Afghanistan: Taliban uses poll to escalate war
The presidential and provincial elections taking place in Afghanistan Thursday, Aug. 20 may be an exercise in democracy, a system of governance which is alien to Afghanistan, but they have also provided Taliban with a stage for demonstrating its disruptive capabilities.
This demonstration peaked Wednesday with a major offensive on central Kabul aimed at proving that after eight years of war, Taliban still controls the capital rather than President Hamid Karzai, who is likely to be re-elected, or the US-led NATO forces. debkafile‘s military sources expect these attacks to continue after polling is over through the rest of August and early September as the insurgents seek to exploit the military momentum they have gained now.
They will also exploit the weakness the Karzai regime and its US and NATO supporters which was displayed by their imposition of a media blackout on the latest outrage in the capital the day before the vote, for fear of its negative psychological effect on the voters.
Government sources said three or four men seized control of a Kabul bank Wednesday trying thereby to create the impression that an ordinary bank robbery had taken place.
Taliban shot back with a communique announcing that 20 fighters clad in bomb vests had mounted an assault on central Kabul and were fighting for its control.
According to our sources, no one believed the official account, while the Taliban’s version was flashed by word of mouth, thereby boosting the Taliban’s PR campaign at the expense of government credibility.
But by and large, the Afghanistan war will not be determined in the capital, or even by the outcome of the elections and size of turnout, but by the critical contest taking place in the Southern districts of Helmand Province and the city of Kandahar, where US, Canadian and British forces (the only NATO contingents in active combat) are wrestling for control.
US commanders in Kabul and the front lines know that, with all the US army’s best efforts, there will be parts of the country where the ballots will not open.
But the fall of Kandahar, the key city of the South and the weakest link in the American-British military deployment, to the Taliban – or even the loss of some of its suburbs – would constitute the coalition’s worst defeat in the war – meaning the insurgents had won the battle for Southern Afghanistan.
Since the US-led NATO force has no expectation of outside reinforcements coming in at this point, the new US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, would have to rush them in from other parts of the country, so depleting the defenses against redoubled Taliban attacks for expanding its holdings in the East and the North, especially in the regions of Konduz and Herat.
This military development would also have dire consequences for the situation in the north-west of the country and the north-east of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s military chiefs are watching the battle of Kandahar closely and awaiting its outcome. A Taliban victory there would make it impossible for the Pakistani army to launch its planned general offensive in Waziristan any time soon and even jeopardize its already fragile control of the Swat Valley to the north.
debkafile‘s military sources note that US forces must cope not only with a militarily ascendant Taliban but the lack of a clear definition from Washington of the conflict’s objectives.
The tens of thousands of US officers and troops in the battlefield need to know whether they are fighting for victory and the Taliban’s final defeat, or engaging in a tactic to force the insurgents to negotiate the transfer of power and so enable US forces to exit Afghanistan as they are now about to leave Iraq.
Those sources stress that President Barack Obama’s indecision between the two options gives Taliban the upper hand politically and militarily. The outcome of Thursday’s election is therefore irrelevant to the future of the Afghan war.