Two years ago, I contributed a piece, "Afghanistan: Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham," to the Huffington Post. This week, I saw a news clip on NewsMarket.com, a PR website which offers video handouts on behalf of its clients (in this case, NATO), that is a near-perfect example of the battles between "Robin Hoods" and "Nottingham Sheriffs." The Taliban play Robin Hood; we're stuck with the role of Sheriff of Nottingham.
The clip covered a U.S. Army base, known as "FOB Tillman," high in the mountains - just four kilometers from the Pakistan border. When I wrote the original piece, U.S. troops were being blown up by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). However, at FOB Tillman, it was the rockets that caused them problems. The rocketeers are highly mobile, changing their bases from day to day and American troops have difficulty in returning fire.
According to the NATO narrator, the rockets are generally fired from the north and the southeast. "Sometimes they're fired from the Pakistan side of the border," he says. That creates a diplomatic problem, given the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. At this moment, no one wants to blame anybody. "We get rockets from over the border," note the soldiers. "We also get rockets from very close to the border and there are a great many inferences you can draw from that." Of course at this point, nobody on either side wants to draw "inferences."
I think it's safe to draw one inference. The Taliban have an edge over Robin Hood and a safe haven to retreat to and to fire from. On the day the video was made, the rockets came from a former U.S. base just one kilometer from the border that had been abandoned. 16 rockets were accounted for that day, twice as high as any previous date.
The base is placed strategically in a position where it can interfere with the reinforcement of Taliban forces deeper into Afghanistan. One officer says that FOB Tillman "causes the insurgents to have to move around us. It causes them to find little trails through the mountains to carry what they want to carry into Afghanistan on the backs of donkey as opposed to the back of trucks." That's why the men stay there and take fire every day.
But our soldiers - the ones with the heavy equipment, heavy guns and the Sheriff of Nottingham armored suits - rarely have the opportunity to shoot back at any fixed targets. One soldier complains: "It's frustrating because one, you can't see them, you come here and a fair fight would be man to man, you know. You see the guy, he sees you, and the best guy wins. You're fighting blind." Of course, that's what the British said about us during the American Revolution and look who won there.
The Taliban are not so foolish as to fight a war they know they would lose, so they stick with guerrilla tactics - fight from the brush, move often and seek the higher ground. I suppose that's their definition of a "fair fight." It is rather naive to think that the Taliban are willing to fight on our terms. They'll fight their way, we'll fight ours, and to every several thousand-dollar bomb we drop on them, they'll reply with a $100 IED or a cheap rocket. We might fight them to a standstill but, at least in money, it's going to cost us a lot more than it's going to cost them.
That's why Robin Hood defeated the Sheriff of Nottingham.