Small Wars Journal

Red Teaming the Taliban

Thu, 07/28/2016 - 8:29pm

Red Teaming the Taliban

Vince Tumminello

SWJ Editor’s Note: The following is a red team exercise that posits requirements for an Afghan Taliban victory in Afghanistanover a 5-year timeline.  It is presented in four parts (The Cause, Political Strategy, Military Strategy, External Support) as a cohesive document presented from the Taliban Military Commission to the current leader Mawlawi Haubatullah Akhundzada.  This campaign plan was originally drafted to fulfill an academic requirement for Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, and adapted for Small Wars Journal.

Became a king through power of imagination; but awoke to the reality of a monk[i].

All influence in Afghanistan is local.  Ignorance of this truth, above all others, has led to the demise of many great powers in Afghanistan- whether born in Peshawar, Philadelphia, Moscow, Bazarak, Panjwai, or Karize.  Foreign governments, including Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, have attempted to unjustly influence our nation. In doing so, they attempted to superimpose their own version of governance upon us- one that values central institutions, top-down architecture, and a skewed allocation of welfare and resources to urban areas.  This method, however, pushes against centuries of ethnic/tribal traditions and a historic diffusion of power to the local level[ii]

We, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA)[iii], must offer a vision that threads the disparate cultures of Afghanistan into a well-knit collection of separate but mutually supporting provinces.  Ours is an Islamic cause, but it is not Pan-Islamic[iv].  Our goal is to unite those that call Afghanistan home- the Pashtu, the Tajiks, the Turkmen, the Uzbeks, and the Hazaras[v].  Only then will our country be equipped to repel foreign influence[vi], depose illegitimate leaders[vii], resist exploitative attempts to corrupt our core identify, and build a better political reality for the people of Afghanistan[viii].  In this task, we must prove to the people of Afghanistan that the IEA is a binding, rather than divisive, force.  Our objectives, then, are fourfold:

-- To demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the central government by degrading its ability to rule inside Kabul and provide services to other provinces and rural areas.

-- To consolidate natural areas of control in Pashtun-dominated regions through combined political, economic, and military strategy

-- To gain popular cooperation, tacit or outright support in non-Pashtun regions through non-Pashtun, IEA-affiliated groups and economic/political integration[ix]

-- To provide an alternate system of governance and prove its effectiveness through reinforcement of ethnic/religious/tribal/geographic political and judicial institutions that marginalizes the influence of a centralized power structure

The Cause

The beleaguered, American-backed Ghani government currently finds itself in a position strikingly similar to the Soviet-backed Najibullah PDPA government in 1989[x].  Our resistance, too, has reached a similarly critical phase.  Until now, differences in ideology, culture, ethnicity, and objectives have been temporarily patched by the unifying cause to repel foreign invasion[xi].  Our success against the American coalition is as commendable as it is undeniable, though foreign withdrawal presents a new set of problems. Fractures can already be seen within our own movement, due both to the recent leadership succession[xii] and divergent visions for a future Afghanistan[xiii].  We must consolidate our position under Mullah Akhundzada while evolving our cause to continue mobilization of a diverse insurgent movement.  Requirements for countrywide mobilization prompts a need for varied causes, some related to issues of governance and others related to specific ethnic/geographic grievances:

General Support Mobilization

General mobilization will exploit five primary issues: 1) Lack of government-provided basic services, 2) lack of a responsive judicial system, 3) lack of security due to absence of governance in rural areas, 4) lack of economic stability/development, and 5) popular resentment of foreign influence.

Specific Support Mobilization

While our pillars of general support mobilization provide IEA with foundations for its legitimacy as a both a political and military movement, our disposition as a primarily Pashtun-Sunni group has the potential to estrange large swaths of the country.  Since the collapse of the traditional Pashtun-dominated government system in the late 1970s and early 1980s, non-Pashtun ethnicities have gained prominence in Afghanistan.  The Pashtun ethnic groups, which make up over 40% of the country, have developed a sense of alienation from foreign-imposed central government structures.  After the ousting of Najibullah in 1992, combined Uzbek/Tajik/Hazaras leadership within the Afghan interim government seemed to ignore prominent Pashtun leadership, namely Gulbidden Hekmatyar of Hezb-i-Islami. 

