Kandahar and the Taliban

New America Foundation just published a paper titled ‘The Battle for Afghanistan” that’s worth a read.  There’s not really anything earth-shattering here but it is a very nice summary of the evolution of the Taliban post 2001.  Of course, no history could be complete without a review of our screw ups.

Just as Kandahar was falling, fissures appeared in the Taliban movement. As most of the government was crumbling…some of Mullah Omar’s chief
lieutenants secretly gathered and decided to surrender to the forces of Hamid Karzai.

The main request of the Taliban officials in this group was to be given immunity from arrest in exchange for agreeing to abstain from political life.  At this juncture, these leading Taliban members (as well as the rank and file) did not appear to view the government and its foreign backers as necessitating a 1980s-type jihad. Some members even saw the new government as Islamic and legitimate.

The wind up…the swing….

But Karzai and other government officials ignored the overtures—largely due to pressures from the United States and the Northern Alliance, the Taliban’s erstwhile enemy.

Remember, this is about the same time period as the Battle of Tora Bora in which we lost our best chance in the past 10 years to catch bin Laden and allowed significant numbers of foreign fighters to escape to Pakistan.

And if you want an example as to why we needed COIN and what the consequences are of a heavy handed ‘let’s just stick more bayonets in more people’ approach to insurgencies, take a gander at this…

Not what you'd call population-centric

I just gave a briefing to 75 soldiers last night orienting them to the foundations of COIN and tactical guidance as part of their pre-mobilization process.  It’s amazing as you read this document how virtually every underlying principle of COIN was violated in ways big and small.  When I started reading through it I was planning on highlighting those but there are simply too many examples to quote.

It is disappointing to continue to hear that we can’t get our ‘unity of effort’ shit together.  You could see the idea of simultaneously playing up official security forces and local government (to build credibility among the population in the host nation government) AND working with militia forces and governing structures outside of the official political structure (to get stuff done because the local government wasn’t up to the task) was counterproductive way back at least in 2003.  Doing the same thing seven years later doesn’t make it any better.

I don’t think there’s anything inherent in COIN (or common sense) that would preclude us from supporting a central government OR some organic/indigenous/decentralized system but doing both really ain’t gettin’ us very far.  I’m certainly no expert in the field, know that that vast number of Afghans are opposed and have no idea how you’d actually do it but I’m still not sure why the decentralized road isn’t a viable alternative.  I’ve off offhandedly suggested before (with the casualness of an amateur) that you could even split up the country.  Maybe that’s too extreme (it certainly tears apart the idea of self-determination of the Afghans) but my point is (Yes?  We’re waiting.  eds.) we need to pick an option already.

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