Afghanistan: Karzais On The Run


October 17, 2014: American military advisers believe that Afghan security forces will suffer about 9,000 casualties (dead, wounded, missing) in 2014. This is largely because the Afghans are now in charge of security in nearly all of the country. Since 2001 total casualties for foreign troops has been about 32,000 (two-thirds of them American). The peak year for foreign troop casualties was 2010, when there were about 6,800 of them. Foreign troop casualties began to rapidly decline in the second half of 2011, with casualties among Afghan police and soldiers rising as Afghans took control of security in more of the country.  The higher foreign troop casualties in 2010 were because there were more foreign troops in action during that year, and those troops were much more aggressive. By early 2015 there will only be about 12,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, 95 percent of them American. That’s down from over 120,000 in 2010-11. In early 2010 there were 119,000 Afghan soldiers available while today that stands at 194,000, plus 149,000 police.

The new government is cracking down on corruption, in sharp contrast to the previous Karzai administration. Old corruption investigations are being reopened. Karzai often went through the motions of investigating major scandals where foreign aid was stolen. This was largely because the donor nations insisted. These investigations were superficial and soon closed, especially when members of the Karzai clan were usually involved. The first cases reopened are some of the most notorious ones, like the looting of the Kabul Bank in 2010. In 2013 the Afghan MEC (Monitoring and Evaluation Committee), a foreign funded anti-corruption group, openly protested the light sentences and superficial prosecution of those responsible for stealing nearly a billion dollars (most of it aid money) from the Kabul Bank. This sort of public criticism was tolerated by the Karzais because it meant little and kept the foreigners happy. But now members of the Karzai clan involved with these past corruption cases are being prosecuted once more. Some are fleeing the country.  They are being joined in exile by a lot of other prominent and notoriously corrupt officials and businessmen.

Of particular interest to NATO is long sought investigation of corruption in the security forces. Political influence in the selection of officers, especially senior ones, was always a sore point with NATO trainers and advisers. Another complaint was the theft of money for essentials (like pay and benefits for the troops as well as equipment and supplies.) Bad officers meant poor performance in combat and lower morale. That led to more desertions and it was easier for the Taliban and criminals to bribe soldiers and police. A lot of officers, especially generals, are expected to lose their jobs now.  The new government is also rescinding many restrictions placed on military operations. Many of these seemed to benefit the Taliban and it was widely believed that many members of the Karzai government were bribed by the Taliban and drug gangs.

The anti-corruption effort is part of a larger plan to increase economic growth and reduce the extreme poverty that has long been so common in Afghanistan. Corruption has always been an obstacle to economic growth. Everyone knew it but when the Karzais were in charge not much was done about it. Now the Karzai clan (still based in Kandahar) faces a crises because Hamid Karzai could not run for president again and the election to replace him succeeded in electing someone who was not under the control of the Karzais. So far the Karzais have not tried to muster enough support to change the constitution or hang on by force. The U.S. has made it clear that trying to use bribes and coercion to change the constitution will not be tolerated. Hamid Karzai and his clansmen have to cope with life after dominating the government for a decade (two terms as president). His successor is prosecuting Karzais for corruption that went on for a decade. Things could get ugly and very costly for the Karzais, even though the clan has already moved a lot of assets, and family members, overseas. Worst case would be the new government accusing the Karzais of corruption and bringing in international agencies to go after Karzai clan assets wherever they are. This is unlikely but not impossible. All the major Afghan clans are guilty of this sort of corruption and no one wants to encourage such prosecutions. But losing the presidency will be difficult and dangerous for the Karzais and his political and criminal allies.

One reason for the anti-corruption effort is the growing reluctance of donor nations to finance Afghan projects because so much of the donated cash or goods is stolen and never gets to those who need it. This has a serious impact on many Afghans. For example, the UN recently announced that because of a shortage of donations they would have to cut (by 28 percent) food aid to a million Afghans.

The new government senses great opportunities and not just for fighting corruption. While only 36 percent of Afghans are literate, during the last decade cell phone service has become available for 90 percent of the population. For a largely illiterate population this is a big deal. At the same time half the population has access to the Internet but unlike cell phones the Internet is most useful to those who are literate. By increasing literacy efforts, especially among adults, the government hopes to speed up economic growth. More literacy means more economic growth and while most children are growing up literate, without more literacy among adults economic progress will be limited until more of those kids are adults.

October 16, 2014: In the east, near the Pakistani border, police arrested two senior leaders of the Haqqani Network. One of the men was the son of the founder of the Haqqani Network. These arrests were another side effect of the Pakistani effort to shut down the Islamic terrorist sanctuary in North Waziristan. To the surprise of everyone this operation also went after the Haqqani Network. American sources (satellite photos and the like) showed that some serious damage was done to Haqqani and that most Haqqani personnel have fled North Waziristan and all known (to the Americans) Haqqani bases there have been bombed or captured by the Pakistanis. The U.S. feared that Pakistan was just going after Islamic terrorists who attack Pakistan and not groups like the Haqqani Network that have long been seen as tools of the Pakistani military (and its military branch the ISI).  Haqqani has done much damage in Afghanistan, where nearly all its attacks take place. Haqqani has long been the main source of ISI violence inside Afghanistan. This has included assassinations as well as random terror attacks. The U.S. noted that the ISI was largely and conspicuously absent from recent North Waziristan operation. Apparently even the Pakistani Army doesn’t trust the ISI. But then the ISI has long been known to harbor many officers who openly support Islamic terrorist attacks against Pakistani politicians and military leaders who have been accused of being “un-Islamic.” ISI has also been a long-time believer in Pakistani domination of Afghanistan and Haqqani has been the ISI enforcer for those efforts. Meanwhile Islamic terrorist sanctuaries in the southwest (Quetta) and the north (Pakistani Kashmir) continue to be untouched by Pakistani security forces and are free to support attacks in Afghanistan (from the southwest) and Indian Kashmir (the north).

