The Afghan, American and British Forces are now on the offensive in the Pashtun regions of Southeastern Afghanistan. The Taliban is taking a beating. The new Afghan COIN strategy is working, although it is not receiving much attention as the Iraq.
NATO has made significant headway into the tribal regions. Provincial Reconstruction Teams are expanding and working with the locals while conventional forces clear and hold regions throughout the south.
The new strategy is paying off. The offensive has killed a large number of Taliban members and destroyed the Taliban’s “Spring Offensive” before it even started.
A few months ago, the Americans killed Mullah Dadullah, the top Afghan Taliban leader. This week, they may have killed the new Taliban leader, Mansour Dadullah, along with a hundred others.
More importantly, there is a surge of Afghan, British, and American troops into the Pashtun regions. The British are moving into Helmand and securing one of the more dangerous provinces. The Afghan Army is now large enough to play a major role in the counterinsurgency as well.
From the New York Times:
Yet despite the presence of thousands of Taliban fighters, and some tough fighting still ahead, British military commanders here say they believe they have turned a significant corner. In recent months they have succeeded in pushing the Taliban back and keeping them out of a few strategic areas.
At the same time, they say, popular support for the insurgents is eroding.
As NATO forces have become better established and more numerous in southern Afghanistan, American forces have been able to deploy more troops in the east. There, they are also reporting gains in some border areas. All of this has helped NATO forces take the offensive against the Taliban, rather than fighting from their back foot, as they were forced to do last year, and gain local confidence.
What has made the difference here, the British say, is a shift in their tactics and a doubling of force numbers, to nearly 6,000 today, with more troops on the way.
The British have now been able to focus on their original counterinsurgency plan, which was to create “inkblots,” or secure zones around the main towns, and gradually expand security outward. In this way they are starting reconstruction projects in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, the town of Gereshk on the main road, and now Sangin…
Helmand is very significant as it the major center of opium production in the country. It produces up to 42% of the region’s opium and the drug lords were well entrenched. If the British can take the province, they cut off the Taliban’s most vital financial resource.
And as the British, Australians and Afghans secure the south and interior of Afghanistan, more Americans will be freed to secure the Eastern provinces that border Pakistan. This will allow the Americans and Pakistanis to constrict the Taliban in Waziristan.
This is a departure from the problems in Afghanistan between 2002-2006. Afghanistan was in much worse shape than Iraq. During this period, the Americans cleared the areas of the Taliban and left the areas to warlords. The old strategy focused on forming a new central government in Kabul and training an Afghan Army, while the warlords governed the provinces. Cynically, I can argue that this was temporarily wise as the warlords held the Taliban and each other in check.
Today conditions are ripe to exploit the Taliban weakness and use the new Afghan Army. The population is turning against the insurgents as the coalition is becoming strong enough to occupy the south. This COIN strategy has a reasonable chance at success, but it is conditional on Pakistani action against the Taliban on the other side of the border. We can hope for the best.