As the situation continues to deteriorate in Khandahar, the question is not when the publicized offensive will come, but in what form. As the main thrust of the operation was winding down in Marjah, stories began to seep out that the Taliban had largely fled the area and either melted into the background and local population or moved off into Khandahar and other larger population centers. The ISAF M.O. has been to publish the intent to launch an offensive weeks before the first troops arrive. The intent of the announcements, has been an effort to preserve civilian lives by offering them an opportunity to flee the area before combat. The problem is that the Taliban have taken the opportunity to flee and morph as well.
This continuous game has been referred to as a perverse game of 'wack-a-mole'. I prefer to think of it as a balloon that has pressure exerted on it from one end, forcing air into the opposing, unaffected end. The result is you find yourself 'chasing' air from one side of the latex sack to the other until you grow weary of the game. Of course, the only result is; unmolested air. This is not to say that there aren't successes during engagements with the Taliban. The fact is our Warriors destroy them when given the opportunity, but one has to question just how much more effective we would be if our concentration was on destroying them rather than attempting to garner friendships with the locals. One stated argument is, of course, that all this does is provide recruitment opportunities for the Taliban. I have held the opinion that if you make the experience painful and horrendous enough for the Taliban, joining them won't seem quite so wonderful. A trip back on memory lane to the Philippine War and the experience the Moro's had with us once we took off the gloves might be a worthy use of time for the theorists.
The Taliban have been known to regularly 'disappear' into the 'innocent civilian population' when pressured. Thinking that will change with each new pronouncement and that they will eventually stand and fight is a sign of insanity. Playing this game with them illuminates some not too subtle problems;
First, if you are going to share the definition of the battle space with them in advance, you lose the element of surprise. The intent should be to force the enemy to react to you. This keeps him off balance. Expecting to root him out of a battle space he has been given the opportunity to define is costly and difficult. This is made more difficult in Afghanistan and Pakistan because the enemy is indigenous and part of the larger society. Culling them from the rest of society is a nearly impossible task especially since they are melting into; wait... oh yeah, their homeland.
Second, if you are going to publicize every engagement and larger incursion, in advance, you are giving the enemy everything he needs to plan defensive, evasive and disruptive strategies. Again; allowing him to define the battle space.
In the meantime; the issue over control of the drug trade there is just as volatile now as it was. As a side note; it strikes me that this issue could be used to keep the Taliban's attention diverted. It has been suggested more than a few times that the poppy fields, directly or indirectly (poll tax), finance their ability to operate. It's actually kind of win/win for them. Money on the front end for operations against the 'crusader forces' and more poison for the infidel on the back end. Of course, as is usual, our Warriors are caught in the middle; well trained and armed and prepared for battle on the one hand and hog-tied by unreasonable ROE and ideological/political maneuvering on the other.
Then there is this new tid-bit from the Marine Corps Times and Staff Writer Tony Lombardo concerning our new mission to train the Afghan National Army to play Water Polo. Herschel Smith at the Captain's Journal had some well spoken concerns about this effort as well as questioning why the State Department types aren't stepping in to perform this most auspicious task. Maybe the place isn't safe enough for them; maybe we haven't won over enough 'hearts and minds'. It seems to me about time the ideologues in this country started putting their collective butts where their mouths are. If this new 'kinder, gentler' approach to combat is so hopeful and effective, it would seem to me to be most appropriate for the proponents of it to prove their belief by walking in the midst of it.