Counter-Terrorism: The Bombs Of Helmand


September 5, 2009: The Taliban inability to cope with foreign soldiers has driven them to the increasing use of vehicle mines and roadside bombs. Both of these weapons, but particularly the vehicle mines, kill more Afghan civilians than foreign troops. As happened in Iraq, this turns the civilians against those who planted the mines.

The Taliban have popular support in only a few parts of Afghanistan, mostly in the south, and particularly Helmand province. Here the production of heroin is the biggest industry in the province. Most everyone gains some benefit from the heroin business, as this one province (of 34) produces most of the heroin produced in Afghanistan. Helmand contains only 4.5 percent of the 33 million people in Afghanistan. But Helmand is where most of the civilian victims of landmines are found, and the civilians don't like it at all. Civilians accuse the Taliban of being cowards, and demoralized by their inability to fight the foreign troops like Afghan warriors should (even an ambush is seen as more honorable than planting a mine or roadside bombs). This is compounded by the growing Taliban use of vehicle mines, which are easily buried in the dirt roads that predominate throughout the country. The foreign troops have their MRAPs and engineers to check roads for mines, before foreign troops travel down them. But for civilians, there is no warning. Just an explosion, and many dead or maimed civilians. The Taliban are also planting anti-personnel mines in places where they believe foreign troops will come on foot. But the casualties are usually Afghan civilians, especially kids.  The Taliban rarely come and take these mines away if the foreign troops don't come by. It's actually the foreign troops, or government deminers, who remove Taliban anti-personnel mines. This happens after some civilians walk into an unmarked Taliban mine field, and call the Afghan army or police for help. But the foreign troops can get around faster, and have more medical resources, so they usually show up first.

Thus while the foreign troops are busy chasing down the Taliban and drug gangs in Helmand, the civilians have learned that they have more to fear from the Taliban bombs, than they do from the foreign troops. Responding to that, the foreign troops are trying to provide even more medical care for bomb victims, as well as clearing key roads for civilian, as well as military, use. While most people in Helmand like the money they make off heroin, they have little love for the foreign troops, and less for the Taliban (who also torment the locals for not being sufficiently religious, and choose people, seemingly at random, and kill them for being "spies.") The Taliban terrorize those civilians who seem too friendly to the foreign troops, or not enthusiastic enough in their support of the Taliban.

If the Taliban could be driven out, and the drug gangs allowed to remain, that would seem an ideal situation for most Afghans. But that's not how the foreign troops appear to be playing it. The Taliban and drug gangs are both targets, and the foreigners appear, to the locals, to be intent on destroying the heroin business.

Thus the foreign troops get the impression that the local civilians don't like anyone, who isn’t from the area, very much.



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