Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Clever Taliban Strategy: Lose the Battle, Win the War

AFP/File/Shah Marai
An Afghan policeman stands guard at a checkpoint in Kabul

I think there’s probably a pretty good consensus that the Taliban can’t possibly achieve a military victory in Afghanistan as long as we maintain sufficient troop levels there. But, apparently, they’re determined to keep trying.

Recent reports, such as this story by Alisa Tang, an AP writer, tell of violent clashes between Taliban fighters and coalition troops in Afghanistan indicating that 165 Taliban were killed in two separate engagements in which they initiated the action.

In one battle, an ambush of coalition troops by "several dozen" Taliban, continued for most the day, while Taliban commanders brought in more reinforcements. By the end of the engagement they had lost 100 fighters, while the coalition lost one soldier killed and 4 wounded.

In the other battle, the Taliban lost 65 killed, while the coalition lost zero killed and zero wounded.

So let me make sure I understand what happened here. Taliban commanders initiated contact with coalition forces, presumably on terrain they chose, and at a time of their own choosing, and engaged in such a way that they were able to bring in reinforcements as needed.

And they lost. Big.

That’s an astounding kill ratio of 165:1.

It looks as if the Taliban is a freakish cult that glories in death and destruction, even if the only deaths they succeed in bringing about are their own.

How can they keep this up? What is the overall strategy behind the horrible ineptitude of these tactics? It can’t possibly be all about the myth of the 72 virgins, can it?

Could it be they’ve studied the Vietnam War and the tactics of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army in the Tet Offensive.

That was an overwhelming military defeat for the V.C. and the NVA, but it scored a major propaganda victory when the U.S. press declared the war lost.

President Lyndon Johnson announced he wouldn’t run for reelection and the U.S. began looking for ways to disengage and withdraw its forces.

The NVA lost the battle, but won the war.

Is that what the Taliban is hoping to accomplish here? To win by losing?

I hope that is their strategy, and I hope they’re persistent enough to stay with it a good long time.

Here’s what’s different about the conflict in Afghanistan today and the Vietnam War back then:

In Vietnam we lost 58,000 killed and many more wounded and maimed. In Afghanistan we’ve lost what? A twentieth of that? All I can tell you is we lost Pat Tillman to friendly fire. Our media has been almost gleeful in reporting military deaths in Iraq, while Afghanistan has been virtually ignored. So, honestly, I don’t know how many casualties American forces have suffered in Afghanistan, and I’m willing to bet you don’t either.

In Vietnam we knew the NVA couldn’t possibly attack us or cause us harm on our own shores. The sentiment that Vietnam was the wrong war to fight eventually gained nearly universal appeal. In Afghanistan, there was a verifiable link between the Taliban and al-Quaeda, and they brought the fight to our country on Sept. 11, 2001.

Basically, the American people have said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." So they are resolved to keep fighting as long as it takes.

That’s the difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan. Taliban commanders don’t get it. And that's okay with me.

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