Freedom New Mexico
The recent Taliban attack in downtown Kabul, which killed at least 15 people and wounded some 70 others, has been dismissed by some people as not militarily significant since the reported 20 Taliban guerrillas did not take and hold any building or position. That interpretation misses the real goals of a guerrilla or subguerrilla operation during an insurgency, and the extent to which this attack undermines and calls into question the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
The essence of the strategy outlined by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and accepted with only minor modifications as U.S. strategy, is to keep the Afghan population safe from attacks, beginning in key urban areas and gradually expanding the area of control in which the Taliban dare not attack. The theory is that such operations will gradually be turned over to Afghan security forces.
Until fairly recently the Afghan capital of Kabul, while hardly completely safe, had been relatively free of attacks. People joked that Hamid Karzai’s government actually controlled little more than Kabul, but it did seem to control Kabul.
The coordinated and relatively sophisticated attacks Monday showed, as Ivan Eland, director of the Center for Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute, told us, showed “that the government is incapable of keeping the people secure,” even in government buildings in the heart of the capital. It could hardly be called a military victory but it is a symbolic, psychological victory. As Mr. Eland put it, “The guerrillas were showing that they can operate with impunity anywhere in the country.”
It is likely that the Taliban, which, unlike al-Qaida, is indigenous to Afghanistan and whose ambitions seem to be confined to Afghanistan, had the capacity to launch damaging attacks in Kabul for some time. It is likely that the decision to attack now, as U.S. troops are being increased, was made to show the Afghan people that U.S. troops cannot keep them safe, even in Kabul. Such an attack undermines morale and confidence in either the Afghan government or the U.S. troops.
The decision to “surge” additional troops in Afghanistan seems to have been made without a real concrete objective and without an appreciation for how difficult it is for foreign troops to “nation-build” in a country that never has had and doesn’t seem to desire an effective Western-style central government. This attack should lead to a serious reassessment of the mission in Afghanistan.