Afghanistan: May 13, 2002

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British troops searching the hills outside Gardez for the last 15 days are guided by the enormous intelligence gathering operation in Afghanistan. Satellite and aircraft photos, electronic signals constantly monitored and a growing number of informants on the ground indicated that local warlords had stored some 40,000 rockets, bombs and shells in the area (about 20 truckloads). These munitions were accumulated since the 1980s from many sources. Some of this stuff was manufactured during World War II and largely defective. But the Russians tended never to dispose of old munitions, but to sell or give them to foreigners. The British are destroying these caves full of weapons and munitions with explosives. Local villagers will not say much to soldiers passing through, except that it might be unhealthy to say anything to foreigners that would upset a local warlord. And the local warlord is the strongman of the moment in the local tribes. The Taliban forced the tribal warlords to behave, which is one reason the Taliban became increasingly unpopular among tribal leaders. But in the villages, most people wish everyone would just calm down. This was why the Taliban was popular at the grass roots level. Whoever can bring peace is popular with the people, whoever brings opportunity to make a lot of money (by fair means or foul) is popular with the tribal leadership. The British troops have encountered no hostility from the local villagers, who seem relieved to see these arms caches being destroyed. The British have searched some 85 percent of the area they plan to cover. The British feel that Taliban and al Qaeda are broken as a military force, with support, but few recruits, from 10-20 percent of the population. 

Taliban supporters exist because there have always been a lot of fundamentalist Moslems out in the countryside. These men tend to be very hostile to foreigners as well. The classic dispute in Afghanistan is between the more liberal people in the city and the majority of the population living out in the countryside (often in isolated villages.) These Taliban diehards continue to make (largely ineffective) attacks on foreign troops in Afghanistan. 

 

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