Attrition: War And Peace In Pakistan

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July 3, 2008: For all the dire news coming out of Pakistan, the actual combat has been relatively low key. In the first six months of the year, Islamic radical violence killed 1,569 people (nearly double the 869 dead in the first half of 2007). However, 44 percent of the dead this year were civilians, and 39 percent were Islamic radicals (mostly Taliban and al Qaeda). Only 12 percent of the dead were soldiers or police. This pattern was caused by the heavy use of bombs, including suicide bombers, by the radicals. The police and soldiers were better trained and equipped when it came to combat, with the Islamic radicals usually getting the worst of it.

Another factor is the reluctance of the government to push the Taliban too hard. These tribal warriors know how to hide in the rural border areas (near Afghanistan), where they have lived, and fought, for thousands of years. This has kept casualties down, even if it means allowing the Taliban to run free in some urban areas, embarrassing the government. But the Islamic radicals, as expected, got carried away, and "forced" the government to apply more force in the tribal areas. Thus the death toll in the second half of the year may well be higher, especially for the army.

There were slightly more deaths in Afghanistan, including hundreds of Pakistani Taliban crossing the border to help out their fellow Taliban (and earn a generous monthly stipend.) Off the south coast of India, a civil war in Sri Lanka left over three times as many dead. As is the case in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the fighting is confined to a small part of the country, a region full of men with guns and breathless news reporters.

 


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