Carlotta Gall has an interesting story on divisions within the Taliban:
Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban’s top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.
After suffering defeats with the influx of thousands of new American troops in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand last year, many Taliban fighters retreated across the border to the safety of Pakistan. They are now coming under pressure from their leaders to return to Afghanistan to step up the fight again, a Taliban commander said. Many are hesitant to do so, at least for now.
It all sounds wonderful, like confirmation of the latest happy-talk about the war: the insurgency is splitting! They’re on the run! Their momentum is broken! It’s only when you keep reading that a slightly different story emerges: it is the U.S. military that is claiming its operations are causing weariness and forcing the Taliban into retreat. The only person who goes on the record is a U.S. Army intelligence officer.
The Taliban, rather than confirming those first two grafs, actually says something kind of the opposite. In paragraph 26, Gall notes, “the [Taliban] commander made light of the Taliban’s loss of territory around Kandahar in recent months. Taliban casualties were lower than claimed by NATO forces, he said.” The fighters, this commander said, left the area when troops surged in—a common tactic, though Gall doesn’t note that—and they’re planning a major assault when the weather is warm again.
In this story, too, you also learn that even foot soldiers eagerly await the orders of Mullah Omar, and that the Taliban are fighting for some ideal of Afghanistan and think they’re defending their homes against foreign invaders.
In other words, both the title and the first half of the story are unrelated to what the subject of the story actually says—keeping in mind that this seems compiled from one interview with a Taliban of unknown influence, power, and experience. It is, in other words, incredibly thinly sourced, yet makes huge, contradictory, sweeping claims about what things are like in the South. Reality is most likely somewhere in between the Taliban’s claims and the local S2’s version of events, but Gall doesn’t provide us any context or detail to understand that what she wrote was just two sides spinning the last few months of operations. It’s kind of a mess. (Note: there are some really good Times reporters in Afghanistan, like CJ Chivers—whose latest dispatch is typically excellent—but lately there’s been a cluster of really bad reports out of their Kabul bureau. Even normally excellent reporters like Gall have run really head-scratching copy.)
Previously in the New York Times:
Rod Norland mocks Kabul’s elevator capacity, and strikes a low blow against the human rights community.
The follies of tribal militias when context is missing.
The NYT makes things up about tribes