A number of people have asked me my opinions about the Taliban's new Code of Conduct. I hope to see the actual document as soon as I can find a translated copy of it. But from the excerpts I have seen, and news stories that have been written in AJE about it, it is very worrisome to me on a number of different levels.
The first area that worries me tremendously about this document is its desire to increase the Taliban's legitimacy. Many analysts have said that this document is an answer to General McCrystal's new ISAF Tactical Directive. Well, that may be part of the story, but I do not feel it is all of the story. The Taliban for the last 2-3 years has been striving to increase their legitimacy amongst the local populace. They have realized that there are gaps in the Afghan Governments ability to penetrate all of its territory with security, stability, basic sustenance, and governmental infrastructure. They have tried to take advantage of that gap by establishing shadow governments within these areas, and become the de-facto government.
Also, they have taken advantage of the weakened tribal system, and used it to play weak tribes against other weak tribes. They have formed coalitions of smaller tribes to take over areas that other tribes had once inhabited. What does all of this mean? The Taliban have taken a play from Mao and are establishing legitimacy through becoming the de-facto government. For a long time in Afghanistan, the effort for us was at establishing governance at the central level in Kabul. Because of this, local governance was not strengthened as it should have been. Coupled with the issues of penetration by the Afghan Government, this has allowed the Taliban to become a legitimate force and government in many of these areas. This code of conduct in my opinion is just the next step in achieving greater legitimacy at the local level.
Secondly, this code of conduct worries me due to its timing. The new tactical directive from ISAF HQ was signed on 6 July 2009. That means that less than two weeks later the Taliban were pushing this new code of conduct. That is an impressive timeline for an organization that is dispersed and spread throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan to publish a concise statement in return. It shows a great deal of synchronization and command and control. The other part of that timing is that this comes out less then a month from the Afghanistan Elections. I highly question how much of this was to also influence voters, and whether it will work. Coupled with the desire to increase their legitimacy, this could be a very ugly development.
Third, it directly targets its fighters that have been inflicting civilian casualties on the local populace. One of the great tensions that we were able to take advantage of in Iraq was the fact that Zarqawi was inflicting pain and death upon the local populace. Zawahiri even realized this, and admonished him a number of times for it, even going so far as to say that those actions could lead to his downfall. Of course, Zarqawi did not listen, life is always better when the enemy is stupid, and continued to provide that tension point for us to attack.
Mullah Omar and his good friend Zawahiri know this. They know they need the local populace to win. If they can influence them through all of their other efforts and not commit violence against them, they can stand to gain even more legitimacy and control over the populace. The new ISAF Tactical Directive is dead on the money with trying to avoid civilian deaths and injuries. The Taliban realized this and in my opinion were drawing us into fights that could result in civilian casualties they could claim we created. They also know they can not do this, and are now avoiding it themselves. Just another way for them to seem even more legitimate to the local populace.
Fourth and finally, within the code of conduct it clearly lays out a command and control system for the Taliban. Mullah Omar is consolidating his power and control over the various elements. Now, this possibly could lead to some tension with men like Haqqani. Haqqani has thrown in with the Taliban for now, how long that lasts I just do not know. If Mullah Omar had not addressed this with him prior, this could lead to some exploitable tensions for us. But, unfortunately, Mullah Omar and Zawahiri are not stupid like Zarqawi was. If this is in there, I tend to believe that men like Haqqani were talked to about this before hand. So now a dispersed operation begins to become more centralized, and more coordinated. Both for tactical actions, operational actions, illicit trade and money, and local populace support. Not a good situation.
These are the reasons I am worried about what I read. I think the Taliban are trying to take their fight to the next level. They have been building forces, and attempting to gain a great deal of legitimacy amongst the local populace. Very luckily for us, we have men like GEN McCrystal and LTG Rodriguez who are taking ISAF in the right direction. We are focusing upon the local level, bolstering the Afghans, and taking the fight to the enemy all over the country. Exactly what the Taliban does not want us to do.
God Bless America