Peace talks with the Taliban are still on the agenda, as are similar negotiations with the Haqqani Network. There have always been peace talks going on between the government and some Taliban factions and over the last decade, the Taliban has lost the support of many Pushtun tribes because of this. But now factions within the Taliban senior leadership are considering a peace deal. Even Haqqani Network factions are interested. The reason for this growing interest in peace deals is the realization that the Taliban did not, as leaders had assured everyone, roll to victory after the foreign troops left in 2014. That was four years ago and the Afghan government and most Afghans put up a lot more resistance than the Taliban expected. Another problem was the drug gangs, who continue to thrive but produce a product that is hated by most Afghans and regularly denounced by tribal leaders and Moslem clergy for the way the drugs turn so many young Afghans in addicts and a disgrace to their families. Can’t blame this one on the Americans. It is also obvious who is getting rich from the drug trade. Afghans making a lot of money in the drug trade are not shy about showing it off.
While the Taliban have tried to improve their relationships with the Afghan civilians the Taliban tendency to shut down schools and cell phone service while putting a heavy “tax” on local commerce heavily. All this is not popular. It’s gotten to the point where more tribes are simply mobilizing their armed men into self-defense militias and telling the Taliban to stay away. In times past the Taliban would have sent in some enforcers (often foreigners) to kidnap or murder some key people and dismantle the resistance. This no longer works (the news gets around, which is who most Afghans want their cell phones and the Taliban resist that). In short, it’s no longer fashionable to be associated with the Taliban. This is not something that happened overnight, it’s been going on for a long time and has reached the point where the Taliban are seen more as part of the problem than part of any solution.
All this is reinforced by a growing Pushtun nationalist movement in Pakistan. That is where most Pushtuns live but the Pushtuns are a small minority while in Afghanistan half as many Pushtuns are the largest minority in the country and a force to be reckoned with. Pushtuns on both sides of the border also agree that India is more of a friend than the Moslem majority of Pakistan who likes to treat India as an enemy (which Indians insist they are not) and Afghanistan as a subordinate nation (which the Afghans do not like at all). India can now trade freely with Afghanistan via a new sea/rail link in Iran and most Afghans prefer this to dependency on Pakistan for access to the rest of the world. Attitudes and alliances are changing and Pakistan and the Taliban they created are the big losers.
The Shame Of Afghanistan
For Afghanistan the internal threat of Islamic terrorism and drug gangs gets most of the headlines while the third major threat; corruption is doing most of the damage. To put in in perspective Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. According to international surveys of corruption, Afghanistan ranks 177 out of 180 countries (166 out of 176 last year). Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Syria/14, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
The current Afghan score is 15 (15 in 2016) compared to 32 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (26) for Bangladesh, 38 (36) for Sri Lanka, 40 (40) for India, 30 (28) for Burma, 29 (29) for Russia, 41 (40) for China, 14 (13) for Syria, 62 (64) for Israel, 18 (17) for Iraq, 40 (41) for Turkey, 49 (46) for Saudi Arabia, 28 (28) for Lebanon, 33 (36) for the Maldives, 17 (14) for Libya, 71 (66) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 75 (74) for the United States, 27 (28) for Nigeria, 43 (45) for South Africa, 73 (72) for Japan, 37 (37) for Indonesia and 54 (53) for South Korea. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Afghanistan’s corruption score has improved since 2012 when it was 8. But Afghanistan is still near the bottom, although in 2012 Afghanistan was the bottom.
At the moment the high levels of corruption, made worse by all the bribes paid by drug gangs to produce and move their heroin out of the country has crippled economic growth. With the population growing at three percent a year economic growth is stuck at about two percent a year. There is little foreign investment because of the corruption and the constant fighting with the drug gangs and their Taliban allies. The Taliban have their own agenda which is hostile to economic growth. The Taliban forbid non-religious education and any education for girls. Without better economic growth Afghanistan will continue to be the poorest nation in Eurasia and most Afghans are actually not happy about that.
In addition to the corruption survey, Afghanistan did a little better in the UN sponsored World Happiness Index, coming in at number 145 (of 156). The top ten are all the usual suspects (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia) and then comes Israel, the happiest country in the Middle East as well as being the most powerful militarily and one of the least corrupt. The rest of the rankings are similar to the corruption survey. The U.S. is at 18th place, UAE at 2o, Saudi Arabia at 33, Kuwait at 45, Russia at 59, Japan at 54, South Korea at 57, Libya at 70, Turkey at 74, Jordan at 90, China at 86, Pakistan at 75, Venezuela at 102, Lebanon at 88, Somalia at 98, Palestinian Territories at 104, Egypt at 122, Iran at 106, Iraq at 117, Bangladesh at 115, Burma at 130, India at 133, Yemen at 152, Syria at 150 and at 156 (last place) Burundi. Communist dictatorships like North Korea and Cuba block access to data needed for the survey and were not rated.
