Afghanistan: Blood Money Keeps Traditions Alive

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September 8, 2016: So far this year the Afghan army is losing about 130 soldiers a month. Nearly 60 percent of these deaths are from roadside bombs and other IED (improvised explosive devices). Foreign troops have suffered about one dead a month so far this year. That’s about half the rate of 2015. The foreign troops avoid combat and the Islamic terrorists avoid attacking the foreign troops and security contractors. Afghan troops have been fighting like the departed Western forces and with similar success. But the Afghan forces don’t have as much air support, artillery and access to medical care as the Western forces. Afghan commanders point out, accurately, that if more of that support is provided it will not result in any more Western combat deaths and will lower Afghan army and police losses and boost morale as well. The Islamic terrorists are mainly attacking morale and that means terror attacks that mainly kill civilians.

Over 250,000 civilians have been displaced by the fighting so far in 2016. That number may more than triple by the end of the year. Over three million people are cut off from regular food supplies by the fighting to the extent that there is visible malnutrition, especially among children. This is also part of the Taliban plan to defeat the government. Despite continued aid from drug gangs and Pakistan most Afghans are not willing to surrender. One side effect of this is it shows how decades of Pakistani efforts to gain a degree of control over Afghanistan have backfired, especially inside Afghanistan. There the primary Pakistani allies are drug gangs, corrupt politicians and Islamic terrorists. Not surprisingly these three groups are the most hated inside Afghanistan and despite death threats and bribes the Afghan media and a growing number of usually quiet (out of fear) politicians, prominent preachers and tribal leaders are speaking out. This was mostly out of self-interest as most of Afghanistan’s worst problems could be traced back to Pakistan. The biggest problem is illegal drugs, mainly opium and heroin. Pakistan drove the drug gangs out of its own tribal territories in the 1980s but the drug business simply moved to Afghanistan and both countries now suffer from widespread addiction and the growing financial and political (via bribes) power of gangsters thriving on drug profits. Afghanistan is the largest producer of heroin in the world and drugs are a major part of the economy, especially in the south (Kandahar and Helmand provinces). This is where most of the Taliban leadership and manpower came (and still come) from. Pakistan admits they created the Taliban, but only to stop the 1990s civil war in Afghanistan. That wasn’t true. Pakistan expected the Taliban to ensure that whatever government was running Afghanistan, Pakistani needs would be tended to. That meant tolerance for the drug trade (which made many Pakistanis rich), no contacts with India and no criticism of the Pakistani military or its intelligence branch (the ISI). But the Taliban and the drug gangs have been tearing Afghanistan apart ever since. Only about ten percent of Afghans got any economic benefit out of the drug business and millions of Afghans, Pakistanis and people throughout the region have become drug addicts.

Afghan leaders also noted that more and more of the most talented and promising young Afghans were leaving. They would work hard as long as it took to raise enough money to hire people smugglers to get them to someplace safer and more promising. Afghan was neither, even if you had a lot of money. The problem is that entrenched and well financed problems are difficult to change. Corruption is particularly difficult to reduce (you never completely eliminate it).

While most Afghans are well aware that in many way their lives are much better since the Americans arrived the impact of the corruption is visible across the country especially since about 40 percent of Afghans barely getting by. The newly built compounds of the wealthy are visible everywhere. These miniature forts are an Afghan tradition but the new ones are full of weapons, Western consumer and luxury goods all of it usually paid for by the drug trade or bribes paid to senior politicians to leave the drug gangs alone.

GDP has grown continuously since 2001 with average family income increasing noticeably each year. But up to half of the higher GDP is believed to be from illegal activity, mainly producing and exporting opium and heroin. In early 2001 only a million children were in school, all of them boys. Now there are over eight million in school and 40 percent are girls. Back then there were only 10,000 phones in the country, all very expensive land lines in cities. Now there are over 18 million inexpensive cell phones with access even in remote rural areas. Back then less than ten percent of the population had access to any health care, now 85 percent do and life expectancy has risen from 47 years (the lowest in Eurasia) to 62 (leaving Bangladesh to occupy last place in Eurasia). This is apparently the highest life expectancy has ever been in Afghanistan and the UN noted it was the highest increase in such a short time (ten years) ever recorded. Afghans have noticed this even if the rest of the world has not. But all this was accompanied by more corruption because now there was more to steal. Many Afghans feel the corruption situation won’t show similar improvements, at least in their lifetimes, so they leave, or try to. Afghans with education and useful skills (that don’t involve murder and extortion) are losing hope that Afghanistan’s legal resources (oil, gas, minerals and an educated population) will ever become the dominant economic driver.

