Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Predicting the Taliban with Mao's playbook

The New York Times:
International forces defeated Taliban militiamen when the group made its first attempt to stand and fight earlier this month, NATO’s top general said today. But the general warned that military progress was being undermined by the unchecked spread of the drug trade across Afghanistan.

Gen. James L. Jones of the Marines, who commands all NATO forces, said that between one-third and one-half of the Taliban’s 3,000 hard-core fighters — as opposed to what he called a larger number of “weekend warriors’’ — were killed during several weeks of heavy fighting in the southern province of Kandahar before the insurgents retreated.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, General Jones said it was likely that the Taliban fighters would disperse to other regions that are lightly patrolled, primarily in western Afghanistan, “to recover and lick their wounds,’’ and that he expected that attacks would spread as they did so.
If the Taliban fall back, it would be a classic move in conventional insurgency theory.

Here is RAND's analysis of Iraq as it may have followed Mao's playbook:
According to Mao, the first phase of insurgency is a “survival” phase. The start of the insurgency in Iraq coincided with the end of major combat operations in May and the removal of the Hussein regime.

Mao said that during the first phase of insurgency, the infrastructure of guerrilla warfare is developed: a recruiting campaign, repositioning of weapons and munitions, and a new ideology of resistance and a propaganda apparatus to spread the ideology. All this happened in Iraq.

Next comes a small-scale offensive designed more to shake the determination of the invading forces and their countrymen than to have a serious military impact.

In Iraq, this consisted of roadside bombings, rocket-propelled grenade assaults and sniper attacks. Such an offensive also serves to rally support for the insurgents at home and abroad, and helps raise funds and recruits.

A successful first phase of insurgency can ignite a second phase of larger-scale offensive activity — and this is what U.S. forces confront in Iraq today.
We may have seen something like a larger second-phase offensive in Afghanistan. What makes this model of insurgency resilient is the ability to shift-back to a previous state and rebuild forces.


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