Afghanistan: NATO Losing The War Of Words

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September 11, 2009: The Taliban continue to have more success on the Information War front, than in actual combat. A recent incident, where German troops called in a U.S. air strike on two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban, has become a Taliban victory. The German colonel who authorized the strike is being criticized for not making sure there were no civilians around the tankers, which were stuck in the sand. The Taliban had invited local civilians to come and steal the fuel, apparently to lighten the trucks so they could move on. The German commander wanted to make sure the vehicles did not get away, and later be used for truck bomb attacks against Afghan or NATO forces. But the new ROE (Rules Of Engagement) insist that civilian casualties be avoided at all costs. That's because, even though civilian losses, from NATO action, are lower than any war in history,  much lower than Iraq, and most of them are actually caused by the Taliban, the U.S. has decided that any civilian losses will be turned into a media victory by Taliban publicists. The Taliban have capitalized on Afghan cultural quirks (we are masters of our domain, while we are also perpetual victims of imperialist violence), and how the drug gangs have many Afghan leaders and media on the payroll, to make every civilian killed by foreign troops to be an avoidable war crime. Afghan civilians took advantage of violent encounters with foreign troops to claim dead (creating graves, with a dead animal in it to fool sensors) so they could receive compensation payments from NATO or U.S. forces. Afghanistan is a very corrupt country, where scamming your neighbor is a very popular sport. This is considered perfectly legit when committed against "foreigners" (who can be anyone not from your tribe, family, or neighborhood).

The new ROE are often implemented so energetically that American troop morale is plummeting in some units, where U.S. and Afghan combat casualties are going up. American commanders are trying to keep a lid on this, but the growing number of incidents will eventually become another hot media story and scandal that must be fixed. Good luck with that one.

The recent Afghan election has been called into question, because of widespread fraud by associates of incumbent president Karzai. A new vote has been called for, by monitoring organizations. Karzai associates are involved in the drug business, and other forms of corruption. They do not want a new president, who will upset a lot of existing relationships. This corruption is a major problem throughout the region, and a big reason why Afghanistan is so poor and disorganized. It's been this way for a long time, and no one seems to have a promising plan for changing the situation.

Increasingly, Iranian weapons, including armor piercing roadside bombs (like the EFP, or Explosively Formed Penetrators, found in Iraq) are increasingly showing up in western Afghanistan. Some of this might be smuggling gangs (Iranian and Afghan) making a buck by bringing across what their customers want, or the Iranian government trying to increase the anti-government violence in Afghanistan, or a bit of both.

September 8, 2009: British troops, led by commandos, raided a Taliban base and freed an American journalist who had been kidnapped four days before. The translator for the journalist, and one of the British troops, were killed, along with several dozen Taliban gunmen and a few civilians. Afghan public opinion turned against the operation because the translator (who ran out of a building while the shooting was still going on) was killed. British public opinion turned against the operation because a British soldier was killed, and the journalist was working for an American firm. Naturally, the Taliban were hostile to the operation because they lost a lot of people, and a big ransom. The freed journalist was happy, as were the attacking troops, who were allowed to fight the Taliban without worrying about any Afghan civilians who got caught in the cross fire. The British government ordered the rescue mission when intelligence indicated that the journalist (a Briton working for a U.S. newspaper) was about to be moved, and his new location might be difficult to find. Extended ransom negotiations were seen as a political liability, and the raid, and the risks it entailed, were seen as preferable.

September 7, 2009: A Swedish NGO complained that American troops invaded a hospital the Swedes ran, looking for a Taliban leaders. The Swedes insist that this sort of thing is forbidden, while American commanders insist that NGO run operations do not function as sanctuaries for terrorists and bandits. The Swedes were probably aware that if they did not try to protect  Taliban patients, the Taliban would get their revenge down the road. NGO aid groups in general, even hospitals, are not immune from shakedowns by local bandits or warlords (like the Taliban or drug gangs.) But the NGOs leave out the more unsavory aspects of their situation, and try to make it look like it's all the American's fault. Everyone can agree on that.

September 6, 2009: In the southeast, Afghan and Australian troops found a Taliban bomb workshop, along with five tons of explosives, other bomb components and lots of ammunition. Finding these workshops have been a high priority with Afghan security forces. Not just because these troops and police are a major target for these bombs, but because Afghan civilians, who comprise most of the bomb casualties, are enthusiastic about putting the bombers out of business.

 

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