Afghanistan: A Good Career Move


May 14, 2007: In a major setback, the senior Taliban field commander, Mullah Dadullah, was cornered and killed by NATO forces in Helmand province over the weekend. NATO and Afghan troops have been chasing Dadullah around southern Afghanistan for a month. Dadullah knew he was being tracked, and his pursuers knew he was trying to get to safety in Pakistan. This time, Dadullah didn't make it.

Dadullah was a member of the Council of Ten that runs the Taliban, and the chief military strategist. Getting killed may have been a good career move, because his terror strategy wasn't working. The Taliban were getting battered worse this year than last, and Taliban popularity was declining in the south. Now the Taliban can simultaneously praise Dadullah as a martyr for the cause, and the reason the cause is failing. The Taliban first denied, then admitted Dadullah was dead. Dadullah was a big fan of terrorism, but he was also important because he managed to get normally hostile groups to cooperate with each other. The government will probably be able to get more Taliban groups to negotiate peace deals now, without the threat of Dadullah "punishing traitors."

May 13, 2007: For the second time in a month, Afghan and Pakistani border guards fired on each other, leaving three Afghan civilians and one Afghan policeman dead this time. The violence came as Pakistani troops established more guard posts on the border. Problem is, Afghanistan and Pakistan have never reached an agreement on exactly where the entire border is. There has been agreement in areas where there are roads and regular traffic. But in many rural areas, there are no border markers, just a vague sense that the border is around, somewhere. But when the Pakistani troops set up their observation posts, Afghans sometimes come forward to dispute the Pakistani interpretation of where the border is.

May 12, 2007: The Taliban have increasingly shifted from trying to win the support of civilians in the south, to a policy of instilling fear. The Taliban seek to destroy all government institutions, and drive away foreign aid efforts. This way, the civilians will be totally dependent on the Taliban, and their drug gang allies. In a few isolated areas, this is working. But the government has radios, trucks and helicopters, and eventually, the Taliban controlled valleys revert to government control.

May 11, 2007: The Taliban released their French hostage, interpreting newly elected French president Sarkozy's remark that the thousand French troops would eventually leave Afghanistan, as meeting their demand that the French troops be withdrawn. The Taliban calculated that killing the hostage would just enrage the French, and that France was not going to pressure the Afghan government, like the Italians did, to release imprisoned Taliban. Three Afghans, who were taken at the same time, are still being held.

A week of operations in Helmand province left at least 70 Taliban dead, including five leaders. This broke a Taliban attempt to control several parts of the province, which is the primary heroin producing area in the country. Meanwhile, in the same area, eight policemen were killed by a roadside bomb. This years war with the Taliban has left about 1,200 dead so far, most of them Taliban, and about ten percent of them civilians caught in the crossfire.

May 10, 2007: It's gotten a lot harder for the Taliban to cross the Pakistan-Afghan border. More troops have been assigned to both sides. While this has not resulted in a lot more skirmishes right on the border, many more groups of Taliban have been spotted trying to sneak across. Once in Afghanistan, these groups of armed men can be tracked from the air, mainly because of the availability of heat sensors, and eventually intercepted by ground troops. That's why the Taliban casualty rate is so high this year. In desperation, the Taliban have abandoned attempts to win the loyalty of local villagers, and have increasingly been using human shields. This means either moving with some civilians along side the armed Taliban, or taking refuge in a compound, and forcing the civilians to stay. The Taliban know that if the Americans do not use a smart bomb on them, the Taliban chances of getting away at night are much improved. If the Americans use smart bombs anyway, then the Taliban publicists have a "dead civilians" story they can run with. For the Taliban, dead civilians are very much a "win-win" situation.

May 9, 2007: The U.S. will maintain its current troops strength in Afghanistan, 25,000, at least until 2008.


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