Attrition: The Taliban And The Ideal Target

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June 4, 2012: The UN recently announced that Afghan civilian deaths due to combat and terrorism have dropped 36 percent compared to last year. In the first four months of 2012, 578 civilians died, compared to 898 in the first four months of 2011. Taliban and other Islamic radical groups caused 79 percent of these deaths, Afghan security forces 12 percent, and foreign forces nine percent.

Earlier this year the Taliban called the UN a liar after the release of a UN casualty report for 2011. The UN counted 3,021 civilians killed by combat last year, an eight percent increase over the previous year, and 77 percent were the victims of Taliban or other Islamic radical group action. The number of civilian dead has doubled since 2007. Last year the biggest increase was from suicide bombings, where civilian victims were up 80 percent to 450. But biggest killer remained roadside bombs and locally made landmines, which killed 967 civilians.

Military action (foreign or Afghan) caused 14 percent of civilian deaths, and nine percent were from situations where the source could not be determined. Foreign troops and Afghan security forces pushed the Taliban out of many areas but the Islamic terrorists simply continued to make their attacks wherever they could. This meant an increase in violence in areas along the Pakistani border, as well as contested areas in Kandahar and Helmand provinces (where most of the world's heroin comes from). The Taliban doubled their use of roadside bombs and mines to nearly a thousand a month. But the number of these devices that exploded only went up six percent over last year. That's because the American anti-IED (Improvised Explosive Device) technology and specialists had arrived (from Iraq) in force and acclimated to Afghan conditions. Most bombs and mines were detected and destroyed.

The Taliban had banned the use of landmines in 1998, but that, like most Taliban promises and proclamations, was a ploy, not a promise. The Taliban always claim they are fighting for the people but civilian deaths due to Taliban activity were up 14 percent last year, while deaths due to the security forces (local and foreign) were down four percent. Deaths among foreign troops were 566 last year, a drop of 20 percent from 2010. Taliban deaths are not reported, but they are counted, but all NATO would admit to was capturing or killing over a thousand Taliban leaders last year. It’s believed over 10,000 other Taliban were killed or (less frequently) captured last year.

The Taliban has been shifting its tactics and in the last two years has put more emphasis on assassination of government and tribal leaders who refuse to cooperate. Last year Taliban death squads murdered 495 people this way, a 160 percent increase over 2009. The Taliban have also ordered their gunmen to reduce violence against civilians and stay away from foreign and Afghan troops. The Taliban believe that the foreign troops will leave within two years and then the Islamic radical group can make its move. This is delusional, because most Afghans oppose the Taliban and drug gangs. The Taliban are not the major threat, the drug gangs are, because these groups have the cash to bribe officials and hire lots of gunmen. The Taliban are especially valued as hired guns because the religious fanatics are more reliable and determined. On a mission from God, so to speak, while other hires are just in it for the money and not keen on dying for anyone or anything.

NATO combat deaths for the first four months of the year continue to be lower (by 14 percent) than the same period last year. April was down 20 percent. The Taliban are still desperately trying to protect the vital (to their finances) opium and heroin production in Helmand and Kandahar. This provides cash to finance Taliban operations in the rest of the country. That is not working so well, and Taliban everywhere have turned more often to purely criminal activities (extortion, theft, kidnapping) to hire gunmen and buy supplies. The drug gangs are not hiring enough Taliban gunmen to keep the larger number of Taliban members on the job. While there is a hard core of true believers (in making Afghanistan a religious dictatorship once more) in the Taliban, most members are in it because of the money and the opportunity to do what most Afghan young men aspire to: be a traditional warrior who can go out and terrorize people and take what he wants. This, and the association with the drug business, has made the Taliban very unpopular with most Afghans, especially in the north. But bandits, criminal gangs, and warlords have always been part of Afghan life and the Taliban and drug gangs help perpetuate it. These vile habits have been largely eliminated in most other nations but ridding Afghanistan of these curses cannot be done immediately. While most Afghans want peace, they are inclined to take the money and let peace wait, if that's the way things are at the moment.

 


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