Taliban could be misleading its forces

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The commandant of the Marine Corps said Tuesday that Taliban leaders may be misleading their own forces into believing that they only have to keep fighting through the middle of next year, when U.S. troops are slated to begin pulling out of Afghanistan.

President Obama has said that troops will begin withdrawing in July 2011, but it will be months before the administration determines the size of the drawdown. On Tuesday, Gen. James T. Conway said in a Pentagon briefing that he thinks the Taliban has misinterpreted U.S. intentions.

(Photos: How the Taliban is wields its influence in Afghanistan)

"We think right now it's probably giving our enemy sustenance. . . . We've intercepted communications that say, hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long," he said.

But if it turns out the Marines are still in Afghanistan after mid-2011, Conway said, insurgent leaders based in Pakistan could be hard pressed to explain themselves to their foot soldiers.

Conway, who just returned from a visit to Afghanistan, said that decisions on withdrawals next year would be made by Obama and Conway's superiors but that he did not think U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan would be able to turn over Helmand province, the birthplace of the Taliban, to Afghan forces.

He added that interrogations of Taliban prisoners have shown that they are getting tired of the war.

(More: The Taliban taks control of the once-peaceful northern Afghanistan)

"They're getting hammered, to a much greater degree than we are," Conway said. "And they're asking themselves, 'Hey, is this all worth it?' And they're asking themselves that now."

In a separate Pentagon briefing Tuesday, the Italian general heading up NATO training of Afghan National Police said that the police force could benefit from President Hamid Karzai's plan to ban private security firms.

Brig. Gen. Carmelo Burgiotold reporters that Karzai's move "could slow down attrition and increase retention" in the Afghan police program.

In seeking to recruit new police, the Afghan government has struggled to compete with private contractors, who pay employees far more. The Afghan police have also been plagued by attrition levels running near 40 percent.

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