September 10, 2007

The Surge That Never Was - the Setback That Was Never Set

Hatched by Sachi

The scare headline in the New York Times: Afghan Police Suffer Setbacks as Taliban Adapt.

Over the past six weeks, the Taliban have driven government forces out of roughly half of a strategic area in southern Afghanistan that American and NATO officials declared a success story last fall in their campaign to clear out insurgents and make way for development programs, Afghan officials say.

Curious about this bizarre claim -- everyone else says the Taliban have been thwarted in their attempt to "surge" this summer -- I pored over the story; and I was not shocked to discover it to be one of those articles where good news is disguised as bad. Within the maze of meandering maundering, I dug out some very hopeful news indeed...

The setback is part of a bloody stalemate that has occurred between NATO troops and Taliban fighters across southern Afghanistan this summer. NATO and Afghan Army soldiers can push the Taliban out of rural areas, but the Afghan police are too weak to hold the territory after they withdraw. At the same time, the Taliban are unable to take large towns and have generally mounted fewer suicide bomb attacks in southern cities than they did last summer.

The Panjwai and Zhare districts, in particular, highlight the changing nature of the fight in the south. The military operation there in September 2006 was the largest conventional battle in the country since 2002. But this year, the Taliban are avoiding set battles with NATO and instead are attacking the police and stepping up their use of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices or I.E.D.’s.

“It’s very seldom that we have direct engagement with the Taliban,” said Brig. Gen. Guy Laroche, the commander of Canadian forces leading the NATO effort in Kandahar. “What they’re going to use is I.E.D.’s.”

Three main points may be extracted from these few paragraphs. First, the shrinking scope of the Taliban "resistance":

  • They're no longer able to seize cities where NATO and Afghan forces operate; instead, they must resort to attacking poorly manned, remote police depots.
  • Nor can they any longer engage in large scale military assaults; they're forced to ape al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.

Second, the shrinking number of forces they can field for any purpose, which is masked by that disinformational phrase "bloody stalemate." By "bloody stalemate" (at least they didn't say "quagmire!"), the Times means a series of engagements that resulted in 646 Taliban deaths and 83 captures this summer, including such big names as Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Berader, and Mullar Akhatar Usamani, according to a number of articles on the Fourth Rail.

And third, the Taliban's loss of focus. Once a fighting movement that fielded an army (and actually ran the country), they have steadily defined their modus operandi downward, adopting the kind of intimidation tactics against ordinary Afghans that al-Qaeda famously began applying to Sunni in Anbar province... and which gave rise to the Anbar Salvation Council and led directly to AQ being driven out of Anbar, Salahuddin, and Baghdad like Jesus beating the money-changers out of the Temple:

Reported security incidents, a broad category that includes bombings, firefights and intimidation, are up from roughly 500 a month last year to 600 a month this year, a 20 percent increase, according to the United Nations.

This is another uninformative paragraph from the Times; just what does "intimidation" mean? It appears to be criminal thuggishness -- not as the Taliban used to practice, when it controlled most of Afghanistan, but more like the tactics of the Yakuza in Japan, the Mafia in Italy and the United States, or gangs of teenagers and "youths" around the world. And about this "20 percent increase"... How much of the increase is from more bombings (bombing attacks are down, says the Times above), firefights (also down since 2006, per paragraphs above)... and how much is attributable solely to more "intimidation?"

In other words, what was once an actual military has degenerated into a low-rent protection racket and kidnapping scheme.

The Times continues the "bad news": The Taliban have managed to kill more civilians and NATO and Afghan forces than last year:

The rising attacks are taking a heavy toll. At least 2,500 to 3,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence so far this year, a quarter of them civilians, according to the United Nations tally, a 20 percent increase over 2006. [Note the neutral term "people;" keep reading for a breakdown, using the Times' own figures.]

NATO and American fatality rates are up by about 20 percent this year, to 161, according to Iraq Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan [Mathematically, that means there were 134 at this point last year, so it's an increase of 27 NATO and Afghan fatalities combined]. The Afghan police continue to be devastated by Taliban bombings and guerrilla strikes, with 379 killed so far this year, compared with 257 for all of last year.

But notice the missing statistic: How many Taliban were killed?

