January 17, 2013:
A growing number of senior Afghan officials and tribal leaders are speaking out on how important it is to curb the corruption. This problem is causing more anger and unrest around the country as local warlords steal (via extortion or outright theft) large amounts of the foreign aid. Some of this money goes to hiring more gunmen, who in turn terrorize the population to prevent any organized resistance to the local warlord. This is how the Taliban operates and these Islamic radicals are seen as just another bunch of corrupt thugs. Alas, being a greedy thug has long been admired in Afghanistan, although not by the victims. Because there’s so much more money in Afghanistan the last decade (foreign aid, drug profits, and more economic activity) there is more to steal and a growing number of ambitious and thuggish Afghans are doing just that. The foreigners, and many Afghans, recognize that, in the 21st century, this traditional culture of corruption is an impediment, not a recipe for success. In Afghanistan tradition is killing the future.
The U.S. has told the Afghans that if they don’t get a Status of Forces agreement by the end of 2014, then the U.S. will withdraw all their forces. Such “Status Of Forces” agreements are standard practice for foreign troops overseas and, in the case of Afghanistan, are necessary to protect American troops from abuse by corrupt Afghan judges and prosecutors. If the U.S. withdraws completely, a lot of the foreign aid might stop coming as well. The implication here is that if the Afghans prove unable to govern themselves and the country once more becomes a terrorist haven, the bombers and commandos will come back and the Afghan leaders responsible for the mess will be brought to account. That threat carries more weight since Osama bin laden was finally taken down two years ago.
January 16, 2013: Six terrorists attempted to use bombs and gunmen to attack the intelligence department of the Interior Ministry in Kabul. All the attackers were killed, along with one soldier. About 30 civilians and soldiers were wounded by the explosion. The plan was apparently for a suicide car bomber to detonate in front of the intelligence compound and another car carrying five Taliban gunmen would rush into the compound and kill as many people as they could. But the car bomb did not open the way to the interior of the building and the five gunmen were killed in a brief battle with soldiers. This intelligence agency is responsible for identifying and locating key Taliban members, who can then be arrested or killed.
The U.S. has halted transfers of prisoners from American controlled jails to government ones. The reason is suspicion that the Afghans are abusing these prisoners. The Afghans protest that they are dealing with the prisoners using traditional methods and that the Americans are being culturally insensitive.
January 15, 2013: The Afghan leadership wants the U.S. to withdraw 4,500 American Special Forces personnel who have been training a force of 26,000 village police. Nearly 19,000 of these police are already on the payroll and making it difficult for local warlords to do as they please. The warlords have complained to their good friend Hamid Karzai (president of Afghanistan). The warlords help keep Karzai and his family in power and the defenseless villagers don’t.
Organized militias are found throughout the country and have existed for thousands of years. Most are simply for local security, but some are sponsored by warlords (wealthy, ambitious, and charismatic local men) and used to extort money, land, and much else from locals. In many parts of the country the local warlord is also a Taliban leader, and it’s difficult to tell the difference between a traditional warlord militia and one sponsored by the Taliban. This is the main reason the Taliban are so unpopular; that and their spectacularly inept and oppressive rule in the late 1990s.
January 14, 2013: The Afghan leadership decided to call a Loya Jirga to decide whether U.S. forces would continue to be governed by their own law (Status of Forces Agreement), and not Afghan courts, after 2014. Loya Jirgas (great conference) are usually held in Kabul and bring together 2,000 prominent Afghans (tribal leaders and politicians) from all over the country to discuss important issues that concern everyone. In the past few years Loya Jirgas have dealt with issues like how much longer to host foreign troops (most of them are scheduled to leave by 2014) and president Karzai's plea for a peace deal with the Taliban. The main function of the Jirga is for leaders from around the country to get a sense of the attitudes of other tribes and form a consensus. Loya Jirga is a Pushtun word but it is a common practice among the Indo-European tribes that have occupied the region for over 5,000 years. The purpose of the Loya Jirga has changed because of technology. Those attending have cell phones and access to international radio and TV news. Thus it is no longer a meeting of strangers. Local jirgas are meetings of people who are often distantly related to each other and are more frequently used to settle local or family disputes. Loya Jirgas used to be rare events, but now they are usually annual affairs and an opportunity to achieve some kind of national consensus.
January 13, 2013: In the south (Wardak province) there was an explosion in a mosque that left seven people dead. Locals blamed the Americans, who had been in the area a few hours earlier with a larger number of Afghan troops to capture a Taliban leader who was hiding out in the village. The Afghan soldiers got their man, after a brief firefight, and left. Locals are unsure what caused the explosion and the U.S. insists there was no artillery fire or air attacks in the area. It may have been a bomb the Taliban were assembling. Mosques are often used by the Taliban for storing weapons and assembling bombs.
January 11, 2013: Afghanistan has agreed to take over responsibility for security in the entire country in the next few months and not later in the year. This would mean U.S. forces would be just advisory and would halt all their own raids and patrols.
January 9, 2013: In the south (Wardak province) the Taliban kidnapped, tortured, and murdered a woman who worked in a health clinic and had been outspoken against physical and psychological abuse of women (many of whom she had treated in the clinic). The woman had been warned to shut up and had not done so. The Afghan Army arrested at least one suspect in this case. The victim was popular in the area, especially among women.
Pakistani truckers, who carry NATO cargo containers to Afghanistan, have gone on strike to protest new anti-theft measures. The new regulations amount to another government scheme to steal money from NATO and the truckers are being forced to participate.
January 6, 2013: The government has released 80 Taliban from prison as part of a peace deal with some Taliban factions.
In the south (Kandahar province) two suicide bombers attacked a meeting of pro-government tribal leaders and killed five of them.