Sunday, June 17, 2007

# Posted 11:45 AM by Patrick Porter  

UPWARD SLOPE, OR CALM BEFORE THE STORM: Measuring success against the Taliban can be frustrating, partly because it is hard to interpret silence. The lack of a massive spring offensive as expected has led one Dutch General to announce that we are on the 'upward slope' towards ultimate, long-term victory:

"We launched major combat operations and we have clearly defeated them in objective terms," he said. "That doesn't mean that the Taliban are not there, but they do not have the capability to control large regions of the southern areas, to dictate what the people are thinking.

"I think we will see suicide attacks and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks for some time, but it's completely different from the opportunity they thought they would have last year when there were claims about a spring offensive. That is no longer possible."

But a revealing piece (about the 'Desert Eagles' experiences in Afghanistan) from the Armed Forces Journal from last year suggests that we should still be cautious about interpreting Taliban inactivity:

"Among the most troubling changes was the state of the insurgency in southern Afghanistan," states an unclassified TF 31 "memorandum for record" dated Oct. 7 and provided to Army TimesAFJ. "Exploiting the misconception that the insurgency was over, the enemy Â… had expertly managed to reorganize, refit and prepare to conduct a more focused campaign against Afghan National Security Forces. Coalition forces, though more far reaching than 12 months earlier and occupying three additional fire bases in the most remote areas of southern Afghanistan, had limited themselves to locally focused operations, allowing the enemy to remain out of reach and unmolested for nearly six months."

As a result, the Taliban forces have emerged stronger than at any time since a combined U.S.-Northern Alliance force drove them from power in late 2001. Conventional and Special Forces officers say the Taliban has a functioning chain of command that stretches from senior leaders in Pakistan down to foot soldiers in the provinces.

Estimations of Taliban strength have fluctuated many times since the autumn of 2001. Given their continual sanctuary they have across the border, it still might be counterproductive to be announcing fundamental turning-points. If the Taliban's great advantage is time, maybe we shouldn't be continually reinforcing our own impatience with sunny declarations and false expectations.

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