Fascinating insights, published by Matthieu Atkins in GQ:
This month’s issue of… GQ… contains an… exclusive account of the 20-hour assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul last September. As the article shows, the attack—though militarily unsuccessful—was a public relations victory for the Taliban. In February,… excerpts from a classified NATO report were leaked… in the press that further undermined the official U.S. military line on the war.… GQ… has obtained a copy of the secret report, which contains a frank assessment of the Taliban, their ties to Pakistan, and their prospects for victory over the Afghan government.
PART I: What the Report Means
The report, “State of the Taliban: January 6, 2012,” is part of a regularly published series on the insurgency that’s based on the interrogations of thousands of detainees. It offers an unvarnished glimpse into the inner beliefs of the military establishment in Afghanistan for two reasons: First, as a classified document, it was intended solely for internal consumption, and second, it was put together by a special operations team working under the Joint Special Operations Command, which is responsible for the US military’s most secretive and demanding special forces missions, including the one that killed Osama bin Laden last year.
The special operations team that authored the report, known as Joint Task Force 3-10, allegedly helps oversee a “black site” prison at the largest US military base in the country, located at Bagram air base, just north of Kabul. In the introduction, the report describes how it was put together:
“Throughout the year, TF 3-10 conducted over 27,000 interrogations of over 4,000 Taliban, Al Qaeda, foreign fighters and civilians. As this document is derived directly from insurgents, it should be considered informational and not necessarily analytical.”While, as the authors note, the report is intended to be a presentation of the information they’ve gathered from detainees, in certain passages it clearly includes their own views and analysis. And though the ‘black sites’ operated by the CIA and special forces in Afghanistan… have in the past been associated with detainee abuse, overall the interrogators seem notably sympathetic to the detainees’ motivations and understanding of Afghan politics and culture.
1. Who are the Taliban?
The report is remarkable for its clear-eyed view of the insurgency, a far cry from the caricature that often features in military press releases. Rather than merciless fanatics, the Taliban are portrayed as a nuanced and complex phenomenon — one deeply involved in violence and criminality, but also pragmatic and evolving, with a deep base of support among ordinary Afghans. It portrays them as motivated both by nationalistic and religious grounds:
“[Afghan government] corruption, abuse of power and suspected lack of commitment to Islam continue to provoke significant anti-government sentiment. The Taliban will be hostile to any government which appears to act as an agent of foreign powers to instill Western values.”The report makes clear the distinction between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, whose influence is seen as dissipating under the pressure of military strikes and the loss of much of its core leadership:
“In most regions of Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have no interest in associating with Al Qaeda. Working with Al Qaeda invites targeting, and Al Qaeda personnel are no longer the adept and versatile fighters and commanders they once were. Even Taliban groups with historically close ties to Al Qaeda, such as the Haqqani Network, have had little or no interaction with them in the last two years.”