Afghanistan: Taliban Seeks Adversity For All

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January 11, 2015:   Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States have agreed to cooperate on finding and killing Mullah Fazlullah, the head of the Pakistan Taliban, who is believed to operate from a hideout in Kunar province (eastern Afghanistan on the Pakistan border). All three countries will pool their intel on Fazlullah while the Americans will seek to kill Fazlullah as soon as he is found (before he can find another hiding place) using missile armed UAVs. This sudden cooperation over Fazlullah is the result of Pakistanis capturing radio messages in which Fazlullah can be heard directing the December Taliban attack on a Pakistani school that left 132 children dead.  

Afghanistan is facing a lot of problems with the departure of most Western troops by the end of 2014. This is becoming more obvious now because over the last few months most of the foreign troops and contractors that helped keep complex equipment going for the Afghan military have left and the Afghan troops are on their own. Things are breaking down and there is no one available to fix them. This is often minor stuff, at least by Western standards, but insurmountable in Afghanistan. Thus the Afghan police and army are not missing the Western combat troops as much as they are the Western tech support. Right now all combat operations against the Taliban are being handled by Afghan police and soldiers. But most of the support functions long handled by the Western forces are not being taken care because nearly all those foreign logistical, medical, communications and intelligence troops and civilian contractors have gone. This hurts the Afghans particularly hard because they have not got enough Afghans with technical skills to replace all those techs. Medical support is particularly missed, as is the once abundant and timely air support (using smart bombs). This loss is already hurting the morale of Afghan security forces, many of them veterans who have gotten used to the availability of Western levels of medical care for those wounded in combat and smart bombs to get them out of hopeless situations. The missing Western air support will result in more Afghan casualties. One or two smart bombs is often decisive when fighting the Taliban, warlords or bandits. The air surveillance capabilities of the Westerners was also a great help in defeating the enemy and limiting friendly casualties. All the other Western support services had a similar impact and nearly of it is now gone. There is still some air and medical support but much less than before and used mainly to support the 14,000 foreign troops and contractors who remain as military advisors and trainers. The foreigners are aware of this shortage and are advising their bosses to see about keeping some more of those services in Afghanistan or helping the Afghans to replace them using Afghan or foreign contractors.  Afghan leaders are also asking for this, as they get reports of the growing problems created by the withdrawal of all those foreign technicians. Afghanistan has not got enough qualified people to provide a lot of those services and that is despite the fact that Afghanistan gone through a lot of changes since 2001. For example, life-expectancy had increased from 45 years in 2001 to 63 years now. This, plus the rapid economic growth since 2001 means Afghanistan is no longer the poorest country in Eurasia. The increased life expectancy is largely the result to improved sanitation and medical care, especially for newborns and children under five. One reason for the growing hostility towards the Taliban is the continuing efforts of these Islamic radicals to limit the spread of better health care and economic improvements in general. The most obvious example of this is the continuing Taliban opposition to vaccination programs, which the Taliban consider a Western effort to poison Moslem children. Then there is education, which has rapidly increased, despite constant, and often fatal, Taliban resistance.  Better educated children are healthier because they learn about how to keep healthy in addition of how to read and count. Taliban insist that education concentrate mainly on religious matters and that girls be excluded. Islamic educators stress the importance of living like the original 7th century Moslems and avoiding modern technology. This is not popular with most Afghans. The problem with all this progress is that it encourages people to seek better paying and safer jobs in the civilian economy or overseas. Few talented people want to work for the government, which is seen as corrupt and dangerous. Worse yet, too many Afghans who do get some education and technical skills are willing to spend what money they have made to get out of Afghanistan, a place few educated people want to be. The Taliban, who worship ignorance and abhor progress, want to keep the country in a shabby and violent state and rule over the smoldering, but historically accurate, ruins.

By the end of 2014 Afghan police and soldiers had assumed responsibility for security all over the country and as a result took a lot more casualties getting that done. At least 5,000 soldiers and police died in 2014. That produced a loss rate of about 2,400 dead per 100,000 troops per year. In 2013 it was about 1,890 which was a big increase from 2007, when the Afghan rate was about 700 dead per 100,000. The increase is due to the foreign troops having withdrawn. Foreign troops had much lower losses. That loss rate peaked at about 400 per 100,000 in 2012. At the peak of the fighting (2005-7) in Iraq, the losses were nearly 600 per 100,000. The rate for U.S. troops in Vietnam and World War II was about 1,500 per 100,000 troops. It was higher for German and Russian troops. As high as this is, it’s higher for the Taliban and such loss rates were always common in Afghanistan. When the tribal irregulars fought Russian troops in the 1980s they suffered even higher losses. During that period the invading Russians never suffered more than 1,000 per 100,000 dead per year and eventually left because they could not afford the financial cost of fighting in Afghanistan. Thus victory in Afghanistan is an endurance contest. Afghans will endure high loss rates if they have good leadership. Today this means the government forces have to get the troops paid on time and use tactics that keep the Taliban casualty rate higher than what the soldiers suffer. The Taliban are backed by the drug gangs who have more money to operate with than the government and can survive a Taliban defeat. The drug gangs will deal with anyone who will take a bribe to allow the drug production and smuggling to go on.

