Afghanistan: Taliban Tearing Itself Apart

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November 5, 2015: It’s been a bloody month, especially for the Taliban, drug gangs and other Islamic radical groups. Over 4,000 people died in October, most of them Taliban and other Islamic terrorists. Civilians took a lot of casualties because of the fighting in Kandahar. The security forces suffered record losses and the government has called on India and Russia for military aid (more weapons and such). The U.S. is already supplying more air support and assistance from special operations forces. A lot of this violence is the result of a victory against Islamic terrorists by Pakistan.

Since 2014 Pakistan has succeeded in driving most Islamic terrorists out of North Waziristan and that has become a big problem for Afghanistan. A minor problem is Pakistan accusing Afghanistan of harboring Taliban factions that are still active inside Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban leadership moved to Afghanistan and from there plan and carry out revenge attacks because of the Pakistani military operation that has driven many Pakistani Taliban into eastern Afghanistan. The Pakistani counter-terror operations in North Waziristan began in June 2014 and terrorist activity (according to the Pakistani military) fell by about 70 percent over the next year. That exaggerates a bit as the decline, if you measure by civilian deaths, is closer to fifty percent. Either way it is a big drop and most Pakistanis notice and appreciate it. The main reason for the decrease is the damage the offensive has done to Islamic terror organizations. In sixteen months the Pakistani anti-terrorist offensive killed over 3,500 Islamic terrorists country-wide (but mostly in North Waziristan) and led to many more surrendering, deserting or fleeing to Afghanistan or other parts of Pakistan. The military estimates that over 20,000 Islamic terrorists were in North Waziristan in June 2014. Nearly all of these Islamic terrorists have been killed or driven out of North Waziristan. Some 2,500 were captured, providing lots of information on Islamic terrorist operations in North Waziristan and elsewhere in the country. There has been a noticeable drop in terrorist attacks against civilians but intelligence specialists know that the terror groups are scrambling to reorganize and rebuild, so the offensive continues but at a different pace and with different tactics. Because of this threat the Pakistani army announced in September that troops will continue operating in the northwestern tribal territories at least until 2019. In 16 months of counter-terror operations about 300 soldiers were killed and the army intends to keep their losses low. But because most of the Islamic terrorists in North Waziristan fled to Afghanistan there is more violence there. Not just in eastern Afghanistan where most of the Pakistani terrorists ended up, but in other parts of Pakistan as well. The new arrivals needed money and local allies and they found them in the drug gangs, who are always looking for more mercenary killers. This is the same deal that has kept the Afghan Taliban going for since the 1990s and the drug gangs needed help in securing smuggling routes through northern Afghanistan. That part of the country is very anti-drug and anti-Taliban. So the reinforcements from Pakistan made a difference and the Afghan Army is shifting units to the north to deal with this.

Down south the drug gangs have brought prosperity to about a third of the people in Helmand province but along with that they have caused a state of war that has continued since 2002. Helmand, and neighboring Kandahar province have been the source of most of the world supply of illegal heroin since the late 1990s. These two provinces are also the hosts to the most pro-Taliban tribes in Afghanistan and where most of the original Taliban came from. Right across the border in Pakistan (Baluchistan) is where the Afghan Taliban has been since 2002, when Pakistan offered sanctuary (and protection from American UAV missile attacks and commando raids). In return the Afghan Taliban did what Pakistan needed done to support Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. Since the Afghan security forces took over in Helmand in the last few years the Afghan government has sought to reduce the power of the drug gangs and their Taliban gunmen there. That has intensified the violence and made doing business more expensive for the drug gangs.

Afghanistan believes that a lot of the recent Taliban violence in Afghanistan was made possible by the thousands of non-Pakistani Islamic terrorists fleeing North Waziristan and moving to Afghanistan. There, many of these foreign Islamic terrorists have joined the Afghan Taliban and provided an infusion of very dedicated and dangerous fighters. Afghan intelligence believes that the Afghan Taliban leadership is still operating from a sanctuary in southwest Pakistan, something Pakistan continues to deny publicly but admits privately because the Afghans and Americans have so much evidence showing senior Taliban are in Baluchistan. Pakistan says it is trying to get the peace talks with the Afghan Taliban restarted but that they can only influence the Afghan Taliban leadership, not give them orders. Many Afghans believe it was the Pakistanis who caused the talks to collapse before they could get started and have a lot more power over the Afghan Taliban than they will admit. After all the main reason for the collapse of the peace talks back in July was the unexpected Pakistani revelation that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013. This revelation caused a split, still not healed, within the Afghan Taliban leadership. The breakaway faction has elected Mullah Mohammad Rasool as their leader and consider him the leader of all the Afghan Taliban. It is unclear if this will lead to outright civil war within the Taliban or simply less cooperation between different factions. Meanwhile the Taliban has a growing and often violent problem with local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups.

