The plan envisages the pulling out of 33,000 troops by the end year 2012 comprising mainly Special Forces and the marines to hold the fortresses of Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and the nearby airbases. Jalalabad will be held as a fortress by the Afghan army. Mazar-i-Sharif and the airbase at Dehdadi will be developed as fortresses by the Northern Alliance. The areas in the south, that is, from Helmand to Laghman, will be left in control of the Taliban, as the beginning of the vicious plan to divide Afghanistan in three zones. Thus, it (Mazar-i-Sharif) will be an important fortress to guard the alternating supply and exit route through the Central Asian territories because the passage through Pakistan is dangerous. The American claims that '40 percent of their supplies are coming through this route may not be true because it is very long and hazardous. Also, the Russians may not like that their 'near abroad gets radicalised by the militant organisations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), who would try to interdict the movements along this route.
USAs Strategy of Fortress Defence envisages a kind of secretive war involving armed drones and special operation forces to carry out surgical operations, employing 'unique assets against terrorist threat. Washington has already extended covert drone attacks to Yemen and Somalia. Such operations will be particularly focused on Pakistan, on eliminating Al-Qaeda safe heavens. How Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan are going to react to this strategy is important.
Focusing operations against Pakistan has already pushed the Pak-US relations to the brink. Under public pressure, the Pakistani forces now have no option, but to retaliate against such blatant violation of the countrys sovereignty. How and in what manner retaliatory actions will be taken is a matter of command decision. The strategic cost of such clandestine actions by the Americans, therefore, would far outweigh the tactical gains and the fallout on relations with Pakistan.
The Taliban have already accelerated the pace of their summer offensive against the occupation forces inflicting heavy casualties on the retreating enemy. And as the US forces get holed up into the fortresses - possibly by mid next year the Taliban would enjoy the advantage of freedom to conduct operations more effectively against the fortresses. The combination of 'men and missiles, which helped Hezbollah to shatter the myth of invincibility of the Israeli army in 2006, would help them to break the will of the forces holding the fortresses. So, they would be enjoying greater freedom of movement and the resultant operational advantages.
The operational environment also is not at all favourable for the Strategy of Fortress Defence. There is hostility within the country and without, of the neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran. Russia and China will not like the Americans to hang on in Afghanistan any longer. The sooner they leave, the better it would be for peace to prevail in the region. External pressures and support to the Taliban will add to the problems of the forces under siege.
After USAs exit, it is the Taliban who ultimately will gain control over Afghanistan. They have already had a bitter experience of betrayal by the Americans since 1990 and trust only in themselves to form a broad-based government, which is the only viable course to secure peace in Afghanistan. So, the Americans must exit from Afghanistan immediately, rather than to extend the pain and shame of defeat through the 'strategy of siege, which has already failed, even before it is implemented.
n The writer has served as Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan.