Afghanistan: Taliban Switch to Media Based Tactics

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March 6, 2007: The Taliban are talking less about their field forces, which took a big beating last year, and are off to an equally dismal start this year, and are emphasizing suicide bombers instead. While the Taliban have been using suicide bombers a lot more, they have not changed the military situation. The Taliban are still unable to take back control of anything. What the suicide bombers have done is made more Afghans anti-Taliban. That's because most of the casualties from these attacks are Afghans, often women and children. Last year, about a quarter of the 4,000 dead Afghans were civilians, mostly victims of Taliban suicide bombers, or intimidation attacks. A new tactic is to use a suicide car bomber against military convoys, and follow it up with gunfire. If you do this in a town, with lots of civilians around, you can claim that the civilians were killed by the panicked gunfire of the foreign soldiers. This sort of thing is popular with local and foreign journalists. It doesn't have to be true, just plausible, and Taliban publicists know how to run with that kind of story. The Taliban may not be able to handle foreign troops, but they are masters when it comes to manipulating foreign journalists. This marks a step back for the Taliban. In this kind of war, you start out small, looking for propaganda victories, then advance to combat that uses units of troops wandering around. Because of their failures last year, the Taliban are backing off the troop unit angle, and moving back to terror attacks and hustling journalists.

March 5, 2007: In southwest Afghanistan, a force of 4,500 NATO and 1,000 Afghan troops are going after Taliban units assembling for the Spring offensive. To avoid this, more Taliban forces are coming across the Pakistan border, attacking whatever they can (usually Afghan army or police, or tribal forces loyal to the government), and then hurrying back across the border. If they are pursued too deep into Pakistan, it could spark an incident that might cause public outrage against the Pakistani government (for tolerating the presence of foreign troops.)

March 3, 2007: A major problem in Afghanistan is making the central government less a predator, and more a benefactor. Government officials in Afghanistan has long had a tendency to see themselves as having one primary mission; to steal as much as possible. Thus army and police commanders stole most of the payroll for their subordinates, while troops and police stole from the people, to replace their stolen wages. It's a pattern that died out in the West only a century or two ago, but it is alive and well in Afghanistan. The government is trying to eliminate the problem by getting more banks established, and giving each cop and soldier a bank account. Then the wages are deposited to that account, and the troops can go to the bank, present their ID, and get their pay. Their commanders never come near the money. For centuries, the king would pay the commanders a lump sum for troops pay and maintenance. Commanders typically put a large chunk of that money in their own pockets. This was so lucrative, that government officials could auction off command of military and police units. Paying a large bribe to become a brigade commander was seen as a good investment, because of the opportunities to steal. Halting that ancient system is not easy.

March 2, 2007: Taliban attacks on Afghan and NATO forces are increasing, but with no better results than last year. The Taliban still have no solution to air cover and quick reaction forces. American, NATO and Afghans all use quick reaction forces, and U.S. and NATO troops have plenty of air cover in the form of UAVs and manned aircraft. When the Taliban attack a patrol, or convoy, the response is usually quick enough to catch the Taliban, and kill or capture most of them. The high death toll (about 3,000) among Taliban last year, made it more difficult to recruit people for this years offensive.

March 1, 2007: The number three man in the Taliban, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, was arrested in Pakistan. Akhund was the last Defense Minister for the Taliban government that ran Afghanistan until 2001. His arrest caused confusion in the normally well run Taliban propaganda operation. At first, the Taliban denied the arrest had taken place, then, when that became impossible to support, it was claimed that Akhund was not a big deal. But chatter, and talk in the street (of pro-Taliban areas) was much less optimistic.

February 27, 2007: As the American vice president made a surprise visit, landing at Bagram airbase, a suicide bomber was stopped at the main gate of the base (where 10,000 American and NATO troops live). The attack killed 23 and wounded 27. All but two (an American and a South Korean) of the casualties were Afghans. Despite numerous attempts, the Taliban have been unable to get inside, much less destroy, any American or NATO bases, even the very small ones used by Special Forces. Thus a suicide bomber caught at the entrance to a base is hailed by the Taliban as a victory. The bomber was stopped just past an Afghan checkpoint, and had not even reached the first of several checkpoints manned by U.S. personnel. The Taliban claimed that this was a deliberate attack on the American vice-president, but this could have been a coincidence, and the Taliban are just making the most of it.

 

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