Afghanistan: Al Qaeda Replacing the Taliban

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April 18,2008: American diplomatic and military officials in Afghanistan believe that al Qaeda in their area has become more dangerous than al Qaeda in Iraq. The U.S. government still believes Iraq is the main battle, even though the terrorists are on the run there and suffering heavy losses. In Afghanistan, or, actually, across the border in Pakistan, al Qaeda has established bases it was unable to maintain in Iraq. Some of the terrorist camps in Pakistan have been there since 2002, but al Qaeda, admitting defeat in Iraq, has sifted people, cash and energy to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The terrorists are having a very different experience on each side of the border. In Afghanistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda are betting beaten. High losses, and lost influence, mark the past few years operations in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, there is much less police and military influence with the terrorists, and the tribal areas along the border have become a rest and rebuilding area for the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The victories in Afghanistan come largely because of the 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops there. The Afghan army only has 70,000 troops. Well trained, by regional standards, the soldiers are used all over the country. The 60,000 national police are less well trained and led, actually, many are corrupt and inept. While about a third of the foreign troops are not allowed to fight, those that do, however, are unstoppable. The Taliban cannot win by running, and if they stand and fight, they die. Al Qaeda thinks they can win using suicide and roadside bombs. This strategy failed in Iraq, mainly because of the large number of Iraqi civilians killed. The terrorists are killing lots of Afghans the same way in Afghanistan, and with the same result. A recent suicide bomber killed 24 worshippers in an Afghan mosque. This does not go over well with public opinion. The really bad news is that the most dangerous enemy in Afghanistan is the tribes and warlords, who have dominated the region for thousands of years.

On both sides of the border, many pro-Taliban tribes are negotiating with the government to stop the fighting. But the more radical Taliban are linking up with the growing al Qaeda organization and going into the terror business. Most of the tribesmen want to get away from battles they can't win, and make some money. The drug trade offers quick cash, and more economic progress than has been seen in this part of the world for a long time.

Afghanistan will send troops and pilots to India for training. India, which has decades of counter-terrorism experience, will show Afghan officers and troops techniques that have worked in defeating Islamic terrorists and tribal separatists. India will not send troops to Afghanistan, but it already has security guards there to protect Indian aid workers (particularly those building roads and other infrastructure projects in the countryside.) Taliban attacks on these Indian projects has enraged India, not intimidated them. Indians are resented, and even hated, by Afghan religious conservatives. These attitudes result in actions like the recent Afghan ban on Indian soap operas. These shows are very popular on Afghan television, but enrage Islamic conservatives. That's because the daily episodes largely depict non-Moslems (most Indians are Hindus, a polytheistic religion that devout Moslems consider "pagan"). Bans on Indian media (movies, videos, magazines, as well as TV shows) are common in Afghanistan, and often are ineffective. Eventually bribes, or heavy demand, defeat the religious opposition.

 

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