The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
Guns and Money in Afghanistan
by James Dunnigan
April 15, 2002
With spring arriving in Afghanistan, the extent of the armed opposition to the interim government is becoming apparent. There aren't that many armed men actually shooting at the government and foreign forces. Perhaps a few hundred Afghans have taken part in these attacks so far. However, these same men are beginning to terrorize those Afghans that work for and support the interim government and foreign aid organizations.
Most of the billions in aid dollars coming into the country are going through foreign aid agencies. As little of the money as possible is being given to Afghan officials. But those same Afghan leaders expect to get their hands on some foreign money, and they will. Otherwise, these men, almost all of whom have several dozen to several thousand armed men supporting them, could join the active opposition to foreigners.
The men who are shooting at foreigners are Taliban and like minded religious conservatives as well as those traditionalists who simply see any foreigner as a target and source of loot. There are also the tribal and ethnic hatreds that still simmer. Non-Pushtuns dominate the current government, and the largest (40 percent of the population) minority in the country, the Pushtuns, don't like it. But one armed group not heard from yet is the drug gangs. These guys will fight for money, not religion, tradition and tribe.
The American people on the ground, mainly Army Special Forces and civil affairs and CIA people, are learning what the price of peace will be. The major problem is seeing that everyone gets what he feels is a fair share. Failing to do this triggers fighting. The government won't have enough reliable troops to suppress unhappy groups for a year or more. Foreign nations are unwilling to send in troops for this kind of peacekeeping. If the U. S. people in the countryside can't keep the peace with bribes and aid, nothing else will and the country will turn into dozens of independent warlord fiefs. And some of those warlords will be receptive to al Qaeda and al Qaeda money.
American and British patrols of areas around their bases in Kabul and Kandahar have uncovered hidden munitions (including more than a hundred long range rockets), al Qaeda documents, graves. There continue to be clashes with al Qaeda or Taliban gunmen. Helicopters and gunships provide the coalition patrols with a major advantage. Electronic surveillance aircraft monitor radio frequencies for enemy communications. Coalition troops are trying to keep the pressure on enemy fighters to reduce the attacks on government and coalition bases.
An example of the problems an Afghan government has is the special program where foreign governments provide the government with nearly a hundred million dollars to destroy poppy fields. The year's first crop is about to be harvested. At first, the government offered farmers $1,000 per hectare. But farmers considered this inadequate. That amount covered the loans most farmers had to take out to plant the poppies, but left them with little profit. After at least 16 people died in armed clashes between farmers and government troops in the last few days, the government raised its rate to $1,400 per hectare. Still not enough, considering that poppies generally provide at least five times the profit wheat does. But foreign governments are not willing to match the dope dealers in what they pay the farmers.
The Afghan government has to have destroyed (not harvested) poppy fields for American aircraft and space satellites to see if it is to receive money and they want to pay as little of it as possible to farmers. If deals are not made with the farmers, then the government troops (currently just warlord militia loyal to the government) are simply going to war against the people in the poppy growing areas.
The government faces another drug-related problem. During the war between the Taliban and Northern Alliance, each side had its own poppy growing areas and loyal drug gangs that processed the poppies into opium and heroin and smuggled it into neighboring countries. The current operations against poppy growers are in the south, in Pushtun territory. This gives the non-Pushtuns warlords a bonus, as fewer drugs available from the south means what is produced in the north can be sold for more money. This sort of thing does not make the Pushtuns happy.
Foreign troops and officials in the area estimate that there are at least 600,000 armed men in the country of some 15 million people. Perhaps ten percent of these men are on the payroll of some warlord. Many of the rest would like to be on someone's payroll, but will turn out for free to oppose foreigners or another tribe entering their area with hostile intentions. Foreigners bringing cash and other goodies are generally welcome. The government would like to disarm a lot of these men, but the majority will fight strenuously to keep their weapons.
While the Taliban are out of power and al Qaeda are on the run, there is
still no law and order in Afghanistan. There is peace, by Afghan
standards. But that kind of peace doesn't last long. And peace may be
gone less than a year after it arrived last fall.
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