5 years, 10 months ago
The Asia Times has an important article on the security situation near Kabul, Afghanistan.
If there is an exact location marking the West’s failures in Afghanistan, it is the modest police checkpoint that sits on the main highway 20 minutes south of Kabul. The post signals the edge of the capital, a city of spectacular tension, blast walls, and standstill traffic. Beyond this point, Kabul’s gritty, low-slung buildings and narrow streets give way to a vast plain of serene farmland hemmed in by sandy mountains. In this valley in Logar province, the American-backed government of Afghanistan no longer exists.
Instead of government officials, men in muddied black turbans with assault rifles slung over their shoulders patrol the highway, checking for thieves and “spies”. The charred carcass of a tanker, meant to deliver fuel to international forces further south, sits belly up on the roadside.
The police say they don’t dare enter these districts, especially at night when the guerrillas rule the roads. In some parts of the country’s south and east, these insurgents have even set up their own government, which they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the name of the former Taliban government). They mete out justice in makeshift sharia courts. They settle land disputes between villagers. They dictate the curricula in schools.
Just three years ago, the central government still controlled the provinces near Kabul. But years of mismanagement, rampant criminality, and mounting civilian casualties have led to a spectacular resurgence of the Taliban and other related groups. Today, the Islamic Emirate enjoys de facto control in large parts of the country’s south and east. According to ACBAR, an umbrella organization representing more than 100 aid agencies, insurgent attacks have increased by 50% over the past year. Foreign soldiers are now dying at a higher rate here than in Iraq.
The burgeoning disaster is prompting the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and international players to speak openly of negotiations with sections of the insurgency.
Who exactly are the Afghan insurgents? Every suicide attack and kidnapping is usually attributed to “the Taliban”. In reality, however, the insurgency is far from monolithic. There are the shadowy, kohl-eyed mullahs and head-bobbing religious students, of course, but there are also erudite university students, poor, illiterate farmers, and veteran anti-Soviet commanders. The movement is a melange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits that fall uneasily into three or four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners.
It isn’t surprising that this hodgepodge of rogues would only have one thing that holds them together. After all, NATO forces – and in particular – U.S. troops, are the main barrier between them and their other goals, whether it be wealth, control, power or Islamic rule. The indigenous Sunni insurgency and al Qaeda initially had the goal of ousting U.S. forces too, and the Sunni tribes eventually turned on al Qaeda.
The assessment that the “Taliban” is not a monolithic group is also tired and rather passe. It is neither new information nor valuable analysis. Coverage and commentary at The Captain’s Journal has focused over the past months on the cloistering of NATO forces onto FOBs and in urban centers (except for some U.S. and British forces), as well as the focus on the high value target initiative rather than the application of counterinsurgency tactics.
The countryside has been left to the Taliban because, quite simply, there aren’t enough troops to conduct counterinsurgency. This had thus far led to the logistical problems we have faced with supplies to NATO forces, but more important than this is the situational milieu for which the lack of security had been a catalyst. The mistakes are not new, and we have had the benefit of learned wisdom if not the wisdom to hear the learned words.
Mr. Kabulov, 54, is no ordinary ambassador, having served as a K.G.B. agent in Kabul — and eventually as the K.G.B. resident, Moscow’s top spy — in the 1980s and 1990s, during and after the nine-year Soviet military occupation. He also worked as an adviser to the United Nations’ peacekeeping envoy during the turbulent period in the mid-1990s that led to the Taliban’s seizing power.
Now he is back as Moscow’s top man, suave and engaging, happy to talk of a time when the old Soviet Embassy compound was the command center for an invasion that ended in disaster and speeded the collapse of the great power that undertook it …
“They’ve already repeated all of our mistakes,” he said, speaking of what the United States has done — and failed to do — since the Taliban were toppled from power in November 2001 and American troops began moving into old Soviet bases like the one at Bagram, north of Kabul.
“Now, they’re making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright.”
The list of American failures comes quickly. Like the Soviets, Mr. Kabulov said, the Americans “underestimated the resistance,” thinking that because they swept into Kabul easily, the occupation would be untroubled. “Because we deployed very easily into the major cities, we didn’t give much thought to what was happening in the countryside,” where the stirrings of opposition that grew into a full-fledged insurgency began, he said.
Mr. Kabulov goes on to say that the real problem is the irritant that is a foreign occupation, and that the solution is to leave as quickly as possible. Not all of his counsel is sensible, and the absence of U.S. troops would mean the fall of Kabul to the Taliban within a week.
However much Western sensibilities might feel revulsion at the treatment of women under radical Islam, or disgust at the corruption of the government, the goal of the campaign cannot and should not be the implementation of democracy or perfect governance. Further, the population is only a key to the extent that the are the interstitial tissue upon which the cancer of the insurgency feeds.
The goal should not be ending Islamic rule, for this would surely fail. The goal is to isolate and kill the globalist elements among them, those elements which gave safe haven to al Qaeda and which would no doubt be allied with the Tehrik-i-Taliban in the future. Every tactic should be oriented towards this end as one of many lines of effort.
There is robust debate in professional military community as to how we must implement a surge, with the admonition common to these debates that Afghanistan is not Iraq and the precise strategy used in the Middle East will not necessarily work in the far East. Those who give this admonition are wasting words by repeating the obvious.
But it is a non sequitur to claim that the necessary difference in strategy means that more troops are neither needed nor appropriate. No strategy can be implemented without troops, and the notion that the countryside can be left to the Taliban but Afghanistan converted into a location that doesn’t give safe haven to globalists is preposterous, no matter how many experienced and wise souls declare it to be true.
There is no magic, no special incantation to utter, and no learned discourse to speak. Troops are needed no matter what strategy is implemented, for in order to effect an end, there has to be an effect. Proper Counterinsurgency is “Plan A.” There is no “Plan B.”