The United States is exploring the possibility of working out a peace deal with the Taliban. The major problem with that is getting Pakistan to cooperate because the Afghan Taliban cannot make any deals without Pakistan agreeing. Then there is the larger problem of such a deal turning control of Afghanistan over to drug gangs, Pakistan, Iran and Islamic conservatives (who ban education for women and generally unpopular lifestyle restrictions). Then there are the traditional (usual) “how to negotiate with infidels” rules used by Islamic terrorist groups. These rules stress the use of lies and deception because the Islamic scripture mentions it so it must be the only way to go. This approach has been very consistently used by Islamic terror groups and the fact that the Afghan Taliban are actually a front for Pakistan makes no difference because Pakistan is increasingly dominated by their armed forces who have been using (if not believing in) Islamic terror groups against their real or imagined enemies since the 1980s. The drug gangs, which also depend on Pakistan to stay in business and are largely run by Pushtuns, will go along with whatever Pakistan wants.
In other words, the Afghan Taliban are actually a minor decision maker when it comes to peace in Afghanistan. That has always been the case, especially before the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan in 2001. Back then the Taliban provided sanctuary for Islamic terrorists, especially al Qaeda. This was allowed by Pakistan because it was seen as a minor problem but it turned out to be a major problem. The Taliban is still on good terms with al Qaeda, although Pakistan is not. But as long as the Afghan Taliban cooperates in keeping al Qaeda out of Pakistan all is well.
The Afghan Taliban is also seen by the majority of Afghans as the creation of Pakistan and a largely Pushtun organization financed by Pakistan supported drug gangs. The Pushtun are 40 percent of the Afghan population and the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The Pushtun dominate the opium and heroin business which is also opposed by most Afghans, if only because it has created so many addicts. The Taliban are also not a unified organization. The Afghan Taliban has sanctuaries in Pakistan which keep their senior leadership safe and are also the site of border crossings where most of the chemicals for refining opium into heroin get into Afghanistan along with the fertilizer and other chemicals used to make bombs.
All this is common knowledge and the only practical reason to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban is to force more Pushtun tribes (that are still technically Taliban supporters ) to decide if they still are pro-Taliban and OK with the Taliban and Pakistan controlling the Afghan government. Another obvious negotiating problem is the Afghan government, which is elected and democracy is haram (forbidden) as far as Islamic terrorists are concerned. All this explains why the U.S. is demanding a six-month ceasefire as a precondition to negotiations. The Taliban cannot afford to allow that because most of the Taliban activity is in support of the drug gangs which the majority of Afghans are quite vocal about opposing and not willing to leave alone for six months.
In other words, the peace negotiations are not about peace but about smoking out the real intentions of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Making it even more obvious that Pakistan is a major backer of Islamic terrorism and the heroin trade makes it easier to understand that the fears of Islamic terrorists having nuclear weapons have already been realized given the direction the military-dominated Pakistan government is headed. Again this is nothing new and certainly not a secret to those who have worked with (or paid attention to) Pakistan for a while.
So far this year 15 American military personnel have died in Afghanistan, the same as for all of 2017 and more than the 13 in 2016. The increase has to do with more active use of American air power and the U.S. trained Afghan special operations troops. The Afghan commandos were often accompanied by American trainers who observe and provide backup if needed. The Americans also provide the helicopters if a mission requires them but in most cases, the Afghan special operations forces travel via ground transportation. The Afghan Special Forces and commandos have been especially effective in finding and killing Taliban and ISIL leaders. Another factor in higher American losses is the Taliban deliberately going after foreign troops (five other NATO soldiers were killed so far this year, the highest number since most NATO forces left Afghanistan in 2014, when 14 died, along with 55 Americans).
The first ten months of 2018 saw American airpower used more often in Afghanistan than at any other time (including the 2011 surge). This year the coalition warplanes (mostly U.S.) used 11 percent more bombs and missiles than in 2011. Coalition warplanes have flown an average to 660 sorties a month, with 12 percent of sorties resulting in weapons being used. This includes AC-130 gunships but not attack helicopters. The trend has been accelerating throughout the year. In September the U.S. Air Force used 841 smart bombs and missiles (28 a day) in airstrikes. That was 18 percent more than in August and double what it was in September 2017. The September 2018 numbers were the highest monthly use since late 2010. The Taliban want the Americans gone in large part because of the greater use of airstrikes by American and Afghan warplanes and changes to the ROE (Rules of Engagement). In 2017 American commanders were again allowed to determine the ROE for U.S. troops overseas, especially in places like Syria and Afghanistan. For example in Afghanistan U.S. troops can now fire on the Taliban even when the Taliban are not firing on them and at long distance. Afghan civilians, the most frequent victims of Taliban violence, complained when the U.S. gradually changed its ROE after 2008 to make it impossible for Americans to fire on the Taliban when Afghan civilians were nearby. When asked Afghan civilians pointed out that was when they most needed the Americans to open fire. As the Afghan air force carries out more airstrikes (about a dozen a day by mid-2018) the Afghan ROE has reduced the enemy use of human shields. The Afghan ROE ignores human shields and puts the priority on killing Taliban or ISIL fighters. This made human shields in general much less effective, even though most of the air strikes are carried out by foreign (usually American) warplanes. So far in 2018 American aircraft are carrying out airstrikes at the highest rate ever (about eighteen bombs or missiles used a day) and a third higher than the previous peak year (2011). The greater availability of air strikes encourages Afghan security forces to be more aggressive.
