5 years, 10 months ago
In The Taliban and Distributed Operations we pointed to evolving tactics of Taliban fighters, saying:
This tactic of forcing decision-making down within the organization, dispatching smaller, self-sufficient groups of fighters, and maintaining looser communication is perfectly adapted to the Afghanistan countryside, which is less about MOUT (military operations on urban terrain) than in Iraq. This guerrilla approach to warfare requires aggressive offensive operations to root them out in their hiding places. It also requires that U.S. forces participate in the chase. Fire and melt-away must become less attractive to the Taliban.
It is partially for this reason The Captain’s Journal has claimed that there would be a so-called spring offensive by the Taliban (which U.S. Army intelligence and command in Afghanistan has repeatedly denied that this offensive would occur). When NATO speaks of a spring offensive, they are talking tactical maneuvers and larger scale kinetic fights. When we speak of a spring offensive, we are talking about guerrilla tactics – small teams, fire and melt away, etc.
Antonio Giustozzi is a research fellow at the London School of Economics who has studied the evolution of the Taliban since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, and he recently reiterated the same points that we made.
“Today, the Taliban are essentially a guerrilla movement, whereas in the 1990s — even in the early days of 1994 or 1995 — they were never something like that,” Giustozzi says. “Even when they were fighting for power, they were not using these guerrilla tactics. They were more like an army moving along the highways and trying to occupy the provincial centers. In that sense, the main difference is the way they operate. It is not so easy to say what their actual aims are.”
But he says that, too, might change.
“Essentially, they say what they want is just to get the foreigners out of the country,” Giustozzi explains. “But even in the early days, they were claiming that their main aim was to pacify the country and bring back law and order — not to become a kind of government which would stay in power indefinitely, which, of course, proved not to be correct once they actually took Kabul.”
As for ordinary Taliban foot soldiers, recent research suggests that the Taliban has been recruiting a younger generation of Afghans to carry out suicide attacks and to fight within its rank and file.
Working for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Christine Fair last year studied the phenomenon of suicide bombings across Afghanistan. Her work led to important conclusions not only about suicide bombers, but also about the emergence of this new generation of Taliban fighters.
“The important big picture is Afghans like to tell you that this is a Pakistani phenomenon,” Fair says. “As we all know, there is Pakistani involvement. There is recruitment across the border. In the tribal areas, madrasahs figure prominently. But even if Pakistan went away, you still have a largely Afghan-driven insurgency.”
Fair describes the situation as a “cross-border phenomenon,” and says that “the insurgency is not going to be resolved if you think that the problem stops either at one side or the other of the Afghan border.”
Distributed operations include the use of suicide bombers, which we the Taliban have begun to see as their “smart bomb.” While some of the ISAF generals have ridiculed the notion of an increase in Taliban violence, the top general in Afghanistan, Maj.Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, has gone on record saying that he expects increased insurgent activity.
Schloesser says violence “may well reach a higher level than it did in 2007,” now seen as the bloodiest year since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. The United Nations says more than 8,000 people, mostly rebels, died in insurgency-related violence last year.
Schloesser says the rebels are no military match for NATO forces.
Instead, they are increasingly directing attacks against civilians and Afghan police and security forces protecting development projects.
“They are going for what is an easier target,” said Schloesser, who heads the 101st Airborne Division. He took up his command in Afghanistan on April 10.
With the indigenous insurgency and the fact that deployment of Taliban fighters is likely complete, focus on the border may miss the point. Force projection is needed inside Afghanistan, and the guerrilla fighters must be chased in order to create the security for the creation of infrastructure.