To most Afghans it is obvious Pakistan was behind all this Taliban related violence. Efforts to start peace talks with the Afghan Taliban have failed mainly because Pakistan refuses to cut its support of, and control over, Islamic terror groups (like the Taliban and Haqqani Network) operating in Afghanistan. Recently leaked CIA emails show that the U.S. believed Pakistan was using the Taliban since 2008 to try and block India from delivering military and economic aid. These efforts caused some problems for the Indians, but the Afghans added more security and allowed India to bring in its own armed security personnel and this kept the Indian aid effort going. At this point all Pakistan and Afghanistan can agree on is the fact that peace talks with the Taliban are on hold until the Taliban settle their own internal problems (with dissident factions and ISIL).

The Taliban and other Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan are spending more time fight each other. Taliban problems with former Taliban (including most of the non-Afghans, mainly from Central Asia and Chechnya) who have left to form local branches of ISIL have gotten worse since it was first noticed in 2014. ISIL groups are using tactics aimed at making the Taliban look bad. For example the ISIL men do not always terrorize local villagers and will initially attempt to pay for any supplies or services they need. The ISIL men point out that the Taliban have become corrupted by working with drug gangs and are no better than bandits. This resonates with some Pushtun tribesmen but there is fear that ISIL will soon turn to enforcing strict lifestyle rules, something the Taliban have backed away from (because of sustained popular resistance). That has started happening and now some ISIL groups have reverted to form and now use terror to encourage local tribes to cooperate. This often ends badly for the outsiders but apparently ISIL doesn’t know or doesn’t care. After all they are on a Mission From God. Meanwhile ISIL has to deal with increasing attacks from the Taliban, tribal militias and government security forces. The Taliban tries to keep this war with ISIL a secret but the news gets out (often via cell phone) and spreads. ISIL has openly declared war on the Taliban and gains some traction with accusations that the Taliban were created and still work for Pakistan. This is largely true, but the Taliban also work for local drug gangs. ISIL is aware of that but knows that the Pakistani connection is more of an issue to most Afghans. Yet the growing presence of ISIL in Afghanistan is also bad news to many Afghans because ISIL is basically Islamic terrorists who have become even more violent and uncompromising.

One thing warlords, the Taliban, drug gangs and ISIL can agree on is the need to halt the American UAV operations and air operations in general. Not only do these persistent UAVs and aircraft constantly search for, and often find, people they are looking for but often quickly fire very accurate and effective missiles. This has become a major problem for leaders of all these criminal or Islamic terror groups. Even if you manage to avoid the missiles you do so by severely restricting your movement, communications and other activities. Because the UAV operations are run solely by the Americans bribes don’t work. Worse, Afghan officials who are not on the payroll often provide the Americans with tips about where potential targets are. In response more cash and threats are used against vulnerable officials to obtain some public protests against the UAV operations. This does not impress locals, most of whom back the UAV operations, but the protests connect with some foreign media and politicians. These efforts are not working so far as the tempo of American UAV operations, and successful attacks, has been increasing.

Aside from supporting drug gangs the next most hated (by the general public) Taliban policy is the continued attacks on schools for girls. Over a thousand schools for girls have been destroyed by the Taliban since 2002. One thing that annoys most Afghans the most is the Taliban hostility to education. Since the Taliban were driven out of power in 2001, the number of children in schools has gone from 900,000 to over ten million. Only about 35 percent of the students are girls. In the Pushtun south, the Taliban use violence against schools for girls, and in many areas, schools in general. This is because the Taliban only tolerate religious schools that concentrate on studying scripture. Thus each year the Taliban attack over 500 schools, sometimes killing or wounding students and teachers as well. Only about two-thirds the eligible children are going to school, and the boys are given preference, because they will be the main earners for families. The destroyed schools are rebuilt, the closed ones reopen as soon as the government can get police stationed in the area, or the local tribe organizes a militia large enough to keep the teachers and students safe.