December 18, 2018: In the southeast (Paktia province), an American UAV used missiles to destroy a vehicle and kill 13 Taliban including a local leader.
December 16, 2018: In the east (Kunar province), there were battles between Pakistani and Afghan Taliban that lasted several days. There were apparently over 30 dead and many more wounded. These clashes are usually over who shall control which portion of the border areas. There are also similar battles between ISIL and both Taliban groups over the last several days. Since 2015 Afghanistan has had problems with both ISIL factions and two Taliban organizations. The Pakistan Taliban continue to make attacks in Pakistan and most of these efforts can be traced back to bases in eastern Afghanistan. These attacks tend to take place in the tribal territories of the northwest and southwest but not across the border in Waziristan, where Pakistani troops are still involved in a major anti-terrorist campaign they began in mid-2014 and did not officially end until early 2017. The Pakistani Taliban are not as numerous as their Afghan counterparts and that is largely because the Pakistani Taliban do not have as much money. While Pakistani Taliban make some money from providing security for drug smuggling they have to depend on a lot of other criminal activities to maintain operations. Both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are also suffering internal problems and both have broken up into mutually hostile factions. The rise of ISIL in the region is part of this. The drug gangs don’t really care as long as their hired guns protect the drug production and smuggling.
December 13, 2018: In the south (Zabul Province), an American UAV used missiles to kill three Taliban, including one man who had become infamous for openly acting as the public executioner for the Taliban in the area. This may have led to more locals taking a big risk and reporting (to Afghan security forces who are often corrupt) where the executioner was.
December 10, 2018: In the east ( Ghazni province), the local security forces displayed a large number of recently captured Taliban weapons that were manufactured, quite recently, in Iran. The provincial governor accused the Iranians of supplying the Taliban with weapons. The Iranians denied that and pointed out that the Taliban in Ghazni were also going after the local Shia, which Iran, as the largest Shia nation in the world, is sworn to prevent. What Iran fails to mention is that some Taliban factions in western Afghanistan receive aid (training and weapons) from Iran. Earlier in 2018 captured Taliban in western and northern Afghanistan spoke of a special Taliban force being trained in Iran, where they also receive new equipment and weapons with the understanding that they will return to Afghanistan and concentrate their attacks on Americans and ISIL. Iran is desperate to strike back at the Americans for renewing economic sanctions and thwarting Iranian efforts to take control of Syria and then launch attacks on Israel. These Iran backed Taliban have apparently been going after ISIL groups in western Afghanistan but not the Americans, at least not as far as anyone can tell. So far in 2018 15 Americans have been killed but none of those deaths can be traced back to Iranian influence. Meanwhile, as many as 600 Taliban are being trained or completed their training in Iran. This sort of foreign meddling is unpopular in Afghanistan where such interference by neighbors, especially Pakistan and Iran, is an ancient and always unwelcome problem. But Iran and Pakistan both interfere and Iranians and Indians have doing so for thousands of years and see no reason why they should not continue doing so in the 21st century. For Iran, it’s mainly about trying to protect their fellow Shia from attack. Shia Afghans (15 percent of Afghans) are a particular target for Sunni Islamic terrorists like ISIL. The Taliban and al Qaeda are less likely to attack Shia because both organizations sometimes discreetly rely on Iran for sanctuary and other support. Most of the Afghan Shia are Hazara, who are ten percent of the population and the descendants of the hated Mongols who conducted several invasions during the 13th and 14th centuries. These Mongol attacks destroyed more of the country and its population than any other conquerors. For centuries Hazara have suffered a lot of discrimination and actual violence in Afghanistan. But Iran is seen as an ally (at least against Pakistan) by most Afghans and Iran is mostly Shia and sees itself as the defender of all Shia.
