Monday, March 27, 2017

Too Sanguine About Sangin?

When I heard Sangin in southern Afghanistan had fallen so soon in the year before the traditional Taliban "spring offensive" season began, my heart sank. My how the good war has fallen. But maybe things aren't that bad.

Sangin did not "fall" to the Taliban as they claim as much as it was abandoned:

"It is a complete fabrication," Navy Capt. William Salvin, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Kabul, told Military Times on Thursday. "This move has been in the planning for months. ... There is nothing left in the old district center except dirt and rubble." ...

Sangin's loss, [Dr. Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert with the Center on International Cooperation at New York University] contends, would be merely “a temporary tactical matter that affects morale.” There is little significance to either side in the battlefield moving a mile south, he added. It offers no clear military advantage. If there's to be reconciliation, Rubin said, it must be achieved politically.

Maybe. But it is still a retreat and a loss of territory that was once defended.

When last we talked about Sangin, the defenders were hanging on by their fingernails.

The problem there and across Afghanistan was that Afghanistan's security forces were stretched thin enduring casualties to passively defend checkpoints, which left the enemy free to mass forces to hit those outposts; and that Afghanistan's special forces were being worn down by being the only reserve capable of checking Taliban attacks.

So the line troops were getting hammered without being able to take the initiative; and the special forces were being depleted trying to bolster the line troops rather than taking the fight to the enemy.

Our plan was to reduce the exposed outposts--like Sangin--to build up a mobile reserve capable of both reacting to enemy assaults to defeat them and to conduct offensive operations.

That capacity would reduce the burden on the Afghan special forces to function as elite infantry.

Add in more routine help from American air power rather than largely limiting it to hitting al Qaeda and ISIL.

So a retreat from Sangin is part of the plan to beat the Taliban.

The problem is that taking Sangin is part of the Taliban's plan to beat the government.

Will the government's loss of Sangin be part of a successful plan that hammers the Taliban and sees the government go on offense to atomize and defeat the Taliban?

Or will the loss of Sangin just be the start of Taliban territorial gains against the government that will break the morale of government forces? A long journey begins with the first mile, eh?

At some point, you have to control the territory to win. And I don't think reconciliation is anything we should be counting on to avoid a battlefield decision.

UPDATE: Oh dear Lord:

Afghanistan wants to double the number of its elite soldiers trained to block attacks from Taliban fighters and other militants. Defense officials said they would increase the number of elite special forces stationed throughout the nation to counter growing incidents of terrorism and violence, Reuters exclusively reported Thursday.

Doubling the force will no doubt dilute the quality.

Relying on the best troops to fight the enemy when that won't bring up the quality of the vast majority who are not up to the task seems like madness to me when the expansion of the special forces will not maintain quality if done in any time frame to have a hope of affecting the coming campaign season.