Afghanistan: Two More Years Of Magic Will Do It


December 18,2008: A lot of the fighting in Afghanistan isn't about religion or "expelling the foreigners." No, it's usually about money, power and tribal politics. The current Afghan government is having the same problems "running the country" that the Taliban did. These were the same problems the loose coalition that defeated the communist government in the early 1990s had. These were the same problems that the monarchy had for over a century, even though the kings were usually well aware of what they were dealing with (a loose coalition of tribes and ethnic groups that don't really get along, but really can't afford to be at war for a long time.) Afghanistan has always been a poor country. Banditry can be sustained indefinitely, especially now that the foreign troops and NGOs are here, with all manner of things to steal. Afghans don't consider it theft if you take something you need (or, let's face it, just want) from someone outside your tribe. That's just taking care of your own. And therein lies the problem. There is no Afghanistan, just a patchwork of tribes and tribal alliances. Within the larger tribes there are often nasty rivalries between large clans. Then there are the newly rich drug gangs, which are tribe based, and have changed the power relationships among some of the tribes.

The "Taliban" (religiously conservative, and violent, factions) are on a mission from God to impose strict lifestyle rules, and turn the country into a religious dictatorship. The Taliban were unable to do that by the end of 2001, and are less likely to do it in the future. But fueled by a share of the drug profits and the proceeds of other criminal enterprises (especially extortion and kidnapping) they can still entice poor, but adventurous, country boys to come along and raise some hell. And usually get killed by smart bombs the star struck kids cannot comprehend. Meanwhile, more and more of the tribes are getting a clue and making peace with the central government. While the national rulers tend to be thieves, they are also willing to share the loot. That's another ancient Afghan custom, and U.S. and NATO commanders are willing to play along in order to prevent the country from slipping back into anarchy (real anarchy, not the Taliban terrorism that passes for it these days) and once more becomes a terrorist haven. The foreign generals believe it will take another year or two of smart bomb magic to kill enough thrill seeking tribesmen, to get all the tribes on board. The math is simple; the foreign troops can kill Afghans much better than the other way around. Even the most pro-Taliban tribes eventually come to realize that, and live with it. The country will not be peaceful at that point. There will still be the drug gangs and bandits (groups of armed tribesmen out of steal or settle some feud). But that's been going on for thousands of years, and won't change until the national police get themselves pulled together. That will take another generation or two. For most Afghans, "police" is an alien concept, and the corruption of most of the cops in service has been really bad public relations.

U.S. and NATO commanders are fed up with the "protection" scam being run them on the supply route from Peshawar, in the Pakistani tribal territories, to Kabul. The road runs through the 50 kilometer long  Khyber pass, and that is but one part of a 500 kilometers trip over generally bad roads. The tribes that live along the road expect to be paid, as do the criminal gangs near the dozen truck staging areas (where shipping container are loaded). Some 50,000 of those containers a year carry U.S. and NATO military supplies. That's about half the traffic, which has increased greatly since the Taliban were tossed out of power in late 2001. Getting each container from the Pakistani port of Karachi to Kabul costs several thousands of dollars in fees, bribes and wages to Pakistanis, Afghans and assorted greedy officials and tribesmen along the way. Some tribal leaders say they are only interested in keeping the trucks from bringing alcohol and pornography into Afghanistan, but the bottom line is how much cash gets into the pockets of some of the gunmen living along the route.

The Taliban continue to get slaughtered whenever they mass, and get spotted by foreign troops. It's the damn smart bombs, and the UAVs that always seem to show up at the wrong time for the tribal gunmen. In response, the Taliban have tried to use more suicide and roadside bombs. There were 264 of these encountered in October, and 315 in November. Most of these bombs are poorly constructed and deployed. They are spotted, or don't go off. It takes 40-50 roadside bombs to kill one foreign soldier. A dozen or more local civilians are killed instead, which makes the Taliban roadside bombing program very unpopular. Civilians often tip off police when they see bombs being planted. Recruiting suicide bombers is difficult. One recent suicide bomber was a thirteen year old boy, whose explosives killed himself and three British troops.  

December 10, 2008: During a night operation to capture a Taliban leader in the southern province of Zabul, U.S. Army Special Forces operators chased their suspect to a compound. When the Taliban inside would not surrender, the Special Forces began moving in to capture or kill the enemy gunmen. Several hundred meters away there was an Afghan police unit manning a roadblock. The Afghan police knew that U.S. troops were after some Taliban that night, but did not know exactly where the action was. Then they saw some men firing at a compound, and decided the attackers were Taliban. So the police opened fire. The Special Forces troops, not knowing it was police firing at them, fired back, and soon called in a smart bomb, which killed six of the police and wounded 13. The Taliban got away while the Special Forces troops were discovering that their "attackers" were actually police, and tending to the wounded.




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