Taliban Adaptations and Innovations
Small Wars & Insurgencies
abstract
Since 1978, insurgents in Afghanistan have endured a state of constant conflict, facing two occupying forces that have fielded modernized, highly capable militaries with a multitude of numerical and technological advantages over them. The asymmetry of these conflicts drove a rapid cycle of adaptation and innovation on the part of the insurgents that continues today. The Taliban way of war and approach to governance focuses on turning populations against political weakness and fielding simple and effective governance at the local and provincial levels. The Taliban has proven to be a highly adaptive, innovative, and resilient organization, drawing on tactics from conflicts in Iraq, Pakistan, and their own experience in Afghanistan to fight an effective and enduring defensive jihad. The introduction of improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, and more recently a rising rate of assassinations all demonstrate the Taliban’s ability to adapt tactically and innovate at the strategic level. These innovations are even more significant when one considers the cultural, social, and ideological barriers to change and how the Taliban overcame those barriers to include in their arsenal formerly taboo actions, such as suicide bombing. Understanding the innovation shown by insurgents in Afghanistan provides critical insights into the conflict the US-led coalition faces today and how it may be fought tomorrow.