Assumptions Are Inaccurate and Often Spread Taliban Propaganda
I had an insightful conversation with ANA leaders this week and wanted to share the reality on the battlefield from their perspectives. Much has been sensationally reported about Taliban entering new locations over the last month but the reality is different according to those on the ground. First, the Taliban are not taking new ground by combat, they are moving into thinly held areas or areas where the ANDSF has pulled back strategically. The Taliban avoid striking heavily defended areas because their forces do not have the power to win. Just this week, a Taliban leader was speaking to the press and boasted that the Taliban could take over Afghanistan in two weeks, but that the ANDSF won’t let them. Let that sink in. It should shed light on why Taliban advisors in Pakistan keep pushing the Taliban delegates to down size the ANDSF to below 100,000 members.
Even when the Taliban do take ground, they are unable able to hold it, once the ANDSF arrives in-force on the ground. The final point we discussed about the Taliban taking territory was the clear choice being made by Afghan citizens. The Taliban are having to count on terror, fear, and violence to gain any local support for their arrival. In many areas they are being prevented from moving due to public uprisings of armed Afghans that don’t want the Taliban around.
The Reality of Taliban “Gains”
What the ANDSF is noting is that Pakistan and Taliban leaders are becoming quite panicked and irrational due to heavy Taliban losses. The ANDSF are remaining calm in the face of this summer offensive because they are used to an annual surge of violence by the Taliban.
The panic on the Taliban and Pakistan side is because they haven’t seen this level of losses. Sometimes the Taliban are losing 100-200 fighters in 24-hour periods. This is a big shift because the Taliban are not used to operating in such large groups. In the past they focused on more guerilla-like tactics. The ANDSF find it easy now to inflict heavy casualties on the Taliban because they are out in the open, outside their usual safe-zones. The normal operating areas of the Taliban were seldom attacked in force by the ANDSF because they are a carpet of IEDs. So, realize as you see the Taliban move into new areas, you are also watching them set themselves up for destruction.
IO is the Loose End
The weakest link for the Afghans, that most have realized by now, is the strategic communications about the war’s reality, and the use of information operations to decrease the morale of the Pakistani-backed Taliban. This is an area where enabling the ANDSF at many levels to engage more often in IO can have a great effect on prying Taliban fighters away from the fight. This new young generation of Taliban are more heavily brainwashed than previous generations, so more aggressive activities will be needed to lure them from their mission of destruction.
The more the ANDSF and civilians across the nation can reach out to the Taliban fighters, the more quickly the government can counter the biggest Taliban takeaway from previous ceasefires and lulls in fighting. The Taliban learned that allowing their fighters to mix with Afghans outside the Taliban safe-zones during ceasefires causes the Taliban to lose combat power. As Taliban fighters realize they will be welcomed back by society, they quickly lose their will to fight. A clear government policy about how to peel fighters away from the Taliban and who can do it will speed up the pace of peace-building.