Coalition forces mount Operation Vigilance in Afghanistan to preempt potential Taliban and al Qaeda offensives that may be planned for the spring. According to Lt. Gen. David Barno, the senior commander in Afghanistan, the terrorists have lost the initiative after 3 ½ years of fighting and successful elections last fall, and are “desperate” to regain it:
“As these terrorist capabilities grow more and more limited, the hard-core fanatics will grow more and more desperate to try and do something to change the course of events in Afghanistan Terrorists here in Afghanistan want to reassert themselves and I expect that they will be looking here, over the next six to nine months or so, to stage some type of high-visibility attack I think we must all remain realistic and clear-eyed with the understanding that the enemy is still dangerous. He’s been reduced in his capabilities, but he remains a desperate foe who will try and create events and inflict losses.”
The operation to preempt the enemy has had initial successes. Operations have been carried out in the previously sparsely patrolled Wardak province, netting ammunitions caches, and 8 Taliban were killed and 16 captured in the province of Zabul.
The Taliban has responded by creating a mobile radio station called “Voice of Shariat” , which is capable of broadcasting a few hours a day. No doubt this station will be the target of American electronic warfare jamming and tracking. Reports indicate that the Taliban, like their al Qaeda in Iraq counterparts, are planning to change their tactics. The Asia Time’s Syed Saleem Shahzad claims several Taliban were sent to Iraq prior to the American invasion of Afghanistan:
Asia Times Online was the first publication to write about the Taliban’s new strategy (see Osama adds weight to Afghan resistance, September 11, 2004), which was the brainchild of a few Taliban who were sent to northern Iraq before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Oriented with the Ansarul Islam [Ansar al-Islam] in northern Iraq by al Qaeda-linked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they were taught the guerrilla tactics then being successfully applied in various Iraqi cities – and which still are. The group returned to Afghanistan some time ago. One of the members was Mehmood Haq Yar, an expert in guerrilla and urban warfare.
According to Mr. Shahzad, the Taliban is planning to conduct attacks much like the Iraqi insurgency, striking at important nodes of communication as well as government and foreign targets, and support for the Taliban will gain among Taliban defectors after successful attacks are executed. While the increase in support for the Taliban remains to be seen (and the Asia Times has been touting the “Taliban resurgence” meme for some time now), the change in tactics has been confirmed by Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi:
[Taliban spokesman] Hakimi also said the Taliban were working on a plan to change their tactics away from guerrilla warfare. He said the focus was now on the training suicide bombers to target government officials, foreign forces and aid workers in major cities and to infiltrate agents into security organs to carry out sabotage.
“The change of tactics is an easy way for us to have a longer-term war of attrition and would also not cost many lives for us,” he said, while denying that the Taliban would be copying the tactics of resistance fighters in Iraq.
Note that Hakimi advocates fighting “a longer-term war of attrition” , and does not actually advocate victory. The Afghani population has no desire to witness a return of an oppressive Taliban government, which makes complete victory all the more distant. All they can offer is violence and death. Much like the Iraqi insurgency, the Taliban is admitting failure in both political and military operations by changing their method of attacks. They are desperate indeed, but as Gen. Barno stated, they no less deadly.
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