In Afghanistan, we’re the Redcoats. And for a substantial portion of the country’s ethnic-Pashtun majority, the Taliban, however cruel and odious we find them, are the Minutemen.
The stock response you’ll get from any US general is that “the Afghans hate the Taliban.” If that is so, how is it that, after 16 years of US and NATO expenditure of blood and treasure, the ragtag Taliban, backed only by Pakistan, dominate or contest half the country?
Even our politically correct counterinsurgency doctrine — which has not achieved enduring success anywhere — acknowledges that insurgencies require the support of the population to succeed. Since 2001, the Taliban have faced as many as 140,000 US and NATO troops (the peak number in 2011). And no one supplied the Taliban with helicopters, artillery, armored vehicles and training, as we did for the Afghans.
Yet, the Taliban continue to defeat the Afghan National Army, on which we have lavished so much money and training. They could not do this without active support and passive tolerance from the population. Nor can we insist that the population only cooperates because they’re afraid.
Pashtun sons still join the Taliban, despite the heavy casualties we’ve inflicted.
One of our most-revered generals has told me repeatedly over the years that the Taliban are inept on the battlefield. Mimicking his Vietnam-era counterparts, he misses the point. No, Taliban fighters can’t compete one-on-one with US troops. Yet, they keep on fighting, against terrible odds, while the Afghan forces we back seek to avoid battle.
Isn’t it time to stop lying to ourselves?