Taliban whack-o-moles moving into northern Afghanistan

McClatchy:

Taliban insurgents have taken over parts of two northern provinces from which they were driven in 2001, threatening to disrupt NATO's new supply route from Central Asia and expand a war that's largely been confined to Afghanistan's southern half, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

Insurgents operating out of Baghlan district along the highway from Tajikistan launched coordinated attacks during the Aug. 20 presidential elections, killing the district police chief and a civilian, while losing a dozen of their own men, local officials said. It was the worst bloodshed reported in the country that day.

The violence has been on the rise in recent months, however, as the Taliban and al Qaida -linked foreign fighters have staged hit-and-run attacks, bombings and rocket strikes on German, Belgian and Hungarian forces in Baghlan and neighboring Kunduz provinces.

The insurgents now control three Pashtun-dominated districts in Kunduz and Baghlan-i-Jadid, a foothold in a region that was long considered safe. With a force estimated at 300 to 600 hard-core fighters, they operate checkpoints at night on the highway to the north, now a major supply route, local officials said, and are extorting money, food and lodging from villagers.

"The Taliban want to show the world that not only can they make chaos in southern Afghanistan , but in every part of Afghanistan ," Baghlan Governor Mohammad Akbar Barekzai said. "This is a big problem. We don't have sufficient forces here."

For U.S. commanders, whose stretched forces have been unable to pacify the south and are taking record casualties, it's another looming problem.

...

The casualties the US and its allies are taking is still historically low despite the dubious "record cited in the story. The casualties are a byproduct of an increased operational tempo that has forced the Taliban out of their comfort zones.

What the story swerves into is an issue raised here often. It is the need for an adequate force to space ratio that can cut off movement of the insurgents like the Taliban. As we flood the zone in Helmand, the enemy moles scurry off to other districts to make mischief. When there is an adequate number of troops these enemy forces will be cut off during their movement. Now they are looking like the classic whack-o-moles.

They can be defeated with more Afghan and allied forces. The Taliban are not strong and are not very good fighters. They do adapt to the situation and have learned to avoid contact with US forces whenever possible. These operations in the northern districts are a function of that force avoidance.

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