by Dafydd on 2/22/2010

It is a common misconception that COIN campaigns are different because body counts and land taken do not guarantee victory.

Body counts and land taken do not guarantee victory in ANY war. By way of example, the at the 1918 armistice the triple alliance (Germans, Austrians & Ottomans) had both taken more territory than they had lost, and killed more enemy than they had lost. Yet they came to the table to negotiate terms. Why? Because they had given up.

That is what you need to happen to defeat ANY enemy. Keep going until they give up. Whether or not you or your enemy adopt guerila/insurgency or conventional tactics is determined by relative resourcing, but ultimately irrelevant.

So the question vis a vis Afghanistan is ‘What will make the Taliban stop?’. Clearly, there is no easy to implement answer.

For political and cultural reasons we are not keen on killing every last opponent of occupation in possession of a rifle. This is why we have the focus on hearts and minds, plus the idea of somehow ‘splitting the Taliban’ into ‘moderates’ who we can reach terms with, and ‘hardliners’ who are allied with al Qaeda and we do feel comfortable with killing down to the last man.

Given that the Taliban is a multi headed beast, there may be some possibility of different objectives coming to the fore. But the raison d’etre of the Taliban is the establishment of religious rule. Political Islam. It is pretty difficult to see how that can ever be reconciled with non Muslim forces holding territory.

In fact, given the Taliban also associate with foreigners, and plan to stay in perpetuity, there must be greater scope for alliance with some form of Afghan nationalism.

That is why the Mullah Omar offer of terms with President Karzai ‘when the foreigners have left’ can be seen as some sort of admission of a weak spot, The local Pashtuns seem not much more keen on Arabs/Punjabis (foreigners) than Westerners (other foreigners). Omar didn’t call (in this instance) Karzai a puppet, nor just announce that all infidels would be defeated by the hand of The Almighty. Instead he acquiesced in some sort of role for the current elected government in the future, thus showing some flexibility in not initially insisting on imposition of Islamism. That the vast majority of people inside and outside Afghanistan are sceptical of how genuine the offer is does not change the fact that Omar saw an advantage in making it.

If we cannot outlast the Talibs (and I don’t for a second think that is at all possible), rendering what is left of a Taliban insurgency so small as to be irrelevant on our departure is just about the only option. The constituency which Mullah Omar aimed his offer at must be the ‘floating voter’ in this campaign. I would like to think he made his offer in desperation, but I don’t. I expect he was being very politically clever. Since then the Taliban have lost a bit of momentum. We need to target the people he was targeting (via GIRoA & ANSF) pretty damn quickly if we are to reap any sort of benefit out of Marjah.

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– author of 23 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

I am a UK citizen & resident with a long standing interest in Central Asia. This probably has something to do with student days, a late night TV show called 'The Silk Road' and a TV with no remote control. I currently work in software and live with my wife & three children.

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