Sunday, July 24, 2016

Holding the Line

Afghan security forces are holding in the south:

Afghan security forces backed by U.S. air strikes have beaten back Taliban attacks on a vulnerable southern district, government officials said on Wednesday, after a relative lull in fighting over the month of Ramadan.

In recent days, Taliban forces launched attacks on the Sangin district center, an outpost in Helmand province repeatedly threatened by militants over the past year.

The situation seems to be stabilizing and tilting toward the good guys:

U.S. and Afghan forces are accelerating plans to decapitate the Taliban insurgency, expanding a new offensive strategy that appears to be stumping the group’s efforts to make dramatic gains on the battlefield.

After 15 years of war and several failed attempts to reach a negotiated peace deal, the dynamics of the conflict changed in the spring, when President Obama for the first time ordered a U.S. airstrike to kill the Taliban leader in Pakistan. Over the past four months, Afghan special forces have also killed more than three dozen senior and mid-level Taliban commanders in targeted airstrikes or raids, according to an Afghan security document obtained by The Washington Post.

The operations are part of a broader effort by Afghan forces, backed by increasing U.S airstrikes, to treat the Taliban more as a foreign enemy than as a domestic insurgent group worthy of some military restraint, according to Afghan officials and analysts. As a result, they say, there are signs the Taliban is under strain this summer while Afghan security forces, at least the elite ones, are finally becoming a battle-ready force. [emphasis added]

I'm not sure if characterizing the change as now treating the Taliban as a foreign enemy is terribly accurate. This depiction, although coming from Afghan sources, seems like a cover for a change in American fire support policy that has rejected fantasy and recognized reality.

That is, we have been fighting the war based on the nonsense that American forces should only fight al Qaeda and ISIL--international jihadis--while trying to talk peace with the Taliban--local jihadis who don't pose a threat to America or the West.

I'm sure the Afghans appreciate the distinction, eh?

Kabul was plunged into mourning Sunday after its deadliest attack for 15 years killed 80 people and left hundreds maimed, reigniting concern that the Islamic State group was seeking to expand its foothold in Afghanistan.

The death toll wouldn't have been easier to accept if the terrorists had been Taliban rather than the "international" jihadis of ISIL.

This distinction between the two types of jihadis was nonsense. Remember that the "local" Taliban hosted the international al Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks. And that distinction meant that Afghan forces were under heavy pressure from the "local" jihadis while we reserved our power for fighting the international jihadis. Just how would we fight the international jihadis if our allies fell to the local jihadis, I asked.

And either type is willing to kill Afghans who are conveniently nearby.

The spin of the article seems more intended to cover the mistake rather than inform readers.

This news indicates that our efforts to transition Afghan forces from a vulnerable checkpoint army constantly on the defensive to one that has reserves capable of reacting to enemy attacks and going on offense seems to be working.

UPDATE: This article describes our enabling of Afghan forces to go on the offensive:

In an acknowledgment of the deteriorating security situation, President Barack Obama last month gave a green light to a more assertive role for U.S. troops, though still short of direct combat. With that boost, Afghans are shifting back on the offensive.

The upcoming anti-IS operation announced by Ghani, dubbed Shafaq — or "Dawn" in Pashto — will see the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, implementing an aggressive new strategy. U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan are likely to become more frequent, as the strategy shifts from using airpower only to defend U.S. and NATO positions to striking in support of Afghan offensives.

But then they go and ruin the ride:

According to the Western diplomat, the aim of the Afghan forces' more aggressive stance is to convince the Taliban they cannot win but should instead join a reconciliation process, beginning with direct contact with the Afghan government, possibly as early as fall.

It's always a great comfort to an enemy to know that we aren't trying to kill and defeat them. For the Taliban, why not fight hard when your choices are victory or joining a reconciliation process?


Backed by U.S. special forces troops and airstrikes that authorities say have killed hundreds of Islamic State fighters in recent weeks, the Afghan army has launched an offensive against the movement, which is now believed to be confined to three or four districts in eastern Afghanistan.

Mostly I like that our side is taking the initiative rather than just sitting in checkpoints taking casualties. It's much better for morale to be taking the fight to the enemy rather than just getting hit again and again.