Monday, April 02, 2007

THE NON-SPRING OFFENSIVE

THE NON-SPRING OFFENSIVE

I’m wondering why the Democrates, liberal mainstream media and their armchair pundits have stopped talking about a Taliban spring offensive, I mean for months now they’ve been telling us that historically all offensives start in the spring in Afghanistan. They’ve been telling us that 10,000 Taliban fighters are ready to kick NATO’s butt and that it’s going to happen because the US ignored the growing threat while being mired in Iraq. They’ve been telling us that the Taliban is a resurgent force because the Bush administration took their eye of the ball. Now let’s take a look at the facts without putting a political spin on the truth.

History does tell us that fighting in Afghanistan is seasonal beginning in April with the clearing of the mountain passes and that it typically wraps up by mid November so what’s different this time? First and foremost the politicians are right in one respect, the Taliban was ignored in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand as these were the two most sympathetic to the Taliban and were last on the list for reconstruction and for the newly elected National government to attempt to exert control over so the Taliban did openly recruit and did actively assist the poppy growers by providing security to their product convoys (taking a page out of the FARC text book) which gave them much needed funding which has been disrupted by the monitoring and tracing of worldwide SWIFT transactions, another excellent program the Democrats would love to get rid of but I digress.

With the US getting ready to turn the ground over to British and Canadian troops in the early spring of 2006 they were loath to take on this growing overt threat. With Canadian troops in charge of Kandahar and the Brit’s still working on moving into neighboring Helmand province the Taliban decided the time was right to take on these green troops. What occurred throughout the early part of summer were several medium scale battles with the Taliban having moderate success mainly against the still arriving British troops but as these NATO troops found their footing in August it all changed with a major counter offensive in Kandahar province. The Taliban emboldened by some earlier successes decided to stand and fight…this was their biggest mistake since refusing to turn over Bin Laden…the Taliban were slaughtered by the hundreds in battle after battle as the Canadian and British troops chased them all virtually out of their former strongholds leaving only small areas of Helmand under control of the Taliban.

Now the Taliban may have made a very large tactical mistake they learn quickly and the suicide bombing and IED’s went up while the set piece battles disappeared by early fall. For the most part the survivors of the summer’s battles withdrew to the border regions (near Pakistan) and re-grouped but for the first time since the invasion the Canadians decided to take the fight to the Taliban that were in these camps near the border with Pakistan but still on the Afghanistan side in late November and right up to Christmas.

To be honest this offensive produced almost nothing in terms of enemy killed or captured but it did send a message to the Taliban that NATO wasn’t going to sit back and enjoy the winter break which forced them to withdraw further into the mountains causing them logistical challenges they’ve never before faced. Special forces troops patrolled the mountain passes throughout the winter months and continued to put pressure on the Taliban leadership which was forced to completely retreat into Pakistan for the first time in many years.

Over the winter while NATO commanders publicly screamed for more troops to follow up the previous summer’s victories the Taliban made a decision to exploit the growing political battles after the Congressional elections in November by using the liberal mainstream media to try and win the war through press releases suggesting the Taliban were much stronger than ever before and that come spring the under manned NATO troops would be wiped out. As the Presidential hopefuls and the Bush haters took up the Taliban’s message in an effort to hurt the administration on it’s position in Iraq suggesting the real prize was the fight in Afghanistan, the Taliban continued its media blitz while knowing full well they might be able to cobble together 1000 fighters mainly in Helmand province and that they no longer had freedom of movement throughout Southern Afghanistan so they began to internally review their tactics.

NATO continued to successfully strike at Taliban movements throughout February and March killing and capturing numerous Taliban leaders from local recruiters to bomb makers while the political heat was put on Pakistan to put a better effort into information passage which has helped NATO a great deal with disrupting vital Taliban movements as soon as they cross the border.

So here we are, it’s spring the mountain passes for the most part are open with no Taliban spring offensive in sight, in fact NATO began it’s preemptive spring offensive in the middle of March to rout out Taliban and Al Qaeda cells, their new leaders and their weapons caches. The difference this spring is with the British who are now fully deployed and have spent a busy fall and winter training, getting to know the ground and the local’s all the while preparing to make sure the Taliban have no where to operate in Helmand province. So far it’s going well with the Taliban losing fighters in small numbers every time they try and stand and fight so the Taliban is changing and doing it quickly.

The reason the pundits and media aren’t saying a whole lot is that they haven’t spent much time in Afghanistan so they don’t see trends until they are well established. The Taliban has spent the winter in Pakistan recruiting suicide bombers and learning from the Iraq insurgent veterans who have become incredible skilled at making and planting IED’s and conducting operations that result in the so called CNN splash. This is the targeting of markets and other soft targets that often result in a large number of casualties which always attracts the liberal media who love to point out that the administrations war on terror doctrine is failing when in fact in Afghanistan it is working as good as any counter insurgency war has ever gone.

So what will the spring and summer bring…more IED’s, more suicide bombing, and more attacks on reconstruction workers and civilians in an attempt to win the media war and rev up the growing anti war, peace at any price voices that are growing and will continue to grow as the Presidential election cycle picks up steam. As the Taliban tactics try to make Afghanistan look more and more like Iraq, Afghanistan like Iraq will quickly become an unpopular war with a public pounded by assertions that the war is being lost.

For those of us that have spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan this change in Taliban tactics is no surprise and we can only hope that NATO and the US continue their current tactics of offensive action, huge levels of reconstruction (now focused on Helmand and Kandahar) and helping to mentor both the elected officials and the new bureaucrats who must move away from tribal loyalties, corruption and ways of the warlords. They must also continue to gently pressure Pakistan to help with information so the Taliban can’t move fighters, weapons or ammunition without taking big hits the minute they cross the border. This all takes time, dedication at multiple levels and a resilience to fight through the lows and not think the job is done prematurely when things seem stable.

Since those who parroted the Taliban’s press officers about a spring offensive won’t be silent for long we better prepare for Congressional visits and cries of a date certain to bring home the troops by this fall after a summer of suicide bombing in Kabul and the opening of a new CNN office to better cover the action. We must resist these short sighted voices or Afghanistan will soon begin another civil war but with a better highway system built not by the British or Russians but by the Americans.

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