The Taliban was not created by the US or by one of the powerhouses in the US that is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). It existed long before the Communist Russian invasion of the Afghan nation and has a long tradition of Political Islam. This article studies its war policies and why it does not act like the regular armed forces of the western world.
In the 1990’s, the Taliban surged as a political force with a loose military wing that gained in integrity and respect due to the fierce battles they led against the Communist forces. Headed by war hero Mullah Omar, the Taliban – which mean students of Islam – found that it was not difficult to gain an upper hand in running the country and establish an ‘Islamic emirate’. The chaos that reigned after the fall of the pro-Communist regime in Kabul and the retreat of the invading forces created a vacuum in the Muslim country. The Taliban seized the opportunity by conquering vast territory in Afghanistan with the aid of the Pakistani intelligence services called the ISI. That was in 1990 (date to be mentioned).
Subsequently, the Taliban became the only force ruling all over Afghanistan with the tiny exception of the Northern Alliance (NA) forces headed by Commander Ma’sud. The Northern Alliance, with the help of the CIA, pushed the Taliban out of a northern tipping frontier of Afghanistan. In the long run, they became the opposition force against the Taliban and were heavily funded by the US and France. In 2001, the NA will be used by the CIA to launch the first phase of the war against Afghanistan.
Does the Taliban has a real war policy that allows it to fight its enemies and gain territories like it did before its 2001 fall from power?
Can the Taliban survive the long and arduous conquest of Afghanistan by NATO forces without the help of the Pakistani ISI?
What will be the Taliban’s war strategies in the wake of the Pakistani army’s attacks against its strongholds in Northern Pakistan and the NATO’s reinforcements in Afghanistan?
These are the three core questions that we will tackle in this essay on the Taliban’s war policies and how to understand their Political Islamic policies overall.
First of all, the Taliban did not have a military strategy when they started go conquer vast land areas in Afghanistan. They were aided by the Pakistani army’s military intelligentsia and the apathy of the US-Western governments who abandoned the Afghans after helping them against communist Russia. They achieved the success rate of ousting the Northern Alliance and the ruling government in Kabul with a form of swift diplomacy that involved a lot of political wheeling and dealing with the ‘Shura’ in towns and villages. The big cities were simply taken by the Taliban basically walking in with their troops and in most cases, the local population receiving them triumphantly. They are after all local heroes who aided in the recapture of the country from ‘enemy’ forces with the combined efforts of other ‘Afghan’ forces to oust the communist Russia army. Being Pushtoons in general, it was easier for them to run over the ruling Afghan coalition that took over from the pro-Moscow regime in the Pushtoon dominated provinces.
Taking Kabul was one of the most difficult moment in the Taliban’s progress in Afghanistan since the ruling class under Burhanuddin Rabbani did not want to relinquish power at that time, hoping that the Western regimes will bail them out against a force now known as ‘extremists’ Muslims.
The popularity of Mullah Omar and his peers led them to the conquest of a nation that is today divided on ‘ethnic’ lines thanks to the game of divide and rule by the Americans. The popularity factor, the ethnic factor – being Pushtoons – and their prowess in dislodging the communist Russian army from the country were the elements of the obscure ‘political and military strategies’ of the Taliban at the time they established the first ‘Islamic Emirates’ next to Pakistan.
Once in power, the Taliban constituted itself into a government and received one of its former Samaritan, the Sheikh Osama Bin Laden as guest. Osama came with his closest aides who followed him from Sudan. While Osama did not play an active part in the government headed by the Taliban, his expertise in guerilla warfare and the expertise of his troops in tactical weapons were seen as useful for the Taliban army. The army itself was constituted from the bands that captured the country but there was one major loophole in that bugged the Taliban army down. They did not have the equipment and weapons needed to help the Taliban maintain a sense of strength in Kabul and this contributed to the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
The presence of Osama in Afghanistan became the reason for the invasion of Afghanistan by US and Northern Alliance forces. The Taliban, using its diplomatic channels, tried everything they could to prevent the American invasion. The problem is that at the particular time, the Pakistani became the prime target of the Americans and was threatened of military actions if they did not help the US invade Afghanistan. The US wanted the Taliban to betray their own provider of arms and funds and to hand him over, with his closest associates, to the CIA. The CIA had sent several missions to Pakistan and to the areas controlled by the Northern Alliance with sufficient funds to ‘buy’ Osama from the Taliban. The intent was to get the North Alliance agents to ‘capture’ Osama or to get the Pakistani military and intelligentsia to capture the Mujahideen leader. Rendition was considered with the possible daylight capture of the Saudi Arabian Shiekh and when this became impossible, the threats against the Pakistani nation increased as well as the threat of imminent war against Afghanistan.
