Afghanistan: Scary Monsters


August 20,2008:  The Taliban have embarked on what amounts to a large scale suicide strategy. In addition to dozens of individual suicide bombers, they have dozens of field units, each of about a hundred gunmen, looking to score spectacular (from a media, not a military, standpoint) victories. Such attacks are being deliberately made against foreign troops from specific countries. France and Canada are particular targets. Month by month, the Taliban lose far more troops than they kill, in going after specific national contingents, but they are heartened by news reports of political unrest back in these countries, and calls for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The Taliban don't really understand how democracy works (since they consider democracy un-Islamic and sinful), and make more of the media and political ruckus these attacks generate, than is justified by the actual results. But the Taliban have found that their followers get a boost out of the foreign angst over the casualties.

The Taliban are depending more and more on terrorizing the population into compliance and cooperation. Battles between Taliban and villagers are more common, as are Taliban executions of those considered un-Islamic. This can include foreign aid workers, Afghans who work for the foreigners, teachers in girls schools plus religious and tribal leaders who don't agree with the Taliban. But the new suicide tactics also incorporates the increasing use of human shields. Taliban are now stopping civilians from leaving combat zones, and forcing civilians to remain in villages and compounds the Taliban are using. The Taliban know that this discourages the use of smart bombs or artillery against them. And if these weapons are used, the Taliban denounce the deliberate slaughter of civilians by the foreign troops. No death goes unexploited. But the widespread use of suicide bombers is very alien to Afghan culture (which very much believes in "he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.") It's telling that the Taliban have become the bogeyman that mothers now use to frighten small children. Scary monsters, indeed.

What the Taliban are overlooking is that they grabbed power fifteen years ago because five years of civil war had made the people eager for anyone who could stop the fighting and general lawlessness. But this time, the Taliban are the main source of unrest and destruction. The Taliban demand "taxes" to fight their holy war and freely kill civilians. The main pro-Taliban tribal chief in Pakistan boasts of collecting over $6 million a month in such taxes.

The cell phone has become the most powerful weapon used against the Taliban. The government has a nationwide media program promoting the quick use of the phone to report suicide bomber attacks. Tips are provided on how to spot a suicide bomber, and the number to call. So far this year, the Taliban and al Qaeda have set off nearly a thousand bombs, killing mostly civilians. This, despite the fact that the target for most of the bombs are foreign troops. The Taliban make a big deal about infidel (non-Moslem) soldiers defiling a Moslem country, ignoring the fact that the Taliban are more feared and hated than the foreign troops. But the Taliban cannot cope with the foreign troops in head-to-head combat. Some 80 percent of foreign troops casualties are caused by suicide and roadside bombs.

The main problems in Afghanistan; corruption and the drug trade, are taking a back seat to counter-terrorism work. But the drug gangs are running their own terror ops. In particular, the drug lords are getting their leased politicians to go after crusading journalists. Media stories about corrupt politicians are popular, but they bring unwelcome heat on the drug kingpins, who like to fancy themselves latter day Robin Hoods, not warlords with a good cash flow. So more and more investigative reporters are being harassed by the police.

August 19, 2008: An ambush near the capital killed ten French peacekeepers, an event that prompted the president of France to announce a trip to Afghanistan to boost troop morale. What the troops want now are more special operations units, so they can extract some payback. The Taliban unit that pulled off the attack will probably be shot to piece in another operation before the end of the year. That's the usual fate of Taliban units that are that active. Meanwhile, another Taliban attempt to attack a U.S. base failed. The attack used suicide bombers and over a hundred gunmen, but failed, with great loss of life to the attackers. These attacks are high risk, even if they succeed. But the foreign troops know the Taliban attack tactics now, and have adjusted their base defenses to deal with it.

August 17, 2008: A series of Taliban attacks over the last three days have left nearly a hundred dead, mostly among the attackers. The Taliban are freely using suicide bombers and untrained gunmen in attempts to kill foreign troops. The Taliban police have also been a target, and police deaths are up fifty percent this year, compared to last year (when about a thousand died). The local cops are largely seen as corrupt and inept, but they usually can defeat the Taliban. The Afghan Army is much more respected, even though a disproportionate number of its officers are recruited from the north (among the Tajik tribes) and few of the troops come pro-Taliban areas of southern Afghanistan.

August 16, 2008: The government, responding to months of complaints, removed Asadullah Khalid as the governor of Kandahar province. Khalid had been accused of corruption and poor rule in general. Kandahar is the traditional center of Taliban support in Afghanistan, and the source of 90 percent of the heroin production. The new governor is an army general, and expected to resist Taliban threats and drug gang bribes. It's a tough job.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

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

Each month we count on your contribute. 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