Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

How A Bunch of “Rag-Tag” Insurgents Are Outsmarting The World’s Most Sophisticated Military

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on August 16, 2009
In Afghanistan, IED's and suicide-bombings are becoming a major problem for the U.S.-NATO operation

Taliban-sponsored IED's in Afghanistan demonstrate the movement's resilience and adaptability

In the first half of 2009, virtually every American in the country understands the extent of the U.S. Military’s quagmire in Afghanistan.  In what was previously viewed as a war secondary to the sectarian and ethnic conflict in Iraq, the war in Kabul was portrayed by the media as America’s “successful front” in the “War on Terrorism”…a theatre where the combined efforts of the American-NATO alliance was severely degrading the capabilities of Al’Qaeda and the Taliban.  Now, with a new president in the Oval Office, and with the Taliban insurgency picking up speed on a daily basis, the American electorate has rightly transformed this casual outlook.  Unfortunately, it took a record number of U.S. casualties to finally bring the “forgotten war” back to its rightful place.

Now with a newly-formed comprehensive approach to the “Af-Pak” region, the United States Military, as well as the armed-forces of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and Pakistan, is finally bolstering their efforts in the southern portion of the Afghan countryside…the same section of the nation that is plagued by narcotics trafficking, ethnic infighting, warlord activity, and a festered Taliban insurgency.  Of course, this is precisely why President Obama has decided to deploy an additional 21,000 soldiers to the battlefield.  In fact, the president is coming to grips on how dire the security situation in Southern Afghanistan is becoming:  so much so that Mr. Obama has ordered his commanders to activate a new offensive against Taliban-intimidation.  With the help of both British forces and the still-growing Afghan National Army, the United States hopes to launch a new counterinsurgency policy that will pave the way for peaceful elections on August 20th.  In a correlation to General David Petreaus’ doctrine in Iraq, U.S. Commander Stanley McCrystal is advocating a “clear, hold, and build” strategy that he believes will protect ordinary Afghans from re-Talibanization.

As is expected, more troops on the ground often equates into more injuries and fatalities.  To the dismay of all Americans, this is exactly what is occurring to western forces inside the mountainous Islamic country.  Below is a list of figures recently released by military and journalistic sources.  While extremely difficult to swallow, these statistics are especially important to analyze if Washington wishes to avoid the same dismal path in the future.

1)       Roadside bombs and suicide-blasts in Afghanistan have increased six-fold in July 2009 compared to the same month last year.

2)       A record 75 U.S. and NATO deaths were recorded in July 2009, the highest casualty count of the eight-year campaign.

3)       Last month, 49 coalition troops died in bomb attacks, a more than six-fold increase from July 2008.

4)      828 improvised-explosive devices (IED’s) were found in July of this year, of which 108 bombs succeeded in their detonations.  This number is triple the 36 effective bombings that were recorded the same time last year.

5)      Afghan civilians are frequently becoming victims of Taliban-placed IED’s…a 24 percent increase from previous levels.

6)      230 coalition troops were wounded by IED’s and roadside bombs in July 2009, compared to the 67 wounded in July 2008.

All of these figures point to one overarching conclusion:  while constantly being bombarded by coalition forces, the Taliban insurgency continues to demonstrate their resilience and adaptability in the Afghan theatre.  What the United States has for sophisticated technology and massive manpower, Taliban militants respond with decentralization, networking, and a unified sense of confidence.  For a president that has invested so much time, effort, money, and credibility on taking the fight to the enemy and reclaiming the Afghan streets, this development is frightening to say the least.  Luckily, Mr. Obama seems to grasp the notion that Afghanistan will take a long-term American commitment.

Students and scholars of terrorism will also find it interesting to note the similarities between these recent Taliban-sponsored attacks and the roadside bombs that were once prevalent in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, Mosul, Fallujah, Basra, and Samarra.  With the Al’Qaeda network in Iraq increasingly marginalized by Iraq’s Sunni population (although the organization remains relatively strong in the Northern Iraqi city of Mosul), it is realistic to conclude that AQI is outsourcing its most successful methods of warfare to the Afghan theatre.  Perhaps viewing Iraq as a lost cause, members of Al’Qaeda may be gradually shifting their priorities to Afghanistan:  a country that once served as the movement’s main sanctuary in the 1990’s.

While this scenario is certainly possible, a more practical explanation for the rise of suicide-bombings in Afghanistan is the Taliban’s willingness to quickly adjust in the face of a well-equipped U.S. fighting machine.  With the implementation of IED’s and roadside bombs so successful in Iraq during 2005-2007, both in terms of U.S. casualties and a loss of U.S. morale, it is more than rational for the Taliban to acquire similar methods of combat.  The motive is all too simple:  with the U.S. campaign in its eighth-year, and with President Hamid Karzai’s authority exceedingly corrupt and illegitimate, the Taliban insurgency is attempting to create the same chaotic atmosphere in Afghanistan that once engulfed Iraqi society.

With these types of statistics now made public to the international community, anyone paying attention to world affairs can discover the Iraq-Afghanistan connection.  The year 2009 is increasingly evolving into an unwanted déjà-vue for the United States in Southwest Asia.  It looks as if insurgents are much smarter than intelligence officials give them credit for.  They are not only able to learn from one another in a swift and smooth fashion, but are able to do so in ways much distinguished from a typical nation-state.  In the end, cumbersome bureaucracy and the rules of war need not apply to terrorist aspirations.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Jason Straziuso of the Associated Press contributed to this blog.  His full article can be accessed at:  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090811/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan


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