Whatever you do, don’t miss The New York Times’ epic interview with a Pakistani Taliban tactician about what has become a seamless conflict on both sides of
Whatever you do, don’t miss The New York Times’ epic interview with a Pakistani Taliban tactician about what has become “a seamless conflict” on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The tactician is based out of Wana, in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but spends much of his time focused on Afghanistan. His superiors, for instance, are tied to the network of longtime Afghanistan guerilla Jalaleddin Haqqani. As my friend Chris Albritton suggests at his new blog, Insurgency Watch, much of what the tactician says will be familiar to students of the counterinsurgent Dave Kilcullen. But here’s the highlight reel.
1. Paying off tribal elders won’t work. Gen. David Petraeus’ strategy in Iraq of exploiting and deepening fractures in both the Iraqi insurgency and its base of support provoked study in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The tactician says that Petraeus, now the head of U.S. Central Command, can try it in Afghanistan, but he should just expect to be throwing money around. “We know our Afghans,” he says. “They will take the money from Petraeus, but they will not be on his side. There are so many people working with the Afghans and the Americans who are on their payroll, but they inform us, sell us weapons.”
2. The drone strikes actually work, to a degree. In Pakistan, the CIA’s missile strikes from pilotless drones have caused controversy, both within Pakistan, where civilian casualties are fuel for the insurgency, and among American strategists, who debate their utility both within that context and against the stark fact that U.S. combat troops largely can’t operate in Pakistan. The tactician gives the drones their due, saying they’re “very effective,” and that they’ve thinned the ranks of al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership. (All of which suggests the United States has a significant intelligence base within Pakistan after all. Otherwise, the drones wouldn’t know what to hit.) But:
The drone attacks simply prompted Taliban fighters to spend more time in Afghanistan, or to move deeper into Pakistan, straddling both theaters of a widening conflict. The recruits were prepared to fight where they were needed, in either country, he said.
Within this framework, the drones appear to be the newest hammer with which to play whack-a-mole, which is an unsustainable and insufficient long-term strategy. In Wana, he says, “the gossip has finished,” meaning people don’t gather in large groups for fear of being blown up by drones.” The tactician apparently views that as a win for the United States, but in the longer term, it poses a clear risk to U.S. or Pakistani efforts to cleave the populace from the Taliban.
3. The Taliban is not al-Qaeda. The goals of the Taliban in what The Times says the tactician sees as “one fluid and sprawling war” are to drive the United States out of Afghanistan and to take over Pakistan. What they’re not is to attack the United States at home. The Times describes the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban as “respectful but distant.” Al-Qaeda’s operatives don’t “tell us their activities,” he said. While he respects al-Qaeda’s “ambitions,” he said the Taliban will be “content in capturing Afghanistan and throwing the Americans out,” and destabilizing the Pakistani government. But when al-Qaeda needs a suicide bomber, the Taliban supplies the recruits.
4. The Taliban is in your village already. The tactician’s spent the last month moving about 80 fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan to combat the American troop increase. They move into Afghan villages and spend four to six months getting to know the locals, who become the Taliban support base. By contrast, how much time do U.S. troops and development workers, who rarely speak the language, spend with the villagers?
5. It’s not hard to get over on the Pakistani Frontier Corps. Meet the force that the U.S. is relying on to conduct counterinsurgency operations in Pakistan.
The Taliban tactician said getting his fighters over the border was not a problem. The Pakistani paramilitary soldiers from the Frontier Corps who guard the border were too busy looking after their own survival, he said.
**6. The near-term Taliban goal in Afghanistan is to control the Kabul-Kandahar highway. **It’s Afghanistan’s major artery for transportation of people and commerce, and the United States has long known its strategic importance to both the Afghan government and the insurgency. That’s why the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division was ordered to deploy to the Logar-Wardak region late last year — so it could sit on that highway. The Taliban intends to harass and inflict as much damage along that highway to U.S. forces as it can. “We want to inflict maximum trouble, to lower their morale, to destabilize,” the tactician says. That includes making movies. They’re increasing their strategic communication efforts, bringing “cameramen instructed to capture video of faltering American soldiers” alongside their operations in order to make and distribute DVDs.
That in turn raises the question of why the tactician is bothering to talk to a reporter at all. Clearly he sees value in spreading this message. Perhaps what he’s saying is interspersed with false statements; it certainly can’t represent a complete account of the situation. But dismissing the report carries its own attendant risks, not least of which is willful blindness. Jane Perlez and Pir Zuzbair Shah of The Times deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what must have been an arduous report to put together, to say nothing of the personal danger they probably faced in doing so.
Rep. Paul Ryan to deliver SOTU response
Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union Tuesday, according to Mike Allen
Rep. Paulsen allies with medical device industry to relax FDA oversight
Source: Flickr; Republicanconference (www.flickr.com/photos/republicanconference) On the heels of the Minnesota Independent story last week about U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s cozy financial relationship with the medical device industry, the New York Times reported Tuesday that some health professionals are alarmed by Paulsen’s push to relax Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight
Rep. Paulsen touts balanced budget constitutional amendment
In a post for the conservative blog True North , U.S. Rep
Rep. Patrick McHenry: Please, Conservatives, Fill Out Your Census Forms!
The conservative congressman from North Carolina, a constant critic of the census -- one of the people who sounded the alarm about politicization when the
Rep. Paulsen, Karl Rove the latest to get ‘glittered’
Rep. Erik Paulsen and former Bush staffer Karl Rove were both showered with glitter at the Midwest Leadership Conference Friday
Rep. Perlmutter to hold constituent meet-up in grocery store
Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter will hold a Government in the Grocery constituent meet-up this evening from 5-7 at the Safeway at 38th and Wadsworth in Wheat Ridge. The address is 3900 Wadsworth. The meeting, where Perlmutter typically sits at a folding table and talks to whomever shows up, is free and open to the public
Rep. Perlmutter criticizes House measure that would eliminate 800K federal jobs
Congressman Ed Perlmutter today issued a scathing statement criticizing the House of Representatives for passing a spending bill that could put nearly a million federal employees out of work. The Colorado delegation voted strictly on party lines, with all four Republicans voting in favor of the bill and the three Democrats voting in opposition. Perlmutter’s statement: “My number one priority is to get people back to work because that’s the best thing we can do to pay our debt and move forward toward economic stability
Rep. Pete Stark Won’t Dignify Constituent by, er, Micturating Upon His Leg
In the tradition of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), California Democratic Rep. Pete Stark revealed at a recent town hall gathering that there are limits to what
Rep. Peace, ACLU seek investigation of soldier’s allegations of racial discrimination in Afghanistan
Both Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) and the American Civil Liberties Union agree: There needs to be an investigation into Spc.
School of Hock
A growing number of college grads are defaulting on their student loans as the economy worsens.