Afghanistan: Baby Please Don't Go


February 4, 2013: Many members of the police and army are not looking forward to the departure of all the foreign troops. The NATO forces provided a lifesaving edge against the Islamic radicals, warlords, and drug gangs. NATO has a lot of very effective troops, not to mention warplanes, helicopters, and smart bombs. Over the last two years the Americans have been using their missile armed UAVs more in Afghanistan and that has made the enemy even more reluctant to come out and fight. With the Western troops gone the Afghan security forces will still have an edge but it won’t be as much as now. That means there will be more casualties for the army and police. For that reason there is growing pressure on the government from security forces commanders to make a deal with the Americans to leave as many troops as possible after 2014.

The politicians have been playing hardball with the Americans, refusing to agree to continue American immunity from the corrupt Afghan justice system after 2014. The U.S. has told the Afghans that if they don’t get a Status of Forces (immunity) 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 commandoes 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.

With NATO forces less active, Afghan security forces are suffering more casualties. In the last year Afghan soldiers and police have suffered nearly 700 dead per 100,000 per year. But the major source of losses is desertion, which costs the security forces fifty times more troops than combat deaths. The highest rate for foreign troops in Afghanistan was 474 per 100,000 in 2010, which was lower than losses in Iraq during the peak years. Traditionally, Afghans do not fight to the death. If one group sees itself at a battlefield disadvantage they will retreat or make a deal with the foe. This is why the Taliban have increasingly avoided confronting NATO troops, preferring to attack Afghan civilians or security forces. Once the foreign troops are gone the Afghan security forces will be bribed or intimidated into inaction in some areas.

The current violence Afghanistan is experiencing is only half of a war that straddles the Pakistan border. Most of the hostiles are Islamic conservative Pushtun tribesmen trying to establish one or more religious dictatorships. For the last two decades the wars in Afghanistan have been all about the Pushtun trying to gain control over all of Afghanistan. Northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan are Pushtun country, where 40 million Pushtuns live (65 percent in Pakistan). The casualties have been pretty even on both sides of the border. No one expects the Pushtuns to win this war, they never do. That's why there have been so few Pushtun kingdoms in the region, much less a modern "Pushtunstan." Like their Kurdish cousins to the west, the Pushtuns are more likely to fight among themselves than unite. The tradition continues, although decade by decade more Pushtuns realize there are better ways to live. But too many of these enlightened Pushtuns strive to leave the area, knowing how hostile some of the locals are to new ideas.

Another thing that will be missed when the foreigners depart is keeping the corruption down. The lack of civil society in Afghanistan means doing business is very difficult. Everyone is out to cheat at every opportunity. This sort of bad behavior exists everywhere but Afghanistan has one of the most toxic business climates on the planet. This is the main reason Afghanistan is so poor and violent. NATO, especially the Americans, have made great efforts to curb the corruption. This will fade once most of the American troops are gone.

The Westerners also loudly protest traditional Afghan interrogation methods, calling it torture. Afghan officials deny this, pointing out that there’s a big difference between what Afghans consider interrogation and torture. The UN insists that most Afghan forms of interrogation are torture.

U.S. troops suffered record low casualties in January. Three U.S. troops died, one from wounds suffered in December. In January other NATO forces suffered five dead in Afghanistan. Since late 2001, U.S. forces have suffered 2,080 dead and 18,000 wounded in Afghanistan. The U.S. has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan now, while other foreign contingents amount to about 42,000.

February 3, 2013: Police in Kabul raided an apartment and arrested six Islamic terrorists along with six suicide bomb vests, 50 grenades, and many other weapons.

February 2, 2013: In the southwest (Kandahar province) police arrested a man who was wounded when his explosives laden motorcycle exploded prematurely. Elsewhere in the area three men were killed as they planted a roadside bomb that went off prematurely.

February 1, 2013: Pakistan reported that five armed men crossed the Afghan border in South Waziristan and were killed by mortar fire from Afghanistan. No one on the Afghan side would provide details of what was going on.

January 26, 2013: It’s been a bad day for Afghan police, with 23 killed in one day in several attacks across the country.

January 25, 2013: The U.S. has banned an Afghan airline (Kam Air) from transporting American troops or cargo because Kam Air is believed to be a major and persistent smuggler of opium from Afghanistan to Tajikistan.

January 21, 2013: Five suicide bombers armed with assault rifles attacked traffic police headquarters in Kabul. All the attackers died after a nine hour battle, along with three policemen.

January 18, 2013: The government loudly protested an international survey that showed only two percent of Afghans had Internet access at home. The government believes the rate is more like 20 percent. But the government officials making these claims are apparently looking only at people they know. Most Afghans don’t have electricity, much less Internet access. While most Afghans have access to cell phones, these tend to be cheaper models with little or no Internet access. It is likely that 20 percent of Afghans have Internet access outside the home (at work or at the growing number of Internet cafes).




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