal leaders who are religious enough, and ruthless enough, to enforce Taliban rules (no schools for girls, harsh rules for women, no fun for men and no tolerance for anything but conservative Sunni Islam). This outcome scares the crap out of most Afghans, who will resist violently. They have no doubts what Taliban rule would be like, having suffered it in the 1990s.
The Afghan government, and the majority (over 80 percent, including most Pushtuns) of Afghans see the Taliban as not just a bunch of Pushtun religious zealots trying to take control of the government, but another effort by evil neighbor Pakistan to take control of Afghanistan via the Taliban. It’s true that Pakistan armed and organized the first Taliban combat units, recruiting Pushtun refugees (from the 1980s war with the Russians) living in Pakistani camps, and attending Saudi funded religious schools. This was the faction in the Pakistani government which agreed with the concept of an Islamic religious dictatorship as the solution for the world’s ills. This attitude is a minority one in Pakistan, but is tolerated because these fanatics are found at all levels of society, and are organized for self-protection. But the majority of Pakistanis are actively opposed to the Islamic conservatives, again thanks to al Qaeda and their tactics of bombings that kill lots of innocent civilians. This is the usual terrorist self-destructive death spiral. The terrorists kill civilians, turning the people against them and are eventually wiped out by an enraged population. It’s happened before, it just happened in Iraq and it’s happening now in Afghanistan.
June 27, 2008: Increased Taliban attacks on trucks that move most imports to land-locked Afghanistan, has caused Pakistan to go after Taliban fighters who have set up shop along the highways into Afghanistan. It’s Pakistani trucking and trading companies that are losing money, trucks and drivers from the Taliban attacks. Religion is one thing, losing your livelihood is an even greater motivator.
June 26, 2008: In the southern city of Kandahar, the police chief, and two other senior police commanders, were fired for poor performance (and the June 13 jail break).
June 25, 2008: The Taliban on both sides of the border are going after tribal and religious leaders who will not cooperate with them. The anti-Taliban men are kidnapped, or just murdered outright. Sometimes this works, but it always creates more anti-Taliban sentiment. Terror is only a short term solution, and a long-term problem.
June 22, 2008: Rockets and shells are being fired from Pakistan into Afghanistan. NATO and Afghan artillery is firing back. The Pakistani military insists this is not their doing, but admits the someone, probably the Taliban, is doing it. The Pakistanis are tolerating the return fire, and but not happy about it.