Now that we’ve understood the administration’s strategy for Afghanistan, what is the Taliban strategy against the United States? Such a question is warranted to be able to project the clash between the two strategies and assess the accuracy of present U.S. policies in the confrontation with the forces it is fighting against in that part of the world. So, how would the Taliban/Al Qaeda war room counter NATO and the Afghan government based on the Obama administration's battle plan?
The jihadi war room is now aware that the Obama administration has narrowed its scope to fully defeat the so-called Al Qaeda organization while limiting its goal to depriving the Taliban from achieving full victory. In strategic wording this means that the Obama Administration won’t give the time and the means, let alone the necessary commitment to fully defeat the Taliban as a militia and militant network. The Jihadists strategists have now understood that Washington’s advisors still recommend talking to the Taliban, the entire Taliban, but only after the latter would feel weak and pushed back enough to seek such talks. Underneath this perception, the Islamists’ analysts have realized that present American analysis concludes that al Qaeda and the Taliban are two different things, and that it is possible to defeat the first and eventually engage the second. Such a Jihadist understanding of US defective perceptions will give the Taliban and Al Qaeda a first advantage: Knowing that your enemy, the U.S., isn’t seeing you as you really are.
President Obama has declared, and his aides have confirmed, that the goal of the mission in Afghanistan is to destroy Al Qaeda and train the Afghan armed forces but not to engage in nation-building. Unlike previous American commitments (which weren’t very successful anyway), the current strategy officially ignors the ideological battle being waged in the country. What message did the Taliban take from the president's declaration? That the pipeline of new recruits that comes from the madrassas is wide open. Washington’s military efforts and government funds won’t touch the ideological factory of jihadism, which is the strategic strength of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Hence, the jihadi network in Afghanistan will continue and further develop its indoctrination structures, untouched and unbothered by American military escalation. The Marines and other NATO allies will be fighting today’s Taliban while tomorrow’s jihadists will be receiving their instruction in peace and tranquility. By the time the Obama deadline to withdraw forces arrives whether it's in 2011, 2012 or even beyond, the future forces of the enemy will be ready to be deployed. One wave of terrorists will be weakened by the action of brave men and women of the U.S. and NATO armed forces, while the next wave will be prepared to takeover later.
A Deadly Deadline
The administration’s plan included a timeline for withdrawal from the central Asian country. Basing their assessment on the notion of “no open-ended engagement” the shapers of the new Afghanistan strategy have told the enemy’s war room -- and on camera, to boot -- that America’s time in Afghanistan will last until 2013 at the maximum, after which it will be Taliban time again.
As many analysts have already concluded, all what the jihadist war planners have to do is to wait out the hurricane of escalation. The deadly deadline proposed in the strategy has no precedent in the history of confrontation with totalitarian forces. The Taliban has already waited out eight years, what are two, three or eight more years, if the action taken by the U.S.-led coalition is not qualitatively –not just quantitatively, different?
A Rush to the Door
As presented to the Afghan people, the Obama administration's new plan for the battlefield is seen as a last surge before the general exit of the country. The Taliban’s war room understands the equation. Thirty thousands more U.S. troops will deploy with their heavy equipment, backed by another five to ten thousand troops from allied forces. Offensives will take place in Helmund Province and other strategic areas. Special Forces will move to multiple places and shelling will harass the Islamist militias for as long as two years or more. The Taliban will incur losses and Al Qaeda’s operatives will be put under heavier pressure: All that is noted in Mullah Umar’s book and saved on Zawahiri’s laptop. Then what?
Then it's time to exit the country and U.S and NATO forces begin their withdrawal. When that happens, the surviving Taliban, plus the new wave of fanatics just matriculating from madrassas, or the jihadi volunteers sent from the four corners of the “Caliphate” will have a choice to make: Either they will accept the offer by American negotiators to join the Afghan government or –depending on their assessment at the time -- they will reject the offer and shell the infidel troops as they pull out.
In a nutshell, the new strategy is convenient to that Taliban war room: they have all figured out until the Mayan year of 2012, and way beyond. All that it takes for democracies to hand the totalitarians a victory, is to not understand the latter’s long term goals. And we’ve just done that.
Dr. Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of "The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad."