Attrition: The Afghan War Moves East


February 10, 2010:  Last year, the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan. During 2009, Pakistan recorded nearly 12,000 deaths from terrorist and Taliban activity. That's a sharp jump from the years before. In fact, the total such deaths from 2003-8 were 13,500 in Pakistan. Most of last years' dead were Taliban, killed while fighting the army. The terrorism related deaths last year in Afghanistan were less than 10,000, again, most of the dead were Taliban.  The growing number of foreign troops, and the large amount of aerial reconnaissance, and quick availability of smart bombs, has made it difficult for the Afghan Taliban to attack. They have been reduced to skulking around at night planting roadside bombs and mines. This is the source of most casualties among foreign troops. But even with that, the foreign troops are being hurt at a lower rate than the Russians in the 1980s (who could be attacked head on), or even Iraq. This has led to dismay and demoralization among many Afghan Taliban, especially considering the disasters befalling the Pakistani Taliban.

The sharpest increase in deaths for Pakistan were those suffered in combat, not terror attacks. Last year, Pakistan finally went to war with the Taliban, after years of skirmishing and numerous attempts at negotiating a peace deal. Thus most of the terrorism related deaths last year took place in the tribal territories along the Afghan border. And it wasn't like the Pakistani government suddenly saw the light and went after the Taliban. Quite the opposite, bands of Taliban began advancing into non-tribal areas and taking over, using their combination of terror and religious fanaticism to overcome any opposition. The Pakistani government, and the non-tribal majority (over 80 percent of the population) had to either fight back, or submit to a religious dictatorship run by tribal warlords.

Enough of the violence, in the form of terror bombings, occurred outside the tribal territories, to remind the majority of Pakistanis what they were up against. This new urgency to fight the Taliban also led the government to clear out many of the Islamic radicals that had long infested the intelligence services, and to cooperate more with the United States in tracking the terrorist leaders. Pakistan allowed the Americans to use Pakistani air bases for the armed UAVs, which began killing more terrorist leaders and their followers (dozens a month). It's been a bad year for the Taliban, on both sides of the border.



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