Logistics: Zealots Discover That Cash Is King


June 10, 2009: The Taliban has, like many terrorist organizations before it, been devolving into a purely gangster enterprise. Although the leadership still believes in strict application of their tribes lifestyle rules (which angers the other tribes they try to impose then on), they have so little popular support, even within their own tribe, that they to rely more and more on cash to keep their gunmen on the job. Recruiting is difficult because everyone knows that if you run into foreign troops, you will most likely not survive the experience. So even tribesmen who believe in the religious angle, are not eager to volunteer for such a high risk job. Offer a few hundred bucks a month, and the opportunity for some looting, and you can get the people you need. But that means you need a constant cash flow, and the Taliban have had to spend a lot more of their time raising money. Right now, the main sources are extortion (from affluent families, businesses, government officials), smuggling (of drugs, gems and lumber) and protection (of the illegal drug, mining and lumbering operations). This year's government offensive in Afghanistan is going for the cash.

The large increase in reconnaissance aircraft (manned and UAVs) sent to Afghanistan has made it easier to spot the smuggling routes, and interdict them. The drugs are destroyed, while the gems and lumber collected and warehoused for later sale. This is costing the Taliban lots of money, and their communications chatter contains a lot more talk of a cash flow crises and complaints from "clients" that the protection is not working.

The Taliban use of kidnapping and murder, to back up their extortion threats, was probably the last straw for many tradition minded Afghans. Thus the extortion operations are backfiring, with Afghan and foreign troops coming in and offering to provide free protection, if only the locals will join the self-defense forces and help protect themselves. This is asking a lot, because the villagers will have to depend on outsiders (the Afghan security forces and foreign troops). But with each self-defense success, villages in the area hear about it, and are more willing to join.

Outside of the Kandahar/Helmand area, the Taliban heartland where most of the Taliban leadership comes from, there is growing anger at the Taliban. The Taliban form of Islam is alien to tribes outside the Taliban heartland. All Pushtun tribes agree with the Taliban on Islamic piety and dislike of foreigners, but to most rural Afghans, anyone not from their tribe can be considered a foreigner, especially if these strangers come with guns and giving orders. Throughout most of southern Afghanistan, the Taliban are now seen as a bunch of heretics (for their "alien" interpretation of Islam), bandits (for all the extortion and smuggling) and terrorists (for their use of force on those who do not obey).

By going after the money supply, the Taliban are forced to steal and terrorize more, which encourages more Afghans to fight back. The Taliban are sliding further in this direction, which will ultimately lead to their destruction. The Taliban are trying to avoid this by denouncing the terrorists and gangsters in their ranks. This works for some Afghans, until they realize that there are no "good" Taliban, only some that are more glib than others.





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