2 years, 12 months ago
The Taliban are divided and in retreat.
Two of the most powerful American officials in Afghanistan have insisted that the Taliban are in retreat with its leadership divided, contradicting claims by senior figures in Washington that the insurgency has actually grown stronger since Barack Obama authorised the surge of forces two years ago.
The remarkably confident assessment by the two officials – General John Allen, the head of international forces in the country, and the US ambassador, Ryan Crocker – comes weeks ahead of a crucial summit in Chicago to set up the blueprint for Nato’s exit path from the long and costly war and organise a support system for Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal.
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“There is pretty clear evidence that the surge has accomplished a great deal,” Gen Allen told The Independent during a visit to Uruzgan province. “It has not been just a surge of military, but a surge of capacity building. The Afghan security forces have made tremendous progress and they are moving into the lead very effectively. They are having tremendous success in the battlefield and this will continue.”
Gen Allen held that many in the insurgent ranks are seeking peace. “They see their leaders safe in Pakistan while they are doing the fighting. We have seen how the process of reintegration is progressing,” he said. “This time last year we had 600 to 700 going home, now this is more than 4,000.”
Or perhaps not.
The office of Kapisa’s governor sits high on a hilltop overlooking the provincial capital, Mahmud Raqi. It has a beautiful view of the river below and the mountains, trees and fields that stretch into the distance.
Beneath the tranquil surface, however, lies a grim truth. Just outside town roadside bombs are planted to target NATO convoys.
This is one of Afghanistan’s forgotten battlegrounds, a place quietly unraveling as Washington debates the future of the war. Behind the calm facade is a strategically vital part of the country with a fragile security situation that shows every sign of worsening.
Kapisa is barely an hour’s drive north of Kabul, yet two of its seven districts have been in insurgent hands for years, according to local residents, politicians and officials. One is Tagab, where the Taliban stop and search vehicles, run a shadow judicial system and stage regular attacks on foreign and Afghan troops.
“The government does not have control there. I am the representative of the people and I cannot go without employing very heavy security,” said Al Haj Khoja Ghulam Mohammed Zamaray, deputy leader of the provincial council.
Conditions are arguably even more extreme in Alasay. A June 2009 US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks described the militants as having “relative freedom of movement well inside putative secure areas” there. With NATO having since left the district, that has not changed. Elders and members of parliament all insist the Taliban walk openly in the local bazaar.
Similar situations can be found across rural Afghanistan, but history shows events in Kapisa are of particular concern. Guerrillas resisting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s traveled here from safe havens in Pakistan, via the provinces of Kunar and Laghman. It put them within striking distance of the Afghan capital and Bagram air base — then an important Russian facility and now a huge US installation — as well as the main highways connecting Kabul to the north and east of the country.
Speaking to GlobalPost, Abdul Jabar Farhad, a former mujahideen commander serving in the security forces, said “it’s the same story today” and the insurgents are now establishing crucial forward positions in Kapisa in preparation for a wider war.
Just to place this in perspective, I know an Army lawyer who is located at a FOB outside of Kandahar helping Afghan authorities to decipher how to detain criminals (when that Afghan authority decided to show up for work that particular day). My friend isn’t allow to travel outside the FOB unless it is by helicopter. The insurgents own the roads.
When the insurgents own the roads, we have lost the campaign, regardless of what the other metrics show. It isn’t for lack of trying, or for lack of capabilities or commitment by the U.S. fighting men. Ten years of under-resourcing and constantly changing strategy have taken their toll.
Obama didn’t tell the U.S. public everything in his fist-bumping, high-fiving victory lap speech in Afghanistan.