Is the Taliban ‘on its knees’? Not very likely

Nobody here but us poppy farmers! Really! Below: Mao Zedong and a visitor not dissimilar in many ways from certain recent Canadian politicians.

Mao Zedong, a guy who may have known a thing or two about guerrilla warfare, famously observed: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”

So when you hear news reports that thanks to the efforts of NATO forces in Afghanistan the Taliban is now “on its knees” in what used to be its heartland of Panjwaii, you can be reasonably certain that your leg is being pulled.

This should be true even if you are the prime minister of Canada, who was told this very thing a few days ago by Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Habibi of the Afghan National Army. “There were 400 or 500 Taliban in the area when the Canadians came to Kandahar in 2006,” Brig.-Gen. Habibi told an apparently credulous Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “The enemy is on its knees here now.”

Presumably, Brig.-Gen. Habibi will say much the same thing again, and be quoted by major media saying it, when he visits the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., next month.

So, imagine yourself for a moment in the dusty sandals of the local Taliban commander who must face Brig.-Gen. Habibi and his better-armed, better-trained, better-led and better-fed Canadian allies.

With the Americans saying they are about to pull the bulk of their forces out of your country, the French and Germans announcing the same thing, and the rest of the rickety NATO coalition certain to quickly follow, what would you do?

You don’t have to be a graduate of a prestigious military college, or even a guest speaker there, to know that you would act like a fish in the water, or, in the case of the Panjwaii district, like a subsistence farmer. This will be easy to pull off, of course, because in all likelihood, that’s exactly what you would be.

In other words, you would be patient and wait. Your Kalashnikov would be wrapped in an oily rag and buried – deep enough to stay where it is, but not so deep you couldn’t get it if you needed it. If you were feeling particularly creative on the night you did the digging, you might even scatter a few poppy seeds above it.

Would this mean you have gone away? No. Would this mean you have changed your mind? Nope. Would it mean you are on your knees? Absolutely not!

What it would mean is that you are behaving as elements of insurgent armies always behave. You know enough about war to know you cannot defeat a technically advanced army head on, even in your own backyard. You know enough about history to be certain no such army will stick around forever, especially if you harass it in your backyard. (Indeed, as Mao preached and the Taliban has practiced: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.”)

You surely know enough about your own country to be certain that Brig.-Gen. Habibi and the ANA will not stand up when the Americans, Canadians and all the rest “stand down.”

You may even know enough about current events to have heard that your patience is about to be rewarded.

If it is, we Canadians will be entitled to ask what our soldiers were doing in your benighted country throughout this past decade, spilling their blood and spending in excess of $20 billion of our treasure that could have been used to build schools and hospitals right here in Canada.

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2 Comments on "Is the Taliban ‘on its knees’? Not very likely"

  1. The Mound of Sound says:

    Afghanistan remains a civil war in hiatus. The Talibs are the Pashtu home team and, so long as they're still capable of freely recruiting, they're anything but on their knees.

    You may not know this but the US military's own think tank, the RAND Corporation, did an analysis of successful and failed insurgencies and, by their criteria, declared Afghanistan an irredeemable loss. The great majority of the essential objectives a counterinsurgency must meet had no hope of being met.

    Several years ago a US Senate Foreign Relations committee officer testified that no successful Muslim state has ever emerged that did not first overcome the scourges of tribalism and warlordism. Both of those are entrenched in today's Afghan state. Ongoing tribalism and warlordism ensures the Talibs will prosper.

  2. Filostrato says:

    Here's a story about the Taliban being "out, but not down".

    What the papers said at the time:

    Canada will ‘continue to plug away’ despite Afghan jailbreak: Harper

    "Canada spent at least $4-million upgrading Sarpoza prison and training its staff after a previous jailbreak by the Taliban in 2008 that freed more than 800 inmates.

    But late Sunday night and early Monday morning another 475 prisoners escaped Sarpoza through a secret 300-metre tunnel that the Taliban said it spent five months digging."
    Here's the interesting and, dare I say it, exciting story about the second break out of the Taliban from Sarposa prison in Kandahar.

    The Great Escape From Kandahar, by Patrick Cockburn

    "The story of the escape is not only exciting in itself but shows Taliban members, usually portrayed as brainwashed fanatics, as imaginative, disciplined and resourceful. It is this which makes them such formidable adversaries of the American, British and Afghan armies despite their inferiority in numbers, training and weapons. The Kandahar prison break illustrates an ability to foresee difficulties and find intelligent ways of overcoming them. Furthermore the escape is also one of the few complex operations carried out by the Taliban about which a full account is available from their side that can be largely confirmed by US and Afghan government sources."

    Canada spent $4M building a prison to keep Taliban prisoners in. Apparently, the Taliban spent about $20,000 to them get out.


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