The Afghan winter offensive

Washington Post:

NATO alliance troops facing ever more aggressive Taliban insurgents are planning a winter "development surge" of civil works projects in eastern Afghanistan designed to win over tribes in regions near the Pakistan border and to prevent their sons from joining the Taliban's ranks, according to military officials here.

At the same time, troops will keep up armed pressure with a winter offensive that seeks to get a head start on blunting the Taliban's traditional spring fighting season.

In a series of recent interviews, U.S. military and NATO officials said that reversing recent gains by Taliban forces will require more troops, time, confidence-building among the Afghan populace, and cooperation from Pakistan in denying the guerrillas sanctuary inside its borders.

"There is no doubt the enemy has bounced back," said Brig. Gen. Mark A. Milley, deputy commander for U.S. operations under NATO in eastern Afghanistan. "They are not unified, and they only have support of 10 percent of the people. But they have achieved a perception of insecurity. Our challenge is to create a perception of security."

"Our fighting season is 365 days a year," said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, spokeswoman for U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, describing plans for cold-weather attacks. "We are not going to let them rest and reconstitute themselves." The simultaneous development surge, in the meantime, should help "separate the people from the enemy by presenting alternatives and undermining their recruiting pool."

One development project will be in Khost province, where suicide bombers attacked a U.S. base last month and followers of Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani are active. The U.S. command plans to build a road from Khost city to a major highway, a project that officials hope will solidify local support for the government and weaken Haqqani's grip.

...

A more serious problem for U.S. and NATO forces is the persistence of safe havens for Afghan insurgents across the border in Pakistan. Pakistani security forces have only recently begun to make meaningful headway in combating local groups, at a time of strong opposition among the Pakistani public to cross-border airstrikes and ground raids by U.S. forces.

Milley said Islamist fighters on both sides of the border are "inextricably linked," even though Pakistani and Afghan officials have repeatedly blamed each other's territory as the source of violence. "The insurgency in Afghanistan cannot be solved until the situation in Pakistan is solved, and vice versa," he said in an interview last week.

The general said that even though Pakistani forces cooperate closely with U.S. forces along the border and have lost more than 1,500 men, their troops are not trained in counterinsurgency and their leaders have had difficulty "coming to grips" with the nature of the enemy they face.

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Despite the wide perception that the Taliban is rapidly gaining ground, with attacks occurring regularly near the capital, officials cited several cases in which it is being decisively pushed back. In Kapisa province, just northeast of the capital, they said, French and Afghan troops have routed Taliban forces, and soon the construction of a new Kabul bypass road will begin there.

Still, officials described the overall situation as mixed, with Western troops defeating the insurgents in every individual encounter but remaining unable to wipe them out. Moreover, officials acknowledged that some of their advances are coming at a high political cost, especially Afghan anger over civilian casualties and Pakistani opposition to cross-border raids.

...

When you are winning the battles but nit able to wipe them out, it is a sign you have an inadequate force to space ratio and you are playing whack-a-mole. It means you need more troops and more importantly, more local forces. Even by doubling the size of the Afghan army, it will still be smaller than the Iraqi army which is controlling a smaller geographic area. Afghanistan's geography is also better suited to supporting an insurgency than Iraq.

I agree with the strategy of keeping the pressure on this winter. It is a way of forcing the enemy out of its comfort zone and wearing on its forces which should make it harder for him to have as big an offensive the coming year.

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