Afghanistan: January 9, 2002


Afghanistan's system of underground irrigation tunnels (known as karez, or as kanat in Iran) were first noted by Alexander the Great in 328 BC. These tunnels run from the foothills of a given mountain to the villages a few miles away, with a well every few hundred meters, and carry the water needed for crops. Such tunnels are usually about a meter high and can be as much as 30 meters below ground. They provide a ready-made place to hide families, valuables, or guerillas. Mongol commanders reported in 1340 AD that the local citizens would hide in these tunnels to avoid being massacred. The Russians found these tunnels to be as deadly and annoying as the US found tunnels in Vietnam. The Russians developed several tactics to deal with them. Russian troops would identify the openings (which were marked by mounds) and would call into them for anyone there to surrender. They then rigged a double explosive charge, one set on the tunnel floor and the other partway up the shaft. Fired with quick-burning fuzes set off together, the upper charge would detonate first, and the force of the lower blast (a fraction of a second later) would rebound off of the ball of expanding gas and be forced into the tunnels rather than simply blowing harmlessly up the shaft. Often, two wells were blown at the same time to kill or stun anyone between them with overpressure. When it came time to send troops into the tunnels, the Russians were no happier about it than the Americans were in Vietnam. The Russians have a "Roman candle" type mine used as a trip flare, and would wrap several of these together and use them as a hand-held pyrotechnic weapon. Fired down the tunnel, it would blind anyone hiding there and force them to take cover, allowing the Russian tunnel rats to advance and clear them out. --Stephen V Cole

Three senior members of the Taliban surrendered to the government. There was apparently an arrangement whereby if they surrendered, and swore to uphold the new government, they could go home. The U.S. wants to arrest senior Taliban officials and question them about their al Qaeda and terrorist connections. The Afghan arrangement with these Taliban leaders was typical of the traditional way Afghans deal with situations like this. While interim Afghan prime minister Karzai speaks fluent English, understands American culture and has siblings who are American citizens, he is up against fellow Pushtuns who prefer to do things the Afghan way. Karzai is seen by many Afghans, particularly his fellow Pushtuns, as "America's man." But Karzai gets around this because he's a good politician and is relying on massive American aid to buy peace from tribal leaders and warlords. Many of these Afghan strongmen will take the "loot" (most anything obtained without having to work for it is considered loot), but don't really want the American's, or any other foreigners, around. The thousands of special forces troops and CIA agents the U.S. has put into the country have done a lot to keep a lid on this situation. Give an Afghan you know some goodies, which is not exactly considered loot, and the Afghan owes you a favor or two. This time consuming, and often dangerous, process buys America some time, but doesn't eliminate the problem. The Pushtun's in particular, want the American's out, especially the tribes that control drug and smuggling operations. America will eventually come up against the tribes that want to continue making lots of money in drugs, and whatever other lucrative scam they can get going. There is no central government in Afghanistan, there never has been. What passes for central and provincial government makes deals with the various tribes and generally stays out of the way. But the U.S. is building military bases and bringing in more troops in order to gather as many al Qaeda, and as much information on terrorist operations, as possible. The big unknown is whether the Americans can do what they want to do before relations with some of the tribes turns into gun battles. 

One of the more lucrative scams run by "loyal (and armed) members of the Afghan government" is to extort large sums of money from traffic going through their area. In particular, journalists are given special attention because they are known to have large expense accounts. Since the government isn't meeting much payroll yet, cracking down on this sort of thing is not a high priority. 


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