The recent surge of ‘green on blue’ attacks in Afghanistan may be the most successful tactic in the history of this conflict towards this aim, the aim of breaking the will of domestic populations to support the wars for stability and security in the Middle East.
This is the second part of a two part series on Afghanistan. View the first part here.
By 2014 the ISAF may well have succeeded in creating an Afghanistan which can be secured by the government, supported by the significant infrastructure and well-trained military developed in the latter half of the conflict. In-fighting between Taliban moderates and extremists and the many groups in the Pakistan federal regions may prevent them developing the strength to challenge government forces. The departure of Western forces may kill off the Taliban’s chief propaganda engine and cut their recruits. The ISAF/UN efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan locals, already having shown some signs of success before the recent resurgence of extremist attacks in the wake of the rise of Pakistan-based groups over the increasingly moderate Afghan Taliban, may yet develop hostility towards yet more violence after the war involving the West is over.
What may result after 2014 is an unknown to even the most knowledgeable military thinkers and strategists. However what the withdrawal itself will show is more solid. What began with the retreat from Mogadishu in 1993 will be completed with that from Kabul in two years time. Western inability to stomach the sacrifice of lives necessary to win such long and non-traditional “bleeding” conflicts may prove the defining element of Western militaries in many conflicts to come. There is no lingering over the death of ever Kenyan to die in the fight of Al-Shabaab nor every Columbian kidnapped and executed by the FARC. Extremist knowledge and use of the strategy, outlined and shown at its most crippling by bin Laden, of goading the west with brutal terrorist attacks into wars which will eventually be defeated by their own public may well be the most devastating development since the advent of nationwide guerrilla warfare in 1800s Spain.
The Taliban will continue to fight to break the hearts of the West to win the minds of their leaders. And they will do so by the use of horrifyingly brutal tactics, by sowing sorrow and despair in those populations least able to cope with them. That is what the ‘green on blue’ attacks symbolise, the massacre of happy Afghans whose only crime was to dance, the murder of raped women and accused homosexuals. This is what terror is, to not know whether the man you taught to bear arms for their own freedom will simply wait till your back is turned before aiming that weapon at your head. Hopelessness and terror is their weapon, and as the ISAF prepares to withdraw they may be giving up their fight against it.
Unfortunately bin Laden was right, and is still winning victories long after his death. The major NATO powers, having not experienced a single conflict on their own soil in over half a decade, have lost the tolerance to violence and death our species had developed over millennia of traumatic and brutal existences. By contrast populations of those states ravaged by war in the Middle East have experienced such constant and repeated violent trauma that death and violence have become normalised. The idea that ten fighters were killed in a raid has become a part of life. In comparison every individual death of ISAF forces is broadcast across world media with sorrowful regret and sentimental remembrance of their life.
I in no way intend to criticise the way the West deals with death. I believe the increasing value placed on lives is a great testament to the culture of individuals rights and the freedom from violence and persecution the West continues to develop. However, it does not lend itself well to war. With every death the Taliban suffers, another willing recruit takes their place. Driven by the trauma of a country which has known no peace, to seek the community, purpose and order of extreme Islamism and with no sense of the sanctity of their own lives, only of that of their purpose. By contrast every ISAF death saps the will to fight of western forces and drives domestic populations away from the idea of a war which is worth fighting.
The recent surge of ‘Green on Blue’ attacks may be the most successful tactic in the history of this conflict towards this aim, the aim of breaking the will of domestic populations to support the wars for stability and security in the Middle East. This colloquial term for the attacks by newly trained Afghan forces on their ISAF allies covers the sudden growth of a new tactic to win the hearts and minds of western audiences. To convince them the war in Afghanistan, possibly a vital one for the fight against Islamist terrorism and regional stability, is both unwinnable and unjust. Why, when ISAF deaths are still so high (despite being nearer half of the losses suffered in the Iraq war), should we believe after a decade that Afghanistan can still be saved? Why, when we dedicate so many of our sons and brothers to the conflict, only to have them killed by those they are trying to help, should we believe the Afghans are deserving of our help?
This has even begun to seep into the highest ranking generals in ISAF forces, commanders vocalising their anger, frustration and sadness at the campaign which continues to drag on with no end in sight. This is no Iraq. The enemy are not collapsing, casualties have not been dramatically reduced by a troop surge, the government is not increasingly powerful or secure. In Iraq both military and civilian casualties dived from their peak after a troop surge which broke the back of extremist elements. In Afghanistan the continuous stream of combatants and extremist preachers from neighbouring Pakistan, outside the reach of the ISAF, is instead breaking the back of western morale. The battle for hearts and minds is one we are losing, it is the strength of religious extremists and their brutal tactics. No where is that more evident than when our hearts fall and minds recoil every time Green turns on Blue.
Photo credit: The U.S. Army