Where do Hot Air readers turn for good news on the war? The New York Times? Carlotta Gall reports that the Marines in southern Afghanistan have “routed” the Taliban in the region and have them streaming back into Pakistan. This provides a second data point for progress on the war, but could something else be happening?
Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan are fleeing to the Pakistani border after being routed in recent operations by the United States Marines, the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said on Monday.
Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been clearing Taliban and foreign fighters from the district of Garmser, in southern Helmand Province, an important infiltration and drug trafficking route used by the Taliban to supply insurgents farther north.
“The insurgents, after experiencing these several weeks of pressure below Garmser, are trying to flee to the south, perhaps to go back to the sanctuaries in another country,” said the NATO commander, Gen. Dan K. McNeill.
He did not name Pakistan, but Helmand Province shares a border with Pakistan, and the Taliban and drug traffickers have long used refugee camps across the border as a sanctuary from American firepower.
Yesterday, British forces in adjacent areas announced similar findings. The Taliban have lost command and control of its forces as well as their lines of communication. They have been reduced to foraging for food and water and cannot maintain themselves as a fighting force. The aggressive tactics implemented fifteen months ago have decimated and demoralized the Taliban, and they have decided that martyrdom isn’t worth it.
Or have they? The battlefield reports are certainly true, but the massive return to Pakistan may have another purpose. This comes as Pakistan has decided on appeasement as a strategy for dealing with the native Taliban leadership headed by Baitullah Mehsud. That seems more than coincidence.
Could Mehsud have decided that the Afghanistan operations are too costly and brought his forces back into Pakistan for shelter? If so, what would that mean? He may be looking to consolidate power in Pakistan rather than bleeding his forces unnecessarily in Afghanistan. Mehsud may be worried that NATO attacks on safe houses in the Pakistani frontier provinces have become a little too accurate and wants to eliminate any provocation for attacks. Or he could just have decided that he needs to rebuild his command and control elements over the next few months for a fresh attack on Afghanistan next year.
Either way, the exodus is good news, of a sort rarely found in the Times these days (and never acknowledged by their editorial board). It shows that the lessons of counterinsurgency applied in Iraq work in Afghanistan as well, and validates the forward strategy of fighting radical Islamist terror. Those strategies have won us some breathing space in which to work on Afghanistan’s infrastructural problems, including the opium trade, loan sharking, and the utter lack of modernization for its agricultural sector.