Small Wars Journal

Taliban Surprising US Forces With Improved Tactics

Taliban Surprising US Forces With Improved Tactics - Karen DeYoung, Washington Post.

The Taliban has become a much more potent adversary in Afghanistan by improving its own tactics and finding gaps in the US military playbook, according to senior American military officials who acknowledged that the enemy's resurgence this year has taken them by surprise.

US rules of engagement restricting the use of air power and aggressive action against civilians have also opened new space for the insurgents, officials said. Western development projects, such as new roads, schools and police stations, have provided fresh targets for Taliban roadside bombs and suicide attacks. The inability of rising numbers of American troops to protect Afghan citizens has increased resentment of the Western presence and the corrupt Afghan government that cooperates with it, the officials said.

As President Obama faces crucial decisions on his war strategy and declining public support at home, administration and defense officials are studying the reasons why the Taliban appears, for the moment at least, to be winning...

More at The Washington Post.



I think it depends. I can only speak for Iraq. I've had times when I had specialist leading patrols and calling in Indirect Fire and Close Air Support, and I've had times where approval authority for the use of fires rested solely on the division commander.

And that was all during the same tour!!!



Seaworthy (not verified)

Wed, 09/02/2009 - 4:42pm

Good observation Major - nothing new under the sun here. But then, most Vietnam veterans never heard of Sir Robert Thompson. Too bad, we had to learn the hard way also, and lost Dr. Bernard B. Fall in the process.

May I pose a question, at first glance seen as off the subject? Are we decentralizing command and control down to the small unit leader in Afghanistan?

What is new here?

- The enemy blows up roades, schools, hospitals, and uses coersion and control to influence the populace? Sorry, not new.

- The enemy is smart enough to spy on us and determine our patterns? Ugh, not new.

- The enemy conducts first-aid and medivacs it's fighters? Nope, not new.

- The enemy sets up a Shadow government to compete with the host nation government? Not new.

We are eight years into this war. The enemy is simply shifting in between Phase 2 and Phase 3 of Mao's classical insurgency phases. If they feel extremely pressured, they will revert back to Phase 1. I find it absurd anytime that I read a sensational story detailing "new tactics and suprising enemy."

- Read Sun Tzu.

- Read Mao.

- Bob Andrews wrote extensively on how the Viet-Cong did it in Vietnam in his book "The Village Wars."

- I wrote a small piece in SWJ entitled "The Break Point" describing how AQ did it in Iraq.

While many professionals disagree over how to attack or defeat the enemy, knowing who and what the enemy is must be a common baseline.


Major Michael Few

I posted a comment on my own blog as well (, but I'll repeat it here:

Even though I am critic of the war in Afghanistan, I do agree that in many ways we underestimate the Taliban. This is an extraordinary movement. It rose from a regional militia to control of 90% of Afghanistan within two years from 1994 to 1996. And while Pakistani intelligence aided at the margins, there is no reason to believe that the Taliban was either wholly or even largely a Pakistani creation. It was a real movement that was very, very savvy in terms of creating a public image and co-opting local elites in Afghanistan.

Even more impressive to me is that the organization is still alive and still under much of the same senior leadership. How many groups have been able to survive a military defeat and being forced out of power with as much cohesion as has the Taliban? I have not researched the issue systematically, but the cohesion of the Taliban post-2001 and its resurgence since 2004 is, I think, close to unprecedented.

It is possible to also over-estimate the Taliban. Even if they seize control in Afghanistan, they would have limited capacity to destabilize the rest of South Asia. But within Afghanistan, this is a force to be reckoned with.

I am not surprised by any of this. We are facing a dynamic, learning adversary. And unfortunately, the reason were surprised by this is that our counter-insurgency doctrine has abstracted away the enemy. We are assuming that if we do everything right, well "win." But war is a strategic interaction, and the enemy gets a vote.