viernes, julio 25, 2008

The Taliban Strikes Back

After six years of ignoring Afghanistan, things have gotten bad enough to force American officials to pay attention.
After six years of ignoring Afghanistan, things have gotten bad enough to force American officials to pay attention. For the past two months, U.S. casualties in Afghanistan have been higher than in Iraq. And on July 13, Afghanistan definitely got everybody's attention when nine U.S. troops were killed in what Wikipedia is now officially calling "The Battle of Wanat." Three days after the battle, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the U.S.-dominated military force running the country, announced it's abandoning Wanat completely.
Let's start with a close-up of the battle, then zoom out to the overall situation in Afghanistan. Wanat is in Kunar Province, along the border with Pakistan. It looks a lot like Northern Wyoming: mountain country, steep slopes with pine forests running down to fast, cold rivers. Some of the photos I've seen from Kunar seem like stills from "The Sound of Music" or "Heidi," only some prankster has Photoshopped in a platoon of soldiers in desert camouflage.
The outpost that the United States had just set up in Wanat was supposed to disrupt Taliban supply lines from Pakistan. Instead, it became a tempting target for the local guerrillas, just like hundreds of other remote forward bases in other rural guerrilla wars from Southeast Asia to Algeria. Guerrillas usually avoid open combat with conventional forces, but when they do attack in force it's usually against the smaller, more vulnerable forward bases. The Wanat base was a very tempting target because it was still under construction.
It's not so easy to be sure what actually happened in the battle there on July 13. A big Taliban force -- big by guerrilla-war standards, meaning several hundred -- was able to mass outside the base without being detected. They attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and rifle fire, managed to take part of the base, and then either withdrew or were forced back into the town of Wanat, where the fighting continued in the ruins. The NATO troops had massive air support, and faced with that, the guerrillas dispersed into the hills. Then, three days later, the U.S. forces, who have de facto command of southeastern Afghanistan, also withdrew. Officially Wanat is now in the hands of the Afghan police, but that's a joke.
You can tell how ridiculous that claim is by looking carefully at the casualties from the battle. This is a good example of how to read war news carefully, how to read between the lines of standard press coverage. It's almost like a story-problem for war nerds. Here are the figures: There were 70 defenders in that base, 45 U.S. troops and 25 ANA (Afghan National Army) troops. That's about a 60/40 split. So if both groups fought equally effectively, you'd expect more than a third of the casualties to be from the ANA. But that's not the story the casualty figures tell you. Every defender who died was American; no Afghan troops died. Three-quarters of the wounded were also American, only four out of 19 were Afghan. What that tells you is that the ANA didn't fight. They left it to the Americans. That's a pattern you often see in guerrilla wars: The locals fight very hard against the occupiers, but not very well for them. So in Vietnam, the Viet Cong fought like demons and the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) barely fought at all, even though they were from the same ethnic background.
There are a lot of very familiar patterns in this story. If you zoom out from Wanat and look at the bigger situation in southern Afghanistan, you've got the classic ingredients for a long, bloody guerrilla war: a big ethnic group on both sides of an artificial border, difficult terrain, and dirt-poor peasants with a long tradition of fighting just about everyone who comes along, from Alexander the Great to the 19th century British. The Pakistani/Afghan border is 1,500 miles long, and the people living on both sides of it are Pashtun, the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan and the support base of the Taliban. The Taliban started as a Pashtun resistance to the Northern Alliance warlords, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks, who took power after the Soviet pullout in 1989, and the Taliban is still mostly Pashtun. The reason you don't hear so much about the ethnic angle is simple: Neither side wants to push that angle in its propaganda. The Taliban would like to claim to be defending Islam, and the Americans are happy to go along with that, so they can say we're fighting Islamic terror. But the fact is that the Taliban stands for old-school Pashtun tradition more than for Islam. And the Taliban is divided even further, with complicated loyalties to local warlords and tribal chiefs. There are three main factions right now, and the one that runs Kunar Province is run by an old friend of the CIA's from the 1980s, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar was always a tough guy to handle, for the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, and when the foreign troops finally withdraw, it's a safe bet that his faction of the Taliban will just switch to fighting the other two. But for now, the three factions seem pretty solidly united against the ISAF, the American-dominated occupying force.

In order to read the complete article HERE.

No hay comentarios.: