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ICOS Report: Struggle For Kabul: The Taliban Advance


While the international community’s prospects in Afghanistan have never been bleaker, the Taliban has been experiencing a renaissance that has gained momentum since 2005. At the end of 2001, uprooted from its strongholds and with its critical mass shattered, it was viewed as a spent force. It was naively assumed by the US and its allies that the factors which propelled the Taliban to prominence in Afghanistan would become moribund in parallel to its expulsion from the country. The logic ran that as ordinary Afghans became aware of the superiority of a western democratic model, and the benefits of that system flowed down to every corner of the country, then the Taliban’s rule would be consigned to the margins of Afghan history...

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ICOS Report: Struggle For Kabul: The Taliban Advance

ICOS Report, Via Axis of Logic

December 10, 2008

">Editor's Note: ICOS supports the U.S./Nato war and occupation in Iraq and offers analysis and strategic and tactical recommendations to the Pentagon and NATO military. - LMB

(See Axis of Logic's coverage of this report)


International Council on Security and Development

The Taliban are back: Situation update December 2008

While the international community’s prospects in Afghanistan have never been bleaker, the Taliban has been experiencing a renaissance that has gained momentum since 2005. At the end of 2001, uprooted from its strongholds and with its critical mass shattered, it was viewed as a spent force. It was naively assumed by the US and its allies that the factors which propelled the Taliban to prominence in Afghanistan would become moribund in parallel to its expulsion from the country. The logic ran that as ordinary Afghans became aware of the superiority of a western democratic model, and the benefits of that system flowed down to every corner of the country, then the Taliban’s rule would be consigned to the margins of Afghan history.

However, as seven years of missed opportunity have rolled by, the Taliban has rooted itself across increasing swathes of Afghan territory. According to research undertaken by ICOS throughout 2008, the Taliban now has a permanent presence in 72% of the country. Moreover, it is now seen as the de facto governing power in a number of southern towns and villages. This figure is up from 54% in November 2007, as outlined in the ICOS report Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the Brink. The increase in their geographic spread illustrates that the Taliban’s political, military and economic strategies are now more successful than the West’s in Afghanistan. Confident in their expansion beyond the rural south, the Taliban are at the gates of the capital and infiltrating the city at will.

Of the four doors leading out of Kabul, three are now compromised by Taliban activity.

The roads to the west, towards the Afghan National Ring Road through Wardak to Kandahar become unsafe for Afghan or international travel by the time travellers reach the entrance to Wardak province, which is about thirty minutes from the city limits. The road south to Logar is no longer safe for Afghan or international travel. The road east to Jalalabad is not safe for Afghan or international travel once travellers reach the Sarobi Junction which is about an hour outside of the city. Of the two roads leaving the city to the north only one – the road towards the Panjshir valley, Salang tunnel and Mazar – is considered safe for Afghan and international travel. The second road towards the north which leads to the Bagram Air Base is frequently used by foreign and military convoys and subject to insurgent attacks.

By blocking the doors to the city in this way, the Taliban insurgents are closing a noose around the city and establishing bases close to the city from which to launch attacks inside it. Using these bases, the Taliban and insurgent attacks in Kabul have increased dramatically – including kidnapping of Afghans and foreigners, various bomb attacks and assassinations. This dynamic has created a fertile environment for criminal activity, and the links between the Taliban and criminals are increasing and the lines between the various violent actors becoming blurred. All of these Taliban successes are forcing the Afghan government and the West to the negotiating table.

The Taliban are now dictating terms in Afghanistan, both politically and militarily.

At the national level, talk of reconciliation and power sharing between undefined moderate elements of the movement and elected government officials is commonplace. At a local level, the Taliban are manoeuvring skilfully to fill the governance void, frequently offering a mellower version of localised leadership than characterised their last stint in power.

Simultaneously, the asymmetric threat posed by agile Taliban forces to NATO’s ill-equipped, lumbering military machine ensures that genuine security cannot be established in any of the 72% of Afghan territory where the Taliban have a permanent presence. Without appropriate resources at their disposal, NATO is not prepared for the challenge. Indeed, any real difference would require a significant troop increase numbering in the tens of thousands. It is their combination of recruitment bulk and propaganda know-how that enables the Taliban to outlast NATO-ISAF and US forces. Simplistic though it may be, their unity of purpose gives them a distinct edge over the cumbersome command structure of Western security and development efforts.

