It Will not break the back of Taliban

Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Kandhar Air Port Icon Of Kandhar Province

It is being propagated by USA that Pakistan was principally responsible for creating and supporting Taliban. It forgets that Afghan Mujahideen were motivated, funded, trained and used in Afghan jihad against the Soviet forces by CIA. Mujahideen were renamed as Taliban once they fell from grace of US oil merchants. The latter had eyed untapped oil and gas resources of Central Asian Republics (CAR) since long and saw their dreams getting near fruition once USSR collapsed in 1991 and USA emerged as sole super power. When the Afghan Mujahideen failed to stabilize Afghanistan, critical to ship out oil and gas from CAR to European and American markets through Afghanistan and Balochistan, US oil group UNOCOL started to evince interest in Taliban movement in 1994.

Karzai was an employee in UNOCOL and was supportive of Taliban. In December 1997, Taliban visited UNOCOL’s Houston refinery operations to sort out details of construction of pipelines. Kandahar was the city near which gas pipelines were to pass. Mullah Omar belonging to Kandahar was in UNOCOL camp. Sanctions had been imposed on Taliban regime once it came to power in 1996 to pressurize them to agree to US terms. After Bush came to power in January 2001, several Taliban envoys were received at State Department, CIA, and National Security Council. They fell from grace when they refused to strike a deal on the terms heavily tilting in favor of UNOCOL. Invasion plan was finalized to bring a regime change and 9/11 whether actual or fabricated gave an excuse to mount the assault.

When Iraq venture began to prove troublesome and costly, it was decided to quash al-Qaeda, considered as the chief

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trouble maker in Iraq through troop surge and division of resistance forces through bribe. Sunnis in heavy majority in central Iraq having suffered the most at the hands of coalition troops and Shias and Kurds who had extended support to the invaders to topple Saddam regime, were cultivated and convinced to fight al-Qaeda under the plea that it was preventing stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq. Gen Petraeus and Gen McChrystal were the brains behind this scheme.

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170,000 Sunni tribesmen in Iraq were armed to teeth by USA in 2007 to help combat al-Qaeda. Slight reduction in militancy in Iraq after troop surge in 2008 in two most volatile provinces of Fallujah and Ambar gave erroneous impression to US leadership that a big breakthrough had been achieved. With presidential election drawing near, Bush Administration announced that US forces had turned the tide. Delusional victory signs were waived and Petraeus and McChrystal eulogized.

Activation of Iraq front divided the attention of coalition forces and allowed the Taliban to regroup and strike back to recover some of the lost spaces in Afghanistan. Situation in Afghanistan kept deteriorating because of resurgence of resistance forces and application of excessive force by occupation forces. As per UNAMA Report, from 2007 onwards, each year there has been 40% increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan. It did not take long for US military-NATO to get bogged down in two quagmires of its own making.

Purpose behind troop surge of 21000 US troops in August 2009 was to accelerate process of killing irreconcilable Afghan Pashtuns so as to even up the score card of killing in the two theatres of war. In Iraq versus Afghanistan the ratio has been 1.5 million: 100,000 killed. The other purpose was to reduce the influence of Taliban in southern Afghanistan, seen as their major base and to push out undesirable elements from Helmand into Pashtun belt of Balochistan and make it restive. Yet another reason was to lend greater support to unpopular Karzai. USA wants to ensure his continuation in power once US troops depart from Afghanistan.

Violence in Afghanistan up surged after troop surge. 13000 attacks took place from July-August 2009. In August alone, 10 attacks took place each day. By September the casualty state of coalition forces crossed the figure of total fatalities taking place from October 2001 onwards. This factor together with debacle in Nuristan where US troops abandoned posts laden with arms and rations jolted Gen McChrystal. He hurriedly wrapped up all the forward posts and ordered troop withdrawal from forward locations to main cities and towns in rear to avoid fatalities. Making an assessment of morale of troops that had sunk to lowest ebb; he sent a distress signal to Washington to send 40,000 additional troops on emergency basis if Afghanistan was to be retained.

US Troops on Patrol In Kandhar

Second US troop surge of 30000 was meant to recapture the lost space in southern and eastern Afghanistan, break the linkage between Taliban and Al-Qaeda, divide and weaken Taliban, train and equip Afghan National Army (ANA) enabling it to takeover frontline duties, make India guardian of Afghanistan, negotiate with Taliban from position of strength and then withdraw leaving behind US friendly regime. Millions of dollars are being doled out to Taliban by US security companies to buy their loyalties. Another operation was launched in Marjah with 15000 foreign troops and ANA with high expectations that it would turn the tide. After the operation ran into snags, attention got riveted towards Kandahar. Much hyped Kandahar has been postponed from June to August since the planners are developing cold feet. To cover up another embarrassment, its success has been made contingent upon an operation in North Waziristan, (NW) described as the hub of terrorism wherefrom militants in Afghanistan are guided.

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A false picture is being given to the world that Kandahar is the bastion of Taliban and its capture will break their back and its outcome will decide the future strategy. This assumption has been made on the premise that Mullah Omar and most Shura members belong to this city. It should be well understood that only Kabul and Kandahar are in effective control of government forces and they have a large presence and well fortified positions. Most militant attacks in this city like the one on 7 June in which seven US and three NATO soldiers were killed and another on police training centre are conducted by raiders coming from outside and not from within. Having announced the operation and the likely month, it will be foolish on part of the Taliban believing in strategy of guerilla tactics to wait for them and offer a pitched mismatched battle in Kandahar. Moreover, Kandahar is poised towards Balochistan and not NW. It was only when very little actionable intelligence could be yielded from arrested Mullah Baradar that Quetta Shura story got punctured. Soon after, Faisal Shahzad fairy-tale was concocted to drum up NW.

Peace jirga of tribal elders called by Karzai was initially scheduled in April. It was postponed to May 2 and then to May 29 essentially because of arrest of some important members of Taliban Shura by security forces in Pakistan. It was finally held on 5 June which was attended by as many as 1600. Although the Jirga is being claimed as a roaring success since his plans were endorsed by the participants, none can deny that Karzai is still an unpopular and unwanted leader seen as a surrogate of USA.

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Rather than first holding talks and then resorting to fighting in case negotiations prove unproductive, the US is putting the cart before the horse by fighting first and talking later. Many among coalition partners do not subscribe to this strategy. Even there are rumblings and dissent within US administration. What if back of militancy is not broken after Kandahar operation? Presently US policy makers are working on single hope of sufficiently weakening Taliban, which in their perception will propel Taliban fighters to reach out to Karzai and abandon their leaders and thus weaken the position of Mullah Omar and Haqqani. Like other imprudent plans this plan is also bound to fail.

Brig Asif Haroon Raja is MSc In War Studies, has been Director Psy-Ops, Pakistan Army. Has also been Directing Staff in Command and Staff College Quetta. Brig Asif has also been Defence Attache to Egypt and Sudan. He is also a Member Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. Has authored several books on Regional and other Security issues.