Friday, August 03, 2018

Deja Vu All Over Again in Afghanistan

At some point the Taliban need to be defeated and friendly Afghanistan territory extended.

This is discouraging even if it is necessary in the short run:

The Trump administration is urging American-backed Afghan troops to retreat from sparsely populated areas of the country, officials said, all but ensuring the Taliban will remain in control of vast stretches of the country.

The approach is outlined in a previously undisclosed part of the war strategy that President Trump announced last year, according to three officials who described the documents to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity. It is meant to protect military forces from attacks at isolated and vulnerable outposts, and focuses on protecting cities such as Kabul, the capital, and other population centers.

The withdrawal resembles strategies embraced by both the Bush and Obama administrations that have started and stuttered over the nearly 17-year war. It will effectively ensure that the Taliban and other insurgent groups will hold on to territory that they have already seized, leaving the government in Kabul to safeguard the capital and cities such as Kandahar, Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad.

Yes, back in the Obama administration I discussed the pull-back strategy, seeing it as a necessary step to slowing down friendly casualties in the face of Taliban forces that can mass forces to crush small outposts, building up mobile forces, and gaining the initiative to take territory from the enemy.

I was unhappy that the situation had degenerated from the position we had won at cost by the end of our surges to Afghanistan ordered in 2009. But you work the problem you have rather than complain that the problem shouldn't exist.

I thought that we'd managed to start taking the initiative at the end of last year.

Apparently not. Have we gone from a "regional" strategy that recognizes the gaping hole of Pakistan in defeating the Taliban inside Afghanistan because of the jihadi sanctuaries in our Black Sheep ally to a "hold the cities" strategy?

Again, if this is a temporary short-term move to hold a line; gather mobile trained reserves; build up Afghan air power, logistics, and other support forces; and then take the initiative to finally deny the Taliban territory and atomize the Taliban to make outposts safer, this is fine.

But if it is a retreat to the cities, doesn't this cede the vast amount of rural territory and put the Taliban in a position to demoralize and break the city citadels the way the Taliban did to the Soviet/Russian-backed government when--if memory serves me--it eventually gave up trying to hold territory outside the cities which allowed the rebels to eventually mass around Kabul and finally take it?

How does that persuade the Taliban to come to the peace table rather than continue the war until they win?

People abandoned by the government now will be compelled to side with and support the Taliban no matter what their personal view of the Taliban.

It is in our interest to keep Afghanistan from being a sanctuary for terrorists who will try to strike us as they did on September 11, 2001. I don't know if we are trying to do that.