Small Wars Journal

Taliban’s New Strategy: Attack the Cities

Taliban’s New Strategy: Attack the Cities by Sami Yousafzai - The Daily Beast

KABUL—The horror continues: Two recent attacks on foreigners in Afghanistan—one on Sunday targeting the iconic Intercontinental Hotel on a hilltop in Kabul, and one on Wednesday against the offices of the Save the Children charity in Jalalabad—are meant to show that the government here cannot protect its people or those who come to help them.

And that, clearly, is the lesson many people in Kabul are taking away from them in an atmosphere of fear that is fed not only by the calculated violence of the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State, but by kidnapping and other crimes linked to warlords, and a deeply corrupt system of governance.

At least 22 people were killed in the Intercontinental attack, including 14 foreigners. The U.S. State Department confirmed on Tuesday that several were Americans but would not give out further details. In the attack on Save the Children, at least five people were killed and 27 wounded during a 10-hour siege….

Read on.



Mon, 01/29/2018 - 3:39am

IMHO to reflect a meaningful understanding of these observations and millions of other words written about Afghanistan since December 1979 the title of this essay should read -


It is simplistic I know, but if we continue to ignore the first, the foremost, the supreme question we will continue punching ourselves out on shadows.

To use a Super Bowl analogy; we take the strongest, fittest, most determined, best equipped, coached, resilient football teams in the country cram them onto a fleet of buses and on Feb 4 drive straight past Bank Stadium and drop them on the nearest golf course.

After issuing them all a set of the best golf clubs money can buy, the whole world sits back dumbfounded as both teams hack their way around the golf-course.

Don't get me wrong - I admire the Pakistan Army. With next to nothing they have been successfully fighting their corner for nearly 40 years without raising a sweat.

But enough is enough. Their current course is not in anyone's best interests - especially so the average Pakistani.

As with the Gulf States, China, Iran, Russia etc. an elite few are the only one's benefitting from what in my view is a narrow fascist political approach to governance .

Everyone appears to understand this except
our military leadership. The politicans - more so than ever before - take their military direction from folks who have experienced an unprecedented amount of warfighting.

Unfortunately for everyone - and I mean everyone on all sides- not only is our military’s head not in the game, they aren't even in the stadium.



Sun, 01/28/2018 - 3:45am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M,

I think this is an accurate assessment and agree with the "competitive control strategy" points.

I would also look at Kalyvas' "Logic of Violence in Civil War".

Book Synopsis:

"By analytically decoupling war and violence, this book explores the causes and dynamics of violence in civil war. Against the prevailing view that such violence is an instance of impenetrable madness, the book demonstrates that there is logic to it and that it has much less to do with collective emotions, ideologies, and cultures than currently believed. Kalyvas specifies a novel theory of selective violence: it is jointly produced by political actors seeking information and individual civilians trying to avoid the worst but also grabbing what opportunities their predicament affords them. Violence, he finds, is never a simple reflection of the optimal strategy of its users; its profoundly interactive character defeats simple maximization logics while producing surprising outcomes, such as relative nonviolence in the 'frontlines' of civil war."

Next, in The Logic of Violence in Civil War, Kalyvas states the parity of control between the actors “is likely to produce no selective violence by the actors.” One of the factors in Afghanistan is the degree in which Islamic law is exacted, which has implications for human rights and continued support the United States and others provide Afghanistan in the future.

Fortunately, Kabul is more resilient than other places in the country and even with an ineffective central government and security apparatus the majority of the citizens will not turn to the Taliban as an alternative.

Without comparing the level of attacks on the major urban areas to the past, I can't make an honest assessment if this is a new line of effort. Assuming it is, the recent attacks involved insurgents wearing security uniforms (not new), and the most recent and tragic attack they used an ambulance to deliver a bomb that may have killed over a 100 people in Kabul today. The use of government uniforms and an ambulance undermines peoples' confidence in the institutions designed to provide critical services to them.

The bigger problem is the Afghanistan government controls less than 60% of the country, so greater than 40% is either controlled by various insurgent groups or contested. That is a major challenge for their security forces. Now the cities, to include Kabul, may be increasingly contested. There are institutional problems, corruption, and the scale of the challenge, and then add the safe haven in Pakistan and direct support from the Pakistan ISIS for the insurgents, all of indicates a need for a new strategy, not more of the same and pretending it is a new strategy.

When we look at why they're attacking the cities with horrendous mass murder attacks, I recommend reviewing the Management of Savagery, and Kilcullen's book Out of the Mountains. I suspect the insurgents are using a competitive control strategy, where insurgents, as suggested in the Management of Savagery, are seeking to prove the government cannot protect the population. While it may seem counter initiative to us, when the government repeatedly proves it cannot protect its people, then the people under threat who seek security will turn to the side that can provide security, predictability, and order. If the insurgents can provide the rules and predictability that provide security, then for all practical purposes they have established control. So goes the theory anyway.

Remember to attack the adversary's strategy, not simply counter his tactics. I don't see a feasible way to provide security in the urban areas without compelling Pakistan to stop providing direct support to the insurgents. Yes that entails a great deal of risk, but failure to do so will result in more of the same, and we will have squandered our human and fiscal treasure for two decades (by 2021) for no discernible gain because we were too risk adverse to address the true center of gravity.


Fri, 01/26/2018 - 4:30am

Speaking of COGs.

If the Taliban cannot seize Kabul, they'll continue to erode the capital (symbolic COG) and capacity of the central government (physical COG). It may backfire and dislocate both actors from their power bases. There has to be another option between Kabul and hardline Taliban.