September 11, 2010: Lately, the Afghan government has not been as loud about reducing civilian casualties. Partly, that's because these casualties are at a historic low, and trying to drive them any lower will mean less effective operations against the Taliban and more dead Afghan and foreign troops. But the main reason for the reduction in anti-American invective is that the Taliban are having cash flow problems. In the last year, NATO forces have concentrated on doing as much damage as possible to the heroin production and smuggling operations. The Taliban provide security for the drug gangs, and the security has not been too great lately. The Taliban assured the drug lords that a massive roadside bomb campaign would stop the foreign troops. That hasn't worked out too well for the Taliban.
That's not the only problem. In the past, the Taliban and drug gangs have mobilized (via bribes or threats) local media to protest the deaths (actual or otherwise, no rumor is wasted) of Afghan civilians at the hands of foreign troops. But with the drug gangs taking huge financial losses, less cash is being passed on to the Taliban. This money is needed to pay, and support (with food, ammo and the like) the thousands of Taliban gunmen. Most of these guys simply go home if the Taliban doesn't come up with the cash. Nearly as bad is the shortage of cash to bribe politicians, journalists, soldiers and policemen.
Even when flush with cash, the Taliban are pretty unpopular throughout Afghanistan. The NATO effort to shut down the drug operations is enormously popular worldwide, and especially inside Afghanistan and neighboring countries. That because the local nations, despite their poverty, find themselves with millions of drug (usually the cheaper opium) addicts. While the drug gangs bribe many local officials and security forces, the majority of the population is firmly against the drug operations.
Even among their core supporters in Helmand province, and around Kandahar, the Taliban are losing support. This region was always the heartland of Taliban support (the original Taliban came from the Pushtun tribes in this area), but the Taliban have been having a harder time recruiting fighters from these Pushtun tribes because, despite the high pay (several times what an Afghan policeman or soldier makes), Taliban tactics gets these guys killed too easily. To make matters worse, the Taliban leaders tend to get out of the way when NATO is coming, leaving behind the local hires, with promises that all they have to do is delay the foreign troops a little. HasnÂ’t been working out that way, with the rear guard often getting shot to pieces. While the Taliban will pay the families of these dead gunmen, other potential recruits are not encouraged by this generosity. Getting revenge for their dead kinsmen is a bigger draw, but since the Taliban gunmen are killed by anonymous foreign troops, most Afghans are content to simmer, and not court certain death for the sake of family honor. Not now anyway, maybe later.
Besides, there are more immediate revenge issues, as the majority of Afghans (the Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and so on), are still seeking vengeance against the Taliban for past murders. The biggest problem for the Taliban is not foreign troops, but angry and vengeful Afghans. The Taliban leadership have no strategy for this, other than establishing another Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan, and using that to keep the vengeful tribesmen in line.
The Taliban leadership are true believers, or tribal politicians eager to find some opportunities to increase their power. Many of the hustlers in the Taliban leadership are either becoming strictly drug lords, or switching allegiance to the government. That's another problem with Afghanistan. There's never been a real national government, and there's always been a lot of corruption in the tribal governments that have ruled the area for thousands of years. But at least the tribal leaders would pass the loot around. The current effort to create and sustain a real national government is crippled by the corruption. But the Taliban rule of the late 1990s was also corrupt, and not even as successful as the current gang of thieves and wannabe bureaucrats. There are no easy solutions, or victories, in Afghanistan.