June 23rd, 2011
08:17 AM ET

Nic Robertson: 'Taliban playing a long game'

How will U.S. troop withdrawal affect places like Kabul and Kandahar and what is the Taliban's long-term strategy?

CNN senior international correspondent talked with CNN's Anderson Cooper after President Obama's Afghanistan address:

COOPER: [In his address, Obama] said it's time "to focus on nation building here at home." ... Nation building is not officially what the U.S. says they're doing in Afghanistan, but really as part of this counterinsurgency strategy, nation building is what the United States has been doing in Afghanistan for years.

ROBERTSON: It has. If you look at where surges had the best successes, towns in Kandahar and some of the towns in Helmand, it's because there's been security and that's allowed to provide facilities for the mayor's office and for the provincial governor.

Things that they can't afford to do by themselves and get markets back up and running and provide security for street vendors to be able to come out to those markets. It's all these sorts of things that surge has provided for.

When you take that away and when you take those successes and security away, you are left with an environment that the Afghans cannot in many cases sustain themselves.

Kabul has been mostly a relative safe haven, but last week you have a multiple suicide bombing attempt there. You see where Taliban is already trying to impinge into areas where already good security is provided.

COOPER: Nic, you spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. ... How much do you think the Taliban is just waiting out the U.S. like they did with the Soviets and how many people are still on the fence in Afghanistan about whether or not they should side with the Karzai government, with the U.S. or with the Taliban?

ROBERTSON: For sure the Taliban are playing a long game. They always said you've got watches, but we've got the time. It sounds kind of funny, but it's not.

They are prepared to wait out U.S. forces and other NATO forces leaving the country. What they'll be doing is looking at where the drawdown happens and where they can take advantage of that.

If you look at what the Taliban have done during the surge, the surge has really pushed a lot of troops and focused on key provinces and sort of important cities and important highways on the south of the country - Kandahar, Helmand, those places.

But where the surge hasn't been as strong in the east or at all in the north, that's where we have seen the Taliban been able to make their stronger gains.

So they'll look at the situation and where they can have an easier fight and manipulate the population, and the population does sit on the fence because they're not going to put their necks on the line.

If they think the Taliban will come along and cut them off for siding with either the Afghan government or all coalition forces and it's not just strains and differences with the Taliban.

Plenty of people in the country don't like the central government for a variety of reasons. The Taliban will play of against that as well.

Filed under: Taliban • Withdrawing troops
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