Using the Times' own stats and a little mathemagical manipulation, we find that among the 3,000 dead "people":

  • 750 (25%) were civilians;
  • 161 were NATO or Afghan troops;
  • And 379 were policemen.
  • That leaves 1,710 unaccounted deaths... I wonder who they could be?

But even this number of enemy dead is too low, according to the Associated Press:

More than 4,200 people -- most of them insurgents -- have been killed so far this year, according to an Associated Press count. [There's that word "people" again.]

Remember, last year, NATO forces killed over 3,000 Taliban, an average monthly rate of 250. If AP's number is correct, and the percent of true "civilian" vs. Taliban casualty rate is accurate, and if icasualty's number for NATO troops and Afghan police deaths are all correct... then the number of Taliban killed or captured this year is 2,460, an expanded rate of 307 bad guys per month. That's 23% higher than last year, for the math-impaired. More bad news!

If this keeps up, by the end of the year, we will have removed nearly 3,700 Taliban from the fight. How long do we suppose they can keep this up? As they are seen more and more as the "weak horse" (or the kind of dog that Michael Vick would... well, you know), will it become easier or harder for the Taliban to recruit?

It's true that the Taliban now resorts more to intimidation and terrorist tactics; but that's because they can no longer attack us with a conventional military force. This is the exactly the falling trajectory one would expect an ousted "movement" to follow: from rulers to an insurgency to terrorists; the next step down is a simple criminal gang -- and that's the level where we can leave the policing to the Afghans, once we've trained them at least up to the level of an American police force.

As I wrote in February in the Big Lizards post linked above:

When the Taliban actually stand and fight (which they do often), they are humiliatingly routed; this happens time and again. I heard the Taliban are now considering an al-Qaeda type of "insurgency" against the NATO forces. I'm sure they'll try anything; but if 2006 is any indication, they will fail.

And they have... "big time," as a certain quail hunter said about a certain newsman.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, September 10, 2007, at the time of 3:39 AM

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The following hissed in response by: dasbow

The Mediots always seem to get in a bother when the Taliban announce a coming offensive. Me, I just see it as a way to kill more of them more efficiently. Their 'offensives' are about as effective as the Judean Peoples' Front's Crack Suicide Squad. Yep, they sure showed us.

The above hissed in response by: dasbow [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2007 6:37 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

How about another view - we killed more Taliban than the Taliban killed civilians, police, and NATO forces, combined.

But, see, things are not going well.

You gotta wonder what the total number of Taliban fighters is. A couple of thousand killed a year has got to make a dent.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2007 9:37 AM

The following hissed in response by: David M

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/10/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2007 9:50 AM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

Excellent take down. Your analysis shows that it is imply the NYT/MSM bias that makes all news fit one template - we are losing.
I think we are turning a corner culturally against these kinds of top down story pushes. They have tried too many, from climate to war to the BDS talking points- for too long with too little reality.
This blog is the source of some of the best analysis done on the net. Keep it up.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 11, 2007 5:54 AM

The following hissed in response by: exDemo

I had not payed much attention to the Aghanistan Front of the GWOT, recently. The common wisdom imparted by the media was that the Taliban were regouping.

Now the truth.

Al Queda has been crushingly defeated in its only remaining possible sanctuaries in the Iraqi Front on the GWOT. Sunnis are teh majority only in Anbar, and significant minorities, only Diyallah, where they have ben shattered in Baqubah, and some Baghdad City Province neighborhoods, where they have been hit hard.

The mad Mullahs in Iran are sitting on an over extended powder keg in Iran. Inflation is raging; oil is rationed. Guerilla wars rage in the Persain NE and SW provinces.

The civil population has turned against the regime.

The Oil fields without investment are falling in production. UN sanctions weak as they are, are still making it diffcult to get spare parts. The domestic Manhattan Project is grevously expensive, just as it was fro thr US in the 1940s. Supporting a handful of revolutionary groups, Hamas, Hexzballah, Talkiban, SAdr' Mahdi, and the Syrian basker case, is revealed to be a black hole for Persian funds.

The theology and revolutionary fervor of the '70s has been discredited; Seventh century proverb, is proving useless as a guideline to running a 21st century economy.

Which of these Fronts on the GWOT will collapse and fall first? Which will first join Kuwait, Libya, Algeria and Morrocco as victorious fronts on the GWOT, where the Islamofascists have been defeated?

The above hissed in response by: exDemo [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 11, 2007 3:41 PM

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