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calendar   Thursday - June 12, 2008

The shifting battle against the Taliban

Busier then a duck in a flood and under the weather with spring sniffles but ....this is (I believe) a darn interesting piece and so just had to blog it.

Afghanistan Analysis: The shifting battle against the Taliban
By Tom Coghlan in Camp Bastion, Helmand Province
Last Updated: 1:21PM BST 12/06/2008

Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign against the Taliban is shifting from one phase into another.

The war of pitched battles is all but over. The Taliban’s leadership structures have been ravaged by covert British special forces raids; their ability to coordinate operations largely curtailed.

The insurgents have been pushed out of the fixed positions that they were able to hold in Garmser in the south of the province and Musa Qala in the north.

They take a bloody nose wherever they choose to stand and fight. They know they cannot win outright.

So instead the Taliban appear to have accepted that they must play the long game. The political will of governments in the face of public opposition to costly, distant wars is the Achilles Heel of Western democracies.

The technological know how of Taliban roadside bombs is improving and their numbers are up 34 per cent on last year, possibly thanks to help from Iran’s government.

And steady attrition through roadside bombs and suicide bombs are the means that Taliban fighters will use to try to ensure that a steady flow of Nato body bags ultimately undermines the political will of Western countries to ‘stay the course’.

The Taliban have been suppressed but they cannot be defeated entirely while they continue to operate out of safe havens in Pakistan; not unless the Afghan people decisively reject them and force them out. And not until there are viable Afghan government structures and security forces that the populous are prepared to put their faith in.

As British commanders are fond of saying, “the population is the prize.”

There is little love for the Taliban amongst the majority of Helmandis. But equally there is little love for foreign troops on the part of a people that distrusts outsiders of any hue. And there is the complicating problem of the region’s vast narcotics economy.

Britain is theoretically in charge of destroying this even as its troops on the ground are charged with making the people like and trust them.

Building a viable government, infrastructure and security forces is, then, the task that lies ahead of the British government and its army and the wider international community.

Western governments are gathering in Paris for a major conference that will address the huge hurdles to the creation of these structures. It will also see the Afghan government requesting a further $51billion in aid.

The challenge is far greater than the military work that has already been accomplished by British soldiers on the ground. It is the work of a decade, perhaps two; particularly given the poverty of Afghanistan (compared to Iraq) in educated human resources and economic potential, as well as the staggering corruption problems its narco economy helps to drive.

Nonetheless, if the first step is creating credible security forces, the Afghan army shows promise. In Kabul a huge US funded training programme is churning out trained soldiers at a rate of one battalion, 700-800 men, every week. The army is expected to reach around 70,000 men by the end of this year.

On the frontline in Helmand those soldiers, mentored by British and American soldiers, are being equipped not just with boots and helmets, but also with new flak jackets, M-16 rifles, helicopters, trucks and Humvee armoured cars.

Of course this could turn out to be another Western trained army with ‘all the gear, but no idea’.

Shiny new battalions of South Vietnamese soldiers rolled out of US army training programmes with state of the art equipment in the early 1970s to crumble ignominiously in battle.

But the signs so far are that the Afghan National Army has the will to fight, and increasingly the skills. Three weeks ago Afghan National Army soldiers mentored by the Royal Irish Regiment conducted their own sweep operation through the dangerous ‘Green Zone’ south of the town of Sangin, establishing a new base in previously Taliban dominated territory and then beating back several Taliban attacks.

British officers and NCOs may have fretted over their failure to converse food, their refusal to carry adequate water and ammunition, and their unwillingness to train when back at base. But when the bullets flew the ANA fought back.

From two battalions of Afghan troops in the province in 2006 there are now seven. And while British forces are rarely much more than tolerated, the Afghan National Army appears to command a degree of respect and even affection.

These are early days and it is a process that will take a great deal of time.

The irony is that perhaps the biggest single threat to the British mission in Afghanistan, is not the Taliban, the drug smugglers, corrupt Afghan politicians or the malign influence of other regional powers, but simply the will of the public in Western countries to keep supporting a distant war that has now killed 100 British soldiers and is likely to kill a great many more.

http://tinyurl.com/48pmdc


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Posted by Drew458   United Kingdom  on 06/12/2008 at 10:50 AM   
Filed Under: • TerroristsUKWar On Terror •  
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