What the Taliban Think of McChrystal's Ouster

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A burqa-clad Afghan woman in a Kabul cemetary on June 23, 2010. Ed Jones / AFP-Getty Images

Pakistanis, particularly the large ethnic Pashtun population living in the country’s violence-prone northwest near the Afghan border, were transfixed by the unfolding McChrystal saga, launched by a profile of the general by NEWSWEEK alumnus Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone. Their eyes and ears were glued to round-the-clock television and radio news coverage of the general’s gaffes and the resulting political fallout in both Kabul and Washington.

Of course, no one is more mesmerized than the Taliban themselves, who, if they don’t have access to television, followed the drama and the minute-by-minute coverage of McChrystal’s Pentagon and White House meetings on the Pashto-language services of the BBC and VOA. “We are enjoying every minute of it on TV and the radio,” says a senior Afghan Taliban official and former cabinet minister in Mullah Mohammed Omar’s defunct government, who spoke on the condition that he not be quoted by name. “All the talk about this being America’s longest, most expensive, and most unpopular war—and about the tension between McChrystal and Obama—is music to our ears.”  The Taliban official, who spoke with NEWSWEEK along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and even naively asked about the possibility of a military coup in Washington, sees the apparent insubordination (and the backbiting) in the U.S. ranks  as the latest sign of America’s impending defeat in Afghanistan. “What we are seeing is the mindset of a U.S. general and other commanders who are getting mentally ready for failure, so they criticize and make jokes about the president.”

He points to Gen. David Petraeus’s fainting the other day during congressional testimony, the video of which is being featured on a Taliban Web site, and to the McChrystal flap as clear signs that the stress of the war is seriously affecting the U.S. command. “Generals are losing trust in colonels, colonels in majors, and the West is losing trust in [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai.” But while American generals and politicians seem to be divided and blaming each other for the lack of progress, the Taliban leadership and its fighters have never been more united, despite the insurgency’s heavy battlefield losses, he says. “McChrystal calls Marja ‘a bleeding ulcer,’” the Taliban commander says. “We have lost much more blood than America has. But whether our fighters are 14, 40, or 60, and know they can be martyred at any time, we are convinced we are going to win.”  (The commander paints a much-too-rosy picture of the insurgency, which is deeply divided about whether to enter into peace talks with Karzai.)

The Taliban didn’t care whether McChrystal resigned or retained his position, the official said, because either way the momentum is on the guerrillas’ side. “The U.S. may have the most modern and destructive weapons in the world, but our fighters are gaining ground day by day.” “There were generals before McChrystal in the past 10 years, and there will be generals after him, who, like their predecessors, will all retire without achieving success,” the Taliban official says.

Only Karzai will be unhappy by McChrystal’s removal, the Taliban official says: “Karzai likes McChrystal because he pushed for bringing more troops and money to Afghanistan.” Indeed, McChrystal and Karzai seem to have gotten along well, whereas the Afghan president and the U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry (the former military commander here), reportedly have an uneasy relationship. “Karzai clearly sees Eikenberry as being unsympathetic to him,” says one of the Afghani president’s cabinet ministers, who asked not to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the subject.

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