Attrition: Winning The Mind Games


October 28, 2009: Iraq has become a very quiet place for American troops, with 29 troops dying there in the last four months (not all of them from combat), compared to ten times as many in Afghanistan during the same period. Moreover, some 60 percent of the Afghan dead are from IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, or roadside and suicide bombs). That means there could be 300 American IED dead in Afghanistan this year, about twice the number suffered last year.

Obviously, most of the IEDs are now going off in Afghanistan. This happened for the first time in March, when there were 343 IEDs used in Iraq, and 361 in Afghanistan. The Taliban believe the IED is the key to victory, and wonder weapon that will succeed where others have failed.

In 2007, about a thousand IED were built and placed in Afghanistan. That doubled to 2,000 in 2008. Last year, there were some 2,500 Taliban attacks, about 80 percent IEDs. So far this year, over 60 percent of the casualties in Afghanistan have been caused by IEDs.

In Afghanistan, about two-thirds of those roadside bombs were spotted and disabled before they could go off. The U.S. and British troops had transferred their Iraq counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Device, or roadside bomb) techniques and technology to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban found that they were not as good at this IED stuff as the Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq were. In 2005, when there were far fewer IED/suicide bomber attacks, 130 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan. The foreign troops are the principal Taliban target, as it's a big deal for the Taliban to "cast out the infidels (non-Moslems)." Failure has been constant. Increasing the IED attacks this year by about twelve times the 2005 level has yielded 250 dead foreign troops.

But that is not enough to defeat the foreign troops in a military sense. NATO casualties in Afghanistan are already lower than those in Iraq, which are, in turn, only a third of the casualty rates in Vietnam and World War II. Historically, you have to kill at least ten percent of a force to have any chance of defeating it. But this year, the Taliban and drug gangs will kill a quarter of percent (one in 400) of the foreign troops.

What the Taliban, and especially the drug gangs, want to do is use the foreign troops casualties to persuade the foreign governments to remove those troops. The main reason for all this is to enable the drug gangs to keep manufacturing (via growing and processing poppy plants) heroin. This has made many Afghans (mainly Pushtuns) unimaginably wealthy (not hard to do in the poorest nation in Eurasia). While the Taliban have illusions about ruling Afghanistan again, the majority of Afghans (especially the 60 percent who are not Pushtun) want none of that, and have the guns and determination to get their way. But with the foreign troops gone, the drug gangs can buy the cooperation of most warlords, politicians and tribal leaders in the country.

While the drug gangs are rich, they are not a military match for the foreign troops. So they are basically running a propaganda game on the foreign governments providing those troops. The deaths of those foreign troops are made to look like the harbinger of some military apocalypse. So while the Taliban and drug gangs are losing militarily, they are winning the mind games. What will most likely do them in will be the next realization, by the foreign governments, and media, that the growing availability of cheaper heroin is causing demands from the voters to "do something." Eventually, too many people connect the dots, and the Taliban scam is undone.





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