Afghanistan: The Chase Is On, And On, And On

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April 20, 2009: The U.S. has told the Afghans to prepare for more violence, as the U.S. brings in three additional brigades this year, increasing American troops strength in Afghanistan by 55 percent. The Taliban and drug gangs control many valleys and villages in areas where they grow poppies and manufacture heroin. These are the targets, and the Taliban are paid to defend them. The drug gangs cannot afford to lose control of many of these places, and will fight hard to hold on.

A national opinion survey shows that, overall, the Taliban is unpopular throughout Afghanistan. Except around Kandahar, and the few nearby provinces where most of the heroin is produced. Here, about half the population support the Taliban. But 90 percent of the national population do not. The reason for this is simple. The word has gotten around that the current Taliban are like what they were a decade ago (oppressive, intolerant, violent), only worse. The Taliban now use terror tactics more than they did in the 1990s. The fact that the Taliban have hired themselves out to the drug gangs does little for their reputation as well. In most of the country, there is no drug manufacturing, and the drugs are considered a scourge. The Taliban are blamed for this curse as well.

Despite protests from some intelligence officials, the U.S. is now jamming illegal Taliban radio stations, and disrupting pro-Taliban websites. Most intelligence officials could see the wisdom of shutting down the small FM stations (a transmitter can fit in the back of a pickup truck.) These mobile stations take advantage of the fact that, because of all the mountains, FM radio signals (which travel in a straight line) are restricted to small areas, and the Taliban threaten and control populations via these broadcasts. Intelligence operatives like to obtain useful information from these broadcasts, but understand that these FM stations are getting Afghans killed. There is more debate over shutting down Taliban websites. These sites have always been a good source of intelligence, but attacks on them have been ordered because the sites are often used as a key communications tool for the Taliban. The brass consider crippling Taliban communications more important than the information obtained from monitoring them. The U.S. and some NATO nations have been very active in electronic warfare in Afghanistan, including listening to electronic transmissions over Taliban territory, and now jamming aggressively.

Foreign troops are using their intelligence and mobility advantages to stage raids on drug related activities. For example, the drug gangs have to distribute special seed to produce high yield (of opium) poppies. There are also lots of shipments of special chemicals to turn opium into heroin. The drug gangs and Taliban use their drug profits to buy lots of stuff, and the foreign troops are detecting the goodies in transit, and where it is stored. The raids on the storage sites are demoralizing and damaging to the drug gangs, and have resulted in the capture of some key drug gang personnel.

In the last eight years, the U.S. has lost 446 troops in combat in Afghanistan. The casualty rate (losses as a percent of troops involved) is still  lower than Iraq during the most violent periods (2005-7), and that fighting produced a casualty rate a third of what was suffered in Vietnam and World War II. In a historical context, the Afghanistan fighting is a very low intensity war. The Taliban avoid fighting the foreign troops, and increasingly rely on roadside and suicide bombs to inflict casualties. This produces newsworthy explosions, but fewer casualties than more conventional wars. The fighting in Afghanistan consists of a lot of searching and patrolling, as Afghan security forces and foreign troops seek out the Taliban and drug gang personnel.

April 16, 2009: In Kabul, several hundred young Shia women attempted to march on parliament to present a petition opposing a new marriage law that limits the freedoms of Shia wives. A mob of Shia men, apparently from a Shia mosque, threw rocks at the Shia women and threatened violence. Police kept the men from attacking the women. This sort of political activity is new for Afghanistan, and causing culture shock for men, who are accustomed to having their way with women. The new law goes beyond what is allowed in Islamic law, and permits Shia men to starve their wives if the women do not provide sex on demand. About 15 percent of Afghans are Shia.

 

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