Fighting has been heavy, mainly in Kunar, Nangarhar, Ghazni, Helmand, Uruzgan, Balkh and Herat provinces during the last three days. The army reports they have killed nearly 200 Taliban while losing less than twenty soldiers. The lose losses are largely due to the troops having and using skills enabling them to spot, and then destroy or disable nearly 200 mines and roadside bombs. The Taliban do poorly in gun battles against the better armed and trained troops. The fighting was heaviest in the east (Kunar) and the south (Helmland). In Kunar Pakistani Taliban and other terrorists are trying to keep transit routes to Pakistan open and also seeking to intimidate local tribes into tolerating the presence of these foreigners. The Afghan troops were able to find and attack the enemy because several villages have been under siege by the foreign terrorists and there was some urgency about breaking those sieges so the villages could get fuel and food. This is all part of some fundamental changes in this area. Over a week ago several thousand armed tribesmen in Kunar rebelled against the Islamic terrorists and the army has come to the aid of the tribesmen. The Afghan Taliban in the area, although not on good terms with the Pakistani Taliban, have joined in fighting the soldiers, who threaten to interfere with the lucrative Taliban drug smuggling operations here.
In Kabul police ordered a two month ban on unauthorized boat use on the Kabul River. This river is merely a stream most of the year but after the Spring thaw and after the Fall harvest (when irrigation upstream is much reduced) it fills up. While blocked by three dams along its 700 kilometers length it is usable this time of year by flat bottom boats near (south of) Kabul and the police believe Islamic terrorists have been using the river to move men and bombs.
The major problem in Afghanistan continues to be (as it has for centuries) a culture of corruption that has resisted numerous attempts to reduce it. When this corruption problem is actually measured Afghanistan finds that it is one of the most corrupt nations in the world. However, Afghanistan has made some progress in the last year. In 2013 Afghanistan was in a three way tie with North Korea and Somalia at the bottom of the list of 175 nations surveyed. This year North Korea and Somalia are still at the bottom together but Afghanistan has moved up to 172. Corruption in this Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The two most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 and the least corrupt (Denmark) is 92. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. In East Asia North Korea sets the standard for sleazy behavior while Afghanistan part of an arc of ancient corruption stretching from Central Asia through Pakistan to India and thence of Burma and Southeast Asia. In Afghanistan the most lethal aspect of the corruption is how it makes it easier for terrorists to operate in a major city, like Kabul. In a crowded place like that well-funded terrorists can pay off enough people to stay hidden. Thus the police know of over a hundred Islamic terrorist cells in the metropolitan Kabul area but is unable to shut down all of them because of the silence (and security) terrorist cash (and threats) can buy. Metro Kabul contains about 88 percent of the four million people in Kabul Province. The police have also found that many of the young men who join the Taliban do so because that organization is officially fighting to end corruption. Young Afghans quickly figure out that the corruption is the main cause of the poverty and backwardness in Afghanistan. Many of these recruits eventually leave the Taliban when they discover that the anti-corruption angle is more rhetoric than reality. Very real is the Taliban support of the drug gangs and the use of violence against uncooperative civilians. Most of the young idealistic recruits have a hard time accepting those two items that the Taliban does not publicize.
Somalia also excels at terrorist violence. A recent terrorism survey (Global Terrorism Index) found that five nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, in that order) accounted for 80 percent of all terrorism related deaths in 2013 and even more in 2014. Four Islamic terrorist organizations (ISIL, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and all flavors of the Taliban) account for nearly 70 percent of all terrorist deaths. Many of the lesser terror groups are also Islamic. In fact, of the top ten nations by terrorist activity (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, India, Somalia, Yemen, Philippines and Thailand) only India and the Philippines had a significant minority of terrorist deaths that were not carried out by Moslem organizations. In those two countries the minority terrorists were leftist rebels who had not noticed the collapse of radical socialism in 1989. Meanwhile the rapid growth in Islamic terrorism violence caused the total number of terrorist acts to increase 44 percent in 2013 over 2012.
