Afghanistan is witnessing a most curious war. A war best fought quickly that has, instead, dragged on for more than eight years and could easily linger on for decades to come. A war in which we made ourselves dependent on allies who ought to have been, in normal circumstances, our logical enemies and who will, if and when it suits their interest, turn on us without the slightest qualm. A war in which we foolishly, make that stupidly, substituted firepower for manpower and, in the process, betrayed and alienated the civilian population. A war whose outcome will be decided mainly by events beyond the defined battlefield where our efforts are focused.
Now, we're told, American and ISAF forces are mustering for a massive battle to retake Marjah, said to be the last Taliban village stronghold in Helmand province. Western forces have been advertising this attack for better than a week now. They claim all the publicity is a form of psychological warfare intended to intimidate the Taliban into laying down their weapons or fleeing.
If this sounds like a curious way to defeat the Taliban, that's because it is. Then again, it seems the victory that US General Stan McChrystal is hoping to win isn't really in the village of Marjah but on Main Street, USA.
This business about intimidating the Taliban into laying down their arms is nonsense, utter garbage. When, in the course of our eight years of fighting the Taliban, have they ever laid down their arms? If they're cornered they'll fight to the death but surrender doesn't seem to be in their playbook.
Remember Operation Medusa, when Canadian and ISAF forces trapped the Taliban in Panjwai district? Remember how our generals crowed about the Taliban fighters having but two options - surrender or die? Do you remember how the Taliban showed us their own option by exfiltrating in the middle of the night, totally undetected and unmolested, straight through our iron cordon, with their weapons, to make good their escape, regroup and fight another day?
That leaves us with Option B, forcing the Taliban to flee. Now that is in their playbook. That's what they do when confronted with overwhelming force and total fire superiority. They melt away to regroup and fight again. They have to do that. They don't have any tanks or artillery or jet fighters or attack helicopters. They don't even have our numbers. But that doesn't matter to the war they're fighting. Because the element of time is on their side, not ours, escaping still gives them the tactical victory. In the war the Taliban are fighting, to simply survive is to win.
It is a sign of a war in which logic has been stood on its head that, when our forces finally do roll into Marjah and take over the place, we'll be told that's a great victory - for us. If nothing else, our side will have cleared out the Taliban, or so we'll be told. Just like we cleared the Taliban out of Panjwai during Operation Medusa until some time later when we've moved on they simply moved back in. That's because, despite the supposed "surge" of 30,000 additional troops, Western forces in Afghanistan remain less than half the strength prescribed by the American military's own counterinsurgency doctrine. That leaves them unable to effectively secure territory which is the only way to drive out the Taliban. Well, the American people were easily duped into believing that the Iraq "surge" pacified that country so for General McChrystal it's a reasonably safe bet they'll swallow the Afghan surge to boot.