Despite our best hopes, we haven't been able to put out a weekly Afghanistan report consistently this year.
When we started our Afghanistan reports in 2006 we hoped to provide an overview of the fighting, primarily in Kandahar province where Canadian troops are stationed, and some analysis of the strategies involved. That gradually expanded to include military action throughout the country. Then into the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan.
Last year as the Taliban tried to destabilize Pakistan and to spark a war with India, we began to get overwhelmed. We thought we could get a handle on it, but...obviously not yet.
So this week we're using a time-honoured tactic---KISS---keep it simple, stupid. We'll focus on only a handful of topics while we regroup.
How time flies. Blink, and it’s already the season of the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive.
As sure as geese fly north in the springtime, the mainstream media has begun to roll out their annual scare stories. Expect this year’s model to be a variation of the Taliban’s newest spin as found in an early March story by Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
“…after striking peace deals with the Pakistani security forces, the newly formed United Front of Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas is ready to pump at least 15,000 to 20,000 fresh fighters into Afghanistan. These are expected to start crossing the rugged - and unmanned - border in April,” he wrote.
See how many MSM news outlets report this without adding the next paragraph in Shahzad’s story:
“United States President Barack Obama has promised an additional 17,000 US forces for Afghanistan…”
Them, 15,000. Us, 17,000.
Who do you think has the edge?
And what’s the United Front of Taliban?
It seems that in February the three main tribal leaders in Pakistan-- Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Mullah Nazir, and Baitullah Mehsud---decided to stop fighting each other and form a club together. They even put out pamphlets to announce the rebranding of the insurgency, because, goodness knows, the surest way to pump air into a lost cause is to change your name to something even fiercer.
But, but, but..haven't we been told the insurgency is resurgent? They're making a comeback? The Coalition forces are being defeated on all fronts?
Yes, unless you listen to the people.
A BBC-ABC poll conducted in December and January asked the question in the simplest terms: http://abcnews.go.com/images/PollingUnit/1083a1Afghanistan2009.pdf
Who would you rather have ruling Afghanistan today: the current government, or the Taliban?
The answer was also simple:
Current Government 82 percent.
Taliban 4 percent.
Now, who do you think the Afghan public wants to win the war?
Two recent developments need to be addressed.
1. Taliban Jack Layton and his MSM allies were ecstatic at a CNN interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. To listen to them, Harper said the Coalition forces were defeated and the mission to Afghanistan was lost.
So, for the record, here's exactly what Stephen Harper told CNN interviewer Fareed Zakaria.
HARPER: We're not going to win this war just by staying. We're not going to -- in fact, my own judgment, Fareed, is, quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had -- my reading of Afghanistan history, it's probably had an insurgency forever, of some kind.
What has to happen in Afghanistan is, we have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance.
ZAKARIA: So, we are never going to defeat the insurgency. The best we can do is train Afghan forces that can take it on, and then we withdraw.
HARPER: Absolutely. Because I think, you know, a part of the calculation there is the fact that, ultimately, the source of authority in Afghanistan has to be perceived as being indigenous.
If it's perceived as being foreign -- and I still think we're welcome there -- but if it's perceived as being foreign, it will always have a significant degree of opposition.
The Prime Minister's message, without MSM spin, was simple. The war will be won when we can turn over the defence of the country to the Afghan government. Stability is the goal, not rebuilding the country from the ground up into a modern, western-styled democracy.
But the elements of that stability are the roots of a 20th century democracy.
One will bring the other eventually. The models are there.
India is a thriving democratic state which is reducing poverty by leaps and bounds, sending probes to the moon, churning out more engineers per year than the U.S., and still it fights an insurgency in Kashmir.
Israel has been a nation for 60 years, but is surrounded by mortal enemies and has to fight off periodic organized attacks by terrorist insurgents.
Afghanistan should be so lucky to be in their ranks.
2. U.S. President Obama has discovered moderate Taliban. We should, he says, be talking to the 70 percent of Taliban who are not ideologues and trying to make a deal with them. Wow, why didn't anyone think of that before?
Oh, because they did think of that before. In fact, that was the idee du jour of the British and Canadians last spring. How did that work out?