Many Islamic terrorists, including leaders, have fled the six months Pakistani Army offensive in North Waziristan for neighboring Afghanistan. These terrorists believed they would be safer in Afghanistan but the Americans, despite having withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan, still have special operations and intelligence forces as well as dozens of missile-armed UAVs available in Afghanistan. Thus in the last month there have been several UAV attacks against Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in remote parts of eastern Afghanistan. This has caused over a dozen deaths, and some of the victims were senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. Another problem these displaced Pakistani Islamic terrorists have had is growing armed resistance by local Afghan tribesmen. The Pakistani Taliban have always tried to get along with their fellow Pushtun tribesmen just across the border but over the years the constant violence (including the American bomb and missile attacks and thousands of rockets and mortar shells fired from Pakistan by the army and police into these border areas) has turned the tribes against the Pakistani Islamic terrorists and that is reflected in increased sniping, ambushes and armed confrontations on roads. The tribes are also supplying the Americans and Afghan security forces with more information, which often leads to precise UAV missile attacks or helicopter raids by commandos on Pakistani Taliban hideouts. This is causing heavy losses among key people in the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamic terrorists in the area. This has led to discussions about moving to a safer area. The options are not good. Going back to Pakistan is dangerous and given the feuding between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, moving to other parts of Afghanistan is not a good idea. Meanwhile the Islamic terrorists in eastern Afghanistan are getting hammered.
Civilian deaths are up a bit, to nearly 3,200, in 2014. Since late 2001 nearly 20,000 civilians have been killed. Most of these civilian losses were the result of Taliban terror, which was limited by the fact that there were many civilians the Taliban could not attack because the potential victims were well armed or well connected (belonged to a tribe that was capable of hitting back vigorously). Since 2009 civilian deaths have been up because angry tribes increasingly interfered with Taliban operations or simply refused to aid the Taliban in any way. The Taliban struck back. While the Russians killed over 100,000 civilians a year during the 1980s the Western forces have been much less lethal during the last 13 years because most civilians sided with the foreigners and the widespread use of precision weapons. That has not helped the Taliban who have lost at least five as many men as Afghan and foreign forces have lost. In other words over 80,000 Islamic terrorists have died in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. This is not particularly high by Afghan standards but Afghanistan has been mired in civil war for 35 years now and a growing number of Afghans just want peace and many of them have guns and will kill for peace. That’s the Afghan way.
Afghans are very concerned about what happens when all, or nearly all, of the foreign troops are gone at the end of the year. By early 2015 there will only be about 14,000 foreign troops left in Afghanistan and they will provide essential (air support, logistics, intelligence and training) support for the security forces. About a thousand of the foreign troops will fight, largely in counter-terror operations. The foreign troops also reassure many of the foreign aid workers in Afghanistan. If the violence increases after 2014 the foreign aid workers, and most of the money they bring in, will leave. Thus the war in Afghanistan is a struggle between the savage past and a more promising future. The old ways have always had a lot more support in Afghanistan than in other parts of the world and that means the bloody minded conservatives are still contenders.
In its continuing effort to gain more influence in Afghanistan Iran agreed to extend (for six months) the visas of 450,000 Afghan refugees in Iran. There are over two million of these refugees in Iran, some of them from the 1980s war with the Russians. Most Iranians want the refugees gone as the refugee camps are a base (and source) for Afghan drug smugglers and other criminals. Much of the drug problem in Iran is because of Afghan drug smugglers and dealers. Iran has over two million drug addicts as a result. The Afghan refugees complain of persecution and discrimination, but still find it preferable to live in Iran rather than in Afghanistan. Iran takes advantage of this by offering free education in Iran and there are currently over 300,000 Afghans attending Iranian schools. All of the subjects are taught with a very pro-Iran vibe.
