Attrition: Another Year of Blood In Pushtun Land

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December 17, 2009: The violence in Afghanistan is not yet anywhere near as bloody as in Iraq during the peak years (2005-7) of fighting. This year, civilian deaths in Afghanistan are up about a quarter, to some 1,100, over last year. In Iraq, there were often three times as many civilian deaths in a single month during the peak years. As in Iraq, most of the civilian deaths were at the hands of the Islamic terrorists, who are much less concerned with civilian deaths than government forces or foreign troops. Because the Taliban have operated a successful Information War campaign with local and foreign media, civilian deaths get a lot of publicity (especially if at the hands of foreign troops, and Taliban use of human shields is played down), and numbers are pretty accurate. Same with foreign troop deaths, partly because they are so low, and each individual death gets the kind of attention that was rare in past wars. This year, about 500 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan, and about three times as many Afghan police and soldiers. Enemy (mainly Taliban) losses, including captured and dead, are running at about 4-5,000. The Taliban pay so well ($300 a month, and up, for most fighters), partly because it's no secret that the Taliban take higher casualties, and you've got to pay a higher rate to attract enough fighters.

The fighting in Afghanistan is more traditional than what happened in Iraq. Afghanistan is always seeing battles between different warlords. Peace is not a normal condition. The Taliban are a warlord militia with a religious angle, and they aren't the only one out there. But most Afghan warlords are in it for the money and power, not to establish a religious dictatorship in Afghanistan, and then the world. Think of the current central government as the largest warlord faction, and one that strives to be the first among equals (which is how the "national government" in Afghanistan traditionally rolls.)

Across the border, you have a more traditional central government in Pakistan, waging war against one of several Taliban warlords, in the tribal territories along the Afghan border. There, casualties have been similar, with about 1,200 civilian deaths (most in the tribal territories), and over 3,000 Taliban deaths. But there are over half a dozen major armed, Islamic radical, groups in Pakistan, and most of them are at war with the government. Total casualties are a bit less than in Afghanistan, but the fighting, on both sides of the border, has killed about 10,000 people in the past year. Still a lot less than in Iraq, mainly because the Pushtun tribesmen, who comprise most of the hostile fighters, are more low tech than the Iraqis, and this expresses itself in a lower number of deaths.

 


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