Saturday, November 14, 2015

Now I'm Worried

I've not panicked over fleeting Taliban gains in northern Afghanistan because that is not fertile ground for the mostly southern Taliban. But when Afghan government troops go shaky in the south where the Taliban draw their support? That's when I worry.

This is bad news of one sort or another:

At least 65 Afghan soldiers have defected to the Taliban, taking their weapons and equipment with them and 88 have been killed in days of heavy fighting in the volatile southern province of Helmand, the local provincial Governor said on Saturday.

I'll even concede that the enemy suffers defections and desertions, too. Yet that doesn't get the same publicity.

So if this is a one-off, no worries. But if it is the start of a trend? Worry.

And this trend is very worrisome:

Police and soldiers have been engaged in near-continuous combat with insurgents for the past three weeks in the districts of Lashkar Gah, Marjah and Nadali in Helmand, one of the Islamist movement's traditional strongholds.

Although they have so far repelled Taliban efforts to take the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, they have not been able to push back the insurgents decisively from areas around the city.

If Afghan government forces are being forced back into the urban centers while the Taliban dominate the countryside, we're asking for a major defeat. Lack of our air power is helping to create this situation and lack of air power will contribute to that potential major defeat. If the Taliban manage to take a provincial capital in the south, I would not assume that recapturing it can be done as quickly as Kunduz was recaptured in the north.

And with jihadis encouraged by ISIL's terror successes in Paris, Beirut, and the Sinai--along with continuing to survive for so long in the Islamic State despite American and (now) Russian opposition--the jihadis could be inspired as much as government forces become worried.

It's all about who is perceived as the strong horse, right now. So yeah, I'm worried.

UPDATE: Apparently this was a surrender rather than a defection of the defenders of some outpost that had been under attack for a while without getting the support they thought they should get. The big picture is one of losing ground in the south:

The situation in southern Afghanistan has deteriorated since the US military began withdrawing its forces beginning in 2012. Jihadist groups have become emboldened as Afghan forces have been unable to prevent the return of the Taliban. Al Qaeda was so confident that it established two training camps, one of them extending for 30 square miles, in Kandahar’s Shorabak district. The US military destroyed the camps during a four-day assault in October.

I wish our fight there was based on what we need to do to help our Afghan allies win rather than what is needed to string this out until 2017.