Winning: Blood Bath In Afghanistan

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October 29,2008:  Until last year, the casualty rate for foreign troops in Afghanistan was very low. About one soldier died from combat for every 600 who served a year in Afghanistan. That's an exceptionally low casualty rate. When Russia was fighting in Afghanistan during the 1980s, they had about six times as many troops in the country, and suffered about 35 times as many combat dead, and even more non-combat dead (mainly from disease).

But in the last year, the tempo of combat has greatly increased. The casualty rate is now about what it was in Iraq until late last year. That's still about a third the rate suffered in Vietnam, and earlier wars. There are still twice as many troops in Iraq, and the enemy forces in Afghanistan are suffering more losses (closer to 15 dead for each foreign soldier killed, versus about ten in Iraq).

There are far fewer civilian deaths in Afghanistan, mainly because Islamic terrorists do not go after civilians as much. In Iraq, the Sunni and Shia terrorists deliberately sought to kill large numbers of each other's civilians. While the Islamic terrorists (both Taliban and al Qaeda) kill lots of civilians, they do it mainly to intimidate, not just to kill.

As in Iraq, there are many Afghan criminal gangs joining in and killing in the course of stealing or kidnapping. One unique feature in Afghanistan is the large number of gunmen working for the drug gangs. They will kill in the course of protecting their drug operations, but will otherwise be fairly benign.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have noted that they can kill more foreign troops, with smaller losses to themselves, by using suicide bombers. Thus for every terrorist lost, you inflict 1.6 deaths on enemy security forces. However, you kill twice as many civilians. This is the fatal flaw of suicide car bombers. In the last twenty years, several Islamic terrorist organizations have undermined their own support by killing so many innocent civilians. The Algerian Islamic radicals, the Egyptian Brotherhood and the Syrian Islamic radicals all destroyed their mass support, and themselves, with their indiscriminate bombing attacks. Al Qaeda did the same thing in Iraq (where they were long hated by the vast majority of the population.) The horrific civilian casualties caused by al Qaeda in Iraq, according to several opinion surveys, caused al Qaeda's public image to take a beating. Saudi Arabians, long supporters of al Qaeda, changed their minds real fast in 2003, when local terrorists decided to bring the war home with bombing attacks.

Many terrorist leaders realize how counterproductive these bombs are, but have a hard time getting their more bloody minded cohorts to keep the civilian body count low. The problem is, avoiding civilian casualties is very difficult. Suicide car bombs require a team of highly skilled technicians. The easiest part of these missions is building the car bomb, the hard part is recruiting capable bombers, and training them to the level where they can keep civilian casualties low. The bomb team also includes scouts, planners (who find targets, and how to get at them) and people who run interference for the bomber. No Islamic suicide bomber operation has been able to put together a team that could consistently get "clean" (no, or very few, civilian dead) kills.

The pro-bomber terrorists insist that if they don't bomb, the Islamic radicals will be seen as impotent, and will be crushed. But the logic of continuing with the attacks is, in the long term, just as hopeless. Then again, the terrorists live for media attention, and killing lots of people always gets that. Islamic terrorists, most of them, are not really thinking in the long term. So for most terrorists, a spectacular bombing today, is worth the ill will they accumulate down the line.

The Taliban are hoping that if they can just put their gunmen in enough villages and neighborhoods, they can terrorize the population into allowing the Taliban to run the country again. That didn't work before. When U.S. forces entered the country in late 2001, most Afghans were willing to chase the Taliban out. But Afghanistan has always been a country vulnerable to warlords, and the Taliban believe that, with their allies the drug lords and al Qaeda, they can rule the country once more, even if by force, and the Will Of God.

 


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