The so-called “Taliban caravan[xiv]” easily attracts Pashtun tribes through this narrative, providing natural areas of influence and control for IEA.  This narrative of marginalization, however, does not play in other areas of Afghanistan, where Uzbeks/Tajiks (north), Aymaqs/Hazaras (central), and Tajiks/Turkmens (west) are the dominant ethnicity. With the assistance of allied, non-Pashtun and mixed ethnicity insurgent groups, our combined political/economic/military strategy will be geared towards exacerbating grievances and disillusionment with the Ghani government.  In this way, we will attempt to gain recognition, passive support, and finally active support in non-Pashtun regions.

Political Strategy

A major component of our mobilizing cause resides in the narrative of an exploitive, corrupt, ineffective, and exclusive government in Kabul.  Further, the IEA is, at its core, a nationalist movement that seeks to eradicate foreign influence and pursue a policy of Afghan self-determination[xv].  We also seek to separate our position from those of global jihad groups, which want to undermine the international system and attack world powers abroad. As such, our political strategy must focus on four core aspects: 1) eradication of exploitive criminal elements that associate with our organization; 2) providing an effective model of governance that translates into stability and security at the local level; 3) tempered relations with external powers and foreign fighters[xvi]; 4) elimination of competing groups through sponsorship of neighboring powers.

Internal Purity, Cohesion, and Affiliated Groups

Our first political task, that will be ongoing throughout the campaign, is to root out corruption within our own ranks while separating the IEA identity from criminal organizations.  In areas that the IEA controls, it is important that we establish a strict, yet fair rule of law[xvii].  The population, our most important ally, cannot feel that it is being exploited or mistreated[xviii].  This perception often manifests in two forms.  First, corruption at the local level manifests in double taxing (highways and poppy), skimming (IEA revenues), and under-compensation for goods (to local farmers and commodities traders). Tighter monitoring protocols, similar to those used by HIG/HIK[xix], from the district and provincial levels must ensure fair policies are pursued.

Households that provide food, shelter, and clothing to fighters are sometimes robbed, mistreated, or victim of collateral war damage[xx]. Taliban-e duzd[xxi] that use our banner to commit injustices are no better than the government that exploits the vulnerable.  These must also be rooted out and punished publicly to ensure the rule of law is maintained.  Other criminal elements, such as the drug militias in the south and kidnapping rings in the east must be harnessed and used to our advantage in sewing urban chaos when necessary and keeping government resources stretch thin.

Finally, insurgent cohesion is fundamental to success.  While the insurgency is complex, cooperation among Haqqani (HQN), Mansour, Hezb-I Islami (HIG/HIK), and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) will be vital to IEA success.  While appointment of Siraj Haqqani will help to consolidate IEA/HQN power, Taliban operations inside Loya Paktia provide an opportunity to solidify this relationship through a ‘show of support’: increased IEA resources dedicated to a non-Kandaharian region.

Model for Control at the Local Level

The general model for control at the local level follows a five-phase approach[xxii]:

--Step 1: Initial Infiltration and Survey- Small groups of Taliban enter a village or city.  Their primary task is to collect intelligence on the systems of governance, identify grievances, and gauge support.  This information will then be passed to local commanders and to the district level if required.  Local and district leadership will tailor an approach for the area.

--Step 2: Build the Network- The Taliban will slowly bolster its presence by introducing political, judicial, and military organization.  They will also build logistics and support networks among the population to facilitate movement of supplies, housing of fighters, and create a robust local intelligence source[xxiii]

--Step 3: Address Grievances- Depending on the level of government control, Taliban will begin to address grievances identified in phase 1.  The tailored approach will provide focus for this phase as grievances may be based on lack of basic services, lack of food/water, unemployment, marginalization, or absence of effective judicial institutions.