The recent increase in large terror attacks in Kabul, even though they fail, achieve the objective of causing more Afghans to get out or submit to the drug cartels and the politicians and Islamic terrorists (mainly the Taliban) paid to protect the drug business.

September 7, 2016: In central Afghanistan (Uruzgan Province, just north of Helmand and Kandahar) army forces repulsed several Taliban attacks aimed at capturing the provincial capital. Over two days of fighting the attackers lost over a hundred dead and at least five were captured. This was more than three times the losses of the forces (soldiers, local militia and police) protecting the city. The defenders were reinforced with some Afghan commandoes plus air and artillery support. There have been several similar battles recently. But in Uruzgan, as happened elsewhere, the attacks keep coming. The drug gangs can hire a lot of jobless young men, arm them and send them off to make their fortune or die trying. This has been a tradition in Afghanistan for centuries, especially when someone has enough wealth to pay for it.

The United States announced it will send 1,400 paratroopers to Afghanistan soon to reinforce the 20,000 American and NATO military and contractor personnel already there.

September 6, 2016: In the east (Kunar province) an airstrike killed eight ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members. American air and intel support helped Afghan security forces hunt down and kill nearly 400 ISIL members since a July 23rd ISIL suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 80 civilians and outraged the country. The ISIL losses included the leader of all ISIL forces in the region. This man, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was killed by an American missile armed UAV on July 26th. American military intelligence revealed that since September 2015 ISIL appears to have lost 25,000 fighters in combat (mainly in Syria, Iraq and Libya). Thus about 45,000 ISIL fighters have died since 2013. It’s believed that ISIL currently has only about 20,000 fighters available, mostly in Syria and Iraq. There are a few thousand more in northern Libya, eastern Afghanistan and Egypt. In all five countries ISIL is under heavy attack. Because of the heavy losses worldwide and lack of much local support ISIL is rapidly fading in Afghanistan.

September 5, 2016: In Kabul Islamic terrorists used a suicide truck bomb and at least three gunmen launch an attack next to the headquarters compound for CARE, a major foreign aid organization. All of the attackers were killed and six civilians were wounded. The attackers were actually after a nearby government facility but were stopped and trapped in the CARE facilities overnight. Over 40 CARE staff were safely escorted out of the building. Attacks on foreign aid efforts are increasing as the Islamic terrorists seek to intimidate the aid organizations into quietly supporting the Islamic terrorists with payoffs of cash and supplies. A favorite tactic is to kidnap aid workers and so far this year nearly a hundred have been kidnapped.

Elsewhere in Kabul the Taliban used two bombs to attack the Defense Ministry compound. The second bomber was used to attack the medical and others responding to the first bomb. All this left 35 dead and nearly a hundred wounded but attackers failed to get into the compound. The Taliban considered it a victory because the international media picked the story up and Afghans noted that it was probably corruption that enabled the attackers to get that much explosives so close to a heavily guarded facility.

There have been nearly 30 terror attacks in Kabul so far this year, causing over a thousand casualties (dead and wounded.)

September 4, 2016: In the east (Khost province, near the Pakistan border) am American UAV used missile to kill 11 Islamic terrorists.

The U.S. lifted sanctions on the Russian company that supplies spare parts for the 50 or so Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopters. In 2011 these helicopters were purchased for Afghanistan from Russia by the United States. The sanctions were imposed after the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

September 2, 2016: The Taliban announced that there would be retribution against judges and prosecutors if the government went through with its decision to execute Anas Haqqani. He is one of the sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the man who created the Haqqani Network. Anas was captured during 2014 in Khost province (southeastern Afghanistan) while on Haqqani business. Anas is the brother of the current head of the Haqqani Network. This group has been around since the 1980s, and has survived because of the strong leadership of the Haqqani clan. It's basically a family business, and most of the business is criminal. Kidnapping, extortion, smuggling and whatever else is available has kept the organization going.

Since Anas was captured a lot has happened. By early 2016 the Afghan Taliban, weakened by internal divisions and the hatred of most Afghans, was increasingly turning to the Haqqani Network for help in planning and carrying out attacks. Apparently the current head of the Haqqani Network became (sometime before the end of 2015) the number two leader of the Afghan Taliban and put in charge of all military operations. The Haqqani Network has thrived for decades by being very much an obedient servant of Pakistan and helpful to other Islamic terror groups. That meant no terror attacks in Pakistan and, when called on, carrying out specific attacks that Pakistani intelligence (ISI) wanted (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). Founder 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 mid-2015 power struggle within the Taliban and thwart the recruiting efforts of ISIL. Given that Haqqani works for ISI (the Pakistani CIA), Pakistan had to approve, if not help bring about this new arrangement. 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 an understanding that if anything happened to Monsour a powerless figurehead would be appointed the new leader and Siraj Haqqani would officially run the Haqqani Network and unofficially call the shots for the Afghan Taliban. That’s what happened in May 2016 after Monsour was killed by an American UAV missile attack.

