…and doesn’t like what he sees.
Training the Afghan army is a worthy goal, but in the meantime the country is increasingly in the hands of a fractious band of Taliban, allied with myriad leaders who think nothing of battling one another. There is no sign that the Taliban are weakening: they have an apparently endless supply of men and arms and they don’t mind losing large numbers of men, because even casualties can be spun into propaganda that suggests they have plenty of followers to spare. They do not have the power they did in the 1990s, when they swept across Afghanistan with little resistance, or the popular support they enjoyed while fighting the Russians. Although the Taliban will never be able to defeat the US-led coalition, that same coalition will not be able to uproot the Taliban from rural Afghanistan, wipe out their bases of support and recruitment in Pakistan, or cut them off from the Afghan population.
The former Taliban government official – who served as a mujahideen commander until 1992 – reminded me that the Soviet army was larger and more powerful than the coalition today, with more than 100,000 troops, and that the Afghan government they supported was stronger than the current one as well.
“The end will be like with the Russians,” he said. “The Americans will never succeed in containing the conflict. There will be more bleeding, the evacuation of foreigners. It’s coming to the same situation – by 1985 or 1986, the Communist forces held only the provincial capitals. There were 465,000 military and civilian members of the puppet government. But the Russians were still confined to their bases.”