November 5, 2012: The government is seeing more instances of soldiers or police killing their comrades. Some of these attacks appear to be the result of personal disputes. Men from different tribes, clans, and ethnic groups will stick together in a police or army unit, and this will sometimes lead to disputes between groups that have led to shootings. Afghanistan is a very violent place and “outsiders” can be other Afghans from a different tribe or part of the country.
This sort of violence has led some NATO officials to question if the current government can remain in power after NATO troops leave. It’s been noted by foreigners (and admitted by many Afghans) that each of the 34 provinces have three leaders. One is the governor appointed by the central government. The second is the strongest warlord or tribal leader, who is sometimes more powerful than the governor. Third, there is the Taliban “governor”. These Taliban leaders only have real clout in about a dozen provinces. When NATO troops leave the appointed governor loses quite a bit of power. But most of these men know how to adapt and form a better alliance with local warlords and tribal chiefs. The Taliban are always the outsiders because they are allied with drug gangs in at least six provinces, and the drug gangs are very unpopular with most Afghans.
American and Afghan officials are trying to locate two Afghan intelligence officials (a captain and a major) who disappeared in the United States when it came time for them to return to Afghanistan. The two were in the United States for a ten week training course and, like many other Afghans sent abroad for training, apparently decided to stay and quietly blend into the local Afghan community. Despite American fears, none of these illegal migrants has ever been found to actually be a terrorist.
A NATO sponsored amnesty program has caused several hundred Taliban a week to surrender over the last three months. The amnesty terms include free health care (especially of existing combat wounds), temporary housing, and a free plot of land. Those taking the deal have to undergo an interrogation, if only to eliminate those who are pretending to be Taliban just to get the benefits. This is especially the case for those who do not turn in weapons when they give up. Some of those taking the amnesty are men who were with the Taliban but already left. There is a lot of turnover in the Taliban, with many men joining for only a few months. The Taliban often pays their men monthly but sometimes cannot. The Taliban leaders are paid better and more regularly and if killed their families get a larger payment.
The government insists its police force (146,000 strong) and army are ready to maintain peace after NATO troops leave. While the police are not as competent or honest as their Western counterparts they have proved capable to foiling terror attacks and patrolling large areas of the country. There is no problem attracting sufficient recruits. But because of low literacy, training them is a big problem. A greater problem is the shortage of experienced police commanders. Afghanistan has never had a national police force and there are simply not enough men around who can supervise police effectively.
In many parts of Afghanistan, including the south, the security forces are not needed to deal with the Taliban. Local militias are driving out the Islamic terrorists, whose attacks against schools and uncooperative civilians have caused a lot of popular anger. Because the Taliban are allied with the drug gangs (who have a lot more local support because of the jobs and cash the gangs spread around) this local resistance is most effective outside Kandahar and Helmand, the provinces were most of the opium and heroin is produced.
There is also fear that the Afghan Army will not be as aggressive or as competent without the NATO troops that often accompany them into action. There will still be NATO advisors, but this is often no more than a dozen or so men working with a battalion of over 700 Afghans. The army has fared better than the police because many men have served in army units. Unlike the police, an army is a familiar concept to most Afghans and NATO has adapted its military training to quickly turn tribal warriors into effective soldiers. Again, trained and experienced senior commanders are few. While training for these senior (brigade and higher) commanders can be provided, experience takes time.
The governor of Kunar province, on the eastern border with Pakistan, has asked for artillery or rockets so that he can reply to the continued mortar, artillery, and rocket attacks from Pakistan. He won’t get artillery, since this could start a war with Pakistan. Negotiations with Pakistan continue over Pakistani sanctuaries for terrorists who operate in Afghanistan.
In western Afghanistan there is growing evidence of Iran trying to buy more influence. This is done via Iranian charities, financing new businesses or simply bribing local officials to be pro-Iranian. The main interest here is seeking ways to halt the drug smuggling into Iran, where all that Afghan opium and heroin have caused millions to be addicted. This is a big social problem.
NATO casualties continue to decline. For the last two months foreign troop casualties were about half what they were last year. Violence is also declining in areas where Afghan forces have taken over all security responsibilities. But some of that is believed to be the result of drug gangs bribing the police, and even army troops, to ignore drug-related activities.
American politicians are upset about a video showing U.S. security contractors intoxicated (with alcohol or drugs) while off-duty. Intoxicants are banned for troops and contract personnel in Afghanistan. But enterprising Afghans will provide imported or locally made booze. Opium and heroin are cheap in Afghanistan and other drugs are smuggled in from Pakistan.
A Chinese firm has begun pumping oil from a well in the northwest (the Amu Darya basin). This is a first for Afghanistan and the Chinese expect to get 2,000 barrels a day from this well and is drilling others. The Chinese contract was signed ten months ago. China is building a refinery in the north as well, which could make Afghanistan able to eliminate nearly all fuel imports. Last year the government made a deal with China to allow Chinese oil companies to explore for oil up there. The government had to send 300 police to guard the Chinese as a local warlord was demanding payments to allow the exploration. Potential foreign investors are trying to convince Afghan leaders to get the corruption and violence under control, at least in areas where lots of minerals, oil, and natural gas are found. Exporting these raw materials (mostly via the northern routes) would be a major boost to the Afghan economy. Too often local warlords and greedy government officials steal so much (in bribes and outright theft) that foreign investors quit or simply won’t come in. A lot of senior Afghan leaders realize how this has to work, but will that be enough to make it work?
November 3, 2012: Several days of sweeps in the southeast yielded nearly a ton of explosives along with several Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders. Dozens of lower ranking terrorists were captured or killed.
In the south (Kandahar) a district police chief was killed by a roadside bomb.
October 31, 2012: In the south (Helmand) two roadside bombs killed 11 civilians. The Taliban denied responsibility and have been increasingly denying that they are causing most of the civilian deaths. But most Afghans know better.
October 26, 2012: In the north (Faryab province) the Taliban attempted to kill some senior officers and local officials inside a mosque. The bomb exploded outside the mosque, killing over 40 people, but no one inside was killed or badly injured.
October 19, 2012: Some 450 kilometers northwest of the capital a roadside bomb killed 19 civilians.