The defeatist rhetoric on Iraq has just about been discredited, and its cousin — that we’re losing in Afghanistan — may be just as endangered. The Telegraph reports that the aggressive counterinsurgency tactics adopted by NATO have “decapitated” Taliban leadership, and that cross-border attacks have taken the fight out of the rebels. Helmand province may be on the cusp of an economic rebirth:
Missions by special forces and air strikes by unmanned drones have “decapitated” the Taliban and brought the war in Afghanistan to a “tipping point”, the commander of British forces has said.
The new “precise, surgical” tactics have killed scores of insurgent leaders and made it extremely difficult for Pakistan-based Taliban leaders to prosecute the campaign, according to Brig Mark Carleton-Smith.
In the past two years an estimated 7,000 Taliban have been killed, the majority in southern and eastern Afghanistan. But it is the “very effective targeted decapitation operations” that have removed “several echelons of commanders”.
The NATO effort had begun to stall in 2006, mirroring the American/British efforts in Iraq. NATO had attempted to negotiate with local Taliban commanders to see if accommodation would end the war. Instead, the Taliban used the cease-fires to seize control over villages, especially in Helmand, and conduct offensive operations against NATO.
In the winter of 2007, American commanders decided on a much more aggressive policy, using NATO’s advantage in close air support. The military no longer just defended against Taliban attacks, but used air power to chase down and destroy Taliban forces once they withdrew. NATO also significantly increased the attacks across the border in Pakistan, and has increased them more in 2008.
As a result, the Taliban has failed to conduct spring offensives for two years in a row. Now it looks as though they have lost their grip on the last portions of Helmand, and their leadership has degraded to the point where the Brits think that they cannot withstand any more NATO pressure. A new airport in the region and other infrastructural improvements will help solidify local opposition to Taliban insurgents and possibly end the opium trade as crops can get to global markets for the first time.
This means that another meme in the American presidential election may soon get pre-empted. It has been an article of faith that the efforts in Iraq have “distracted” the US from the war in Afghanistan. However, this shows that the US and NATO can conduct operations successfully in multiple theaters. That would be a key demonstration of power, especially if both theaters stabilize, as regional actors could not rely on current operations giving them a window of opportunity for michief.
In terms of the presidential election, it also puts to rest the offensive notion that America had no strategy other than “air-raiding villages” and killing civilians. Obama floated that notion last fall, which outraged CENTCOM and NATO. The aggressive strategy and tactics in both theaters instead became the basis of successful counterinsurgency operations, which indicates that Obama should have held a few meetings of his subcommittee before issuing his faulty analysis.
We now have encouraging news from both major theaters in the war on terror. That will make everyone happy except those invested in defeat.