Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Is the tide turning in southern Afghanistan ?

January 11, 2011

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The American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War  has a new report out that says rather unequivocally that the United States is starting to turn the war around in southern Afghanistan following the surge. Since the deployment of U.S. Marines to Helmand in 2009 and the launch of an offensive there followed by operations in Kandahar, the Taliban has effectively lost all its main safe havens in the region, authors Frederick  W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan argue.  

The Taliban assassination squad in Kandahar has ben dismantled, the insurgents’ ability to acquire, transport and use IED materials and other weapons has been disrupted, and narcotics facilitators and financiers who link the drug market to the insurgency have been aggressively targeted.  Above all,  NATO and Afghan forces continue to  hold all the areas they have cleared in the two provinces, arguably the heart of the insurgency, which is a significant departure from the past.

The war is far from over, large parts of the country remain under insurgent control, and there is limited, if not negligent political  progress in the areas re-taken from the Taliban. But the momentum of the insurgency in the south has unquestionably been arrested and probably reversed, the authors say. 

Is the ground really shifting, and if so, what’s behind this breakthrough ? Part of the reason is the arrival of 30,000 U.S. troops under the surge  which military commanders said was necessary to make a dent in an insurgency at its deadliest since 2001.  Another 1,400  Marines  have just been ordered , all part of efforts to crush the Taliban so America can make an honourable ext from its longest war yet. But it is not just more troops that General David Petraeus has thrown at  the resilient Taliban.

 By all accounts, the war has turned ultra-violent as Danger Room blog called it a few months ago, with Petraeus bringing in the full weight of the U.S.. military to bear on the insurgents.  U.S.  Special Forces stepped up raids, taking out hundreds of militants, surface-to surface missiles were fired to clear the Taliban in Kandahar, and tanks deployed in Helmand to crush them.

Air strikes, the weapon of last choice under previous General Stanley McChrystal’s winning the hearts and minds strategy, rose to their highest level since the invasion in 2011, with 1,000 attacks in one month alone.  U.S. generals are again talking of ”shock and awe” to destroy the Taliban, a far cry from the population -centric-strategy pursued earlier with its stress on avoiding civilian casualties. The level of civil casualties in the past few months, though, doesn’t seem to have risen in proportion to the intensity of the war effort, which means operations are much more accurate probably because of better intelligence,  more involvement of the ANA, and perhaps foreign forces have just gotten better  over a period of time.

But re-establishing control over the south isn’t enough, given this is an insurgency that has spread across the country.  Frederick and Kimberly Kagan define five major areas in Afghanistan that the government must hold and the insurgents must contest: Kabul and its immediate environs; the densely-settled areas of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, and Uruzgan; Herat; Loya Paktia, along with Ghazni and southern Logar and Wardak; and the inhabited areas east of Kabul around the Jalalabad Bowl and up the Konar River Valley.

 ISAF and the ANSF have established reasonably solid security in Herat and Kabul, the authors say. They are maintaining more tenuous security in the Jalalabad Bowl and fighting to push stability up the Konar River Valley. Regaining control of Helmand, Kandahar, southern Uruzgan, and parts of Zabul has been ISAF’s main effort for the past 18 months and has seen much progress. The situation in Loya Paktia, Ghazni, and parts of Logar and Wardak has not yet received adequate attention.

Insurgents retain the ability to move through and attack in Wardak, Logar, Parwan, and Kapisa Provinces, although their ability to stage from those provinces into
Kabul itself has been significantly degraded. South of Kabul, direct-action teams have taken a toll on the Haqqani Network and its affiliates in Greater Paktia, Logar, and southern Wardak Provinces. An American battalion pushed into the Andar District of Ghazni Province (directly south of Ghazni City and a significant insurgent stronghold) to support the Polish Task Force that has responsibility for that province. But Ghazni remains heavily under the insurgency’s influence, as evidenced by the almost total failure to persuade the province’s large Pashtun population to vote in the parliamentary elections in September.

The authors said reports  about the hitherto peaceful north slipping into Taliban control were somewhat overblown.   The insurgents do not have the momentum and the  major inhabited areas in the north and the west —Balkh Province (where Mazar-e Sharif is located), Herat City and Province, the famed Panjshir Valley, Bamian Province, northern Ghazni
and northern Day Kundi Provinces (which, together with Bamian, form the Hazarajat, the area inhabited by the Hazaras)—remain generally stable and do not face an increasing Taliban threat.

From a military standpoint, then, the counter-insurgency is going reasonably well, insofar as it is possible to judge over the winter. Challenges remain in the areas
that have been or are being cleared, and the requirements for the next series of operations are becoming apparent. The theater remains, in our view, inadequately
resourced. The shortfalls, however, are considerably more likely to protract an otherwise successful campaign than they are to make it fail. early U.S. withdrawal

But the gains made so far will be lost if the U.S. were to withdraw prematurely, the report said.  Any attempt to seek reconciliation with the Pashtun Taliban runs the risk of  igniting an ethnic conflict with Afghanistan’s northern minorities—the Tajiks, Uzbeks,and Hazaras – the kind which destroyed the country in the 1990s before the Taliban take over.  The authors say these minority groups are already considering their options in the event of a U.S. withdrawal and are possibly beginning to re-arm themselves  in preparation for renewed inter-ethnic conflict. 

Worse, other regional powers will likely flex muscles. Afghanistan’s neighbours India, China, Iran, and Russia all have historical links to the northern groups and powerful incentives to support them against a reviving Taliban regime.   The authors write :

 Ironically, premature or foolish attempts to “reconcile” with senior Taliban leaders could trigger this conflict by persuading the former Northern Alliance and its international partners that the Taliban is, indeed, on its way back to power.

