Afghanistan: Paying Attention To What Really Counts


August 16, 2016: Decades of Pakistani efforts to gain a degree of control over Afghanistan have backfired, especially inside Afghanistan. There the primary Pakistani allies are drug gangs, corrupt politicians and Islamic terrorists. Not surprisingly these three groups are the most hated inside Afghanistan and despite death threats and bribes the Afghan media and a growing number of usually quiet (out of fear) politicians, prominent preachers and tribal leaders are speaking out. This was mostly out of self-interest as most of Afghanistan’s worst problems could be traced back to Pakistan. The biggest problem is illegal drugs, mainly opium and heroin. Pakistan drove the drug gangs out of its own tribal territories in the 1980s but the drug business simply moved to Afghanistan and both countries now suffer from widespread addiction and the growing financial and political (via bribes) power of gangsters thriving on drug profits. Afghanistan is the largest producer of heroin in the world and drugs are a major part of the economy, especially in the south (Kandahar and Helmand provinces). This is where most of the Taliban leadership and manpower came (and still come) from. Pakistan admit they created the Taliban, but only to stop the 1990s civil war in Afghanistan. That wasn’t true. Pakistan expected the Taliban to ensure that whatever government was running Afghanistan, Pakistani needs would be tended to. That meant tolerance for the drug trade (which made many Pakistanis rich), no contacts with India and no criticism of the Pakistani military or its intelligence branch (the ISI). But the Taliban and the drug gangs have been tearing Afghanistan apart ever since. Only about ten percent of Afghans got any economic benefit out of the drug business and millions of Afghans, Pakistanis and people throughout the region have become drug addicts. Afghan leaders also noted that more and more of the most talented and promising young Afghans were leaving. They would work hard as long as it took to raise enough money to hire people smugglers to get them to someplace safer and more promising. Afghan was neither, even if you had a lot of money. The problem is that entrenched and well financed problems are difficult to change. Corruption is particularly difficult to reduce (you never completely eliminate it).

One thing that finally turned Afghan leadership against Pakistan was the realization that ISI was even willing to support ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) suicide bombing in Afghanistan. The destruction of ISIL is one thing all Moslem nations (not to mention the non-Moslem world) can agree on. Because of the ISIL connection most Afghans now agree Pakistan is the biggest threat to Afghanistan. A growing number of Pakistanis believe this as well, which alarms the Pakistani military than anything the Afghans might say.

Traditions Versus Technology

Afghans want more foreign troops because that gives Afghans (in uniform or pro-government militias) a major edge over the Taliban and other terrorists and warlords. Even with NATO air support, Afghan security forces in combat suffered casualties at six times the rate of foreign troops doing the same thing. But Afghan forces, like their foreign mentors, inflict even higher losses on the Taliban. The drug gangs appeal to the traditions of rural Afghanistan by paying well for young men willing to fight and risk all to make enough money to change their lives. For uneducated and unemployed rural Afghans that was the traditional way to move up. More often it got you dead but Afghanistan has always been a rough and unforgiving neighborhood. Once the foreign troops withdrew from combat at the end of 2014, Afghan losses (among security forces and civilians) went up. For the soldiers and police losses were 20 percent higher in 2015 and appear to be 20 percent higher 2016.

Losses on both sides have been heavier since the foreign troops left. By the end of 2014 some 300,000 Afghan police and soldiers had assumed responsibility for security all over the country and as a result took a lot more casualties getting that done. At least 5,000 soldiers and police died in 2014. That produced a loss rate of about 2,400 dead per 100,000 troops per year. In 2013 it was about 1,890 which was a big increase from 2007, when the Afghan rate was about 700 dead per 100,000. The rate for 2015 was over 3,000 dead per 100,000, the first full year after most foreign troops had withdrawn. The Taliban and drug gangs proclaimed this to be an opportunity. Most Afghans saw it differently and since 2014 the security forces have had help from a lot more tribal militias. These are usually part-timers but get organized in times when there is a local threat, like regular harassment by the Taliban or drug gang gunmen. The security forces value the tribal militias not so much for their firepower as for the information they possess about the local area and who is doing what for who at the moment.

Despite all this for Afghan soldiers and police, plus civilians in areas where the Taliban is active, more American air support is a matter of life and death. So far this year seven foreign troops (five American) have died in Afghanistan. During 2015 only 27 foreign soldiers died (22 American, two British and thee from other countries). In 2014 75 foreign troops died in Afghanistan and the peak year was 2010 when 710 died. Since late 2001 over 3,500 foreign troops (68 percent American) have died in Afghanistan. During the 1980s over 15,000 Russian troops died in an attempt to gain control of the country.

