2008: Rumors that Afghan president
Karzai is on the drug gangs payroll has become more obvious, as he pushes for
getting veto power over U.S. and NATO military operations. This came to a head recently,
because of a battle in western Afghanistan two weeks ago. There, a U.S./Afghan
raid on a village was met with fire from several dozen Taliban who had taken
shelter there. Smart bombs were used, the U.S. and Afghan troops went in to
search the ruins for Taliban documents and to count the bodies. There were 25
Taliban and five civilians dead. After the troops left, the Taliban began
pushing the story that 70, or more, civilians, including fifty children, were
killed. The number constantly changed. The reason was that, since the Moslem
custom is to bury the dead immediately, and forbid exhuming bodies for any kind
of examination, you can pull off this kind of scam if you have the locals
terrified into keeping quiet. Then there's the "compensation" scam
angle. Foreign troops will pay thousands of dollars (often over $5,000) in
compensation for loss, per civilian killed during military operations. So
Afghans have an incentive to claim as many dead as they can get away with.
Afghan culture puts a premium on scamming foreigners. Any Afghan who doesn't
try to hustle an outsider is looked down on. It's the ancient "us versus
them" mentality, which applies even of the outsider is helping you.
Afghans were quick to pick up on how all this plays in the West, and have
learned how to manipulate foreign journalists and NGOs (who are often adjuncts
of Western media).
Karzai knows of these scams and how Afghans regard foreigners, but he is under
pressure to get the military heat off the drug gangs. Foreign troops,
particularly British and Canadian, have done lots of damage to heroin
production in Helmand province (where most Afghan heroin is produced), and the
gangs are putting pressure on the senior Afghan officials on the payroll to do
something. Karzai was told by his top military commander in the west, and the
local commando commander, that the claim of 50 dead children was a scam, and Karzai
reacted by relieving the two men and ordering them to Kabul for questioning.
Kabul is not a safe place for those who oppose the drug gangs, as judge who
could not be bribed was recently murdered there, as he was in the midst of
dealing with drug cases.
gangs are hurting. In addition to increasing foreign military action in Helmand
province, there has been a drought. This has cut this year's heroin production
by about a fifth. Some serious money is being lost, and the drug warlords and
tribal leaders who took the losses are intent on fixing the problem. Even with
the drop, U.S. anti-drug experts expect the Taliban to net $70 million from
their participation in the drug trade. This is three or four times the take in
the second most popular Taliban money maker-kidnapping.
in areas, like Helmand, where the drug gangs are strong, the police either go
along or get out. This means bandits are free to operate with few restrictions.
This has led to an increase in highway robbery (often via a fake police
checkpoint) and kidnapping. It's gotten so bad that deminers are again being
grabbed, and being held for ransom. For over two decades, most Afghans have
agreed to leave the deminers (who are largely Afghans by now) alone. But now
that most of the mines have been cleared, the outlaws feel deminers are fair
drug gangs are complaining of Western military pressure, the Taliban have more
headaches across the border in Pakistan. There, a new government, and a new
commander of the Pakistani army, have turned up the heat on the Taliban. Over a
thousand Pakistani Taliban have been killed
or wounded in the last few weeks, and Afghan Taliban leaders who are based in
Pakistan, are no longer safe. Some have already been arrested, and most others
are fleeing for the uncertain safety of Afghanistan.
Army currently has 68,000 troops, but 12 percent are in training. Current plans
call for a 90,000 man force by the end of next year. New plans will expand that
to 134,000 two or three years after that. Afghanistan can't afford an army much
larger than 70-80,000 men, if paying the bills itself. The additional troops
are being paid for by NATO and the United States, and when those subsidies go
away, Afghan will have to shrink its force.
2008: The Taliban were heartened by a recent Canadian poll showing that 61
percent of Canadians believe the expense, in money and the lives of Canadian
troops, is not worth it in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been concentrating on
killing Canadian troops, for the purpose of influencing public opinion back home.
The Taliban believe that this public opinion will cause Canadian troops to be
withdrawn from Afghanistan. Current Canadian public opinion is still willing to
keep troops in Afghanistan through 2011, but not after that. The Taliban
believe time is on their side.
2008: U.S. and Afghan troops killed 220
Taliban in Helmand province in the last week, and shut down more drug
operations. What caused most of the Taliban losses was an elaborate British
operation to truck in a 200 ton turbine, and other equipment, for a dam power plant
in Helmand province. The Taliban have been trying to shut down this dam, and
its partly completed power plant, for years. The Taliban believe that the
electricity from the expanded power plant will give Afghans in the area less reason
to support the Taliban.