Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports: As U.S. and NATO forces have evicted insurgents from a broad swath of southern Afghanistan, senior Taliban commanders have shifted toward a new battlefield strategy, one less focused on reclaiming lost territory and more on winning the next phase of the 11-year-old war.
U.S. military and intelligence officials believe that Taliban commanders, driven by a combination of desperation and savvy, have started assigning more of their suicide fighters to conduct audacious attacks against prominent targets across the country, including the U.S. Embassy and well-fortified NATO bases.
Insurgent leaders, they say, have redoubled a campaign to assassinate key Afghan government and security officials who are likely to play leadership roles in the country once foreign troops depart. And by happenstance or meticulous planning — U.S. military officials are not sure which — the Taliban has managed to kill numerous Western troops by joining the ranks of the Afghan army.
“The Taliban are fighting a political war while the United States and its allies are still fighting a tactical military war,” said Joshua Foust, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who has worked in Afghanistan and is now a fellow with the American Security Project. “We remain focused on terrain. They are focused on attacking the transition process and seizing the narrative of victory.”
The impact of the strategic shift, which has occurred gradually over the past year, has been profound. The high-profile assaults and assassinations have prompted new doubts among Afghans about the ability of their government and security forces to keep the insurgents at bay once NATO’s combat mission ends in 2014. The infiltration of the security forces led the top allied operational commander in Kabul on Monday to order extraordinary new restrictions on joint patrols and other missions, a move that strikes at the heart of the U.S. and NATO strategy to operate in closer partnership with Afghan soldiers. [Continue reading…]