While Western media does not report this much Afghan media is running more accounts of joint Afghan and “foreign” operations in areas where Islamic terrorist groups are most active. The objectives appear to be leaders, because prominent (at least inside Afghanistan) Taliban and other terrorist leaders are often mentioned by name. These joint operations are not just to kill these notorious leaders but to also search their camps and bodies for additional information, as well as DNA and photographic proof that the big guy was indeed dead. As the Afghan soldiers and police have learned one of the key elements in the battlefield superiority of the Western forces is the way they collect information and quickly analyze and act on it. This is why Afghans want more American intel and other support forces to return. The Afghans would prefer to take care of the fighting themselves, but the air, logistics and intel support given them a big edge.

Indoor Sports

Another area where tradition and technology are colliding with unfortunate (for many Afghans) results is in the favorite indoor sport; corruption. Hiding the illegal money from electronic banking audits or cell phone cameras (of expensive watches and other luxury goodies civil servants or most tribal chiefs cannot normally afford) has made it obvious who is on the take and people speculate openly about which Afghans their corrupt millionaires sold out to make all that money. The victims are usually other Afghans and that is not the best way to do it. Foreigners are the preferred prey but for the last fifteen years the Westerners have provided billions a year in economic and military aid to Afghanistan and a lot of it has been stolen from Afghans by Afghans. This is an affront to tradition. You are supposed to take care of your own and with Pakistan and Iran out to grab what they can from Afghanistan (another ancient local tradition) it is now generally acknowledged that stealing the foreign aid only helps local foes (mainly drug gangs and Pakistan) and hurts Afghans.

August 15, 2016: In Kabul a suicide bomber attacked near the American embassy but no one was killed except the bomber. An Afghan soldier and a civilian were wounded. The bomber may have been trying to get to the nearby Supreme Court complex.

August 11, 2016: The U.S. revealed that American air and intel support helped Afghan security forces hunt down and kill over 300 ISIL members since a July 23rd ISIL suicide bombing in Kabul that killed over 80 Hazara Afghans who were holding a peaceful rally backing reform. ISIL went after the Hazara because they are also Shia. The dead ISIL men included the leader of all ISIL forces in the region. This man, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was killed by an American missile armed UAV on July 26th.

August 9, 2016: In Iran Afghan and Iranian officials signed the agreements which enable foreign cargo delivered to the port of Chabahar (in southeastern Iran) to enter Afghanistan without any additional tax problems or other restrictions. Iran and India are building the 1,300 kilometer long rail line from the port to the Afghan border in the north. Ultimately the Indians will provide over two billions dollars’ worth of investments for this project. That includes work on the port and new roads and railroads to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Because of the 2015 treaty that lifted economic sanctions on Iran India can now legally become a major investor. This project obviously helps Afghanistan but also hurts Pakistan, which currently monopolizes the movement of most Afghan imports and exports. This new agreement means a lot for India which is spending over $100 million to extend an Afghan highway to the Iranian border where the new rail link from Chabahar will end. This link will make possible Indian trade with Afghanistan, something long blocked by Pakistan. The port of Chabahar and its links to Afghanistan are to be operational by the end of the decade.

August 4, 2016: A Pakistani Mi-17 helicopter crash landed in eastern Afghanistan (Logar province) when it was fired on by Afghan Taliban. The Taliban later announced that they had captured the six passengers and crew and destroyed (by fire) the helicopter. Pakistan has asked Afghanistan for help in rescuing the captives who are apparently all Pakistani except for a Russian navigator. The Russian was there because the Mi-17 was flying, with Afghan permission) to Russia for refurbishment and upgrades, The Mi-17 was getting to Russia via Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The government announced it had to investigate the incident to make sure it was not about something else (like the years of illegal Pakistani flights into and out of Afghanistan). The Pakistani transit arrangements were found to be in order and on the 13th the helicopter passengers and crew were released and returned to Pakistan.

August 3, 2016: At a meeting in China officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Tajikistan agreed to share intelligence on Islamic terrorism and cooperate in other ways to reduce Islamic terrorist activity.

In northwest Pakistan troops killed four armed men trying to sneak in from Afghanistan at night. At first the four were believed to be Islamic terrorists but locals insisted they were Afghan bandits who had been raiding in this area recently. This sort of violence, which has been common for centuries, often gets mistaken for Islamic terrorists.

August 2, 2016: In the east (Paktia province) American aircraft and commandos worked with Afghan troops in an overnight operation that killed a Haqqani network commander and sixteen of his subordinates. The American and Afghan troops suffered no casualties.

August 1, 2016: Outside of Kabul the Taliban attacked a hotel compound used by a lot of foreigners. The attack failed and the suicide truck bomber and two gunmen involved died, as did a policeman. Another three police were wounded during several hours of gunfire required to hunt down all the attackers.


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