--Step 4: Guerrilla Campaign- After popular support is gained, Taliban can intensify their guerrilla campaign.  Primary targets include government logistics, nationally affiliated police and military, and government infrastructure.  Targets must take into account the effect on the population (both lethality and quality of life), thus benefits must be weighed against potential downsides and the ability to repair damage in the long run. 

--Step 5: District Integration- In this phase, political, judicial, and military organizations will operate in the open.  Efforts will focus on rebuilding civilian property and infrastructure damaged during the guerilla campaign.  Economic and political integration will occur at the district level, enabling for positive development through commodities trading, shared resources (i.e. reconstruction), and specialization (home builders in one village may help to rebuild in another village).  Taliban will put emphasis on establishing non-Taliban justice officials, creating local ruling councils that integrate traditional village leadership with Taliban commanders, establishing a local ‘police’ force (or adapting existing local police) and generally replacing central government support through Taliban-sponsored mechanisms.     

There are four variations on this model for local control, based on driving causes and ethnic considerations.  The purpose is to build a complex insurgency while laying the groundwork for central command of military assets rather than centralized political control.  The more complex the motivations, the more difficult any bureaucracy will have in countering it[xxiv].     

-- Ideological Variation: Those areas where popular support is based on Islamic ideology rather than governance or grievance. Examples (provinces): Khost, Paktia, and Paktika.  In step three of this model, focus will be on solidifying Islamic institutions including sharia and ulema. IEA/affiliates will likely attain outright support from the population, allowing resources to focus on degrading government institutions and logistics.  Information operations will focus on illegitimacy of the government.

-- Governance/Grievance Variation: Those areas where popular support is based on grievances with the central government. There may be limited government presence and a combination of poverty, violence, and criminal activities. Examples (provinces): Uruzgan, Zabul, Kandahar, and Kunar.  In steps two and three of this model, focus will be on providing basic services (irrigation, potable water, solar power, food availability), building economic stability/capacity (ex: crop yield hedging), and establishing the rule of law.  IEA will attempt to fill the power vacuum left by traditional government controls.  Word-of-mouth and limited distribution print information operations narrative will focus on the relative benefits of IEA services in contrast to failed central government provisions.

--Balancer Variation: Those areas where allegiances are generally guided by ethnic considerations, especially in areas dominated by Uzbeks, Hazaras, Aymaqs, and Tajiks. Examples (provinces): Bamyan, Daykundi, Kunduz, Faryab, and Herat.  Candidates for the “balancer model” would likely resist formal control by IEA.  Rather than wasting military resources, the IEA approach will be to “balance” by providing resources to non-government affiliated leadership and insurgent groups.  Word-of-mouth and limited distribution print information operations narrative will focus on benefits of integration with Taliban-controlled areas and the ‘light-handed’ approach that allows for regional autonomy.  Print media might work to ameliorate the Taliban image by releasing ‘hero’ profiles of IEA leadership[xxv].   

--Urban Center Variation: Those areas that likely receive most central government attention and have the highest population densities.  Examples (cities): Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Taleqan, and Jalalabad. The model will remain in steps two and three, taking on a “slow boil” approach, with small groups and individual Taliban infiltrate cities, government institutions, and local businesses.  Taliban will support local criminal organizations in activities such as kidnapping, extortion, and theft.  Further, small yet lethal guerrilla attacks on government personnel and institutions will tie up government resources and inspire fear[xxvi]

When required, concentrated Taliban forces will increase intensity and “boil-over” the conflict for a short duration to provoke government response before returning to a slow-boil state.  This will serve to feed national perception that the government is ‘losing’ and support our narrative of ineffective governance. Information operations will have two general targets 1) the outside world and 2) the urban population.  Large numbers of individual social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) will provide stories/pictures/video of violence, crime, and unrest.  Limited distribution print and word-of-mouth information operations will focus on IEA ‘success stories’ in other areas.

