Afghanistan: All The News That Fits

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March 20, 2009: A major component of Taliban success has been their ability to manipulate the local and international media. Much of this media work is done by, or with the help of, Moslems living in the West, via the Internet. While the old Soviet Union terrorist training schools gave good advice on how to provide the media with what they are looking for (bad, and preferably bizarrely bad, news) to get the attention you desire, a lot of Moslems moving to the West quickly pick up on how the media works. Basically, truth is optional, sensationalism is essential. The more outrageous your claim, the more likely it is to become a news story. There are a few other rules to follow. Like denying any enemy success, or failure by your own forces. Play down your losses, and exaggerate those of the enemy. Claim "innocent civilians" being killed at every opportunity. You can lie a lot here, such is the power of dead civilians (real or imagined.)

A key component of a good media campaign is crippling the efforts of foreign troops to communicate with the locals. This means going after Afghans who work for the foreign troops. Unlike Iraq, Afghans have proven more dependable and loyal, and provide most of the civilian workers on military bases. Hundreds of Afghans also serve as translators and "fixers" (arranging meetings with local leaders, or even Taliban personnel), and they have always received death threats, or been pressured to become Taliban or drug gang spies. But increasingly, the translators and fixers have become more actively anti-Taliban and hostile to the drug lords. This has resulted in growing terrorist activity against anyone who works for foreigners (including foreign aid agencies.) The Taliban increasingly pressure translators and fixers working for foreign journalists, seeking to get these Afghans to become part of the Taliban propaganda effort.

There are two types of "controlled substances" in Afghanistan; opium (and its refined product, heroin) and alcohol. The latter is prohibited by Islam, but wine has been a popular beverage in Central Asia for thousands of years before Islam appeared. Wine continues to be sought after, with major production taking place in the Central Asian nations to the north. Bribes get truck loads of wine across the border, but the anti-drug police tend to seize more wine than heroin. That's because the drug gangs pay bigger bribes, and are more inclined (and able) to kill any police who interfere with the drug trade. The main difference is that heroin can be exported, and generate far greater profits, than you can get by peddling bottles of local wine.

The growing use of roadside bombs, largely in a small part of southern Afghanistan, has resulted in many more civilians getting killed by these devices. Although the main target of the bombs are foreign troops, there are far more civilians wandering by, and civilians are most frequently the victims. Currently, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups, are deploying over a hundred of these bombs a day, and most never get used against foreign troops (who don't come by). The bombs are often just left there, despite the danger of civilians, especially kids, coming by and messing with it, and setting it off. The government and foreign aid agencies are running an education campaign to warn civilians of the danger, and how to deal with it (stay away, and contact the police so a bomb clearing team can take care of it.)

Because of the continued inability of the Taliban to handle foreign troops in combat, the fighting follows a familiar pattern. The Taliban use roadside bombs to attack foreign troops (who are increasing riding in vehicles designed to defeat the effects of the bombs). For each foreign soldier killed, 10-15 Taliban are killed by foreign troops, who are constantly on patrol looking for Taliban bases and safe houses. Bringing in more foreign troops will increase the number of casualties among the Taliban and the drug gangs. This, it is believed, will persuade the tribal leadership to back off on their support of the Taliban and drug gangs. The tribes that support the Taliban and drug gangs comprise only a small fraction (about five million people) of the Afghan population, and all are in the south. There are a few big tribes, and dozens of powerful clans, involved here. A few hundred tribal leaders have to be persuaded that their greed is causing irreparable harm to their clans. And it's well known in Afghanistan that clans, and even tribes, are not immortal. Tales are still told of armed struggles in the past that led to the passing of once notable clans and tribes. No one wants to be in charge when that happens again. While many Afghans refuse to fight for the Taliban any more, many are less reluctant to sign on with the drug gangs. Both groups are at war with the Afghan police and army. The foreign troops are constantly increasing the size and quality of the Afghan police and soldiers.

Most of the British SAS commandos are being switched from Iraq to Afghanistan. The SAS specialized in hunting down terrorist leaders in Iraq, and had a lot of success doing that. There have been SAS contingents in Afghanistan since 2002, but this shift will put a lot more into action against the Taliban.

March 15, 2009: Dozens of Taliban attacked a truck depot in Pakistan, where cargo for NATO troops is assembled for movement into Afghanistan via the two main roads. Twenty trucks were destroyed. NATO and the U.S. are now moving more cargo into Afghanistan via railroads in Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. These routes could replace all the truck traffic from Pakistan, which would cost the trucking companies, and the truck drivers, millions of dollars a year. A lot of the violence is a combination of Taliban and tribal conflict over who should get the largest share of bribes and extortion payments from the trucking companies. Such payments have always been customary, but have gone up with the volume of shipments for foreigners (who have more money to be extorted.)

 

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