May 18, 2006:
In two days of fighting in southern Afghanistan, at least 72 people died. Two major Taliban attacks failed, leaving 58 of the Taliban dead. One Canadian soldier was killed, along with a dozen Afghan security personnel and a few civilians.
The Taliban continue to have problems using roadside bomb and anti-vehicle mine tactics. Unlike Iraq, where the bombers are usually local guys, the Afghan Taliban crews usually come from Pakistan, or another part of Afghanistan (to avoid killing someone from your tribe, or even family). The population in Afghanistan is more spread out, and the number up in arms against the government is much smaller than in Iraq. The skill levels, at least with bombs and mines, is lower among the Taliban. Iraqis, in general, are better educated. Saddam specifically trained thousands of his loyalists to build explosive devices, or handle various types of mines. There is no such talent pool in Afghanistan. As a result, most of the Taliban attacks with bombs and mines fail.
The Taliban have been taking a beating. Despite having the advantage of surprise, they have encountered a largely hostile, and well armed, population that fights back. The government security forces are not as well trained and equipped as American or NATO forces, but they are more than a match for the Taliban. Desperate for a major "victory" (like capturing a town long enough to make some propaganda videos), several large attacks have been launched. All have failed. The Afghan and Coalition forces have developed tactics that make it very difficult for the Taliban to succeed. The Afghan security forces have radios now. If the Taliban hit, one call brings in Afghan and Coalition "quick reaction forces." These units arrive via ground or air transportation, and don't give the Taliban enough time to capture a town, or do much of anything else except try to flee. Pursuit is not pleasant, not with all those UAVs, helicopters and warplanes up there. To make matters worse, the Afghans have made deals with Pakistani forces just across the border, and often there is a Pakistani army reception committee waiting for any Taliban survivors who make it across the border. All of this is hurting Taliban recruiting. But the Taliban have a lot more money this year, and can pay what it takes to get more fighters.
May 17, 2006: So far this year, another 50,000 refugees have returned from Pakistan. There are still some 2.55 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan (and another 960,000 in Iran.) In the last four years, some three million refugees have voluntarily returned. Many of those that remain have put down roots after a decade or two of life in exile, and don't want to return. Pakistan and Iran are preparing to force many of these to go, as the refugee camps have been a breeding ground for criminal gangs, and provide competition for the few jobs available for the locals.
May 16, 2006: In northern Afghanistan, Islamic conservatives bombed two schools, in an attempt to stop education for girls. The schools were damaged, not destroyed. This is basically a local dispute, as many, if not most, families with daughters want their girls to get some education. But religious hardliners will often resort to anonymous violence, if their verbal arguments against female education fail.
May 15, 2006: Responding to the particularly brutal murder of an Indian telecommunications engineer recently, a Taliban commander said that the killing was done at the behest of Pakistani intelligence (ISI). Pakistan denied it. The ISI is generally considered the force behind the formation and growth of the Taliban in the early 1990s. Afghans, in general, resent Pakistani interference in their affairs. That's why close diplomatic and economic relations with non-Moslem India are so popular. Actually, with over 140 million Moslems, India has plenty of Moslems willing to go to Afghanistan on business. But when the Taliban kill these Indian Moslems, it is not popular with most Afghans.
May 14, 2006: In southern Afghanistan, police fought a four hour battle with a band of Taliban. Four policemen and eleven Taliban died. The Taliban fled, with police and troops in pursuit.
May 12, 2006: The Taliban are showing signs of having received lots of additional cash lately. The Taliban that are captured admit being paid, or given gifts, from the Taliban recruiters and leaders. A new motorcycle is a common gift, and is something that will make a man join up for the entire campaigning season (Spring to Fall). High unemployment in the rural areas makes it easy to recruit for the police, or the Taliban. The quality of the police, who are much more numerous than the Taliban, varies with the leadership. Some police commanders steal the pay of their subordinates, and sell weapons and supplies meant for their men. Cracking down on this is sometimes difficult, as the thief may have good tribal connections. Appointing such a fellow to a senior police command may have seemed like a good idea initially, because of those connections. But the appointee sometimes misinterprets it as a license to steal.