Afghanistan: The Taliban Turn Too Tough


March 19,2008: There are 78,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. The 28,000 Americans are all allowed to fight, but most of the 50,000 NATO personnel are restricted in how they can be used. It has been this way for years, and the nations that allow their troops to fight (like Britain, Canada, Denmark, Romania, Estonia, the Netherlands, and non-NATO Australia), are getting angrier at those who will not (especially Germany, which has a large force that is forbidden from going after the Taliban). As Spring comes to Afghanistan, the armed Taliban will be out, supporting attacks on reconstruction, education (unless it's just religious) and anyone who supports democratic government (the Taliban considers democracy "un-Islamic"). In the last year, Taliban attacks kept about four percent of children out of school. This is often done by burning down the local school, or killing teachers. The tribes support the schools, but if the Taliban can get one of their combat teams (50-100 gunmen) into an area, the tribesmen back down and do what the Taliban want. These Taliban teams are large enough to drive away local police. The Taliban groups can be gone before the Afghan army can show up, and return to keep the locals terrorized. But the U.S./NATO troops are more mobile, and have better intel (UAVs and manned aircraft). If foreign troops are available, the Taliban often get caught, and that's when those items show up in the news, about "20-50 Taliban killed in southern Afghanistan." Last year, over 4,000 Taliban were killed in this way, and the Taliban lost influence in many areas. But NATO commanders can look at their maps and do the math. With a few thousand more troops, they can shut down the Taliban "enforcers" sooner and more often, shutting the Taliban out of many areas permanently. This takes the pressure off more rural Afghans, allowing them to send their kids to school, rebuild roads, get electricity, and generally get on with their lives.

The Taliban leaders have done the same math, and are trying out alternate tactics. The increased number of suicide bomber attacks are of dubious value. As in Iraq, most of the victims are civilians, which turns more of the population against the Taliban. Arabs have been more willing to accept the al Qaeda religious belief that Moslem civilians caught by a suicide bomb are "involuntary martyrs", and Moslems who don't agree with al Qaeda are not really Moslems at all, and can be killed. Even in Arab nations, most of the population was appalled at these attitudes, and have turned against al Qaeda in the last five years. Afghans are less tolerant of this kind of terrorist violence. But al Qaeda has shifted personnel and cash from Iraq (where they have been defeated) to Afghanistan, and al Qaeda still believes in suicide bombings. So if the Taliban wants al Qaeda help, it's got to accept the dead civilians. The Taliban believe that the few NATO troops killed in these attacks have a disproportionate impact on politics back in Europe, and the pressure to pull NATO troops out of Afghanistan.

The Taliban is also paying more attention to Information War. They quickly claim dead civilians any time foreign troops drop a bomb near a residential area. This press release tactic is automatic, even if there are no dead civilians. Taliban publicists know how the mass media works, and get their version out quickly, and with the most dramatic claims. The Taliban knows that leftists in Europe, and Islamic radicals worldwide, have come to see the war in Afghanistan as a "war against Islam." Leftist and Islamic radical demonstrations in Europe have an impact on public opinion in nations that have troops in Afghanistan. If the Taliban can't defeat these troops, they can get them withdrawn by their governments.

The Taliban are also fighting an increasingly desperate war against spies and informers. As more Afghans get terrorized by the Taliban, more of them are willing to provide information to the police and foreign troops. This has proved to be deadly for the Taliban. Up to half the Taliban killed in the past year were the result of Afghans providing information to the government. The Taliban counter-intelligence effort is generally counter-productive, earning more hatred from Afghans. Attacking cell phone towers is an example of counter-productive efforts. Afghans love their cell phones, and don't like having it interrupted. Afghans also don't like bullies. The independent streak in Afghan culture works against the Taliban in this case.

The Taliban have internal problems as well. The organization is becoming more radical as many more "moderate" members leave in disgust at the slaughter of civilians and bullying. Many pro-Taliban tribesmen are also upset at the links with the drug gangs. Drug addiction is now a growing problem in southern Afghanistan. This is not good, because everyone knows what this has done in Iran and Pakistan. The Taliban are now less "Islamic conservatives fighting to retain their traditional way-of-life," and more fanatics using terror and drug money to have their way.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close