5 years, 10 months ago
The Taliban recently attempted another large scale conventional-style operation in the Helmand Province. It didn’t go well.
About 100 militants have been killed in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, half in air strikes that thwarted an attack on a key town, Afghan and British forces said yesterday.
Between 50 and 60 militants were killed in airstrikes as they tried to enter the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah from three directions. British Lieutenant-Colonel Woody Page said the attempt was ”virtually unpre-cedented” in the area in the scale of the attacking force and their degree of coordination.
With the exception of the battle of Wanat, regardless of their perceived capabilities, every time they conduct major conventional operations against British or U.S. forces, they lose badly. It is tactics like this that are keeping the Taliban from gaining control any more quickly than they have. Hopefully the Taliban will continue to believe that they can engage in conventional operations against coalition forces. Working as guerrillas is more efficient for them and bad for us.
But gaining control they are, in spite of their losses due to large scale operations. The lack of forces to provide security for the population has caused the Taliban, who are in constant contact with the population, to gain control of all major routes into and out of Kabul except one.
At a gas station on the outskirts of Kabul, lounging in the shade of a transport truck, Mohammed Raza describes how he escaped death.
Last month, a U.S. contractor promised him $10,000 if he’d drive a truck full of diesel from Kabul to Kandahar, offering seven times more than he could earn by transporting his usual shipments of sugar. But the Taliban forbid drivers from carrying fuel to the foreign troops, he said, and the insurgents run checkpoints on the road between Afghanistan’s two largest cities. He rejected the offer. One of his friends took the assignment, he said, and the Taliban cut off his head.
“Many drivers now are selling their lives,” the 25-year-old said, nervously twisting the fringe of his beard.
The Taliban are isolating Afghanistan’s capital city from the rest of the country, choking off important supply routes and imposing their rules on the provinces near Kabul. Interviews suggest that the Taliban have gained control along three of the four major highways into the city, and some believe it’s a matter of time before they regulate all traffic around the capital …
But the insurgents don’t need to attack the capital; by hobbling the government’s ability to reach its own citizens beyond the city gates, security analysts say, the Taliban make the rulers of Kabul irrelevant in broad swaths of the country. It’s more than a propaganda victory; the insurgents are grabbing the same political high ground the Taliban exploited during their previous sweep to power in the 1990s, by positioning themselves as the best enforcers of security in rural Afghanistan.
The roadblocks have also started to pinch the foreign troops. Military bases find themselves running short of fuel and other supplies …
People who work for the government, or have any association with the foreign presence, now travel covertly on the main highways of southern, central, and eastern Afghanistan. They disguise themselves as rural peasants, carry no identification cards, and erase numbers from their cellphones that might connect them with the government.
Some devise even more elaborate strategies for dealing with Taliban checkpoints, arranging for friends to impersonate religious figures who can vouch for them if they’re stopped by the insurgents.
Truck drivers often leave a rear door open at the back of their tractor-trailers, securing their cargo with a spider web of ropes, so that Taliban can easily look inside and check the shipment for anything forbidden by the insurgency. The Taliban even scrutinize the drivers’ customs paperwork to certify that the goods are destined for non-military consumers …
Not only do the Afghan security forces lack numbers, but they’re also corrupt and even colluding with the insurgents, said Colonel Asadullah Abed, chief of the criminal investigation division for the 10 central provinces around Kabul.
The 40-year-old policeman says he’s no friend of the Taliban, and has a sheaf of threatening letters from the insurgents to make his point.
But he worries that his colleagues at small posts outside the city are not so devoted to the government’s cause.
Each of the four major gateways into Kabul are guarded by Afghan police, soldiers, and intelligence officers, Col. Abed said, but the insurgents easily bribe their way through. People with loyalties to the insurgents have also infiltrated the ranks of Afghanistan’s security establishment, he added: “They’re not working honestly.”
Col. Abed paused to look at a reporter’s military-issued accreditation card, and noted that the small piece of identification would be a death warrant on most highways outside the city. “You’re a foreigner travelling with this,” he said, pointing to the ID badge, “and you can travel the Shomali road okay, but any other road they will capture you after one kilometre.”
As long as the Taliban interdict traffic patterns outside of Kabul into the countryside of Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom will fail. But there is also the corollary problem of corruption within the Afghan forces, police and army.
While this corruption remains there cannot be a complete turnover of responsibility to the Afghan government. Operation Enduring Freedom is a long, long way from completion.