Monday, September 14, 2009

We've Got'Em Right Where We Want'Em

One of the most bedeviling aspects of counterinsurgency is locating the bad guys. You have to set up outposts at strategic points, run patrols through suspect areas and even recce the ground from unmanned aerial drones. Very time consuming, very resource intensive and, with the spread of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), very dangerous.

So you would think NATO forces in Kandahar would be ecstatic to learn that the Taliban have found a spot and they're staying put, taking over as it were. We don't have to chase them all over the countryside any more. Best of all, the bad guys are setting up shop just 16-kilometres from the gate to our main base over there.

The Taliban are taking control of Kandahar City.

But that's the capital of Kandahar province, isn't it? Yep. And that's where this whole Taliban movement began isn't it? Check. And it's right under the noses of the Western forces in that province, isn't it? Roger. So, now that we know where they are and now that we know they're taking over the provincial capital, a city of 800,000 people, we're going to mount up and drive them out, right? Not so much.

You see, even though we've got all those jet strike fighters and attack helicopters and tanks and artillery stationed just 16-kliks away, we don't have remotely enough troops - Afghan or Western - to drive the Taliban out of Kandahar City. From the Washington Post:

The slow and quiet fall of Kandahar, the country's second-largest city, poses a complex new challenge for the NATO effort to stabilize Afghanistan. It is factoring prominently into discussions between Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the overall U.S. and NATO commander, and his advisers about how many more troops to seek from Washington.

"Kandahar is at the top of the list," one senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan said. "We simply do not have enough resources to address the challenges there."

Kandahar in many ways is a microcosm of the challenges the United States faces in stabilizing Afghanistan. The city is filled with ineffective government officials and police officers whom the governor calls looters and kidnappers. Unemployment is rampant. Municipal services are nonexistent. Reconstruction projects have not changed many lives. A lack of NATO forces allowed militants free rein.

But it is also unique. It is bigger and more complicated than any other place in southern Afghanistan -- and there is a growing belief among military commanders that it is more important to the overall counterinsurgency campaign than any other part of the country.
"Kandahar means Afghanistan," said the governor, Tooryalai Wesa. "The history of Afghanistan, the politics of Afghanistan, was always determined from Kandahar, and once again, it will be determined from Kandahar."

...Taliban fighters have opted not to drive around in their trademark white pickup trucks, clad in black turbans. For now, they operate under the cover of darkness, prosecuting their intimidation campaign with correspondence and traffic checkpoints aimed at making it clear to residents that they are everywhere. Some NATO officials think the insurgents are trying to so weaken the government, security forces and relief agencies that they can one day assert full control over a city they are already dominating.

"Nobody in this city feels safe," said Ahmad, who now spends his days at home. "The Taliban do not show their faces during the day, but everyone knows they are in charge."

...When Canadian troops conducted repeated missions to clear militants from areas around the city, there never were enough forces to stay to keep insurgents from returning. Canada did not have the resources to maintain a large presence in the city: That was left to the local police.

It is the corruption of the police -- and that alleged of senior government officials -- that many Kandaharis say has been the principal reason for the Taliban's resurgence. Just as they did in the 1990s, residents say the Taliban is appealing not to a popular desire for religious fanaticism but to a demand for good governance. Part of the problem is that the police are ill-trained and ill-paid, driving them to graft. Another contributor: local leaders who have created a culture of impunity.

Chief among them, several Afghans contend, is the chairman of the Kandahar province council, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president's younger brother. He is alleged to have links to the opium trade -- a charge he has denied -- and is accused of other misdeeds, including engaging in ballot-box fraud in support of his brother in the Aug. 20 presidential election.

So, if the best thing the Taliban have going for them is the corruption widespread among Afghan officials and security forces, why are we propping up the very people and organizations that are driving the locals into the arms of our enemies?

And one more question. What made Rick Hillier, the Big Cod, General Swagger himself, believe he could control Kandahar with a miniscule contingent just 2,500 strong? As far as I'm concerned that boy has a lot of 'splainin to do.

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