The US stated its aims as follows: Get Osama and his closest associates remove the Taliban for cooperating with Osama and establish a Northern Alliance government in Kabul. The 911 events became the very reason for the invasion and this stunned the Taliban since there was several ‘overtures’ between the Taliban and the US before the 911 events. The Taliban assured the US that Osama had nothing to do with the 911 events but when things became clear that the US was sending its troops to attacks Afghanistan, the Taliban decided to draw its first defense plans against an invading army. The plan consisted of preventing the Northern Alliance forces from gaining grounds but the US will overtake the Taliban in this strategy by sending its own troops to support the Northern Alliance with air and other logistic support. The Taliban was of no match to the US forces in the air and long range missiles launched from the seas and the Northern Alliance held territory as well as from Pakistan and other countries. These were too much for the feeble regime in Kabul. Without the Pakistani support, the Taliban left Kabul for the Tora Bora Mountains and the Hindu Kush range in a strategy of retreat against the massive attacks by the US and the Northern Alliance forces. The Taliban as a matter of fact lost only one battle against the Northern Alliance and this was when it had to abandon Kabul while the Northern Alliance forces, backed by the US air force and marine divisions, made its way to Kabul.
The only battle plan after the Taliban lost Kabul was to disperse in the public with their beards shaved and their weapons concealed. Most of the soldiers were asked to return to their home towns or villages and to mix with the populace in order to evict arrest and attacks by the pro-US forces. This strategy paid for the Taliban since it managed to regroup in 2005 and launched more serious attacks against the coalition forces that were patrolling and controlling the country since 2001. In between, the NATO came into the picture and by 2007; the NATo was under severe attack by the Taliban which is known to excel in guerilla warfare.
In 2009, the Taliban has reached areas which are close to Kabul and is said to be very near to Islamabad after influencing – by wheeling and dealing and thanks to their diplomatic skills – part of the Pakistani Ulema and large sectors of the Pakistani civilians to join their campaign to rid the region of western occupying forces. The missteps by General Parvez Musharaf in Pakistan aided the Taliban in their efforts to undermine Pakistan and enlarge their ‘territorial’ gains which started since 2005. Thus from the ‘retreat’ strategy that salvaged the bulk of the Taliban leadership and command as well as its soldier base, the group launched its new war strategy with guerilla tactics, hit and run tactics and strategic suicide bombing. They also used the famous road side bombs that had killed many American soldiers in Iraq and this caused the NATO forces to be weary on their ‘outings’ in the country. The serious battles wages by the Taliban against British and Canadian forces in Helmand – in which the Taliban showed its grit and bravery – shocked the NATO forces and they are not going to forget the deaths they registered at the hands of the Taliban since 2007.
One of the new tactics used by the Taliban, which is truly growing into a matured armed force, is to ambush the opposing forces and this has worked with incredible results against French, Canadian, Dutch and even British forces. This tactic even forced US commando forces out of the Taliban borders with Pakistan in 2008. The battle did result in massive deaths on the Taliban side but the lesson taught to the Americans was sufficient to force the Bush regime to start trembling about the prospects of having to fight a land force that could become an invading force once again. The Taliban is actually powerful enough to conquer most of Pakistan and Afghanistan altogether and to challenge the Indian army within its own borders. It has sufficient support within the Muslim communities in the entire region but what is holding the Taliban is yet another mystery that is worth exploring here.
The Taliban command centre which is still in Afghanistan despite claims by the Western-NATO forces that it has been destroyed, coupled by the promises by the Pakistani army that it will finish the Taliban soon, has decided to put all its invasion plans on hold. The Taliban is aware that it can overrun the Afghan-NATO forces in Afghanistan and it can penetrate further in Pakistan and can also take over Islamabad. But it is aware that it does not have the military capability to sustain a long term conquest of its own country and of Pakistan. If it launch a massive capture and control move in Afghanistan, this will once again render its command vulnerable to the strategic ‘invasion’ by the Americans as in 2001. For the Taliban, the lessons learned in 2001 is very useful to the extent that they are now waiting for the Pakistani army to falter in its efforts to diminish the power of the Taliban in Pakistan before they decide on yet another round of routine hit and run, suicidal attacks, road side bombings and eventually ambushes. These guerilla tactics helps the Taliban increase the moral of its troops with the display of ‘Western’ and NATO weapons and bodies in video’s to the Pakistani and Afghan populations. The Taliban is playing the game that the Americans are so used at playing: Propaganda warfare. And in a propaganda warfare one do not need to overthrow a regime to prove one’s worth.
In Pakistan’s northern frontier, the Taliban registered a huge propaganda success with the Pakistani army falling to the American fears and attacking the Taliban elements with massive air and fire power. The order from the Taliban command was to retreat after showing off the Taliban’s capability to ‘conquer’ land held by the pro-Western forces. The rush of the Pakistani army to oust the Taliban from the Northwestern frontiers showed that the Pakistani army is now turning into yet another ‘mercenary’ force under the control of the NATO or of Washington. There is no better propaganda victory for the Taliban than when the Pakistani army and the Pakistani politicians subdue themselves to the ‘demands’ of the Pentagon and Washington. All of this forms part of the Taliban’s tactics to undermine Pakistan and the Afghan regime further and it plays well in the sentiments of the people of both nations. On both sides of the borders, there is a sense of injustice against the people that is being committed by the ruling class and the two nation’s armies tied hand in hand with the NATO’s goals in the region adds up to the sense of injustice that the masses feels. Again this is a victory for the Taliban and in the long run, the tear and wear of war will eventually get to the highest commands in the NATO and the Pakistani army headquarters. At least, this is what the planners and commanders of the Taliban are hoping to see, sooner or later.