August 2, 2009

COIN 101

July 2009 went down as the bloodiest month in Afghanistan, as 43 American and 31 NATO soldiers fell in battle. Countless militants joined their fate and civilians saw no respite either. But no refuge will be found in August. 9 NATO soldiers, 6 of them American, have already been killed around the country, making it very possible that August will set a new record.

The reaction to such danger is no reaction. The Pentagon has come up with the brilliant explanation of expecting higher casualty rates. "We have a lot more troops in country. We have a lot more operations ongoing, and it increases our contact with the enemy, and that unfortunately results in an increase in casualties," said Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

This line has been repeated by America's top generals and President Obama, but is a higher number of American troops the only reason for increased casualties? American officials leave out a small detail - that the Taliban also warned of a bloody summer.

Secrets are hard to keep in war and the surge in Afghanistan was public knowledge before it ever began. The Taliban understood in 2008 that the war in Iraq was winding down and that Afghanistan would soon become the main theater. It knew of Obama's plans to send additional brigades before he was elected and has planned its summer offensive for months in advance.

To this end the Taliban sought to unite militant groups. Reports surfaced in February 2009 that Mullah Omar allegedly settled the differences in the Pakistani Taliban and formed the Shura Ittehadul Mujahideen (SIM), or Council of United Mujahedeen. Baitullah Mehsud, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and Maulavi Nazir supposedly signed an oath to Omar and Osama bin Laden, and also agreed to focus their attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Taliban officials denied the reports and Mehsud publicly denied the SIM. The subsequent Taliban offensive in Swat put the meeting in doubt. The situation isn't static though. Mehsud may have felt like he had to attack Pakistan at the time, but that he would eventually move his operations against America in Afghanistan. Omar had warned him of provoking Pakistan's military; maybe Mehsud realized the truth of Omar's advice and is ready to follow it.

Whether the SIM exists remains uncertain, but Mullah Omar is certainly trying to consolidate the Taliban for the upcoming years. The newly found handbook professing a velvet glove over the iron hand fits the trend. Beyond limiting acts of cruelty, the book is a means to weed out the more criminal elements of the Taliban, of which there are many. It also forbids the unauthorized formation of combat units. Omar is attempting to separate the weak and combine the strong.

Think twice the next time an American official says they expect deaths to rise. America isn't the only one adding troops to the battle; the Taliban is boosting its ranks as well. It too predicted higher casualties through a variety of attacks across Afghanistan, exactly what's happening. Believing America is believing the Taliban.

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