Afghanistan: The Civil War That Time Remembered


July 7, 2008: A bomb went off in front of the Indian embassy, killing 40 people (mostly Afghans lined up to get visas to visit India). India, a largely Hindu country, has become a major ally of Moslem Afghanistan. That's because the two nations have an enemy in common; Pakistan. The Taliban were created, and long supported, by Pakistan (that arrangement eventually backfired). The Pakistani government still supports Islamic radical groups that carry out terror attacks inside India. The Pakistani government is trying to back away from its support of Islamic terrorism, but not everyone in the Pakistani government has received, or paid attention to, the message. So there are plenty of suspects for whoever set off this bomb. Whoever it was, they just made themselves less popular among the average Afghan, who is sick and tired of decades of violence and poverty.

The Taliban and al Qaeda are fighting a two front war, which is never a good thing. In Pakistan, which is supplying up to half the fighters for Afghanistan operations, the army is again fighting with pro-Taliban tribes. This has not halted recruitment of young tribesmen for operations in Afghanistan, but has cut back on it. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has moved most of its bombing operations to Afghanistan. Not a lot of al Qaedas best bomb makers made it out of Iraq to Afghanistan, largely because nearly all these guys were Sunni Arabs more loyal to Saddam and his crowd, than to the world-wide Islamic revolution. So al Qaeda has to depend on a lot of semi-pro (and error prone) bomb makers. Hardly a week goes by without one of these not-ready-for-prime-time bomb makers blowing himself (and usually family or associates) up, or producing bombs that don't detonate on cue. NATO bomb disposal teams are particularly unhappy with these amateur bombs, as they are more dangerous to deal with, even if they are less useful to the terrorists.  

The al Qaeda tactics of suicide and roadside bombs have had some success within Afghanistan. It's easier to kill NATO and Afghan soldiers with these bombs, than it is to fight it out with guns and RPGs. Even so, for every NATO soldier killed with bombs, more than ten Taliban or al Qaeda men die in combat (versus more skilled NATO infantry, or highly accurate smart bombs and missiles.) The Taliban and al Qaeda are depending on the foreign troops getting tired of fighting, and leaving. That Taliban know that the Pushtun tribes have been defeated in the past by determined invaders. But this time around, it's worse. That's because what is happening is a civil war, with the Taliban and al Qaeda on the weaker side. The Pushtuns are 40 percent of the Afghan population, and hold most of the senior positions in the Afghan government. It's the pro-West Pushtuns (the government) versus the anti-West Pushtuns (Taliban and al Qaeda). While both sides are cursed by corruption and double-dealing, the government is seen as a potential winner, while the Taliban have a record of failure (losing power in 2001, growing warfare with the Pakistani government, and an alliance with al Qaeda, which just suffered defeat in Iraq and has plunging poll numbers throughout the Moslem world.)

For the second month in a row, more foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq. However, the current death rate Afghanistan (in terms dead per year per thousand troops) is less than half of what it was in major wars of the last century. The Taliban and al Qaeda, however, are suffering a much higher casualty rate. This has made it difficult to recruit the most experienced and reliable fighters. Many of the captured Taliban gunmen turn out to be religious school students from Pakistan, with little combat experience, and an expectation that God would help them out.

The major problem in Afghanistan is not the Taliban or al Qaeda, but the corruption, especially in the government, and the growing power of the drug gangs (who contribute a lot to the corruption as they bribe officials to leave the heroin business alone.) Corruption has always been a big problem in Afghanistan, and many Afghans don't even see it as a problem, but simply an efficient way to work out otherwise intractable differences between tribes or warlords. There's some truth to that, but only if you are still living several hundred years in the past. The world has moved on, and if you want to prosper in the 21st century, you have to lighten up on the corrupt practices. Most Afghans seem to get that, but many do not, and disagree violently.

July 3, 2008: The U.S. has extended the time 2,200 U.S. Marines will stay in Afghanistan by one month (from the normal seven to eight). This is to give NATO more time to scrounge up some reinforcements. The marines will now leave in November, giving NATO until next Spring to find more troops. NATO believes the Taliban and al Qaeda are weak, and with a large enough effort could be crushed for good (or at least a few generations). Over the last 18 months, NATO has increased its Afghan force from 33,000 to 50,000. But many of these troops are prohibited from fighting, which NATO commanders are trying to change. It's a political thing back home, where the most popular approach to fighting Islamic terrorism involves much less expense and bloodshed.




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