October 2, 2009:
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are trying to get hundreds of millions of dollars to match the media campaign the drug gangs and Taliban have been waging. The enemy has cash (from drugs) and intimidation (Taliban terror) to influence Afghan media and opinion leaders. Currently, the U.S. and NATO are not doing much to oppose this. So Taliban and drug gang lies get spread wide, and often accepted, because you don't hear much about the reality. This is important beyond Afghanistan, which is in danger of being turned into a sanctuary for heroin gangs and Islamic terrorists, just as it was in the 1990s.
U.S./NATO operations over the Summer did substantial damage to drug gangs in Helmand province. The gangs are desperate to halt this disruption of heroin production and distribution. This can only be accomplished by overthrowing the Afghan government, or at least keeping the government out of Helmand, and away from drug operations. This will also require finding some way to get the foreign troops to leave. The foreign troops cannot be defeated militarily. Most of the population tolerates the drug gangs, as long as they spread the money around. But the Taliban are another story. Bitter memories of what the Taliban did in the 1990s, make most Afghans fearful of being ruled once more by these fanatics.
The reality of Afghanistan is lots of unemployed young men. Most of these guys have guns, or would be glad to have one. The gangsters supply the paycheck and the Taliban a religious based license to kill. The fact that 20 percent of more of each year's crop of recruits get killed, or otherwise disappear, does not discourage the gunmen. Afghanistan has the lowest life expectancy in Eurasia, and locals are well aware of it. U.S. commanders say that, some of the same techniques that worked in Iraq, will work in Afghanistan, That is, get the potential gunmen on your payroll. Give these guys better prospects than the heroin producers and Taliban. Meanwhile, the drug gangs have no choice but to spend, if need be, all the money they have, to defend the heroin business that has made so many Afghans richer than they ever believed possible. Their Taliban allies are on a Mission From God, and need no further encouragement. Although, as in the 1990s, there is a growing migration Taliban into the drug gangs. Paradise on earth is always a temptation for those reluctant to wait for the afterlife.
The Taliban operate in small groups, rarely more than a few dozen men, to protect them from detection and death by smart bombs. These gangs have vague orders, that are easily understood. Attack road traffic, and villages that are not friendly to the gangs and Taliban. In other words, do what the tribal culture praises; go forth and raid and loot. While this sort of behavior is officially looked down on, it is still admired at the tribal level, but only if the victims are from another tribe.
The campaign against the few main roads is killing a lot of civilians, which is an accepted side of effect of an attempt to cripple the legitimate economy, and government control over large portions of the country. The army and police have to assign a large proportion of their strength to trying to keep the roads safe. It's very difficult, when the Taliban can go cross country to set up an ambush or place a roadside bomb, one that can be set to go off when the next vehicle (most likely a civilian one) passes by.
The U.S. commander wants more troops to deal with the new Taliban tactic of sending groups of gunmen all over the country, where they raise hell. Most of rural Afghanistan is unprotected by police or soldiers. There is the tribal militia, which is called up for a major incursion by a neighboring tribe. Otherwise, the few armed men in every village, is enough to take care of local crime. But not a few dozen Taliban gunmen, zipping around in their SUVs and pickup trucks. These mobile gangs have cash to bribe their way past checkpoints, and some carry satellite phones, to stay in touch with the home office. But mainly they are just sent north to ravage non-Pushtun tribes (who are 60 percent of the population, and despised by the large Pushtun minority) and most return home for the Winter, carrying loot and stories of adventure.
The Taliban and drug gangs are using his squads, paid well to use murder, kidnap or other threats to intimidate government officials who are not already on their payroll. While most of these officials are safe, all are now scared.
Pakistan is now complaining that Pakistani Taliban are getting most of their weapons and ammunition from Afghanistan. The Pakistani army has cut most of the roads into rebellious tribal territories. But the Afghan/Pakistani border runs through Pushtun tribal lands, and the Pushtun never thought much of that border (created by British colonial officials over a century ago). Smuggling across this border is a respected profession among the Pushtun, and moving guns and ammo is considered a public service. Pushtuns have to be able to defend themselves. The Pakistani complaints are largely cosmetic, because there's no easy way to halt the movement of small quantities of goods (off the roads) across the border.