Afghanistan: Another Suicidal Spring Offensive

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March 28,2008: As the Taliban announce their new "Spring Offensive," they must also confront a public relations crises. A religious scholar has issued a fatwa condemning the Taliban for their un-Islamic activities (killing civilians, use of terror) and declaring them "out of Islam" (not Moslem). The Taliban continue to enhance this image. In the north, five de-miners were killed in an ambush. The attackers, who were apparently Taliban, fled when they realized who they had attacked. De-miners are very popular, and the Taliban was forced to make profuse apologies for earlier attacks. The Taliban are hostile to outside assistance, as it threatens Taliban control. The de-miners, who are Afghans, are one of the few exceptions. But some outsiders are extremely popular. For example, a Taliban campaign against cell phone companies (who are believed to be assisting the government in tracking Taliban cell phone users) has turned 250,000 southern cell phone users against the Taliban. That's because the Taliban have demanded that the cell phone companies turn off service at night, and have damaged or destroyed ten cell phone towers to back up their threat. In response, some cell phone companies in the south have shut down all service, blaming the Taliban attacks. The cell phone users, most of whom have no other access to phones, are furious. There are now 2,000 cell phone towers in the country, most of them recently built in rural areas, where people get phone service for the first time. Cell phones are enormously popular, even with Taliban supporters.

Last years Spring Offensive (which actually lasts until September), left 6,000 people dead, about two-thirds of them Taliban. But about 200 foreign troops were killed, along with two thousand Afghan civilians and security troops. The Taliban declared that a victory, but on the ground the reality was quite different. The Taliban lost a lot of popular support last year, and are increasingly seen as another bunch of bad guys trying to take over.

France is sending another 1,000 troops to Afghanistan, increasing its force to 2,900. These are fighting troops, as opposed to the non-combat "peacekeepers" most European troops send. The U.S./NATO force is fighting alongside the 49,000 man Afghan Army (which is slowly growing to 80,000). The 60,000 Afghan National Police are less professional and reliable than the army, so it's pretty much up to the local and foreign troops to deal with the Taliban and drug gang combat forces.

The Taliban are increasingly dependent on the drug gangs, and their money, to pay their fighters. Few Taliban gunmen are willing to work for free, and each year, the Taliban has to pay more to get men to grab their guns and join. This is partly due to the high attrition rate. Last year, over 20 percent of those who signed on to work for the Taliban, were killed or badly wounded. The foreign troops have air power and smart bombs, a combination that the Taliban still have not figured out how to deal with. The real enemy is the drug gangs, which are often tribal groups dedicated to getting rich and keeping the government out.

 

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