Afghanistan: The Taliban Plays Defense This Year

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May 5,2008: In Afghanistan, grabbing your gun, and going off with your buddies to try and get rich by any means available, is an ancient custom. Right now, the best opportunities are in the heroin trade. Guarding the crop, or smuggling the stuff out of the country, pays well. Kidnapping is risky, but can have a big payoff. General banditry is a possibility, as is becoming a cop (where you get a uniform to wear while you shake down civilians and steal). Then there is the Taliban. Better pay than the army or police, but much more dangerous. To that end, some Taliban leaders are changing tactics. Gunmen have been ordered to travel in smaller groups (5-10), so as to be a less attractive target to the foreigners missiles and smart bombs. But groups that small are getting into fights with villagers (who are forced to provide food and shelter for the Taliban). If 40 Taliban come into most villages, the locals are outnumbered and make nice. By eight Taliban is a fair fight in most villages, and this makes recruiting more difficult. The Taliban are not getting the best guys. The quality goes with the drug gangs. Al Qaeda is also hiring. They also like volunteers, but understand that talent wants to get paid. Yes, we're all good Moslems up here in the mountains, but a man has to live.

Al Qaeda has been trying to transfer its roadside and suicide bomb tactics to Afghanistan, with mixed success. The big problem is that the bombs kill more civilians than intended targets (foreign troops and Afghan security forces and officials). It's also expensive. While the suicide bombers themselves are usually volunteers, the smugglers (of explosives and bomb components) and bomb builders expect to be paid. Al Qaeda is finding that, like Iraq, everyone has their hand out in Afghanistan, even the devout Holy Warriors. While 232 foreign troops were killed last year (about 20 percent by roadside bombs), the Taliban and al Qaeda lost twenty times as many fighters. Same deal in 2006, when 191 foreigners were killed. This year, the foreigners are on the offensive earlier and more energetically. The U.S. has brought in several thousand marines. This is not good for the Taliban.

The Taliban and al Qaeda are not winning on the battlefield, but are having some success in the infosphere. Manipulating the media is still possible, and terror attacks are selected for their impact on the international news organizations. Locally, the Taliban and al Qaeda are generally despised. Followers of these groups are a minority, and many who say they are believers, are only in it for the money.

May 4, 2008: The April 27 attack on a public ceremony in Kabul was carried out via bribes to at least two government employees, who have been arrested. The corruption in Afghanistan, which has been around forever, makes security difficult against a foe that has enough cash to pay for cooperation.

May 1, 2008: In Helmand province, over 5,000 people fled their villages, fearing that the Taliban would use them as human shields in coming battles with foreign troops. Helmand is where the drug trade is concentrated. It is the largest source of heroin in Afghanistan, and the world. The money from those drugs keeps the Taliban in business. So this year, the Afghan army and their foreign allies are launching the Spring Offensive and the Taliban are playing defense, trying to hold on to their treasure chest.

April 30, 2008: In Kabul, police found the safe house of the Taliban group that had attacked president Karzai three days earlier. Two Taliban, the wife and child of one of them and three policemen were killed during the operation. But three Taliban were captured, as well as documents and other evidence indicating that the operation was planned in Pakistan, apparently by al Qaeda. Police raided two other hideouts.

April 27, 2008: At a military ceremony in Kabul, a group of Taliban who had gotten past security opened fire on the assembly and president Karzai. Three people were killed initially, then three Taliban were killed as they tried to escape. Some of the attackers were captured.

 

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