Afghanistan: Blame Pakistan

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May 21, 2016: Afghanistan is holding the Pakistani military responsible for the continued Taliban violence in Afghanistan. Pakistan refuses to shut down the Afghan Taliban in southwest Pakistan and says it will not pressure the Afghan Taliban to negotiate a peace deal unless Afghanistan shows it is decisively defeating the Taliban militarily. The Pakistani attitude has not just made the Afghans angry, but the United States and India as well. In response the Americans have cut their military aid to Pakistan, which includes halting sales of F-16s. This tension has been getting worse for over a decade, Afghanistan is becoming increasingly aggressive in demanding that Pakistan end the sanctuary it has provided the Afghan Taliban since 2002. Afghanistan points out that recent security agreements between the two countries obliges Pakistan to shut down all Islamic terrorist sanctuaries and Pakistan says it has done so even while the Afghan Taliban continue of operate openly in southwest Pakistan and in northwest Pakistan Islamic terrorist camps continue to train Pakistanis (and a few Indians) to become effective terrorists and cross the border into India to kill and terrorize. The Pakistanis lie just as unconvincingly to India about this.

Afghan officials also accuse Pakistan of controlling much of what the Afghan Taliban does, including ordering terror attacks inside Afghanistan. If Pakistan continues to deny any involvement with all this Afghanistan is threatening to take the matter to the UN and other international tribunals. Meanwhile the main Afghan Taliban sanctuary remains in Quetta. This is the capital of Baluchistan and just south of the Taliban homeland in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Quetta was always off limits to the American UAVs and remains a sanctuary despite constant and increasingly angry calls from the United States and Afghanistan to shut down the sanctuaries. Pakistan has long been dismissive of Afghan protests and either ignores them or dismisses them with curt denials. The reality is that Pakistan considers Afghanistan a client state. The Afghans are considered a collection of fractious tribes pretending to be a nation. Many Pakistanis believe Afghanistan must be controlled by Pakistan, as much as possible. This is why Pakistan created the Taliban in the mid-1990s. Then there is the economic dependence. With no access to the sea, most Afghan road connections to ports are via Pakistan. The Afghans have long resented this and are supporting a Chinese financed (and Indian backed) effort to upgrade a port in neighboring Iran and extend highways and railroads to the Afghan border. This will replace the dependence on Pakistani roads.

The government also believes that the Afghan Taliban, weakened by internal divisions and the hatred of most Afghans, is increasingly turning to the Haqqani Network for help in planning and carrying out attacks. The government believes that the current head of the Haqqani Network has been made the number two leader of the Afghan Taliban and put in charge of all military operations. The Haqqani Network has survived since the 1980s by being very much an ally of Pakistan. That meant no terror attacks in Pakistan and, when called on, carrying out specific attacks that Pakistani intelligence (ISI) wants (usually in Afghanistan). Unlike the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani keeps most of its operations in Pakistan and operates in Afghanistan (mainly between the border and Kabul) to carry out attacks and run their various criminal activities (for raising cash). Jalaluddin Haqqani died in 2o14 and his successor (Siraj Haqqani) continued to cooperate with the Taliban and maintain subservience to ISI. Because Jalaluddin Haqqani helped Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders escape Afghanistan in 2001 there has always been a sense of mutual dependence. For that reason Haqqani leaders were able to help fix the current power struggle within the Taliban and thwart the recruiting efforts of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Given that Haqqani works for ISI, Pakistan is believed to have played a role in this peace making effort. The Afghan government protested to Pakistan about this but, as usual, Pakistan insisted it had nothing to do with Haqqani, the Taliban or supporting Islamic terrorism of any kind. The Taliban reconciliation deal appears to have involved appointing a brother and son of Mullah Omar to senior positions in the Taliban and accepting back six Taliban leaders (and many of their followers) who had gone over to ISIL but now regretted it (because of extreme violence and most Afghans hating ISIL) and wished to return without any penalty. Deals like this are common in Afghanistan and have been for centuries. All you need is the right people to handle the negotiations.

