July 20, 2011:
A recent survey found Afghanistan was one of the five most corrupt nations on the planet. Efforts, mostly by foreign aid donors, to curb the stealing and extortion (mostly by government officials and the Taliban) have been unsuccessful. Often the resistance is blatant. President Karzai has twice been pressured to set up anti-corruption organizations. Both failed because incompetent or corrupt officials were appointed, and Karzai himself would intervene if senior officials were arrested (by ordering the prosecution to halt). The Taliban use extortion to fund themselves and terrorize people. But the Taliban can also be bribed (although the line between that and extortion is often difficult to find.) All this is part of Afghan culture, and is very difficult to curb.
The Taliban "Summer Offensive" this year is mostly about terror, lots more terror. That means a lot more threats, kidnappings and assassinations. Taliban death squads are targeting government and tribal officials who oppose them. For the first six months of this year, civilian deaths were up 15 percent, although 80 percent of civilian deaths were caused by the Taliban. This gives the Taliban a very bad reputation among Afghans. But due to the number of officials owned by the drug gangs and the Taliban, every civilian death caused by foreign troops (less than 15 percent are) gets a lot more publicity than deaths (usually deliberate, while its usually accidental for foreign troops) caused by the Taliban. The best way to terrorize the civilians is to threaten even wives and kids. Women and children first, as it were, is the road to victory.
Attacking foreign troops is still a goal, but the Taliban have done the math and discovered that it's a lot cheaper to terrorize civilians. This makes it more difficult for the foreign troops to get information (about Taliban operations) from civilians. Going after police and army commanders can cripple the intelligence networks of the security forces. By hurting the enemy intelligence network, the Taliban are more likely to avoid attack. In the last year, the increased number of raids and patrols by NATO forces has done a lot of damage to the Taliban and drug gangs.
Suicide attacks have not increased this year, but the targets are different. Thus failed attacks against foreign troops have been replaced by successful ones against government officials. These efforts are made easier by corruption, as Afghan security personnel can be bribed. This is why the most senior Afghan officials employ foreigners for their personal security.
The Taliban suicide bomber operations are fueled largely by brainwashed students of Pakistani religious schools and Afghans convinced, deceived or coerced into carrying out an attack. In several cases, the Taliban have used young children (by giving them a backpack bomb with a remote controlled detonator). The problem is that suicide bombers, at least competent ones, are increasingly hard to find. Even kidnapping (taking one or more members of a family to coerce another to carry out a suicide bomb attack) works less and less. The Iraqi Islamic terrorists went through the same pattern, and eventually ran out of suicide bombers. Actually, the quality of available bombers declined to the point where few effective attacks could be carried out.
The Taliban accused unknown hackers for getting into a Taliban press officer's twitter account and sending a false message that leader Mullah Omar had died. Actually, this might have been part of the increased American use of information war by the United States. But for that sort of thing to work best, the user must be discreet.
Mortar, rocket and artillery fire continues across the Afghan/Pakistani border. While some of this is from Pakistani Army units (the Taliban don't have artillery), most comes from weapons (mortars and rockets) that the Taliban have, and it's believed that a lot of the firing, from both sides, is carried out by the Taliban, who want to cause a war between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's not working, but is causing a lot of anger on both sides of the border, where civilians are the most common victims.
July 17, 2011: In Kabul, Hashim Watanwal, a member of parliament, and advisor to president Karzai, was killed by a pair of suicide bombers.
July 16, 2011: The UN agreed to remove sixteen of 50 Taliban leaders from the UN sanctions list. Being on the sanctions list makes it difficult to move money, or yourself, overseas. The Afghan government says it needs to offer "getting off the sanctions list" to persuade Taliban leaders to switch sides. It is believed that some of these tribal leaders are switching sides in name only, mainly to get off the sanctions list. In Afghanistan, the tribes are the primary "government" for their members, and it's been that way for thousands of years. The provincial governments tend to be controlled, or heavily influenced, by tribal leaders. The national government is considered a bunch of thieves who are in a better position to steal foreign aid.
July 15, 2011: The police chief of Kandahar city was killed by a suicide bomber.
July 12, 2011: In Kandahar, provincial governor Ahmad Wali Karzai (brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai) was shot to death by one of his security guards. The killer was also a long-time friend of Ahmad. It's suspected that Ahmad was killed because of a personal disagreement. This is common in Afghanistan, where hiring your best friends as part of your personal security force is common. The death of Ahmad causes serious problems for president Karzai. Ahmad was considered one of most corrupt officials in Afghanistan, with close connections to drug gangs, and with lots of useful people on his payroll. Ahmad was a source of cash, and all sorts of essential (and not always legal) services for his brother Hamid. Replacing this complex relationship won't be easy, and the consequences of the attempt are difficult to predict. At the very least, it will distract president Karzai for a while, at the worst, it could greatly weaken the president, and cause more infighting among senior officials.