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Part of the new escalated military campaign in Afghanistan was a massive increase in the number of night raids and other killings of Taliban leadership. The problem is that when the older, more locally focused leaders are killed, they are replaced by a younger breed of commander who's typically much more radical, and their slow takeover of the insurgency is making it much more dangerous to the interests of the United States.
According to the report,
These newer generations are potentially a more serious threat. With little or no memory of Afghan society prior to the Soviet war in the 1980s, this new generation of commanders is more ideologically motivated and less nationalistic than previous generations, and therefore less pragmatic. It is not interested in negotiations or compromise with foreigners. They have never lived in an Afghanistan that was at peace. Members of the youngest generation, often raised solely in refugee camps and madrasas in Pakistan, have no experience of traditional communities, productive economic activity, or citizenship in any state; they are citizens of jihad. Al- Qaeda operatives have been known to seek out direct contact with such younger Taliban field commanders inside Afghanistan.
In other words, the Taliban is not Al Qaeda, but the U.S. military campaign is having the unintended consequence of making it more Al Qaeda-like: decentralized, radicalized and predisposed towards jihad.
It's Time to Change Course
The Obama Administration's wrong-headed conflation of the Taliban with the Al Qaeda threat is an ugly relic of the "with us or against us" rhetoric from the Bush years, and it's time we got over it. This view of the conflict is what got us into this 100,000+ troop counterinsurgency that was launched almost exactly a year ago and that's brought us nothing but grief since. We've had record casualties, record civilian deaths, and record costs, all while the Taliban continued to spread across the country. Not only has the U.S. failed to reverse insurgent momentum, but we've managed to make the Taliban even more susceptible to Al Qaeda overtures. If that's not a rank failure, we don't know what is.
Bottom line: if we are serious about wanting to protect American security and about reaching a political settlement that gets our troops home, we have to talk to the Taliban. However, that requires a major shift in the Obama Administration's view of the players in the conflict. Right now, the administration's strategy is killing off the generation of leaders inside the Taliban that will be most willing to talk.
The president once talked about his opposition to "dumb wars." Well, this policy in Afghanistan is making this war dumber by the minute. Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn paint a picture of an insurgency that didn't have to happen and a policy that could lead to a deadlier insurgency with which it will be incredibly hard to reconcile. Our leaders should take a close look at this report, and then get serious about non-military solutions for the conflict. There is no reason for the war we're fighting anymore.
BNF/The Seminal blog fellow, five-year Capitol Hill veteran, Creating a Culture of Peace nonviolence facilitator.
Robert Greenwald is the director/producer of "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism," as well as many other films. He is a board member of the Independent Media Institute, AlterNet's parent organization.