Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban’s top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.
He also cited divisions over a suicide bombing at a wedding in Kandahar Province last year that was organized by a more radical field commander, without the approval of the Taliban leadership. Some of the younger, more radical commanders have come up through the ranks to replace those who have been killed.
During the fighting in the fall, the Taliban commanders sometimes found their calls for help going unanswered, according to American military officials. One group, in Sia Choy, in the Zhare District of Kandahar Province, appealed for help from commanders to no avail.Over time, there has been significant replacement of the guys who bear the risks and the new ones are less happy and less tied to their bosses. This makes the war harder to conduct for the Taliban but any peace deal would be harder to keep. Fragmentation seems inevitable, as a loss of control will mean that different individuals will push in conflicting directions.
And this is deliberate. Petraeus understands that the clock is ticking away--that 2014, unlike 2011, is a real deadline. NATO members and their partners are losing patience, So, rather than trying to aim for the long haul of development and governance (especially with Karzai making that harder rather than easier), the goal is to hit the Taliban as hard as possible now since there is not much of a later to be had.
Of course, the big test is ahead of us: after all this reputed progress, the tale will be told during the spring and summer fighting season. If we see heaps more Taliban operations that do significant damage in the supposedly secure inkspots, that says one thing. If we see heaps more violence, but it is at the initiative of NATO and Afghan forces, that means something else. And if there is less violence, well, that would be great.
I wonder if folks will be patient enough to wait for the summer to evaluate how things are going? I would not bet on it.