For an analysis on the potential role of the regional powers in any post-war settlement click here.

Frederick and Kimberly Kagan paint a  grim scenario for not just Afghanistan but also the whole region, should inter-ethnic conflict of the variety seen in the 1990s resume. Afghans will once again flee  the conflict in the hundreds of thousands or millions (some 5 million fled in the 1980s and 1990s). Afghan migrants will destabilize neighboring states once more, badly undermining Pakistani efforts to get their own tribal regions under control and generating a renewed source of tension and conflict with Iran.   The fragile Central Asian states will struggle to survive an an influx of refugees.

 And above all, a war-torn Afghanistan will once again offer a chance to international terrorist groups to regain their footing there either by moving into lawless areas or by promising threatened Afghans protection.

 

 

 
Comments

America, the only imperialist power which uses deception and lies to colonise other countries, said Chavez not my words.

America is a paper tiger and despite its having a tiger can be defeated, chairman Mao’s words, not mine.
I accept the reality on ground, more marines to go to southern Afghanistan; German contingent to withdraw this year(German Foreign minister) and Chinese test their stealth bomber to welcome the outgoing Professor Gates!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

PS
Tiger stands for the Abomb!

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Ive noticed Rex Minor’s comments on other blogs.
America is a paper tiger??? Thats hilarious.
If Rex had the intellect of a monkey I would be stunned.
Clearly there is zero education and less intellect in his posts and they deserve the amount of attention their content inspires,,,,,which is far less than zero.

As to the articles content, yes, the problem is severe in S Afghanistan with a particularly virulent and ignorant strain of jihadist/drug dealers/militants directed by the Haqqannis and others attempting to run the province. Breaking their grip has been tough. What we don’t see anymore are the body counts occurring as the Marines and the US military have been stacking them up like cordwood as they come in from Pakistan to attempt to exert control in Helmand. I predict the population, and many insurgents, will come to realize they get a better deal from a centralized secular govt interested in advancement and improvement of services and their life situations, than from the Taliban, a throwback to the 7th century if ever there was one.
As for Rex Minor, I’d like to see him (or her) join the jihadis in Sangin so we dont have to read any more ignorant commentary from this uneducated person.
Cheers Will Fraser Dallas Texas

Posted by wfraser1 | Report as abusive
 

If this piece of enlightenment came from any other ‘non-partisan think tank’ it might be worth consideration. Here we have the same gang of superannuated sophomores who led America to the cakewalk in Iraq, prognosticating that the beams of light they project from their hindquarters are illuminating a curve in the tunnel in Afghanistan. Fear not! They’ll be first in line for kudos if the vict’ry parade comes off, or the first ones off the ship when the foundering starts (again).

Where does one sign up for the money somebody is paying these rent-a-pundits. They doen’t even ‘shoot the lit’ well.

Posted by Popsiq | Report as abusive
 

In answer to the question posed in the headline: Probably not. The sources for virtually all the information is the military of the various countries or from reporters embedded with the military…and virtually everyone lies. Everyone has a vested interest in presenting their case. Think tanks or individuals are dependent on these sources. Trash in, trash out.
The people we are fighting in southern Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11 and most apparently know little or noting about that event. They have been and are being recruited to fight another foreign military occupational force invader who consistently appears to be anti-Islamic, kills local people (their relatives) friends and enemies by accident or on purpose, and continues to support and keep in power a corrupt and unpopular government that to many represents the minority groups from the northern alliance. We are basically a replacement for the Soviets in many people minds and this is not likely to change with increased military force. It will only insure the recruitment of replacements for young men lost who have little or nothing better to do. As Rahimullah Yusufzai, (a well known and respected Pakistani analyst who has been reporting on the Afghan wars since the 1980s) said recently,(paraphrase) the Taliban are basically fighting for God and country and can continue to fight forever.

Posted by RBScott | Report as abusive
 

In answer to the question posed in the headline: Probably not. The sources for virtually all the information is the military of the various countries or from reporters embedded with the military…and virtually everyone lies. Everyone has a vested interest in presenting their case. Think tanks or individuals are dependent on these sources. Trash in, trash out.
The people we are fighting in southern Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11 and most apparently know little or noting about that event. They have been and are being recruited to fight another foreign military occupational force invader who consistently appears to be anti-Islamic, kills local people (their relatives) friends and enemies by accident or on purpose, and continues to support and keep in power a corrupt and unpopular government that to many represents the minority groups from the northern alliance. We are basically a replacement for the Soviets in many people minds and this is not likely to change with increased military force. It will only insure the recruitment of replacements for young men lost who have little or nothing better to do. As Rahimullah Yusufzai, (a well known and respected Pakistani analyst who has been reporting on the Afghan wars since the 1980s) said recently,(paraphrase) the Taliban are basically fighting for God and country and can continue to fight forever.

Posted by RBScott | Report as abusive
 

@ WFraser1

America is a paper tiger are not my words but those of Chirman Mao. I did write that. Chairman’s Mao`’s country is China, where your Professor Gates in his recent visit was welcomed by the Chinese Stealth Bomber maiden flight. Just a coincidence?
As a texan, should’nt you be reading your ancestors engagement stories with the Apaches such as Geronimo and Coaches, instead of taliban and Haqqanis or paying a visit across the border who love the sight of Gringos.
Your marines are the weakest opponents, the Pashtoons ever came across in their thousand years of history. Go back to the school now that you are handicapped!

rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

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