The Americans, the British – and the Taliban – Have Got Their Math Wrong

The 70 thousand American and British forces fighting in Afghanistan have reached a point this summer which strongly recalls their situation in the summer of 2006 in Iraq.

Then, nearly all the British and American commanders were convinced that the war was lost and they had better pack their bags and get out without delay. In their desperation, the US commanders took it upon themselves, without clearance from the Pentagon or the White House, to approach the chieftains of local Sunni tribes with offers of funds and arms for helping to fight al Qaeda.

Sheikh Sethar Abu Risha of Anbar province was the first to be solicited. with success. He formed his own al-Qaeda-hunting squad, the first step in the rise of the “Awakening Councils” militias which helped tip the scales of the Iraq war in favor of the US-led coalition.

Only after the roads traveled by US marines came to be littered each morning with al Qaeda corpses, slaughtered by the Sunni militias without the Marines having fired a shot, did George W. Bush's White House decide to hitch its fortunes to the Sunni militia wagon and place them front and center of the public relations-version of “The American Surge”.

The Barack Obama White House, Robert Gates at the head of the Pentagon and the new US Afghanistan commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal are attempting to replicate that ploy.


Iraq war scenario would not work in Afghanistan


Operation Khanjar – Strike of the Sword – launched this month in the southern Afghan Helmand province – seeks to show that the US-led coalition can control seized terrain and enlist local armed militias who will assume responsibility for the areas purged of Taliban.

The 4,000 Marines taking part in the operation were ordered to “capture and hold” Helmand villages against the Taliban's return instead of marching in and out, the while establishing small combat outposts outside the villages for commanding captured territory and defending it. Should the Taliban try and drive them out, the Marines would be ready tol fight back and inflict heavy casualties on the attackers. Their leaders would then, according to this scenario, turn tail and seek easier targets, only to be dislodged in their turn by NATO forces backed by the newly-recruited local tribal militias.

But DEBKA-Net-Weekly military experts believe that Iraq and Afghanistan are too diverse for the same war scenario to fit both conflicts.

The Pashtun, Baluchi, Azeri and Uzbek tribes of Afghanistan are not cut out of the same cloth as the Sunni Arab tribes of Iraq; neither are the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan anything like the al Qaeda jihadis of Iraq. The American strategy may work occasionally in some of Helmand's villages, but its application to the whole of Afghanistan is doubtful and its effectiveness for igniting a mass movement of tribes willing to join the battle against the Taliban questionable.


Mullah Omar orders Taliban to renounce negotiations


The Taliban knows this and has begun to act on this knowledge: The tactic they pursued in the first days of the American-Afghan Strike of the Sword, to avoid pitched battles and melt away from the path of advancing US troops, has been abandoned. Instead, Taliban is preparing to launch large-scale attacks against the US Marines and the 3,000-strong British force operating further north in Helmand Province to maximize their casualty count.

Already, American and British losses are counted in scores not only in the Helmand area but in other parts of Afghanistan, threatening to make July, 2009, the bloodiest month of the eight-year war.

One of the American goals in their current offensive is to isolate Taliban leader Mullah Omar from his fellow commanders fighting across Afghanistan by concentrating their offensive on one of his bastions, Helmand province.

Our military sources note that the Taliban is not a unified military force coordinated by a single headquarters commanded by a military or religious/spiritual leader whom everyone obeys. Its fighting forces in Afghanistan fall into five main military groups, each with its own commander. These groups are:

  • Mullah Omar's fighters, who control territories in the southwestern Afghan provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Zabul and Farah.
  • Qari Ziaur Rahman's group in Kunar and Nuristan in the northeast.
  • The Haqqani network in Ghazni, Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces in central Afghanistan
  • Anwarul Haq's force in eastern Nangarhar province.
  • Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the north.

Although they help each other with fighting strength, weapons, ammunition and intelligence, the five commanders vary in their military tactics and policies.

Mullah Omar has the aura of spiritual and symbolic leader of his movement but, in practice, he holds the same rank as his four peers. To gain their cooperation and acquiescence for coordinated action in the conduct of the war and diplomacy, he must win them over in face-to-face bargaining.

A parley of this kind – a “Grand Shura” – is believed by US commanders and Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) to have taken place in the spring or early summer, at which the Taliban leaders of south-eastern Afghanistan were persuaded by Mullah Omar to cut off the indirect talks taking place heretofore with the Americans through Saudi and Pakistani mediators (as reported in previous DEBKA-Net-Weekly issues), and resume full-blown warfare until the NATO armies are conclusively defeated.

Several intelligence sources report that some local al Qaeda commanders were present at this decisive meeting.


Obama will tolerate Taliban rule if it cuts bonds with al-Qaeda


DEBKA-Net-Weekly military experts estimate that, just as the Americans have little chance of repeating their Iraqi success in Afghanistan, even with the 21,000 extra troops promised by President Obama by the end of the year, so too the Taliban cannot hope to defeat the US and force its army to leave the country.

Therefore, at summer's end, the first rains and snowfall of winter 2009 will find the warring parties locked more or less in their current positions, while Hamid Karzai will rule in Kabul having won a second term as president in the August elections.

Therefore, the Afghan stalemate will be both military and political, a situation which gives Taliban three advantages:

1. Its military leaders are very clear about their goal, which is to be rid of American, British and all foreign forces in Afghanistan.

2. In this goal, Taliban has more support from the civilian population than do the foreign forces.

3. Taliban is under no threat to be driven out of the country. Its leaders know that President Obama does not even object to their recapture of government in Afghanistan, on condition that they renounce their alliance with al-Qaeda and deny Osama bin Laden's fighters any foothold in the country.

On Tuesday, July 14, President Obama said: “All of us want to see an effective exit strategy where increasingly the Afghan army, Afghan police, Afghan courts, Afghan government are taking more responsibility for their own security,”

He made this comment after meeting Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende to discuss the situation in Afghanistan

The Taliban turn this formula on its head by claiming they are the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan and therefore the “Afghan government” and their militia is the real “Afghan army.”

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