Afghanistan: Go For The Head Shot

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March 1, 2009:  Attacks on schools, teachers, and even students (usually girls) are so unpopular in Afghanistan, that the Taliban have to recruit men in Pakistan to do the dirty work, and pay them well. Based on interrogations of captured terrorists, a Pakistani Pushtun can make $5,000 or more to burn down a school, and less to kill or main a student or teacher.

Japan is paying the salaries of the 80,000 Afghan police for six months, and is building 200 schools and 100 health clinics. Japanese personnel will supervise the distribution of funds in an attempt minimize theft. Corruption is a big problem with foreign aid. It's one thing for a donor country to pledge money to help Afghanistan, but it's a different matter when you have to figure out who to give the money to. If you just give it to "the government," all or most of it may disappear into the accounts of government officials before the funds can be spent to help the Afghans it was intended to assist.

The Taliban attempt to cut the supply line from Pakistan has failed. So far this year, U.S. forces have received 15 percent more truckloads (standard 20 foot shipping containers) each day than they need (78 containers). This is part of a build up for the two additional brigades of troops arriving later this year. The U.S. is also using a rail line from the Baltic (Latvia) to the Afghan border to bring in additional containers of supplies. The Taliban attacks on the truck route from Pakistan ran into opposition from the tribes that benefit from that activity. The Pakistani army also deployed combat troops to go after the larger groups of Taliban gunmen who were operating near the Khyber Pass. The Taliban  have never been able to muster a large enough force to defeat the Pakistani or Afghan army.

Times are getting harder for the Afghan drug gangs. International sanctions on the shipment of key chemicals (like acetic anhydride) to Pakistan and Afghanistan, have made processing opium into heroin a lot more expensive (as smaller amounts of acetic anhydride are smuggled in, at much greater expense, from black market sources). The drug gangs have been getting acetic anhydride in shipments of a ton or more, via smuggling operations in the West. But these are now being tracked, as bulk sales of acetic anhydride are traced. These efforts leave less money to lavish on the Taliban for security services. Much more of that security is required, as U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are now going after drug operations, especially the chemical refining operations that create the easier to smuggle heroin and morphine (a pain killer that is about half the strength of heroin).

The drug gangs are fighting back by asking the senior government officials on their payroll to restrict the activities of the foreign troops. While Afghan police and army commanders can be bribed or intimidated (via threats to their families), foreign commanders cannot. So the Afghan government is demanding that foreign troops stop using smart bombs whenever civilians are present, to only allow Afghan troops or police to do searches, and to let the Afghan government know the identities of all translators and other Afghans providing support services for foreign troops. This information would enable the drug gangs to either bribe or terrorize the translators into becoming spies for the drug gangs.

British counter-intelligence officials believe that up to 4,000 Britons of Pakistani ancestry have travelled to Pakistan to receive terrorist training or indoctrination. About 1-2 percent of those have joined Taliban combat units, and British troops have heard some of these men, speaking in British accented English, on Taliban radios in combat zones.

The Taliban use of roadside and suicide bombs is very unpopular, because most of the victims are Afghan civilians. This, despite the fact that the Taliban are trying to kill foreign troops, or Afghan security forces. Because of this public opposition to the IEDs (improvised explosive devices), some 90 percent of them are discovered (or reported by civilians) in urban areas. In rural areas, only 60 percent are discovered or reported. But in rural areas, many of the roadside bombs never get used, because no troops come by. U.S. and NATO combat deaths have been the same the past two months (24 per month, versus 27 in December).

 

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