Afghanistan: Follow The Money


September 4, 2007: The Taliban Summer Offensive actually turned out to be larger than last years, but was much less effective. Nearly 3,000 people died, about 20 percent more than last year and, as with last year, most of them Taliban fighters. But over 500 of the dead were civilians, most the victims of Taliban terrorism. Unlike last year, there were far fewer civilians actively assisting the Taliban. This year, the big players were the drug gangs, and tribal groups that are heavily into the heroin trade. They have the money the Taliban lack, and pay for the thousands of Taliban gunmen let loose to defend the drug producing areas around Kandahar. This city has long been the capital of "Talibanstan", mainly because it is in the midst of the area where the most pro-Taliban Pushtun tribes reside.

September 3, 2007: A Taliban district headquarters and safe house was attacked by a U.S./Afghan force, leaving at least 25 Taliban, including several leaders, dead. Since the Taliban disbanded their centralized military command this Summer, the district leaders have become more important. Some of the district leaders have been more successful than others. Several of these leaders operate around Kandahar, and they are now prime targets for police and foreign troops. The fighting has been particularly tough on the police, who have lost about 500 men this year. When the Taliban are run out of an area, a small force of police goes in to "hold" the area. But in rural areas of Afghanistan, police are an exotic foreign import. For thousands of years, tribal councils take care of police investigations, and groups of armed tribesmen mete out a rough form of justice. Police are seen as targets by many tribesmen, a potential source of loot. This is particularly the case in southern Afghanistan, where some Pushtun tribes resent the central government a whole lot.

September 2, 2007: Three major operations over the past few days have left over 70 Taliban dead, and many more wounded or captured. Many of the Taliban were men who had just crossed the border from Pakistan. The Taliban promptly responded with claims that many Afghan civilians had been killed, not Taliban fighters. But the Taliban have been discredited too many times with false claims of civilian casualties. Few journalists take the Taliban seriously about this anymore.

September 1, 2007: Although the South Korean government insisted it had not paid a ransom for the release of 19 South Korean air workers, the Taliban openly boasted of getting more than $20 million. Kidnapping for ransom is an ancient Afghan custom, and collecting a large ransom is considered a big deal and a worth achievement.

August 31, 2007: Taliban efforts to kill foreign, or even Afghan, troops have been most successful using roadside bombs. In response, police and foreign troops have concentrated on finding the bomb makers. These guys are well paid, but since their efforts kill lots of Afghan civilians, the bomb makers have to keep moving and live in fear of locals betraying them. But it's a well paying job, and many of the more clever tribesmen are eager to apprentice themselves to a bomb maker (often a foreigner) to learn the trade.

In eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban fired rockets at a U.S. base. But the unguided rockets fell short, hit a residential area and killed ten Afghan civilians. It's things like this, not bogus accusations of foreigners killing civilians, that turns Afghans against the Taliban.

August 30, 2007: After several days of fighting outside Kandahar, over a hundred Taliban, and three NATO troops, were dead. This is a key area for the Taliban, as over half the heroin in the country is produced in the area between Kandahar and the Pakistani border. The drug lords pay top dollar to hire tribesmen to defend this area. The Taliban organizes the violence, that being their specialty. The drug gangs are not pro-Taliban, but instead recognize the Taliban as natural allies. The Taliban tolerates the production of opium and heroin, the current government does not. Simple as that.

Mullah Brother, a top Taliban commander in the Kandahar area, was killed by NATO troops. Mullah Brother had been a Taliban military official since before 2001.




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