The War Of Attrition

Losses on both sides have been heavier since the foreign troops left. 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 rate for 2015 was over 3,000 dead per 100,000. The increase is due to most foreign troops having withdrawn by the end of 2014 and the Taliban and drug gangs seeing this as an opportunity.

Currently the 12,000 or so foreign troops are suffering losses of about 100 per 100,000. The better equipped, trained and led foreign troops always had 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, more like what Afghan security forces have suffered since 2014. As high as this is, it’s higher (twice what the army and police lose) 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 seemingly endless 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 Taliban continue to target judges, senior politicians and army and police commanders. This is pure intimidation against prominent people who will not cooperate with, or at least stop opposing, the Taliban and the drug gangs. The Taliban also attempt to kill clerics who openly denounce the Taliban as un-Islamic, blasphemers, criminals and so on. Clergy are particularly angry with the Taliban because of the million or so Afghans (mostly young men) hopelessly addicted to heroin and opium. These addicts are a huge burden, and embarrassment, to their families. Since the Taliban protect the drug gangs, most people hold the Taliban responsible. When the Taliban ran most of the country in the 1990s they taxed the drug gangs and outlawed the sale of heroin or drugs within Afghanistan. That kept the number of addicts way down. But now the Taliban even tolerate some of their own members getting high from time to time. Islamic clerics see this as an abomination and call out the Taliban on this point. Most Afghans agree with these clerics. While the Taliban is still popular among some Islamic conservatives, that popularity is not widespread.

The government and the United States take advantage of this widespread hatred of the Taliban to increase their efforts to track down and kill Taliban and other Islamic terrorist leaders. In addition to the general unpopularity of Islamic terrorists, rewards for information are offered and cell phone use has spread to most of the country. The result is Islamic terrorist leaders are suffering heavier losses. This increased loss of leaders and technical experts (especially bomb builders) has caused the Taliban problems, especially with heavier losses because of poorly conducted operations. A very common problem is accidental detonation of bombs as they are assembled or emplaced. Often Taliban leaders are the ones with the most skill and experience in handling bombs and are being killed because they are either trying to teach others or make mistakes themselves while assembling or planting a roadside bomb.

Rise Of The Droids

In 2015 the American military, for the first time, used more UAVs to deliver air strikes than manned aircraft in a combat zone. In this case it was Afghanistan, where 56 percent of the air-to-ground weapons used were delivered by UAVs. This is a dramatic shift in Afghanistan because UAVs delivered only five percent of weapons in 2011. In 2015 UAVs used 530 missiles (mostly Hellfires) and bombs (mainly 127 or 227 kg GPS or laser guided ones). There are several reasons for this shift. First, there are more armed UAVs in action and more UAVs in general. Second communications is more effective, with unarmed UAVs quickly passing target data to nearby armed UAVs (or manned aircraft). The better comms is accompanied by more effective command and control systems. Third, there are better sensors and tactics for intelligence and UAV surveillance to find targets and hit them before they are lost track of. This type of aerial attack has, since the 1990s, reduced collateral (unintended) casualties (both military and civilian) to decline over 80 percent compared to previous methods.

The Vanishing Americans

The United States has turned down Afghan requests for more American troops and especially more air support. The U.S. repeated that it will keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2016 and 5,500 in 2017. The Americans also said they would continue funding the Afghan security forces through 2020. The Afghan government cannot support the current force of 320,000 soldiers and police with taxes. The Afghans point out that without continued aid for their security forces the drug gangs will continue to fund the Taliban and keep their heroin production going. Currently Afghanistan is the largest supplier of heroin in the world and the drug gangs want a government that cooperates with them, like the Taliban government did in the 1990s. The United States has increased its use of UAVs in Afghanistan and supplied Afghanistan with more warplanes and helicopters. The U.S. has also helped train more pilots and ground support personnel. As a result the Afghan Air Force is flying more combat missions. In mid-April the Afghans set a new record when their fixed wing aircraft and armed helicopters flew 83 combat missions in 24 hours. All this will change if the United States cuts all military and financial support by 2020.

