Logistics: Taliban Shortages

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October 24, 2010: The massive movement of intelligence gathering and analyzing forces from Iraq to Afghanistan in the last two years is paying off by cutting Taliban supplies of weapons, and money. More and more captured (often from dead Taliban) weapons and ammunition is of poor quality. Explosives, even the stuff made from ammonium nitrate fertilizer, is harder to get, and often used in smaller quantities in order to make more roadside bombs. That, in turn, is just getting more Taliban killed, including many more leaders. That's because the largely illiterate Taliban have fewer skilled people for tasks like planting bombs (and rigging them to go off on cue). Guys who get promoted often find themselves one of the few people who knows how to rig a bomb, so they have to go out on the bomb planting missions. These are increasingly more dangerous because the Americans have more UAVs, along with camera towers and aerostats (tethered blimps) that can see for long distances, day or night and in any weather. It's not just that the cameras can pick up some guys planting a bomb (and call in an air strike), but can detect suspicious movement of any kind. The terrorists are creatures of habit, and the intelligence software can detect habits.

Even the dead bodies of bomb planters hit by an air strike or artillery are valuable. NATO always tries to get some troops out there to examine the body parts, because NATO now has a large, and growing, database of fingerprints and who is known to hang out with who. Get a fingerprint hit off the bodies of bomb planters, and you can often find other Taliban supporters who were known buddies of the deceased. It's all a big puzzle, which the intelligence analysis software, honed by years of use in Iraq, can quickly make sense of.

But the big targets are the financial and smuggling networks buy weapons and explosives and get it into the country. These are being found out and attacked. As a result, the Taliban have shortages of cash and supplies. This has forced the Taliban to act more like gangsters and steal or extort money and goods from local Afghans. This makes the Taliban more unpopular, and is a key reason for the growing number of Afghan tribes and villages that are willing to take help from NATO and the government to defend themselves. Once you let it be known that you will resist the Taliban with force, you are at war with the Taliban. But NATO can supply information about the local Taliban, and, via radios or cell phone numbers, access to reinforcements, or air strikes, for defended villages.

Afghans, in general, just want to be left alone. If you can help them out, fine, but help from foreigners is dangerous. That's because the foreigners will eventually go away, and any Afghans the foreigners hurt will still be around, to get revenge. That code of vengeance is a big part of the local culture, and foreigners have a hard time comprehending just how important it is. The Taliban can persuade Afghans to stay away from foreign troops just by reminding everyone that this could result in a blood feud. And these beefs have been known to go on for generations. But at the same time, if the foreigners just mysteriously get the drop on some bomb planting or ambushing Taliban, and kill them, it's hard to know who to feud with. The blood feuds rarely survive migration to the West. Those who leave Afghanistan want to get away from a lot of bad things. Not just starvation, disease, illiteracy and mayhem, but also the culture of revenge. But in Afghanistan, the American intelligence system has learned how to make use of the feuds. When encountered, they are recorded. Thus American commanders can get a list of who is feuding with who, and make friends with someone who is feuding with someone who now works for the Taliban. The greater use of information like this has made life a lot harder for the Taliban, which is one reason why more and more of them want to make some kind of peace.

 

 


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