Afghanistan: It's Summertime, And The Killing Is Easy

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June 2, 2010:  The tempo of combat is increasing, with fifty foreign troops killed last month (compared to 27 in May 2009, before the current surge of American reinforcements). The Taliban and drug gangs continue to take much higher casualties (10-20 killed for each foreign soldier killed). Afghan security forces suffer losses 3-4 times that of foreign troops (who do most of the damage to the Taliban). Roadside bombs and mines are becoming less effective as more intelligence resources, and MRAP vehicles, are brought in (often from Iraq). Last year, 61 percent of foreign troop deaths were from roadside bombs and vehicle mines. This year, so far, it's 56 percent (and falling). But while the foreign troops are winning on the battlefield, their civil affairs and diplomatic counterparts are having a much harder time with the endemic corruption and tribalism. Honesty is not the most common policy in Afghanistan, and while  Afghans recognize that they are Afghans, most consider their  primary loyalty is to tribe or clan. Killing is easy in Afghanistan. Obtaining cooperation is hard.

American intelligence has confirmed that a UAV missile strike in Pakistan last month killed the al Qaeda field commander, Mustafa Abu al Yazid. He occupied the number three position in the al Qaeda hierarchy, and was mainly concerned with coordinating attacks in Afghanistan. This is a dangerous job, requiring constant contact with many subordinates, and detection by American intelligence efforts. As a result, seven men in this position have died since 2001. The constant turnover has produced a rigidity in al Qaeda operations, and difficulty in responding to serious problems (like hostility with some pro-Taliban tribes). Yazid (also known as al Masri) was a founding member of al Qaeda, and was once the organization's treasurer. He arranged the funding for the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The national peace conference in Kabul has been the target for many Taliban and al Qaeda attacks. As these talks began today (after several days of preliminaries), the Taliban became increasingly desperate to disrupt them. Several attack plots were uncovered in the past few weeks, one that involved firing nearly 300 rockets at the area where the talks were being held. Today, a suicide bomber detonated his bomb vest several hundred meters from where the talks were being held, unable to penetrate security. A group of Taliban also failed to shoot their way through. The Taliban are eager to disrupt these talks, because they are actually a traditional gathering of the tribal elders and leaders. If this assembly makes a peace deal, and some key tribes that have either supported, or simply tolerated, the Taliban, switch sides, the Taliban will have a harder time recruiting and operating.

Pakistani army pressure on Taliban across the borders continues. After nearly a year of such operations, the Pakistani Taliban are in bad shape, and an increasing number are fleeing to Afghanistan. There, they often encounter a hostile reception. Either Afghan or foreign troops are waiting for them, or the local tribes prove inhospitable.

The fighting this Summer will revolve around Taliban control (usually via terror, or economic incentives like jobs as gunmen or in drug production) in key parts of southern Afghanistan (Kandahar and Helmand provinces). The foreign troops are trying new methods. These involve new technology (for Afghanistan, most of this stuff was already used in Iraq) and new tactics (to counter the Taliban use of civilians as human shields). NATO also has new media relations techniques, to cope with Taliban control of local journalists (via bribes, intimidation, or even just flattery). There is a lot of pro-Taliban spin in Afghan news, along with a lot of lies (about everything, because successful journalists here tend to be noted more for their inventiveness than for their accuracy.) The fighting this year, as it has for the last few years, does not feature a "Taliban Offensive." The Taliban are on the defensive, increasingly hated by more Afghans. The Taliban are responsible for over fifteen years of violence and terror in the country, and their alliance with the drug gangs does nothing to help their reputation.  

June 1, 2010:  Government police and troops returned to a district (Barg-e-Matal in northeastern Nuristan province), causing the Taliban to flee. A week earlier, several hundred Taliban had crossed the Pakistan border into this remote and sparsely populated district (one of 398 in the country). The police, greatly outnumbered, withdrew. The Taliban did their usual looting and intimidation routine, and also withdrew.

 

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