Where Taliban Rules Again
Recent reports from Afghanistan have painted a worrying picture of a deteriorating security situation, marked by a central government unable to extend its writ over large swaths of the country, Afghan police corrupted into league with drug lords and drug running, and a more muscular Taliban guerrilla presence and societal control in some battleground provinces. The most endemically destabilizing factor contributing to Afghanistan’s deteriorating security environment seems to be the continued inability of the government to extend its writ throughout the country and impose security for citizens against Taliban and criminal militants. As a result, reports suggest that the Taliban continue a trend of wresting control from the populace in some of Afghanistan’s contested provinces, notably within the Helmand province. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Taliban have in some cases achieved dominance through campaigns of intimidation and terror that create insecurity and cow the local populace, then portraying themselves as delivering security and assistance to fill the void of government presence. The Taliban have threatened those perceived as government collaborators with death and have often followed through on their threats. A second insidious factor contributing to Afghanistan’s destabilization and the inability of the Karzai government to extend control into many provinces is the rampant corruption among provincial leaders and security forces. The Christian Science Monitor recently reported on their investigation of a number of Afghan police involved in drug trade. In addition, the Monitor reported, “Top Afghan officials privately admit that perhaps 80 percent of the personnel at the Ministry of Interior, Afghanistan’s chief law-enforcement agency?from local police chiefs up to the top bureaucrats?may be benefiting from the drug trade.” Further, drug lords and their militias serve as predominant militant actors in many regions. As a result of many of these worsening trends, as reported by the Washington Post, many Afghans and foreign representatives are losing confidence in Karzai’s government, with a “rift” growing between the government and foreign “civilian and military establishments.” For the Afghan government and allied foreign forces, mounting counterinsurgency campaigns against the Taliban and regaining control of the outlying provinces will require a strategy grounded in imposing and fortifying security and social reconstruction around laymen Afghans. This strategy requires the deployment of larger numbers of security forces and reconstruction teams into contested provinces. This fundamental strategy will erode the level of operational societal support?active and intimidated?for the Taliban in terms of recruits, societal camouflage for guerrillas, and informant networks, pushing the Taliban into a more rural, isolated guerrilla war. Once confidence is built among the people, the Karzai government can seek to win and leverage their support for government activities. Such support can include informing against Taliban and criminal groups and providing recruits and leaders loyal to the government to bolster provincial and national security forces to aid in consolidating control over villages and extending the government’s reach. Without the security of government and Coalition forces, most Afghans are easy prey for the intimidation, coercion, and enticements of the Taliban, which have exploited this societal support across contested provinces for operational footholds. Thus, to degrade these footholds requires cleaving the Taliban from this prized societal support.