Over the past three years, ICOS’ research and analysis portfolio has catalogued a series of mistakes made by the international community in the quest to pacify an insurgency. There have been some signs of progress, such as opening the international debate on sending more troops, but also a stubborn adherence to failing policies such as military actions leading to civilian casualties, lack of effective aid and development, and support for aggressive poppy crop eradication programmes.

The inability of domestic and international actors to counter the entrenchment of the insurgency in Afghanistan is deeply troubling, and the failure of NATO’s political masters to address the realities of the security situation in Afghanistan has taken the country and the Karzai government to a precipice. It will take more than a military defeat of the Taliban to build trust, especially in the southern provinces.

The insurgency continues to turn NATO’s weaknesses into its own strengths. Until external actors expand focus beyond the military dimensions, by targeting needs at a grassroots level and thus restoring its previous levels of support, there is a danger that Afghanistan will be lost for at least another generation.


Advance of the Taliban: Maps

Map: One year ago - November, 2007

Map: One year later, November, 2008

NOTE: Map statistics are based upon publicly recorded attacks and local perceptions of Taliban presence

Legend:

Dark Pink: Permanent Taliban Presence (72% in 2008)
= Average of one or more insurgent attacks per week, according to public record of attacks. It is highly likely that many attacks are not publicly known.

Light Pink: Substantial Taliban Presence (21% in 2008)
= Based on number of attacks and local perceptions (Frequency of Taliban sightings)

Grey Areas: Light Taliban Presence (7% in 2008)
= Based on number of attacks and local perceptions (Frequency of Taliban sightings)

The colour coded dots on the map represent civilian, military or insurgent fatalities since January 2008

Red = civilian fatalities

Green = military fatalities

Yellow = insurgent fatalities


Taliban Tactics: The Secret of their success

The Taliban’s success can largely be attributed to its use of a wide array of asymmetric measures aimed at negating NATO’s technical military superiority. Drawing on a sophisticated array of terror tactics and a complex intelligence network, the Taliban has managed to spread instability across large parts of Afghanistan through a sustained campaign of violence. With kidnappings and bombings increasingly commonplace even in Kabul itself, the war is now being fought not just in the country’s fringes, but at its heart. A series of recent attacks, such as the audacious Kandahar jailbreak in June 2008, have also boosted the organisation’s prestige and indicated their ability to evade detection by Afghan and Western intelligence networks.

Crucially, the Taliban appears to be also winning on another front – the battle for hearts and minds. By tapping into a variety of local grievances against NATO-ISAF and the Kabul government, from poppy eradication and bombing leading to civilian casualties, to high levels of unemployment and chronic underdevelopment despite billions of dollars of aid, the insurgency has succeeded in attracting sympathy beyond its traditional support base and gained a measure of political legitimacy among many Afghans.

This was already apparent in 2007, when ICOS conducted an opinion survey to assess local perceptions of the Taliban and its propaganda campaign. Highlighting a growing lack of faith in NATO and the Afghan government, almost half of all respondents doubted their ability to achieve a decisive victory, and more than a quarter of those interviewed expressed their support for the Taliban.

International failures

Underlying this expansion of Taliban presence is the international community’s failure to deliver on the many promises of a better life made to the Afghan people in the wake of the invasion. Seven years on, much of the country still lacks basic amenities and the majority of the population struggle to secure necessities such as food and shelter, let alone a sustainable livelihood. Field research by ICOS has presented a picture of acute hardship and deep uncertainty, with the majority of respondents worried about feeding their families.

Economic outreach to Afghans at a grassroots level, through livelihood creation and microfinance schemes, remain central elements of a successful strategy. Yet developmental expenditure continues to be dwarfed by military spending, resulting in an 'expectations gap’ that the insurgency has been able to exploit. The Taliban has managed to make a manifesto out of the shortcomings of the international community and the Afghan government. Even the failure to prevent the rise of terrorist violence in the country has paradoxically helped the Taliban present themselves in some areas as providers of law and order, despite their responsibility for the ongoing instability.

The international community’s failure to give sufficient focus to the needs and desires of the Afghan population and channel them into effective policy responses is a key aspect of the insurgency’s rising popularity.

This is particularly true of the current approach to tackling Afghanistan’s endemic opium production. A key element of present policy is eradication, which invariably drives farming communities away from the West and into the arms of the Taliban. ICOS suggests an alternative proposal called Poppy for Medicine, which would license some of Afghanistan’s cultivation of opium for conversion into morphine.

