24 February 2010

The pendulum swings?

You may remember that just a few months ago, the milblogosphere was abuzz with debate over whether NATO should pursue a "counter-terror" approach to Afghanistan versus a "counter-insurgency" approach.

Both sides had their merits, of course, but neither are really the answer to Afghanistan; if we can even approach such a problem with an all-encompassing, "fix-all" solution to begin with. The COIN crowd failed to really address how a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan served to limit al Qaeda's "freedom of movement"--if such a thing is really an accurate term in a counter-terror campaign. The counter-terror crowd, similarly, failed to answer how they intended to get the valuable human intelligence they needed without large numbers of troops engaged in the areas where our enemies are hiding. Most pundits seemed to lean towards one extreme or the other.

However, with the latest offensive in Helmand province, and with the recent arrests of members of the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network, it looks like we may be incorporating both COIN and CT, with good results, although there's still much to be done.

While the capture of Mullah Baradar and other operatives are certainly welcome developments, the Taliban are not al Qaeda. As of yet, we still appear to be no closer to apprehending Osama bin Laden. In fact, a few sources had even indicated that the Quetta Shura Taliban--headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar--has either severed or was considering severing ties with al Qaeda altogether.

That's not to say that there isn't a relationship between al Qaeda and other members of the "little 't' taliban". The Haqqani Network, a Taliban-allied group of fighters in Waziristan, led by one of Mullah Omar's former ministers, is reported to maintain close ties with Osama bin Laden, and is considered one of the most lethal organizations in the Af-Pak region. However, with al Qaeda's attacks as of late consisting of little more than bombs hidden in underwear (and other areas), should we really be that worried?

This week's capture of key Taliban leaders will likely be only a temporary victory, as the Taliban have previously had little problem in replacing killed or captured leaders. Nevertheless, last week's arrests--which nabbed nearly half of the Quetta Shura--combined with the recent push in Helmand, could be enough to unbalance the Taliban and regain the momentum the US had shortly after the invasion of 2001-2. Confidence among the local population is of the utmost importance in counterinsurgency, and the latest events might tip the Afghans' confidence back into the favor of ISAF and the Afghan Army, at least for the time being.

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