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These were not isolated voices. Witnesses at a key meeting held in Kandahar city in early October between Nato commanders and their Afghan security counterparts described every officer present as agreeing that in southern Afghanistan "the Taliban are a spent force". The meeting included the Afghan 205 Corps commander, two Afghan brigadiers, the regional police and intelligence commanders, and British and American officers. "Without any exceptions during the tour-de-table, every one of them said that the Taliban have had it," said a witness. "The governor said: ‘The insurgents have lost any sense of morale and hope...and have lost the battle in Kandahar province.' The NDS (Afghan intelligence) commander said: ‘The insurgency is in its last stages.' ISAF may be a little quieter about it as we've got the ‘too good to be true' syndrome or else are afraid to be taken for fools. But the evidence of what is going on here is piling up."

In Zhari itself, Haji Rahmatullah Khan, agreed. "The Taliban are weak now," the 55-year-old village elder told me. "What can they do? A few IEDS. Some mines. It's not the same fight as the past. They have little power of their own left." Three times wounded fighting the Soviet forces among the same vineyards while a mujahideen commander, Haji Rahmatullah knew the Taliban intimately. Mullah Obaidullah, the Taliban's imprisoned defence minister, is his nephew. As a mujahid, he had fought alongside Mullah Omar on numerous occasions. Indeed, he claimed to have been involved in the action the day Mullah Omar lost an eye ("close to green in colour").

While insisting that most of the Taliban in Zhari were locals, he also suggested that few had ideological conviction beyond a desire to fight foreign troops, a paradigm threatening the surge's logic. But unlike during the jihad against the Russians when locals were united behind the resistance, he added today Zhari's population was split over the legitimacy of the insurgents' struggle. "It's not seen as such a good fight," Haji Rahmatulah continued. "But at the end it isn't down to Mullah Omar. It's down to Pakistan, America and Britain. If the right pressure is put on Pakistan, the Taliban would accept just three ministries, and the constitution, to end all of this. Without that pressure you can build 100 roads in Zhari and fight for a thousand years and you will still have Taliban in the orchards."

 For their part, dismissing the claims against them, Taliban spokesmen have talked of their fighters conducting "tactical withdrawals" in the south — or else pointed to Taliban gains in the north of the country — but have chosen not to mention that these include withdrawals from areas such as Zhari and Panjwayi that have been its totemic preserves. "The enemy has not gained any ground of much significance," said Mullah Muhammad Isa Akhond, the Taliban's senior military commander in Kandahar, interviewed by Alemarah, the Taliban's website. "Mujahideen have tactically retreated from the areas which they (Nato) have entered but are causing the enemy great suffering and losses in well-planned IED attacks and ambushes." 

Nor have the Taliban made any mention of the fearful attrition of their mid-level commanders over late summer, a toll that has included 339 "jackpot" commanders killed or captured by special forces between August and October, along with 949 other fighters, in targeted raids that have increased more than threefold with the surge. US pilots have multiplied their strikes on the Taliban by 50 per cent over the same period compared to 2009.

Human intelligence has led to some of these hits, but a lot more of it has come from intelligence assets provided by units such as the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade based in Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border, who have penetrated Taliban communications to an unprecedented level. "We see an organisation [the Taliban] that looks like any other army in reverse," said an official privy to intercepts. "They say that their higher headquarters don't get it, that they haven't got the people, they haven't got the equipment. No ammunition. No detonators. Suicide bombers failing to show up. Locals no longer agreeing to bury their dead or help the wounded to aid stations. Their leadership and logistical train has broken apart. The organisation is so chopped that we're seeing mailroom guys trying to run the corporation."

Public statistics similarly suggest a significant erosion of the Taliban's capabilities in the south. In August 2009, for example, there were 246 violent incidents in Kandahar on presidential election day. But last September, parliamentary elections were held in the province with just 64 attacks. The only two deaths there that day were of insurgents, blown up by their own devices. 

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December 9th, 2010
12:12 AM
How wishful can one make wishful thinking?

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