If implemented, this proposal would provide poppy growers with the chance to channel their harvest legally into the global morphine market. The current policy of forced poppy crop eradication, on the other hand, destroys their source of income without providing them with an alternative livelihood. In this context, the Taliban has managed to present itself as a protector of local livelihoods by allowing opium production to continue in the areas under its control.
The depressing conclusion is that, despite the vast injections of international capital flowing into the country, and a universal desire to 'succeed’ in Afghanistan, the state is once again in serious danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban. Where implemented, international development and reconstruction efforts have been underfunded, failed to have a significant impact on local communities’ living conditions, or improve attitudes towards the Afghan Government and the international community. The current insurgency, divided into a large poverty-driven 'grassroots’ component and a concentrated group of hardcore militant Islamists, is gaining momentum, further complicating the reconstruction and development process and effectively sabotaging NATO-ISAF’s stabilisation mission in the country.

Until the international community expands its focus beyond the traditional military dimensions, targeting needs at a grassroots level and thus restoring its previous levels of support, there is a danger that the Taliban will simply overrun Afghanistan under the noses of NATO.

Doubling the troops; bolstering development efforts

Security must improve in parallel to development efforts. The Taliban will succeed for as long as they are fighting an under-resouced power. To demonstrate to the Afghan people that NATO is offering nothing short of an unwavering commitment to the fight, ISAF must have access to formidable military force. With some NATO members restricted by caveats, this is not the case.

The total number of international troops integrated to ISAF urgently needs to be doubled to a minimum of 80,000 troops. Currently, NATO is in command of the International Force and most ISAF troops are provided by NATO member states. Nevertheless, contributions from individual countries are, even within NATO, largely uneven when considered in proportion to their population or GDP. For instance, France and Spain are contributing less than one soldier per billion USD of GDP while the United Kingdom and Turkey each supply above three soldiers per USD billion.

Increasing troop levels alone is not sufficient to succeed. Security and development are two inseparable sides of the same reconstruction effort. Development without security and the rule of law would certainly lead to Afghanistan’s disintegration. On the other hand, security at the expense of development is not sustainable; social and economic development is essential to long-term political stability. A lack of real governance and stability is creating a breeding ground for conflict, further instability and violence.

The international community’s strategy in Afghanistan must be a serious commitment to improve the lives of Afghans in an immediate and substantial manner. This is essential in counteracting the Taliban’s propaganda against the West and the Afghan Government. A coherent hearts and minds strategy to address the poverty in Afghanistan’s southern provinces will help international troops achieve their mission.

For the reconstruction effort to be an unambiguous success story, it is essential that the international community creates clearly defined goals in terms of development. Currently, Afghanistan is littered with challenges such as high maternal mortality rates, a failure to adequately promote secondary education, high unemployment and mass displacement due to drought, crop failure, forced opium eradication and destruction of villages during combat between international and insurgent forces.

These are areas that the West must focus on improving, setting priorities, sequencing and creating positive impact on the lives of the Afghan people. Multidimensional poverty represents a direct threat to the achievements of the Bonn process. Rising levels of violence and support of the Taliban show the need for the new democratic institutions to deliver meaningful, pro-poor, policies to the population. Poverty is the primary enemy of Afghanistan’s reconstruction, and must be defeated. As a beneficiary of international aid, Afghanistan receives the lowest amount of reconstruction financing compared to all other post-conflict nations, signifying a failure to recognize that Afghanistan is among the poorest of the poor nations. The response to emergency crises like starvation is not only a humanitarian necessity – it represents an essential part of any stabilization effort.

The international community’s policy in Afghanistan must be to bring about the conditions in which social and economic development can ultimately be created and sustained by the Afghans themselves. It is key that the international community does not allow the conflict to impact on the futures of the youth of Afghanistan. Improving literacy and education; providing healthcare; creating the necessary infrastructure; and providing economic choice through licit sources of revenue and job opportunities are all essential to Afghanistan becoming an economically robust state which is capable of democratic self-governance. An Afghan Community Fund, similar to Brazil’s Bolsa Familia project, should be set up, whereby positive actions from the Afghan public would be rewarded with mutual investment on the part of the government with the support of the international community.

Securing Afghanistan’s stable and prosperous future requires a young generation of competent, peace-driven Afghans to take the leadership. Leadership training for the young unemployed and conflict-ravaged Afghans should be organised seeking to provide them with the necessary skills to assume leadership from current stakeholders, who are the victims of decades of conflict, civil strife and tribal tensions.

The international community has a crucial role to play in building local capacities and strengthening Afghan ownership by forging connections between Afghans by investing in infrastructure, healthcare and education, as well as investing in locally supported delivery systems. Afghan ownership of the development situation is a politic way forward as it helps build public confidence and trust in the Afghan Government and the international community.


