Afghanistan: Bad Guys Battle Bad Numbers


May 23,2008: This year, it's NATO and the U.S. which is conducting a Spring Offensive. The troops are raiding known safe houses and villages where the Taliban have been detected. The spread of cell phones, more UAVs and growing unpopularity of the Taliban has brought in a flood of information on where the Taliban are and what they are up to. The Spring raids are wiping out most of the Taliban in many districts (Afghanistan has 398 districts in 34 provinces, with each district capital usually the largest town in a region containing 40,000-100,000 people).

Afghanistan only has 34,000 kilometers of roads (most of them unpaved). Most Afghans want more roads. While foreign donors have contributed lots of money to build more roads, corruption and poor management in the contracting process result in costs of up to a million dollars a kilometer, compared to $250,000 a kilometer in actual costs (to build the road). Afghanistan is very poorly equipped with roads. In the United States, there are 21 kilometers of roads (most of them paved) per thousand people (or 687 kilometers of roads per thousand square kilometers). In Afghanistan there are 1.2 kilometers of roads per thousand people (or 53 kilometers of roads per thousand square kilometers). The Taliban have concentrated on attacking road projects, causing up to a quarter of their cost to be for security. This costs the Taliban a lot of popular support, because most Afghans want more roads, especially paved roads. These make it possible to ship goods to markets, and get there to shop yourself. With better roads, you have a better chance of getting friend or family medical care before they die. Road building is a major source of jobs, and the Taliban are not well liked when they shut down this work and deprive thousands of local men of wages.

The Taliban have, for several years, waged a violent campaign against women appearing on television. Recently, a 22 year old female TV news reader was stabbed, and earlier, another female news reader had been killed. Women being used to present news on TV and radio is condemned by the Taliban, and a significant minority of the population. But the majority prefer it, and the Taliban losses more support with this kind of violence.

The Taliban shift to suicide bombs is not going well. As in Iraq, most of the casualties are civilians, which turns the population more hostile to the terrorists. Then there is the shortage of suicide bombers. Arabs are into self-destruction more than Afghans, so it's more difficult for the Taliban to get people to carry the bombs. Recently, a ten year old boy was used. The child was not able to carry the attack out effectively, killing himself, but no one else. In the capital, two recent suicide bombs caused no casualties, and one of them were discovered, seized and defused before it could explode.

The U.S. is building a new prison, in Afghanistan, for up to 1100 terrorists and terrorism suspects. The existing prison, in Bagram air base, holds 610 inmates. Apparently, the U.S. wants to transfer the 270 prisoners held at the at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba prison.

Heavier losses while crossing the border have caused the Taliban to shift tactics in how they get from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Taliban gunmen are now trying to pass as family members of family groups that travel into Afghanistan every day. The families go along because of bribes or threats. Gunrunners from Iran bring in weapons to equip these young men, who cross the border unarmed. Afghan police are now questioning young men crossing the border more closely. Even that is safer than trying to sneak across, where better NATO and U.S. surveillance catch these groups, and often wipe them out. Recruiting gunmen inside Afghanistan is getting more difficult, and higher wages have to be offered. Many Taliban leaders are offering to pay more than twice what a cop or soldier gets. Even that is not enough, because the annual death rate among Taliban fighters is over a third, while it's only a few percent for police or soldiers. Most Afghans may be illiterate, but they can count.

The Afghan government is angry with Pakistan again. This time the cause is a recent peace deal the Pakistanis made with the tribes along the Afghan border. In theory, the deal shuts down Taliban training camps and takes away heavy weapons (artillery, mortars and heavy machine-guns.) But similar deals in the past were soon violated by the Islamic militants, who are on a Mission From God, and openly speak about how that permits one to deceive ones enemies.


Article Archive

Afghanistan: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close