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Afghanistan: The Best Peace Money Can Buy
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January 5, 2013:  Afghan security officials are trying to persuade the Americans to leave behind a lot of their surveillance equipment, especially the camera equipped aerostats (blimps) that hover over so many NATO bases. The Afghans would also like lots of UAVs. The problem with giving the Afghans this gear is the shortage of Afghan technicians to maintain and operate it. The shortage of educated people is a major problem throughout the country. The larger UAVs (Predator, Reaper, Gray Eagle) would still operate under control of the 10,000 (or fewer) American troops who stay behind to make sure al Qaeda does not reestablish a presence and to persuade the Afghan government to go easy on the corruption and working with the drug gangs. The main means of influencing the Afghan leadership will be the foreign aid. Selective withholding of that has been shown to persuade even the most corrupt Afghan officials to cooperate a little more. The American UAVs would also provide precision air support as manned American warplanes would be gone.

Also gone will be the American and NATO engineers who took care of the roadside bombs and the intelligence troops who provide all the information on where the Taliban, and the roadside bombs, are. These specialists will be missed, even though a sufficient (on paper) number of Afghans who are being trained are adequate for the engineer work. The intelligence specialists are another matter, and some of the 10,000 remaining American personnel will try to keep the intel coming. The U.S. is gaining a good idea of how well the Afghans will do on their own as more and more areas of the violent Pushtun south are turned over to Afghan security forces. The Afghans have been handling security in parts of the non-Pushtun north for years. By Afghan standards, that has worked. But in the south you have the Taliban and a lot of Pushtuns who resent the non-Pushtun tribes (about 60 percent of the population) dominating the national government. Because of loyalty issues, most of the Afghan troops are non-Pushtuns and down south that makes these Afghan troops “foreigners.” The next two years will confirm if the non-Pushtun army can keep the Taliban and drug gangs on the defensive as competently as the NATO forces did.

Currently, government security forces are solely responsible for 76 percent of the population and are in the process of taking control of security for another 11 percent. This transition process began with the quietest areas, mainly in the non-Pushtun north. The transition program saves the worst for last and the next two years will show how well the Afghan police and army can handle the most violent areas on their own. This next phase (expanding control to 87 percent of the population) only includes one district in Helmand province, where most of the world’s heroin is produced and where Taliban resistance is heaviest. This one district will be a test area, where lessons learned will determine how soon Afghan security forces move into the remainder of the south.

The greater use of Afghan security forces has led to an increase in casualties for the Afghans and less for the foreigners. U.S. troop deaths were down 27 percent last year, in line with the decline in American forces in Afghanistan (which now total 66,000). Afghan losses (police and soldiers) were 2,700 dead (compared to 394 foreign troops and over 3,000 Taliban). Civilian dead fell 29 percent last year, and 85 percent were caused by the Taliban. The Afghan police, who are recruited locally, are more subject to bribes and intimidation. This often takes the form of bribing one or more police to kill the others while they sleep in the barracks, where many police live while on duty. At least 17 police died that way last month.

The Afghan security forces now number 330,000 police and soldiers. There are now 92 battalions (about 40,000 troops) that can operate on their own. That’s 50 percent more than a year ago and three times as many as two years ago. NATO trainers have been concentrating on improving the skills of existing troops rather than training new recruits (which the Afghans can now handle).

The departure of most foreign troops at the end of 2014 is seen by the Taliban as an opportunity to become more active. Over the last five years the Taliban have modified their tactics (more roadside bombs, less contact with foreign troops) to reduce their own casualties. The Taliban accept the fact that their gunmen cannot survive contact with foreign troops and they have a hard time recruiting if there is going to be a lot of head-to-head fighting with the deadly foreigners. Odds are a bit better against Afghan troops but that depends on whether the troops have air support. After 2014, the Afghan troops will have less air support, which may be a major problem. The big advantage of facing Afghan troops is that you can bribe them. This is an old Afghan tradition that did not work against the foreign officers.

While most Afghans want education that would get them better jobs, that means Western-style training. The Taliban are opposed to that, although not to the Western weapons and gadgets. This has created a rift within the Taliban, with many pro-Taliban tribal leaders seeing that economic progress will come from using Western methods and technology. This is plain to see in northern (non-Pushtun) Afghanistan and many Pushtuns in the south want this kind of future, even the minority of Pushtuns down south who are prospering off the drug business. This has caused a growing split within the Taliban, which threatens to escalate once most of the foreign troops are gone. That could mean another civil war but one in which the Islamic radicals are vastly outnumbered and fighting a suicidal campaign in pursuit of an impossible goal (regaining control of the national government).   

January 4, 2013: Pakistan accused Afghan security forces of firing at least 25 mortar shells across the border into North Waziristan. This area is a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists and these groups launch attacks into Afghanistan. The targets are often Afghan police or soldiers, who are eager to cross the border and get at their tormentors. So far the Afghan government has restrained its troops from going into Pakistan. But as the Pakistanis continue to fire rockets and shells into Afghanistan (at areas where anti-Pakistan Islamic terrorists live), the Afghan’s feel free to do the same. In the last week at least a dozen Pakistani rockets landed in Afghanistan, killing one and wounding three. Such attacks have killed at least 60 in the past nine months.

In order to persuade pro-Taliban tribal leaders and some Taliban commanders to shift their support to the government, Afghanistan has persuaded Pakistan to release dozens of Afghan Taliban leaders from jail. At the same time Afghanistan is releasing 400 of the 3,000 hard core Taliban prisoners the Americans handed over last year (with the understanding that none of these killers were to be released). All this is being done to sweeten the deal (which includes a cut of the foreign aid and other economic incentives) that is meant to persuade pro-Taliban tribes to turn against the Taliban. This may not work because switching sides will mean the Taliban will attack the “traitors,” going for the tribal leaders with death squads and raiding villages and towns that have turned against the Islamic terrorists. The government had its first face-to-face meeting with Taliban negotiators last month (December 20-21) in France. There is a lot of optimism that many of the southern tribal leaders will switch sides. This is another ancient Afghan custom and not all that unusual.

January 2, 2013: Reformers in parliament are demanding an investigation into how four of eleven government ministers accused of corruption came to avoid being removed from office. A parliament investigation had found all eleven guilty of corruption since they took office in 2011. The reformers believe the four bribed their way out of trouble and want answers.

December 29, 2012:  The Afghan Air Force is getting rid of its 16 Italian made C-27 transports. The main reason is inability to maintain the aircraft. Corruption and a lack of sufficient Afghans with the needed skills was the main reason.

December 26, 2012:  In the east (Khost province, near the Pakistan border) the Taliban attempted to get a car bomb into a U.S. base but failed. The bomb went off outside the base, killing a policeman and two truck drivers.

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