Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bloody and brutal winter in Afghanistan?

(HT to Mike for the Observer link.) The Observer today:
The Taliban are planning a major winter offensive combining their diverse factions in a push on the Afghan capital, Kabul, intelligence analysts and sources among the militia have revealed.
The thrust will involve a concerted attempt to take control of surrounding provinces, a bid to cut the key commercial highway linking the capital with the eastern city of Jalalabad, and operations designed to tie down British and other Nato troops in the south.


Since their resurgence earlier this year the Taliban have made steady progress towards Kabul from their heartland in the south-east around Kandahar, establishing a presence in Ghazni province an hour's drive from the suburbs. They do not expect to capture the capital but aim to continue destabilising the increasingly fragile Karzai government and influence Western public opinion to force a withdrawal of troops. 'The aim is clear,' said the source. 'Force the international representatives of the crusader Zionist alliance out, and finish with their puppet government.'

A winter offensive breaks with tradition. 'Usually all Afghans do in the winter is try and stay warm,' said a Western military intelligence specialist in Kabul. 'The coming months are likely to see intense fighting, suicide bombings and unmanned roadside bombs. That is a measure of how much the Taliban have changed.'

The new Taliban, a rough alliance of Islamist zealots, teenagers seeking adventure, disgruntled villagers led by tribal elders alienated from the government, drug dealers and smugglers - is no longer the parochial, traditional militia that seized Kabul almost exactly 10 years ago and was ousted by the American-led coalition in 2001. Tactics, ideology, equipment and organisation have all moved on. The use of suicide bombings, roadside bombs and targeted assassinations of those cooperating with Western forces are methods copied from Iraqi insurgents.

'They can't engage in big groups so... they've moved on to these targeted assassinations,' said Naimatullah Khan, deputy chief of the local council in southern Kandahar province, who has seen several colleagues killed. More than 70 suicide bombings, four times as many as last year, have together killed scores of civilians. In 2001 the tactic was almost unknown among Afghans. French intelligence sources say militants are heading to Afghanistan rather than Iraq.
Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online appears to be better connected than most with the Taliban. Earlier in the month, he said that small unit actions will continue for the winter but that an "intifada" will start up as the snows melt. Mullah Muhammad Omar released a post-Ramadan tape stating that there would be many attacks in the coming months, CNN.

Mao detailed three phases of insurgency. The first is one of "survival". This is followed by a second phase that includes dramatic actions -- high profile attacks and small engagements. The third phase is a blend of insurgency and conventional attacks, it is the "decisive phase". The Taliban might believe that they are at a third-stage capability now, especially as the war in Afghanistan is less popular in Britain and Canada than most Americans realize. However, the Taliban are most likely overestimating their position if they believe this.

It is also possible that the Taliban will continue Iraq-like dramatic attacks through the winter, resulting in some carnage and a loss of popular support for Karzai's government and foreign troops. Then, perhaps the Taliban will try more decisive action and the seizure of additional territory.

Now is the time for more troops in Afganistan. If the Taliban try to do more than they can, they will suffer the consequences. However, insurgencies are adaptable. Insurgents make mistakes but quickly re-adjust. Even if the Taliban launches an ill-advised offensive and suffers losses, they will still be a thorn in our side for a number of years.


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