Oh, yeah. Four Canadians were killed this past week by roadside bombs.
We're holding out for Plan B. Kill as many of them as possible.
Nothing works better at deterring moderate insurgents as knowing that sure death awaits you.
A wide split has developed between private U.S. analysts of the war effort in Afghanistan. This is something to watch as the U.S. plans to introduce up to another 30,000 soliders into the war zone over the course of the year.
Strategypage, a website which covers armed forces worldwide, war, weapons, and intelligence takes a positive view of the Afghan effort.
January 17, 2009: The Taliban are shifting strategy in response to heavy losses fighting foreign troops. The Taliban has not been able to come up with a counterstrategy for the smart bomb and UAVs, which give foreign troops an unassailable advantage in battles. The word has gotten around, and Afghans are demanding more money to take up arms and join a bunch of Taliban. The Taliban still need these large groups of armed men. Just threatening Afghans about their girls schools, video and music stores, and not having a beard, does not work unless you can show up once in a while with a large bunch of armed friends, and punish those who defy you. But over 5,000 Taliban fighters were killed last year, and about as many badly wounded or arrested.
The U.S. is expanding its intelligence operations in Afghanistan, bringing in a lot of the equipment, and specialists, who were so useful in Iraq. The U.S. Army has developed intelligence tactics that provide "information dominance" that makes it difficult for the enemy to carry out attacks (without the U.S. knowing about it), and more vulnerable to American raids and sweeps.
The information based tactics concentrate on capturing or killing the enemy leadership and specialists (mostly technical, but religious leaders and media experts are often valuable targets as well). The Australian commandos have specialized in this approach, and made themselves much feared by the Taliban (who will make an extra effort to avoid dealing with the Australians).
The U.S. and NATO commanders know that the Taliban leadership is in trouble, with a new generation of leaders only recently shoving the older guys (veterans of the 1980s war with Russia) out of the way, and introducing more vicious tactics (more terrorism against reluctant civilians). This is backfiring, as it did in Iraq, and the Taliban leadership is not having an easy time trying to come up with a new strategy.
The Taliban are trying to adopt the Iraq "bombs not bullets" strategy against the unbeatable foreign troops. The use of roadside and suicide bombings are up. But these tactics don't kill enough foreign troops to make a difference, unless the foreign media can be manipulated into declaring the bombing losses as proof that the war in Afghanistan is hopeless.
Meanwhile Stratfor, an online intelligence service, is taking a negative view, arguing that the U.S. will soon pull its armed forces out of Afghanistan :
Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda
January 26, 2009 1901 GMT
Does the United States need to succeed against the Taliban to be successful against transnational Islamist terrorists?
Logic argues, therefore, for the creation of a political process for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan coupled with a recommitment to intelligence operations against al Qaeda.
... we expect that the United States will separate the two conflicts in response to these realities. This will mean that containing terrorists will not be dependent on defeating or holding out against the Taliban, holding Afghanistan’s cities, or preserving the Karzai regime. We expect the United States to surge troops into Afghanistan, but in due course, the counterterrorist portion will diverge from the counter-Taliban portion. The counterterrorist portion will be maintained as an intense covert operation, while the overt operation will wind down over time. The Taliban ruling Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States, so long as intense counterterrorist operations continue there.
Lastly, media coverage of the war has, if anything, gotten worse. Here's just one sad example.
Growing Taliban use of marksmen worries U.S. military
By Nancy A. Youssef McClatchy Newspapers
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Taliban fighters increasingly are deploying precision marksmen to fire on U.S. troops at greater distances throughout opium-producing southern Afghanistan, according to the top two commanders for the southern region.
The expanded use of precision marksmen comes as the fighting shifts from eastern Afghanistan to the south, where the Taliban are trying to protect opium production, which is reputed to be their economic base.
But its only halfway through the story that you learn:
"So far, shooters have made use of long-barrel rifles, not specialized sniper weapons, and Nicholson said there was no indication that they had trained snipers."
In other words, the "precision marksmen" turned out to be opium farmers taking potshots at soliders from farther and farther away.
It is to weep.