In a disturbing but frankly, refreshing,
admission by US military intelligence officers, there seems to be
growing recognition of the problem of fighting militants who are local
residents -- as opposed to fighting foreign jihadist fighters who have
come to fight Western troops in Afghanistan or the non-local Taliban
Afghans who move in to terrorize citizens of some respective community.
Again from the New York Times report by Ray Rivera, Alissa J. Rubin and Thom Shanker:
"There's a lot happening in Tangi," said Capt. Kirstin Massey, 31, the
assistant intelligence officer for Fourth Brigade Combat Team in an
interview last week. "It's a stronghold for the Taliban."
The fighters are entirely Afghans and almost all local residents,
Captain Massey said, noting that "We don't capture any fighters who are
The redoubts in these areas pose the kind of problems the military faced
last year in similarly remote areas of Kunar Province, forcing
commanders to weigh the mission's value given the cost in soldiers'
lives and dollars spent in places where the vast majority of the
insurgents are local residents who resent both the NATO presence and the
As the size of US military and
allied forces grew in Afghanistan, so too did the overall count of
Taliban fighters, who saw recruitment levels rise in part because of
deep resentments over the presence of what was perceived to be a foreign
The Taliban, whom the US has been fighting,
will inevitably be part of an ending political equation in Afghanistan
that includes a variety of other key ethnic and tribal groups and which
will need the buy-in from Pakistan, but the notion of "beating" the
Taliban -- when they are embedded as residents in the local population
-- has been a foolish notion from the beginning.
The loss of so
many US and Afghan troops in the largest one-day casualty hit since the
Afghanistan War began is a tragedy -- made worse by the fact that US
strategists don't seem to understand that beneath a proxy war in
Afghanistan between regional neighbors, there is also a civil war
underway and a war by some Afghans simply against Occupation.
President Biden seems to understand that what needs to happen now is a
political process in which military force and assets are a part of a
strategy to achieve a relatively stable political equilibrium in
Afghanistan. This deal-making will need to take into account the
political views of the Taliban.
But clearly the large loss of
ISAF troops in this Chinook disaster can disrupt such a political
process -- compelling the US and allied side of the equation to double
down while encouraging the Taliban fighters to consolidate their
achievement and push for more.
A two-hour firefight in the
Tangi Valley that led to the deaths of these soldiers may have been
vital in someone's strategic game plan -- but from my vantage point, I
don't see how the deployment of these forces, the fight with local
residents in this remote and tough to reach corner of Wardak falls into
the overall strategic plan that the US has now set for Afghanistan.
vital that strategic decisionmakers reassess how ISAF's military plan
fits into a negotiations outcome with key political players in
Afghanistan. Did this Chinook mission fit into that? If not, then this
was even a worse tragedy.