Afghanistan: February 1, 2002

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The situation on the ground is starting to get interesting. With the organized Taliban and al Qaeda resistance gone, American troops are running into the murky Afghan way of doing business. The tribes, clans and individual warlords are maneuvering for power and have found that the Americans are eager to capture Taliban and al Qaeda for questioning. Afghans quickly realized that if their local foes had people who used to be Taliban or al Qaeda, you might be able to trigger an American raid. If the Americans arrested and removed everyone for questioning, you could then go over and steal your opponents weapons and equipment. Afghan attitudes towards private property are such that if you are not right there with your stuff, someone else will come along and take it. It's the old "possession if 9/10ths of the law" thing writ large. Worse still, many of these former Taliban and al Qaeda folks do have valuable information for anti-terrorism investigators. And it gets still worse. As American special forces fly out to arrest some suspects, they often find themselves in the middle of one of the many brewing turf battles. In such tense times, Afghans tend to shoot first when they see armed strangers approaching. Not a good idea to fire on American special forces. The only way to limit the damaging clashes caused by these situations is to gather lots of information on local conditions and to do it constantly. This is tricky, because there are a lot of nervous, armed and trigger happy Afghans running around the border areas, especially the Pakistani frontier. This is where a lot of Taliban and al Qaeda are lying low, or even organizing for further operations. Many al Qaeda bases and facilities remain in this region, some of them still occupied by al Qaeda gunmen.

Interim leader Karzai is having problems maintaining order. The guy he selected to be governor of Paktia got run out of Gardez town by a more popular local guy. Paktia is a crucial piece of real estate because it controls key border crossings from Pakistan. Padsha Khan, Karzais man, is a royalist Pushtun chieftain with a reputation for corruption and shady dealing. This is not unusual in Afghanistan. But another local warlord, Saif Ullah, took over as soon as the Taliban gave up control of the area. Ullah has long been a supporter of the Northern Alliance. Hmmm, this could get sticky. The fighting around Gardez left over fifty dead, and Padsha Khan says he will be back. America will get dragged into this as Karzai will be tempted to use foreign aid money to buy peace with the various warlords. This is the typical Afghan extortion racket. There are only two ways to keep a boisterous warlord quiet; gather a lot of armed and men and go and kill him, or pay him off. 

Karzai is hoping there is a third way, to use foreign peacekeepers to stare down the troublesome warlords. But Britain and other European nations are not willing to supply a larger peacekeeping force. The current force is 5,000 troops, and Karzai was hoping to get that bumped up to 30-40,000. The foreigners could also be used to get the heavy weapons (tanks and artillery) away from the warlords. The Afghan government estimates that there are 700,000 to a million or more armed men in the country. There are even more who own weapons, but are not inclined to use them for anything except self defense. 

For the first time in ten years, there are more refugees returning to Afghanistan than fleeing it. The U.S. campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda has convinced a lot of refugees in Pakistan and Iran that it is finally safe to go home. Over 50,000 refugees a week are now returning.

Turkey has offered to supply officers and NCOs to help train the new Afghan army.

 

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