May 20, 2016: In Kabul Islamic terrorists fired at least two rockets at the home of Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf. The rockets missed the cleric’s compound. This was the latest of many efforts by the Taliban and other Islamic terror groups to kill Sayyaf, who was a prominent leader of the resistance to the Russians in the 1980s and is now a widely respected Islamic scholar. Sayyaf has always spoken out against the Taliban and the drug gangs they support.

May 19, 2016: In the east (Nangarhar province) fighting between ISIL and al Qaeda gunmen left at least 27 of the Islamic terrorists dead and a dozen or more wounded. Some were executed after being captured. This sort of thing has been going on for over a year. ISIL attempts to establish a base area in eastern Afghanistan led to constant skirmishing with the many other Islamic terrorists operating in the area (Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as well as al Qaeda and Haqqani Network). The local tribes are also largely hostile to ISIL and all this has provided better intel for the security forces on what ISIL is up to and exactly where they are. Some of the tribes used their own militias to fight ISIL but more often just helped the worst hit villages set up defenses to keep ISIL out. This cooperation (and information) led to more effective and frequent American air strikes and raids by Afghan troops and American commandos and most of the ISIL men in the area have been killed, wounded, surrendered or deserted in the last year. There are fewer new volunteers. ISIL is hanging on but is now unable to maintain control of dozens of villages as it did in 2015. ISIL is not dead in Afghanistan but it isn’t growing much either. More former Taliban are abandoning ISIL. The remaining ISIL get little sympathy from the locals, many of whom have bitter stories to tell of harsh ISIL rule that included beheadings of most who resisted and imposition of strict lifestyle rules. This included closing all secular schools as well as religious schools and mosques that did not enthusiastically support ISIL. These lurid (and often true) stories are circulating throughout eastern Afghanistan making the region a no-go zone for ISIL. It is now believed ISIL has fewer than a thousand members in Afghanistan, versus over 3,000 in 2015.

May 17, 2016: In the south (Zabul province) a senior al Qaeda leader was killed by a missile fired from an American UAV.

May 16, 2016: In the east (Kunar province) a senior ISIL leader was killed by a missile fired from an American UAV.

May 11, 2016: In the east (Paktika province) a force of American and Afghan commandos rescued Ali Haider Gilani, the 30 something son of a former (2008-2012) prime minister of Pakistan. Ali Haider Gilani was kidnapped in 2013 while in central Pakistan. It is unclear who kidnapped him and the attack that freed him was against an al Qaeda group, not a rescue. Four Islamic terrorists were killed during the operation, which was apparently not specifically for rescuing Gilani. It is believed al Qaeda had bought Gilani from another group in an effort to use Gilani to obtain the release of al Qaeda leaders jailed in Pakistan. Trading or selling prominent captives is common, as is using them to try and get important Islamic terrorists released. Gilani’s father was removed from his post as prime minister in 2012 by a Pakistan court investigating a corruption case.

May 10, 2016: In the east (Nangarhar province) border guards found and seized 10.7 tons of ammonium nitrate that a truck from Pakistan was trying to smuggle in. Normally large bribes would get illegal cargoes like this across the border but since ammonium nitrate is the main ingredient in most Islamic terrorist bombs, sometimes bribes are not enough. The seizure today may have had to do with a recent Taliban attempt (using a bomb) to kill a local tribal chief who commanded an anti-Taliban militia. The chief survived the attack but eleven people (mostly women and children) were killed and 22 wounded. The border guards may have felt it prudent to not let any ammonium nitrate through for a while. For a long time ammonium nitrate, a banned fertilizer, has been used to make roadside bombs. It takes 3-4 kg (6.6-8.8 pounds) of ammonium nitrate (mixed with some fuel oil) for an average roadside bomb. These days, the same smugglers who bring in chemicals needed to refine opium into heroin (especially acetic anhydride), also bring in ammonium nitrate. Pakistani officials have resisted pleas to crack down on the movement of excessive (for Pakistan’s needs) quantities of ammonium nitrate and acetic anhydride into Pakistan and then, via lots of bribes, into Afghanistan. A lot of the bribes are paid on the Afghan side of the border. But in some cases the bribes don’t work, for a while at least.

 

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