Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taliban Trash Talk

Bill Roggio over at the Long War Journal writes about how senior Taliban spokesvermin have seized on the statements of certain Western officials to score some free talking points:

Over the last week, several senior Western officials have said the International Security Assistance Forces could not win the war militarily and that negotiations with the Taliban were necessary to secure the peace. Brigadier Richard Blanchette, a British general who serves as the spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, advocated negotiations with the Taliban and said no military solution was possible in Afghanistan.

Kai Eide, the United Nation's Special Representative in Afghanistan, echoed Blanchette's statements. "I've always said to those that talk about the military surge ... what we need most of all is a political surge, more political energy," Eide said on Oct. 6. "We all know that we cannot win it militarily. It has to be won through political means. That means political engagement."

Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the outgoing commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said winning the war was “neither feasible nor supportable” and the West should work to reduce the level of violence in the country.

The valor and dedication of British troops in theater is generally above reproach. My issue is not with them. But something is clearly awry with the general officers across the Pond. The very notion that active-duty Brigadier Generals during a war could toss off statements like these, with major policy implications, not to mention the potential effects on troop morale, is stunning. What did they think would happen when they opened their tea-holes in this manner?

This is what:

The Taliban said the al Qaeda-linked group is "on the verge of victory" while the West is engaged in "a series of artificial gestures and a hue and cry about talks."

The Taliban issued three prior statements on the reports of negotiations between the Taliban and Western and Afghan officials. The statements derided the negotiations and said the Taliban would only settle for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces. One of the statements was issued by Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

The first statement, issued by the Taliban on Sept. 28, rejected any idea of a peace agreement. "The Shura Council of the Islamic Emriate of Afghanistan considers such baseless rumors as part of the failed efforts by our enemies to create distrust and doubts among Afghans, other nations, and the mujahideed," the statement read. "No official member of the Taliban--now or in the past--has ever negotiated with the US or the puppet Afghan government... A handful of former Taliban officials who are under house arrest or who have surrendered do not represent the Islamic Emirate."

The second statement, signed by Mullah Omar on Sept. 30, made it clear the Taliban believed it was close to victory. Omar offered the West harsh terms for peace. "If you demonstrate an intention of withdrawing your forces, we once again will demonstrate our principles by giving you the right of safe passage, in order to show that we never harm anyone maliciously," Omar said.

The third statement was made by Taliban military commander Mullah Baradar on Oct. 3. "We reject an offer for negotiation by the Afghan's puppet and slave President Hamid Karzai," Baradar said. "[Karzai] only says and does what he is told by America."

So, these are the sorts of people with whom we should be engaging in "tough and principled diplomacy?"

Now, to be perfectly fair, the Brigadier General (BG Mark Carleton-Smith) went on to speak in terms which were very much in keeping with counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine. It is indeed not possible to defeat an insurgency through typical brute-force attrition tactics (though we can quite severely degrade their logistics and command structure through relentless surgical strikes, which is what we have been doing for some time now in Afghanistan and, increasingly, across the border in Pakistan). "Clear-Hold-Build" depends on a sensitive understanding of the societal dynamics of an insurgency's AO, such that a combination of diplomacy, social and infrastructure development, and straight-up bribery can turn segments of the population against the predator/parasites in their midst. Part of this is turning some of our enemies into allies against their more intransigent co-insurgents, which the BG quite rightly points out.

Still, as I wrote in the comments section of the LWJ post, the BG's statements to the effect that no military defeat of the Taliban is possible do invite mischaracterization, even if --in their full context, and given an understanding of COIN doctrine-- they are technically correct. They do not signal resolve and strength to those who we would call upon to risk all in support of a counterinsurgency strategy against the hard core Taliban and AQ who would raze their clans if they should so much as take tea with us.

At the very least, individuals in such influential positions should pick their words with far greater care.

It should also be pointed out, though, that the British general officer class has not exactly had a stellar record when it comes to distinguishing situations which call for negotiation from those which are better suited to more kinetic sorts of problem-solving.

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