Afghanistan: Dealing Direct

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November 1, 2011: The Taliban and Haqqani are carrying out fewer, but more high profile, terror attacks. This is a sign of desperation, depending on favorable media attention to scare away the foreign troops. In fact, the Taliban and other Islamic terror groups (especially the Haqqani Network) have been hit hard in the last year, and their overall terror activity is down. Most of this has been because of aggressive operations by foreign troops. As a practical matter, the foreign troops are powerful enough to go anywhere, and there are plenty of areas in the south that are controlled by the Taliban or pro-Taliban tribes that can only be entered by force (or show of force). While the foreign troops can raid into these areas freely, you do not see the area liberated from terrorist control until the cell phone service providers are free to turn the cell towers on at night (when the Taliban like to have them turned off, so neighbors cannot let the police or foreign troops know where the terrorists are spending the night.) These raids do a lot of damage to the leadership of terror groups. This can be fatal for the terror organizations, because in Afghanistan, organized armed groups are more dependent on a few leaders, than a larger organization, for their continued existence. What these operations have made clear is that the key is getting the most senior leaders. For the Haqqani Network (most active in eastern Afghanistan), the senior people, who can keep recruiting more mid and lower level leaders, have sanctuary in Pakistan (North Waziristan). The Taliban leadership hide in Quetta (the capital of Baluchistan) south of the Afghan province of Helmand (which is the source of most opium and heroin production in the country, and the world). Nations with troops in Afghanistan have now recognized the importance of the drug trade (in financing terrorists and all manner of bad behavior).

There has always been a disconnect between American commanders in Afghanistan and their military and political bosses back home. Afghanistan is very different than the West. Afghanistan is tribal, feudal and not very organized at all. But over the last decade, enough of the senior American leaders have been there, or know someone (they trust) that has. So the new strategy is to deal directly with the major factions and do what Afghanistan's neighbors have done for thousands of years; buy off individual tribes and warlords, not those who were pretending to run the entire country. Foreign aid is largely considered a bribe by Afghans, and the U.S. is planning on buying peace by sending the aid directly to tribal or provincial leaders. The current security force (170,000 troops and 136,000 police) costs $4 billion a year to maintain, but has cost about $11 billion a year for the last few years to recruit, equip and train. Provincial leaders have taken control of some of many of these armed men for their own local armies, and the struggle for control of army and police battalions continues.

Even the capital, Kabul, is divided. Actually, Kabul is such a large and important city because it is at a point where the southern Pushtuns butt up against the non-Pushtun tribes of the north. The city itself is a patchwork of ethnic, and sometimes even tribal, enclaves. Normally, Kabul was a place where the different tribes could meet and trade, talk and try to work things out. Islamic terrorists seek to disrupt this by carrying out spectacular attacks in the city. To Afghans, this is considered bad manners. Foreigners often miss this point. Islamic terrorists direct most of their violence at fellow Afghans. That's to terrorize those Afghans to back off in opposing the terrorists. This is an ancient practice. But the attacks on foreigners are fewer, and have no appreciable military effect. These attacks are mainly for playing the international media and politics in the countries these troops come from. The terrorists may be primitive in many ways, but they understand how Information War works. On a more practical level, they understand trying to fight the foreign troops is suicidal.

October 31, 2011: In Kandahar a suicide car bomber attacked outside a UN compound. Three UN employees, two civilians, a policeman and four attackers were killed.

October 30, 2011: A suicide car bomb hit an armored bus used to move foreign troops and contractors around the city. At least 17 people were killed, including 13 Americans.

October 28, 2011: In the east, Taliban attacked a convoy of foreign and Afghan troops, who counterattacked and killed at least 30 of the attackers.

October 25, 2011:  During the last week, foreign and Afghan troops in eastern Afghanistan have killed or captured some 200 terrorists (mainly Taliban and Haqqani). Many more got away and fled into the cold and snow. These attacks, launched this time of year (when most Afghans seek shelter for the Winter) has done a lot of damage. Pakistan has been asking for Afghanistan to clear out the Pakistani Islamic terrorists who have established themselves in Afghanistan over the last year, after several years of Pakistani military operations to drive Islamic terrorists from the Pakistani tribal territories (except for North Waziristan, which is considered a terrorist sanctuary because Pakistan refuses to clear terrorists from it.)

October 23, 2011:  Outside Kabul, terrorists launched an unsuccessful attack on the Minister of the Interior. Taliban death squads have long (before September 11, 2001) gone after leaders of groups that oppose them.

October 22, 2011: President Karzai, during a TV interview, said that if Pakistan were attacked, Afghanistan would support its neighbor. This was promptly interpreted as Afghanistan siding with Pakistan against the United States. But Pakistan is very unpopular with most Afghans, and the United States was not happy with the suggestion that the government they helped create and have sustained for a decade, would turn on them to help a neighbor that has caused so much misery in Afghanistan. So within a week, Karzai was backtracking on such interpretations of his casual comment. Karzai said it was all about showing gratitude for Pakistan allowing Afghans to take shelter in Pakistan during the 1980s Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

October 19, 2011: Foreign and Afghan troops launched a major operation in the east, along the Pakistani border, to clear out the bases used by Pakistani Taliban and Haqqani Network members.

October 18, 2011: The daughter of Burhanuddin Rabbani (the former president of Afghanistan (1992-6), who was assassinated by the Taliban in September, claims that the major reason for the attack was the success of her father in persuading many prominent Islamic scholars to issue a ban on suicide attacks. Suicide attacks have always been seen as something foreign, introduced by Arabs (al Qaeda). Many Afghans resent and resist this "foreign" custom, and were it condemned by a lot of religious scholars, the Taliban would be in big trouble with their Islamic conservative base. The attack on Rabbani sent a message to religious scholars, to keep quiet.

Rabbani was also the head of the effort to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. The government claims to have proof that the attack was ordered by the Taliban leadership (headquartered in Quetta, Pakistan) and with the cooperation of the Pakistan ISI. Pakistan and the Taliban deny any involvement. As a result of this attack, president Karzai announced that there would be no more peace talks with the Taliban. The murder of Rabbani is seen as a statement by the hardline Taliban, and their Haqqani Network allies, towards any negotiated settlement. Many Taliban leaders will accept no compromise, and want to control all of Afghanistan. They believe that the Western forces will withdraw in a few years, and will cut financial support to the Afghan government. Then the Taliban, Haqqani and drug gangs can take over.

 

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