With the death of Bin Laden, President Obama’s announcement of troop cuts and talk of a later than usual start to the fighting season coupled with talk of peace negotiations it seems as if the Taliban are on the ropes and this war is all but won. But, I wonder if anyone has passed this message onto the Taliban. It seems as if the Taliban have scored some major successes in recent months which may resonate more with the Afghan population than they do with a coalition which is suffering from war-fatigue and is looking for an exit now that Bin Laden is dead. Further, are we as successful as we would like to think we are?
I am Canadian. By culture, we Canadians are less optimistic than most. Perhaps it is the inevitability of the annual soul-crushing winters that ensures we don’t consider every problem as a speed bump that we just haven’t found a solution for yet. You can’t be too optimistic in Canada because if you underestimate the enemy, i.e., the weather, you may die. The solution is move to Florida.
It is with this attitude that I turned my thoughts to the Taliban. I asked myself, what would I do as an insurgent, if people were counting me out and my foreign enemies were displaying war weariness but telling tales of my imminent demise? What would I do? Like most questions, the answer can be found in history. My answer was the Viet Cong’s 1968 Tet Offensive. Just as they had been declared down and out, the Viet Cong struck all across South Vietnam to include an attack on the US Embassy in Saigon. The offensive was clearly a military failure, but it demonstrated to the American public, through Walter Cronkite, and the Vietnamese people, that the war was not winnable.
Last night, the Taliban hit the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul leaving 19 people dead on the eve of a conference which was to be held at the hotel to discuss the future of Afghan security. The attack was finally resolved by Coalition helicopters firing rockets at the hotel. Already, news of the attack has moved to the back pages of western news sites. However, to Afghans who must decide whether their best interests lie with the Government of Afghanistan or the Taliban, the attack can only be yet another demonstration of the failure of their government to provide security. This lack of security has seeped into the heart of the capital city at a location which is more than just a hotel but is almost another Presidential Palace.
This is not an isolated incident. In April, the Taliban orchestrated a massive jail break from the Saraposa Prison in Kandahar. The operation was conducted right under the noses of government security forces and right outside one of NATO’s largest bases making all security entities look like fools. This is especially the case in the light of the fact that this was not the first mass breakout at Saraposa Prison in spite of the fact that millions of dollars were spent in upgrades to the prison.
From a counterinsurgent’s point of view, I have to ask, how well are we doing winning the hearts and minds of the population, when the Taliban were able to carry out an operation that took months to prepare, required the excavation and movement of thousands of tons of earth and had to include an inside element. In spite of all those months of planning and work, and all those people that were involved, we did not receive one single tip off. It would only have taken one, but we did not get it.
So I ask you, how well are we doing and are the Taliban finished yet? I don’t think so.
LCol JJ Malevich, Canadian Exchange Officer US Army Counter Insurgency Center. This statement is my own and does not constitute an endorsement by or opinion of the Department of Defense