December 17, 2014: Pakistani officials arrived in Kabul to ask for Afghan help in destroying the Pakistani Taliban. Afghans sympathized with the Pakistanis for their loss of so many children from a recent Taliban attack but once the negotiations began the Afghans were blunt in expressing anger with Pakistan because of how some of the Pakistani media reacted to the December 16th attack on an army-run school across the border in Peshawar that left over 140 dead, most of them young children. A few Pakistani officials joined the media in putting some of the blame on Afghanistan for tolerating anti-Pakistan Islamic terrorists hiding out in places like Kunar province. Afghanistan has been feuding with Pakistan about this for years because of the Islamic terrorists in Kunar (like the Haqqani Network) still have sanctuaries in Pakistan, are still supported by the Pakistani military and have this immunity because they exist only to carry out terror attacks in Afghanistan and run numerous criminal enterprises there as well. Afghanistan and the United States both accuse Pakistan of being selective in its condemnation of Islamic terrorism. Groups that keep their violence confined to India or Afghanistan are still free to operate in Pakistan, but groups like the Pakistani Taliban who attack in Pakistan, especially major massacres like the December 16th one, are being attacked more vigorously. Despite what the Pakistanis say now, the Afghans do not believe there will be a crackdown on the “good” Islamic terrorists supported by Pakistan. Some Afghans are optimistic that most Pakistanis will realize that the current surge of Islamic terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and the massacre at the Peshawar are all part of the same problem that both countries have to go after without exception.
Pakistani officials also pointed out that there was an attack by the Afghan Taliban against a school in Kabul on the 11th. The teenage suicide bomber attacked a musical performance at the cultural center that shares the compound with a French run school for foreigners and children of well-off Afghans. The explosion killed two adults (a German and an Afghan) and wounded twenty other people (some of them children). This attack was not in the same league with the Peshawar massacre. The Taliban on both sides of border oppose secular education and have longed attacked secular schools, especially foreign run ones. Cultural Centers run by foreigners from non-Moslem nations are also on the hit list. But mass killings of children is generally opposed. In Pakistan senior clerics who usually tolerate or even praise Islamic terrorists openly condemned the Pakistani Taliban for this atrocity. So did the Afghan Taliban and several other Islamic terrorist groups.
December 8, 2014: NATO, including the United States, officially ended its combat operations in Afghanistan. The U.S. has also closed American run prisons in Afghanistan and turned all the inmates over to the Afghans.
December 6, 2014: The U.S. agreed, at the request of Afghanistan, to keep a thousand more troops in Afghanistan after the end of the year. This means 10,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for 2015. Afghanistan wants more U.S. troops, and more may be added. This is also reassuring for the foreigners working for aid organizations in Afghanistan. A recent survey found that sixty percent of them felt threatened. Most of this is not because of the Taliban but is a side effect of the corruption. Aid workers are constantly under pressure by Afghan officials or gangsters to make payments to assure security. Those who refuse get death threats, and sometimes get attacked.
December 4, 2014: The U.S. Army released the results of its investigation of an incident last August when, at a base outside Kabul an Afghan soldier inside a building fired as some NATO officers outside killing an American general and wounding fourteen other officers and soldiers. The killer was shot dead by return fire. The investigation concluded that the killer did not belong to the Taliban and the shooting was another case of personal problems resulting in an armed Afghan shooting someone. This is rather common in Afghanistan and has been for a long time. The shooter had been in the army for three years and the investigation was necessary to determine if this was a Taliban sponsored killing. In any event attacks like this on foreign troops are way down over the last few years. In part this is because of improved security, but the Afghans have also improved their screening of new recruits. Most significantly there are simply fewer foreign troops to shoot at. There were about 50 of these killing in 2012 but only 15 in 2013. There have been only three of these killings so far in 2014. The Taliban blamed the soldier who did the shooting but did not try to take credit for the incident. These attacks stem from several sources, one of the more common being anger management issues so common among Afghan men. This is more of a problem as NATO troops shift more of their efforts towards training Afghan soldiers and police. This often means criticizing and trying to correct poor performance. This is often taken as a personal insult, which can have ugly consequences when the subject in question is carrying a loaded weapon. Then there is the corruption and ruthlessness. It remains easy to bribe or coerce a real soldier or policeman to try and kill NATO troops, or to get real or counterfeit uniforms and train some Taliban to look like troops long enough to get close and open fire.
December 1, 2014: Afghanistan ratified and made binding the Status of Forces agreement that allows nearly 15,000 NATO and American troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and support the Afghan security forces.
November 30, 2014: The police chief of Kabul resigned because of his inability to deal with the recent increase in terror attacks in the city. The police chief was also shaken up by a recent Taliban assassination attempt that nearly succeeded. The government refused to accept the resignation and the police chief agreed to stay on duty until, after two days a replacement was found to be the new police chief.