How does this explain Iranian weapons in eastern Afghanistan? Simple, once you provide weapons to any Afghan faction those weapons are seen as valuable items to be used or traded. Iran and Pakistan understand this but Western aid providers still have a hard time accepting this ancient custom. In Ghazni, the Afghan Taliban have been waging a major campaign to gain control of the province since August. They now control or contest over half the territory in the province and threaten traffic on several major highways passing through the province. Recently the government sent a special operations unit to Ghazni to help protect Hazara Shia there. The special operations force suffered dozens of casualties as the Taliban sent in hundreds of additional gunmen. Hazara in Ghazni have formed pro-government militias although the main reason for these militias is to protect Hazara from Taliban violence.
Ghazni is near the Pakistani border and contains some major heroin smuggling routes into Pakistan. These routes are kept open by the Taliban. Ghazni has long been fought over, because of the heroin smuggling routes. Normally the drug gangs find it cheaper and more reliable to use bribes but because of the growing number of addicts inside Afghanistan the bribes sometimes don’t work and the national government often sends down commandos and NDS (Afghan intel) agents to carry out specific tasks which tend to be bribe proof. Massive intimidation attacks like this often fail, mainly because of the popular anger towards the drug gangs that keep supplying the local addicts. The fact that the Afghan Taliban has always been supported by Pakistan is another incentive to fight back.
Opposing Pakistani meddling in Afghan affairs is a popular issue among most Afghans. One reason Western troops are tolerated in Afghanistan, which has, for thousands of years been hostile to foreigners, is because the Westerners and Afghans are both eager to shut down the drug trade and keep the Pakistanis out. Pakistan sees battles like Ghazni as a success because over a thousand Afghans (including security personnel and civilians) were killed and there was a degree of intimidation achieved. Operations like this cost Pakistan little as the Afghan drug gangs supply the cash required. They have no choice because the ISI can deny easy access to Pakistan for needed supplies (chemicals for converting opium into heroin) and secure smuggling routes through Pakistan to the port city of Karachi. It was later discovered that most of the 500 (or more) foreign fighters ISI supplied for the Ghazni battle cane from three known Pakistan based Islamic terror groups known to work for ISI. The most prominent of those with a contingent in Ghazni was the Haqqani Network, whose leader currently runs the Afghan Taliban.
The Afghan prime minister is demanding that his newly elected Pakistani counterpart do something about what happened in Ghazni province. So far the official Pakistani response is; “it wasn’t us.” Pakistani prime minister Imran Kahn is more concerned with nations considered more important to Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia and China. To Pakistanis, Afghanistan is more of a potential problem than anything else. But to Afghanistan, and most of the world community, the biggest problem in Afghanistan is not the Taliban or the drug gangs, but Pakistan.
December 9, 2018: In central Afghanistan (Uruzgan province), the Afghan air force carried out their first nighttime airstrikes, using their new smart bomb equipped A-29 aircraft. The A-29s have been very active this year but, until now, only carrying out daylight missions. Earlier in 2018, 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 were in service with Afghanistan at 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. The Afghans plan to start using their MD-530F light attack helicopters for night airstrikes as well. Being able to call on night airstrikes is a major advantage because allows Taliban and drug gang targets to be hit without any warning and when the enemy is less alert to any attack.
December 6, 2018: In the west (Farah province), an American UAV used missiles to kill eight Taliban, including a senior leader. There tend to be more of these UAV attacks in Farah province because, since 2016 western Afghanistan (Farah, Herat and Badghis provinces) has been the scene of much fighting between rival Taliban factions. This has left hundreds of Taliban dead and even as this infighting continued the army moved to oust the Taliban from areas the Islamic terrorists long controlled directly or indirectly. All this factional fighting forced Taliban leaders to be less cautious when they traveled and that made it easier for American Intel to find out who was where and arrange for an American UAV to be present.
December 5, 2018: NATO military leaders met in Belgium to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. There was alarm that Afghan security forces had been suffering about 500 casualties a month in 2018. By Western standards that is a high casualty rate but by Afghan standards, it isn’t. The Taliban, with about 60,000 armed men (a fifth of what the government has) often suffers heavier losses each month. The Taliban have no air and artillery strikes available to use. Since most of the foreign troops left the Afghan security forces have suffered about 28,000 deaths. This seems high by current Western standards but is far less than Afghans suffered during the Russian occupation of the 1980s or the civil war that followed. Currently, the 15,000 or so foreign troops in Afghanistan are suffering losses of about 130 per 100,000 (per year), the same as 2017 but up from 100 in 2016. That loss rate peaked at about 400 per 100,000 in 2012. At the peak of the fighting (2005-7) in Iraq, the American 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. The Soviet Union fell apart a few years later and nearly three decades later Afghanistan is still a mess.
