Friday, May 24, 2019

The Great Contraction Continues

Afghan forces continue to pull back their vulnerable outposts in favor of concentrating in large bases. I have a very bad feeling about this. At some point the government needs to attack and defeat the Taliban.

On one level it is understandable that Taliban attacks would prompt this sort of response:

Taliban raids like the one on a small outpost in Wardak province that killed 11 of his soldiers earlier this month are a vexing problem for Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq Safi.

But soon the remote, often undermanned checkpoints will be shuttered in favor of larger bases.

Safi, who heads a brigade in the army’s 203rd Corps, commands troops who guard two highways into the Afghan capital from Wardak and Logar provinces south of Kabul. Some of his checkpoints, vulnerable to attack, are difficult to supply and reinforce, he said.

The general closed several such outposts in Logar over the winter and plans to do the same in Wardak this spring, with the aim of forming bands of larger bases, each with about 40 troops, along the key highways.

It’s part of a larger move by the Afghan Defense Ministry to preserve its shrinking military by pulling troops from far-flung checkpoints, sometimes manned by as few as four soldiers in areas where the population is sympathetic to the Taliban, and massing them at larger camps in government-held territory.

“If there is Taliban territory and people are against the government, we will not want to make checkpoints there, because it may be risky,” Safi said.

Indeed, I noted this new policy back at the end of 2016:

If--and it is a big if--Afghan forces truly are contracting their area of control in order to move on the offensive, this is good.

Otherwise, the Afghan security forces are simply abandoning the countryside and allowing the Taliban to eventually put the urban areas under siege, perhaps reliant on aerial resupply or heavily guarded ground convoys to sustain their resistance. If that happens and Afghan security forces collapse even for a moment under constant Taliban attacks as the security forces hunker down and just take attack after attack with no end in sight, there will be no place to withdraw to and we will have a massacre of Afghan security forces and a Taliban victory that might shake the foundation of the Afghan security forces in general.

I guess we know why we are no longer releasing information on government versus Taliban control in Afghanistan. The data would reflect the contraction and look bad. And more important, it is bad.

The original intent of the contraction was to scrape up reserves to go on offense. But more than two years later, the Afghan forces are still pulling back and allowing the Taliban to advance and control more territory. Where is the offensive?

As I discuss in my post above, the Afghan outposts have been vulnerable because the Afghan government forces don't have the initiative and so haven't atomized the Taliban to make them unable to routinely mass forces to overrun those isolated outposts or patrols.

And if the government wants to take territory from the Taliban and keep the people from being mobilized as voluntary or involuntary assets for the Taliban, the government has to be able to spread out troops in outposts and patrols.

And until there is an offensive to actually atomize the Taliban and then control territory and the people who live in it, jihadis will be able to operate and possibly carve out a sanctuary like they had prior to 9/11:

“We have seen al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Yes, in different parts of Afghanistan,” [the American commander in Afghanistan, General Austin] Miller said, according to TOLONews. “In different parts of Afghanistan, we can find them, so it’s not one particular region, it’s across the country.”

Do you think al Qaeda hates us less now?

Is that Afghanistan offensive still in the plan? Maybe it still is. After all the Mosul offensive in Iraq seemed to take forever to organize and carry out. On the other hand, we planned an offensive for the Afghanistan surge that never took place.

Which might be what the Taliban are counting on to get a peace settlement that allows them to take on Afghan forces without our presence.