Connecting Influence at the Provincial and National Level

Connecting local and district level influence to the provincial and national level will be key to long-term victory.  Cooperation across districts then provinces will occur through natural affiliations based on ethnicity, forming rough blocs of provinces in the north, south, east, west, and central parts of the country. Blocs will be connected through economic and political integration that support mutual objectives such as stability and security[xxvii].  Examples of such integration include commodities trading, sharing reconstruction resources, and joint councils.   Political and economic links at the district and provincial level also serve military purposes.  Conversion from strangulation to conventional strategy in the long-term will require the ability to consolidate forces for confrontations in government strongholds.

Competing Groups and Foreign Fighters

The Islamic State threatens to further destabilize Afghanistan, cause damage to the IEA and degrade the perception of Islam[xxviii].  As such, we must move swiftly to crush this movement in its infancy.  The emergence of IS in the west and south provides a mutual objective for the IEA and Iran[xxix].  We should begin dialogue with Iranian intelligence to negotiate military, financial, and intelligence support to eradicate the cancer that threatens the future of our country.   

We must also temper our relationship with foreign fighters, namely ideologically extreme Arabs from the ranks of Al-Qaeda.  In weighing the benefits of their involvement, we must also realize that infiltration of our ranks may require significant culling in the later phases of our strategy.  Further, abuses, war crimes, corruption, and other actions by Arab fighters will only serve to diminish Taliban reputation with the population.

Military Strategy

Phase 1: “Strangulation” Approach

In terms of the military effort, we should primarily employ guerrilla tactics[xxx].  The strategy, however, is one that attempts to “strangle” government forces.  While natural control and allocation of resources from the government will flow to major cities, natural control of rural areas favors the insurgency. Thus, primary objectives of this phase are to 1) consolidate natural power centers in the south and east, 2) encircle cities with influence by gaining control in rural areas, 3) implement a slow infiltration of major cities, and 4) ‘blind’ the government by attacking intelligence assets (including NDS personnel, ISR, and technical collection equipment) and air power.

Phase 2: Kabul-based Insurgency

The heart of the model for central governance resides in Kabul.  Thus phase 2, conducted in concurrence with phase 1, will be to demonstrate the incompetence of the Ghani government to the general population and our regional neighbors.  In a sense, it is in our interest to make Kabul ‘ungovernable’.  To accomplish this goal, we will use:

-- Selective terrorism on government infrastructure, mobile police and army forces, and fixed checkpoints through a guerrilla campaign that attempts to limit collateral damage.  The tactics we use must, in all cases possible, kill or destroy only the intended target.  Thus, the selection of means is vital- do not use a suicide attack when a magnet bomb will do.  Also, ensure in your planning, that a solid exfiltration plan is in place.  This will naturally limit your target sets to those vulnerable to small-scale guerrilla attacks. 

-- Kidnappings of corrupt officials:  In order to highlight corruption within government and sew terror among officials, we will use limited kidnappings of corrupt officials.  We will transport these individuals to areas of insurgent control and hold Islamic courts to decide their fates.  We will record, edit, and distribute these tapes throughout the markets in Kabul and in other urban centers.  

--Defections-in-place and insider attacks: As the insurgency gains strength, defections inside the government will grow.  We must encourage ‘defections-in-place’ that will allow the Taliban to slowly gain influence and ability to strike inside the establishment.  Insider attacks should not be focused on killing Afghans.  Rather, focus insider efforts against difficult-to-replace infrastructure like aircraft, communications equipment, and intelligence equipment.

Phase 3: National Force Overextension and the “Slow Boil” Approach

As international military aid decreases, the government quickly risks overextension when responding to offensive action in provinces outside Kabul.  In phase 3, we will seek to create a ‘shell game’- forcing the government to respond to different urban centers in the belief that IEA wishes to hold ground in urban centers.  In addition, near-term military objectives must include Taliban presence in ‘strategic gateways’- those regions that are vital to transporting opium[xxxi] to the outside world including Farah, Herat, Kunduz, Faizabad, Kandahar, and Jalalabad[xxxii] (very limited guerrilla operations in these major hubs[xxxiii]). Central to this approach is the idea of creating a “slow boil” in major hubs:

--Infiltration of personnel: Individuals, families, and small groups of Taliban will begin infiltration into designated urban areas.  They will establish businesses, apply for government jobs, and generally assimilate.  They will establish methods of normal communications with each other, reporting to local level commanders, but will not conduct any guerrilla operations that will expose their allegiance.

