Yesterday, Colonel Dave Butler, the top spokesman for US Forces -Afghanistan and Resolute Support Mission, mocked a Taliban video that shows its so-called “commandos” conducting training, and ridiculed the group as a “global internet joke.” Butler’s tweet has since been deleted. His tweet highlights a lack of seriousness and understanding about the threat posed by the Taliban that seems to be pervasive throughout the upper echelons of the US military.
Butler’s deleted tweet referred to this juvenile article at The Military Times, entitled Bring it on! New Taliban video shows intense training for cheer squad competition. To his credit, Butler acknowledged that there is little funny about the Taliban killing people. He then referred to the Taliban as a “global internet joke” because he and the very unserious Military Times think the video is ridiculous.
Bulter and many others think the Taliban’s activities in the video make them look silly. Fair enough. But they are missing the deeper problems that this video highlights, some of which are listed below, in no particular order:
You are not the intended audience. The Taliban does not publish videos like this with Westerners as the primary audience. These videos are not in English nor are they subtitled. The intended audience is Taliban supporters and potential recruits. While some Westerners may think videos such as the one mocked by Butler look funny, these videos are effective as propaganda, fundraising, and recruiting tools. The Taliban is giving the message to Afghans, Pakistanis, and anyone willing to join their ranks that it is organized and providing real training. And the Taliban is showing its donors that they are getting bang for their bucks.
These camps produce killers and an effective Taliban military. While the training may not live up to the standards of Western militaries, the camps, such as the one seen in the commandos video, churn out fighters who are what I call Afghan good enough: they are good enough to go toe to toe with the Afghan military and police. The camps produce effective fighters who kill dozens of Afghan security personnel a day, launch suicide attacks on civilian, police, and military installations, and assassinate high-level Afghan officials. There is a reason the Taliban currently controls 13% of Afghanistan’s districts and contests another 49%.
Training in Afghanistan or Pakistan under the noses of USFOR-A. We can laugh all we like at Taliban fighters jumping through flaming hoops and dueling with sticks (Want a laugh? Watch US Army soldiers dueling with pugil sticks), but the reality is the Taliban, after 17 years of war, is training its fighters in the open, in either Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or, most likely, in both countries, without fear of reprisal. US Forces Afghanistan and Resolute Support have been unable to stop this. In Afghanistan, the Taliban runs these camps in areas that it controls. In Pakistan, the US military is powerless to act and instead has groveled to the Pakistani military for help that will never come, even as the Pakistan military sponsors the killing of US soldiers.
Desperate to surrender to a joke. The Taliban is such a “global internet joke” that the US government is desperate to cut a deal with it and leave Afghanistan to its predations. Even US Forces-Afghanistan says it can not defeat the Taliban. It stopped trying years ago.
Underestimate your enemy at your peril. “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat,” Sun Tzu wisely said. There is a reason (many actually) that after 17 years of war, the US wants out of Afghanistan. One of them is that many US military leaders, policy makers, and intelligence officials have failed to take the Taliban seriously, refusing to accept that its ideological motivations fuel its insurgency. The US has squandered tactical gains (such as the surge) because it has refused to understand the nature and motivations of the Taliban. In his confirmation testimony to the Senate, General Miller, the commander of US Forces Afghanistan and Resolute Support Mission, either couldn’t or wouldn’t, call the Taliban an enemy of the US. So, it is no wonder that his spokesman is cavalier about mocking the Taliban.
An unprofessional attitude. Butler’s tweet reflects what I have detected for quite some time when dealing with public affairs officers in Afghanistan: a generally unprofessional attitude towards the mission and those inquiring about it. The fact that Butler’s tweet was deleted should speak volumes about the impression it made on those higher up.
While it may feel good to joke about the Taliban’s methods of training and indoctrinating its recruits, the last laugh is on those doing so. The Taliban is winning as the US is eager to leave, and there is nothing funny about that.
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