past six years, the United States, and the Afghan government, have built up an
informer and intelligence network along (and across) the Pakistan border. This
is providing more information on Taliban and al Qaeda activities. This makes it
easier to go find and destroy enemy camps (or villages where the bad guys are
hanging out.) The large number of UAVs available also make it much harder for
the enemy to pass unnoticed, or sneak up and attack or ambush you. All this led
to the recent operation around the old Taliban base area at Tora Bora.
The Taliban tactic of
using civilians for protection (or propaganda, if the human shield thing fails
and civilians get killed), has caused over 50,000 civilians to flee their
homes. No one is sure, but there may be up to 100,000 civilians hiding in the
hills, fearful that the Taliban will come by and bring smart bombs with them.
The Taliban also threaten to take some villagers hostage, to get cooperation
from the others. Many villages have armed and organized themselves to resist
the Taliban. Some of these are financed by drug money. In fact, the drug trade
had complicated things for the Taliban. Not all the drug gangs are allied with
the Taliban, and some tribes are more in tune with Taliban beliefs than other.
Thus the Taliban has to be careful where they operate. Some parts of the border
are lethal for the Taliban, with every town and village bristling with guns
aimed at them. The tribes that back the Taliban, for ideological or financial
(drug money) reasons are under pressure from tribal politics to deal with the
government. Even the slow learners among Afghans realize that the ancient ways
are obsolete in the 21st century. Actually, those traditions were becoming a
burden in the 19th century, but that situation has only gotten worse over the
last two centuries.
Despite success against
organized terrorists, the main problems remain elsewhere. Corruption, the drug
trade and a tribal mentality are the big problems, along with ignorance (over
half the population is illiterate, and the Taliban are fighting, in part, to
prevent the education of women). Corruption is a cancer that prevents a central
government from operating efficiently, and building any loyalty among the
people. The drug trade finances warlords and independent minded tribes, while
also fostering a lack of respect for any law. The tribal mentality is one that
hinders cooperation, not to mention political or economic progress. Many
Afghans are fighting these three curses, but many are not, or are just ducking
for cover and hoping for the best.
A good example of the
curses that afflict Afghanistan is the growing use of kidnapping, both by
criminal gangs and the Taliban. Kidnapping and hostages are old Afghan
traditions. With economic progress comes more people worth kidnapping for
money. While kidnapped foreigners make the news, far more Afghans are
kidnapped, mostly for ransom, but some for other reasons (usually to get a
kinsman freed by the government, or another tribe or gang.) Last week, a
pregnant German aid worker was kidnapped off the streets of Kabul. This was
considered bad form by Afghan standards (women, particularly pregnant women who
are here doing good works, are considered off limits), and informants soon gave
up the kidnappers, who were arrested and their captive freed unharmed. But
Afghans will also play hardball with captives, and slaughter them if
unsuccessful in their negotiations.