Tal­iban adopts ter­ror tac­tics as U.S. pulls out

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Is­lamic State army’s un­leash­ing of ter­ror bomb­ings and as­sas­si­na­tions in Iraq last year is be­ing played out by in­sur­gents in Afghanistan who want to in­tim­i­date and de­stroy lo­cal forces as Amer­i­can troops exit.

In late 2012 the Is­lamic State, an­chored in Syria and with cells in north­ern and western Iraq, launched a cam­paign of ter­ror. Its bru­tal strat­egy cen­tered on det­o­nat­ing ve­hi­cle-born im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (VBIEDs) in crowded ar­eas and killing lo­cal gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary lead­ers.

When its army, also known as ISIL or ISIS, swept into Iraq last June, the soft­en­ing up had worked: The Iraqi army, and its unit com­man­ders, ran.

An­a­lysts see the same type of cam­paign from the Tal­iban and the al­lied Haqqani net­work vi­ciously un­fold­ing. Ten days ago, for ex­am­ple, a sui­cide bomber struck an army bus in Kabul, killing seven Afghan sol­diers.

“The par­al­lel of what was go­ing on in the end of 2012 to the mid­dle of 2013 in western Iraq and north­ern Iraq that set the con­di­tions for the col­lapse of Iraqi Se­cu­rity Forces — those pat­terns are start­ing to emerge in Afghanistan,” said re­tired Army Lt. Gen. James Du­bik, an an­a­lyst at Wash­ing­ton’s In­sti­tute for the Study of War.

“The fre­quency, the lethal­ity and the com­plex­ity of at­tacks in Kabul and in [the] east are disturbing,” he said. “Th­ese are at­tacks to ei­ther in­tim­i­date or kill lead­ers in the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces.”

Are the Is­lamic ex­trem­ist Tal­iban and Haqqani net­work, a fam­ily-led group of as­sas­sins who fo­cus on bring­ing death and de­struc­tion to Kabul, copying the Is­lamic State?

“The tac­tics are sim­i­lar, but then again, ter­ror and as­sas­si­na­tion and in­tim­i­da­tion are common to almost all in­sur­gen­cies,” Mr. Du­bik said. “I would only make the min­i­mum claim that ISIS, al Qaeda, Haqqa­nis, Tal­iban and their ilk all learn from each other.”

Pre­cise ca­su­alty fig­ures for the Afghan army and po­lice are some­what elu­sive com­pared with the strict pro­ce­dural count for U.S. and al­lied ser­vice mem­bers. But there is no doubt that the Tal­iban and Haqqa­nis have been killing more ANSF mem­bers over the past two years, at­tack­ing the po­lice in par­tic­u­lar.

Army Gen. John Camp­bell, the over­all al­lied com­man­der, said that of the 350,000-strong ANSF, 7,000 to 9,000 have been killed or wounded this year alone, an in­crease from 2013.

Ear­lier this year, the Afghan gov­ern­ment is­sued re­vised fa­tal­ity fig­ures that also showed a big jump for its troops.

The in­crease is ex­plained partly by the fact Afghans are tak­ing the lead in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions as U.S. troop strength, once at 100,000, will shrink to 9,800 by year’s end. By the end of 2016, all troops will be out, ac­cord­ing to a sched­ule an­nounced by Pres­i­dent Obama, who said, “It’s time to turn the page.”

An­a­lysts see a con­certed en­emy ef­fort to pre­pare for a planned takeover of Kabul by whit­tling down the ANSF day in and day out.

“As we start de­part­ing from cer­tain ar­eas, the Tal­iban, Haqqani group, any in­sur­gent groups, are go­ing to start prob­ing into real or per­ceived power vac­u­ums — ar­eas where we are de­part­ing — and they’re go­ing to test the Afghan se­cu­rity forces to see how stout they are go­ing to be,” said Ja­son Camp­bell, an an­a­lyst at the Rand Corp.

“As a re­sult of this the last cou­ple of months,” said Mr. Camp­bell, who served as an ad­viser to the NATO com­mand, “we’re see­ing in­sur­gent groups, in­stead of tak­ing pot shots, in some cases two or three hun­dred fight­ers at a time at­tack­ing fixed po­si­tions, not just hit­ting and run­ning.”

This change was un­der­scored in Fe­bru­ary, when the Tal­iban over­ran an army base in east­ern Ku­nar prov­ince, bor­der­ing Pak­istan, and killed 21 Afghan sol­diers, some in their bunks. It was one of the Afghan army’s worst ca­su­alty days since its in­cep­tion.

Mr. Camp­bell said the ANSF has per­formed well in some at­tacks by hun­dreds of Tal­iban and not so well in oth­ers, as the Ku­nar in­va­sion il­lus­trated.

Mr. Camp­bell said “there’s ab­so­lutely truth” to the anal­y­sis that the en­emy in Afghanistan to­day is do­ing what the group then known as ISIL did in Iraq in 2012-2013.

“They are in­deed shap­ing the bat­tle­field for a time when the coali­tion is com­pletely out of Afghanistan,” he added.

Gen. Camp­bell spoke to the Pen­tagon press corps on Oct. 2 and de­clared, “The last cou­ple of weeks, there has been an uptick with the Tal­iban try­ing to make a state­ment as they close out the fight­ing sea­son.”

He re­ported a “big spike” in Afghan deaths the “last cou­ple of weeks” due to heavy fight­ing in Hel­mand prov­ince, the Tal­iban’s birth­place, where they are try­ing to take back vil­lages.

“The Tal­iban may take over a dis­trict cen­ter or some­thing, but only tem­po­rar­ily,” Gen. Camp­bell said. “Once the ANSF un­der­stands that piece of it [and] they go after that, they get the ter­rain back.”

A year ago, Marine Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, Gen. Camp­bell’s pre­de­ces­sor, was less san­guine when talk­ing about the ANSF’s bur­geon­ing fa­tal­ity rate, which had reached 100 deaths per month.

“I’m not as­sum­ing that those ca­su­al­ties are sus­tain­able,” he told The Guardian news­pa­per.

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