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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Analysis: Afghan Taliban say drone strikes are proof US is a 'paper tiger' -- By Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal

The Afghan Taliban recently claimed that the US' reliance on drone strikes to target Taliban leaders masks the decline of American power in the world and the failure of its counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban also called the US a "paper tiger," the same phrase used by Osama Bin Laden to describe the American military when it withdrew from Somalia after the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.

The Afghan Taliban made the statements in report titled "A reflection on the American Drone War Strategy," which was released on Nov. 25 on its website, Voice of Jihad. The report is a mix of propaganda and what purports to be Taliban views on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and reliance on airpower to defeat the group.

In the report, the Taliban claim that the US switched to a strategy of "drone warfare" after conventional warfare and then counterinsurgency operations "failed to defeat the Afghans." The Taliban also accuse the Obama administration of ramping up the use of drones to cover its withdrawal from Afghanistan after 12 years of war.

"It [the Obama administration] has openly declared the desire to leave Afghanistan," the report states. "However, conscious of maintaining at least a semblance of continuing this war, the Obama regime has instead resorted to using unmanned drones that are both inexpensive financially and non-costly in terms of [American] human lives."

Drones ineffective in decapitating Taliban's leadership cadre

The Afghan Taliban describe the US' use of drones to target Taliban leaders as "a publicity stunt," and claim the strikes have been ineffective in eliminating the group's top leaders, who are described as its "symbolic leaders." The Taliban say they have sheltered their top leaders by delegating less senior leaders to serve as "operational commanders" to execute the orders of their superiors:
It is worth keeping in mind that these drone strikes have only been able to target those that have been very active in the public sphere and thus prone to be targeted through a number of means. The drone strikes have virtually been of no use against targeting the more important symbolic leaders of the opposition to the American aggressors. Any leaders that suspect being targeted by drone planes inevitably retract their public profile and instead delegate their operational duties to other less known associates. In other words, most of those targeted by these drone strikes are operational commanders. The targeting of these commanders cannot disrupt any of their activities because these commanders always nurture several delegates who are able to take over and resume activities in the event of the death or capture of any operational commanders.
While the Taliban's statements should be taken with a grain of salt, there does appear to be some truth to the claims. The US government has previously detailed how top Taliban leaders exercise command and control of "subordinate Taliban commanders" while the leaders remain out of reach of US and Coalition forces in safe havens in Pakistan, often with the support of that country's military and intelligence service. [See the US designation of Mullah Naim Barich, for an example.]

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