Afghanistan: Make Sense Out Of That


December 6, 2007: A poll conducted by foreign news organizations found that 72 percent of Afghans approve presence of 55,000 U.S. and NATO troops. But only 68 percent believed the foreign troops were doing a good job. Not surprisingly, 92 percent of the population opposed the Taliban. Foreign terrorists are opposed by 83 percent of Afghans.

About twenty percent of the population is believed to be very conservative, especially in terms of religion. The majority of the population is socially and religiously conservative by Western standards. These is a sharp divide between urban and rural Afghans, and most of the population is still rural.

This year, about 6,000 people died because of the Taliban and al Qaeda violence. That's actually about the same number as were killed last year. The 55,000 foreign troops suffered 210 dead, while the 100,000 Afghan soldiers and police lost 700 so far this year. Over 4,000 Taliban were killed, plus nearly a thousand civilians. There were also over a thousand people killed because of criminal violence (drug gangs, bandits and warlord or tribal feuds).

The Taliban take heart from the growing reluctance of NATO countries to remain in Afghanistan, partly because of the number of their soldiers killed. To the Taliban, it is a source of pride that, although they lose over ten men for every NATO soldier killed, it is the NATO countries that are likely to falter and flee the battlefield first. The Taliban believe they are carrying out God's Will, while the NATO nations are a bunch of weak unbelievers.

Although most Afghans oppose the government, these Afghans are perplexed at NATO fears and anxieties. Afghan security forces suffered seven dead per thousand troops this year, versus four per thousand for NATO troops, The Taliban suffered over 100 dead per thousand. What's the problem? Afghans believe that the Taliban are on a losing trajectory. They have seen this sort of tribal war before. It can go on for years, but anyone losing as heavily as the Taliban, eventually suffer less and less tribal support. Even the drug gangs want to bring the death rate down, as it's bad for business (disruptive and makes it harder to recruit). As poor as the Afghans are, suicide for money is not a popular concept.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have shut down many reconstruction projects in the south. This has angered most of the Afghans affected. There is a growing animosity between the pro and anti-Taliban tribes. More tribal leaders are moving over to the government side, than the other way around. But ask any Afghan how long it could go on, and you get a shrug, or someone who points out that the country has been at war for thirty years already, with a few brakes because of sheer exhaustion. Make sense out of that.


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