Afghan Air Power
The Afghan Air Force reported that its dozen or so A-29 aircraft now account for a third of the 15 airstrikes carried out by the Afghans each day (on average). The A-29 Super Tucano is a five ton single engine turbo-prop two-seat trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. A-29s are armed with two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns along with 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain and cheap. Eighteen A-29s will be in service with Afghanistan by the end of 2018 with an additional six arriving in 2019. The first A-29s entered service in Afghanistan during early 2016. These aircraft can use laser guided bombs as well as unguided ones in addition to Hellfire missiles.
Meanwhile, the Americans have greatly increased their number of airstrikes, which now average about fifteen a day. The Afghan Air Force airstrikes are often small-scale, like an armed helicopter firing machine-guns and unguided rockets at ground targets. The Americans can deliver larger bombs as well as laser guided missiles from UAVs. The Afghan Air Force air support has a greater morale impact because the Afghan forces on the ground are talking to Afghan pilots. That means a lot. The main thing is the Afghan security forces now have available about 30 airstrikes a day and that level of support has not been available since before the Americans left in 2014.
April 16, 2018: In the southeast (Khost province) there was another clash between Afghan security forces and Pakistani border guards. It was all about Pakistanis and Afghans disagreeing where the border was. Fighting broke out yesterday. At least seven people died, five of them Pakistani and two Afghan border police. One Pakistani border guard was captured. The Pakistani entered an area that the Afghans insisted was on their side of the border and fighting broke out when the Pakistani border guards would not back away. Today a ceasefire was arranged by tribal leaders and Afghanistan returned the bodies of the Pakistani dead and the one captured Pakistani. The Afghan government ordered the army to send additional troops to the border in case the Pakistanis escalated. These clashes are occurring more frequently.
April 15, 2018: In the south (Herat, Kandahar, Laghman and Kapisa provinces) the government is training the first 5,000 volunteers for the Territorial Army. If the first 5,000 do well another 31,000 Territorials will be trained and equipped. Territorials are part time soldiers who wear the uniform and receive 70 percent of soldier’s pay but only mobilize when needed to defend the area they are from. The idea of a Territorial Force has been around for a long time but the main problem has always been the ultimate loyalty and reliability of the force. The government believes it has worked out a solution. Time will tell.
April 14, 2018: The Afghan security forces are having more success shutting down Taliban smuggling routes from Pakistan. These routes are used to bring in weapons, including explosives, as well as foreign Islamic terrorists. Both bombs and foreign Islamic terrorists are unwelcome in Afghanistan because that means more dead civilians. So it has become easier for the security forces to find out which remote smuggling routes the Taliban are using and disrupt them (at great cost to the Taliban).
April 13, 2018: In the north (Baghlan province) the Taliban used explosives to take down an electricity transmission tower, halting the supply of electricity imported from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This cut power to much of Kabul. The Taliban carried out this attack because the government prevented the Islamic terrorists from using this imported power for Taliban controlled areas. This is the second time the Taliban have attacked power lines from Central Asia that pass through Baghlan. This time negotiations were undertaken to settle the matter and now repairs are underway. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Baghlan a local Taliban leader and eight of his subordinates were killed and five wounded when the Taliban leaders compound exploded as a bomb being assembled went off. That happens fairly regularly in Afghanistan where there is a shortage good skilled bomb makers and many Taliban leaders believe they can learn what they need from the Internet and are often reluctant to admit they don’t know some technical detail of the process.
April 12, 2018: In the north (Jawzjan province) Afghan and American ground and air attacks against local ISIL cells overnight left 22 ISIL dead and over 20 wounded. During this operation, ISIL was cleared from six villages they were using as a base area, one of the few base areas ISIL still had in the north. ISIL forces in Jawzjan have been weakened by regular clashes with Taliban forces. This fighting was common during most of 2017 and was pretty brutal, with ISIL often beheading captured (or recently killed) Taliban. All this was over control of drug smuggling routes across the border. There have been clashes between ISIL and Taliban in other parts of the country (mainly in the east) but it has been worst in Jawzjan. With government and U.S. forces increasing their attacks as well the local ISIL has lost many of its senior leaders and some factions in Jawzjan have disappeared, apparently because of casualties and desertions as well as the loss of leaders. The number of American and Afghan air strikes on ISIL in Jawzjan and other northern provinces have increased in the last month, apparently as the result of more tips from locals or even the rival Taliban forces. The Americans believe that ISIL in Jawzjan is no longer an organized force and that the remaining ISIL members are still being hunted by the security forces as well as the Taliban. The ISIL force in eastern Afghanistan (Nangarhar province) remains active and largely intact, for now.
