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Afghanistan: The Great Curse
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February 26, 2013: The U.S. announced it is investigating Afghan government charges that U.S. Army Special Forces are involved in kidnappings, torturing, and murdering people in Wardak province (is west of the capital). There has been a lot going on in Wardak lately, most of it going badly for the Taliban. The Islamic radicals are fighting back as best they can. For example, last month there was an explosion in a Wardak province mosque that left seven people dead. Locals blamed the Americans, who had been in the area a few hours earlier with a larger number of Afghan troops to capture a Taliban leader who was hiding out in the village. The Afghan soldiers got their man, after a brief firefight, and left. Locals are unsure what caused the explosion and the U.S. insists there was no artillery fire or air attacks in the area. It may have been a bomb the Taliban were assembling. Mosques are often used by the Taliban for storing weapons and assembling bombs and almost always accuse the Americans of causing any unexplained deaths. Because of incidents like this, the Taliban has been taking a beating in Wardak, mainly because of the American Special Forces and their Afghan counterparts. The official position is that Karzai’s order is a good sign that the Afghanistans are being more assertive and taking charge. Unofficially this is seen as another example of how the corrupt Karzai family is bought and paid for by the Taliban, which is putting more pressure on the Karzai clan to ease the NATO and Afghan security forces pressure on Taliban and drug gang operations. Karzai has done things like this before, and American threats to cut aid or take a closer look at Karzai family finances gets him to back off. Some believe that the recent Karzai demands about Special Forces in Wardak and no NATO air strikes for Afghan forces are actually bargaining chips in an Afghan effort to keep the aid money coming directly to the government (where it can be stolen).

Getting Special Forces out of Wardak would be a great victory for the Taliban, but what they really want help with is the growing American use of missile armed UAVs to hunt down and kill Taliban leaders. Last year such attacks went up 72 percent in Afghanistan (to about 500 missiles fired).

Afghan forces are taking over more of the security operations and they are uncomfortably (to the Taliban and drug gangs) successful. Moreover, the Afghan police and soldiers play by Afghan rules. That means they also (like the Taliban and drug gangs) use kidnapping, torture, and murder against their enemies. In many cases the Afghan security forces are out for revenge because of past losses from Taliban violence. Revenge is a big deal in Afghan culture. The idea is that if you kill someone, there will be payback. That often gives people pause when they consider killing their way to an objective. But the Taliban consider themselves above all this because they are on a Mission From God. The Taliban have responded with a sharp increase in attacks on the police and soldiers, especially assassination attempts against leaders.

The most effective Taliban weapon against the police is money. For the right price the police can be persuaded to back off. The police will even sell you weapons, ammunition, and information. Most police never miss an opportunity to steal. The traffic police are considered the worst. Not only will they frequently stop motorists and demand bribes but they will seize cars for the least infraction and later release the vehicle to its owner with most of its parts missing. The presence of U.S. troops or advisors can prevent overt acts of corruption by the police but the corruption is endemic in Afghanistan. It’s the great curse that keeps the country poor and dangerous. It is the main reason why Afghanistan is still the poorest and most dangerous country in Eurasia.

The Taliban announced that they would continue attacking members of the security forces as well as civilians, despite being condemned by the UN for such activities. Last year, for the first time in six years, civilian casualties declined in Afghanistan. That was a 12 percent drop from the 3,131 civilians killed in 2011. But the Taliban still account for over 80 percent of civilian deaths and that went up nine percent last year (over 2011). The Taliban believe they are on a holy quest and that any civilians they kill are either government collaborators or “involuntary martyrs” for the cause of global Islamic domination. In contrast to more Taliban caused civilian deaths last year, those caused by American operations declined by half. These were usually people caught in the crossfire, which is common as the Taliban are regular users of civilians as human shields. In 2012, Taliban attacks on government employees (especially police and intelligence officials) increased seven fold. Last year 491 police and soldiers were killed, as well as 382 foreign troops, and 2,716 of the enemy (drug gang members and Taliban).

Peace talks with the Taliban are not going well, largely because the Pakistani Taliban are not cooperating.  At Afghanistan’s request Pakistan (to encourage Taliban on both sides of the border to talk peace) freed 24 Afghan Taliban it had imprisoned. At least half of those went right back to working for the Taliban, and none of them were much help in the peace efforts.

The Afghan government is at odds over what new equipment should be bought for the Afghan military. The Afghans want expensive items like jet fighters, tanks, and such, while the American advisors in Afghanistan recommend more equipment for the army and police that will aid them in fighting the Taliban and drug gangs. The senior Afghan officials prefer the more expensive items because it’s easier to extract bribes for that kind of stuff, especially if they can buy from the Russians or Chinese. Since the $16 billion for these purchases is coming from the United States, the Americans have the last word on what gets bought.

One drug gang is pressuring the government to persuade Iran to stop executing so many Afghan drug smugglers. This gang, in northern Takhar province, had ten of its members executed by Iran recently. The gang complains that Iran has executed 80 of its men in the last six months and wants some help from the government (which probably wants a larger bribe before they try to pressure the Iranians). Drugs, especially heroin, are taken out via Tajikistan in the north, Pakistan (mainly the port of Karachi) in the east, and Iran in the west. The smuggling gangs have made many rural Afghans wealthy but only if they are willing to risk death, injury, or imprisonment getting the drugs past border guards. The ones in Tajikistan and Pakistan can be bribed but the Iranians shoot first and later hang survivors caught with drugs near the border.

February 24, 2013: President Karzai ordered American Special Forces to leave Wardak province within two weeks.

It was another bad day for Taliban terrorism. Three of their attacks in eastern provinces failed. A car bomb in Nangarhar province went off near a security forces compound killing one person. A car bomb at a police checkpoint in Logar province wounded three and a suicide bomber approached a police headquarters in Logar province but only wounded one policeman. In Kabul, near the embassy district, a suicide bomber driving a car bomb and his accomplice were shot dead by police before they could detonate his explosives.

February 16, 2013: President Karzai has banned Afghan security forces from calling in NATO air strikes. This order is supposed to reduce civilian casualties but it will greatly increase police and army losses and discourage the security forces from going after the Taliban and drug gangs. This order is seen as another example of how much influence the drug gangs have in the government. Many senior members of the government have gotten rich off the drug trade, either via bribes or direct involvement.

February 14, 2013: American aid auditors are asking that $20 billion in aid for Afghanistan be held back until the Afghan government actually does something about the rampant and often blatant corruption. Too much of the money never reaches the projects it was meant for. Instead the cash is stolen and usually shipped out of the country. Many American foreign aid specialists suggest that the U.S. more closely supervise the aid money, but Afghan officials strongly oppose this, calling it an insult and an attack on Afghan sovereignty.

February 13, 2013: In the next year the U.S. will withdraw another 34,000 troops from Afghanistan, leaving about 32,000.

February 9, 2013: In the south (Helmand province) a roadside bomb went off and killed six civilians. The Taliban would not claim responsibility and when pressed (like the UN recently did) the Taliban make it clear that they will not stop using these bombs, which are one of their most effective weapons (and almost the only way to inflict casualties on foreign troops).

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