Leadership: Playing The Other Guy In Afghanistan

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February 22, 2010: The war in Afghanistan has come down to the same counter-terror tactics that succeeded in Iraq and Israel; go after the leaders and specialists. The Taliban are well aware of this, noting the effectiveness of American missile firing UAVs in Pakistan. There, dozens of Taliban leader have been found and killed, along with hundreds of lower ranking targets. A similar, and less publicized, campaign has been waged in Afghanistan, where troops and smart bombs are more frequently used. In Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have more to fear from capture than from a smart bomb or missile. The terrorist leaders are more valuable alive, for the information they yield, and the propaganda value to putting them on trial.

The Taliban have developed their own tactics to get around the American strategy. The Taliban see the path to victory is via dead foreign soldiers, and Afghanistan civilians killed by foreign soldiers. Aware that the foreign troops' ROE (Rules of Engagement) put a premium on avoiding civilian casualties, the Taliban seek to get the civilians killed anyway. They do this by forcing civilians to act as human shields, and while doing this, seek to kill the foreign troops. But this is very difficult, because the foreign troops are skilled professionals, and the Taliban are largely undisciplined amateurs. So the Taliban have put more emphasis on roadside bombs, mines and suicide bombers. This, however, tends to kill more civilians that foreign (or Afghan) troops.

The Taliban tactics are based on the idea that, if enough civilians are killed by foreign troops, Afghans will insist that the foreign troops leave, which will enable the Taliban to take power. Similar deal with killing more foreign troops, where the idea is to persuade the foreign populations to insist that their governments bring the troops out of Afghanistan. While this is working back in Europe, the Taliban strategy is largely backfiring. Opinion polls indicate that more and more Afghans hate the Taliban. Most Afghans had come to hate the Taliban before September 11, 2001, and welcomed the American "invasion". Afghans are traditionally hostile to foreign soldiers, and after 2001, Afghan public opinion slowly turned against the foreign troops. But then the Taliban sought to make a comeback, and as they killed more Afghan civilians, public opinion turned against them. This was hastened by the Taliban alliance with the drug gangs. These groups, who began producing heroin in the 1990s, were hated because they made few Afghans rich, and caused widespread misery as their opium and heroin created over a million addicts in Afghanistan alone.

Even among their core supporters in Helmand province, and around Kandahar, the Taliban are losing support. This region was always the heartland of Taliban support (the original Taliban came from the Pushtun tribes in this area), but the Taliban have been having a harder time recruiting fighters from these Pushtun tribes because, despite the high pay (several times what an Afghan policeman or soldier makes), Taliban tactics get these guys killed too easily. A current example can be seen in the battle for Marjah, where the Taliban leadership got out, and left behind local hires, with promises that they would be able to get out after killing some foreign troops. Hasn’t been working out that way. While the Taliban will pay the families of these dead gunmen, other potential recruits will not be encouraged by this generosity. Getting revenge for their dead kinsmen is a bigger draw, but since the Taliban gunmen were killed by anonymous foreign troops, most Afghans are content to simmer, and not court certain death for the sake of family honor. Not now anyway, maybe later. Besides, there are more immediate revenge issues, as the majority of Afghans (the Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and so on), who are still seeking vengeance from the Taliban for past murders. The biggest problem for the Taliban is not foreign troops, but angry and vengeful Afghans. The Taliban leadership have no strategy for this, other than establishing another Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan.

 


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