After eight years and four months, America's longest war is about to end, debkafile's military and intelligence report – although not in victory for the US-led NATO forces but at best in a draw, or at worst, in a win for the Taliban, al Qaeda's extremist partner. The repercussions of the US exit in these circumstances will impinge on American influence worldwide including the Middle East.
The allies owe their reverses to five factors: Postponement of the Kandahar offensive, Taliban's acquisition of anti-air missiles and ability to strike anywhere in Kabul, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency's extensive support for the Taliban, and a UN proposal to "de-list" some key Taliban and al Qaeda figures designated as terrorists. debkafile elaborates on these factors:
1. The big Kandahar offensive in southern Afghanistan this month, the centerpiece of the new strategy President Barack Obama approved last December along with a 40,000-troop surge, has been postponed until the fall – at the earliest. With the participation of American, British, Canadian and Afghan forces, this offensive was billed as the operation for turning the tide of the Afghanistan war.
Washington was understandably reluctant to announce the postponement although, according to debkafile's military analysts, it was unavoidable after the disappointment of Operation Mushtarak in Marjah, which was to have been a dress rehearsal in another part of the South, Helmand Province, for the big show in Kandahar.
In Marjah, the combined US-UK force and the Afghan army, which most of the time refused to fight, were unable to loosen the Taliban's grip on the town or prevent the insurgents from using it as a springboard for grabbing the whole of southern Afghanistan.
Sunday, June 13, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal paid a visit to Kandahar to assure the local tribes they had not been abandoned. Karzai spoke with gusto about the coming offensive; he only "forgot" to mention a date.
With the Kandahar delay, the bottom is about to drop out of Obama's overall war strategy.
2. Another deadly turning-point in the conflict was marked last week with the discovery that Taliban had acquired the missiles for downing Western helicopters and low-flying aircraft.
The British Prime Minister David Cameron had to cancel his helicopter flight to the main British base of Camp Bastion on June 12 after receiving intelligence that the Taliban was preparing to shoot it down.
Three days earlier, on June 9, an American Chinook crashed near Sangin in the Helmand Province killing all four US servicemen aboard. It was then that US and NATO commanders first realized that an unknown party had given the Taliban those anti-air missiles and instructed them in their use.
This means that US helicopters can no longer provide ground forces with close air support and must fly at higher altitudes out of missile range.
3. In their White House talks of May 10-14,Karzai and Obama glossed over their differences by agreeing that the Afghan president would convene a "peace jirga" (a conference of tribal leaders) that would include chieftains and commanders associated with the Taliban as the first step toward national reconciliation.
The conference did take off in Kabul on June 2, attended by 1,400 heads of tribes and factions. But when President Karzai's speech was in full flow, Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen burst in, hurling rockets and grenades. The President just managed to finish his speech before being whisked off the platform by security guards and driven away in a convoy of armored cars.
The tribal chiefs saw for themselves that neither Afghan nor American forces were capable of promising security for any peace conference, whereas the Taliban were clearly able to operate freely in the Afghan capital and any other part of the country.
4. At the same time, Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. representative in Afghanistan, put in a good word for the Taliban when he told reporters Saturday, June 12. "The U.N. is listening to what the peace jirga is saying. Some of the people in the list may not be alive anymore. The list may be completely outdated."
Fueling momentum for a political solution to the nearly nine-year-old Afghan war, a U.N. committee is reviewing whether certain people could be removed from blacklist that freezes assets and limits travel of key Taliban and al-Qaida figures, the top U.N. representative said Saturday.
5. On Sunday, June 13, The Sunday Times of London ran a long article under the heading: Pakistan puppet masters guide the Taliban killers. It was based on a new report by the London School of Economics according to which Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency is providing extensive funding, training and sanctuary to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The report cites concrete evidence suggesting that support for the Taliban is the "official policy" of the ISI, which not only trains and funds the Afghan insurgents, but is officially represented on the their leadership council.
Washington was shocked by this evidence so soon after President Asif Ali Zardar assured President Obama when they met in Washington last month that he could count on the commitment of the Pakistani government and intelligence resources to fight Taliban and al Qaeda, as a solid prop of US strategy for the Afghan war.
But all the time, it transpired, behind their false face to US military and intelligence chiefs, the ISI has been collaborating with Taliban commanders in their operational planning and selection of targets, supplying them with weapons, explosives and roadside bombs and making grants to the bereaved families of suicide killers who murdered American and British troops.
According to the LSE report, half at least of the 15 members of the Taliban's Quetta Shura (the council which runs the war from its seat in Quetta, the capital of Pakistani Baluchistan) are active officers of Pakistani military intelligence.
"It is impossible to be a member of the Quetta Shura without membership of the ISI," said a high-ranking Taliban fighter.
Given the depth of the ISI's integration in the Afghanistan Taliban's war effort against NATO, the US military might as well drop their efforts to cut the Afghan Taliban's weapons supply route from Pakistan.
The revelations of the LSE are not new, debkafile reports, except for the fact that a prominent Western publication was willing to print them.
They were covered fairly exhaustively in previous issues of DEBKA-Net-Weekly in the past two years.
Most recently, on February 28, 2010, DNW 434 exposed a shady Pakistan intrigue behind the handover to the Americans of Abdul Ghani Baradar, whom they represented as Mullah Omar's first lieutenant the lost of whom would seriously impair Taliban's fighting ability – so they claimed
It was in fact an ISI trick. Baradar was no longer important to the Taliban and his handover no great loss because he had turned coat and was looking for an opening for peace talks with the Americans. The ISI needed to get rid of him before he succeeded to keep the Afghan War on the boil, because as long as it lasts, both the Taliban and the Americans will be dependent on Islamabad and the Pakistanis will carry on pulling wires and playing one side against the other.
The longer the Obama administration clings to the assumption that cooperation with Pakistan and its intelligence agency is the only course for beating the Taliban and al Qaeda, the more elusive an Afghanistan triumph will be for the US and its allies.