Intelligence: Witness Protection On The Afghan Border


September20, 2008:  The U.S. intelligence network in Pakistan, along the Afghan border, has been under construction for more than a decade. While the Taliban and tribal unrest has made it easier for the government, and the U.S. (via the Special Forces or CIA) to recruit informants in the Pakistani border areas, the Taliban has responded by launching witch hunts, killing unpopular or suspicious tribesmen, after accusing them of being spies. The point is made, even if justice is not served.

The informant network is getting lots of key Taliban and al Qaeda leaders killed. Several times a month, GPS guided missiles are fired from Afghanistan, or from UAVs overhead, and kill people who appear to have been identified by locals. The Americans pay large rewards for information that leads to a successful attack. While the Taliban are killing anyone they suspect of being an informer, most of the dead appear to be innocents who simply looked guilty to increasingly paranoid Taliban.

The growing use of cell and satellite phones in the tribal areas has caused the Taliban and al Qaeda no end of grief. These devices are very popular with the tribesmen, despite the known danger of the phones being tapped into by the Americans, or used by informants to let the Americans know where a terrorist big shot will be staying for the night. The Taliban will try to seize all cell and satellite phones in a particularly sensitive area, but this is difficult to do. Blowing up cell phone towers is very unpopular, and hurts the Taliban users as well.

Cell phones can get you killed. If the Taliban grab someone they consider suspicious, and find a cell phone on him, they will just kill the guy, to be on the safe side. Some tribesmen carry two cell phones. There's the fancy one they like to show off to friends, and the cheap burner they will use in public places. Show off a fancy one in the wrong location, and you are marking yourself for a mugging.

Naturally, the CIA and U.S. Army Special Forces don't talk about their informants in the tribal areas. But some of the chatter in the area is remarkably well informed about the matter. For example, the CIA first began recruiting informants during the 1980s, in support of the operations in Afghanistan against the Russians. This network was allowed to lie fallow in the early 1990s, but was revived after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the mid 1990s, and especially after al Qaeda arrived a few years later. Some tribesmen have gotten quite rich off the informant game, and then disappeared. Not to an early grave, but apparently into some kind of "informant protection program" exile. Occasionally one of these exiles will break the rules and ring up old friends, just to see how things are going. For the Taliban, they aren't going well at all.






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