In the end, after three days of fighting, the Taliban were not crushed in the jaws of a closing trap, as we had been led to expect. They executed a disciplined, fighting withdrawal -- one of the most difficult maneuvers on a battlefield. Even their retreat emphasized their message.
Although Abu Muqawama has taken issue with the analysis of Sarah Chayes in the past, her dispatch for today's Washington Post is must-read stuff for the readers of this blog. Her description of the way in which weak-kneed leaders in Kabul have worsened the situation in her neighborhood in Kandahar by preaching the need to negotiate with the Taliban is great, as is her description of the effect an attack by the Taliban has on its intended targets -- the population:
...I knew that the significance of this event could not be weighed in the usual quantitative metrics dear to journalists and military men. The number of bodies, the number of houses vacated, the inches of terrain occupied or retaken did not add up to the full reality of what had taken place. That reality was in the hearts of the people, the sinking sense of impending tragedy.
What had in fact transpired, in my view, was a deft, successful psychological operations action by the Taliban. Their attack on Arghandab was designed to communicate, and it did -- eloquently. It said that they are here. It said that, despite the likelihood that they would attack after the death of Mullah Naqib, no obstacle was thrown up to oppose them, and they were able to walk into the district. The targeting of the mullah's house was a deliberate affront. It said: "You see, o men of no honor? You can't even protect his house. You are nothing now." The sum of these messages was aimed at the ordinary people who are the prize in any insurgency: Our encroachment is inevitable, the Taliban said. You should align yourselves with the inevitable.
Bless. Sarah Chayes understands Clausewitz better than 90% of the officers in the U.S. Army. It's not about destroying the enemy -- it's about achieving your desired political aim, whether that means your act of violence kills 100 men or none. She also knows what it will take to "win" in Afghanistan:
The only reason Pakistan's invasion-by-proxy has morphed into something even vaguely resembling an insurgency is that the Afghan people are at the limit of their endurance with a government that pillages and brutalizes them and lies to them barefaced. Judges demand fortunes for positive verdicts. Customs agents expect kickbacks for every transaction. Police officers shake people down or kidnap them for ransom. Six years of depredations by the government have led to its rejection -- and to resentment of the international community that installed it and then refused to supervise it. From those feelings of anger have spread pools of collaboration with the Taliban. ... [P]roper conduct of government is the best antidote to the Taliban. Provided with accountable, responsive leadership, the Afghan people wouldn't give that lot a second glance.