Afghanistan: Avoiding The Looks That Kill


September 7, 2012: Over the last month combat activity has been increasing east of Kabul, in an area 100-150 kilometers from the Pakistan  border. This is particularly true in Kunar province, which is northeast of Kabul. There's always been a lot of action southeast of Kabul is Paktia, Paktika, and Khost provinces just across the border from terrorist sanctuary North Waziristan. The presence of more soldiers and police has weakened Taliban control over the civilians in these provinces. In response, the Taliban have been increasing their intimidation attacks on civilians, including beheading children (often siblings of policemen, as a warning to not be too hard on local Taliban). While the Taliban are still strong enough to maintain their control in the south (mainly Kandahar and rural Helmand provinces, where most opium and heroin production is), in eastern Afghanistan local militias are more frequently found defeating their local Taliban oppressors. Because of increased Afghan and foreign troop activity in the area, the Taliban can't easily move in large enough forces to overcome the local militias. When the Taliban do try this, they often get caught by NATO airpower and that is usually fatal in a big way.

In response to the recent and seemingly sudden increase in attacks on foreign troops by Afghan soldiers and police, a number of new policies were announced. First, there will be better screening of recruits for the army and police and hundreds of unqualified ("dangerous") soldiers and police have been identified and expelled. What was not mentioned was the fact that recruiters often demand bribes to let men in. That meant there was less screening (for terrorist or drug gang connections or mental health problems). This is part of the corruption that continues to flourish throughout Afghanistan. Most everything is for sale, if the price is right. Pressure from the donor countries will limit the recruiting bribes for a while but if the drug gangs and Taliban want to keep buying their way in, they will be able to resume bribing recruiters in a few months, when the commotion dies down.

Second, there will be more cultural sensitivity training for foreign troops. Afghanistan is a very alien place for Westerners. It's also a much more violent place, with men, especially, quick to react violently to real or perceived slights. Foreign troops have been ordered to learn a longer list of things that could anger an Afghan (certain facial expressions or pointing a gun in the general direction of an Afghan, even if unintentionally). Some of these actions are unavoidable but foreign troops have to understand that even unintentional social gaffes can have fatal consequences. It's not that all Afghan men are suicidal (which is what firing on foreign troops often is) but many are prone to losing their cool in a big way. If they are holding a loaded weapon when this happens, things can get ugly. The casual violence in Afghanistan is many times what it is in the West, which can be seen by the high number of wives and children who show up at clinics (run by foreign aid workers) to have injuries (not from accidents) treated. Afghans don't try to hide the source of these injuries, as beating wives and children (and each other) is considered the Afghan way of maintaining order.

So far this year foreign troop deaths from friendly (Afghan) fire have doubled from 6.5 percent to 13 percent. Overall, foreign troop deaths, especially from roadside bombs, are down and the Taliban are desperate to find some way to cause casualties among foreign troops. But most of this increase in friendly fire attacks comes from more foreign troops operating (as advisors or collaborators) with Afghan soldiers or police. This is part of the effort to expand and train the Afghan security forces so they can operate without foreign troops in two years.

September 4, 2012: In the east (Nangarhar province) a Taliban suicide bomber, attempting to kill a provincial official at a funeral for a local tribal chief, instead killed 25 civilians and wounded 30. The target of the attack survived. So far this year the Taliban have been killing over 150 civilians a month, four times the number killed by police, soldiers, and foreign troops. The latter are accidental, while most of the Taliban related deaths are a deliberate effort to intimidate or terrorize civilians.

September 3, 2012:  The U.S. has temporarily suspended training new Afghan soldiers and police until recruit screening can be improved and foreign trainers can be provided with better knowledge of what to look for when it comes to unstable or otherwise dangerous trainees. Last month Afghan Special Forces spent two weeks being screened again by American advisors and trainings to check for possible infiltrators.

September 1, 2012: In the east (Wardak province) two suicide bombers attacked outside a NATO base, killing twelve Afghans and wounding over fifty. Two foreign soldiers were also injured.

August 31, 2012: In the east (Kunar province) Afghan troops killed three local al Qaeda leaders (Abu Saif, Yusuf Assad, and Mufti Assad) and two followers. Abu Saif was in charge of arranging the movement of al Qaeda men and terrorists back and forth across the border. It took a week for the identities of these men to be confirmed.





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