February 29, 2008:
The Taliban are
having a bad Winter. The Pakistani army offensive against the Pakistani Taliban
has cut off a source of reinforcements. Battles on the border, as Afghan and
NATO troops catch Taliban crossing, have declined over a third. As a result,
more foreign fighters are being found among dead and captured Taliban. The
manpower shortage has caused the Taliban to abandon areas they had long
maintained a presence in, particularly in Helmand province. Police there
captured most of a terror cell that had been responsible for three bombings. The
Taliban are also showing signs of being terrorized themselves. An example was a
recent demand by Taliban around Kandahar, that cell phone companies shut down
service at night. If not, the Taliban will attack cell phone towers. The Taliban
believe the Americans use cell phone signals to track the Taliban at night, and
guide smart bombs to where the Taliban are sleeping. Few in the Taliban seem to
understand how ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) works, so these threats are
simply a desperate reaction to many night time smart bomb attacks, or police
raids, on houses where Taliban were spending the night. The Taliban themselves
make heavy use of cell phones, at least in the few areas (mainly the large
cities, like Kandahar) where there is cell phone service. The Taliban see such "Yankee
Magic" as another sign that the Americans are in league with the devil.
This become more of an issue as cell phone service moves into rural areas. The cell phone companies make deals with the local tribal leaders, who want cell phone service. Not so much to call in the police, but to stay in touch with friends, family and the few government services that are available. This forced the Taliban to compromise, and not try and shut down rural cell phone service entirely. But even trying to shut it down at night becomes one more thing that makes the Taliban unpopular.
A senior Taliban leader Mullah
Obaidullah Akhund (Defense Minister when the Taliban ran the country) was
captured crossing the Pakistani border. Akhund had been travelling to Pakistani
tribal and terror leaders, seeking money for the Afghan Taliban.
In the U.S., intelligence officials
told Congress that the Taliban has freedom of movement in about ten percent of
the country. Another 30 percent is under control of the central government, and
60 percent is controlled by various local leaders. This is normal for Afghanistan,
where, for centuries, the tribes picked one of their more powerful chiefs to be
"king" of the country. The king had two chores; deal with the foreigners, and
leave the tribes alone. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the central
government has expanded its control, at least by historical standards.
Police are more frequently finding
Taliban serving as guards for opium fields and drug gang facilities. This is
where the money is, and with cash contributions from their Pakistani allies,
the Taliban have to work more with the drug gangs to pay the bills.
Taliban bomb makers are betting better
at their craft, and building bigger bombs. A recent one killed 38 people. But
all the dead were civilians, which was a big media story in Afghanistan. Stuff
like that makes it difficult for pro-Taliban Afghans to speak up for their
cause. The Taliban apparently didn't get the memo about how killing lots of
civilians turns the civilian population against you and leads to the terrorists
either getting killed, or driven out of the country. There aren't too many
places left to flee to. In the last two decades, Islamic terrorist bombs have
caused terrorists to be driven out of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.