Afghanistan: Let Us Steal In Peace

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September 28, 2010: The Taliban leadership, alarmed with their growing unpopularity in Afghanistan, are breaking ranks and approaching the national government to make deals. This is how Afghanistan traditionally works. The central government has little power, and serves mainly to deal with foreigners and settle disputes among the tribes and warlords.  What's different now is that the foreigners have troops in the country, with the backing of most of the tribes, to help fight the Taliban and the drug gangs. One thing all the tribes can agree on is that drugs and the Taliban are bad. The drug gangs because they created over a million addicts in Afghanistan, and their cash leads to more corruption and debauchery. The Taliban are hated because, during the 1990s, these religious fanatics made it clear that Taliban rule, and use of terror,  was, and still is, unpopular with most Afghans. NATO commanders fear that negotiations with Taliban leaders will involve more corruption of national government leaders. Some Taliban leaders are thoroughly corrupted by the drug trade, and want to convince the national government to become more involved in protecting the heroin trade, and getting paid for it.

The Taliban are also demoralized by the damage done to their sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan. In the last year, these sanctuaries have been attacked by the Pakistani Army and Air Force, as well as an increasing number of American UAVs firing missiles at Taliban leaders, and a growing force of Afghan special operations troops and Pakistani spies that supply target information for the UAVs. The Afghan special operations troops increasingly conduct ambushes and attacks on Taliban bases and war parties.

The Taliban and the drug gangs are under constant attack by 150,000 NATO troops, 136,000 Afghan soldiers and over 119,600 Afghan national police. There are also over 20,000 armed tribesmen fighting and confronting the Taliban. The government is seeking money from foreign donors to put over 10,000 of these anti-Taliban tribesmen on the payroll, at about half the pay of police, to defend their villages and valleys from the Taliban. The idea here is to take the pressure off the police, who are taking most of the casualties. Nearly a hundred police a month are dying in the battle with the Taliban and drug gangs. This is nearly 50 percent higher than losses among foreign troops, and more than twice as high as losses among Afghan soldiers. Some 40-50 civilian contractors for the foreign troops are killed each month. But the Taliban and drug gangs are taking even heavier losses, estimated at over a thousand dead a month. Many more of the Taliban wounded die later, because of a lack of modern medical care. Morale is falling within the Taliban and drug gangs, because of the high casualties and years of unmet promises about victory over the foreign soldiers and the central government. Particularly demoralizing has been the failure of the roadside bomb and anti-vehicle mine campaign. The Americans responded in the last year with MRAPs, UAVs, special recon aircraft, dozens of stationary blimps equipped with long range cameras and radars. All this has made it more dangerous to place bombs and mines, and much easier for the Americans to detect and disable (or destroy) the bombs and mines. As a result, casualties from these weapons have declined, month-by-month all this year. This despite the fact that 20 percent more mines and bombs were planted this year. Deaths from this effort are down ten percent and losses to the people making and planting the bombs are up fifty percent. The MRAPs have made the bombs much less deadly, and enabled the foreign forces to maintain their mobility advantage.

The recent national elections are still in the news because of furious media speculation over how much corruption was involved. No one really knows, and the full extent of the cheating may never be known. Cheating is a national sport in Afghanistan, which is common in very poor countries (and Afghanistan is the poorest in all of Eurasia.)

The U.S., and other foreign donors, are applying more pressure on Afghan leaders about the corruption and theft of aid. At the same time, the Afghans want to shut down many of the aid organizations (especially non-government organizations, or NGOs) and have the aid money sent directly to the Afghan government. This makes it easier to steal the aid. Foreign donors are threatening to halt aid, and are planning to implement more stringent controls. The foreigners also want more corrupt officials prosecuted. This is difficult to get done, because so many government officials are dirty.

September 26, 2010:  In the east (Kunar province) armed men kidnapped a British aid worker. She was led away on foot towards the nearby Pakistan border. Banditry is common in this area, and it is believed this was just an attempt to gain some ransom.

 

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