Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Insurgents wait out US withdrawal

By Richard Halloran

Somewhere in the mountain fastness of Afghanistan or in the remote wilds of northwestern Pakistan, leaders of the Taliban insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists have been poring over US President Barack Obama’s speech on the Afghan war and the statements of his advisers this week to determine their own strategy for the next 18 months.

It’s a good bet they will decide to fade into the hills or to disappear into the 40,000 villages spread across a land larger than Texas. There they will heal their wounds, retrain guerrillas and wait until the Yankees begin to go home as Obama has promised.

For that is what the president has decreed despite the hedging language in his speech and subsequent statements from advisers about depending on conditions in Afghanistan. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was explicit in testimony before a congressional committee, asserting that in July 2011 there would begin “a gradual — but inexorable — process” of withdrawing US troops.

The July 2011 date is roughly halfway between today and the elections of November 2012 when the voters and taxpayers, already weary of the Iraq and Afghan wars, will surely be demanding that the troops be withdrawn — and will vote for whoever agrees. That will set the deadline in political concrete.

The strategy outlined by the president at the US Military Academy at West Point had many audiences — the US public, Democrats to the left and Republicans to the right of the president, military men and women who must fight the war, the rulers and peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan, allies in NATO and elsewhere.

Everyone, however, seems to have ignored the Taliban insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists who have a say in how the conflict in Afghanistan plays out. Neither Obama nor Gates nor the others in the national security team appear to have taken them into account.

Only an unidentified “senior administration official” briefing the press addressed this issue — and he brushed it aside.

“If the Taliban think they can wait us out, I think that they’re misjudging the president’s approach,” he said.

“It may be misinterpreted, but the Taliban will do that at its own risk,” he said.

That official, however, did not explain what the administration would do if, indeed, the Taliban laid low and enticed the US into believing it was successful by reducing attacks on US, allied and Afghan government forces. History is on the side of the Taliban as Sun Tzu (孫子), the Chinese strategist, wrote 2,500 years ago that the warrior “skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth.”

More recently, General Vo Nguyen Giap, who led North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, said a key to their success was to “refuse to give battle likely to incur losses to us.”

Colonel Harry Summers, a US pioneer in assessing US mistakes in Vietnam, said the North Vietnamese saw US public support evaporating: “Now all they had to do was wait us out.”

Going underground has many precedents among the Muslims of Central Asia. A Pakistani who has written widely on that region, Ahmed Rashid, has pointed out that many Muslims sought to escape Soviet repression by going underground not only in Afghanistan but in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other Soviet-controlled states.

Greg Mortenson, a US activist who has built schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said people there and Americans have different senses of time. Once he grumbled when things didn’t move fast enough. A friend wrote: “Haji Ali put his hand on Mortenson’s shoulder, and gave his impatient American a fatherly squeeze.”

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top