July 21, 2010:
To get a sense of who is winning, it's important to look at the Afghan war from both sides. The Western media concentrates on what is happening to NATO troops and the Afghan government forces. What's it like from the Taliban side? Here is one insight. Last month, NATO troops captured a copy of a five page letter from Taliban leader Mullah Omar, that was being delivered to the several dozen Taliban commanders throughout Afghanistan. The letter instructed the commanders to try and capture foreign troops and Afghan government employees. This is apparently to provide the Taliban with an opportunity to try and obtain the freedom of hundreds of imprisoned Taliban leaders and technical specialists. Mullah Omar also urged his men to fight to the death and avoid capture. Many more of these leaders have been captured this year. Over twenty of them were captured in the last month, along with over 300 of their followers, all in situations where the Taliban did not put up a fight when surrounded. This apparently did not go over well with Mullah Omar, thus the letter reminding his guys that getting taken alive had no place in the Taliban playbook.
Mullah also ordered his commanders to kill as many Afghan government officials, and any Afghans working for foreign troops, as they could. He also urged that any Afghans suspected of supplying the government, or foreign troops, with information on the Taliban, be killed. This is in contrast to a letter sent out last year, ordering commanders to minimize civilian casualties. This order was apparently ignored, as more civilians have been killed by the Taliban this year. Few of these casualties were suspected government informants. Many more civilians have been killed while resisting Taliban demands for food, shelter or other support. Rural Afghans are increasingly forming militias and warning the Taliban to stay away, or be prepared to fight. Mullah Omar wants there to be no mercy for these ungrateful wretches.
Mullah Omar also called for more spies to be recruited, especially from among Afghans working for the government, or for the foreigners, inside bases used by foreign troops. Omar also urged his commanders to obtain more rockets and mortars, for attacking enemy bases, and heavy machine-guns, for attacking enemy helicopters. Such weapons can be obtained, from warlords or smugglers, but they are expensive, and Taliban commanders have been reluctant to spend money on such stuff. One thing the letter didnt get into was the growing corruption among Taliban field commanders, who are pocketing cash received from drug gangs, rather than spending it on hiring more gunmen and buying weapons.
Intelligence analysts interpret this letter as indicating Mullah Omar is losing control of local Taliban groups. Part of the problem is generational. Most of Omar's military subordinates are over 20 years younger, and from a very different generation (one that grew up lusting after cell phones, and the Internet, and that did not experience the 1980s war with the Russians). These younger commanders are spending more time and effort working with the drug gangs, who pay well and dont ask you to fight to the death. Mullah Omar is believed hiding out somewhere in Pakistan, where he is now being sought more energetically than at any time in the past. Omar has said he would fight to the death if cornered. Maybe he does have a death wish his subordinates lack. Omar is in his 50s now, and has been out of power, and in hiding, for nearly a decade. Now he has to deal with a deadly generation gap.