American and Afghan forces have been routing the Taliban in much of Kandahar Province in recent weeks, forcing many hardened fighters, faced with the buildup of American forces, to flee strongholds they have held for years, NATO commanders, local Afghan officials and residents of the region said.
A series of civilian and military operations around the strategic southern province, made possible after a force of 12,000 American and NATO troops reached full strength here in the late summer, has persuaded Afghan and Western officials that the Taliban will have a hard time returning to areas they had controlled in the province that was their base.
Technological innovations in ordnance are helping American and NATO forces take the fight to the Taliban as well. And while it is too early to say that this is either the beginning of the end, or even the end of the beginning for the Taliban, the progress that is being made deserves to be noted. Especially noteworthy are comments that the Taliban are not receiving support from the local population, and local testimony confirming that the Taliban believe they have been made very weak as a consequence of the surge.
None of this appears to be sufficient good news for Stephen Walt, who tells us that (a) since this is a battle of perceptions, we can’t believe what American military commanders are telling us, because they have an incentive to issue a positive spin; (b) because the Taliban can go to ground, or flee across the border to Pakistan, and because once we withdraw, the Taliban will re-enter the area, and other nearby nation-states will once again start meddling in Afghan affairs, thus harming American national security interests. All of this ignores, of course (a) confirmation from local Afghans–as mentioned above–that the Taliban are weakening; and (b) there really is little that one can do about an enemy going to ground, or fleeing to a safe haven–the point is to ensure that the enemy does not have control over a disputed area, and now, the Taliban are losing control over disputed areas thanks to a surge.
As for what happens once American troops begin withdrawing, I suppose that depends on the conditions of their withdrawal. If the Obama Administration does not simply bug out of Afghanistan regardless of the conditions on the ground, if the slowly phase the withdrawal in order to allow Afghan security forces to be fully trained so that a seamless transition takes place between American troops and Afghan security forces, then Walt’s predictions of post-withdrawal doom and apocalypse need not take place. If, however, the Obama Administration simply decides that it wants out of Afghanistan no matter what, then obviously, there will be a lot of trouble afoot. It is up to the Administration to decide whether or not America is allowed to fully succeed in Afghanistan, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear; the surge, for all of its detractors, is proving itself to be a success in Afghanistan, just as it proved itself to be a success in Iraq. It would be nice if eventually, those detractors admitted as much.