Afghanistan: New Terror Tactics For a New Year

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April 25,2008: This year's Taliban "Spring Offensive" has gotten off to a slow start. This is largely because Taliban recruiting efforts have not produced as many recruits as last year. Most Pushtun tribesmen many be illiterate, but they can count. And over the Winter they counted far fewer of their friends who had joined the Taliban last year. The smart bombs and UAVs, plus better trained Afghan troops, has made it very difficult for groups of armed Taliban to survive. As a result (and to improve recruiting), tactics have changed this year. The Taliban are to operate in smaller (5-10 men), and more numerous groups. Troops (especially foreign ones) are to be avoided. No cell phones or radios either.

The problem with the new tactics is that the smaller groups of Taliban are not strong enough to intimidate rural villages and tribes. More rural Afghans can grab their rifles and drive away the Taliban. The Taliban have orders to concentrate on terrorist attacks. But these kill mostly civilians, and anger the tribes. In fact, some of the major tribes in Pakistan have pledged to fight against the Taliban, and the Taliban in Pakistan have asked for a cease fire. In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban movement is, in effect, a civil war within the tribes. In Afghanistan, the leadership in most tribes has been bought off by the government, but still has to be persuaded to take up arms against their fellow tribesmen who support the Taliban. And then there are the Tribal factions involved in the drug trade. These guys have lots of money, and they will share it with tribal leaders and government officials who will leave them alone.

Finally, there are the Islamic conservatives. These religious fanatics are sometimes confused with the Taliban. Some of the Islamic conservative are Taliban, but many are not. What all these holy bigots share is a desire to control how all Afghans live. To that end, they urge the government to pass laws forbidding Western (including Indian) television shows and movies, as well as Western clothing (especially for women). They want less (or even no) education for women. Currently, only a third of the kids going to school are girls, and the Taliban are still burning down girls schools.

In Pakistan, the tribes are willing to stop fighting Pakistani security forces, in return for a truce. But this allows the Taliban and al Qaeda safe havens in remote parts of the tribal territories. Many Islamic radicals are still at war with the Pakistani government, and these groups cannot be allowed to have a sanctuary. Afghanistan fears that the Pakistani government is willing to allow sanctuary for Taliban groups that recruit and send gunmen across the border into Afghanistan, if that will mean peace in Pakistan. Sorting this out will be a major issue this year.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda moves more people into the tribal territories. This is known because Pakistani police are arresting more of these foreigners as they travel to the tribal territories, where all outsiders are easily spotted. But al Qaeda style terrorism is a losers game. It kills mostly civilians, and the survivors turn on the terrorists. This pattern has played out in half dozen different countries over the last three decades. The terrorists don't seem to get it.

April 19, 2008: Tariq Azizuddin, the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, who disappeared two months ago, has shown up on a video saying he was kidnapped by the Taliban. A dozen prominent Islamic terrorists must be released from jail in exchange for Azizuddin. The ambassador and two of his staff were seized by bandits while driving to Afghanistan last February. The bandits then sold their captives to pro-Taliban tribesmen. The Pakistani government found out about the kidnapping after a few weeks, but kept it quiet as they sought a solution. Other Taliban leaders in Pakistan deny Taliban involvement in the kidnapping. For good reason, as it is the custom in this part of the world to retaliate in kind. The government is in a position take lots of hostages.

 

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