The business of politicians is getting re-elected, and business is bad for President Obama and his cronies in congress. Failing domestic policies and two endless wars have White House and Pentagon spin doctors working overtime, especially on Afghanistan and recent “victories” over the Taliban. But the inconvenient truth is that there is no Taliban, and the victories belong to Pakistan.
The real Taliban was a horde of fanatical Pashtun Muslims that swept out of Pakistan to overrun most of Afghanistan by 1994. The fighters had been educated in militant religious schools created in Pakistan for the vast refugee community fleeing the Afghan civil war that began after the Soviet army withdrawal in 1989. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and Saudi Arabia realized the Sunni Muslim refugees could make a useful proxy force in the feud with Hindu India over Kashmir, and a buffer against Shia Iran. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the ISI reckoned they would prove even more useful in helping Islamabad maintain an influential position in whatever finally arose from the Afghan quagmire of warlords and tribal warfare. So the ISI and the Saudis fed, financed, and armed the Talibs—a “talib” is a religious student—and Mullah Mohammed Omar, a one-eyed veteran of fights with the Soviet army, led them into battle. Capturing the capital they forced Afghans to adopt stoning, amputations, and beheadings in accordance with Sharia law, destroyed functioning government, blew up the priceless Bamiyan statues of Buddha, and invited Osama bin Laden to stay. Things were going well for the Talibs until 9/11.
When the Bush administration determined Al Qaida was behind the terror attack on New York they demanded the Taliban turn over Osama for trial. They were refused. Then an unsung chapter in the history of warfare began. On 7 October 2001, the United States swung into action. The CIA’s elite Special Activities Division (SAD) was the first to enter Afghanistan and organized the Northern Alliance for the subsequent arrival of US Army Special Forces. The combined forces of the CIA, Special Forces, and the Northern Alliance overthrew the Taliban without significant loss of American lives, and without the use of a large army or Marine forces. In December, just two months after the SAD arrival, the Taliban abandoned their last stronghold of Kandahar and dispersed. That was the end of the real Taliban.
What emerged after that victory was a gaggle of independent forces, each calling themselves Taliban, that are now fighting a guerrilla war against a huge NATO army. Mohammed Omar and his Quetta Shura try to make life difficult in the southern province of Helmand. In the east there is the Haqqani network, and in the north the Hekmatyar group. Foreign fighters arrive from time to time, Iran makes noises, but the old Taliban is no more. So why are we grinding it out on the ground with over 100,000 troops?
Massive military power is largely ineffectual in guerrilla warfare, and with the exception of US Army Special Forces and the CIA, our generals are not inclined to fight a guerrilla war. They may have studied British success in Malaysia, but what are lots of troops, armor, artillery, airborne, close air support and tons of equipment good for, unless you use it all to justify those all-important requests for more funding. General Petraeus can write another manual, and we can hope “Iraq surge” works in Afghanistan too, but the White House and the Pentagon have yet to learn that a guerrilla war is very hard to win with conventional strategy. Lessons of Vietnam have faded. Even with his huge army the NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal, warns of “mission failure” unless even more forces are deployed. So why the sudden spate of victories? How did captures of “most wanted Taliban” happen? And what about those successful drone strikes?
The explanation of recent “victories” is simple. After Mullah Baradar and his henchmen set up shop in Karachi, the ISI decided the Quetta Shura was becoming more internal threat than external asset. Hence the ballyhooed arrest of Baradar, supposedly by CIA and ISI operatives. On top of that, Pakistani “Taliban” groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were shooting up Pakistan. The TTP cares nothing about Afghanistan but wants control of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the northwest frontier. When the Pakistani army asserted itself in that mountainous region the TTP took revenge with attacks on settled areas. Finally, the ISI realized Pakistani “Taliban” and Afghan “Taliban” were joining forces. They knew the benign relationship with proxies that were to be used in Afghanistan, when the Americans leave, was ending. Hence intelligence was given to the Americans resulting in victorious captures and drone attacks.
The 2012 elections are fast approaching, so what can President Obama do about his unpopular Afghan war and General McChrystal, who declares his guerrilla warfare mantra to be “protecting the people.” The White House solution may be to use Pakistani intelligence, kill a few phony Taliban, and send the troops home, telling voters their mission was accomplished. A different president would be able to remember 2001 and would reactivate the Northern Alliance. They hate Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar, and Haqqani, and they defeated them once before in just 60 days—with help from the CIA and Special Forces.
But Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, would probably go along with the Obama White House plan. He goes along with anything they say anyway.