Afghanistan: The Enemies Within


July 27, 2010: The Taliban is openly protesting the new government militia program. The militia is an effort to provide weapons and other equipment to people in rural areas who want to keep the Taliban (and their extortionate demands for food, shelter, recruits and other support) out. In an attempt to discredit the militia, the Taliban invoke a similar program established by the Russians in the 1980s. This plays well with many Pushtun tribes, who were on the receiving end of these anti-Pushtun militias. The Taliban also blame the militias, and the Russians, for the civil war that followed the 1989 Russian departure from Afghanistan. This ignores the fact that the Russians came in because there was already a civil war in Afghanistan (between the communist dominated government and the conservative Pushtun tribes). Afghanistan is normally suffering from some form of tribal conflict. Most Afghans would like some peace and prosperity, but there are always a lot of Afghans who want to go out and raise hell. Because of the tribalism, and weak nationalism, you get away with this bad behavior as long as you don't do your dirty work on members of your own tribe. It's a perfect storm of perpetual violence. But it doesn't get reported that way, and most people don't get it. It's also difficult to get across the fact that Afghans, especially those with guns, are not as serious and practiced at what they do than Western troops. This includes both the Taliban and Afghan forces. There is a clash of cultures going on. Nothing new here, and these Afghan quirks were long ignored by Americans until Afghan support for international Islamic terrorism began killing Americans at home and overseas.

It helps it you look at things from an Afghan perspective. President Karzai and his allies are from Pushtun tribes that have long been rivals to the tribe the forms the core of Taliban leadership and manpower. All this is made worse by the fact that the non-Pushtun Afghans (Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbek), who comprise 60 percent of the population, do not want to lose the increased power (more in proportion to their size of the population) they obtained once democracy was installed in 2002. Many (if not most) Pushtuns, and nearly all non-Pushtuns, are hostile to the Taliban and their alien radical Islamic ways. Aside from the lifestyle restrictions, Afghans don't like the Taliban demand that Afghans put religion before tribal and family obligations and, worst of all, strive for Islamic world conquest. Most Afghans see the Taliban as a bunch of intolerant fanatics who like to execute (often by beheading) those who oppose them. Outsiders have a hard time appreciating how hated the Taliban are in Afghanistan, where a lot of the usual tribal violence and banditry is confused for Taliban activity. That said, the Taliban are organized and fanatic, two things that most of their Afghan opposition is not. This makes the Taliban feared, and more unpopular. But no one believes that Taliban will take control of the country.

American combat unit commanders have been made more aware of cultural differences between those who support the Taliban, and the majority that don't. But the differences are often very subtle, which is why it's so important have more Afghan police. Unfortunately, because of the high illiteracy rate and tribalism (Afghans do not like members of another tribe ordering them around), it difficult to get competent cops to where you need them. This is true in the cities, as well as in the countryside, where there is often a patchwork of different tribes in adjacent neighborhoods or villages. What the troops have learned to do is keep track of whose tribal turf they are on, and not depend on nervous (because of tribal differences) Afghan troops or police with them. Often the Afghan soldiers are not nervous, but eager to kick some ass. That's because a disproportionate number of troops in the army are from non-Pushtun tribes, and are eager to stick it to the ancient Pushtun enemy (Taliban or not).

July 25, 2010: A web site released 91,000 operational, intelligence and diplomatic reports generated by U.S. forces in Afghanistan between 2004-9. The only things held back were 15,000 documents that contained information on Afghans who reported on Taliban operations. Such people are often targets of Taliban death squads, even though many of these informants are in areas where the Taliban are still struggling to establish a presence. While classified, none of the released documents were top secret (as in covering Special Forces operations). The essence of these reports has long been available to the media, but often ignored (or downplayed) for one reason or another. One item the U.S. has downplayed is enemy casualties. Not wanting to repeat the problems with "body count" during Vietnam (especially pressure on commanders to increase it for the enemy), it indicated that since 2002, some 17,000 enemy fighters have died, along with at least 4,000 Afghan security personnel and 4,500 civilians. Also covered was lots of evidence of Pakistani support (via their version of the CIA and some army officers) for the Taliban (which Pakistan created 16 years ago, as a tool to control Afghanistan).  There were also a lot of details about Iranian support for the Taliban. The leaked documents also provide a lot more of the day-to-day detail of the war, including the heavy use of commando type operations and UAVs.  

Barg-e-Matal, in northeastern Nuristan province, changed hands again, as a large force of Taliban drove away Afghan police. The Taliban had crossed the Pakistan border into this remote and sparsely populated district (one of 398 in the country). The police withdrew after suffered six dead and killing over 30 Taliban. The Taliban did their usual looting and intimidation routine, and awaited the usual counterattack. The area is an important supply route for the Taliban, and they make these raids regularly to prevent the police from interfering with the movement of supplies and Taliban personnel. This area changes hands frequently, often more than once a month.

July 23, 2010: The new commander of U.S. forces, general David Petraeus, has cancelled his predecessors plan for clearing the Taliban out of Kandahar (with large numbers of troops hunting down and killing or capturing key Taliban personnel). Instead, the U.S. will attempt to make deals with the various factions in Kandahar, and then send in troops to round up (or kill) key Taliban personnel. The new strategy is not a lot different from the old one, especially in a strategic sense. What it is doing differently is seen at the tactical level, where the troops are concentrating more on enemy logistics (blocking routes used by the Taliban to get people and weapons into Kandahar) and bases outside the city, that support forces inside the city.

July 22, 2010:  The U.S. has implemented travel and financial sanctions against three men who are critical to managing finances for Taliban and terrorist groups. These men will now find it harder to travel internationally or conduct financial transactions via banks or other financial organizations. The three men sanctioned are Nasiruddin Haqqani (of the Haqqani Network  in Pakistan), Gul Agha Ishakzai (in charge of Taliban's finances) and Amir Abdullah (a long time Taliban financial adviser).




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