November 29, 2012: The U.S. plans to maintain 10,000 trainers and combat troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Currently there are 66,000 American military personnel in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in early 2011. After 2014, most of the security will come from over 330,000 Afghan police and soldiers. American forces will be there to take care of emergencies and provide some muscle to control the corruption. Afghans can be rather blunt when it comes to robbing foreigners and billions of dollars in foreign aid will still be coming into Afghanistan each year. Despite many controls over the money, without some U.S. troops available Afghans can be very aggressive at just stealing this stuff. The American troops will also help protect auditors and monitors of all the aid money. Afghans will threaten these officials with kidnapping or death if they do not ignore the stealing. Many of the American troops remaining in Afghanistan will be Special Forces and SEAL commandos. So U.S. retribution against gangster officials will have some certainty to it.
Meanwhile, the major threat in Afghanistan will remain the drug gangs and corruption in the government (and most everywhere else as well). The Taliban and other Islamic terror groups will still grab the most headlines but these fanatics are a sideshow. Most Afghans are concerned with making a living, or getting out of Afghanistan, not dying for Islam. The Taliban and their ilk represent a small fraction of the Pushtun tribes (who are 40 percent of the population and dominant in the drug trade as well). The Pushtuns want to control the national government again but are willing to delay that if there is money to be made.
Pro-Taliban tribes want to work out some kind of official peace deal. There are practical reasons for this. A disproportionate amount of the billions in foreign aid has gone to areas not threatened by the Taliban. A growing number of Pushtun tribes, or clans within tribes, have turned against the Taliban (who are seen as a bunch of gangsters and drug gang hired guns pretending to be Islamic heroes). These tribal leaders have watched the rest of the country grow wealthy while the Taliban keep many Pushtuns in righteous poverty. It’s time for a change.
After a long (over a year) international investigation into a major act of corruption, involving the Kabul Bank and the theft of nearly a billion dollars, the trial of some of the guilty is now underway. This is proving embarrassing for many senior officials. Most of the stolen money went to a few dozen people. Members of president Karzais family were named as participants in the looting of the bank. When asked about that Karzai is evasive and alludes to the fact that the investigation is not yet over. Neither is the process whereby he will find a way to keep his kin out of jail. Already Karzai’s brother has surrendered millions in stolen funds but is trying to hold on to a lot of it. None of the senior officials will go to jail. If convicted they will flee to comfortable exile in one of several nations that are willing to host Afghan thieves. The Arab Gulf States are a favorite refuge. There is already a large Afghan refugee community there, including many avoiding indictments or convictions for fraud, or worse.
The investigation concluded that the fraud was carried out with the help of auditors from the Pakistani branch of a Western accounting firm (PricewaterhouseCooper). The Pakistani auditors are considered criminally liable, and this is likely to turn into an international legal crises. Foreign aid donors have been increasingly angry at the blatant theft of foreign aid and the government corruption that abets it. The donor nations are demanding less stealing or there will be less aid. Some countries are unable to halt the stealing and corruption and have sharply cut their aid for Afghanistan.
A year ago foreign donors worked out yet another deal that allowed the resumption of much foreign aid. Money was being withheld because so much aid was being blatantly stolen by senior officials. The immediate cause of last year’s aid freeze was the looting of the Kabul Bank. Two years ago it was discovered that Kabul Bank (a major financial institution) had been looted of a billion dollars. Yet no one was indicted and only ten percent of that billion has been recovered. Even threats to withhold aid have not persuaded the government to look for the missing money and those who stole it. Pressure eventually did spur the government to action. Yet corruption is widely regarded as a perfectly acceptable way to get rich. Just wait the foreigners out and keep taking their money. Life is good. In this case, the Afghans blinked. But it was not a complete surrender to the donor nations, although Afghans were forced to allow more controls over the aid cash. This makes the money more difficult to steal and the thieves easier to identify and punish (which is more likely only if the guilty parties travel to the West). The new rules may allow up to half the money stolen from Kabul Bank to be recovered. Maybe.
The war against the drug gangs continues. In the last year the amount of land planted with opium poppies increased 18 percent while the opium harvest declined by a third. This was all because of more poppy fields being destroyed by troops. These crops are too easy to spot from the air and neither the Taliban or drug gang gunmen are powerful enough to stop government troops coming in to destroy these crops.
The U.S. and the Afghan government are still arguing over when the Afghans can take over all of Bagram Prison. The U.S. turned over most of Bagram Prison outside Kabul to Afghan control three months ago. The Afghans are now responsible for 3,000 prisoners there. The Americans retained custody of several hundred "high value" Taliban (and other terrorist group) prisoners, because of fear that Afghan control of these men would lead to bribes or coercion being used to obtain their freedom. So far the Afghans have proved unable to hold on to senior terrorists, who are able to bribe their way out of Afghan controlled prisons. The U.S. is planning to shift most of these guys to Guantanamo but still needs a place to keep terrorist leaders it captures in Afghanistan.
In most parts of the country the Taliban have, under orders from their leaders in Pakistan, stopped destroying schools. Schools are still burned down or blown up but this is usually the work of criminals trying to extort money from the school.
In the south (Uruzgan province) a bus was hit by a roadside bomb, killing eight civilians and wounding ten.
November 24, 2012: In the east (Ghazni province) police discovered and aborted a major terror attack on religious festivities. Over a ton of explosives were seized and several Taliban members were arrested.
November 23, 2012: In the east (Wardak province) a suicide car bomb killed two and wounded sixty. The Taliban said this was in retaliation of the recent execution of Taliban convicted of carrying out attacks that killed a lot of people. The government uses the death penalty a lot because trying to keep these guys in jail for a long time doesn’t work. Eventually the Taliban or kin of the imprisoned will bribe or threaten guards to get people out of prisons. For incorrigible terrorists (or murderous criminals), the only way to avoid future atrocities is execution.
November 21, 2012: A suicide bomber killed himself and two Afghan guards at the entrance to a NATO compound in Kabul.
November 18, 2012: Afghanistan has persuaded Pakistan to release nine Afghan Taliban leaders from prison to facilitate peace talks with pro-Taliban tribes in Afghanistan.
November 16, 2012: In the northeast (Nouristan province) three policemen guarding a bank robbed the place of $550,000 and fled. They are being sought.