December 22, 2010

Taliban & Pentagon Equally Defeated

Sometimes Western officials in charge of Middle Eastern and Asian affairs sound like they’ve never studied guerrilla warfare. Today Staffan De Mistura, the UN’s envoy in Afghanistan, claimed the Taliban realizes it can’t win its war against U.S. NATO, and Afghan forces. True in the conventional sense, De Mistura believes the Taliban have lost because they must resort to a political agreement.

De Mistura was making his case for Kabul’s peace initiative with Taliban fighters and willing commanders.

But his argument fails the fourth-generation test. It’s possible that the Taliban have been denied their sanctuary in the long term - that the Afghan people will resist its counter-offensive next spring. Of course guerrillas also run and hide, living by the motto of fighting another day. The stories of exhausted Taliban contain some truth. After all this is a war.

Yet 20,000 to 25,000 Afghan Taliban are still holed in for the winter, restocking in Pakistan and tending their cash and opium flow (prices are skyrocketing again). So with Kabul unable to reform itself to a sufficient level, it’s still too early to predict how long U.S. gains will last and whether they last past 2014.

Furthermore, De Mistura’s logic works both ways and ultimately against Western forces. His description of the Taliban’s position matches the Pentagon’s - equally unwilling to reach a political resolution or accept a stalemate with the Taliban. Despite preaching “we cannot kill our way out of Afghanistan,” U.S. General David Petraeus is attempting to do exactly that. Would Washington consider Taliban-ruled provinces a “victory” if al-Qaeda is ejected?

Highly unlikely given its opposition to Taliban reconciliation.

The asymmetric nature of guerrilla warfare turns stalemate into victory for insurgents and defeat for counterinsurgents. Maybe the Taliban would even be pleased to be rid of al-Qaeda. Strange remarks for De Mistura to make, but typical of the backwardness to Western policy and fourth-generation warfare in general.

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