As US commanders consider how they are going to deploy an extra 30,000 troops in Afghanistan in the next few weeks, they may be considering a strategy spelt out in a report from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Written by Carl Forsberg, who has also worked at the US Marine Corps Intelligence HQ and for the Ugandan State Minister for Disaster Relief and Refugees in Kampala, The Taliban's Campaign for Kandahar argues that The Quetta Shura of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has made the province of Kandahar, including the city itself, a primary objective of its campaign in the south of the country. Since 2004 it has taken control of the districts around the city one-by-one, with the result that by the end of 2008 its forces could use these areas to launch attacks on the provincial capital itself.
In contrast, ISAF has failed to prioritise the province over Helmand and has also failed to position sufficient forces within the city. Due to lack of troops, ISAF has only been able to disrupt the Taliban in Kandahar, but not eradicate it. Forsberg says ISAF should use enough troops to neutralise the Taliban in Kandahar, which is a necessary first step to reversing the Taliban's gains throughout the south of Afghanistan.
The problem with Forsberg's argument is that it cannot show how an increase in troops in the city will defeat the Taliban. The Canadians and the US battalion fighting in Arghandab to the north of the city have both been badly stung by Taliban fighters, who clearly have substantial support in the area. Indeed Forsberg himself points this out, noting "The Taliban’s judicial system, regularized taxation, oversight mechanisms, complaints committees, and protection of opium growers all demonstrate a clear concern with winning local support" and "The Taliban’s desire to win public support in occupied areas through their judicial code is also demonstrated by their willingness to moderate the harsh legal prohibitions on entertainment they had taken during their tenure in power during the 1990s. Radio, television, and the shaving of beards are no longer outlawed by the Taliban in Kandahar, although such activities remained rare in many Taliban-controlled villages due to a reigning conservative social culture."
If only it were possible to compliment the Karzai government in the same way.
The issue today is not military defeat of the Taliban. This is unlikely, even with the extra troops now heading to Afghanistan. A greater troop presence in the crowded confines of the city and surrounding connurbations will only lead to civilian deaths and even greater disenchantment. The only military strategy that makes sense now is one that drives a wedge between Mullah Omar on the one hand and the al-Qaeda-inspired jihadists who are using the Afghans to further their own heretical aims.