Afghanistan: Taliban Overshadowed By A Larger Threat


August 6, 2007: The Taliban have changed tactics, now they favor kidnapping foreigners and suicide bombings, to try and weaken the government. The traditional Taliban tactics, of war bands (of 50-100 gunmen) roaming the countryside, attacking the police and terrorizing villagers into supporting the cause, have failed. The Afghan police and army are too well trained and equipped (with radios, to call in NATO troops and airpower) to be defeated. The losses for the Taliban are very high, with a third or more the men in these war bands being killed. Many of the survivors are wounded, or captured. This is bad for morale, and makes recruiting more difficult. It's been tough on the leadership as well. Last week, U.S. forces detected a meeting of Taliban leaders in southern Afghanistan. Smart bombs hit the meeting, which had gathered over a hundred Taliban followers to witness the execution of two men suspected of passing information to the government. Over a hundred people were killed. The Taliban promptly claimed most of the dead were civilians. But they always do that, and no one believes them anymore. Afghans know that the Taliban attract smart bombs, and the Taliban have increasingly used force and threats to obtain human shields. This will sometimes lead to gun battles between civilians and Taliban. The Afghans aren't stupid, and the Taliban are desperate.

The kidnapping and terror approach means fewer Taliban casualties, the possibility of ransom, and the higher enemy casualties. True, many of the suicide bombs kill civilians. But the Taliban have now bought into the Arab belief that civilians killed in these terror attacks become involuntary martyrs to the cause. The Taliban don't really care if they are hated, they never did. They just want to be feared, and obeyed. If a change in tactics will make that happen, then it's all good.

The Taliban have also increased their death squad activity against government officials. In the past month, five judges have been murdered. The Taliban believe that only clerics should dispense justice, according to Islamic law. Teachers are still being threatened, especially if they teach girls, but the killing of teachers has declined. This was very unpopular, and caused more armed resistance to the Taliban.

Kidnapping foreigners has not been very successful of late, because the government refuses to cooperate and release Taliban from prison, in exchange for the kidnapping victims. The Taliban have gotten themselves into a terrible position with the 21 South Korean hostages they hold. Two male hostages have been already been killed, and 18 of the remaining 21 are female. Most Afghans consider the kidnapping of women, particularly foreign women, disgraceful. The Taliban are in a no-win situation there. If they kill the South Korean women, they bring great shame on themselves. If they release the women without gaining the release of jailed Taliban, they make the Taliban look weak and ineffective. Even negotiating a large cash ransom from the South Korean government doesn't do much for the Taliban image. That makes the Taliban look like bandits.

Many government officials see the Taliban as a rapidly declining threat, and are shifting their attention to the drug gangs, who are growing in wealth and strength. The drug lords have more power than the Taliban, and shun publicity.


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