Afghanistan: Summer Offensive Sizzles And Stumbles

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July 16, 2013: At the start of the year most Afghan police and soldiers were not looking forward to the departure of all the foreign troops next year. The NATO forces provide a lifesaving edge against the Islamic radicals, warlords, and drug gangs. NATO has a lot of very effective troops, not to mention warplanes, helicopters, and smart bombs. Over the last two years the Americans have been using their missile armed UAVs more in Afghanistan, and that has made the enemy even more reluctant to come out and fight. With the Western troops gone, the Afghan security forces will still have an edge, but it won’t be as much as it is now. That means there will be more casualties for the army and police. For that reason there is growing pressure on the government from security forces commanders to make a deal with the Americans to leave as many troops as possible after 2014. Those negotiations are still under way.

With NATO forces less active, Afghan security forces have been suffering more casualties. Afghan forces are taking over more of the security operations this year (they are now in charge of 77 percent of the districts and 80 percent of the population) and they are uncomfortably (to the Taliban and drug gangs) successful. Moreover, the Afghan police and soldiers play by Afghan rules. That means they also (like the Taliban and drug gangs) use kidnapping, torture, and murder against their enemies. In many cases the Afghan security forces are out for revenge because of past losses from Taliban violence. Revenge is a big deal in the Afghan culture. The idea is that if you kill someone, there will be payback. That often gives people pause when they consider murdering their way to an objective. But the Taliban consider themselves above all this because they are on a Mission From God. The Taliban have responded with a sharp increase in attacks on the police and soldiers, especially assassination attempts against leaders. The Taliban are most definitely concentrating on scaring Afghan soldiers and police into inaction. This is being done using threats against the soldiers and policemen themselves, as well as against their families. Most attention is directed at commanders, at least those who will not take a bribe. It often works, but too often it does not and only creates vengeance seeking police or army commanders.

Last year Afghan soldiers and police suffered nearly 700 dead per 100,000 per year. That’s up this year but the major source of losses is still desertion, which costs the security forces over 30 times more troops than combat deaths. The highest casualty rate for foreign troops in Afghanistan was 474 per 100,000 in 2010, which was lower than losses in Iraq during the peak years. Traditionally, Afghans do not fight to the death. If one group sees itself at a battlefield disadvantage, they will retreat or make a deal with the foe. This is why the Taliban have increasingly avoided confronting NATO troops, preferring to attack Afghan civilians or security forces. Once the foreign troops are gone the Afghan security forces will be bribed or intimidated into inaction in some areas. Or at least that’s the Taliban plan.

The Taliban now have to deal with the fact that their hopes of decisive battle with the Afghan security forces this year was a failure. The Taliban put 10-20 percent more gunmen into action than last year, hoping this would produce many victories over Afghan soldiers and police. Instead the Taliban have suffered even higher casualties and have few victories to show for it. As in the past, the action has been most intense along the Pakistan border in the east and south. The Taliban were particularly angry at their failure to enforce their ban on school for girls. Parents still back this dangerous program and, even in the areas where there are the most Taliban gunmen, girls go to school. Taliban attacks on schools or students is more likely to mobilize armed kin of the girls than terrorize.

In the east (Logar province, south of Kabul) local officials in a remote district complained earlier this month that the Taliban, angry at local villagers for cooperating with the police, had blocked supplies for weeks, especially food, from getting to several thousand of the anti-Taliban villagers. There was growing hunger and a few recent deaths were blamed on the lack of food. The police responded with operations to locate and attack the Taliban group that was making the road too dangerous for truck drivers. The Taliban usually don’t get this nasty, but with so many rural Afghans fighting back, the Taliban are feeling desperate.

Afghan commanders are running into more and more cases of Pakistanis using fake Afghan military ID in an effort to infiltrate Afghan units. At first it was thought this was a Taliban effort, even though the fake IDs were the high quality typical of ISI (the Pakistani CIA). But further investigation revealed that this was all ISI, in an effort to obtain more detailed information about the Afghan security forces. 

July 15, 2013: Several suicide bombers were shot dead as they tried to get close to the Kabul airport in the evening.

July 13, 2013: Outside Kabul a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a police checkpoint and killed a civilian.

July 9, 2013: In the west (Heart province) a Taliban roadside bomb hit a civilian vehicle, killing twelve women, four children, and one man.

July 6, 2013: Afghan officials admitted that efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban have failed, or are at least stalled. This is blamed on Pakistan, whose efforts to stymie the peace talks have at least split the Taliban, and the government is talking with pro-Taliban Afghan tribal leaders and even some mid-level Taliban combat leaders about amnesty and peace. Afghans are not happy about recent Pakistani suggestions that Afghanistan should make a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban, especially one that gives the Taliban veto power over some government decisions (in effect, making Islamic law supreme to a certain degree). This is anathema to most Afghans and is seen as another Pakistani attempt to gain control over Afghanistan.

July 5, 2013: In the south (Kandahar province) two suicide bombings killed 12 policemen and two civilians (plus the bombers).

July 3, 2013: Pakistani leaders and media angrily denounced accusations by the head of the Afghan Army that Pakistan created the Afghan Taliban and still exercises a lot of control over them and is trying to gain control over Afghanistan via the Taliban. Details of how Pakistan created the Afghan Taliban two decades ago are well documented and many Taliban leaders have boasted about it. That Pakistan still exercises a lot of control over the Afghan Taliban is also true, and it is no secret that the Afghan Taliban depend on a sanctuary it has in and around Quetta, the largest city in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan). Quetta is safe because Pakistan will not let American UAVs to operate there. Quetta is where the Afghan Taliban leadership has been sheltered since 2002, and is right across the Afghan border from the Taliban heartland in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Pakistan even assisted the Afghan Taliban in getting permission to open up an official office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar recently. Most Afghans view Pakistan, not their own Taliban, as their main enemy.

July 2, 2013: In Kabul a Taliban suicide truck bomber, accompanied by four gunmen on foot, sought to blast their way into a NATO compound. The truck bomb killed two other truck drivers waiting to clear security and the four Taliban gunmen were killed in the brief firefight. One Afghan and four Nepalese security guards were also killed.

July 1, 2013: In June, 299 Afghan police were killed and 618 wounded. There were 180 civilian deaths along with 753 terrorists killed and over 300 captured. That makes June the bloodiest month so far this year, as losses (of police and soldiers) for the first five months were 807, plus 365 civilians. NATO losses are less than ten percent of what the police are losing (99 dead so far this year). The Afghan Army is suffering fewer losses than the police and inflicting more losses on the Taliban. That’s because the army is the main force for attacks on the Taliban, the police are more often hit while providing security. Last year 3,400 Afghan soldiers and police died, compared to 1,950 in 2011. Losses are expected to be up this year, but the Taliban is suffering even heavier losses and is having more problems recruiting. This brings in more teenagers and inexperienced older men, who get killed more quickly when in action. 

 

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