Afghanistan: Taliban Backed Into A Corner


March 19, 2010: Behind the scenes, Western donors are putting increasing pressure on the government to prosecute corrupt officials. In response, the government has given the anti-corruption commission the authority to arrest and prosecute. The problem here is, will that power be used? In Afghanistan, politics is a blood sport. You arrest someone powerful, and there will be violent consequences (if a bribe will not make the problem go away.) Eliminating (or, more correctly, diminishing), corruption can be done. All Western nations were once as corrupt as Afghanistan is now, but they changed. They became less (in some cases, much less) corrupt. But it takes generations to do. Don't expect overnight success here.

In Western Afghanistan, in Herat province, near the Iranian border, Afghan troops discovered three Taliban arms caches, containing over fifty tons of weapons, explosives and terrorist gear (like suicide bomb vests). The operation began with Afghan commandos pursuing a group of Taliban fighters, who eventually led them to their base area. In this part of the country, the Taliban and drug smugglers work closely together. Across the border in Iran, police and Revolutionary Guards make life very difficult for the drug smugglers. The arms caches apparently were used to support that battle, along with the suicide bomb vests (which are rarely seen in Iran, but are much more common in Afghanistan). Smuggling heroin through Iran is necessary to get the drugs to the Persian Gulf, where all that oil money has created a booming market for all sorts of things. Despite this border war, weapons and terrorist supplies continue to come out of Iran. Iranian weapons, or combat gear with Iranian writing or trademarks on it, continue to be found in western Afghanistan. This kind of support is highly contentious in Iran, where some leaders believe al Qaeda and the Taliban should be supported, even though these Sunni terrorists often harass and kill Shia Moslems (most Iranians are Shia, while 80 percent of all Moslems are Sunni). This, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" approach has prevailed, because the Sunni Taliban and al Qaeda try to kill Americans. But this policy is very unpopular inside Iran.

The Taliban are making a big bet on roadside bombs and anti-vehicle mines (IEDs/improvised explosive devices). Last year, 8,159 IEDs were encountered in Afghanistan, compared with 3,867 in 2008 and 2,677 in 2007. These weapons are not all that effective in accomplishing their goal. In 2007, it took 34 IEDs to kill one foreign soldier. In 2008 this went down to 25, and up to 30 last year as more MRAP vehicles, and IED detection equipment arrived. This is the same pattern that occurred in Iraq, where the IED campaign failed because, as in Afghanistan, most of the casualties were local civilians.  

The U.S. is moving some more troops north, to the town of Kunduz. The Taliban have been trying establish themselves among the Pushtun minority up there, to facilitate smuggling heroin and opium into, and through, Central Asia. This has enraged most of the locals, who are not Pushtun, and definitely want nothing to do with the drug trade.

U.S. and NATO troops have begun moving into areas in and around the city of Kandahar (the traditional "Taliban capital") to clear out areas where the Taliban has established themselves. This is expected to take several months, and kill or capture thousands of Taliban supporters, and drive even more out into the countryside.

Russia is calling for more effort to interfere with heroin smuggling from Afghanistan, through Central Asia and Russia (to Western Europe). Russia is currently suffering 30,000 heroin related deaths a year, and wants to stop the drugs at their source. Russia calculates that 90 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan, and that the drug has, with better distribution, become a worldwide problem in the last five years. The Russians have some grounds for optimism, since Afghan heroin production has declined 36 percent in the last two years. The decline is partly due to bad weather, partly to increased anti-heroin operations in Helmand province, and difficulty in getting production going in other provinces. Most Afghans are anti-heroin (and also hostile to its precursor drug, opium). But the drugs, particularly opium, are popular among young Afghans. This can be seen by the results of the drug screening introduced, last year, for men applying to join the police. Some 40 percent of these men turn out to be users of opium (which is less disabling than the more expensive heroin).

Pakistan is trying to convince Afghanistan to match its effort in guarding their common border. Currently, Pakistani troops and border guards man 821 border checkpoints, while the Afghans only have 112. Pakistan suggests that if Afghanistan made an equal effort, it would be much more difficult for smugglers and terrorists to move across the border. The Afghans are still having a hard time recruiting and training reliable police and troops, and those that are available, are needed in the southwest, against major Taliban bases. But the Pakistanis have driven their own Taliban groups out of many tribal base areas, and these Pakistani Taliban are now setting up bases across the border in Afghanistan.

March 17, 2010: In Helmand province, an explosion in the town of Gereshk turned out to be a suicide bomber triggering the explosives while he put on his explosive vest. A child in the building was wounded. Such accidents are increasingly common, as a growing number of veteran bomb makers are killed or captured.

March 15, 2010:  In eastern Pakistan, police spotted, and shot dead, five suicide bombers that were part of an attack, similar to the one carried out in Kandahar two days earlier. This time the terrorists were halted before they could cause mass casualties.

March 14, 2010: Australia announced that their troops had recently captured a key Taliban commander, Mullah Janan Andewahl, in southern Afghanistan. There, Australian and Afghan troops have been deliberately seeking out Taliban leaders and bomb builders. Andewahl was in charge of several teams of roadside bomb builders.

March 13, 2010: Several suicide bombs went off in Kandahar, killing nearly 40 people and wounding over a hundred. The Taliban took credit, warning that there would be much more of this violence if foreign and Afghan troops didn't back off. That won't happen, because the Taliban cannot handle the foreign and Afghan troops, and their use of bombs (suicide and roadside) costs them popular support because of the civilian casualties. The trend is against the Taliban, in terms of public opinion and territory controlled.

In the last six months, the Taliban terrorists have been concentrating their terror attacks on the capital, Kabul. There, over seventy people have been killed in that time. The attacks are directed mainly at the media, to make the Taliban appear more powerful than they actually are. This can be seen by the fact than in the same period last year, no one was killed by terror attacks in Kabul. But now these terror teams have to direct their attention to Kandahar, and other places in the southwest, the Taliban heartland, where the Islamic radicals cannot afford to be defeated.





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