Afghanistan: September 26, 2002

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Unlike the Russians in the 1980s, who tended to build a few, large and heavily defended bases, American troops are spread out. Special Forces and civil affairs troops have set up shop all over the country. The Special Forces have a major advantage over the Russians, in that they spend a lot of time just sitting and talking with local Afghans and tribal and village leaders. That enables the Americans to better sort out which Afghans can be trusted and which can't. Thus the American troops will hire a lot of local Afghans for jobs ranging from security guard to scout, interpreter, construction worker, cook and so on. The Americans pay a bit above the local rate, so as to make the jobs attractive while not screwing up the wage rates that keep the local economy going. Thus most local Afghans see the small American base as "their" Americans and work with the soldiers. This has been very important, as Afghans will regularly provide tips in their frequent conversations with the Americans. Things like, "there were some outsiders (anyone not from the local population) walking over there (pointing to a mountain pass some miles distant) yesterday." Sometimes the "outsiders" are just smugglers or travelers passing through. At other times they reveal themselves to be Pakistanis, which can mean a trader, or an al Qaeda sympathizer. The American civil affairs make themselves popular providing things like school books, communications equipment, or a payroll for a local police force (which will in turn be likely to arrest any unwelcome Pakistanis or other foreigners found in the area.) Despite all the effort put into working with the locals, these scattered bases still get attacked. Few American casualties have resulted, as the attacks are largely inaccurate rockets or a few rifle bullets fired at a great distance. Anti-American Afghans have to be careful about getting too close to the U.S. bases, lest they encounter an armed Afghan who likes his new American neighbors. 

But there are still plenty of pro-Taliban Afghans, for the harsh version of Islam espoused by the Taliban is native to parts of southern Afghanistan. To many people down south, there is no difference between being Taliban and being an Afghan. 

Opium production is up, and is estimated to reach 2,700 tons this year. Before the Taliban cracked down in 2000, some 4,000 tons a year was produced. This was actually more than the world market could absorb. The Taliban ban was seen as a cynical ploy to get foreign aid (for cracking down on opium production) while increasing the value of unsold opium stocks. 


 

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