The ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) has taken an unusual step by issuing a warning to all internationals, alerting of coordinated “spectacular attacks”, kidnapping of internationals, suicide bombings, and all manner of general mayhem to kick off Sunday, 1 May. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time ISAF has ever distributed a written warning to internationals at large, it’s also the first time ISAF has used social media to reach out to the general public. The message came to us via the Afghanistan security contractors Skype group. Now this Skype group has around 150 members, and although skype chatting is stone age technology by military standards, the military has not been able to join our chats in the past. Nevertheless, witnessing their use of social media like this is pretty darn cool (and it’s about time too).
The UN has sent all their internationals scurrying to seek shelter in local PRT’s and declared “WHITE CITY” countrywide. This means emergency road movements only. Afghan security forces (ANSF) are out in force all over the country. Our local workers are now clearly spooked, but oddly none of them seem to know of any specific threat. As I write this, a frantic effort is being made throughout the south to confirm that there are no missing internationals as (I’m guessing) the Taliban claim to have one in their possession.
This unprecedented warning by ISAF has migrated into the mainstream media as seen with this “exclusive” published in Reuters yesterday by reporter Paul Talt. Paul continued the story in his article today explaining that the May Day offensive is really the start to the summer fighting season. The Taliban are calling their new operation “Badar” which could mean “out” in Dari or “war” in Arabic….hard to say with the Taliban these days… One thing is certain, the Afghans and ISAF are ready for them and unlike big alerts in the past everyone is taking this one seriously.
Myself, Im not too worried, with my suspicion being the current Taliban press offensive is directed more at Afghan fighters and the Afghan people. If the southern Taliban do in fact launch any major ground attacks, it’ll be for them what the Tet offensive was to the North Vietnamese; a total tactical defeat! It cannot morph into a strategic victory (as Tet did for North Vietnam) because the legacy media can no longer spin a story that big to bolster their agenda. Plus- the Taliban are simply not strong enough to conduct a major military offensive; they lack the logistical capacity, they lack heavy weapons, command and control, imagination, not to mention the lack of serious cash an operation of size and scope requires.
My prediction? This- we will see some serious attacks in the eastern portion of the country near the Pakistan border because these villains can more easily mount operations across the border. I’m betting we’ll see something big in Kunar tomorrow or possibly Paktia Province. I still think the boys in the south cannot and will not mount large attacks. But they can dig some more tunnels, making me wonder if the effort they put into digging a tunnel under Saraposa prison isn’t also being duplicated under an ISAF base or PRT? Tunneling under defensive positions is a tactic as old as man and it certainly is one way of launching a spectacular attack without loss of too much manpower. In reality there just isn’t much the Taliban is good at, outside of jail breaks and suicide bombing easy targets in Kabul. They are adept at settling land disputes in the rural districts too – have to give them that. The question I have is why are they doing anything at all?
By the summer of 2014, ISAF is supposed to be gone, leaving the only remaining forces in country attached to the Afghan Army which will have the responsibility to continue the fight. So, for the next three years the Taliban could merely content themselves with economy of force operations; concentrating on targeting and removing officials from the Kabul government who have abused the public trust, all the while avoiding fights with western military forces who routinely beat them like a drum. It’s madness to pit Taliban insurgents against modern infantry because there is no requirement for them to fight, nor can they win. If they foolishly unmask themselves in large attacks tomorrow, they are going to be slaughtered. If they don’t do anything tomorrow, that is going to worry ISAF because it may indicate the Taliban has finally thought things through and wised up. The Taliban doesn’t have to fight, it has little to gain by fighting. Heck, waiting three summers is nothing for an organization which has competent leaders who take the long view on strategic decisions. We shall soon see, but my money is on the Taliban being stupid and trying to flex its military muscle this summer. Stupid is as stupid does.
I predict this summer’s fighting will gut the Quetta shura, while leaving the Peshawar shura pretty much intact. That is to say, I predict the Taliban getting decisively beaten in the south, whilein the east, they fight to a draw. Regardless, at the end of this year’s fighting season we will have another bout of change in American leadership. General Petraeus is going to head the CIA, Leon Panetta is moving from Langley to head up the DoD, and Marine LtGeneral John R. Allen comes east to deal with Afghanistan.
The spy guys at the New York Times, feeling that the CIA is safe from being eliminated by the efforts of a 80 year old retiree in coastal California have turned their attention to the impending leadership change and are warning that the CIA is becoming militarized. Who cares what the CIA becomes as long as whatever they do, they start getting it right. If there’s a chance (however small it be) that the CIA could actually develop into an agency which accomplishes its basic mission, then I’m confident General Petraeus is one of the few men who can lead that change. When General Allen arrives to Afghanistan he will come with a new ambassador, Ryan Crocker, who has a serious reputation for getting things done. His posting will be a welcomed relief.
Which brings us to General John R Allen, USMC. One of the characteristics of the War on Terror which should cause alarm to my fellow Americans has been the performance of our General Officers corps. As an institution that consistently polls as the most trusted in America, theperformance of it’s senior executives has been pretty weak. This is one reason we have been reading of General Petraeus year in and year out since the surge in Iraq. I don’t know General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker or Leon Panetta; so predicting the effect of their new executive positions is impossible. But I do know General John R. Allen, whom it was my privilege to work for back in the early 90’s. General Allen was the Group Chief for the Marine Infantry Officer Course when I was an instructor there. He is, quite simply, the best military officer I have ever known and brother, I have known quite a few. I could share stories in hopes of illuminating why I feel the way I do, but nothing I can write would do justice to the man. He is, plainly put, the best we have. I’ve never met anyone more impressive and I know a lot of impressive people. As you will see when the change occurs next fall I’m not alone in my high opinion of General Allen.
Now, the skype group is currently pinging off the hook with reports of the ANP stopping and detaining armed contractors in Kabul. This is an almost daily occurrence, mind you all these contractors have proper licenses and paperwork. The reason this happens daily is stupidity on the part of government officials who are trying to send a message to the international community. The Taliban is poised to launch some large attacks over the next 72 hours and the reason for that is again- stupidity. The Taliban have won as much as they are going to win already: they ought be spending the next three years on internal growth and administration. But they are stupid in their belief that challenging western militaries is the only way to grow the Jihad. We’ll just see how the fighting season plays out, but when it is over a new team is going to come in and take the reins of this campaign. That new team will be our last chance at achieving an end-state in Afghanistan that justifies the investment we continue to make.