The North Continues to Deteriorate

by Joshua Foust on 6/8/2011

Remember last October, when I wrote about how the U.S. had “lost” the previously peaceful north of Afghanistan? Or when I was upbraided by a certain well-known think tanker for being too pessimistic about the North’s prospects? Or even when there was a major increase in the assassination of high-level figures, both among the insurgency and among government figures?

Despite what the Kagans—our favorite people here at Registan.net—have to say, drawn from the wide-eyed S2s they interview in air-conditioned B-Huts on the Afghan FOBs, the North has become a dangerous and unstable area. Der Spiegel has just posted a monster article on the new, expanded threats the Germans are facing in Kunduz:

Indeed, a German officer describes the Taliban’s new strategy as “an eye for an eye.” “For each Taliban leader we kill,” he says, “we can now expect an attack on a top official in the Afghan government.”

The only thing that can explain the large number of deadly attacks is that the Taliban have widely infiltrated the Afghan security forces. NDS, the Afghan intelligence service, estimates there are between 130 and 150 so-called sleepers within the ranks of the Afghan National Army and the police force. They can be activated at any time for attacks against ISAF, it says, even inside camps. As an NDS representative recently told an international group of military officials, up to 7 percent of all Afghan soldiers and police officers sympathize with the Taliban, creating a reservoir of spies and assassins. And these are the troops that are supposed to guarantee security in the country beginning in 2014.

This even gets at the broader strategic context of the war, which is based on the conceit that simply handing over security responsibility to the Afghans will constitute victory. If the ANSF are that infiltrated, then the idea is madness. Even so: the transition strategy is not a political strategy, and the politics of the war matter a lot—which still means the transition strategy is madness.

But Der Spiegel is getting at the most worrying trend of all in the North: it’s not the infiltration of insurgents (not necessarily the Taliban), but the growing disenchantment with ISAF troops. The complicated ethnic rivalries at play, with competing centers of power all stirring up opposition to “foreigners” as a means of cementing control, has terrible potential for further violence. And best anyone can tell, there is no set plan to handle it.

Like everywhere else, the problem in Northern Afghanistan is fundamentally political. And we are trying to fix it with a military. Mission fail.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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