Afghanistan: Living With Defeat


September 11, 2006: NATO's battle with the Taliban has turned into a massacre. NATO intelligence and air reconnaissance has come up with more targets than NATO has troops to take care of. NATO commanders want another 2,500 troops to deal with this, but they won't get them before this years campaigning season is over.
While the Taliban keep turning out press releases about how they are winning, the reality on the ground is quite different. Day after day, groups of Taliban fighters are caught by NATO troops, and when these battles are over, there are 10-20 dead Taliban for each dead NATO trooper. Even by Afghan standards, this is a defeat. The old timers, on both sides of this fight, know that the tribal warriors cannot sustain these kinds of losses. But what makes this war different is that it is not being fought by tribal leaders, but by freelancers inspired by the Islamic conservative Taliban movement. While the Taliban leaders have tribal connections, they are trying to supplant tribal leadership. It's a tribal civil war on one level, complicated by the presence of another new force, the drug gangs. The Taliban works with the drug gangs to fight the tribal chiefs and the national government. Caught in the middle are a lot of Afghans who would just like to be left alone.
The governments biggest problem isn't the Taliban, but the drug trade. Pakistan faced a similar problem in its tribal areas during the 1980s. It took aggressive action by the Pakistanis to prevent their tribal areas from becoming a haven for powerful drug cartels. But the Pakistanis just pushed the heroin production across the border into Afghanistan. There, the chaos of civil war made life easy for the drug gangs. When the Taliban came along a decade later, deals were made to keep the drug business going, as long as the Taliban got their cut. That arrangement is being reestablished. And the Afghan government has to suppress the drug trade, or face a long term battle with powerful drug gangs.
September 10, 2006: The governor of Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province was assassinated by a suicide bomber. The suicide bomber was on foot, and ran up to the governors car and exploded, killing the governor and two others.
September 9, 2006: Operations against the Taliban outside the southern city of Kandahar, with another 40 or so Taliban fighters killed. Canada is sending twenty of its Leopard I tanks to Afghanistan, to help with escorting convoys. This will be the first time these Canadian tanks have been in combat. The 300 tank troops would increase the number of Canadians in Afghanistan to 2,300.
September 8, 2006: A Taliban suicide bomber attacked outside the U.S. embassy in the capital, killing 16 people, including two Americans. This is the first time the Taliban have set off such a large explosion in central Kabul. All earlier attacks were on the outskirts of the city.
September 7, 2006: Pakistan believes its new peace deal with the tribes living along the 2,300 kilometer long border with Afghanistan, will make it possible to better control the border. The Pakistani border guards depend on tribal militias to help control who crosses the border. But many of the tribes depend on smuggling, and free passage across the border, for their livelihoods. Efforts to control the border crossings is a frequent source of tension between the government and the tribes, on both sides of the border. In this part of the world, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
September 6, 2006: In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber walked up to a car and exploded, killing two civilians inside the vehicle. Police believe the bomber hit the wrong target, as the victims did not appear to be worth any kind of terrorist attention.


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