Afghanistan: The Tendency Towards Trigger-Happy Temper Tantrums

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August 27, 2012: The major trend this year is not Afghan police and soldiers shooting at NATO troops but the steady increase in Afghan police and soldiers in service. While some have been bribed by the drug gangs and Taliban to back off, there are too many of them for the Taliban to deal with. Most of the fighting now involves Afghan security forces, usually with a small group of NATO advisors (and specialists for calling in air strikes). This has led to more rural Afghans forming militias and chasing away the local Taliban (who act like gangsters at the village level). This popular resistance is happening in the west (near the Iranian border) as well as the east (the Pakistani border). This sort of thing has always been the norm in the north, where Pushtuns are a minority and the Taliban have been the enemy for nearly two decades. This popular uprising has also led to more tips from civilians about where the Taliban are. This has led to a lot more deaths among Taliban leaders lately.  

So far this month 350 Taliban have been killed, 60 wounded, and nearly 200 arrested by Afghan security forces and NATO troops. Most of this was done by the Afghans. Not counted are Taliban losses in battles with tribal militias. This is believed to have caused the Taliban at least a hundred casualties, and even more desertions, so far this month.  

The greater use of Afghan security forces has meant that NATO quit more than half the 800 bases they maintained a year ago. While 202 of these bases were shut down, another 282 were turned over to Afghan forces. Most of these bases were quite small, often no more than fortified checkpoints or rural outposts. This is what brought more armed Afghans into contact with more NATO troops. While the shooting of NATO troops makes the headlines, what is largely ignored is that even more Afghan police and soldiers are killed the same way. Afghanistan is a violent place, always has been, and it's difficult to eliminate the tendency towards trigger-happy temper tantrums with only a few months training. So far this year, 13 percent of NATO combat deaths have been because of these attacks. That's twice the rate last year. The Afghan government blames foreign spies but admits that a lot of the bribing and recruiting of Afghan soldiers and police for this is done by Afghan Taliban.

The U.S. believes that only a quarter of the deaths are orchestrated by the Taliban, the rest are the result of anger management, cultural differences, and mental health issues among Afghan personnel working with NATO forces. American commanders also note that more of these attacks are directed at fellow Afghans in uniform. Fewer of these are instigated by the Taliban. Instead, the Taliban likes to concentrate on intimidating and assassinating military and police commanders. This is an ancient Afghan custom and the reason why Afghan leaders take it for granted that they always need lots of bodyguards, usually men from their own extended family. Bribing bodyguards is another old Afghan custom.

August 26, 2012:  In the south ten Afghan soldiers were killed during a Taliban attack on a checkpoint, while another five soldiers disappeared. It's believed these five were bribed to turn on the others. This spotlights a major problem in the army, the integration of different ethnic groups in units. While 40 percent of Afghans are Pushtuns (the majority in the south and within the Taliban), far fewer Pushtuns are in the army. Most troops are from anti-Taliban northern groups (Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbek). In an army unit containing some Pushtuns, it's easier to bribe or coerce these men to turn traitor.

The U.S. confirmed that an August 21st airstrike in eastern Afghanistan had killed Badruddin Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani Network terrorist organization. Haqqani and the Taliban insist that Badruddin is still alive but have not provided any "proof of life" videos to back this up.

Last year Badruddin was added to the list of sanctioned individuals identified as international terrorists. Men on this list find it harder to travel internationally or conduct financial transactions via banks or other financial organizations. Badruddin had taken over day-to-day control of the network, something his 61 year old father was getting too old for. The Haqqanis have run a terrorist group since the 1980s. Four years ago the Taliban patched up differences with Jalaluddin Haqqani. This guy had not been heard from for several years, since his dispute with Taliban leader Mullah Omar first surfaced.

The Haqqani Network is a group of Islamic terrorists operating in the Pushtun tribal areas along the Afghan border. Founder Jalaluddin Haqqani was a major player during the 1980s battle with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. He joined the Taliban in 1995, and became a senior official. But after 2001, he gradually grew apart from Taliban leader Mullah Omar. For a while Haqqani negotiated with the Afghan and Pakistani government, but these efforts at peace deals failed and the Haqqani Network is now once more an ally of the Taliban. But, as the past has shown, the Haqqani will quickly change their allegiance when it suits their needs. In the last four years the Taliban apparently followed the advice of Jalaluddin Haqqani and concentrated more on terror attacks, than in trying to control territory. This was a step back for the Taliban. But after several years of disastrous losses, the Taliban needed to come up with some new tactics, or face even more embarrassing defeats.

Iran pledged to invest another $75 million to extend the Iranian rail network to the city of Herat in western Afghanistan. In centuries past Herat was part of an Iranian empire and many residents still speak a form of Farsi (the Iranian language). At one point Herat was also part of an Indian empire.

August 25, 2012: Pakistan complained to Afghanistan that over a hundred Taliban had crossed over from Afghanistan and attacked soldiers and tribal defense forces over the past two days. Pakistan claimed these attacks left four soldiers, six militiamen, and thirty-eight Taliban dead. The surviving Taliban fled back into Afghanistan.

August 24, 2012: In eastern Afghanistan an American UAV fired missiles at some Taliban in Kunar province and apparently killed Mullah Dadullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban across the border in the Bajur region. Unlike the Haqqani Network, the Pakistani Taliban is at war with Pakistan and under constant attack by the Pakistani Army. While some of these Taliban have taken refuge in South Waziristan (an official terrorist sanctuary in Pakistan) many others find it more convenient to maintain bases in Afghanistan.

August 22, 2012: In the south (Kandahar) a local Taliban leader was arrested.

August 21, 2012: In eastern Afghanistan an American UAV fired two missiles at a house where members of the Haqqani Network were meeting. Some 25 people were believed killed, including several senior Haqqani Network leaders.

August 18, 2012: In eastern Afghanistan an American air strike in Kunar province apparently killed Taliban leader Maulawi Nur Mohammad and over a dozen of his followers.

August 17, 2012: NATO troops have been ordered to carry weapons with them at all times when on bases they share with Afghan soldiers or police. 

 

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