October 17, 2011:
Terrorist attacks were down about a quarter over the last few months (compared to last year.) NATO attacks on Taliban and drug gang bases and leaders have had an impact. But the foreign troops will begin leaving soon, and even Afghan leaders are unsure if Afghan security forces can continue this momentum.
NATO soldiers have learned that many Afghans have serious anger management issues. Thus one should be careful about getting into an argument with an armed Afghan. Most of the incidents where Afghan police or soldiers shoot NATO personnel are not about Taliban infiltration, but a recent argument, often over something trivial (at least to the Westerners). An Afghan will often open fire on armed NATO troops, even though it's obvious that this is a suicidal action. Afghanistan is a very violent place, which fascinates, perplexes and frustrates foreigners. But the violence is also at the root of the many social problems that keep Afghans poor, ignorant and terrorized. It starts in childhood.
Westerners who get to know the place, are appalled to discover how violent Afghanistan is. It's not just men killing each other over minor matters, but violence against women and children. Western doctors and nurses working in clinics see a lot of this, much more so than they would back home. The violence continues into adulthood. For example, it was recently concluded that the killing of president Hamid Karzai's brother (Ahmad, then governor of Kandahar province) three months ago was not the result of a Taliban assassination plot. The killer was a close personal aid of Ahmad Karzai, who had screwed up and discovered that Ahmad was going to punish him in such a way that everyone in the household, and beyond, would know the details of the error, and the punishment. This would mean public disgrace, and rather than let that happen, the man shot his boss to death, and was then killed by Ahmad's bodyguards. This, by Afghan standards, was the honorable way to go. When you have few possessions and little education, "honor" looms larger in the scheme of things.
All this is common in tribal cultures. The proliferation of weapons from failed communist states after the Cold War ended has made many of those tribal cultures more deadly. Afghanistan got its additional weapons in the 1980s (courtesy of a Russian invasion), but tribal violence in Africa went on to kill millions because of all these cheap assault rifles and machine-guns. The difference in Afghanistan is militant Islam (provided by Saudi Arabian missionaries and Pakistani intelligence in the 1980s and 90s) and opium (another gift from Pakistan, which drove the production of this scourge out of their tribal territories in the 1990s.) The drugs provide several hundred thousand Afghans with unprecedented wealth. All they have to do is use violence and terror on fellow Afghans to get the opium produced and smuggled out. While most Afghans see the opium as a national curse (because of the millions of Afghans who became addicts), the Islamic militant groups (mostly the Taliban) see it as a source of income. The Taliban did this in the 1990s, and after a short interruption after September 11, 2001, resumed their alliance with the drug gangs.
It's this alliance that is at the heart of the organized violence in Afghanistan, and the threat of the country again turning into a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists (as parts of Pakistan continue to be.) Take away the opium, and you cripple the Taliban. You still have an Afghanistan that is very violent, but not a place that is willing to shelter international terrorists. The opium production is deeply entrenched in southern Afghanistan, and even drought and crop disease have not done lasting damage to opium production. There's just too much money at stake. It's not a new problem, and can be taken care of. But it requires a government that is united in eliminating the problem. In Afghanistan, many senior officials are on the payroll of one drug lord or another.
While many NATO nations want to just pull their troops from Afghanistan and let matters take their natural course, most of Afghanistan's neighbors oppose that approach. Chief among the fans of NATO staying in Afghanistan is Russia. While no longer sharing a border with Afghanistan, Russia suffers from the plague of opium and heroin coming out of Afghanistan. The more immediate neighbors, especially Pakistan and Iran, each have millions of addicts, and a growing social problem with these drugs. Iran is also concerned about growing Taliban power in Afghanistan, because the Taliban are anti-Shia (Iran is almost all Shia Moslem) and killed thousands of Afghan Shia during the 1990s.
Another factor in the Afghan violence is a generational dispute within many tribes. One faction wants to change and adapt to the modern world. The other faction (supported by the Taliban) wants to keep things just as they are. But the Taliban add another angle by backing tribal leaders who will turn back the clock, shutting non-religious schools and imposing more lifestyle restrictions (no videos or music, or education or outside jobs for women.) Thus the Taliban often find themselves fighting traditional tribal leaders who want girls in school and economic development. The winds of change a blowing through the Pushtun tribes, and stirring up all sorts of unpleasantness. While the Taliban use modern technology (while rejecting the culture that creates it), they get nervous about how eager young Taliban are about their cell phones.
In the northern province of Faryab, a suicide bomber tried to kill the provincial intelligence chief, but failed. This usually means that the local security forces are being too successful, and need a knock in the head to persuade the cops to back off. There's not much Taliban action up north, but there are lots of criminal gangs. The population up there is mainly Uzbek, and local warlords often ally themselves with Islamic radicals, in order to obtain special services, like suicide bombers.
October 15, 2011: In northern Panjshir province, four suicide bombers attacked a U.S. base. They detonated their explosive vests outside the base, as they were not able to get in. Two civilians were killed as well. This was the first use of suicide bombers in Panjshir province in ten years, since two suicide bombers killed the military commander of the Northern Alliance in 2001. In the south, two Taliban were killed as a roadside bomb they were emplacing went off.
October 14, 2011: A U.S. raid on an Islamic terror group in southern Afghanistan killed the son of 73 year old Islamic terrorist leader Omar Abdel Rahman. Originally an Egyptian Islamic terrorist leader, Rahman fled to the United States in 1990, and continued to plan terror attacks. One of these, a bombing in the basement of the World Trade Center, led to his arrest and conviction. But some of his ten children have also turned to Islamic terrorism.
Also in the south, near Spin Boldak, a suicide car bomber killed three policemen.
October 11, 2011: In southern Kandahar province, a roadside bomb killed six policemen and a pro-government tribal elder.
The government ordered a halt to an investigation of a former provincial governor on corruption charges. The majority of government officials oppose any efforts to suppress or punish corruption. Stealing from the billions of dollars in foreign aid that comes in each year is seen as an essential fringe benefit for elected or appointed officials.
October 10, 2011: The UN accused the Afghan government of allowing the military and police to use torture to extract information from prisoners. Most Afghans were perplexed at this. Soldiers and police are extracting information from prisoners the way it's always been done. What is the UN talking about? Crazy foreigners.
In the north, four foreign aid workers were kidnapped and held for ransom. It's unclear if this is a Taliban group, or just some local tribesmen trying to get rich.
October 5, 2011: Police arrested six people, including someone who worked at the presidential palace, and accused them of helping a Haqqani Network plot to kill president Karzai.
October 4, 2011: Afghanistan and India have signed a strategic cooperation agreement. This means more trade between the two countries, as well as economic and military aid from India. Pakistan sees this as an effort by India to surround and weaken Pakistan. Afghanistan considers Pakistan an enemy, only concerned with manipulating Afghanistan to support Pakistani military, diplomatic and economic needs. This animosity runs deep, and is a major element in maintaining Afghan support for the decade long war against the Taliban. Another cause for that support is the fact that Pakistan is supporting the Pushtun minority (40 percent of the population) in Afghanistan to dominate the majority (mainly Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara). While the majority is divided (the Tajiks are Indo-European, like the Pushtuns, while the Uzbeks are Turks and the Hazara largely Mongol), they are united in their fear of Pushtun, or Pakistani, domination.