major setback, the senior Taliban field commander, Mullah Dadullah, was
cornered and killed by NATO forces in Helmand province over the weekend. NATO
and Afghan troops have been chasing Dadullah around southern Afghanistan for a
month. Dadullah knew he was being tracked, and his pursuers knew he
was trying to get to safety in Pakistan. This time, Dadullah didn't make
Dadullah was a member of
the Council of Ten that runs the Taliban, and the chief military strategist.
Getting killed may have been a good career move, because his terror strategy
wasn't working. The Taliban were getting battered worse this year than last,
and Taliban popularity was declining in the south. Now the Taliban can
simultaneously praise Dadullah as a martyr for the cause, and the reason the
cause is failing. The Taliban first denied, then admitted Dadullah was dead.
Dadullah was a big fan of terrorism, but he was also important because he managed
to get normally hostile groups to cooperate with each other. The government
will probably be able to get more Taliban groups to negotiate peace deals now,
without the threat of Dadullah "punishing traitors."
May 13, 2007: For
the second time in a month, Afghan and Pakistani border guards fired on each
other, leaving three Afghan civilians and one Afghan policeman dead this time.
The violence came as Pakistani troops established more guard posts on the
border. Problem is, Afghanistan and Pakistan have never reached an agreement on
exactly where the entire border is. There has been agreement in areas where
there are roads and regular traffic. But in many rural areas, there are no
border markers, just a vague sense that the border is around, somewhere. But
when the Pakistani troops set up their observation posts, Afghans sometimes
come forward to dispute the Pakistani interpretation of where the border
May 12, 2007: The
Taliban have increasingly shifted from trying to win the support of civilians in
the south, to a policy of instilling fear. The Taliban seek to destroy all
government institutions, and drive away foreign aid efforts. This way, the
civilians will be totally dependent on the Taliban, and their drug gang allies.
In a few isolated areas, this is working. But the government has radios, trucks
and helicopters, and eventually, the Taliban controlled valleys revert to
May 11, 2007: The
Taliban released their French hostage, interpreting newly elected French
president Sarkozy's remark that the thousand French troops would eventually
leave Afghanistan, as meeting their demand that the French troops be withdrawn.
The Taliban calculated that killing the hostage would just enrage the French,
and that France was not going to pressure the Afghan government, like the
Italians did, to release imprisoned Taliban. Three Afghans, who were taken at
the same time, are still being held.
A week of operations in
Helmand province left at least 70 Taliban dead, including five leaders. This broke
a Taliban attempt to control several parts of the province, which is the
primary heroin producing area in the country. Meanwhile, in the same area,
eight policemen were killed by a roadside bomb. This years war with the Taliban
has left about 1,200 dead so far, most of them Taliban, and about ten percent
of them civilians caught in the crossfire.
May 10, 2007: It's
gotten a lot harder for the Taliban to cross the Pakistan-Afghan border. More
troops have been assigned to both sides. While this has not resulted in a lot
more skirmishes right on the border, many more groups of Taliban have been
spotted trying to sneak across. Once in Afghanistan, these groups of armed men
can be tracked from the air, mainly because of the availability of heat
sensors, and eventually intercepted by ground troops. That's why the Taliban
casualty rate is so high this year. In desperation, the Taliban have abandoned
attempts to win the loyalty of local villagers, and have increasingly been
using human shields. This means either moving with some civilians along side
the armed Taliban, or taking refuge in a compound, and forcing the civilians to
stay. The Taliban know that if the Americans do not use a smart bomb on them,
the Taliban chances of getting away at night are much improved. If the
Americans use smart bombs anyway, then the Taliban publicists have a "dead
civilians" story they can run with. For the Taliban, dead civilians are
very much a "win-win" situation.
May 9, 2007:
The U.S. will maintain its current troops strength in Afghanistan, 25,000, at
least until 2008.