--Infiltration of supplies: Using the networks above, Taliban will begin to cache weapons and supplies inside the city.  These will include explosives, grenades, small arms, and ammunition. 

--Intelligence: These networks will also be responsible for gathering intelligence and building networks of informants both inside and outside government.

--Slow Boil Guerrilla Attacks: To create the perception of a robust insurgent presence, Taliban will conduct guerrilla attacks- mainly sabotage- on only the most vulnerable government targets.  In addition, the Taliban will co-opt local criminal organizations to increase theft and kidnappings to enhance this perception.

--Rapid Conventional Conversion then Withdraw: Using consolidation at the provincial level, the Regional Shura will authorize a large scale conventional attack on individual urban centers that are vulnerable to defeat. Forces will consolidate, hold key government offices and checkpoints for 3-5 days, and then begin to melt back into the population as the government response intensifies.  The campaign will then focus on guerrilla attacks designed to keep the government forces in place without wasting insurgent resources[xxxiv].

Phase 4: Conventional Foothold; Phase 5: Guerilla/Strangulation to Conventional

Both phase 4 and phase 5 are outside the scope of this timeline- though they must be outlined as part of a comprehensive military strategy.  The conventional foothold is the most important and most dangerous step in the process for national control[xxxv]. Thus, the climate must be right and external support must be negotiated prior to this decision:

-- Timing: The government forces must be sufficiently weakened.  External support to the government must be at a low (limited or no US SOF presence).  Air power and intelligence resources must be degraded to a state of disrepair.  Most importantly, however, popular support must be to our advantage- without this, we will surely fail in a matter of weeks. 

--External Support:  In order to fight conventional conflict, we need conventional equipment.  This means anti-air capabilities, advanced communications, anti-tank weapons, sufficient small arms, and ammunition.  We can attain these requirements from Pakistani ISI, through proxy arms sales purchases abroad, from Kabul government stores[xxxvi], or from Iranian intelligence.

Outside Support and Sanctuary


In the near-term, our relationship with Pakistan is vital[xxxvii].  We must maintain our sanctuary in Baluchistan as it provides important safe haven, allows IEA to stockpile weapons, and facilitates the movement of money and supplies. Further, Baluchistan and the wider FATA region allows for coordination with a host of powerful non-state actors including Lashkar-e Islam (LeI), Lashkar i-Tayyiba (LeT), and Tehrik- Taliban (TTP).  This relationship can be maintained through cooperation in Kashmir and assurances of a Pashtun-controlled, Pakistan-friendly Afghanistan along the Pak border (specifically in the east and south).

With regards to Iran, cooperation against IS will provide a vital source of funding and supplies.  This joint fight will also lay a beneficial groundwork for future relations and support from the west.  We must also assure our Iranian allies that violence will not spill over onto the large Shia population along Afghanistan’s western borders.  Thus, we must take additional steps to ensure that our “slow-boil” approach precludes civilian casualties in the Herat border area   


Cooperation between Pakistan and the IEA will only grow in importance as our campaign progresses.  While we certainly will have difficulty acquiring the equipment needed for a conventional foothold, we must keep in mind that there can be no stasis in Afghanistan without Pakistani support.  When it comes time to negotiate political solutions, the recognition of Pakistan- along with other nations including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China- will be vital to long-term success prospects.  Thus, very tangible benefits must be offered to Pakistan that will incentivize their support in the long-term.  These must take the form of traditional political assurances that provide for mutually beneficial economic, military, and political incentives.

Campaign Map

End Notes

[i] From the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan website describing the paradox of Afghan central government control:

[ii] Thomas Barfield discusses post-2001 Afghan state building attempts: “Afghan state-building in the twenty-first century was fatally flawed because it attempted to restore a system designed for autocrats in a land where autocracy was no longer politically sustainable (Barfield, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, 7) .”

