The recent fighting in southern Afghanistan was reported in terms of
American, British, Canadian and Dutch troops fighting the Taliban. But the most
effective troops hardly got mentioned at all, and that's the way they like it.
Among 20,000 or so American and NATO troops, there were nearly 2,000 commandos
(about a third of them U.S. Special Forces). Afghanistan has been something of
a commando Olympics for the past five years. During the last three months, the
Taliban were subjected to a series of offensive operations, most of them using
the commandos to get the drop on the Taliban, and then call in U.S., NATO or
Afghan troops to finish off the enemy, after the commandos and smart bombs had
done their work. In this way, about half the 4,000 deaths in Afghanistan this
year, took place in those three months. During that period, 2,077 Taliban were
killed. Some 40 percent of those Taliban losses occurred during Operation
Medusa, which took place in September, in Kandahar province. This operation was
meant to upset the Taliban plans to bring in thousands of gunmen, and take
control of the area around Kandahar (the traditional Taliban "capital") and
perhaps (if only temporarily) the city itself. The Taliban were outmaneuvered
and outfought, especially by the international commando force.
Taliban have declared their 2006 operations a success, despite the death of
nearly 3,000 of their fighters, and the wounding of even more. Exactly how many
Taliban were running around in southern Afghanistan this year is hard to tell.
Could have been as many as 10,000. But success depended a lot on cooperation
from local tribesmen. Some tribes were more pro-Taliban than others. Where they
had some local support, there was a lot of terrorizing of civilians going on.
But any organized attacks on local officials or police, brought a quick
response. The Coalition commandos, plus air power, were the most feared
combination. UAVs could quickly be over an area and would appear to stay there
forever. If the commandos picked up the trail of a group of Taliban, they would
usually catch up with them, and, using a combination of smart bombs and
superior fighting skills, destroy the Taliban unit. These Taliban groups would
sometimes have several hundred fighters. The Taliban were not stupid, and would
often scatter when they knew the commandos and UAVs were on their trail. But
since so many of the Taliban gunmen were Pakistani Pushtuns, and not familiar
with the local terrain, the most effective tactic, of ditching weapons in one
of the many little caves in the area, and then splitting up in to much smaller
groups and scattering, didn't work. So hundreds of Pakistani Taliban died in
these operations, trapped in a landscape they were not familiar with.
air reconnaissance (UAVs and manned aircraft) made it dangerous for the Taliban
to try and get away in vehicles, and the commandos were able to go after them
on foot. The Taliban rationale for their "victory" in 2006 rests on the fact
that they did mount a major effort, most of them survived it, and they burned
down 200 schools, killed at least twenty teachers, and several hundred other
uncooperative Afghans. They managed to kill 56 foreign troops, and several
hundred Afghan soldiers and police. But the Taliban lost about ten dead, for
every enemy they killed. The Taliban also enraged many Afghans, who like the
idea of having schools, and roads and being left alone. So who really won?