A roadside bomb killed a NATO soldier in eastern Afghanistan, bringing the total NATO troop deaths so far this year to 161. That's six percent less than the same period last year. This month is supposed to be the start of this year's Taliban Spring Offensive. But during the last five years, this Taliban event has become more of a media, than a military, event.
Overnight, Afghan troops in the east, caught a large group of armed Arabs, Chechens and Pakistanis crossing the border. In the subsequent fighting, at least 25 of the al Qaeda (most likely) gunmen were killed or wounded. The remainder fled back into Pakistan. The Afghan troops were out watching crossing points on the border because of intel warnings that al Qaeda forces in Pakistan would move to Afghanistan and try to stage attacks on Americans to avenge the recent death of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
The death of bin Laden is something of a non-event in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda is a minor problem. Drug gangs and the Taliban movement (a tribal rebellion seeking to restore a hated religious dictatorship) are the big threats these days, along with pervasive corruption and bad government. U.S. and NATO commanders believe the increased number of foreign troops brought in during the last year, have done serious damage to the drug gangs and the Afghan Taliban. But the long term solution remains helping create an Afghan government that can keep the peace. This goal has not yet been achieved, and will probably take decades, if not generations.
Government investigators have concluded that nearly 500 Taliban did not escape from a Kandahar jail on April 25th using a tunnel. Instead, they were let out the front gate by guards and prison officials who had accepted bribes to make it look like the prisoners used a tunnel to escape. Nearly twenty prison staff have been arrested so far, and about twenty percent of the escapees have been recaptured. The escape is big news in Afghanistan, where it puts a spotlight on the corruption that everyone deplores, but that so many Afghans still partake in. That many Taliban getting loose hurt the morale of the security forces, who often risked their lives to capture these guys. The freed Taliban will kill again, and that puts the actions of the corrupt prison staff into a shameful perspective.
May 1, 2011: As promised, the Taliban 2011 Spring Offensive began today, with an explosion in a public place. A suicide bomber attacked in an eastern Afghanistan market, killing four civilians and wounding over a dozen. Also as expected, the bomber was a kid, a 12 year old boy, who police suspect was a student from a Pakistani religious schools, where children are brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers. Another bomb went off near a police headquarters, wounding 13 civilians. A police patrol was also ambushed, leaving two policemen, and two civilians dead. As you can see, most of the casualties were civilian, a common pattern with Taliban violence, and the main reason the Taliban are so hated. The Taliban violence has actually picked up over the last few days, with more attacks that mainly kill or wound civilians.
April 27, 2011: An Afghan military pilot got into an argument while meeting with nine American flight instructors (eight of them military) at Kabul airport. The Afghan killed the nine Americans, then killed himself. This is but the latest such incident of armed Afghan police or soldiers killing other Afghans, or foreign troops. Armed Afghans with anger management issues are a common problem, and have been for a long time. Afghanistan has a very high murder rate, and that is one reason it has the lowest lifespan in Eurasia.
April 25, 2011: About 500 Taliban prisoners escaped from a Kandahar prison, apparently via a tunnel. But more astute observers suspected bribes.