Most Afghans agree that the Taliban the Haqqani Network are largely responsible for continued violence after the Russians left in the late 1980s. Over 10,000 civilians had been killed in Afghanistan since 2009 and the Taliban were responsible for over 80 percent of those deaths. In the first six months of 2016 1,600 civilians were killed and the Taliban, ISIL and Haqqani were responsible for over 90 percent of those deaths. As foreign troops withdrew in 2013-14 the Taliban violence against civilians increased as did the number of civilian deaths. All these victims had surviving kin and many of those survivors joined the army and police.

August 29, 2016: In the southeast (Paktia province, near the Pakistan border) American UAVs armed with missiles made two separate attacks on a Taliban base and a Taliban convoy, killing over 120 of the Islamic terrorists. Local police followed up on the attacks to collect intelligence and assess the damage. Afghan air strikes were also used to help defeat a major Taliban offensive involving over a thousand gunmen. The attacks were repulsed but over 30 soldiers and police died. The Taliban losses were believed to be nearly ten times that, mainly because of air and artillery support. Afghans later found four known Haqqani Network leaders among the dead.

August 24, 2016: In the east (Khost province, adjacent to North Waziristan) an American UAV missile attack killed Inayat Shah, a much wanted (by just about everyone) Pakistan Taliban leader and three of his followers. Shah was also believed to be a key liaison between the Pakistani Taliban and the local (Afghanistan, Pakistan. India) branch of ISIL.

August 22, 2016: In the south (Kandahar province) Pakistan closed the Chamman border crossing Afghanistan refused to punish civilians who had demonstrated against Pakistan at Chamman on the 19th and burned a Pakistani flag. The crossing remained close for the rest of August. Chamman is the second most active border crossing with Afghanistan. The most active crossing is Torkham Gate in northwest Pakistan. That one was closed several times this year because of ongoing border disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The violence has been going on for years and is more about unresolved border disputes than anything else. Torkham is the main border crossing with Pakistan because on the Pakistani side is the Khyber Pass which has long been the easiest way to get from northern Afghanistan to the lowlands (most of Pakistan and all of India) beyond. Most of the Afghan-Pakistani border is still called the “Durand Line.” This was an impromptu, pre-independence invention of British colonial authorities and was always considered temporary (or at least negotiable) by locals. This was mainly because the line often went right through Pushtun tribal territories. However, the Afghans are more inclined to accept the Durand Line, and fight to maintain it. Thus recent Pakistani efforts to build more fences and other structures on their side of the border as an attempt to make the Durand line permanent. Afghans who use the border are also angry at a new Pakistani visa policy, which requires regular users of the crossings to get a visa. Officially this is a security measure, but given the rampant corruption in Pakistan Afghans see this as another opportunity for Pakistani border officials to demand bribes.

August 19, 2016: Afghans celebrated (or at least noted) the 97th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Afghanistan. It all went well at first because up to the 1970s there was an agreement that largely kept the peace. In this deal Afghanistan was a constitutional monarchy presided over by a Pushtun king who largely dealt with foreigners and left the tribes (60 percent of them non-Pushtun) to negotiate their differences. At that point Afghanistan was still largely medieval as far as cultural norms and economic activity was concerned. But the 20th century was making an impression and the educated urban minority was calling for radical change. This was tempting to many leading Afghans but the vast majority of Afghans were still in the countryside ruled by tribal leaders. Most of these opposed any radical change. The reform factions (mainly the pro-communist ones) got violent, tried to overthrow the monarchy, failed and in 1979 Russia intervened to rescue their fellow communists. That led to a civil war that is still going on. The Russians left in frustration (not defeat) in 1989 and continued to supply the communist (or at least pro-Soviet) Afghan government with weapons and cash until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. By 1993 the pro-Russian government was gone and the violence evolved into a multi-faction civil war. Pakistan then created the Taliban to establish a pro-Pakistan religious dictatorship which lasted September 2001. At that point the U.S. intervened on the side of the non-Pushtun tribes that were still fighting the Taliban. Even then the Taliban had antagonized most Afghans and by the end of 2001 the Taliban government was gone. But the Pushtuns were still the largest minority (40 percent of the population) and many Pushtun supported the Taliban because the Taliban was largely Pushtun and backed keeping the Pushtun in charge. Because of that Afghanistan is mired in a civil war that seems impossible to stop.

August 17, 2016: In the north (Kunduz province) an American UAV used missiles to kill 22 Taliban gunmen and wound another 30.

 

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