Eastern Afghanistan is alive with the sound of the Pakistani Taliban dying. Several Islamic terrorist groups across the border in Waziristan are trying to escape the Pakistani Army, CIA missiles and fed-up tribesmen, by fleeing across the border. But these heavily armed refugees find more armed and angry tribesmen, plus Afghan and NATO troops. For an Afghan, this is no way to spend the Winter. It's too cold to be chased through the snow filled mountain passes. Actually, it's been a little warmer latterly, staying above freezing. But that's still cold enough for the heat sensors in NATO aircraft and UAVs to find small groups of men crossing the border. The Pakistani Taliban are moving into an area where the local (Afghan) Taliban are under heavy attack as well. The Winter is the prime hunting season for NATO, which has aircraft, warmer clothing and secure bases to operate from. Lots of Taliban are being arrested, and interrogated. The prisoners tend to speak freely, especially the young guys who are out for the adventure, loot and escape from boredom back at their village. Talking to these foreigners, or the Afghan policeman who doesn't bother to use violence, is kind of nice too. The information obtained is leading to the death or capture of more of the Taliban leadership. This is costing the Taliban a lot of money, because this border area is supposed to be kept clear of Afghan and foreign troops, so that the drug gangs (who the Taliban work for) can export their heroin. Most of these drugs move through Pakistan, and eastern Afghanistan is the quickest way to Karachi, and the world. The Taliban are supposed to keep the security forces out with roadside bombs and suicide attacks. But that isn't working, and the bases from which these attacks are made are being found and attacked.
NATO forces are also using some ancient tactics. Instead of trying to halt hostile gunmen from sneaking across the border, they are carefully watching the towns and villages the enemy needs to visit for food and other supplies (like batteries for radios and news of the local situation). The locals are fed up with the Taliban and drug gangs, who act like thugs and bullies and have been at it for over a decade. The government and NATO has encouraged the formation of self-defense militias and put more checkpoints on the few roads, to prevent the Taliban and gangsters from rapidly moving gunmen around via pickups and SUVs (which the drug gangs can afford, and many of these vehicles are usually a sure sign the gangs are around).
As harried and hounded as the Taliban and gangsters are in some parts of the south, there are many districts where there are few Afghan or foreign troops. Here, the bad guys do what armed men usually do in Afghanistan, behave badly. This angers the foreign aid NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations, like the Red Cross and so on), who believe the locals should be more appreciative and the foreign troops should provide more protection. But NATO does not have enough troops for guard duty, and the NGOs are warned to hire their own security and beware of the "loot mentality" that is so popular in Afghanistan. Loot is anything you can steal from foreigners (someone not from your tribe or clan). Taking loot is a big deal in Afghanistan, right behind owning a gun and going out with some of your buddies to see what's over the next hill.
Months of such pressure have caused various Taliban and Islamic radical groups to put aside their rivalries (which are sometimes resolved with violence) and cooperate. This sort of cooperation rarely lasts, as the rivalries and hatreds among these groups are intense and difficult to suppress for long. These alliances reflect fears that the new allies are in danger of extinction.
Two rockets were fired into Bagram airbase, outside Kabul. There were no injuries. This seemed to be more of a publicity stunt, as rockets were fired into the huge (5,000 acres, 2,000 hectares) base where they have little chance of doing any damage. The occasional attack on the ground is defeated with many attackers killed or wounded. But the Western media were all over this sort of thing, as another indicator of the growing Taliban threat. Which is why the Taliban make these attacks, in order to make the news.
The battle in southern Afghanistan is driven by intelligence, information about where Taliban leaders and bases (containing equipment, bomb making materials and weapons) are, as well as, more importantly, the heroin (and the portable labs that produce it from opium) is. Afghanistan is a big place, and these few assets are what keeps the Taliban and drug gangs going. The destruction of these key targets is what decides who is winning.
Meanwhile, the country, overall, prospers. GDP grew over 20 percent this year. Inflation has been reduced (from 9 to 3 percent) in the last two years. All this is a new experience for Afghanistan, which has for centuries been too chaotic to generate much sustained economic growth. The occasional violence in the south makes the news, but the economic growth is what most Afghans pay attention to. The violence has been around here forever, the prosperity is something new.
The UN believes that the Taliban will try to carry out some spectacular terror attacks, to improve their bargaining position with the government, and other tribes. Most Taliban leaders know that regaining control of the country is impossible. Prosperity and over a hundred thousand trained (and fairly reliable) Afghan soldiers and police have stymied Taliban plans, and now the only hope is a negotiated deal that will give the Islamic conservative (Taliban) factions in the south some autonomy and freedom from prosecution (for past atrocities).
December 26, 2010: In eastern Afghanistan, four Turkish engineers (supervising the building of border guard bases) were kidnapped along with their driver. No one took responsibility for it, so a ransom demand is expected soon.