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Grande Strategy

The Return of the Jedi (Sith?): Can the Taliban Retake Afghanistan?

by S.M. Hussain

Afghanistan is in a far more precarious state than most people realize. US and Allied forces are scarce, and have given away significant portions of the country to the Taliban who now have de facto control of much of the South. Some people are speculating that this not be a transient come back but one that is likely to endure and gain ground.

However, from a military perspective, while the Taliban has made significant improvements in its weaponry, logistics, training and tactics, it still suffers from a lack of a key element - air defense. Without this, no meaningful, decisive blow can be made by them against NATO forces. Rather, the battle will remain one of survival and killing the enemy by a thousand cuts. This line of strategy continued cannot project victory at least withing the next decade.

The Taliban may reach a new level of effectiveness with better manpads (and these seam to be pouring in but in limited quantities). These nevertheless remains limited and US aircraft can always fly high and avoid them. Real air power is unachievable in Afghanistan for the Taliban. This is one of the strategic reasons why Pakistan is so vital in their strategy.

Pakistan provides easy shelter and an area to regroup, train and logistics. However, if Taliban-types manage to take over the country, they would be able to generate the necessary air power to insure victory in Afghanistan. More than nukes, the most important resource they can gain from Pakistan is real air power. With a good part of the USAF down and out due to budgeting issues and the F-15 structural engineering problems grounding much of the USAF's combat effectiveness, this becomes an ever more important and plausible issue. The F-22 remains the brightest light in the USAF sky but the F-22 remains a gamble, given modern detection methods and lack the numbers necessary to maintain multiple theaters of operation.

Strategically thus, all roads now lead to Islamabad, rather than Kabul. In fact, by diverting the Taliban's resources in Afghanistan, the Taliban gets embroiled in a fight it does not really need.

Does the Taliban think strategically enough to realize this? We do not know, but certainly it would be folly to underestimate them given their past record.

S.M. Hussain is an Analyst with GrandeStrategy and can be reached at m.hussain"at"grandestrategy.com

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