Afghanistan: March 16, 2002


The interim government has withdrawn all of it's Northern Alliance (non-Pushtun) troops from the Gardez area. Sending these mainly Tajik fighters down to "help" Pushtun troops in the battles outside Gardez was seen as potentially disastrous. The Pushtun and non-Pushtun tribes have recent memories of atrocities each has committed on the other. 

ISAF (the international peacekeeping force) has equipped 2400 Tajik soldiers, serving as the Kabul police force, with flak jackets, metal detectors and radios. This force is mainly used to protect government ministries and installations used to provide relief aid to the city. 

Meanwhile, U.S., Canadian and local Afghan troops continue to search the al Qaeda caves outside Gardez. This is going slowly, because of the fear of landmines. The surviving al Qaeda and Taliban troops appear to have left the area. There has been no enemy gunfire in the past 24 hours. But U.S. bombers continue to fly overhead, and occasionally a bomb goes off as a suspected enemy target is hit. 

Some major cave complexes have been found and destroyed. Some were partially occupied, and the infantry fighting to clear them often resulted in large amounts of munitions in the caves blowing up and destroying a lot of material American investigators wanted to look at. The caves were supplemented by bunkers made of timber and rocks. Without the 2000 pound GPS bombs, some of these complexes could have never been taken by ground assault alone. Moreover, the few hundred al Qaeda in the area were not sufficient to properly man all of the fortifications in the mountains outside Gardez. This made it easier for coalition infantry (U.S., Afghan and Canadian) to take some of the positions. 

There still may be several thousand al Qaeda in Afghanistan. This would include hard core Taliban who are basically part of al Qaeda, and Pakistani Taliban. Because nearly every Afghan belongs to one of the country's 55 tribes, Afghans can always seek sanctuary (and usually receive it) among fellow tribesmen living out in the country. There, the Afghan al Qaeda can seek to convert others to take up arms against the foreigners. The foreign al Qaeda have a problem with being foreigners, even though they are Moslem. The foreign al Qaeda use money to buy sanctuary, plus whatever assistance they can get from the Afghan al Qaeda. 

So far, the promise of large rewards has not induced many Afghans to give up al Qaeda or Taliban in their midst. But it is Winter, when Afghans in the countryside don't move around much. When Spring arrives, more people will be traveling, and news of foreigners staying in distant rural villages will begin to circulate. American special forces have spent the Winter getting to know rural Afghans, so that when the news of who did what during the Winter begins to circulate, some of it will reach special forces troops.

Many Afghans are expectantly awaiting American economic aid. The special forces have been handing out whatever stuff they can get to build better personal relationships. Food, and some other material like medicine, clothing and blankets is getting through. Most of this stuff has been obtained locally in Pakistan and Central Asia. But major amounts of aid have to wait for an accounting system to be set up. No one has any illusions about the extent to which foreign aid is likely to be stolen by corrupt officials. The attitude among many warlords and local officials is that foreign aid is basically theirs, to distribute as they see fit in order to keep the big guy in power. If this means that villages, or tribes, the strong man doesnt like get nothing, well, that's life. Some warlords are more generous than others, but the general attitude is one of "give me the money." Cash is needed to pay locals for infrastructure projects, like roads, irrigation works and construction. Cash is also needed to buy building materials and food locally. It's important to get a lot of young Afghan men on a payroll, for an entire generation of Afghans have never had any employment other than carrying a gun for someone. But the foreign nations supplying the billions of dollars in aid want to avoid this entrenched corruption, and that is going to be difficult. While many Afghan leaders are willing to dispense the aid by Western rules, many warlords and tribal chiefs are not ready to give up that kind of power. 

With the Taliban out of power, there is no longer any strong arm force to keep the peace in the countryside. The Taliban were Afghans and knew that maintaining law and order in Afghanistan required a combination of discussion, consensus and brute force. The interim government has the first two, but lacks the third. Moreover, the Taliban had an easier time using force against their fellow Pushtuns. Against these kinsmen, the Taliban had to show some restraint. But against non-Pushtuns, law enforcement often led to murder, robbery and rape. The interim government is rushing to train a national army and police force that contains men from every tribe and province. But it's questionable if that can be done before local feuds and ambitious warlords create dozens of little wars throughout the nation. Afghans generally don't wage war in the Winter, but the Winter is almost over.


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