December 07, 2009

Troop Surge in Afghanistan: Related Nuances

By Divya Kumar Soti

The efficacy of troop surge and new tactics will be put to test in upcoming spring.


President Obama has yielded to demand of 30,000 more troops by US commanders in Afghanistan. It will be in all foreseeability last troop surge of its kind in Afghanistan. This is underlined by repeated statements from White house that US’ Afghan commitment is not open-ended. There is already lot of friction on Capitol Hill and within Obama administration over this troop surge and winnability of war in Afghanistan.


Although Gen McChrystal’s review of strategy in Afghanistan, on which this latest surge is founded, suggested some smart evolutions and tactical innovations like redeployment of intelligence assets in such a way as to manipulate local equations but prolonged internal debate within Obama Administration have delayed implementation of Gen McChrystal’s report. The panel headed by McChrystal tried to incorporate suggestions from a too wide spectrum including some Washington think tanks advocating swift exit. All these lengthy processes helped Taliban recover from whatever little losses it suffered due to last spring surge. Such reversals increase risks of co-operating with NATO forces for tribal leaders and push local tribal leaders towards Taliban as in afghan landscape if you are a tribal leader you can’t remain neutral.


Now efficacy of this latest troop surge will be tested in upcoming spring. As the winters are already here, operations in far-flung rural areas will slow down and focus shifts to urban centers. So, the main challenge for Gen McChrystal will be to secure major cities like Kabul and Kandhar from audacious strikes by Taliban during winters. Over last one year Taliban has repeatedly managed to hit major installations in Kabul and Kandhar. Taliban managed to concentrate on outskirts of Kandhar during last winters.


In its review, Gen McChrystal panel has devised some community based plans to stop roadside IED blasts learning from their experiences in Iraq. The success of such basic tactical changes will be initial indicators of success during winters.


Annual Spring Challenge


Over the last three years, every spring comes with a challenge of new wave of violence. During winters, Taliban regroups, recruit and train in safe havens across the Durand line in Pak tribal areas. However, this year a winter offensive by Pak army against Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan and foreign fighters is currently underway in tribal areas. Despite high claims by Pak army, offensive’s real effect will only be known in spring, as there is little or no flow of independent information out these areas given Media’s very limited access to this area. However, information coming out from intelligence sources is not very encouraging. There are reports that most of TTP fighters have taken refuge with tribal warlords like Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir. Ironically, Pak army entered into peace agreements with both of them before launching its offensive against TTP citing operational viability. There are no reports of any major damage to TTP as it swiftly shied away from putting up any major resistance to Pak army. Moreover, Pak army has not so far targeted Haqanni network.





On the other hand, US drone strikes have done considerable damage to Al-Qaeda and Haqanni network over last few months. There are reports of militants shifting to North Waziristan in wake of increasing drone strikes in South. Some intelligence reports also suggest shifting by some militant leaders to Balochistan. But, drone strikes have demonstrated some limitations inasmuch as they are focused on a particular area for a particular period. Moreover, drone strikes have not targeted Quetta Shura so far, thus, enabling it to function with substantial impunity. All this is raising fears that this winter offensive may end up yielding similar results as those of similar offensives in tribal areas during Musharraf years.


(The author is an intelligence affairs analyst and may be reached at writing2divya@gmail.com)

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