The Afghan security forces, despite corruption and occasional poor leadership, have outfought the Taliban since they took control of security in 2012. Taliban attacks actually decreased for a while because of the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces. The fighting is concentrated in the east, near the Waziristan region of the Pakistani tribal territories and in the south in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where nearly all the heroin comes from. Across the border in Pakistani (Quetta) the Taliban have the most secure sanctuary in Pakistan, because the Pakistanis will not allow American UAVs to operate there. There is more fighting in the north, where the drug gangs seek to secure their smuggling routes through Central Asia and get opium cultivation going. The latter effort is meeting a lot of local opposition.

Taliban attacks were more numerous in 2014 because the Taliban leaders were trying to get most Afghans to agree with the Taliban claim that the departure of the foreign troops meant that the Taliban “won” and it was only a matter of time before the Taliban are running the country again. That will never happen. For one thing the Taliban represent a small fraction of the Pushtun tribes, who comprise about 40 percent of all Afghans. So most Pushtuns and nearly all non-Pushtuns will fight hard to prevent a Taliban victory. This will happen because this majority (over 80 percent of the population) remember how miserable the country was in the 1990s. Back then the Taliban claimed to be running Afghanistan but they weren’t. When September 11, 2001 happened the Taliban were still fighting rebellious tribes (the “Northern Alliance”) and when the Americans intervened there was no shortage of Afghans willing to join the battle against the Taliban. Afghans have long memories and what they remember about Taliban is something worth drying for to make sure it does not happen again.

The Taliban is not the only problem Afghanistan has. The low educational levels in Afghanistan are a symptom of what is really wrong with Afghanistan and that is the culture of corruption. This is a problem throughout the region but it is worst in Afghanistan, where everything is for sale and nothing is certain. This makes it very difficult to do business and more foreign companies will not come here to invest and build. It is simply too risky. Since 2002 the U.S. has spent over $100 billion in Afghanistan on reconstruction but much, if not most, of it was wasted because of the endemic corruption.

There are lesser problems as well. Despite a tremendous mine clearing effort in Afghanistan, the country still suffers over 900 landmine casualties a year, nearly half of them children (those under age 18). The mine clearing effort greatly increased after the Taliban were driven from power in 2001. But in the last six years the Taliban have been increasingly planting more mines themselves and attacking or scaring away mine clearing teams. Yet another reason why the Taliban are hated, something that shows up every time nationwide opinion polls are done in Afghanistan (which is fairly regularly).

Meanwhile Afghanistan isn’t really the worst conflict on the planet. While causalities from international terrorism are relatively few, the dead and wounded from all the other wars actually comprise over 90 percent of all the casualties. The Islamic terrorism looms larger because the terrorists threaten attacks everywhere and at any time, putting a much larger population potentially in harm's way, and the more numerous potential victims are unhappy with that prospect. In the West, and most Moslem nations, Islamic terrorism remains more of a threat than reality. In fact, casualties from terrorist attacks were declining before ISIL gave them a momentary boost in 2014.  Most of the Islamic terrorism victims are in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, where Islamic terrorists have been operating for decades. Before 2003, many of the current Iraqi Sunni terrorists were on Saddam’s payroll, carrying out “legal” terrorism. Many of these professional terrorists are now trying to regain control of Iraq by any means necessary, including rebranding themselves as ISIL and taking the cruelty to levels that Saddam would be jealous of. The reality is that the under reported (or unreported) conflicts in Africa have caused far more violent deaths since the 1990s than Islamic terrorism. But the African mass murderers are not interested in going international nor do they seek lots of publicity. For most people the Taliban are more about perception than reality.

January 2, 2015: In the east (Paktika province) American smart bombs hit a Taliban convoy destroying three pickup trucks and killing at least 18 Islamic terrorists.

December 31, 2014: In the south (Helmand province) soldiers at a checkpoint fired on a nearby house where they had previously seen Taliban shooting at them. The Taliban were gone and a wedding celebration was under way. The soldiers ended up killing 28 civilians, most of them women and children. Three days later two of the soldiers were arrested and eight more are under investigation. Unlike wealthy drug gang and Taliban leaders, the soldiers will probably be punished. Nearly all those with money can bribe their way out of jail and any prosecution. Those without a lot of cash go to prison to prove the justice system works.

December 29, 2014: In the east (Nuristan province) a Taliban commander and three of his followers were killed by a missile fired from an American UAV.

December 28, 2014: The U.S. and NATO officially ended the 13 year old Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and began a new effort (Resolute Support) that will use far fewer troops to train and advise Afghan security forces while continuing to use Special Forces and commandos to hunt Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan. During OEF 3,485 foreign troops died (65 percent of them American). NATO is declaring victory and leaving having received assurances from the elected Afghan government that Islamic terrorists will not be allowed to use Afghanistan as a base for international attacks. That remains to be seen, because in Afghanistan everything is for sale and the Islamic terrorists have cash.

December 27, 2014: In the east (Nangarhar province) a Taliban commander and five of his followers were killed by a missile fired from an American UAV.

December 23, 2014: American, Afghan and Pakistani military leaders met in Pakistan and agreed to coordinate operations against Taliban operating on both sides of the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan. Afghanistan reported that in the last twelve days their forces in Kunar province (which borders North Waziristan) had killed at least 150 Islamic terrorists and captured over a hundred. Many Islamic terrorists, including leaders have fled the Pakistani Army offensive in North Waziristan and headed for neighboring Afghanistan. These terrorists believed they would be safer but that proved to be untrue. 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 there 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.

 

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