The first major troop incursion into southern Afghanistan under a new U.S. war strategy has been met by a tried-and-true tactic from Islamic insurgents: go to ground and watch.
U.S. Central Command issued a press release extolling the success. Likewise, a Marine general declared victory in retaking a key town.
"U.S. Marines meet little resistance as they push into south Afghanistan," a Marine press release crowed.
But a senior military intelligence officer tells HUMAN EVENTS that commanders should resist a false sense of security, after such Taliban strongholds as the town of Khan Neshin in Helmand Province fell in the campaign’s first week.
And the 4,000 U.S. Marines who launched the offensive should not feel safe and secure. The source said the Taliban is executing a tactic that has worked against invading forces: retreat to the mountains, watch how allied forces operate and, from there, then mount attacks.
Though insurgents have used such a maneuvers before, some commanders were surprised that they did not contest the Marines as they entered Helmand, the poppy capital of the world and drug-money source for the Taliban and al Qaeda.
"I guess what i’ve found surprising is that the Taliban has gone to ground as far as the Marines are concerned," said the intelligence officer. "It seems like they have pretty much chosen to avoid engagement with us, for the moment. I suspect that once they have done their normal outstanding reconnaissance and figure out our patterns, they will begin to hit back."
The Taliban, like their predecessors who defeated the Soviets in 1980s, are skilled at positioning spies along roads and trails to map troop movements and pick spots for ambushes. They also have plenty of sympathizers inside villages as informants.
"They have spies everywhere: menial laborers, contract interpreters, truck drivers, market stall workers, and the plain old-fashioned guy with a Kalishnikov sitting on a hill eyeballing the front gate or roadways and recording everything we do," said the intelligence source, who daily monitors events in Afghanistan.
The officer leading the Marines, Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, told reporters on Wednesday his troops faced little resistance in taking one of the Taliban’s biggest prizes: Neshin. But unlike the intelligence source who spoke with Human Events, Gen. Nicholson did not ascribe motives to the Taliban’s decision. He implied that the Marine’s large force intimidated the enemy.
"The intention was to go in big, strong, fast [and] overwhelm any opposition and frankly save lives on all sides but most specifically save civilian lives," Nicholson said. "And I think what we have found here is that in some areas, there’s still some fighting going on. But in large part, the enemy has not resisted too strongly."
Nicholson said he is waiting to see "how they react to the fact that we are staying in large numbers in many of these small towns and areas that we’re going to be here to help the government get on its feet."
Of Khan Neshin, he said, "This is a Taliban iconic town that has fallen to the government. And we’re just pretty pumped up about the today’s events and the very positive reception that the governor received by the people down there. That town fell on D-day to our light armed reconnaissance battalion, and it fell literally without a fight."
The intelligence source said he believes the Taliban will rely mostly on planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to try to kill NATO forces, until insurgent commanders figure out a way to recapture territory.
"Their leadership has passed on to stay still for awhile and avoid too much contact with the Marines in Helmand," the official said.
Nicholson commands the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. Its 4,000 Marines are part of a 20,000-plus American reinforcement now underway. The warriors are executing a new Obama-approved strategy modeled after the successful surge in Iraq.
Now, troops will stay in villages and hamlets, rather than the old procedure of clearing an area and exiting allowing the Taliban to move back in. In Iraq, Gen. David Petreaus, who now heads U.S. Central Command, did much the same thing beginning in 2007. He decided that protecting the populace was the way to sway Iraqis away from insurgents.
The Afghan strategy also focuses on building up the local army and police, and providing economic development.