Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Drive on Kabul

The article headline says the Taliban are "closing in on Kabul." That sounds ominous.

This is what the article says:

If NATO, the lead force operating in Afghanistan, is to have any impact against the insurgency, troop numbers will have to be doubled to at least 80,000, the report said.

"The Taliban has shown itself to be a truly resurgent force," the Senlis Council, an independent think-tank with a permanent presence in Afghanistan, wrote in a study entitled "Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the brink."

"Its ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt," it said. "The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, some district centers, and important road arteries."

Senlis said its research had established that the Taliban, driven out of Afghanistan by the U.S. invasion in late 2001, had rebuilt a permanent presence in 54 percent of the country and was finding it easy to recruit new followers.

It was also increasingly using Iraq-style tactics, such as roadside and suicide bombs, to powerful effect, and had built a stable network of financial support, funding its operations with the proceeds from Afghanistan's booming opium trade.

"It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when," the report said.

"Their oft-stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever."

So what do we make of this? Are we losing in Afghanistan? I've certainly read many charges lately that we are losing. Sure, Taliban walk into some provincial capital, chase off the seven cops, and declare it liberated every once in a while. But then we send out a small force with fighters circling overhead with JDAMs and the enemy flees or dies while trying to flee.

As far as I can tell, we are doing fine in Afghanistan but for the Pakistan sanctuary and even that hasn't stopped the progress.

And the cry that we are losing in Afghanistan because Iraq "distracts" us has been a fairly constant charge for four years now. Now it just seems to be morphing into the charge that while we may be winning in Iraq it is at the price of losing in Afghanistan.

So it is good to read Strategypage comment on this:

The "we are doomed" (or disgraced) stories the Western media gobble up, are meant to convince Western government to pull their troops out. To move that process along, the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies are making a major push to kill NATO troops. Normally, this is very hard to do. But suicide bombers have proven more effective, and are now used in larger and larger numbers. This is dangerous for the Taliban, because these suicide bombers tend to kill more Afghan civilians than NATO troops. Thus the importance of having lots of Taliban gunmen out there to keep the Afghan population from getting out of line in their outrage (and reporting the presence of Islamic terrorists). The Taliban believe that most Western nations can be convinced to withdraw their troops if enough negative media and dead troops can be generated. That will mean fewer smart bombs to deal with.

Remember, killing innocent civilians is easy for the Taliban and al Qaeda. Winning is another matter altogether. Still, Bin Laden is giving it the old college try:

In the new tape, bin Laden said European nations joined the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan "because they had no other alternative, only to be a follower."

"The American tide is ebbing, with God's help, and they will go back to their countries," he said, speaking of Europeans.

Bin Laden urged Europeans to pull away from the fight.

"It is better for you to stand against your leaders who are dropping in on the White House, and to work seriously to lift the injustice against the believers," he said, accusing U.S. forces and their allies of intentionally killing women and children in Afghanistan.

Sadly, convincing Westerners we are losing is still another matter altogether. Just because that effort looks to be failing in Iraq doesn't mean its practitioners are giving up on the strategy.