Afghanistan: Follow The Money To Victory

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July 3, 2009:  Taliban violence continues to cause most of the Afghan fatalities. Civilian deaths are running at about 200 a month, Taliban at 300-400, and Afghan security forces about a hundred. Last month, 38 foreign troops were killed. The Taliban kill civilians either by accident (during a suicide or roadside bomb attack on security forces or government officials), or as part of their terror campaign. This includes killing local, provincial and national officials, in order to force officials to cooperate with the Taliban. This sometimes works, particularly at the local level. Teachers are also targeted, because the Taliban is very much against secular education, particularly school for girls.

Several hundred Taliban suspects are captured (in combat) or arrested each month, and that leads to a continual flow of intelligence on enemy organization and operations. This fuels an ongoing campaign against the Taliban leadership. Many of these men are located and killed or arrested. In Afghan tribal tradition (which is where the Taliban tactics and leadership comes from), the loss of leaders is more disruptive than it is in a professional army. Often, when a Taliban leader is dead or arrested, his followers simply disperse and go home. The high casualties among the Taliban leadership forces the Taliban to throw more money at the problem, in order to entice potential leaders (who get paid several times what a police or army commander gets) to step forward. The money is good (several times what a policeman gets), if you are willing to accept the high probability that you will get killed, wounded or arrested. But there are so many young men in the countryside without jobs (or guys just tired of subsistence farming), that there are always men available to recruit.  

The government, and Britain, will continue to destroy poppy crops (the source of opium and heroin), despite the U.S. shifting to a strategy that emphasizes going after the drug gang operations (improvised labs to convert opium to heroin) and leaders (including their banking operations). The U.S. is offering farmers assistance in switching to legitimate crops.

By the end of the year, there will be 57,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This is compared to 17,000 at the end of 2008 and only about 11,000 in 2006-7. Before that, U.S. forces had gone from 2,500 at the end of 2001, to 18,000 at the end of 2005. The U.S. has already increased offensive operations. But this year, there's a big difference. The U.S. ROE (Rules of Engagement) now forbids attacking any Taliban that are using civilians as human shields. Although the Taliban cause some 80 percent of the civilian deaths, the media makes much more of "foreign troops killing Afghan civilians." So U.S. commanders are going to try and reduce Afghan civilians killed by U.S. troops, without providing the Taliban with a decisive military advantage.

For Afghan civilians, there's a downside to this, other than Taliban units escaping destruction, in that there will be fewer compensation (for the loss of family members and property) opportunities. Foreign forces pay several thousand dollars per dead civilian, and less for destroyed property. Most of the claims made are turned down as bogus. Scamming the foreigners for compensation is a popular activity anytime there is fighting, whether or not there are casualties. Scammers will take advantage of Islamic law stipulating that the dead be buried the same day, and then claim that empty graves contain the body of a family member or friend. Foreign troops are getting better at detecting the scams, but Afghans still see it as an opportunity, especially since these attempts are not punished if you are found out (although if you succeed, local officials or police may demand a cut.)

German troops in the north are adopting a more aggressive ROE, as more Taliban (or tribal raiding parties/bandits) are being encountered. Their long time ROE had troops avoiding battle as much as possible. Now the troops are being allowed to go after Taliban fighters, rather than running away.

The first big American offensive began as a force of 4,000 American marines and Afghan soldiers and police (most of them marines) moved deep into Helmand province, seeking to regain government control of a valley that serves as a base area for drug gangs and the Taliban. The U.S. strategy is now to use an intelligence advantage to go after drug gang assets and Taliban leaders. In other words, follow the money.

July 2, 2009: A U.S. soldier was captured in eastern Afghanistan, outside a small U.S. base.  United States officials have released few details, but local civilians, and Taliban spokesmen, indicate that the soldier got drunk on the base (booze is illegal for American troops, but there is a black market on and off bases for the stuff.) The soldier, and three Afghan soldiers, then got in a vehicle to drive to another base. The four were not armed, and were stopped by some armed tribesmen along the way, and taken prisoner. The tribesmen soon sold their prisoners to a group of Taliban. This was the first time an American  military  member has been captured in eight years of operations in Afghanistan. Such incidents occurred several times in Iraq, often because troops left their base unarmed, for personal reasons.

June 29, 2009: In Kandahar, the provincial police chief and eight others were killed by 41 members of a counter-terrorism unit (which was apparently U.S. trained, as most such units are.) The 41 soldiers came to a Justice Ministry compound, demanded the release of a man (accused of forgery and several other things) police had arrested. The provincial police chief was called in, and after an argument (officials refused to release the jailed man), gunfire broke out, and the 41 troops left (and were later arrested). The government blames the U.S. Army for this, and the American response was that the men involved were on the Afghan payroll.

 

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