According to a Taliban spokesman interviewed by the Asia Times, the Taliban’s 2008 spring offensive will be characterised by a new strategy based upon the guerrilla tactics of legendary Vietnamese general, Võ Nguyên Giáp.
As one of the principal architects of the defeat of France and the US in the two Indochina Wars, General Giáp is an understandable model for the Taliban to try and emulate in their own war against the US and its European allies.
Afghanistan is about to enter a new phase; for the first time since their ouster in 2001, the Taliban will scale back their tribal guerrilla warfare and concentrate on tactics used by the legendary Vietnamese commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, an approach that has already proved successful in taming the Pakistani military in the tribal areas.
“For the first time, the Taliban will have a well-coordinated strategy under which we will seize isolated military posts for a limited time, taking enemy combatants hostage, and then leaving them,” “Dr Jarrah”, a Taliban media spokesman, told Asia Times Online in a telephone conversation from Kunar province in Afghanistan.
“This is the second tier of General Giap’s guerrilla strategy. The third tier is a conventional face-to-face war. This aims to demoralize the enemy,” Jarrah explained. “We have been delayed by rainfall, but you shall see action by mid-April.”
The Taliban’s new focus is the brainchild of several retired Pakistani military officers who are now part of the Taliban movement. They are complemented by men trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence’s India cell to fuel the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.
These “neo-Taliban” have changed the face and dynamics of the Afghan insurgency. They are particularly careful not to blindly waste manpower, as in the past. During 2008, the main center of Taliban activity will be eastern Afghanistan.
While the Taliban’s desire to explicitly adopt classic insurgency doctrine is interesting, it is questionable whether they are in a position to successfully emulate Giáp in Afghanistan. One of the main differences is that Giáp was able to benefit from a regular supply of heavy weaponry and munitions from Mao across the border in China, including the artillery and anti-aircraft guns that proved key to isolating and destroying the French at Ðiện Biên Phủ.
Although able to overrun isolated outposts manned by poorly equipped Afghan National Police (ANP) – in the same way as Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are able to temporarily seize isolated forts in the FATA in Pakistan – the Taliban are a long way away from achieving the kind of coordinated assault, backed by heavy weaponry, that would be required to seize a coalition Forward Operating Base. It is also questionable whether the Taliban have the extremely tight command and control structure required to conduct the coordinated multi-pronged offensives key to Giáp’s success.
It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the Taliban’s claims have been greeted with considerable scepticism by NATO/ISAF commanders:
“Every year they claim a spring offensive. What offensive are they talking about? Blowing up cell phone towers in Helmand and Kandahar or blowing up power stations in Ghazni? This is not an offensive,” [ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Carlos] Branco told Asia Times Online in a telephone interview from Kabul.
“The Taliban haven’t had a new strategy in the past, neither will they have one in the future. They will do what they did in 2007. They avoided any confrontation with NATO or the Afghan National Army and instead they attacked district headquarters and claimed they had captured the whole district. But before the arrival of our troops, they left.
“They did indeed attack some of our forward operation bases, but their attacks were ineffective as they lack the military capability … it makes me laugh when they try to compare their guerrilla strategy with that of General Giap’s,” said Branco.
“This is really nonsense. General Giap used coordinated guerrilla attacks and employing conventional tactics with a range of weaponry. The Taliban’s tactics are useless. The tried to use those tactics in 2006 and suffered heavy losses. I don’t think they will be able to repeat those tactics. They are not able to confront us on open ground, not even at the platoon level,” Branco said.