December 2, 2018: In the north (Samangan province), local Taliban are having problems getting truck drivers to pay $93 protection money each to avoid being attacked as they transport coal to major towns and cities. The local Taliban declare that they control some key roads used by the coal trucks but local police, tribal militias and police do not agree. The Taliban kidnapped at least fifty of the drivers but quickly released them so it is difficult to see who really has the power in this area, which is traditionally hostile to the Taliban and drug gangs.
December 1, 2018: In the south (Helmand province), an American airstrike killed the Taliban “governor” of Helmand, along with four of his associates as they were driving along a rural road. This is a big deal because Helmand is the most important province for the Taliban because it is where most of the opium and heroin is produced.
November 29, 2018: In the west (Heart province), there was another outbreak of factional fighting within the Taliban. There were at least 28 dead and many more wounded. This battle was because of a dispute between the breakaway Rasool faction and Pakistan backed Afghan Taliban. The factional fighting is an unresolved aftereffect of the Taliban civil war that broke out in 2015. This was all about disagreements over who should take over as Taliban leader after founder Mullah Omar was revealed in 2015 to have died in 2013 (in a Pakistani hospital). The information was kept to a few key Omar associates who were then accused of lying as part of a plot to install an Omar successor who was second-rate. The civil war began in late November 2015 when Mullah Mansour, leader of the OT (Original Taliban) ordered attacks against the forces of rival Taliban leader Mullah Rasool. This marked a major defeat for the Taliban as they have now lost a major asset; unity. Similar fighting has also occurred in Zabul province. By 2017 the Taliban infighting had diminished but not disappeared mainly because the dissident factions had arranged truces with Pakistan backed ones so that everyone could make money working for the drug gangs. The Pakistani ISI (intelligence service) was a major factor in preventing the factional fighting from escalating. ISI arranged to have Haqqani Network leaders with Taliban ties take sides and eventually take over the senior Taliban leadership. This reduced but did not eliminate the feuding. As a result, the Taliban sought to regain territory they had lost to government forces in 2017, especially near the Iran and northern borders. This was important because these border areas were used for smuggling heroin and opium into Iran.
In the United States (Washington DC), the Americans put a vast trove of Iranian weapons or fragments (of ballistic missiles, naval mines, remotely controlled bomb boats or UAVs) collected from countries throughout the Middle East (Yemen., Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and so on) as evidence of illegal Iranian arms exports. Most of the items displayed have Farsi (the Iranian language) markings. Opening the display in Washington makes it accessible to many foreign embassy personnel and journalists.
November 28, 2018: The Afghan government presented its peace plan at a European conference. The plan was all about democracy, prosperity and making Afghans safe from Taliban violence and the drug production the Taliban protected. The Taliban were not at this conference but soon responded by posting their position on the Internet. To the Taliban, the Afghan government was illegitimate because it was not Islamic enough and tolerated the presence of foreign and non-Moslem troops. What the Taliban have always wanted is all foreign troops out of Afghanistan. When making these demands the Taliban referred to themselves as “the Emirate of Afghanistan” and the true and legitimate government of Afghanistan. That’s because the Taliban will eliminate democracy and other un-Islamic practices (like education for girls and non-religious education in general). The Taliban did not mention the drugs or the need to attack and kill any Afghans who opposed Taliban rule. This was especially the case with Afghan Shia. The last time the Taliban controlled and government most of the country they financed themselves with “taxes” on the drug gangs. That practice continues, although now the Taliban are basically hired guns for the drug gangs. The Afghans who run the drug gangs don’t care if the Taliban take control once more as long as the drug business continues. Most Afghans oppose that because of all the Afghan addicts and the fact that the drug gangs are responsible for most of the violence and economic disruption in the country.
November 27, 2018: In the east ( Ghazni province), four American Special Forces soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. So far this year 13 American troops have died in Afghanistan.
November 23, 2018: In the east (Khost province), a Taliban suicide bomber got into the mosque on a military base and set off his explosives during weekly prayer services. This left 26 dead and over twice as many wounded.
November 20, 2018: In Kabul, a Taliban suicide bomber got into a wedding hall where hundreds of Afghan Islamic scholars and clerics were assembled to commemorate the birthday of the prophet Mohammed. The suicide bomber detonated his explosives and killed at least fifty people and wounded about a hundred. Most Afghan clerics oppose the Taliban and attacks like this are supposed to intimidate the scholars and clergy into halting their criticism of the Taliban.
November 15, 2018: Afghanistan returned to Pakistan the body of a Pakistani policeman who had been kidnapped by ISIL in the Pakistani capital and taken to eastern Afghanistan (Nangarhar province). That is where his body was recently found, in a remote area near the Afghan border. There was a note from ISIL claiming responsibility. This caused an uproar in Pakistan because ISIL had kidnapped the policeman in the capital and then secretly transported him to eastern Afghanistan.