Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Afghanistan insurgency tactics

An interesting note about Helmand accompanies Simon Assaf's article on the collapse of the Afghanistan occupation:

According to intelligence sources quoted by the influential Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), Taliban leader Mullah Omar ordered his forces in September 2008 to concentrate on pinning down British troops in Helmand.

In 2006, occupation forces poured into the region in an attempt to expand the remit of the Afghan government.

Instead the move widened and deepened the resistance to foreign forces.

The Taliban hoped a “hard pounding” of British soldiers would draw in troops from other regions, freeing up the insurgency to spread. The tactic seems to be working.

The bulk of the new surge of US troops are heading to the region to bail out the British forces, while the British officers have been complaining that they have insufficient troops and equipment to fend off the insurgents.

Who knows if Mullah Omar really is dispensing orders from his underground bunker in Quetta? The point is that the strategy is being implemented, and it is working. The "neo-Taliban", as they have been dubbed, may well be the worst possible leadership for the resistance (which is of course far, far broader than the Talibs themselves). For a start, all indications are that they remain politically unpopular and couldn't possibly gain hegemony. However, the fact that the strategy is working is indicative of growing effective support for the Taliban. This could be in part due to the political tactics that Giustozzi attributes to them. Giustozzi notes, for example, that unlike some of their ideological confederates in Iraq, they have not targeted civilians. Intriguingly, Giustozzi also points out that the polls from Afghanistan are heavily biased toward educated, non-Pashtun sectors of the population, which he says explains why support for the insurgency has been so difficult to measure. There is, of course, a wider geopolitical reason why the tactic of pinning troops down in Helmand is proving effective. This is the disintegration of the Euro-American alliance, which was signposted during the Georgia crisis (which is back in the charts), and is increasingly obvious in the disinclination of many NATO states to contribute substantially to the occupation.

Update: interview with Giustozzi here.