The Afghan campaign

The United States and its allies have notched some solid successes since they launched the largest joint military operation of the war recently. Most notably, they captured the Taliban’s No. 2 commander in southern Afghanistan, while two other top Taliban leaders were arrested in Pakistan.

But, as an article in Thursday’s Washington Post made clear, the Taliban have hardly been cowed by the arrests. They continue to hold much of the areas around Marja and to plant mines along roads even after sections of the road have been swept clean. And they are hiding out in facilities filled with civilians, making it more difficult for U.S. and Afghan troops to attack them.

We don’t doubt that our military will eventually find ways to overcome those problems and will achieve a military victory over the Taliban. The more troubling question is whether they can keep them out of isolated communities throughout southern Afghanistan once they have been defeated.

Back in 2001, the U.S. military quickly routed the Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan. But the Taliban gradually moved back in, terrorizing residents in outlying communities and winning back control of major parts of the country. That’s been a pattern in the region for centuries. Armies with larger forces and better weapons easily defeat the local rebels in direct combat, but they can’t keep the rebels from moving back in and exploiting their knowledge of the rugged terrain with guerilla tactics.

The capture of three important Taliban leaders offers hope that the fanatical religious group will become disorganized and disillusioned. But the Taliban has proved itself to be surprisingly resilient. Despite recent victories, it remains unclear how long our military will have to remain in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban resurgence.


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