A Decisive Turning Point?

The Guardian reports on British campaigning in Afghanistan, specifically an “operation” which “took nearly 3,000 British troops, many engaged in gun battles, to capture an area the size of the Isle of Wight.” I do wonder what meaning the verb ‘capture’ has here.

The article relays stories told by “British officials” and a couple of named officers, stirring stories which involve “a risky air attack” and a “Taliban drugs bazaar.” Twenty two British soldiers have been killed in Helmand province this month alone, so I expect our officials are thinking very hard indeed about the stories they tell. The recent adventure is called ‘Operation Panther’s Claw’, and is hoped to be “a decisive turning point in the eight-year conflict.”

We shall see. In the meantime, what seems a potentially decisive sign is the language and direction of this Taliban ‘code of conduct’. It demonstrates not only a higher stage of organisation than at any time since the movement’s 2001 defeat, but also a leap forward in ethics and political understanding.

On suicide bombing, the code says

(These) attacks should only be used on high and important targets. A brave son of Islam should not be used for lower and useless targets. The utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties.

And concerning relations with the Afghan people,

The Mujahideen have to behave well and show proper treatment to the nation, in order to bring the hearts of civilian Muslims closer to them. The mujahideen must avoid discrimination based on tribal roots, language or geographic background.

For obvious reasons it is difficult to know precisely how those under the Taliban umbrella think. But it’s certainly safe to say the movement is learning lessons very quickly. When the ‘old Taliban’ took Afghanistan over from the warlords in 1996, it had the open backing of the US-Saudi-Pakistani alliance. This time it will have to think, and change, and work much harder.

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