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Is the Taliban 'on its knees'? Not very likely

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Mao Zedong in 1927

Mao Zedong, a guy who may have known a thing or two about guerrilla warfare, famously observed: "The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea."

So when you hear news reports that thanks to the efforts of NATO forces in Afghanistan the Taliban is now "on its knees" in what used to be its heartland of Panjwaii, you can be reasonably certain that your leg is being pulled.

This should be true even if you are the prime minister of Canada, who was told this very thing a few days ago by Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Habibi of the Afghan National Army. "There were 400 or 500 Taliban in the area when the Canadians came to Kandahar in 2006," Habibi told an apparently credulous Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "The enemy is on its knees here now."

Presumably, Habibi will say much the same thing again, and be quoted by major media saying it, when he visits the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., next month.

So, imagine yourself for a moment in the dusty sandals of the local Taliban commander who must face Habibi and his better-armed, better-trained, better-led and better-fed Canadian allies.

With the Americans saying they are about to pull the bulk of their forces out of your country, the French and Germans announcing the same thing, and the rest of the rickety NATO coalition certain to quickly follow, what would you do?

You don't have to be a graduate of a prestigious military college, or even a guest speaker there, to know that you would act like a fish in the water, or, in the case of the Panjwaii district, like a subsistence farmer. This will be easy to pull off, of course, because in all likelihood, that's exactly what you would be.

In other words, you would be patient and wait. Your Kalashnikov would be wrapped in an oily rag and buried -- deep enough to stay where it is, but not so deep you couldn't get it if you needed it. If you were feeling particularly creative on the night you did the digging, you might even scatter a few poppy seeds above it.

Would this mean you have gone away? No. Would this mean you have changed your mind? Nope. Would it mean you are on your knees? Absolutely not!

What it would mean is that you are behaving as elements of insurgent armies always behave. You know enough about war to know you cannot defeat a technically advanced army head on, even in your own backyard. You know enough about history to be certain no such army will stick around forever, especially if you harass it in your backyard. (Indeed, as Mao preached and the Taliban has practiced: "The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.")

You surely know enough about your own country to be certain that Habibi and the ANA will not stand up when the Americans, Canadians and all the rest "stand down."

You may even know enough about current events to have heard that your patience is about to be rewarded.

If it is, we Canadians will be entitled to ask what our soldiers were doing in your benighted country throughout this past decade, spilling their blood and spending in excess of $20 billion of our treasure that could have been used to build schools and hospitals right here in Canada.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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