Foreign Policy Blogs

Taliban Take District in Nuristan Province: Declare Tactical and Propaganda Victory

Four months before the scheduled July 2011 drawdown, well into a term where international forces are redeploying to urban areas, a few weeks into peak fighting season, the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan remains in flux, troublingly fluid, radically unsettled.  The Taliban have announced that they have taken over a district in North Eastern Afghanistan, signalling not just a tactical victory, but a stunning and replicable propaganda win.

Is it that the tactics from time to time are wrong; that the COIN strategy has been misapplied–a strategy designed in urban Iraq might fall apart in mostly rural, mountainous Afghanistan?  Is it the case that by moving from rural Province to more populated ones NATO is finally re-aligning the world to fit its originally misapplied strategy?  This morning’s news that the Taliban have taken over a district in Northeast Afghanistan, around Nuristan Province suggests that though given tactics in battle might be wrong, though the strategy might be misapplied, the biggest problem of all, in the effort to quell the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, is that as the war is continues past today and into 2014, strategic tracts of land will continue to trade hands between the Taliban and more traditional Afghan and international forces.

However, each time the Taliban pushes out U.S and NATO forces or even their sponsored domestic forces, it wins something that so far the better equipped ISAF combatants have not won, nor are likely to enjoy: a propaganda victory. The Taliban spokesperson makes a media appearance, in person or on video or on email (it hardly matters now!) and declares victory against the invaders or the infidels, given his mood or the circumstances–does he want seem a nationalist or a Islamisist? And there’s nothing that the U.S or NATO can do about it for that moment and for some time to come.  The damage is done, the loss taken.

Today, the Taliban chased out the sitting governor and the police of Nuristan. Taliban control is likely temporary as Afghan and NATO forces are sure to try to recapture the contested district.  But the propaganda victory, the full-throated declaration of successful jihad, is sure to embolden many young and frustrated hearts.  It matters then that U.S. forces have nearly completely withdrawn from the Pech Valley in neighboring Kunar Province.  It’ll simply take time for well-equipped troops to remove the Taliban presence in this particular part of Nuristan Province.  But to the Taliban, each day in control is a new victory.

If counterinsurgency is indeed a “hearts and minds” story, General Petraeus, the top NATO commander, cannot be happy that the Taliban have been able to declare victory, temporary as it might well be.  For, as he moves troops away from places like Kunar Province, and redeploys them to Kandahar and Helmand, at the limit strategic redeployment might yield the result that the Taliban eventually takes over the country-side while the government in Kabul with the aid of its domestic army and international friends holds Kabul.



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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