Saturday, September 10, 2005


For perhaps a year now, I've been accepting the administration's conclusions that the Taliban, while continuing to operate, was no longer a serious threat to Afghanistan's stability. This report from the Jamestown Foundation, however, makes me a lot less sure:
"The large-scale battles this spring and early summer clearly suggest that the Taliban are not in decline, contrary to what Coalition spokesmen had claimed earlier. Although they seem to get slaughtered on a large scale, the fact that the Taliban are able to conduct larger, conventional battles is something of a surprise. Earlier, it was thought they couldn’t organize such battles because anti-Taliban operations made it too difficult for high-ranking commanders to meet for necessary planning.

"Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that the insurgency is not limited to the Taliban, sympathizers from Pakistani madrasas (where thousands of new Taliban are still produced every year) and probably some mercenary allies, who are all engaged in fighting the Karzai government and the Western forces which prop it up. Resistance is also coming from local people who feel marginalized by the new government, such as those from Zabul province, which is fast becoming the heartland of the Afghan insurgency.

"Since March, the Taliban seem to have largely abandoned classic guerrilla tactics where a small group of fighters disappears into the mountains or among urban populations after a short battle. Instead, they try to hold on to strategic positions with a larger group of fighters. As a result, scores of insurgents have been killed by laser-guided bombs. Experts believe the Taliban might have changed tactics because U.S. anti-guerrilla techniques had become too effective."

The last sentence is scant comfort if the Taliban insurgency is being sustained primarily through safe havens in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. This, of course, leads us back to the problem of how to keep the nuclear-armed Pakistan stable and still clean the terrorist elements out of the areas where the government has difficulty operating. The Pakistani armed forces, of course, have been active there before. This suggests the largest problem is one of thin intelligence from that region.


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