The Best Defense

Leaked Taliban inspector general report: We may have too many literate fighters

The Taliban's inspector general has compiled a scathing report that charges the organization's leaders with recruiting too many men who can read and write, Pashtun insiders familiar with the document said yesterday.

The internal study notes that the Taliban's greatest gains have come when its members are uneducated, and questions as "fundamentally unsound" the recent decision to permit university graduates to join the organization, albeit on double secret probation. "Who knows what thoughts may have been put in their heads?" asked the Taliban official, Gulam Nabi, who is Afghan but who like many Americans goes by two names.

The report, which was provided to the Best Defense by a usually reliable source in an unreliable mud hut near Lashkar Gah, also discerned weak oversight and accountability in preventing educated men from joining. Yet it also questioned the goal of Taliban chief Mullah Omar to achieve 100 percent illiteracy within three years, saying that target may be "unrealistic and unattainable." Addressing the issue of whether forces unable to keep written records could keep reliable track of their weapons inventory, the Taliban IG noted that there is not one instance over the last 2,500 years of an illiterate Afghan ever losing track of his weapon: "His women? Perhaps. His sheep? It happens. His sword or rifle? No. Not gonna happen."

The report concludes by warning that if current trends in literacy continue, parts of its fighting force could become as ineffective as Afghan National Security Forces.

In a related story, al Qaeda yanked the accreditation of its Syrian affiliate, stating that the branch had fallen out of compliance with several key tenets of membership. Some of the violations were purely technical, such as killing rival leaders without first informing its higher headquarters.

Author's note: Yes, this post is my salute to DuffelBlog.

Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

The Best Defense

Is there a Chinese window of opportunity for attacking within about 5 to 10 years?

By Robert Haddick
Best Defense guest columnist

There is an interesting question about whether China's military leaders may view their "window of opportunity," assuming they even think in those terms.

I raise this because, in addition to China's mounting internal issues, there is the trend in comparative military modernization over the next 15 years. That is, on the U.S. side, very little new technology or capacity is slated to arrive out to 2025. For example, because of its limited combat radius and vulnerable bases, PLA leaders don't have to worry much about the F-35 A/B/C. China's anti-ship missiles checkmate U.S. surface naval forces. The United States is adding Virginia-class attack subs but is subtracting Los Angeles-class subs even faster, resulting in a net reduction in the sub fleet. At the current pace, the new U.S. bomber won't arrive until later next decade. And the United States does not have any missile programs to overcome China's land-based range advantage.

However, past 2025, the new U.S. bomber will arrive. High-power directed energy defenses may also arrive at that time, making surface forces relevant again. And investments in autonomous and low-cost long-range unmanned systems may be a competitive U.S. advantage later next decade.

On the other hand, China is leaping forward. While the United States is fallow over the next 10 years, China's C4ISR networks will fill out, its Flanker inventories will continue to grow, J-20 long-range stealthy strike-fighter regiments will arrive, and China's submarine fleet will grow, improve in quality, and outnumber the U.S. Pacific submarine fleet by more than two-to-one. Most important, China's land-attack and anti-ship missile forces will continue to expand, areas where the United States has much less happening.

Adding it up, the Chinese "window" may open the widest between 2020 and 2025, after which it may begin to close. Whether China's leaders see it the same way remains to be seen.

Robert Haddick, a former Marine officer, is the author of a book on Chinese military technology that is scheduled to be published in September by the U.S. Naval Institute Press.