April 15, 2012

Haqqanis Trap U.S. In Taliban's Netwar

With U.S. and Afghan forces grinding their way into Kamdesh's mountains in search of militants affiliated with the Haqqani network, the Taliban announced the beginning of its spring offensive by targeting a list of government and foreign installations. Among those fired upon (but not necessarily hit): a market close to Kabul's presidential palace, the parliamentary building and intelligence headquarters, the U.S., British, German, Russian and New Zealand embassies, and multiple NATO bases and Afghan police stations.

Anticipating the Taliban to focus its resources on Kabul, along with the immediate media comparisons to last September's rooftop siege of the capital, NATO and Afghan officials stood ready with their updated scripts. On one level a rhetorical counterattack offers the best response to militarized propaganda. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi ridiculed the attackers for getting "nothing," while U.S. General John Allen used the opportunity to highlight the swift response of Afghan soldiers and policemen. The commanding officer in Afghanistan was careful to add that "no one is underestimating the serious of today's attacks," but the rest of his statement is unabashedly optimistic.

“If this is the best they can do to start their fighting season," said Colonel Daniel J. W. King, spokesman for NATO’s joint command, "then obviously the Afghan security forces and others are having a significant impact."

It may be tempting to view the military aspect of the Taliban's attack as a failure. Some parts of the four suspected teams were disrupted before they could stage their assaults, no bases were breached and 36 insurgents were killed by Afghan forces. 15 of 19 suicide bombers were stopped before they could detonate, including the two who planned to assassinate Vice President Karim Khalil. The Taliban's physical attacks are meaningless outside of the lives they destroyed and affected, and the propaganda they drive. At the same time, underestimating the meaning of Sunday's assault and the Taliban's overall intelligence is unwise. The insurgency's trend of "spectacular" attacks is difficult to gauge due to the complexities of guerrilla warfare. Insurgencies are rarely "broken" when beaten down by superior military forces.

Instead they bend, wait, shift, reorganize and adapt to the increasingly concentrated effort of a government or governments.

The Taliban have suffered relentless man losses and forfeited prized territory in the face of NATO troops, but headline-grabbing attacks are more than a sign of weakness (as U.S. officials claim). Employing this strategy until its ground forces can seize the offensive initiative - sometime in 2013-14, when NATO forces withdraw in bulk - is the Taliban's only sensible course of military action. Multiple assaults must be strung together in place of a territorial offensive, which would risk too many lives and weapons for no material or psychological reward. By attacking high-profile points, even unsuccessfully, the insurgency undermines the perception of security across the southeastern swath of Afghanistan.

A more fundamental dilemma also resides Washington's "weakness" narrative. Not only are the Taliban unable to retake lost territory - they aren't even responsible for Kabul's assaults. Speaking to CNN's "State of the Union," U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said that his "guess, based on previous experience here, is this is a set of Haqqani network operations out of north Waziristan and the Pakistani tribal areas. Frankly I don't think the Taliban is good enough."

Decoupling the Taliban's sub-networks is a cheap trick to discredit the insurgency's strength; the Haqqanis rarely disobey Mullah Omar's shura and act as intermediaries with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). When Sediqqi tells reporters that, "the initial findings show the Haqqanis were involved," he is expressing the basic theory of fourth-generation warfare. The Taliban and Haqqanis could coordinate less and still operate within the same network, and a division of labor appears to work well for both groups. Interestingly, the Daily Beast quoted several Taliban commanders on the topic while digging for the latest assault's origins. Qari Talha attributed Kabul's attacks to Hajji Lala, the Taliban's shadow governor in the capital, and ruled out a significant Haqqani presence in his logistics. The Daily Beast reports that, "a fierce rivalry has clearly developed between the Taliban and its supposed eastern partner in insurgency," but iron is said to sharpen iron.

Another field commander said the Taliban wants "to show other networks and groups that we too can carry out attacks in Kabul," and Talha hopes to increase the level of coordination with the Haqqanis.

Analyzing the various hubs of an insurgency or terrorist network is necessary to disrupt the whole system, but viewing Afghanistan's parts in isolation will complicate any political negotiations with the Taliban shura. Since U.S. and Afghan officials admit that the war cannot be won militarily, only politically resolved, this dilemma leaves Washington to withdraw U.S. forces from another political vacuum. The Obama administration currently plans to entrench a large contingent of U.S. Special Forces to battle Taliban into the indefinite future, possibly beyond 2020. Washington may consider this outcome to be a success, but most outsiders will see either stalemate or defeat.

The effects of misjudging the Taliban's connectivity are visibly manifested in NATO's interpretation of the Taliban's goals. Sunday's attacks weren't designed to "impact the NATO/Lisbon timeline" because "they are not operational or strategic successes," as one U.S. official told Reuters, or bring down Hamid Karzai's government. They are meant to discredit the government's security nationwide, flaunt their own reach, attract new recruits, reinforce Mullah Omar's negotiating position with Washington and, if his commanders are to be believed, kickstart a competitive rivalry with the Haqqanis. Each bullet and bomb is aimed at the 60-70% of American and European voters who allegedly oppose the war's continuation. The next four months of attacks won't alter NATO's time-line but will pile pressure on its capitals, and any friction is good for the Taliban.

The insurgents cannot defeat coalition forces in a set battle or by rushing heavily-fortified bases. They must outlast their stay, inflict as many cuts as possible within that time-frame and hold their ground in the information sphere. This process is simplified by the nature of net warfare and by U.S. officials who choose to minimize its properties.


  1. I noticed ISAF/NATO were quicker and more sure-footed than usual re the recent Kabul attack. When the NATO HQ was attacked they released a statement that this was a sign of NATO success. At least they have improved on that. If they paid more attention to what they are supposed to be there for and to quickly ending it (whatever it now is)they might slightly diminish the ignominy which is gathering around their departure. These are key weeks and months in determining what happens post-2014. Meanwhile NATO are working on their PR. As the 'negotiations' flounder and sputter more confusion is heaped upon past and present incompetence. The British embassy comments to the UK press while the recent attack was going on are telling. 'Why don't they just wait till we go'!! So much for confidence in the sustainability of the ANA and Karzai.

  2. They are looking on the wrong place but the government knows what suppose to do. Well to me is just political attraction like the page to send free text at http://www.textme4free.com/