Separating al Qaeda & the Taliban (Myth & Reality)
The sparring over future US policy in Afghanistan and the number of troops that the President may finally accede to sending at the request of General McChrystal is clouded by the question of whether this decision is being driven by incorrect conclusions on the presence or lack of presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. This "body count" approach could well lead to strategic miscalculations.
Once before it was declared that the Taliban was dead and gone from the Afghan landscape. This individual made a strong argument (in late 2005) that "Afghanistan is the most successful operation...ever seen when you see what is going on in Kabul in particular. NATO, in particular, has really stepped up. This is not the opinion of the news media...The Afghan people have been given a good shot to have a decent future..." Oddly, now it is al Qaeda that is being declared out of Afghanistan.
Of course, history already has shown us that the Taliban was never gone, and their resurgence in the last 3 years has once again seen violence and terror plague the people of Afghanistan. In fact, a recent intelligence estimate indicates a quadrupling of Taliban strength in the last four years.
Simultaneously, it seems that the Administration has concluded that as approximately 100 al Qaeda fighters remain in Afghanistan that they are not the problem in Afghanistan. Michael Scheuer debunking the "al Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan" approach to U.S. policy:
Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who tracked bin Laden for three years, believes the administration may have underestimated al-Qaida's role here because the organization prefers to work in the background providing logistics, propaganda and training to local allies. "When you see less and less of al-Qaida in an Islamist insurgency, it almost certainly means that it is more effective than when you saw more of it," Scheuer said. "I am sure that al-Qaida is still fielding some field-grade cadre to toughen the Taliban's ranks."
The concept of believing that al Qaeda and the Taliban are separate is equally bankrupt. In fact, Bruce Riedel, the President's former advisor on Afghan issues has commented that if would be a "fairy tale" for the US to think it could split the Taliban away from al-Qaeda.
Mr Riedel, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington thinktank, is dismissive of the talk of splitting Afghan factions of the Taliban away from the foreign jihadists of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror faction. "This is a fairy tale," he said. "al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been closely aligned ever since Osama bin Laden came back to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s," he said. "What is most remarkable about that partnership is that it has survived and endured.
Aside from all of the above, it is interesting that recent news reports have differentiated between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban. It is clear that the Taliban (and their al Qaeda influencers) operate interchangeably across the mountains on Afghanistan and Pakistan. And while the linkage of the Taliban with the Pakistani ISI is vehemently denied by Pakistan, the "safe haven" for al Qaeda/Taliban is hard to argue. If you believe that al Qaeda is really gone from Afghanistan, or that the Taliban has died and come back, then you might also believe that the Taliban is really split between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of course the final "bedtime story" for those who wish to believe is the Taliban's claim that it doesn't pose a threat to the West.
Indeed, it helps to believe in fairy tales.