Afghanistan: Spring Offensive Sprung


March 13, 2006: Apparently the anticipated Taliban "spring offensive" is already under way. The number of attacks across Afghanistan soared in late February and early March by more than 20 percent. As predicted, Coalition forces that have only recently assumed operational control in the southern and southeastern areas of the country have been particularly targeted. While the attackers have had some successes, killing a number of Coalition troops, the level of casualties has not significantly increased as a result of the higher operational tempo.

President Karzai and the Minister for Tribal Affairs have called upon Afghan's tribes to take a more active role in helping to secure the frontier. While this amounts to an admission that the central government is not able to take more effective action on the country's long frontiers, especially that with Pakistan, and also strengthens the power of tribal chiefs and local warlords, if the tribes respond, the move will probably lead to greater security. While all of the tribes are very observant in matters of religion, few of them are as radical in their faith as the Taliban, and all of them harbor traditional Afghan suspicion of foreigners, even Moslem foreigners such as al Qaeda.

March 12, 2006: A roadside bomb killed four U.S. troops. The Taliban are trying to use the bombs to shut down newly built or repaired roads. These routes are leading to increased economic activity, which the Taliban see as hurting their chances for returning to power. American troops have increasingly been patrolling these roads, looking for roadside bombs or Taliban ambush forces. Some 70 foreign troops, most of them American, have been killed in Afghanistan in the past year. On average, there have been some 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the past year. As the casualty rate in Iraq declines, the rate in Afghanistan is going up. There have been many indicators that al Qaeda is switching its efforts (people and money) from Iraq to Afghanistan. The rate of U.S. casualties is still lower in Afghanistan, but this could change this year, if losses continue to fall in Iraq, and rise in Afghanistan. Still, there are only about one tenth as many U.S. troops in Afghanistan, where there is a much larger NATO presence.

In the capital, two suicide bombs attempted to kill a senior government official, but failed.

March 12, 2006: Small groups of Taliban continue to attack police in rural parts of the country.

March 11, 2006: The Taliban are stronger in Pakistan, where the Islamic conservative movement was founded in the early 1990s, and is trying to expand back into Afghanistan. Pakistan's tribal territories are also easier places for surviving al Qaeda terrorists to find refuge. The Pakistani armed forces are not as well equipped as the Americans are to patrol the mountains looking for terrorist camps, and attacking those they find. The Pakistani's don't like seeing the Pushtun tribes stirred up like this, as it only creates more problems. The Pushtun tribes have been a problem in the region for centuries. Even the British, when they ran this part of the world, were not able to stop raids, and other violence, from the Pushtun tribes. But the government of Afghanistan is largely Pushtun, and they believe they can do it. Most Afghan Taliban have made peace with the government, so the main threat is now still-hostile Taliban across the border.

March 9, 2006: While poppy (used for producing heroin) production was down 45 percent in 2005, compared to 2004, it looks to be on the rise again this year. The drug gangs are much more powerful than the Taliban or al Qaeda, and are increasingly willing to fight to defend their poppy fields. However, as was proved in Pakistan over a decade ago, a sustained military and police operation can shut down the drug gangs (when that was done in Pakistan, the drug business moved into Afghanistan).


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