For the first time the Taliban have apparently launched a cold weather offensive. So far this year there have been about twice as many (from 40 to 80 through mid-November) terror attacks in Kabul compared to previous years. Normally the fighting season encompasses the eight warm months. For thousands of years Afghans retreated to villages (or caves) for the four months of colder weather. But now, using the large amounts of cash from their drug gang allies, the Taliban are able to maintain (with regular pay and other support) hundreds of men in urban areas. This is helped by the growing number of people moving from the countryside to slums in the cities, especially Kabul. Most of the attacks are in Kabul mainly because that’s where most of the foreign journalists are, who can be depended on to publicize the Taliban efforts widely and wildly. The Taliban have also increased their kidnapping and assassination of teachers in non-religious schools all over the country. In the north these attacks are meeting with a lot more popular, and often armed, resistance. The Taliban has a harder time hiring, and retaining, gunmen in the north. Every month dozens of their recruits turn themselves into the government for amnesty and many more simply walk away. The police are more successful against drug operations in the north, although the smuggling is often allowed to continue unmolested if enough bribes are passed out. What the northerners will not tolerate is distribution and sale of opium and heroin in their neighborhoods.
Despite growing competition from Burmese heroin, Afghanistan is producing more and more of it. It is estimated that the drug gangs increased revenue from $2 billion a year in 2012 to $3 billion now. That means lots of bribes and hired guns to help keep the drug lords in business. The new government is going after the drug gangs on several levels, including cleaning out (or trying to) some of the more outrageous bribery found on the borders and air ports. The new government has already revived prosecutions of major figures in past corruption incidents and even arrested some of these people. Many of those wanted have already left the country with their families and much of their stolen cash. These will also be pursued with the aid of the UN and countries that shelter corrupt politicians. In the meantime the government has to deal with a major increase in violence against (and bribery of) the security forces.
The Taliban have told their followers and the public that they believe the departure of most foreign troops means all the Taliban have to do is attack the Afghan security forces heavily. This, according to the Taliban, will soon cause the security forces to collapse and enable the Taliban to take over. In response to the increase in attacks the U.S. has ordered its forces to increase combat support for the Afghan security forces, especially air support. This includes an increase of 2015 American troop strength in Afghanistan from 9,800 to over 10,000. NATO countries will also keep over 3,000 troops in Afghanistan. NATO and the Americans will maintain a force of several thousand special operations troops to go after Islamic terrorists. Most of the foreign troops are intel specialists, aviation personnel plus trainers and advisors for the security forces.
The Taliban offensive is financed by the drug gangs who do not want a government in power that tries to interrupt their heroin production and export sales. Most Afghans want the heroin and opium gone because of the growing number of Afghan addicts. Meanwhile over ten percent of the attacks are carried out by the Haqqani Network, which is financed by the Pakistani ISI (military intelligence) and criminal activities. The bribes and threats actually do the most damage. The best example of that is the way years of bribes and threats got some serious limitations placed on anti-Taliban operations.
This began in 2010 when the drug gangs increased pressure on the politicians they owned, and soon president Karzai was calling for fewer night raids (which were capturing a lot of Taliban leaders and terrorism specialists) and combat in general. The U.S. told Karzai to shape up. Karzai was getting the same message from the non-Pushtun majority in the north, who were increasingly threatening civil war if the national government did not get with the program of crushing the drug gangs, and their Taliban allies. Karzai was seen as a puppet of the Pushtun tribes and the powerful (and very rich) drug gangs. Members of Karzai's family and tribe openly consorted with drug lords, and had grown quite rich without any visible effort. Only a minority of the Pushtuns in the south have profited from the drug business, while most suffer from addiction, violence and corruption. No one speaks for them, and the only ones who seem to help are the foreign troops.
In 2011 NATO announced that it would continue night raids, despite growing demands from the Karzai government that such operations cease. The drug gangs continued to pressure the politicians they owned to stop these raids. Periodically resident Karzai made a public call for fewer night raids and less combat against the drug gangs and Taliban. NATO then says it will consider the request and, after a few days, comes back and makes a public announcement that the night raids will continue.
In 2012 The U.S. and the Afghan government reached a new agreement over night raids. The new arrangement established a panel of Afghan officials who must approve each raid. In addition, the Afghan troops, who normally accompany these raids, now took the lead. As a practical matter, American commanders saw this as a PR stunt, and NATO commanders would still have control over the raids. This was seen as essential to limiting casualties among foreign troops. Moreover, many of the Afghan army and police commanders agreed that the raids were a crucial weapon for fighting the Taliban and the drug gangs (who would kill many current Afghan army and police commanders if they took over). Afghanistan is a place where self-preservation is a full time occupation. The Taliban and drug gangs send death squads after Afghan leaders who refuse to cooperate, making the war their very personal for Afghan decision makers and opinion leaders.
By 2013 Karzai was seen as becoming bolder in his support of the Taliban and drug gangs by increasingly calling for an end to bombing and night raids. Most Afghan leaders were opposed to this and in 2013 many more went public with their protests. But the bribes won and the U.S. agreed to limit the night raids to such an extent they almost entirely ceased. Some Afghan tribal leaders accused Karzai of being a tool of the Taliban by always publicly criticizing the Americans when Afghan civilians are killed accidentally while playing down deliberate Taliban attacks on civilians. Everyone knows that most civilian deaths are at the hands of the Taliban and most of these are deliberate, not accidental. The post Karzai government has now ordered that night raids be resumed in January 2015. These will be carried out by Afghan forces, with foreign troops sometimes along in advisory (or intelligence collecting) roles.
