August 2, 2009:
President Hamid Karzai wants to ban foreign troops from searching the homes of Afghans. He has already gotten foreign troops to ban the use of smart bombs on any target that might contain civilians. Karzai also wants negotiate peace deals with Taliban groups that promise to cut all ties with al Qaeda, and other Islamic terror groups, and support peace. Karzai is less vocal about shutting down heroin production. Most Afghans are in favor of shutting down the heroin trade (as Pakistan and Burma have done in the past few decades), but many senior members of the Karzai government are on the drug gangs payroll. That's a difficult addiction to cure.
Same thing for the Taliban. Although they deny that their fighters get paid, the reality on the ground is quite different. Some Taliban leaders call it "gifts" or "compensation" (for injuries or family circumstances), but most of the Taliban manpower requires some incentive beyond inspiring sermons.
In northern Afghanistan, where the Taliban have only recently moved into with force, the violent response from Afghan security forces and foreign troops, especially the formerly taciturn Germans, caused the Taliban to agree to a "voting truce" (national elections are on the 20th.) The Taliban withdraw from areas where they have been terrorizing the population, and are spared attacks on themselves for several weeks.
Civilian deaths are up 24 percent so far this year (from 818 for the first six months of 2008, to 1,013 for the same period this year.) Of those deaths, 59 percent were definitely caused by the Taliban, 31 percent by government or foreign forces (two thirds of that by 40 smart bomb attacks), and the remainder unknown (exactly who was responsible). Both sides have announced new policies that will result in fewer civilian casualties. This is particularly crucial for the Taliban, who have accounted for a growing number of civilian deaths, and have been deliberately, and quite openly, exploiting the new ROE (Rules Of Engagement) the foreign troops much use, which forbids nearly most smart bomb attacks against areas where there might be civilians. The Taliban seek out civilians, and then launch their attacks on nearby security forces (Afghan and foreign). This allows the foreign and Afghan troops to fire back, but not use smart bombs. Despite this, the return fire often kills civilians, who are often forced to stay close to the Taliban doing most of the shooting. These tactics have gotten more civilians killed, and most civilians now blame the Taliban, which accounts for the recent Taliban announcements about a new policy of avoiding attacks on civilians. That won't work, because the Taliban can only control the civilian population, in most parts of southern Afghanistan, through the use of terror. This includes persuading parents not to send their daughters to school, or buy music or video CDs. But the Taliban is making a big push to portray themselves as the good guys in all this. First, they denounce those who hurt civilians as bandits pretending to be Taliban. That might fly outside of Afghanistan, but on the ground, Afghans know who is Taliban and who is not. The Taliban continue to use kidnapping and extortion to maintain control of civilians, and no one mistakes these thugs for bandits.
Last month, about 20,000 foreign troops were heavily engaged in combat, or in a combat zone, most of the time. This resulted in 73 foreign troops killed, most of them by suicide and roadside bombs. Historically, this was very low, being 2-3 dead per division day in combat. But this was a monthly record for Afghanistan.
Since this Taliban tactic is likely to persist, the U.S. is bringing in more medium (Predator and Reaper) UAVs and UAV equivalents (two dozen MC-12 aircraft) to provide a force of nearly a hundred aircraft, and more bomb disposal and intelligence troops to support them, to carry out the route clearance tactics that proved so successful in Iraq. Troops are most vulnerable when they first move into enemy controlled territory. The enemy has prepared to use roadside and suicide bombs, and the U.S. has learned they can cripple the enemy effort by heavily patrolling roads to detect bombs and the crews planting them (especially before the advance). By following the planting crews for a while, you discover the bomb workshops and who is supplying the cash and bomb making materials. Thus, the invasion is accompanied by a coordinated attack on the bomb gangs. Take them out, and the number of bomb casualties plummets. This has already been seen in a few places in Afghanistan where, for whatever reason, security forces nailed the local bomb gang. Until those experts and financers could be replaced, there were far fewer bombs going off in the area, and sometimes the bomb gang was never reconstituted.
The bomb gangs are largely financed by the drug gangs, who recognize that the roadside bombs are the most effective way to inflict casualties on the foreign troops. This, in turn, encourages foreign nations to withdraw their troops, which would leave the drug gangs free to make and ship out their heroin.
Britain is sending another 2,000 troops, just to help train Afghan security forces. The U.S. and other nations are also sending more trainers. The objective of all this is to expand the Afghan security forces (police and army) from 150,000 to 400,000. The biggest problem is the police, which is more corrupt and undisciplined than the army. While the Afghans have had a national army before, and understand the concept, the same is not true with a national police force.
July 27, 2009: Britain announced the end of Operation Panther's Claw in Helmand province. A month of fighting by 3,000 troops (a third of the British force in Afghanistan), which left 20 British, and over a hundred Taliban, dead, drove the Taliban from an area containing 100,000 people, deep in the main drug producing area of the country (and, actually, the world). There were about 500 Taliban in the area, who used coercion and terror to control the local population. The Taliban were there to protect drug operations, which made a small segment of the local population rich. For the majority, the Taliban and their drug gang partners were just another bunch of warlords, who do what they pleased while sticking it to the locals. The next phase of the British operation is to keep the Taliban and drug gangs out. That will not be easy, as the bad guys have no Rules Of Engagement, while the British do.