September 13, 2009

COIN 101

12:45 AM 9/13/09: 50 militants have reportedly died in a battle in Farah province near Bala Baluk, site of the June massacre. Taliban soldiers ambushed a US-Afghan patrol with IED's, gunfire from multiple directions, and RPG's. 3 US soldiers and 7 Afghan soldiers fell in combat. Overwhelmed by Taliban numbers, who were grouping too closely, air-strikes were ordered in to kill dozens of militants. At least one bomb hit a home and killed a woman and a teenage girl, said Afghan police spokesman Raouf Ahmadi.

"The combined ISAF and Afghan force was receiving significant small-arms, RPG and indirect fire throughout that time frame," U.S. military spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said.

While air-strikes are standard procedure these missiles seemed to have extra bite. Today was another bloody day in Afghanistan: 8 US soldiers, 30 Afghan army and police, 20 civilian according to the AP. This battle was likely a reaction to today's Taliban onslaught, the final straw after another complex ambush. The Taliban attacked coast to coast, from Farah to Orūzgān to Kabul, to Kunduz to Kunar. US commanders certainly don't like taking a Taliban attack lying down and probably received a message from above to strike back and even the score. Their response is predictable and not necessarily harmful, but they must be careful not to let vengeance get the best of them. The slightest overdoing will leave civilians dead and contradict the entire point of the mission.

4:02:58 PM 9/12/2009: A "Wave of Attacks" engulfing Afghanistan has sent the American press into a loop, terrified that the Taliban continues to intensify and spread across once peaceful provinces. Possibly unbeknownst to the press they're doing half the Taliban's job for them, hyping up the threat and portraying the Taliban increasingly unlikely to be defeated. When the NYT reports that the attacks "seemed to emphasize the ability of the Taliban," it also means the Taliban preplanned on using the American media to spread terror as it always does

Read the list of attacks for yourselves as there is no point in detailing them all. The NYT correctly singled out the most noteworthy attack, in Kunduz province, but since it failed to analyze the conclusion Octopus Mountain will finish the job.

According to the report, "Early Saturday morning, one of the district policemen poisoned the eight other police officers assigned to a guard post about 12 miles south of the district’s government center, said the Emam Sahib district police chief, Juma Khan Baber. The turncoat officer killed his commander on the spot, and then called his true comrades: the local Taliban. The militants entered the guard post and dragged away the seven other policemen, who were beheaded or shot, the district chief said. Then the Taliban burned down the guard shack."

Infiltration has always been a problem for the Afghan security forces, with this attack being the latest example, but the threat of spies is likely to rise in the coming years, not decrease. With US officials pushing for another increase in Afghan forces, not to mention speeding up their training by several years, the result could be a lot of poorly trained fighters with a lack of oversight. Recruiting more Afghans and training them faster will expose the system to increased Taliban infiltration. In fact, it's likely already formulating such a plan. Knowing that America is growing desperate and now trumpeting the Afghan security forces as its exit strategy, the Taliban will make redoubled efforts to flood their ranks.

Infiltration should theoretically increase as more Afghan forces are recruited and trained in a faster time. America must consider the alternative of better training and equipping the troops it has now. A "surge" in Afghan forces is extremely vulnerable to the Taliban's tricks.

Two other incidents warrant mentioning. The Taliban ambushed a truck carrying private security guards in Kunar Province, killing five of them and wounding 10. The security guards had been hired to protect workers building a road. America must realize its hope doesn't lie in security guards, which make easy targets for the well-organized Taliban. Afghanistan is still destabilizing with US troops and an army of private security. No other conclusion can be reached: if America wishes to stay then it needs more troops, though this is only a means to not lose, not to win.

Winning is a foolish word to speak of in Afghanistan after cultural atrocities like the following. The AP reports, "In Kabul, an American service member and an Afghan police officer got into an argument because the American was drinking water in front of the Afghan police, who are not eating or drinking during the day because of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The police officer shot the American and seriously wounded him, while other American troops responded and seriously wounded the police officer."

First, American troops shouldn't be doing anything to offend Afghans, especially during Ramadan. That the offended ones were Afghan police is all the worse. While understanding the emotions of the US soldiers who returned fire, this too is a counterinsurgency error. Do not return fire, it won't heal your fallen comrade or benefit Afghanistan in any way. That incidents like this still occur on a semi-frequent basis, 8 years after the war began, shows that America isn't learning the culture as fast as it would like to believe. Counterinsurgency isn't about retaliation, but awareness.

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