[iii] ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA)’ and ‘Taliban’ are used interchangeably, both referring to the Afghan Taliban in this paper.

[iv] During the Soviet-Afghan War, fractures emerged between nationalist mujahedeen that were tribally/ethnically-focused and foreign Arab fighters (such as Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri) who saw Afghanistan as part of an ongoing jihad against the global enemies of Islam.  Discussion of the concept of ‘Pan-Islamism’ can be found in Thomas Hegghammer’s Jihad in Saudi Arabia.

[v] Articles 8 and 24 in T.E. Lawrence’s ’27 Articles’ discuss the necessity to stay above tribal/blood feuds and to avoid mixing divided people in military combat.  These lessons apply to Afghanistan in that ignorance of divisions will ensure instability and civil war for decades (Lawrence, The 27 Articles of T.E. Lawrence, 1917).

[vi] Mao discusses the power of a foreign invader as a uniting cause (Mao, 48).  The American revolutionaries provide a case study that demonstrates how a perception change towards ‘English occupation’ drove recruitment and a more offensive military strategy (Crandall, America’s Dirty Wars, 35).

[vii] The Batista regime was seen as corrupt and illegitimate, allowing Che Guevara’s foco theory of revolutionary conflict to triumph (Boot, Invisible Armies, 440).

[viii] Former head of Israeli Shin Bet Ami Ayalon paraphrases Clausewitz: “Victory is simply the creation of a better political reality (The Gatekeepers (2012).”

[ix] Galula discusses the importance of creating a united front: “An elite part is perforce a minority party. It cannot overpower the counterinsurgent by itself, with its own means (Galula, Counterinsurgent Warfare, 31).”

[x] The author discusses the disposition of the PDPA government after Soviet withdrawal (Tumminello, Snake Oil, 62-65).

[xi] Vietnam is a successful case where the opposition (umbrella term) had varying causes by region and position (Crandall, 209).

[xii] Daud Qarizadah describes the controversy surrounding the recent Taliban transition of power from the deceased Mullah Omar to Mullah Mansour (Qarizadah, Afghan Taliban: Mullah Mansour’s battle to be leader, BBC News 2015).

[xiii] The power struggle between Sunni and Shiite was one factor that degraded the ability of the Iraq insurgency (umbrella term) to defeat the US-led coalition (Crandall, 363).

[xiv] The term ‘caravan’ as it applies to the Afghan insurgency comes from the writings of Abdullah Azzam, known as “The Father of Jihad.”  Azzam participated in several insurgencies including the PLO resistance and the Afghan-Soviet conflict (Azzam, Join the Caravan, 1987).

[xv] The irony of this statement is not lost on the author.  The United States consistently referenced the objective of ‘self-determination’ in regards to its support for the mujahedeen during the Afghan-Soviet conflict.

[xvi] While external support from Pakistan is vital to the insurgency, the Afghan population has a general suspicion towards their intentions.  Thus, the IEA must be careful not to appear controlled by the ISI.  Private cooperation, however, must continue and even increase.

[xvii] Taliban successes in the late 90s are often attributed to the absence of rule of law and Taliban focus on establishing an environment of justice (Laub, The Taliban in Afghanistan, CFR 2014).

[xviii] Mao discusses the importance of the population: “Many people think it is impossible for guerrillas to exist for long in the enemy’s rear. Such a belief reveals lack of comprehension of the relationship that should exist between the people and the troops. The former may be likened to water and the latter to the fish who inhabit it (Mao, 92-93).”

[xix] A November 2014 study by the Soufan Group on the Islamic State partially credits IS success to robust command and control (Barrett, The Islamic State, 2014). 

[xx] Mao discusses his rules for the conduct of insurgents in On Guerrilla Warfare (92).

[xxi] The phrase ‘Taliban-e duzd’ translates to ‘the thief Taliban’ and describes “local bandits and thugs who use the cover of the movement to prey on the population (Bijlert, Unruly Commanders and Violent Power Struggles)”.

