This remark was recently made by an unnamed European official, whose country’s armed forces are combating the Taliban alongside U.S. troops. Concurring with this statement, top U.S. commander in the AfPak arena General Stanley McChrystal evaluates the situation as ‘serious’. The Taliban are fighting smarter.
“The point is that the Taliban, who have had a very clear aim and means from the very beginning, have been able slowly and steadily to get better at what they’re doing.” (Washington Post)
They have shifted their focus of attack to small bases and checkpoints, manned by Afghan forces, isolated and easy to infiltrate, thus obtaining intelligence. Gone are the more large-scale confrontations with American troops, from several years ago, which resulted in large numbers of insurgent fatalities. And the confrontations themselves are more sophisticated in method, observed to be similar in style to U.S. Army Rangers training, which equips soldiers for small scale engagements in ‘austere’ surroundings. They are considered by one U.S Army general to be developing into a more ‘disciplined force’.
Among their newly acquired skills – being able to estimate response times for U.S. fighter jets, helicopters, and artillery cannons. “They know exactly how long it takes before . . . they have to break contact and pull back,” one Pentagon official said. Sounds like split-second timing in a hair trigger situation… Using our own tactics against us, the Taliban is taking full advantage of the recent restraint (for the purpose of protecting Afghan civilians) ordered on the use of U.S. air power and also night-time attacks. They have increased their night-time operations, and apparently feel much safer gathering in more populated locales now, perhaps blending in like chameleons, knowing air strikes are much less likely to occur.
Not only has the Taliban fighting style evolved, their geographical areas of control have expanded as well, providing the insurgency with more training ground, and that ground being closer to the actual combat. It has been considered, as well, that the services of professional fighters from Central Asia & other Arab countries are being used.
Opinions differ, though, as to the reason(s) for Taliban ascendancy in the area. The deputy commander of Marines in the Helmand province believes that increased usage of roadside bombs plays more a part in insurgent victories than tactics of any other sort. Playing to their strengths… And the effects of corruption in public office, ethnic tensions, unemployment and the absence of state justice systems in rural regions are strong contributing factors to increased Taliban control, creating unrest & dissatisfaction to which the extremists can offer “solutions’. In neighboring Pakistan, “there is widespread hope that adopting a strict code of law based on the Koran will transform a society where corruption is rampant.” (link) The Islamic militants offer a ‘Robin Hood’ approach, according to Amnesty International, even gaining trust at first, and initially seem to be defending the weak & poor, but that defense soon becomes ‘quick…harsh justice’, and with the ‘defending’ comes increased Taliban dominance.
Possibly more potent to Taliban victory than any sharpened skill or evolved strategy, however, is the simple fact of morale. Said one senior official, “The number one indicator we have out there now is that they think they’re winning (italics mine). That creates an attitude, a positive outlook, and a willingness to sacrifice.”
Sooo….as I was reading my source article, and writing the above, the following statements from my post “Afghanistan – a New Approach?” came to mind.
“…an intensified military effort to root out corruption among local government officials…” is a large part of its aim…
“…considers corruption at local government levels to be as much a threat to Afghan peace and freedom as any top Taliban commander.” (Seeing as how corruption in government has been cited as a prime factor in the Taliban gaining influence, the wisdom of the goal to uproot it is readily apparent.)
“Strong emphasis is being placed on partnership, Afghan and U.S/NATO troops living, training and carrying out missions together, throughout every level of rank.” (Akin to fighting fire with fire, this tactic of partnering mirrors the Taliban working in tandem with ‘professional fighters’ from other countries)
So we’re seeing, then, some better news here. Seems to me that McChrystal is right on the money in his strategic assessments & plans. I know he’s got my vote.
In Part 2, a little more along these same lines. Then, I’m hopping the time capsule back to the days of our Founders to see what’s going on…lately I swear I’m hearing Jefferson quietly reminding me I’ve left him in the dust, I just got a rather antiquated-looking letter from a John Adams, & Ben Franklin actually somehow faxed me! I must get back to my true loves, the Founders! They are calling!