Murphy's Law: Fear Factor


July 1, 2007: Successful counter-terror operations have some unpleasant side effects. Case in point is the recent Taliban kidnapping of 18 Taliban mine-clearing technicians, and four mine-detecting dogs. The Taliban have accused the de-miners of being spies for the government, and said they would conduct an investigation. Both the men and the dogs take years to train, and even the Taliban recognize the value of mine clearing. Foreign aid groups have been active, for 18 years, in training and equipping Afghans to remove the millions of mines left in the ground by Russians and Afghans during the 1980s war.

The head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, long ago declared the mine clearing personnel as "protected people." That has kept the Taliban from attacking the several thousand mine clearing personnel (almost all of them Afghans) who are still working to finish the jobs (which is expected to take several more years.) But recent reverses for the Taliban has caused them to become more paranoid. Many Taliban leaders, including three of the highest ranking ones, have been killed so far this year. The Taliban suspect government spies. Technically, the de-miners work for the government, and to an increasingly paranoid Taliban, the de-miners could have been turned into intelligence gatherers for the government.

This attack on the de-miners is very unpopular with most Afghans. Knowing that, if the captured de-miners are hurt, or killed, it would be a big blow to whatever popularity the Taliban still have, Taliban leaders rushed to prevent this incident from blowing up in their faces. Most of the de-miners were released after four days.

Local Taliban leaders are pretty independent minded, and the ones who had the de-miners didn't take kindly to this interference from other Taliban, or the local tribal officials, who demanded the release of the de-miners. One of the kidnapped victims was not released, so the Taliban could maintain their insistence that this was all about catching government spies. But the entire incident left Afghans with the impression that the Taliban was unsure of itself, and increasingly unstable.


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