The fighting has killed nearly
5,000 people so far this year. About two thirds have been Taliban, fifteen
percent civilians, and most of the rest Afghan security forces. Taliban
casualties have grown as the year went on, often reaching a hundred or more
dead a week. There have been more cases of Taliban rounding up young children
to use as human shields, to aid in escaping pursuing Afghan or foreign troops.
The Taliban have two things going for them, to keep this violence going; tradition
and cash. For thousands of years, the Afghan tribes have automatically fought
any foreign troops, and that includes anyone claiming to be the government of
Afghanistan. Alexander the Great complained of this 2,500 years ago, as he was
conquering the Persian empire. The Afghan tribes were hostile to Greeks and
Persians. But the tribes will not usually fight someone bearing gifts, unless
someone pays them. The millions of dollars in cash raised by the Taliban, much
of it from drug gangs, has made possible the thousands of armed Taliban
wandering around, terrorizing the population, and getting killed in large
numbers. This has turned more of the population against the Taliban, resulting
in more tips from civilians. That, in turn, has resulted in more arms caches
found, and Taliban leaders identified (and eventually captured or killed.) In
years past, the Taliban could enter the territory of most Pushtun tribes and
act as if they were among friends. No more. Most of the tribes have withdrawn
their support because of the terror
tactics, and the violence the Taliban always seem to bring with them.
One side-effect of the anti-Taliban trend, is more
success in catching the perpetrators of specific crimes. For example, many
members of the gang that kidnapped 23 South Koreans (and collected $20 million
in ransom) have been killed or captured so far. That much cash tends to leave a
trail. In the past week, some Taliban captured two Italian military
intelligence agents, but were quickly hunted down by NATO commandoes. The two
Italians were released and nine of their captors killed.
But the damage done to the Taliban won't destroy
it. As long as the drug trade flourishes, there is money to pay unemployed
tribesmen to wander about, terrorizing government supporters. Moreover, the
NATO and government success in finding and killing or capturing senior Taliban
leaders, has left local Taliban chiefs in charge, and that has led to a
free-for-all. Taliban is more a franchise, than a centralized organization
these days. The local Taliban become partners with the local drug lord, and the
Afghan tradition of endless violence continues.
But despite all the violence, refugees from
Pakistan continue to return. Some 342,000 have come, so far, this year. Iran is
forcing Afghans to return home, and over 100,000 have returned from there this
year. There are still about two million
refugees still in Pakistan, and about half that number in Iran.
September 19, 2007: British troops led another
offensive in pro-Taliban Helmand province.