27 January 2010

Afghanistan: Two Important Reads

Wanted to share links to two important documents that were released/leaked today. I'm bogged down with work at my "real" job so far this week, so don't have much time for analysis. Both are well worth a read if you have a chance...

1) Ambassador Eikenberry's Afghanistan Cables - leaked to the NY Times and published today. Read the summary article here and view the full document below:

2) MG Flynn's Afghanistan Assessment (from 22 Dec): published by Peter Bergen at CNN. Although the full document is not viewable, the content outlined in Bergen's article sounds very similar to the slides I shared from COL Thompson (MG Flynn's deputy) several weeks ago in a previous post here. Key highlights from Flynn's assessment include:

  • The Taliban's organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding and the group is capable of much greater frequency of attacks and varied locations of attacks.
  • The insurgency can now sustain itself indefinitely because of three factors: 1) The increased availability of bomb-making technology and material; 2) The Taliban's access to two major funding streams, one from the opium trade and the other from overseas donations from Muslim countries, which reach the Taliban by courier or through a system of informal banks known as "hawalas" that operate across much of the Islamic world; and 3) The Taliban's continuing ability to recruit foot soldiers based on the perception that they "retain the religious high-ground," and factors such as poverty and tribal friction.
  • Detained insurgents said the Taliban saw 2009 as the most successful year of the war, because violence had expanded and because the Afghan presidential election on August 20 was marred by low turnout and fraud. Detainees also told interrogators that the Taliban see al Qaeda as a handicap - a view that is spreading as the Taliban try to present themselves as a nationalist group seeking to liberate Afghanistan from foreign forces.
  • The Taliban are effectively creating a parallel government, in competition with the Kabul government. [For more on the Taliban's shadow government, see my recent post here] The Taliban's strategy in 2010 includes expanding into the north and west of Afghanistan, where the Taliban traditionally have had scant support; continuing aggressive operations during winter, when warfare has traditionally eased in Afghanistan; and increasing Taliban influence around the key cities of Kabul and Kandahar.
  • Taliban weaknesses include: disagreements among local Taliban leaders, the group's dependence on marginalized ethnic Pashtuns, and over-reliance on "external support," a reference to Taliban havens in Pakistan.

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