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Mind Games in Afghanistan (Page 2 of 3)

As in Vietnam, moreover, the Afghan insurgents could resume fighting with the expectation that their main adversary, the international forces, would be considerably hobbled in responding since Western publics would prevent their governments from sending their troops back to battle. They might resume massive air strikes, but the resulting high number of civilian casualties, due partly to the absence of ground forces able to confirm the presence of noncombatants, could prove counterproductive.

The report should fuel concerns that the Taliban has adopted this wait until 2015 strategy. It relates that the Taliban fighters believe that they have been strengthening their battlefield position and that they will achieve victory in a few years simply by waiting for NATO troops to withdraw. “As opposed to years past, detainees have become more confident, not only in their potential to win, but the virtue of their cause,” one BBC-released excerpt reads.  Another relates that, “Detainees from throughout Afghanistan report that popular support for the insurgence in terms of recruitment and donations increased within the last year.”

Yet, the U.S. intelligence community in last week’s annual threat assessment paints a more mixed picture. It confirms that the insurgents remain “resilient,” but it notes that the guerrillas have “lost ground in some areas” where NATO’s “surge forces are concentrated.” NATO representatives made similar comments at their February 2-3 defense ministerial and at the February 3-5 Munich Security Conference. 

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The report’s release was also bound to worsen ties between the United States and Pakistan. The detainees stressed the massive and enduring support they were receiving from their Pakistani backers, especially Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) service.

One passage says that, “ISI officers tout the need for continued jihad and expulsion of foreign invaders from Afghanistan.” The report adds that, “ISI is thoroughly aware of Taliban activities and the whereabouts of all senior Taliban personnel,” claiming that, “Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad…Senior Taliban leaders meet regularly with ISI personnel, who advise on strategy and relay any pertinent concerns of the government of Pakistan.”

The senior al-Qaeda members chime in suspiciously with the cleverest quotes. “The Taliban are not Islam – the Taliban are Islamabad,” observes one senior al-Qaeda detainee. A senior al-Qaeda commander in Kunar Province apparently jokes that: “Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can’t [expletive] on a tree in Kunar without them watching.”

Relations between Washington and Islamabad are perhaps the worst they’ve been in decades. The United States and its NATO allies have, like their Afghan colleagues, become increasingly frustrated by the presence of Afghan guerrilla sanctuaries on Pakistani territory. Taliban and Haqqani guerrillas are sallying forth from their border sanctuaries in Pakistan and attacking Afghan army outposts in eastern Afghanistan, then fleeing back across the border with NATO aircrews in hot pursuit.

Less than a year ago, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered U.S. Special Forces to attack Osama bin Laden’s compound in central Pakistan without seeking Pakistani permission or notifying Pakistani authorities in advance. U.S. officials rightly feared that some Pakistani officials would warn bin Laden of the impending attack, but the strike embarrassed the Pakistani military.

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