Afghanistan: The Tragic Flaw

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August 15, 2012: Provincial officials in the east (Kunar province) accuse Pakistan of firing over 3,100 attacks (mostly with rockets and shells) across the border in the last three months, in an attempt to hit Pakistani Taliban hiding out in the thinly populated area. Casualties to Pakistani Taliban in the target area are not known but the government says eight Afghans have died and 25 have been wounded by these attacks. Pakistan denies it is behind the attacks but the Afghans insist that only the Pakistani armed forces use the rockets and shells being fired. Gunfire from the Pakistani side of the border is an almost daily occurrence and sometimes Pakistani troops can clearly be seen.

Yesterday an attack on a border police commander's convoy (which killed one policeman and wounded five) led to a major firefight on the border. Several hundred additional Afghan soldiers and police were sent to the border to deal with heavy fire coming from the Pakistan side.

Elsewhere in the east (Ghazni province) tribal militias have massed and chased Taliban out of at least ten villages. The locals disagreed with Taliban lifestyle rules (especially shutting down schools). The Taliban risk heavy casualties (from smart bombs) if they bring in a large enough force to defeat the tribal fighters. These tribal uprisings against the Taliban are increasingly frequent. In addition to the threat of smart bombs, the Taliban are also hampered by a growing number of Afghan police and soldiers. While these can be bribed, there is not always enough cash available for this, or there are too many people to bribe and if you miss some they will be the ones blocking a road when you are rushing reinforcements to some Taliban under attack by tribal fighters.

Casualties among foreign troops are 23 percent lower this year (so far), both overall and for the current month (down 44 percent). This is largely because of far fewer roadside bomb casualties and continued reluctance of the Taliban to fight foreign troops. The most successful new Taliban tactic against foreign troops is to encourage or arrange attacks using Afghan soldiers or police (or Taliban disguised as such). So far this year 13 percent of foreign troops killed have been because of these kinds of attacks. That's about twice the rate as last year. The Taliban can arrange such attacks by offering rewards (for killing foreign soldiers, long a practice in Afghanistan and Iraq) or target a particular soldier or policeman and threaten harm to his family if the attack is not made. This tactic is commonly used against security force members for all sorts of reasons. There have always been some attacks like this because that kind of violence is part of Afghan culture. The Afghans just accept that sort of thing but foreigners are usually appalled. This acceptance of violence has made banditry, warlords, terrorism, and groups like the Taliban tolerable enough to thrive in Afghanistan. The drug gangs, which will dispense as much cash or violence necessary to survive could not exist without the unique Afghan culture.

The biggest problem in Afghanistan remains corruption. Any positive change is hampered, and often crippled, by theft or demands for bribes. Loyalty to the greater good too often does not extend beyond family or tribe. Even many Afghans who understand the ruinous impact of corruption still indulge, simply to remain economically competitive. History shows that breaking the cycle of corruption is difficult and takes strong leadership and time. Afghanistan has neither.

August 14, 2012: In the southwest (Nimroz province) three suicide bombers attacked a market, killing at least 36 civilians. In the north (Kunduz, near the Tajik border) another bomb in a market killed ten. The markets were crowded with shoppers seeking items for the end of Ramadan (a month long fasting period for Moslems) celebrations. The Nimroz market attack was part of a larger operation involving eleven terrorists using bombs and guns to attack multiple targets in the provincial capital. Police killed or captured most of the attackers. The Taliban make spectacular attacks like this to gain maximum media attention. They need this because the Taliban have been taking heavier casualties and inflicting fewer (at least on civilians and foreign troops). Afghan police and soldiers are suffering more casualties but are doing most of the damage to the Taliban. In part, this is because the security forces can call on NATO air power. Thus a small number of soldiers or police can stand up to, and destroy, a much larger Taliban force. Because of this most of the Taliban attacks are now small scale. There have been more attacks in the last few months but fewer casualties.

August 12, 2012: Police and NATO forces uncovered a terrorist cell in Kabul and arrested five men. Also seized were bomb vests and documents indicating the attack was planned in Pakistan (one of those arrested was Pakistani) and was going to be directed at the parliament compound.

August 6, 2012: Corruption investigators have found bank accounts used by the finance minister, which contain $1.5 million in unexplained income. The finance minister denies that this has anything to do with corruption.

The defense minister resigned after a no-confidence vote in parliament. There was growing anger over months of attacks from Pakistan and no response by the Afghan security forces.

 

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