[xxii] This model is based, in part, on subverting the model presented for the counterinsurgent in Pacification in Algeria. Galula, Pacification in Algeria, 92-93.

[xxiii] This phase mirrors phase 2 of Taliban infiltration outlined in the essay The Resurgence of the Taliban in Kabul by Mohammad Osman Tariq Elias.

[xxiv] Kelly Greenhill and Paul Staniland discuss the fallacy of a ‘one size fits all’ counterinsurgency effort in Ten Ways to Lose at Counterinsurgency (Civil Wars Journal, 2007)

[xxv] Propaganda involving the ‘hero’ narrative was essential in guiding public opinion during the Afghan-Soviet Conflict (especially in the US Congress).  The case studies of Gulbidden Hekmatyar (downplayed role) and Abdul Haq (Hollywood treatment) emphasize this point (Coll, Ghost Wars, 53).

[xxvi] The intensifying effects of targeted assassination are evident in numerous case studies including IRA v. British (Geraghty, The Irish War, 13-28) and Mau Mau v. British (Bennett, Fighting the Mau Mau, 8-20).  Galula also discusses ‘selective terrorism’ (Galula, Counterinsurgent Warfare, 40).

[xxvii] The model described here is largely based on Massoud’s Supervisory Council of the North (SCN) and the National Commanders Shura (NCS)- used successfully to unite the northern provinces and mujahedeen commanders during the Afghan-Soviet conflict.  The SCN (323-328) and NCS (395) concepts are described in Peter Tomsen’s The Wars of Afghanistan.

[xxviii] Ankit Panda writes a brief history of ISIS in Afghanistan for The Diplomat:

[xxix] Sami Yousafzai writes about a recent agreement between Iranian intelligence and the Afghan Taliban, setting a precedence for future cooperation:

[xxx] Robert Taber writes, “Analogically, the guerrilla fights the war of the flea, and the military enemy suffers the dog’s disadvantages: too much to defend; too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with (Taber, War of the Flea, 20).”

[xxxi] Strategic gateways are based on the map of opium production/trafficking in Afghanistan, published by Monde Diplomatique in August 2009.

[xxxii] The importance of securing multiple routes that allow for outflow and inflow are highlighted by several South American cases: El Salvador, 1979-1992 (Crandall, 304) and Columbia 1964-Present (Crandall, 345). 

[xxxiii] As excessive guerrilla attacks will invoke government response, Taliban will only conduct attacks that increase influence in the area and contribute to trafficking of opium out of the country.  No military action should impede this vital funding source.

[xxxiv] An example of this process in practice is illustrated in the recent takeover of Kunduz:

[xxxv] Forces must consolidate, leadership must gather, and resources must be allocated in such a way that government forces have the opportunity to crush the movement.  The mujahedeen consolidated before the appropriate time, allowing the PDPA government to inflict great damage in their initial assault on Jalalabad.  Abdul Rahum Wardak discussed this failure in congressional testimony in 1989 (Testimony of Wardak NIFA Commander to House Intelligence Committee, August 1989).

[xxxvi] Mao describes the enemy as the principle source of weapons, equipment, and ammunition (Mao, On Guerrilla Warfare, 24)

[xxxvii] Seth Jones and Patrick Johnston discuss the correlation between insurgent success and external support in “The Future of Insurgency (Jones, Johnston, The Future of Insurgency, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism).”


About the Author(s)

Vince Tumminello is a former U.S. Marine and OEF advisor.  He is a recent graduate of the Strategic Studies Program of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.


J Harlan

Sat, 07/30/2016 - 10:10pm

A steady supply of GWs (MANPAD SAMs or LRAT) capable of preventing normal aircraft operations at ISAF airfields and FOBs should be enough. About 20 missiles per province annually. One multi-engined transport aircraft, passenger plane, or helicopter destroyed every couple days should do the trick.

As the destruction increased the foreigners and their money would leave and many Afghans would change sides. Six months? A year? The answer to getting rid of ISAF is purely a matter of firepower. There is a cost level which the west will not tolerate and as Israel found in Lebanon the AT-14 may be just the weapon to tip the balance.