Counter-Terrorism: Bad Manners and Tribal Politics

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October 11, 2007: In Afghanistan, more foreign terrorists are showing up. One group of these was hit with a smart bomb recently, called in by police responding to a tip that "foreign fighters" were preparing an attack in the area (Paktia province). Of the 22 men in the group, sixteen were killed by the bomb, or gunfire before and after the explosion. The other six were wounded, and five of them got away in the dark. But one, a Uzbek, was captured, and confirmed that most of the group were Uzbeks or Chechens, the rest Pakistanis.

Several thousand foreign al Qaeda had been hiding out in Pushtun tribal areas since late 2002, when they were driven out of Afghanistan. Since then, the foreigners have tried to blend in, often marrying local women. But these outsiders were still foreign, and many took to crime to make a living. These Pushtun tribal areas are very poor, and a lot of illegal activity goes on. Smuggling has been a major source of employment for centuries, and the huge increase in heroin production has been good for business. The al Qaeda foreigners, however, often ran into problems with the tribes that "control" the area. This has led to tribes and al Qaeda gangs (of foreigners) going to war with each other. The foreigners were at a big disadvantage, as they were outnumbered, and up against the ancient Pushtun hostility towards outsiders. It also appears that the foreign al Qaeda were the cause of their own problems, by being aggressive and arrogant in dealing with the tribes. The lack of respect from these "foreign guests" was a major error by al Qaeda, one that got them into a lot of trouble in Afghanistan even before the Taliban were overthrown.

In response to the tribal hostility, many of these foreigners sought to get back into the terrorism game, and get out of Pakistan. With the Pakistani Pushtun tribes in rebellion against their government (a common state of affairs), many of the foreign al Qaeda have moved across the border into Afghanistan. There, the Pushtun tribes have been nearly as hostile as those in Pakistan. The reason is all the violence the Taliban and al Qaeda has brought to the area. As much as the Pushtun don't like foreigners (and for some, that means someone from another Pushtun tribe), they dislike Islamic radicals terrorizing them because, for example, girls are allowed to go to school, or because some of the young guys like listening to Indian pop music. And then there's the roadside bombs and suicide bombers, who often kill locals, rather than the American or NATO troops they are aiming at. Moreover, the foreign terrorists fleeing Pakistan traveled in large groups, making them easier to find, and bomb.

But as dicey as it is in Afghanistan, there is money to be had for making terror attacks, or being hired guns for drug operations. But all this stuff is dangerous, and the foreign terrorists are now getting killed off faster than new ones can find their way into the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

 


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