Afghanistan: Do Or Die Time For The Taliban


June 12, 2009: The influx of American troops is showing up throughout southern Afghanistan. Areas that had long been dominated by the Taliban, or pro-Taliban tribes, are now being raided by American troops. U.S. intelligence forces arrived before the combat troops, and the increased reconnaissance and electronic monitoring effort produced a more detailed picture of who the Taliban were, where they lived and what they were up to. All that was needed was more troops to work the target list. The Taliban tactics appear to consist of avoiding foreign troops (except for greater use of roadside bombs), and trying to concentrate forces to drive Afghan police and government officials out of the countryside. This would have some chance of success were it not for the foreign troops.

The buzz in the villages and neighborhoods of southern in Afghanistan is all about the Taliban bombing a mosque in Pakistan, and the local Pushtun clans there forming militias (which are only done in the most dire emergency) and going after any Taliban fighters, or pro-Taliban tribesman, they can find. The new American commander (Stanley McChrystal) in Afghanistan, who has a Special Forces background, wants to take advantage of this by having foreign troops work more closely with local (to their bases) Afghans. General McChrystal has more Special Forces, along with lots more soldiers and marines. McChrystal is also keeping his staff of 400 troops in Afghanistan for three years at a time. This will provide more continuity, although at some cost to family life for the personnel involved. McChrystal is being given a lot of leeway to modify tactics and methods. It's understood that the Special Forces are used to operating this way, and getting away with it. McChrystal has been told to try the Special Forces techniques on a large and broad scale. The collapse of Taliban in support in Pakistan makes the Afghan Taliban vulnerable, and now is the time to take advantage of that.

The intensity of operations can be seen in the American combat casualties. This time last year, 40 U.S. troops had died so far that year. This year, American deaths are 70 so far (a 40 percent increase). Last year, 151 American troops died in Afghanistan. There are 58,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now (nearly 50 percent more than last year), with 68,000 planned by the end of the year. Thus U.S. casualties are up mainly because there are more American troops in action.

The Taliban are not keeping up. The Taliban are using more roadside bombs, a tactic that requires more cash than just gangs of gunmen intimidating villagers and killing cops. The bombs require better paid bomb builders and teams for placing and detonating the explosives. While the bombs are the most effective way to kill foreign troops, this still results in a lower casualty rate than was encountered in Iraq. There, the roadside bomb tactic ultimately failed. But the Taliban, knowing this, have no choice, because if they don't kill at least a few foreign troops, their credibility, and morale, will collapse. That is happening anyway, as the foreign troops now go after the sources of Taliban cash (smuggling, drugs, extortion). In Pakistan, the army is breaking all tradition and going after the pro-Taliban tribes. Since the founding of Pakistan (and for centuries before), soldiers stayed out of the tribal territories. No more, and the Taliban have lost their sanctuary, and much tribal support. It's do or die time for the Taliban. With so many things going against them, they have to show some progress this year, or find themselves in a downward spiral they won't recover from.

Al Qaeda is also having cash flow problems. Recent audio messages passed around to Moslems has al Qaeda leaders pleading for money. Al Qaeda admits that its operations in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, are hobbled by a lack of resources. There should be no surprise here, as counter-terror operations have concentrated, for years, on sources of terrorist financial assistance. Moslem charities, which actually raised money for terrorist operations, were shut down (especially in the Persian Gulf), and large contributors were convinced to halt their support. Al Qaeda also lost a lot of popular support because of their indiscriminate killings in Iraq, and now Afghanistan. It's no wonder they are broke.

In the last week, there were 400 terrorist related incidents in the country, an all time high. At its peak, there were several thousand a week in Iraq, so it's not the same in Afghanistan. The Taliban have far less reach than the Sunni Arab terrorists of Iraq. But the Taliban are using the same tactics as the Iraqi terrorists, and getting the same result.

June 5, 2009: In Kandahar, police located and killed two Taliban commanders. The Taliban are finding that they are increasingly vulnerable to informers. The Taliban use of intimidation and terror attacks has created many more enemies. That, and the growing availability of cell phones, has proved to be a disastrous combination. Gossip quickly reveals who key Taliban officials are, and if one of the locals has a grudge against the Taliban (because a friend or family member was injured or killed by them), and a cell phone, it takes less than a minute to tip off the police (who distribute "tip lines" for such information, and offer rewards). The Afghan police have SWAT and quick reaction teams, which proved very successful in Iraq, for following up on tips.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close