April 10, 2018: In the east (Kunar province) there was more shelling from Pakistan, this time directed at a village. This left one civilian dead and one house destroyed. Over 300 people fled their homes to avoid the rockets and shells. When it was all over nearly 200 rockets and shells had been fired. Most had landed in uninhabited areas.
April 8, 2018: In the east (Nangarhar province) an American UAV attack left at least four ISIL members dead. A similar attack on the 3rd also killed four ISIL men in the same area.
April 6, 2018: In an area some 60 kilometers south of Kabul the Taliban protested a recent military raid that killed the local Taliban leader and several of his associates by ordering the closure of 30 schools in the area. This left 12,000 children locked out of their classrooms.
April 5, 2018: In the north (Faryab province) an American airstrike killed the Uzbek leader of ISIL in the north, along with his bodyguard. ISIL promptly appointed another Uzbek ISIL member as the new leaders. The reason foreign Islamic terrorists are so prominent in the northern Afghanistan branch of ISIL is that it provides access to Islamic terror groups in Central Asia and makes it easier for ISIL to profit from the heroin smuggling into Central Asia. The airstrike against the ISIL leader was one of many carried out in the last three days in the same area, most of them against ISIL and Taliban facilities related to drug production and smuggling operations. Recently a senior ISIL leader (the one in charge of prisoners) and three of his subordinates surrendered. They reported ISIL morale in the north was low because of the constant attacks this year.
April 3, 2018: During the first three months of the year, 763 civilians were killed in Islamic terrorist and drug gang related violence. This rate of deaths is about the same as the last four years.
April 2, 2018: In the north (Kunduz province) Afghan ground and air attacks on a Taliban training center killed 70 and wounded 30 Taliban, including many leaders, because the attack was timed to hit when local Taliban leaders had assembled for a meeting. The Taliban tried to spin this as a meeting of civilians but the government released UAV (ScanEagle) photos showing the compound is full of armed men, not civilians. A lot of civilians were killed or wounded, but by gunfire from Taliban security guards who fired wildly when they heard explosions in the compound.
April 1, 2018: In the east (Kunar province) nearly 150 rockets were fired from Pakistan into Afghanistan. This went on into the next day. There were no casualties but the rockets damaged some crops and started some forest fires. The Pakistani Army was believed responsible but the government never takes credit for these attacks, which Afghanistan always protests.
March 27, 2018: For the first time, an Afghan Air Force aircraft used a smart bomb. An Afghan A-29 attack aircraft dropped a 113 kg (250 pound) GBU-58 Paveway laser guided bomb. The A-29 also uses Hellfire laser guided missiles, as have other Afghan Air Force Aircraft, for several years.
March 25, 2018: In the west (Herat province) two ISIL suicide bombers attacked a Shia mosque, leaving several worshippers dead and nine wounded.
March 24, 2018: In Kabul police arrested five Haqqani Network members who were transporting 135 walkie-talkies. After interrogation, it was revealed that the five had been ordered to distribute the walkies-talkies to Haqqani Network cells in Kabul and elsewhere in eastern Afghanistan. All this proved to be very interesting to Afghan intelligence agencies.
March 19, 2018: The U.S. military in Afghanistan affirmed that its current policy was not to employ “hot pursuit” and allow its forces to cross the border into Pakistan when pursuing Islamic terrorists. In the past, the U.S. did allow some degree of Hot Pursuit.
March 17, 2018: In the east (Nangarhar province) ISIL lost at least six dead and two wounded fighting with other Islamic terror groups. If was unclear who the others were. Most likely they were Taliban or another ISIL faction.
March 16, 2018: The U.S. told Pakistan that there had been no efforts by Pakistan to shut down Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. In reply, Pakistan repeats that those sanctuaries do not exist even though there is clear proof that they have long existed and still do. The U.S. has recently noted that Pakistan has been helpful in getting the Afghan Taliban to attend peace talks with the Afghan government.