Fewer than ten percent of Afghans benefits from the drug production, so most Afghans appreciate the efforts of the foreign troops and the government to take down the drug gangs and Islamic radical groups (especially the Taliban). Over 80 percent of the civilians killed in this battle are victims of Taliban or drug gang violence, usually deliberate attacks intended to intimidate civilians to do whatever the Taliban and drug gangs want. The war in Afghanistan, at least in terms of who is getting killed, is largely a battle between the drug gang-Taliban alliance against the Afghan population. The drug gangs and the Taliban want to control the government, to return things to the way they were in the late 1990s (until 2001), when the Taliban ran most of the country and the drug gangs did whatever they wanted by simply paying the Taliban taxes. Most Afghans suffered during this period and don't want to go back.
Pakistanis, but not Afghans, are upset at recent American accusations of Pakistani support for Islamic terrorists. This has never been a secret and has been going on since the 1970s. The Americans stand by their recent pronouncements on the subject. Indian officials go further and accuse the Pakistani military of creating Islamic terrorist groups to attack India and create tension between the two countries in order to maintain the disproportionate amount of the national wealth the Pakistani military receives. Many Pakistanis are beginning to believe this and that has the Pakistani generals more worried than terrorist violence. Despite the criticism, American military leaders have thanked the Pakistanis for their attacks on the Haqqani network in the six month offensive in North Waziristan. The Americans note that this had led to a very obvious decline in Haqqani supported terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.
November 29, 2014: In Kabul three Taliban armed with assault rifles and grenades and one with an explosive vest, attacked a compound for foreign workers. Initially two foreigners were killed and seven taken prisoner. An Afghan compound worker was later killed when police showed up and killed the attackers and freed the hostages.
November 28, 2014: In the south (Helmand) Taliban gunmen attacked an army outpost and after several hours of fighting (and no army reinforcements) destroyed the outpost and killed 14 soldiers.
November 27, 2014: In Kabul a suicide car bomb ran into a British embassy vehicle, killing five people including one British citizen. Another 33 people in the vicinity were wounded. Most of the victims were civilians, including four children. Elsewhere in the city the Taliban attacked a heavily guarded neighborhood where foreigners, senior government officials and the wealthy live. Several of the attackers were killed but there were no injuries to the security forces or residents.
In the south (Helmand) the Taliban attacked a major base (Shorabak, formerly Camp Bastion) and after three days were still attacking. The base was formerly the largest British one in Afghanistan but was handed over to the Afghans a month ago. In several attacks, including a car bomb at the main gate, the attackers have lost over twenty men and killed six soldiers.
November 25, 2014: Outside Kabul a roadside bomb wounded seven soldiers in a bus.
November 24, 2014: In Kabul two American soldiers were killed by a bomb hitting their vehicle.
November 23, 2014: In the east (Paktia province) a suicide bomber walked into a large crowd watching a volleyball game and detonated. This left 57 dead and nearly a hundred wounded. Most of the victims were children and young men. The Taliban and other Islamic terrorists do not approve of organized sports. Volleyball has been popular in Afghanistan for a long time.
November 21, 2014: In the south (Kandahar) police discovered and disabled nearly 30 mines and roadside bombs recently planted by the Taliban. In the north (Balkh province) police arrested five Taliban suicide bombers who were going to attack the vice president (Abdul Rasheed Dostum) in the north and in Kabul.
November 19, 2014: In Kabul the Taliban used a suicide car bomb to try and get into a compound housing foreign workers. The effort failed and only the suicide bomber died.
November 16, 2014: The government revealed that it has detected (killed, arrested or tracked) hundreds of foreign (other than Pakistani) Islamic terrorists fleeing Pakistan in the last six months to escape a Pakistani offensive against dozens of terrorist bases in North Waziristan. Many of the Pakistani terrorists fled to other parts of Pakistan (in and outside the tribal territories) but the foreigners (mostly from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Chechnya) fled to Afghanistan or left the region entirely and went off to places like Syria to join ISIL. Afghanistan and Pakistan (along with India and Iran) have become increasingly hostile to and dangerous for Islamic terrorists. Even some of the Pakistani terrorists are showing up in Syria and a few other distant places. Meanwhile the six months of fighting in North Waziristan had led to a lot more violence on the border and Pakistani and Afghan border forces both try to stop Islamic terrorists from crossing.
November 15, 2014: In Kabul a suicide car bomber rammed the armored vehicle carrying a female MP (member of parliament) and detonated. The female MP was slightly injured but the bomber and three bystanders were killed and over twenty were wounded.
November 14, 2014: Italy has sent one of the new models (A129D) of their A129 helicopter gunship to Afghanistan for testing and, if that is successful, A129Ds will replace the three older A129s that were already there to support a bomb removal team and some special operations troops still operating in the north.
November 10, 2014: Two Taliban bombs, one in the east and the other south of Kabul, left ten policemen dead.
November 9, 2014:
In Kabul a suicide bomber got into police headquarters, apparently in an attempt to kill the chief of police. The attack failed, killing another senior officer and wounding seven people. The chief of police has lots of enemies and it is not clear who made this attempt. More disturbing is the fact that the attacker made it into the most heavily guarded building in Kabul. An investigation will try to determine who was behind this and what methods they used to penetrate so much security.