Afghanistan in 2009
The new year kicked off in Afghanistan with 20 policemen dead in a Taliban attack. They were targeting a renegade mullah who became a government chief in a city in Helmand Province. The battles we're seeing in the country are not unlike local turf wars. And the Taliban has been winning the lion's share, establishing what amounts to a de facto government everywhere but in the capital, Kabul.
Two months ago, Mohammad Anwar recalls, the Taliban paraded accused thieves through his village, tarred their faces with oil and threw them in jail.
The public punishment was a clear sign to villagers that the Taliban are now in charge. And the province they took over lies just 30 miles from the Afghan capital of Kabul, right on the main highway.
The Taliban has long operated its own shadow government in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, but its power is now spreading north to the doorstep of Kabul, according to Associated Press interviews with a dozen government officials, analysts, Taliban commanders and Afghan villagers. More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, the Islamic militia is attempting — at least in name — to reconstitute the government by which it ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Over the past year in Wardak province alone, Taliban fighters have taken over district centers, set up checkpoints on rural highways and captured Afghan soldiers. The Taliban in Wardak has its own governor and military chief, its own pseudo-court system and its own religious leaders who act as judges. Bands of armed militants in beat-up trucks cruise the countryside, dispensing their own justice against accused spies and thieves.
Adding forces into this conflict for the purposes of "maintaining security" won't accomplish wresting control of the outlying areas from those who currently hold it. There will have to be offensive operations to drive the Taliban back. Meanwhile, outside the country, Taliban-affiliated groups have been destroying supply lines for US equipment and provisions from Pakistan. Now, the Pakistani military is launcing a major offensive to secure that route, but the US is preparing alternate supply routes through Central Asia. Of course, we'd be working with human rights abusers like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but that's never stopped us before.
It seems to me that, if we are struggling with finding a proper way into the country, and the adversary basically controls everything from Kabul to the border, and foreign fighters aren't really seen positively by the citizenry, well, the prospects for success are, shall we say, diminished.