politics, history and the war on terror
Monday, May 03, 2004
Afghanistan Update 

The May 10th edition of U.S. News and World Report contains three excellent articles which provides insight on the hunt for al Qaeda, the methods of traditional and Special Operations forces, and the challenges American soldiers face in fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The “Hunt for bin Laden” describes the challenges in tribal regions due to tribal customs and laws, problems with Pakistani military and political cooperation, the motivation of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and the disposition of American intelligence and military operations. Tracking bin laden has been complicated as it appears he has changed his method of movement, making him hard to find:

Osama bin Laden, senior military and intelligence officials say, has forsaken his Arab bodyguards and, when the need arises, travels with a small number of Pashtun tribesmen in Pakistan's untamed borderlands.

While cooperation by the Pakistani military is not ideal, President Musharraf is committed to dealing with al Qaeda after failed attempts at assassination:

Some ascribe Musharraf's determination to the two assassination attempts by al Qaeda that he survived within the past year. "For us, al Qaeda trying to kill him is a good deal,"said a senior commander who has met several times with Musharraf. ". . . He finally said, 'That ain't going to happen; I'm coming after you.' And then he [got] the support of the military to do that."

Also noted is the U.S.’s increased presence in Afghanistan, which should put to bed any myths American commitment to find bin Laden and secure Afghanistan is lacking, or that America has forgotten Afghanistan:

With the recent arrival of 2,000 marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is now at a temporary high of 20,000, more than at any time since the post-9/11 invasion. An additional 2,000 troops from friendly countries and the increasing deployments of Afghan National Army and special forces units brings the number higher still, meaning not just more boots on the ground but more schmoozing with locals and, the expectation is, more actionable intelligence

Both the “War in the Shadows” and “Speak softly, carry a big gun” highlight the challenges faced by American forces in Afghanistan attempting to establish intelligence sources and cooperation from the local population. “War in the Shadows” discusses the patrol of a conventional Army Parachute Infantry Regiment, while “Speak softly, carry a big gun” documents how a Special Forces team lives among the local population. A common thread is the reluctance of the Afghanis to assist American in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda:

The Americans' search is complicated by the studied evasiveness of many Afghans. Capt. Brent Morrow understands why. Twenty-five years of war have bred a survival mentality and a culture of switching sides. "They fear retribution," he says, "from the Taliban and al Qaeda."

The hardships the Afghani people have endured, from the Soviet invasion in 1979 through the civil wars and the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, cannot be underestimated when discussing problem in Afghanistan. It's infrastructure, institutions and system of law were destroyed during this period, and it will take a high level of commitment and many years, perhaps decades, to establish Afghanistan as a respectable nation. The remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda must be rooted out and destroyed before this is possible. It is vital to both Afghanistan's security and America's national security interests: Afghanistan must not become a base of operations for terrorists again. America has made the commitment to Afghanistan but we cannot expect instant success. Time, money, power and patience are all required to see Afghanistan through this difficult time.

Posted by bill roggio @ 3:08 PM