Afghanistan: Sanctimonious Bullies

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November 29, 2007: The Taliban seek victory using a strategy that combines virtue and vice, along with trying to deliver and avoid bombs. Sounds complicated, and it is. The Taliban base their authority on support for "traditional tribal values." That means strict (some would say insane) interpretation of Islamic law (which, taken to that extreme, controls everything). This degree of fanaticism justifies any tactic, no matter how depraved. After all, God is calling the shots.

There are two main obstacles to establishing (or re-establishing) Taliban control of the country. There's the current government, which is basically a coalition of Pushtun and non-Pushtun tribes that disagrees with the few Pushtun tribes that supply most of the Taliban leadership and manpower. This lot can be taken care of by forming an alliance with many of the drug gangs, who will supply money to hire irregular fighters. These guys will be used to terrorize other tribes into going along with the Taliban. This worked fifteen years ago, and should work again. Except for one thing. The foreign troops and their smart bombs.

NATO and U.S. air power have been a disaster for the Taliban. It was a few dozen aircraft, dropping a few hundred smart bombs, that smashed the Taliban fighting force in late 2001. Since then, the Taliban have come up with some ways to limit the smart bomb damage, but have not been able to avoid the constant destruction these weapons deliver. If the Russians had had smart bombs in the 1980s, the Russians would be running the place today (and the Afghan population would be a lot smaller, that's how the medieval Mongols, and other ruthless conquerors, have traditionally "subdued" the Afghans).

But the Taliban have a plan for getting rid of the smart bombs, and it depends a lot on foreign journalists. These folks are always looking for an "exciting" story, and nothing is more exciting than "atrocities" committed by NATO or American troops. Defeats by NATO or American troops also plays well with the foreign reporters. So the Taliban endeavor to feed the foreign journalists as many suitable stories as possible. The Taliban understand that the story doesn't have to be true, just plausible. The news cycle is short, and the media proceeds on the assumption that news consumers have no sense of history. If the Taliban can get a story out there, they have succeeded, no matter how much the story is later discredited. Recently, for example, Taliban propagandists got some journalists to run with the story that the Taliban actually controlled most of the country, and were ready to take over. This was absurd, but too good to pass up for headline starved reporters. Atrocity stories move well, as do rumors of NATO troops misbehaving with the locals. The Taliban may be medieval in their social thinking and economics, but they are out in front when it comes to spinning the media.

The "we are doomed" (or disgraced) stories the Western media gobble up, are meant to convince Western government to pull their troops out. To move that process along, the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies are making a major push to kill NATO troops. Normally, this is very hard to do. But suicide bombers have proven more effective, and are now used in larger and larger numbers. This is dangerous for the Taliban, because these suicide bombers tend to kill more Afghan civilians than NATO troops. Thus the importance of having lots of Taliban gunmen out there to keep the Afghan population from getting out of line in their outrage (and reporting the presence of Islamic terrorists). The Taliban believe that most Western nations can be convinced to withdraw their troops if enough negative media and dead troops can be generated. That will mean fewer smart bombs to deal with.

The smart bombs and UAVs have proved to be a decisive weapon against the Taliban. The UAVs and aircraft have heat sensors that can spot groups of Taliban trying to sneak into an area to terrorize the locals. The sensors on the aircraft are often good enough to identify that the guys on the ground are Taliban, and deserving of a smart bomb. Once the JDAM (GPS guided bomb) hits, the Taliban are out another group of enforcers. There's enough drug money to hire another bunch, but in the meantime, another few villages full of Afghans go un-terrorized by the Taliban. Remember, the tribes don't like taking orders from anyone, and in 2001, the Taliban were toppled within two months partly because of the smart bombs, but mostly because the other tribes were tired of these sanctimonious bullies. Alas, sanctimonious bullies have been part of the Afghan social fabric for centuries. The latest contingent are media savvy and subsidized by Western drug addicts. If the Taliban weren't so intent on carrying out terror attacks in the West, the West would try to ignore them. But when someone is dedicated to blowing you up where you live, you pay attention, or else.

 

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