Afghanistan’s defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said that the Taliban has been losing ground in the last year, and that recent “sensational” attacks are acts of desperation.
“The Taliban have really suffered heavily in the past year because of the tempo of ISAF and Afghan national security forces’ operations,” Wardak said. “Right now, to compensate for all of their failures, they are coming up with these sensational attacks and causing all these civilian casualties.”
There are fractures between the Taliban’s leadership in Quetta, Pakistan and the mid-level fighters in Afghanistan, he said.
Wardak said he “strongly” believes the lower-level fighters can be reintegrated into Afghan society and government. That’s because they are motivated by inter-tribal rivalries, anti-government sentiment and not extremism.
“All of these people fighting us are not ideologically converted,” he said. “The biggest motivation for them is money, because of poverty. Taliban has different prices for different activities, to put a mine or kill a teacher, an officer or an international community member.”
He said that this year, a “substantial number” of low-level Talibanis would be reintegrated, and reconciliation negotiations are underway with some senior Taliban leaders in Quetta.
Wardak, a former anti-Soviet mujahideen officer who survived an assassination attempt in 2005 and is a vocal supporter of cooperation with Pakistan.
He discussed with Rose how Aghans are working with Pakistan to fight extremism; argued that Afghanistan is not ungovernable; allegations of corruption within Hamid Karzai’s government; and whether 2014 withdrawal date is realistic.
Wardak has told Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “We will need your help after 2014.”
He told Rose the growth of Afghan forces is pivotal to the withdrawal of American troops. Wardak said the Karzai will announce at the end of March the first areas where Afghans will take responsibility for security.
“I do believe strongly it will allow the thinning out of ISAF forces,” he said.
The defense minister told Rose that the west’s neglect in favor of Iraq, left the defeated Taliban to rebuild itself, but now a “proper” counterinsurgency campaign is showing positive results.
“We are quite confident that if we sustain the effort, the final success will be in our grasp,” he said.
Operations in southern Afghanistan have been particularly successful because they have focused on people’s needs, like a permanent security force, government institutions and other rebuilding efforts.
And “the people” have returned the favor, revealing IEDs and weapons caches.
“With the help of the people, we are detecting and neutralizing 85 percent of the IEDs, because the people will show us where they are,” Wardak said.
The numbers of Afghan forces are in line with his goals, in spite of attrition due to dead, wounded or AWOL troops.
“It is not a serious issue; the Afghan army is ahead of schedule,” Wardak said.