May 6, 2009:
The Taliban are finding cell phone service to be a growing problem. As more rural areas get service, and people get their cell phones, the police tend to quickly get calls about Taliban movements. Efforts to halt the spread of the cell phone towers have failed, because the cell phones are so popular. Although a poor country, the cell phone is one aspect of modern technology that Afghans can hold and use. So they scrape together the cash for the phones and pre-paid service. Afghans are very family oriented, and the cell phones are seen as a way to stay in touch. But it has also changed the way Afghans communicate. Before the appearance of cell phones, Afghans were reluctant to report on the Taliban, because it had to be done in person. This was dangerous, because if the Taliban found out you were a snitch, you were dead, and perhaps many members of your family as well. But Afghans quickly discovered that informing on the Taliban via cell phone was much safer. The Taliban are hated and feared through most of Afghanistan. The viciousness of Taliban attacks on civilians is part of the reason, but mostly it's memories of when the Taliban ruled most of the country in the late 1990s. Afghans don't like central government, and prefer to be left alone. The Taliban were all about establishing a religious dictatorship, and Afghans, even pious ones, don't like that either. Religious practices vary throughout the country, and over the centuries, the Afghans have come to live and let live in that department. The Taliban tried to establish a single standard for religious and personal behavior, and this was, and still is, very unpopular.
The cell phones have led to an increased number of clashes with the Taliban, who prefer to go undetected by the security forces, and do their main job (terrorizing civilians into cooperating, or at least not helping the police.) The Taliban do not like fighting the foreign troops, or even the Afghan forces, because of the better training, tactics and weapons. The latter includes the smart bombs. However, these weapons have become a problem for Afghan forces. For example, a recent battle between the Afghan Army and the Taliban led to the army commander calling in a smart bomb attack on a large Taliban force that had taken shelter in a group of buildings. But the Taliban had forced dozens of civilians to remain in the buildings, to serve as human shields. Unfortunately, this does not work if you don't let the guy with the smart bombs know you have human shields. Incidents like this are seen as prime propaganda opportunities for the Taliban, even when its Afghan commanders ordering the air strikes.
The current Pakistani Army offensive against the Pakistani Taliban has led to a call for help. Afghan Taliban are responding by sending some gunmen, and supplies (ammo, weapons and equipment). The Taliban is actually a confederation, with several separate "Taliban" organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These groups don't always get along, or even cooperate. But the sudden aggressiveness by the Pakistani army, and the coming U.S./NATO Summer Offensive have forced the frightened Taliban factions to cooperate more. This has led to a dispute between the U.S. and Pakistan. The Americans want to take away the ability of the Taliban to escape capture by just crossing the border. While the Pakistanis have said they could go after any such Taliban force, if alerted in time, this has not worked out in practice. The Pakistanis have threatened to confront any American forces that pursue into Pakistan. But apparently the U.S. is going to call Pakistan's bluff, and allow some pursuits. This will most likely happen when it is believed that a senior Taliban leader is being chased.
The Taliban have had some success with the use of roadside bombs, and a dozen or more times a day, these devices are set off, usually in southern Afghanistan. They don't kill as many foreign troops as expected because the foreigners are increasingly using MRAP (bomb resistant) vehicles, and electronic devices that either stop the bomb from going off, or detect it before it can. As a result, the Taliban bombers have shifted to attacks on Afghan soldiers and police, who do not have the MRAPs or counter-bomb electronics. Although there are about as many Afghan police and soldiers in southern Afghanistan, as there are foreign troops, the Afghans take higher casualties because the Taliban find the Afghans more vulnerable.
April 30, 2009: The Taliban have announced (via messages posted on the Internet) that they are going to launch a major offensive this year. In reality, the Taliban are playing defense, as they lost their ability to carry out large scale offensive operations over the last two years. Now, with three additional American brigades arriving, as well as additional troops for several NATO contingents, the Taliban are bracing for more attacks on their bases and drug operations. The main goal of this years fighting is the destruction of heroin production and smuggling. This the Taliban must prevent, or at least inhibit, for the shared profits from the heroin trade enable the Taliban to hire and equip thousands of gunmen each Summer. Take away that cash, and the Taliban fighting force shrinks. That starts a process which eventually spirals into Taliban insignificance. So far this year, incidents of Taliban related violence are about 70 percent greater than last year. All those newly hired Taliban guns have been busy, and more of them are getting caught and killed.