Less than a week after the Taliban freed over 400 fighters from Kandahar City’s main jail (and two weeks after assassinating Kandahar police chief Gen. Khan Mohammad Mujahid), the Pentagon released its latest optimistic assessment of its “progress” in Afghanistan.
A pattern that General David Petraeus has finally attracted a reputation for.
After dispensing with the “fragile” tag, a label designed to postpone a decision on July 2011, Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins praises coalition forces for putting "unprecedented pressure on the insurgency.” Claiming that the Taliban’s momentum has been “reversed,” she advised her audience to look past the Taliban’s recent infiltration of the Afghan military and view the Pentagon’s wider strategy.
Robbins concludes after respectable opposition from reporters, “the pushback of the Taliban out of these key areas the last year is really a strategic defeat for the Taliban. They’re going to have to respond, most particularly to being pushed out of areas like Zhari and Panjwai and Arghandab and Kandahar. How they respond, whether it’s attacks there, attacks elsewhere, I don’t know. But given that strategic setback that they’ve suffered, they’re going to try and send messages to the population in other ways that they’re going to be able to come back. And that’s going to be a big challenge for the Afghan forces, for us, as those efforts are made.
However, again, if you think as you look beyond the day-to-day violence statistics and at the increasing amount of security Afghans enjoy, and the effect that it has on them, people are making choices. They’re making choices to side with the government or to side with the insurgents. And this summer, we certainly expect to see many, many more people making that fundamental decision to reject the Taliban.”
Four days before his death, Muhahid told the Christian Science Monitor, “I am hopeful that we will have a safe and secure environment in our city. We have destroyed and eradicated [militants’] safe havens, so they don’t have bases to plan their attacks and operations.”
Robbins also adds, "In the coming months at some point, the violence level may peak.” This comment triggers a brief comparison between Afghanistan and Iraq, which Robbins herself admits she would rather cede to General David Petraeus. According to his “bell-curve,” Petraeus expects Taliban attacks to peak within the next year. Perhaps if U.S. and NATO forces actually begin withdrawing once their governments accept the reality that the Taliban isn’t going to break.
Robbins’ statement remains disturbingly ambiguous in a war that many observers believe bares only marginal resemblance to Iraq. Robbins even admits to the divergence between Afghanistan and Iraq.
Islamabad should also love the Pentagon’s message - “do more” - right in the middle of their reboot. Although U.S. officials believe Afghanistan would stabilize quicker with Pakistan’s sincere help, most Pakistani officials and citizens sincerely believe the war was unwinnable from the beginning. Islamabad continues to believe that America will ultimately abandon a stalemated Afghanistan, despite evidence that the Pentagon wants to “go long.”
Expecting some help is reasonable, but expecting Pakistan to see Afghanistan as America does isn’t. The general belief is that Pakistan, in order to create favorable conditions for America and India, is being forced to rearrange its entire policy. The U.S.-Pakistani relationship will never achieve its full potential under this arrangement.
At the war’s opposite end, the Taliban declared the start of their spring offensive on Saturday.
"The war in our country will not come to an end unless and until the foreign invading forces pull out of Afghanistan," said the announcement released by the Taliban’s leadership council... "Operations will focus on attacks against military centers, places of gatherings, airbases, ammunition and logistical military convoys of the foreign invaders in all parts of the country.”
Such a statement hints at a more focused attack on “soft” military targets, although whether the Taliban can truly minimize civilian collateral remains to be seen. But the Taliban may switch up more than its military strategy; it’s probably unfolding a new political strategy as well. Despite the alleged disorder in their ranks, the Taliban appear fairly confident heading into 2012.
The Pentagon added in its biannual report on Friday that, “an overall increase in violence was due in part to increased targeting of safe insurgent safe havens and unseasonably mild winter weather.”
So what happens if the next few winters are “unseasonably mild?”