Pakistan has admitted to Afghanistan that the Taliban leadership (which has had sanctuary in Pakistan since 2002) refuses to take part in peace talks. The Taliban leaders still believe they can regain control of the Afghan government. This is more disappointing to the Pakistanis than the Afghans. Both countries are led by people who recognize that the Taliban have no wide support in Afghanistan and are generally regarded as an armed auxiliary of the drug gangs and basically bandits with a religious agenda. The Afghan government is taking advantage of the Taliban unpopularity by negotiating peace deals with pro-Taliban tribal leaders and ruthlessly going after Taliban factions who are regarded as a public menace. Many Taliban units have become professional criminals and don’t bother civilians much unless some try and interfere with the drug production or smuggling operations. But most Taliban still see themselves as Holy Warriors and act accordingly.
Taking down the Taliban nationwide is not an option because the drug gangs employ most Taliban groups at least some of the time and the drug gangs have most of the senior government officials (or members of their families) on the payroll. This does not get the Taliban complete protection from the security forces because in most parts of the country the population is hostile to the drugs and those who deal in them. Ideally the Afghan leaders taking drug gang bribes would prefer that all the drugs produced in Afghanistan (especially the opium and heroin) be exported. Most of it is, but a growing fraction is diverted to the domestic market. For too many drug gangs this local trade is easy money and difficult to give up. But it has created over a million addicts and the many friends and kin of the addicts become very mad at the suppliers of this poison. This is something the drug gangs have to be careful with, because the opium trade has been ejected from other countries (first northern Burma then northwest Pakistan) in the past few decades. Make enough Afghans sufficiently angry and it could happen again in Afghanistan. Production will pop up somewhere else (it is already making a comeback in Burma) but the good times for the Afghan drug lords will be over and the families of the Afghan addicts (especially the ones who died from their addiction) will seek revenge for a long, long time. That’s the Afghan way. That’s why local opposition to the drug trade is more dangerous to the drug gangs than international pressure on the Afghan government.
The Taliban is increasingly dependent on suicide bombers to inflict casualties on the security forces. Foreign troops are much harder to target because the Afghan soldiers and police are taking care of most of the security tasks now and the foreigners stay in the bases most of the time. This bothers some Afghans because the foreign troops are more efficient and despite much improvement over the last decade the Afghan forces will often show up too late to prevent civilian casualties. Afghans are fatalistic about this because the foreign troops will be gone by the end of next year. While the Afghan security forces are an adequate, if not ideal, replacement what will be missed even more is the billions of dollars a year of economic activity the foreign troops produced. The foreign forces hired local civilians and bought local products. That business will all be gone, along with a lot of foreign aid and the post-Taliban good times will be diminished.
American commanders believe the Afghan security forces are winning against the Taliban. While some army and police commanders have been bought off by the drug gangs, this has not been frequent enough to cause major breakdowns in security. Public opinion still matters and bad behavior by the Taliban (as in trying to take control of an area) will still bring in soldiers and police who tend to defeat the Taliban and restore government control. The Afghan forces take more casualties than the foreign troops but still manage to have an edge in combat and the Taliban are still suffering heavy losses. This is causing morale problems because Taliban leaders have long promised that once the foreign troops were gone the Taliban would have no real opposition.
August 28, 2013: In the east (Ghanzi province) about a dozen Taliban attacked a base used by Afghan and Polish troops. The attack began with a truck bomb and car bomb detonated at each of the two entrances to the base. This was followed by a six hour gun battle that left four policemen and three civilians dead. Taliban casualties, aside from the two suicide bombers, was unknown as the attackers withdrew in the darkness taking their casualties with them.
In the west (Farah province) Taliban ambushed a platoon of about 40 policemen. The police vehicles were heavily damaged while 15 policemen were killed and ten wounded. Foreign troops rarely suffer attacks like this because they are more careful in scouting the routes they travel and more attentive to signs of possible ambush. Teaching Afghans to be this thorough is often difficult, despite incidents like this to remind everyone how important attention to detail is.
August 27, 2013: In the east (Laghman province) a Taliban commander and 16 followers surrendered and accepted amnesty. The Islamic radicals turned over their weapons and much valuable information on local Taliban operations. Surrenders like this are increasingly common.
August 26, 2013: In several incidents the Taliban murdered five aid workers and seven other accused of working for the foreign troops. All the dead were Afghans. This sort of thing is supposed to discourage Afghans from working with the foreigners but it just increases public hatred of the Taliban and causes more Afghans to take up arms (joining the security forces or a tribal militia) to fight back. The Taliban doesn’t want this popular opposition but has been forced to use terror to control the population because religion or promises of a better life under Taliban rule has not worked.
August 23, 2013: In the west (Herat province) an anti-Iran demonstration was held in the provincial capital. The Afghans were angry at the Iranian diplomats, operating out of the consulate in Heart, engaging in spying, bribing Afghan officials and carrying on like a criminal gang.
August 19, 2013: President Karzai fired the Attorney General (chief law officer in the country) for holding an unauthorized meeting with Taliban officials in Dubai.
August 18, 2013: In the west (Farah province) Taliban made two attacks on a state owned security company and lost 21 men in doing so while killing 11 security personnel. The government has outlawed most private security companies and replaced them with state owned ones that are generally less likely to turn into criminal organizations.
August 16, 2013: A bomb went off in the capital, causing no casualties and later found to be directed at a local businessman. The Taliban have no monopoly on terror attacks with bombs and murders used by all manner of criminal gangs as well as between business organizations.