May 11, 2012: In Afghanistan the Taliban and the drug gangs that subsidize them have lost a lot of ground and personnel in the last two years. NATO has been going after the drug gangs, causing a cash shortage and less money for the Taliban. This has reduced Taliban activity, their attacks are down 16 percent this year compared to last year. In response to the pressure on drug (opium, heroin, and hashish) production, violence has been up 13 percent in Kandahar and down 29 percent in Helmand. This is where most of the drugs have always been produced, and the drug gangs have been unable to move their production elsewhere in the country. In most of Afghanistan the population is very hostile to opium and heroin, mainly because of the growing number of Afghans becoming addicts. Helmand has always been the main source of heroin in Afghanistan (and the world) and that is where NATO (mainly American) troops are making their most intense efforts. Despite all this the drug gangs and the Taliban are fighting hard to keep drug production going in Helmand, confident that the Americans will leave in 2014, and the shattered drug infrastructure can be rebuilt. Even in eastern Afghanistan where the Pakistan based (in North Waziristan) Haqqani Network has been battered, terrorist activity is down 8 percent there.
What helps keep the Taliban and Haqqani Network efforts going are those Pakistan sanctuaries. Across the border from Kandahar and Helmand is the city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership fled in late 2001. There, Pakistan has allowed the Taliban to operate openly ever since. Pakistan even refuses to allow American UAV missile attacks in Quetta. Pakistani military units on the border rarely cooperate with the foreign troops or even the Afghan security forces. Pakistan has long been unpopular in Afghanistan because the Pakistanis feel they can interfere with Afghanistan in any way they please. These Pakistan sanctuaries and various forms of support to the drug gangs from Pakistan have increased the animosity between the two countries.
Taliban everywhere have turned more often to purely criminal activities (extortion, theft, kidnapping) to hire gunmen and buy supplies. While there is a hard core of true believers (in making Afghanistan a religious dictatorship once more) in the Taliban, most members are in it because of the money and the opportunity to do what most Afghan young men aspire to: be a traditional warrior who can go out and terrorize people and take what he wants. This, and the association with the drug business, has made it more difficult for the Taliban to operate among Afghans, especially in the north. But bandits, criminal gangs, and warlords have always been part of Afghan life and the Taliban and drug gangs are seen as another form of this scourge.
NATO combat deaths for the first four months of the year continue to be lower (by 14 percent) than the same period last year. April was down 20 percent. NATO losses were down 20 percent from 2010 to 2011. The Taliban and drug gang gunmen cannot cope with foreign troops in combat and have increasingly resorted to terrorist tactics. But these kill more civilians than soldiers and police and make the Taliban even less popular.