We've heard a lot in recent days about how conservatives and liberals are responding to President Obama's plans for Afghanistan. But what does the enemy think?
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader, clearly would have been happier had Obama taken Michael Moore's advice and begun to withdraw, rather than increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Just before the president took the stage at West Point, Mullah Omar issued a message calling upon his fighters not to be discouraged, but to continue the jihad until every American and European troop is driven from Afghanistan.
Ahmed Rashid, the well-known Pakistani journalist, called the ten-page message, delivered to him and a few other reporters by e-mail in English and two Afghan languages, "an unprecedented propaganda blitz." Rashid observed: "Mullah Omar has previously denied that the Taliban are allied to al-Qaeda, although it is apparent that the Taliban's new media strategy has emanated from al-Qaeda tutoring."
Also significant: Mullah Omar urged his fighters to avoid civilian casualties. Rashid notes that, according to the United Nations, "more than 1,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the first six months of 2009 — 70 percent of them due to Taliban attacks." Evidently, this has not been helpful to the Taliban from a public-relations perspective.
Soon after Obama's West Point address, a statement was issued by the "administrator" of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. That is what Taliban leaders call the entity they mean to create, because Islamists reject nation-states and nationalism as Western and un-Islamic. Their goal, instead, is a global caliphate, subdivided into territories, each ruled by a Muslim monarch taking guidance from a caliph, a supreme leader of the faithful.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan website is decorated with photos of what are, apparently, killed Western soldiers, as well coffins draped in American and British flags. At the bottom it recommends: "Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites."
The statement accuses Obama of having spent months "dithering." Apparently, someone working on the website is watching CNN and/or reading Western newspapers. Obama's policy, it goes on to say, "has been formulated under the pressure of (army) generals of Pentagon, the American Neo-conservatives and the wealthiest fews [sic] of America and for the protection of their interests."
Then, in an appeal to the Left in Europe, the U.S., and Pakistan — many secular Pakistanis are distinctly left-wing, admiring Noam Chomsky and quoting Seymour Hersh — the statement denounces Obama's plans as "a strategy of colonialism aimed at securing interests of the American capitalists and it seems America has vast and protracted but wicked and hostile plans not only for Afghanistan but for the whole region."
The setting of a deadline for beginning troop withdrawals is dismissed as "a ploy." That defensive response suggests that the timetable — which has cost Obama support among conservatives — may be serving to undercut the Taliban's message that the U.S. intends a permanent occupation of Afghanistan. That this is untrue may seem obvious to Americans, conservatives, and liberals alike. But many in the region, not least in Pakistan, are sure that Americans want to "occupy" Afghanistan forever. When you ask why, they say because of Afghanistan's resources (which are what?) or make vague reference to "the Great Game."
As for the additional troops, the statement boasts that these will "provide better opportunity for the Mujahideen to launch offensives." You may recall that this criticism also was voiced in regard to the Iraq surge implemented by Gen. David A. Petraeus — his counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy required deploying more troops in more vulnerable positions "beyond the wire" of the Forward Operating Bases. The result, it was said, could only be increased casualties. What was not understood was how relieved most Iraqis were finally to be protected from al-Qaeda and/or Iranian-backed militias. In exchange for security, they provided invaluable intelligence about the common enemy, and that quickly changed the tide of battle.
The cost of the Afghanistan war "will deepen the crisis of the American economy which is already in shambles." That, too, was said about the recommitment to Iraq — which doesn't necessarily mean it isn't true. But there are many forces pressing on the back of the U.S. economy right now, as anyone following the "climate change" meeting in Copenhagen should be aware. The U.S. did not skip World War II because it came at an inconvenient time, after a decade of economic depression.
The Taliban assert that they have no "bases in Pakistan nor (do) we need such bases outside Afghanistan." We know this to be a lie, not least because New York Times correspondent David Rohde, kidnapped in Afghanistan a year ago, was promptly taken to a Taliban mini-state in western Pakistan, from which he managed to escape seven months later.
Obama "sometimes calls this war, a war of necessity; sometimes he calls it a war for the defense of the West and some times, a war being waged for the security of the world," the Taliban statement declares. "These are his efforts to mobilize the opinion of the world in favor of this war and encourage other countries to support it in order to justify the unlawful invasion and use other countries for his benefit." Interesting, isn't it, how a group that sees itself bound by no international laws whatsoever nevertheless complains publicly and indignantly of others' violations? Maybe Human Rights Watch could persuade the Taliban to sign the Geneva Convention?
Based on this message, we can conclude that the Taliban are not interested, at this point, in opening a new era of engagement with Obama: "The Afghans, the public of the world particularly, the people of America now know the realities and they are not going to be deceived by Obama's juggling of word."
Finally, the Islamic Emirate threatens "a more severe reaction in the years to come." This should be taken seriously. The Taliban will put up a furious fight in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. If they also can bring the war closer to where we live, they will do so.