[DEBATE] : Taliban's fruitless dream
Riaz K Tayob
riazt at iafrica.com
Wed Jun 18 10:13:03 BST 2008
Taliban's fruitless dream
Under the watchful eye of an Afghan army gunner, families fleeing
villages in the Arghandab district of Kandahar are searched June 17, 2008.
Militants are desperate to seize Kandahar city, but fighting in the open
a recipe for their defeat
Jun 18, 2008 04:30 AM
They covet Kandahar city.
Can taste that succulent prize, hanging like a fat pomegranate within
More than Kabul, the Taliban have pined these past six-and-a-half years
for the capital of Kandahar province – at one time, capital of
Afghanistan – a ramshackle metropolis that is their spiritual home, the
still fiercely beating heart of an insurgency that won't stay dead.
But the chances of Kandahar city falling are just about zero.
Even if it means transferring American troops by the battalion-load from
eastern Afghanistan, or shifting some 2,400 Marines only recently landed
as reinforcement cavalry in neighbouring Helmand, the city will not be
allowed to pass from coalition-supported government control.
Some 700 extra Afghan troops were flown into Kandahar Airfield yesterday
For all the ruckus the Taliban have caused in the past six days, they
are no more tactically close to seizing Kandahar than they were a month
ago, or a year ago – and every year, since 2006, they've made the same
boast: This year, Kandahar city.
Yet the insurgents – now allegedly ensconced in villages only 15
kilometres northwest of Afghanistan's second-largest city, on the
opposite side of the Arghandab River – certainly appear to be wagging
How Afghan and NATO troops respond to this threat will be the true
measure of the Taliban offensive's success; may, indeed, be the whole
NATO cannot let the Taliban set the military agenda by drawing scarce
troops into guerrilla-friendly terrain and leaving a vacuum that can be
exploited elsewhere by outflanking defensive positions.
Nor can NATO use its overwhelming military might with air strikes –
ineffective when the enemy is spread in small pockets over a broad area
– that would likely kill a large number of civilians, thereby further
antagonizing the local population. "The best counter-insurgency practice
means taking the population in villages, in communities, as your centre
of gravity," a diplomatic source told the Toronto Star earlier.
"We can't let the Taliban distract us from that goal. And we know they
try to draw international troops into clashes where civilian casualties
are likely, where we use air power and fire power."
In an interview with the Star from Kabul, International Security
Assistance Force spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Carlo Branco said he credits
the insurgents with mounting an effective propaganda campaign the last
few days, as the Taliban exploits Friday night's brazen breakout at
Sarposa prison in Kandahar city.
But he said there was no confirmation of reports of the Taliban planting
mines and blowing up bridges in the Arghandab district.
NATO patrols have been "moving freely" without resistance, he said.
Branco said no air strikes had been called in, either, because no
targets had been identified to bomb. He also denied any mass movement
out of the region by civilians. And, contrary to some reports, ISAF
hasn't been urging villagers to evacuate.
One local tribal elder reported that the Taliban had taken control of 18
villages northwest of the Arghandab River and had started digging
trenches for combat cover.
Certainly, the Taliban's ubiquitous spokespeople have been saying quite
a lot, claiming 450 Taliban were among the fugitives who escaped from
Sarposa and that nearly all have joined up with Taliban units to engage
anew in jihad.
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, in an interview with The Canadian Press, claimed 500
fighters have assembled in Arghandab, preparing for an operation called
"IBRAT," which stands for "Learn a lesson from past deeds and doings."
In a separate interview with Associated Press, Taliban commander Mullah
Ahmeddulah said about 400 fighters had moved into the Arghandab from
Khakrez, a district just north of the valley, and these forces included
"They told us: `We want to fight until the death.'
"We've occupied most of the area and it's a good place for fighting. Now
we are waiting for the NATO and Afghan forces."
If nothing else, the increasingly sophisticated insurgency appears to
have learned a great deal from "past deeds and doings."
Operation Medusa, in the summer of '06, cost the insurgents dearly when
they were obliterated by artillery and air power after entrenching
themselves in a swath of terrain around the town of Pashmul. NATO
estimated upwards of 1,000 Taliban fighters killed in that operation.
Although insurgents have infiltrated – rather than seized – villages in
the Arghandab valley before, as recently as a year ago, they've always
been repelled by ISAF and Afghan troops rumbling to the rescue.
The Taliban's other major – and eventually thwarted – incursion was last
year in Musa Qala, which insurgents occupied after British troops were
forced to retreat, turning the Helmand town into a propaganda showpiece,
holding military parades and executing accused collaborators.
It required a major show of force by NATO in December to take back the
town and the district, putting the lie to Taliban claims that they
possessed artillery pieces and anti-aircraft guns.
The Taliban prepared for this robust challenge to ISAF and Afghan
forces, it's believed, by ambushing and killing key allies of the
central government in recent months – tribal elders and district
commanders who had helped keep restive Kandahar in check.
Clearly, they do have long-term plans and strategies. From Arghandab,
they also have a clear path to Kandahar city, across flat plains.
But that would mean coming out into the open. And getting crushed.
Columnist Rosie DiManno has returned last week from a one-month
assignment in Afghanistan.
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