 
Inverting the Pyramid: New Architecture Counter Insurgency Theory

A Failed Approach

The current Global Security Architecture is ill-equipped to deal with the problems that beset Afghanistan. Creating the stability and prosperity necessary to establish a politically and economically friendly member of the international community are core elements of making a success of Afghanistan.
 
New Global Security Architecture required

There is manifestly a requirement for a new global security architecture to deal with conflicts and in particular 'War on Terror’ conflicts. The current rulebook on how the International Community approaches conflict needs to be rewritten.
 
A new system of conflict management is needed to both plan for the worst situation while hoping for the best. There must be sufficient contingency planning to handle the most complex of security challenges. Unfortunately, the present infrastructure cannot respond effectively to what we have now, let alone future worst case scenarios.
 
Classic security instruments such as military intervention and intelligence must continue to be fully supported - but other elements such as sustainable job creation and development should also be seen as key security instruments, along with the development of the rule of law, effective counter-narcotics policies, literacy, a free and open media and civil society and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
 
This New Architecture must provide a structure for intervention as a threat containment tool - a way to ensure security by minimising current threats or preventing them from escalating into full-blown insurgencies with linkages to militant Islamist groups.
 
A New Architecture, Counter Insurgency Approach for Afghanistan
 
The neat organisational charts of the current global security architecture no longer fit contemporary crises such as those of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the resulting policy incoherence means the bigger picture is being lost in the maelstrom of individual countries’ flagship policies and projects.
 
In Afghanistan, our overall goals must be to create a politically and economically friendly functioning member of the International Community and to deliver to the Afghan people a measure of prosperity necessary to assure their security.
 
As indicated by the bleak projection of the Taliban’s geographic spread in the maps included in this report, the West is in genuine danger of losing Afghanistan. Rather than continuing to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic, a new, interlinked set of principles is necessary in order to claw back some of the ground lost because of the West’s own lack of understanding of the conflict, misguided policies and our failure to make the Afghan people themselves our top priority.
 
The Afghan people themselves must sit at the heart of these new principles, forming the common denominator in every element of a reinvigorated approach. The traditional power projection pyramid must be inverted, and we must commence a renewed dialogue with the people of Afghanistan before their loyalties are lost for at least another generation. A desperate resort to tribalism or militia will not only be a retrograte step for Afghanistan and the region. It will not lead to the long term stability necessary in our own security interests.
 
A fresh approach needs to encompass all aspects of operations in Afghanistan, from hard military to soft power projection. However, at the root of this approach must be an enduring commitment to the Afghan people, their welfare and their futures. This 360 degree approach is detailed below:

Recommendations

1. Create the right atmosphere

A New Architecture Counter Insurgency Model should be based on a bottom-up, local vision, combining the use of traditional security instruments with new non-violent security instruments.
The international community needs to seize and retain the initiative on all lines of operation. Military, political and developmental initiatives need tempo and visible results. Ordinary Afghan citizens must be convinced the Taliban can be defeated, and the atmospherics created by NATO are critical.
 
These would be improved through the use of Muslim forces within ISAF. Participation by states with a significant Muslim population would ensure that the international force has a multi-cultural dimension. The contributions of such states could fall into three categories: Muslim liaison officers accompanying Western forces on bridgebuilding missions into villages to meet with community leaders, thus helping to bridge the cultural divide; senior Muslim military figures to be seconded to work alongside NATO commanders in ISAF headquarters; troops to support NATO-ISAF missions against the Taliban.
 
An asymmetric opponent can only be defeated by a fleet-footed, broad-spectrum response that recognises the nature of the threat. NATO needs to apply manoeuvrist principles to all levels of operation, meaning that their desire to shatter the enemy’s cohesion and morale underpins the mission.
 
2. Promotion of non-violent security instruments

Classic security instruments such as military intervention and intelligence must continue to be fully supported – but other elements such as sustainable job creation and development should also be seen as key security instruments, along with the development of the rule of law, effective counter-narcotics policies, literacy, a free and open media and civil society and the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals.
 
Economic-focused humanitarian intervention should be placed at the core of military planning as a way to pursue an effective hearts and minds strategy. The core challenge is to show the people that the international community is addressing their most basic needs. So far, the failure to do so has given the Taliban a strategic advantage over international troops. A focus on economic humanitarian aid will defuse tensions and create support for the international presence and the central government within rural communities. It will also reduce the growing control that the Taliban exert over those communities, making the US troops’ missions safer.
 
