Wednesday, April 25, 2012

US Commits to the long haul in Afghanistan as the Taliban demonstrates enhanced capabilities

On Friday the US and Afghanistan signed a 10 year agreement, pledging what some experts have estimated to be around $2.4 billion a year over the next decade. While this agreement was meant to show the world that the US was not going to abandon Afghanistan as it had back in 1990 which precipitated the chaos that led to the rise of the Taliban. Yet the agreement notably left the issue of night raids unaddressed (instead the two states offered separate memoranda on security concerns).

Yet as the US works hard to prove their commitment to the Afghan project, the Taliban has shown extraordinary capability and resolve, launching the spring offensive with a coordinated attack across four different provinces. Among those, one of the seven strikes included on in the heart of Kabul among the diplomatic and parliamentary hub of Afghanistan. The complete surprise with which they caught the US and Afghan intelligence services, and their ability to coordinate the logistics of moving men and arms outside of Pakistan demonstrates a level of proficiency and experience previously unseen from the Taliban’s network. The fact that it was the Haqqani network that was behind the attack, demonstrates that military expertise no longer remains in the exclusive hands of the Taliban.

The attacks were an excellent test of the Afghan security services against an enemy that has quickly adapted to the advanced geospatial and communications intelligence of the US. The results offered some insights into the relative strength of Afghan military forces. The limited death toll on the part of Afghan security forces and their ability to take the lead in fending off the Taliban assault demonstrate a level of professionalism previously unseen in the Afghan security forces. Yet in the end, they still required US air support finally dislodge the assault on Kabul. From this, we may be able to see the limitations of the US COIN initiative as this resilient and adapting counterinsurgency made it painfully clear that a purely military victory will remain outside of Kabul’s grasp. US long-term support should go a long way in assuaging Afghan fears of a complete withdrawal, and with luck it will also help spur negotiations with the Taliban, the sine qua non of a lasting conclusion to the Afghan War.

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