Afghanistan: The Taliban Win One

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November 14,2008: General. David Petraeus has been promoted from commander of U.S. forces in Iraq to commander of Central Command (CENTCOM), which includes everything from Egypt to Afghanistan. Petraeus now proposes that, as he did in Iraq, more effort be put into negotiating with the Pushtun tribes, to form an anti-Taliban coalition. This worked in late 2001, as a few hundred American CIA agents and Special Forces operators moved into Afghanistan and basically organized a tribal uprising against the Taliban government. As a result of that, the surviving Taliban leadership fled to tribal areas across the border in Pakistan, and lower ranking Taliban hunkered down to wait for conditions that would lead to a return to power. By exploiting the Afghan hatred of foreigners (and "outsiders" in general), the support for Islamic conservatism among many tribes in southern Afghanistan, cash from smugglers, drug gangs and Islamic charities, the Taliban sought to regain control of the country with a terror and bribery campaign.   

The Taliban also sought to exploit local and foreign media, by killing as many foreign troops as possible, from nations vulnerable to political manipulation (Canada, and many European countries), while increasing the use of human shields, to get more Afghan civilians killed, and forcing the foreigners to change their ROE (Rules of Engagement) to the point that the Taliban can avoid air strikes if they just grab some women and children. In a situation like this, the tribes are not as eager, as their Iraqi counterparts, to go up against the Taliban and al Qaeda. For one thing, al Qaeda learned their lesson in Iraq, and are not as murderous against uncooperative Afghan tribal leaders as they were against Iraqi ones. This time around, the Taliban seek to either ally with, scare off, or buy off all the tribes in southern Afghanistan, and form a Pushtun coalition capable to defeating the tribes that comprise the other 60 percent of the Afghan population. At best, that will lead to another civil war. But this reality does not dissuade the Taliban leaders, who believe they are on a Mission From God.

Across the border in Pakistan, the Taliban tactics have not succeeded against the Pakistani government (which is seen as "foreigners" in the Pushtun tribal areas along the Afghan border), because the government sent the army in to destroy villages and clan compounds (little fort like structures you see throughout the Pushtun areas) controlled by Taliban militias. This has put the Taliban on the defensive, but has not yet crushed them yet. This military solution is still a work in progress. Such an approach in Afghanistan won't work quite the same way, because the Afghan Taliban don't have as much control in their territory as they Pakistani counterparts do. But Afghanistan does have several powerful drug gangs, most of them headquartered in Helmand province, and adjacent areas in southern Afghanistan. The Afghan government has finally (after much prompting, persuasion and threats) agreed to go after the heroin trade. This was not an easy decision, as many government officials are either involved in the drug business, are being bribed by the drug gangs, or have kin who are so compromised.

If Patraeus gets his "tribal policy" going, he's going to have to deal with the drug angle, and all the cash and jobs the drug gangs provide. The drug gangs also provide their own brand of terror, violence, and a growing number of Afghan opium and heroin addicts. Bottom line is that you are not just fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, you are up against some of the wealthiest drug organizations on the planet, and a tribal culture that has long been very hostile to outsiders.

About 5,000 have died in the fighting against the Taliban so far this year. Most of the dead are Taliban, and several hundred Taliban fighters are killed, wounded or captured each week. About a thousand civilians have died, mostly at the hands of the Taliban.

In the western province of Heart, a new police chief, brought in to deal with the corrupt police, fired 22 senior police commanders.

November 13, 2008: In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide car bomber trying to get close to an American convoy, detonated his explosives, killing one American soldier, and at least 17 civilians.

November 12, 2008: Outside the southern city of Kandahar, two men on a motorcycle came up to some girls walking to school, and sprayed them with acid. Two girls were blinded, and two others disfigured. The Taliban have kept over 50,000 girls from attending school via such attacks, plus burning down the schools and intimidating parents and teachers. The Taliban consider schools for girls to be un-Islamic, along with any schools that are not religious schools. Elsewhere in Kandahar, a tanker truck full of explosives was detonated by its driver near government offices, killing six others and wounding over 40.

November 10, 2008: In Khost (eastern Afghanistan), 14 armed men opened fire on U.S. troops, and were killed by the Americans. The governor of Khost complained that these men had been hired to protect road construction crews. The governor could not explain why his road guards opened fire on the Americans, and decided to deny that version of events and just blame it all on the foreign troops.

In the Khyber Pass (the main road between Afghanistan and Pakistan) bandits (believed to be Taliban) attacked a convoy of trucks, including some carrying cargo going to U.S. and NATO troops. The stolen trucks were recovered by Pakistani police within a few hours. The rapid recovery of the stolen vehicles occurred because the transport business is  big money for the trucking companies. The truckers have long paid protection money to all the tribes they pass through. Expect to see more fighting between irate tribesmen and Taliban gunmen because of this recent interference. "Taxing" the trade that goes through the Khyber pass (and another one to the north, which didn't get a good road built through it) has been big business for several thousand years. You mess with that, there are consequences.

November 9, 2008: A second one of Afghan president Karzai's ministers was dismissed for corruption and incompetence. The Minister of Transportation was caught stealing money intended for flying Afghans to the annual pilgrimage to Moslem holy places in Saudi Arabia. While corruption is widely tolerated in Afghanistan, there are limits.

November 8, 2008: Taliban assassins killed another one of the 398 district governors, that are the lowest level representative of the central government. Over the last few days, two foreign journalists (a Canadian and a Dane) were freed by their Afghan kidnappers. Both were women,  and officials denied that there was a trade for Taliban prisoners or a ransom paid. But officials always say that. The Canadian women was held for a month. It is believed that the kidnappers were a family group with branches in Pakistan and Afghanistan (very common along the border). The Afghan police identified the kidnappers and then carried out a common tactic; they arrested many members of the family and told the kidnappers that their kin would stay in jail (not a healthy place to be in the Winter) until the foreign woman was released.  Kidnapping is a growing business in Afghanistan, what with all this drug money, foreign aid, and foreigners running around. Good times for those bold enough to do the deed. But don't get identified, or else you become vulnerable.

November 7, 2008: Taliban propagandists have been flogging a recent incident in which several dozen members of an Afghan wedding party were killed by U.S. smart bombs and gunfire. The U.S. responded by pointing out that this all began when the Taliban moved into a village  where a wedding celebration was in progress, took the wedding guests captive, and then waited for an American patrol they knew was going to pass the village soon. When the Americans appeared, the Taliban opened fire, knowing that the response would be a lot of accurate gunfire, and smart bombs. The Taliban kept the wedding party prisoner at ground zero until the smart bombs arrived. Then the surviving Taliban slipped away, to report "mission accomplished" and to feed their propaganda machine with news of another American atrocity. This has worked, and the U.S. ROE (Rules of Engagement) keep getting more restrictive.  This is a significant victory for the Taliban. Eventually, the Taliban hope to be able to use human shields regularly and successfully.

 

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