November 1, 2015: In the east (Kunar province) an American UAV killed two Pakistani Islamic terrorists with a missile.

October 30, 2015: In the east (Kunar province) an American UAV used a missile to kill an Arab Islamic terrorist commander and his two bodyguards. Elsewhere in the east (Nangarhar province) ISIL fired rockets at a mosque and killed six and wounded four people praying there.

October 27, 2015: In the east (Nangarhar province) an American UAV used a missile to destroy a moving vehicle killing a Taliban commander and ten of his men. Several of the dead were foreigners. Elsewhere in the east some Pakistani Taliban crossed the border into Pakistan (South Waziristan) and attacked a border post. Seven Pakistani soldiers died in this attack and four other died further north (Khyber) when Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan fired mortars at a Pakistani border post. Pakistan complained to Afghanistan but was told that this was largely the fault of the Pakistanis whose offensive in North Waziristan had driven over 5,000 Islamic terrorists into eastern Afghanistan and there were not enough troops and police available to deal with such an influx of armed men.

October 26, 2015: In the northeast (Badakhshan province) there was a major earthquake that killed over 300 people in Afghanistan (mainly) and neighboring Pakistan. The local Taliban called a truce but, as in the past, that was for show. As usual the Taliban used the quake as an excuse to loot and steal from damaged areas as well as rob relief convoys or extract cash in return for safe passage.

October 23, 2015: In the east (Nangarhar province) two separate American UAV missile attacks killed 16 ISIL Islamic terrorists near the Pakistan border.

October 20, 2015: The three week battle in Kunduz (a city of 145,000) is over. The Taliban attack was a surprise and an expensive failure for the Islamic terrorists. The Taliban suffered at least 670 dead and hundreds captured. Many of those who got away were wounded. About ten percent of the Taliban dead were foreigners. It was the influx of foreign terrorists (from Pakistan) that encouraged the Taliban to believe they could take and hold the northern city. The security forces suffered over a hundred casualties (most of them wounded) and civilians suffered more than three times as many. Some locals believe civilian casualties were in the thousands (with a third of them killed) because many of 20,000 who fled have not returned yet and some bodies are buried under destroyed building. The effort to take Kunduz is yet another Taliban effort to make the north safer for smuggling heroin out of the country. Charging into Kunduz on September 28th was unusual, because it was an expensive operation in that it got a lot of Taliban fighters killed or captured and was soon undone once the security forces send enough reinforcements to the city. And that’s what happened. It got worse when several similar attacks failed to get into the city they were after.  Such spectacular attacks are mainly for terrorizing the local population, especially politicians and business owners, into being more cooperative. The basic problem for the Taliban and the drug gangs they work for is that they don’t want to run the country but do need free access to keep the drug business going. This is especially true of the north, where the locals have always been more anti-drugs and hostile to the Talban.

October 15, 2015: The U.S. announced that it would keep American troops levels in Afghanistan at 9,800 through 2016 instead of reducing that to 5,500 in 2016. The reduction will now take place in 2017, maybe.

October 14, 2015: In the south (Kandahar province) Afghan troops (assisted by 63 air strikes and 200 American special operations operators) seized and destroyed a large al Qaeda training complex. This facility had one large camp and several smaller ones spread over 77 square kilometers (30 square miles) of countryside. The training center is all about the 2014 al Qaeda announcement that it was expanding in the region and establishing AQIS (al Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent). It was believed al Qaeda would set up shop in Pakistan, which still hosts Islamic terrorist groups that specialize in attacks on India. It was thought that the several hundred al Qaeda known to have been driven from North Waziristan to eastern Afghanistan had stayed there. Some of them had, but most had quietly moved to Kandahar and took control (with the help of sympathetic local Taliban and tribesmen) of a large area in which to train. It is also believed that AQIS planned to share thus facility with the local Taliban, especially since AQIS and the Taliban are both battling ISIL. Al Qaeda knew enough to camouflage their presence so that aerial reconnaissance would not spot it quickly. There is so much outlaw activity (drug gangs, Taliban, smugglers) in Kandahar they thought they would go unnoticed. Such was not the case and the surprise attack killed at least 160 al Qaeda men and captured and wounded even more. Lots of documents were captured and Afghanistan suddenly became a lot more dangerous for AQIS.

    
 

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