A key military element of this strategy must be to minimise use of kinetic operations, which have a devastating impact upon those communities affected, frequently cause massive civilian casualties, and offer the insurgency a new pool of recruits. The Taliban insurgency regularly effectively adapts to the changing circumstances on the ground, and we must learn from our enemies and adapt our classic hearts and minds campaign to also adapts to new realities. The first step is to engage in a structural dialogue with the people – yet another non-violent security instrument.
 
Key non-violent security instruments include an Afghan Community Fund and leadership training. Similar to Brazil’s Bolsa Familia project, a Community would reward positive actions by the Afghan public with government investment and access to finance. In Arab states a Marriage Allowance has been implemented bringing young men into family relationships which assist in preventing their recruitment to extremist causes. Furthermore, widespread leadership training for young Afghans must be organised in order to provide the country’s next generation with the skills necessary to help the conflict-ridden state to flourish.
 
3. Inverting the Pyramid

The US-led imperative to impose its own brand of democracy on Afghanistan has failed. Although the country has the institutional veneer of a democratic state, its parliamentary and judicial processes mean little to the vast majority of the country. It is now time to flip the current approach on its head, and start to sell democracy at a grassroots level, establishing community-based initiatives that promote the benefits of localised democracy. However, we should learn from one of the most dramatic mistakes of the last seven years: Selling a better future without delivering on our promises will yield yet more ground to the Taliban.
 
Retrograde steps towards supporting tribal structures and militias over developing a strong democracy and rule of law should be avoided.
 
4. Unified civil-military command and control (C2) structures

NATO’s political masters must strive towards achieving unity of command for forces in Afghanistan. Although difficult to establish for a multi-national coalition comprising nearly 40 states, and a number of civilian actors within Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), it should be a high priority, and is no longer a luxury item but a necessity. At present, even a commonly-established unity of purpose between these various actors is missing, and that must be a lowest common denominator. The past seven years have shown that the old adage "united we stand, divided we fall", still holds true when it comes to complex international military missions.
 
A combined civil-military headquarters should integrate horizontally and vertically, addressing the whole spectrum of operations from the grand strategic to tactical levels. The national interest of individual Western capitals must be refocused on the needs of Afghan people.
 
5. Boots on the ground

The total number of international troops integrated to ISAF urgently needs to be doubled to a minimum of 80,000 troops. Currently, NATO is in command of the International Force and most ISAF troops are provided by NATO member states. Nevertheless, contributions from individual countries are, even within NATO, largely uneven when considered in proportion to their population or GDP. For instance, France and Spain are contributing less than one soldier per billion USD of GDP while the United Kingdom and Turkey each supply above three soldiers per USD billion.
 
6. Collective responsibility

The international community must shift from the concept that one leader or organisation has responsibility from resolving Afghanistan. While US President-Elect Obama obviously has a role to play in Afghanistan, the non fighting parts of NATO have to step up and regional players must be a key part of the solution. The longevity of a plan for Afghanistan should not be contingent upon the US electoral cycle. It is wrong for any actor to simply wait and see for President Obama’s Afghan plan, as this abrogation of responsibility is letting the common goal of securing Afghanistan drift out of reach.
 
7. Military and development efforts must be co-ordinated

A new alliance must be struck between military and humanitarian efforts within the Afghanistan stability strategy. Civilian agencies must develop a deeper understanding of the role that militaries can play in state building efforts, and not view them as a hindrance to their own valuable work. Only the military has the capacity to analyse, plan and implement action in a conflict situation within a short timeframe. This process loop should be formalised for devastated areas of southern Afghanistan, and reinforced by civilians with the requisite skills. Western governments should no longer point at their development budgets as proof of their commitment, when much of this aid does not reach the people of Afghanistan.
 
The military has a central role to play in supporting the activities of development agencies. As such, it should now be tasked to deliver aid to ravaged areas of the south and east, and be granted control of DFID and CIDA’s war zone budgets. These Combat DFID/Combat CIDA operations will be crucial in responding to the immediate needs of poor and vulnerable Afghans.
 
As demonstrated in operations in Africa, putting women in the management of aid projects provides an excellent rebalancing of women’s roles in the community, and should be repeated in Afghanistan where possible.
 
It is time to focus on providing ordinary Afghans with the basic necessities of life; it is simply unacceptable that, seven years after entering the country, the international community has not established mechanisms to ensure that every Afghan has access to food and water.
 
 


:: Article nr. 49492 sent on 11-dec-2008 11:22 ECT

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