Foreign Policy Blogs

Expect Large Losses After Spring Thaw in Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been in Afghanistan this week to assess how the expected July 2011 draw down will take place.  There aren’t many surprises in store; the number of boots withdrawn is likely to be small-a token gesture, to begin the process of handing Afghanistan’s security to its own homegrown armed forces. Southern Afghanistan will likely be a fortified green zone for some time to come.

Elizabeth Bumiller, writing for the New York Times, has been following Secretary Gates throughout his trip to Afghanistan, and has published a piece about the ongoing strategic situation there.  Along with news reported yesterday that Secretary Gates is not likely to pull American troops from Southern Afghanistan, Helmand and Kandahar Provinces, Bumiller’s piece quoted an officer, Lt. Col. Jason Morris, who laid down the near future scenario that one should expect in Afghanistan.

“We’re expecting the violence to pick up in the next few weeks,” he said.  “The indicators we have are that the insurgents have started moving forces in here.” He said he anticipated that insurgents would use more homemade bombs and attempt assassinations of local Afghan officials, part of what he called a Taliban strategy to avoid direct contact with United States forces and their superior firepower.”

Consider: the Taliban’s low-tech bombing and assassination strategy might be the whole story of Afghanistan until the July 2011 draw down-indeed until the day the U.S formally withdraws combats troops from Afghan soil.    It’s hard terrain out there, and in the winter it becomes next to impossible to for either side to fight pitched battles from secure bases; though given superior ammunition and far better trained, battle-ready troops, the U.S and NATO have removed the presence of the Taliban from villages dotting the South and Eastern Afghanistan.  However, spring is when the bullets will hit their targets from recognizable Taliban strongholds, from known distances.  This is the ritual that the U.S and NATO armed forces have been facing each spring thaw for nearly ten years.

Fortunately, like the Taliban, NATO ISAF troops will push out their own spring offensive and will move to clear out large swathes of Taliban territory in the South and stake claim to land in the North and East of Afghanistan. Perhaps well before July ISAF will hold more Afghan real estate than one might now expect.  But that may not imply that the real estate will remain stable in NATO hands for long.

One would do well to focus on Lt. Col. Morris’ disturbingly interesting quote that the Taliban are expected to return to their tactic of killing Afghan leaders who stand against them.  Obviously, often ill equipped Taliban fighters are not well matched against far more disciplined ISAF forces.  However the Taliban can assassinate the known local leadership of all those disparate village courts that will be left with the keys to the kingdom beyond 2014.  This is a problem because part of the U.S and NATO exit strategy out of Afghanistan is to empower village-level militias to run their own security apparatus.  It’s extremely important then that as far as it is possible, village leaders who wind up leading those militias stand with the U.S and its NATO allies. Against this, the move to assassinate local leaders is designed to root out any feasibly stable leadership in Afghanistan well beyond the 2011 draw down

Moreover, General David Petraeus sketched out a rather rosy scenario of where Afghanistan stands politically and militarily vis-à-vis the planned 2011 drawdown. It’s not certain that the much more conservative, more fiscally hawkish Congress to which General Petraeus will be testifying next week will accept and side with his view of things to come in Afghanistan.  He will state that on a tactical level operations on the ground are up; head counts are up.  Nevertheless, the politics of the war in Afghanistan and outside the immediate theater of war are becoming increasingly more perilous, more detrimental to the U.S strategic goal of denying al Qaeda a safe haven in the region.



Faheem Haider
Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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