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NATO and the state of the Taliban…

March 7, 2012

NATO on the “State of the Taliban”: gritty, uncomfortable but convincing reading…

This is a must read – a NATO assessment of the Taliban – their capabilities, views, aspirations – from the mouths of 4,000 detained suspects that they interviewed over the space of months.  I understood that this report, which emerged into the open domain last month, was written originally as an unclassified document but was upgraded to SECRET releasable ISAF when it became apparent that the conclusions were a little bit “provocative”.  It was then removed from the internet, only to re-emerge, blinking, into the open domain, at the end of February.  So I am not really sure if it was leaked or just “mis-released”…

I thought it would read more in the way of a summary of opinion pollings, but it is much more than this.  There are some quite eye-opening (eye-watering?) quotes liberally distributed in the piece.  The paper looks at:

  • strategic developments (“The Taliban has widened its existing base of popular support within Afghanistan”)
  • how the Taliban governance works.  I noted that there was no talk of Taliban shadow governance, simply governance
  • why they fight (“a government based on Islamic values and free of foreign, liberal or secular influence is seen as the only viable option for maintaining a stable society”)
  • The role of Pakistan (surprise, surprise: “The Government of Pakistan remains intimately involved with the Taliban…Senior Taliban leaders meet regularly with ISI personnel”)
  • The Haqqani Network (“an integral part of the Taliban…[and]…conducts most of  the Taliban’s large-scale attacks in the Kabul area”)
  • Taliban finances (“…raise the majority of their revenue through donations”)
  • Effectiveness of Coalition operations (“In direct combat, Taliban commanders understand that they simply cannot compete with ISAF”).  Well, hey – why should any guerrilla bother with direct combat when they have IEDs…?
  • Targeting of Taliban commanders (“will typically have a negligible effect on insurgent operations overall”)
  • Relationships with foreign fighter/Al Qaeda (“…increasingly difficult for Al Qaeda to maintain a base of operations in Afghanistan…In most regions of Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have no interest in associating with Al Qaeda.”)
  • Pakistani Taliban (“…strength and influence has waned considerably”)
  • Reconciliation: ISAF and Afghan government reconciliation programmes largely ineffective, Taliban programmes seeing increased collaboration between Afghan government security forces and Taliban local fighters
  • Talks (“little or no interest among the Taliban leadership in direct negotiations with GIRoA”)

Fascinating stuff and it shows very clearly that in some ISAF quarters there is a growing recognition that, not only are the Taliban not being defeated, but that they are here to stay.  The question seems now to be more a case of “we’d better start getting used to this idea”.  The report notes that there is much (and increasing) co-operation between Taliban and local Afghan security forces:

Throughout Afghanistan, formal and informal agreements between Taliban, Arbakai militias and Afghan intelligence, police and army units have long been a common occurrence…informal ceasefires are common and, in may regions, the norm for Afghan forces…The weapons bazaar in Miram Shah, Pakistan, is increasingly inundated with rifles, pistols and heavy weapons which have been sold by Afghan security forces…These vehicles and weapons were once only acquired on the battlefield.  They are now regularly sold or donated by Afghan security forces.

This report jars with the regular ISAF battlefield reports that continually suggest that the Taliban are cracking under the pressure of the “kill/capture” targeted strikes:

The tide has turned“, said Marine Maj. Gen. John Toolan, commander of Regional Command Southwest, which includes the once-volatile Helmand province.  “That insurgency is no longer able to intimidate the local nationals to the point where they’re fearful of siding with the government of Afghanistan”.

Is more creative thinking now needed in relation to dealing the Taliban?

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