For centuries the people in what is now Pakistan have felt a need to have some control over what went on in what is now eastern Afghanistan. That’s because the Pushtun tribes along the current border between Afghanistan and Pakistan have, for thousands of years, raided into Pakistan and northern India. The last major invasion was in 1919 although many Pakistanis consider the current Islamic terrorist situation in the border area another “invasion”. Naturally, the Afghans resent the continued interference in their affairs by Pakistan, especially the way Pakistani intelligence (ISI) uses Islamic terrorists to keep Afghanistan in chaos. Pakistan denies the charges, but it’s no secret that the ISI invented the Taliban in the early 1990s and have long sponsored many Islamic terrorist groups.

October 12, 2014: In the southeast (Ghazni province) four Taliban were killed as a roadside bomb they were setting up went off. Such accidents are more common because the security forces are killing or capturing more of the men skilled at building and using such bombs.

October 10, 2014: In eastern Afghanistan (Kunar province) 33 rockets from Pakistan landed in remote areas overnight. So far this month over 200 shells and rockets have been fired from Pakistan. In September two such attacks left one dead and seven wounded. In August over 200 rockets and shells (artillery and mortar) were fired from Pakistan. In the last two years Pakistani troops have fired over 5,000 projectiles into Afghanistan, forcing over 10,000 civilians to flee their homes, some for good. The Afghan government complains to Pakistan but the attacks keep happening. That is because Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of doing nothing about the anti-Pakistan Islamic terrorists who take shelter in Afghanistan and regularly cross the border to carry out attacks in Pakistan.

In the west (Heart province) an American UAV fired a missile that killed a man later identified as a senior Taliban leader.

October 8, 2014: The Defense Ministry announced that the U.S. agreed to deliver 62 more helicopters and twenty A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft by 2017. In addition the U.S. will seek to recruit and train enough Afghan pilots and maintenance personnel to make the Afghan Air Force self-sufficient by 2017.

October 7, 2014: A police investigation in Kabul led to the seizure of a car equipped (apparently in Pakistan) with 150 kg (330 pounds) of explosives and rigged for a suicide attack in the city. Terrorists (Islamic and otherwise) have a hard time in the capital because most Afghans are not only averse to getting killed by a terror attack, but are angry that many of these attacks originate in Pakistan.

September 30, 2014: As promised the newly installed president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai signed a Status of Forces agreement. Such “Status of Forces” agreements are standard practice for foreign troops overseas and, in the case of Afghanistan, are necessary to protect American troops from abuse by corrupt Afghan judges and prosecutors.

September 27, 2014: In the southeast (Ghazni province) a major Taliban offensive was defeated by Afghan security forces. Over nearly a week a thousand or so Taliban gunmen attacked the Ajristan district. Over 70 buildings were burned down and there was looting. Nearly all the 61,000 people in the district belong to the Pushtun Ghaliji tribe. The Taliban were trying to intimidate the tribe into resuming cooperation with the several Islamic terrorist groups that have long operated (if only by passing through) the district. This Taliban offensive left several hundred dead, including 15 relatives of local tribesmen who had joined the security forces. These fifteen were beheaded. In one village the locals retaliated by capturing and executing four Taliban. A key factor in the Taliban defeat was the presence of an Afghan Army commando battalion, which was particularly effective in finding and attacking the Taliban gunmen.

September 26, 2014: The results of the recount for the presidential election gave Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai 55 percent. The two candidates worked out a power sharing agreement but things like this tend to be unstable in Afghanistan. The two candidates were Abdullah Abdullah (a long time Karzai rival and widely believed to have lost the 2009 vote because of fraud) who had 45 percent of the votes in the first (April) election and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (a former finance minister and World Bank official) who had 31.5 percent. Abdullah Abdullah is part Tajik and backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban during the 1990s. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is a Pushtun from a powerful tribe. He was attending college in the U.S. when the civil wars and subsequent Russian invasion occurred in the late 1970s. He was in exile until 2001. His family suffered many losses during this period, both because of the Russians and the civil wars. To Puhstuns Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is the more acceptable candidate because he is all Pushtun and the Pushtuns have traditionally been the kings or leaders of Afghanistan, even though they are a minority (although the largest one at 40 percent of the population). Ahmadzai and many of his supporters insisted that a lot more Pushtuns turned out to vote in the runoff in order to keep a Pushtun in the top job. On the other hand Abdullah Abdullah was the victim of Pushtun voting fraud in 2009 and claimed that it was happening again. The recount did not even get started officially until July 17th and was delayed several more times by disagreements. In mid-June both candidates agreed to an American arranged full vote recount and agreed to abide by the result of the recount, which was overseen by foreign observers. The result of the June 14 runoff was in doubt because of fraud allegations. This was a major political crises until the recount was complete. There were a lot of foreign observers who reported that there was some fraud but not a lot more than the first election in April. There were nearly 600 formal complaints of fraud and there was an effort by Pushtun leaders to get out more votes for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. 

September 24, 2014: Afghanistan is accusing Pakistan of harassing Afghan diplomats in the northwest tribal territories of Pakistan. This is in violation of international rules governing the treatment of diplomats.

September 23, 2014: In the south (Kandahar province) three Taliban were killed as a roadside bomb they were setting up went off.





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