Tuesday, August 07, 2007

You May Recall....

...that 2007 was supposed to be the year of a major Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. Various analysts and experts predicted that the terrorists would launch their largest "spring offensive" to date, with attacks capable of "overrunning" a NATO base.

But a funny thing happened en route to that predicted resurgence. NATO units--with the notable exception of the French and Germans, who are forbidden to engage in combat ops--went on the offensive instead, taking the fight to enemy strongholds. Allied commanders also unleashed their air power, using it to target Taliban units in remote sanctuaries, or as they moved toward potential targets. As Strategy Page notes, Taliban "war bands" of 50-100 men have been devastated by allied strikes, with one-third of the force typically killed in action, and many of the survivors wounded or captured. Not exactly a plus for terrorist recruiting.

Such losses have prompted a shift in Taliban tactics, with increased use of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and kidnapping. But even those measures have done little to increase popular support among the local populace. Afghan civilians have learned that Taliban gatherings tend to invite air strikes, so some villages are engaging in gun battles with the terrorists. Suicide attacks are equally unpopular, forcing the Taliban to rely on "foreigners" for martyrdom missions.

Kidnapping, on the other hand, offers the promise of ransom money and publicity for the cause. But even that tactic may backfire. Most of the South Koreans recently abducted by the Taliban are women, and Afghans consider that disgraceful. Strategy Page also observes that a terrorist effort to target teachers also failed, resulting in more armed resistance to the Taliban.

For the record, the bad guys did attempt a major attack against a coalition base. It happened earlier today, at Firebase Anaconda, in southern Afghanistan. A 75-man Taliban "war band" attacked the base on three sides, using rockets, grenades and small-arms fire. Predictably, about one-third of the terrorists died; they failed to inflict any serious damage, and the insurgents were never a threat to overrun the base. Four Afghans were wounded in the fighting; there were no U.S. casualties.

Strategy Page opines that the Taliban are a declining threat, and believes that better-armed (and financed) Afghan drug lords pose a greater, long-term challenge. We won't go that far; with safe havens available in neighboring Waziristan, the Taliban have an opportunity to re-group, although their limited support among locals will make it difficult to attract new recruits. And that means that frontal assaults on NATO bases--like the one at Anaconda--will remain a rarity.

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