The Surge in Afghanistan is Succeeding

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 15, 2011

I know that saying so will upset some people, but the news is certainly worth reporting:

Despite all the political hand-wringing in Washington over the war in Afghanistan, it’s the Taliban who are now on the defensive on the military battlefield. Indeed, there is a growing recognition among senior Taliban leaders that they are losing momentum in parts of southern Afghanistan, their longtime stronghold. This is more than the normal winter lull of senior Taliban fighters migrating to Pakistan: The Taliban have definitively lost territorial control in parts of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and other southern provinces.

According to a growing body of Afghan, NATO, and even Taliban reports, Taliban leaders held a secret meeting last month near Quetta, Pakistan, to discuss concerns that they had lost territory in parts of Helmand province and other areas in southern Afghanistan. According to one Taliban commander with direct knowledge of the meeting, they concluded that local forces allied to the Afghan government “are in control of a growing number of areas in the province and will likely continue to expand since local families and the government have encouraged their sons to participate.”

Assessing progress in a counterinsurgency is more art than science. Body counts tend not to be helpful in measuring insurgent progress. Nor do levels of violence. Neither captures the combatants’ primary goal: control over the population.

The Taliban have been remarkably transparent about their objectives and tactics. As the group announced in 2010 when it kicked off Operation al-Fath, or “conquest,” it aims to conduct a range of targeted assassinations in urban and rural areas to seize control of Afghanistan. “May Allah help the mujahideen establish an Islamic government, keep the trenches of war hot against the aggressive infidels, and carry out their jihad,” the Taliban announced. But after years of gains, the Taliban’s progress has stalled — and even reversed — in southern Afghanistan this year.

A recent NATO assessment indicated that Taliban control of territory had decreased since last year, with many of the Taliban’s losses coming in the south, their most important sanctuary. Since late 2010, Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior official in the Haqqani network, have acknowledged mounting losses, though they have vowed to retaliate.

The Taliban continue to be a resilient force, as the article points out. But there is no denying the trends. After Iraq, and now after Afghanistan, perhaps some of the people who dismiss the efficacy of American counterinsurgency doctrine ought to rethink their beliefs.

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