Winning: Taliban Victory Slip Sliding Away

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December 15,2008: The Taliban thought they had a decisive weapon when they adopted large scale use of roadside and suicide bombing three years ago. This effort was a bitter disappointment. Four years ago, there were only a few hundred roadside or suicide bomb attacks in Afghanistan annually, and these had no major effect on the fighting. This year, there have been nearly 2,500 such attacks, over 80 percent of them roadside bombs. But about two-thirds of those roadside bombs were spotted and disabled before they could go off. The U.S. and British troops had transferred their Iraq counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Device, or roadside bomb) techniques and technology to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban found that they were not as good at this IED stuff as the Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq were. In 2005, when there were far fewer IED/suicide bomber attacks, 130 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan. The foreign troops are the principal Taliban target, as it's a big deal for the Taliban to "cast out the infidels (non-Moslems)." Failure has been constant. Increasing the IED/suicide attacks this year by about eight times the 2005 level has yielded 277 dead foreign troops.

What is wrong here? Partly it's the foreign troops ability to deal with, and usually disable roadside bombs. Then there's the airpower. The foreign troops have more helicopters, and parachute drops of supplies (which have more than doubled compared to last year). So far this year, over 7,400 tons of supplies have been air dropped by U.S. Air Force C-130s and C-17s. That's more than was dropped in all of the last four years combined. In the last four years, over 10,000 tons have been dropped, with 98.5 percent of the drops being successful. Accuracy is important in Afghanistan, with all the hills, gullies and forests. Air dropped supplies have landed, on average, with 185 meters of the aim point. Where high accuracy is required, the air force has developed JPADS (Joint Precision Airdrop System) and ICDS (Improved Container Delivery System). Both of these are systems whereby pallets of supplies are equipped with GPS, and mechanical controls, to guide the direction of the descending parachute for pinpoint landings.

Before the development of GPS guided air drops, a large percentage of air dropped supplies were lost, either by falling into enemy hands, or into things that destroyed them (especially water). With the new delivery systems, it's possible to do night drops, which is preferred when you don't want to alert nearby enemy troops. Often, you can accurately drop pallets without the GPS systems, if you have a large flat drop zone, daylight, and calm winds. But if conditions are difficult, you now have GPS guided drops.

The Taliban are very frustrated with their inability to cut U.S./NATO supply lines, like they often did with the Russians in the 1980s. The Taliban are still at a big disadvantage when they try to fight it out with U.S. troops, and Taliban losses have gone up each year because of this. While the Taliban are making more attacks, mainly by planting lots of IEDs, they have less to show for it, except for increased casualties of their own. Worse, the Pakistani Army has been on the offensive against Taliban bases across the border, forcing Afghan Taliban to send gunmen into Pakistan to help out.

The Taliban are determined, but morale is suffering. Some tribesmen are muttering about the Americans being like the Mongols, unstoppable, and someone you must simply surrender to in order to survive. Afghans did that, and the Mongols eventually went away (leaving behind the hated Hazara tribes, who still resemble their Mongol ancestors.) But the Taliban are heartened by their success with manipulating foreign media, to at least make it look, from afar, like the Taliban are winning. That's something, isn't it?

 


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