February 12, 2007Foreign Affairs

Moses’s Fort falls to the Taliban

So will Afghanistan itself, unless the United States demonstrates a will to win the war

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Its supporters might call it operational realism. Its critics, a deal with the devil. British troops slugging it out in Afghanistan’s Helmand province signed a peace treaty’ with the Taliban at Musa Qala (Moses’s Fort, when translated into English) in October 2006. Finding themselves fighting an increasingly stronger adversary, and out of favour with the local population, British troops under Gen David Richards struck a deal—secretly—with the Taliban. The British would withdraw from their positions in return for a Taliban promise to keep out of Musa Qala.

After the winter, the only reality that was operational was the folly of trusting the Taliban. They took over Musa Qala, knocked down government buildings and arrested tribal leaders loyal to the Karzai government. Ostensibly, they did this in reaction to a British airstrike on the local Taliban commander’s person and family.

The new commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan is an American. Gen Dan McNeill, who took over from Gen Richards, is said to view the deal with deep scepticism’. As well he might. His did not say as much in words, but the actions of other American troops after he took over suggest that he takes Pakistan’s claims with deep scepticism too.

So much has the picture changed in Afghanistan that American and NATO troops are now bracing themselves for a spring offensive’ by the Taliban. It was not so long ago that it was the Americans were springing offensives. Also it is not unusual to read reports of a resurgent’ Taliban. Well, the Taliban never did go away. It was the world’s attention—and most certainly the western media’s—that did. In the meantime European governments used the controversy over the Iraq war and its aftermath not to send meaningful numbers of additional troops to Afghanistan. And in the war against narcotics, that is running in parallel with the war against the Taliban, the United States looks set to repeat failed strategies.

Gen Musharraf, must be gritting his teeth and waiting to ride out the last, turbulent part of the storm. His U-turn against the Taliban would have counted on the United States losing focus, patience or the war itself in Afghanistan. At this time, very few would bet against him.

An important American military objective in Afghanistan & Pakistan is the capture of Osama bin Laden & the al-Qaeda top leadership. The United States is no closer to achieving that objective today as it was five years ago. But it is much closer to losing the war in Afghanistan that it ever was.

Related Link: Swami Iyer has an excellent roundup of Gen Richards and the Musa Qala episode over at INI Signal.

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