Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Battle for Helmand

I've been worried that we aren't helping the Afghan security forces enough to inflict a serious defeat on the Taliban in Helmand province. Strategypage looks at the front.

Afghan forces are reacting to the threats in the south:

The Taliban were threatening on Tuesday to capture three key strategic districts in Afghanistan's province of Helmand as fierce fighting with government forces stoked fears over the Islamist insurgents' gains in their traditional heartland.

The arid, semi-desert southern region is a major center of opium cultivation where the Taliban have stepped up pressure on security forces since the withdrawal of international troops from combat last year.

The government has sent reinforcements from Kabul to protect the districts of Gereshk, Sangin, and Marjah around the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, Helmand's police chief, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, said.

Strategypage looks at the situation, where the Taliban control about 20% of the territory in Helmand:

It has been a disappointing year for the Taliban. In early 2015 the Taliban undertook a major military effort against the Afghan security forces now that that foreign troops were no longer doing any of the fighting. That role ended in late 2014. As a result the 350,000 personnel of the Afghan security forces (170,000 troops and 180,000 police) have suffered 27 percent more casualties in 2015 compared to 2014. Taliban losses have also been very high, but they have lower recruiting standards and can offer drugs as well as money for those young tribesmen willing to take a chance during the “fighting season” (the annual warm weather period between the time crops are planted and harvested). ...

Being part of an organized army is s different matter. American advisors believe that losing nearly three percent of its strength a year to combat deaths or crippling wounds, as occurred in 2014, is not sustainable. While the Taliban suffer higher losses the Taliban are more flexible in how they operate. This is more in line with the traditional Afghan way of warfare, which is more about raiding and ambushes than it is in operating like soldiers. The army and police are often standing guard in exposed positions (checkpoints or in bases) or obliged to go after fleeing Taliban, who often pause long enough to ambush the troops then move off again. Afghan soldiers and police know they are more effective fighters than the tribal warriors, but that their job requires them to expose themselves to danger regularly in order to maintain control of territory. The Taliban are not tied down nearly as much and that makes a big difference in morale.

There is much more, including the drug gang angle.

To take advantage of their better training, Afghan forces have to go after the Taliban so that the Taliban are always worried about being killed rather than the Afghan security forces worrying all the time because they are just sitting passively in checkpoints and bunkers.

For that the Afghans need our support for logistics, air power, recon, special forces, medical care, and even getting paid on time.

As Strategypage notes, it's tougher to be a soldier or police officer holding your ground than it is to be an insurgent who can go off to war when he feels like it and go home when he doesn't feel like it.

But that better situation (for morale) requires a government force that doesn't go after you and just sits in their fortifications waiting for you to feel like hitting them.