Afghanistan: Taliban Bungle Their Bombs


July 5, 2006: While large groups of Taliban getting killed grabs the headlines, the real war is more a matter of terror and protecting drug operations. Afghans working for Coalition forces, and Afghan government employees, are being threatened and killed in larger numbers (several dead each week). Not all over the country, but in the few areas of the south where the pro-Taliban attitudes are the strongest. The violence is concentrated in four, of 26, provinces; Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul. The Taliban only represent a few Pushtun trines in southern Afghanistan, but they hope to expand their control by making themselves the protectors of drug gangs from government interference. Typically, a group of Taliban will move into an area where the police are destroying poppy fields. The Taliban will ambush and harass the police, until the cops leave the poppy farmers alone. The grateful farmers will then support the Taliban. This is an important function, as the drug gangs don't want to take on police and troops. Farmers who manage to grow a poppy crop, will find the drug gangs ready to pay cash, which is 5-10 times what the farmer would make growing the traditional wheat crop.

The Taliban are also taking advantage of the corruption among police and government officials. The concept of honest and efficient civil servants is an alien one in Afghanistan. A government job is seen, by most, as a license to steal. The tribes still dominate the country, and provide most of what passes for "government services." Afghanistan has never had an effective central government. Typically, the central government was there to deal with foreigners, and keep them out. If the king (usually elected by the tribes) or now president (elected by the people of the tribes) got the idea that he actually ruled the country, there would be a rebellion. This is what brought the Taliban down, with a little help from American smart bombs. Now the Taliban hope to trigger another such rebellion and take control again. The Taliban believe that, as in the past, they can work with the drug lords, who will pay big money for protection, and prevent the drugs from being heavily used inside Afghanistan. But, as before, most Afghans do not like the Taliban customs and methods, and still resist them. That is not considered news, but it happens a lot. The "war" in Afghanistan is the attempt by a few thousand armed Taliban to gain control of their traditional tribal stomping grounds in southern Afghanistan. Most of the country is at peace, or what passes for peace by Afghan standards.

The Taliban have a bomb making operations in the capital, where two small bombs were set off recently. One died and several dozen were wounded. The bombs were set off in busses carrying government employees. The Taliban have tried, for years, to get a large scale bombing operation going in the capital. However, the Taliban were never very popular in Kabul, and the people are not keen on supporting any group that is trying to blow them up. Thus the Taliban bomb teams tend to get detected, reported and arrested.

July 4, 2006: So far this year, the violence in southern Afghanistan has left about 1,100 people dead, including fifty foreign troops. There are about 25,000 foreign troops operating in the south, along with over 50,000 Afghan troops and police. The Taliban are operating mostly in rural areas, among a civilian population of some three million people. Most of the dead so far have been Taliban, or civilians killed by Taliban terror operations.

July 3, 2006: An infusion of cash and technical experts has led to many more suicide bomb attacks in the south. In the first six months of this year, there were 38 such attacks, compared to eleven for the last six months of 2005. But the attacks have been amateurish, and often ineffective. The average attack killed two or three people (usually just the one or two people in the car) and wounded five or six. Suicide bombers don't improve with experience, but the support crew does. There appear to be several support crews in operation, but based on interrogations of captives and intercepted messages, the suicide bomber planners and technicians got their training from the Internet, and "how to" documents from Iraqi terrorists. The one area where the Afghan suicide bomb gangs fall down the most is in how they handle the "last hundred meters" of the attack. In Iraq, the suicide bomber has advisors and coaches until as late in the attack as possible. In some cases, a wireless detonator is used, leaving it to the suicide guy to just drive the car. This sort of sophistication and skill has not yet shown up in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have been having the same bad time with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, or roadside bombs). In the past year, about a thousand have been deployed, but only a third of them actually went off. On average, each IED that goes off has killed one person, about half the time a civilian.

July 3, 2006: The U.S. is donating two billion dollars worth of military equipment to the Afghan army. This includes 2,500 hummers, 20,000 protective vests, plus M-16s, radios and other gear. Most of this stuff is used, so the actual value is less than a billion dollars.

July 2, 2006: Taliban have been firing unguided rockets at military bases and air fields in the south. Occasionally these rockets hurt someone or damage equipment. But that's a matter of chance.

July 1, 2006: In the first six months of 2006, 53 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan (from combat, accidents and disease). Last year, 98 died, and in 2004, 52 died. There have been about 20,000 American troops in the country most of that time. Historically, casualties are counted on the basis of how many casualties (dead, wounded, missing) per day per combat division. The 20,000 troops in Afghanistan is equal to one combat division, and the casualty rate over the last 18 months was about three per day per division. That's about the same as the current rate in Iraq. But the casualty rate in Iraq is down about 50 percent in the last year. The current casualty rate is less than half the rate for American divisions during the Vietnam war, and less than a tenth of what they were during World War II. The media tends to lose sight of the trend in combat casualties over time, but the troops don't.


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