Afghanistan: February 11, 2004

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Afghanistan is now the world's major supplier of opium and heroin. The 12,000 American and 6,000 NATO troops in the country are mostly concerned with security and chasing down Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. The drug gangs are left alone. But as the drug money flowing into Afghanistan increases, the drug gangs become more powerful. The drug lords pay local government officials and tribal chiefs to leave drug operations alone. The Taliban areas of southern Afghanistan have seen the Taliban leaders getting into the drug business in order to finance efforts to put the Taliban back in power. The Taliban leadership and core members are from some of the religiously conservative Pushtun tribes of southern Afghanistan. What made the Taliban so unpopular throughout Afghanistan was the fact that these few tribes were trying to impose their traditions on all the tribes of the country.

In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed a senior Afghan intelligence officer in Khost province. The Taliban took credit for the attack and accused the dead man of being a communist and working with the foreigners (Americans.) This rhetoric strives to link Americans in Afghanistan with the Russian invasion of the 1980s. Because of the 1980s experience, it's still common for country tribesmen to call educated city dwellers "communists." During the 1970s, the Afghan communist party was very popular among educated, urban Afghans. The poor, uneducated tribesmen in the countryside have, for centuries, been wary of the city slickers. Any central government in Afghanistan has to reconcile the urban and rural Afghans and their quite different views on religion and lifestyle.

Some 12,000 American troops in Afghanistan are costing about a billion dollars a month to maintain (about $70,000 per soldier). The 130,000 US troops in Iraq only cost $3.7 billion to maintain ($29,000 per soldier.) Use of aircraft, especially helicopters, is more extensive in Afghanistan and many needed items are flown in. Even trucking in stuff from Pakistan is more expensive than trucking goods from Kuwait into Iraq. 

 

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