March 17, 2015:
There are still some 16,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan and nearly three times as many civilian contractors with them. Over 75 percent of the troops are there to train and advise Afghan security forces and the rest carrying out counter-terror operations. Some 62 percent of the foreign troops are American. The contractors mainly perform support jobs, although some are involved in training. The only combat duties some contractors perform is security (usually bases but also embassies and other facilities as well as VIP security). So there is still a foreign force of over 50,000 in Afghanistan. Most Afghans want the foreigners to stay much longer and the U.S. has said it is willing to keep its current personnel levels in Afghanistan for another year. Half of American troops in Afghanistan were supposed to leave by the end of 2015. Afghan troops and police also want more foreign air power as Afghans now realize how much they relied on American air support to find and kill the enemy and keep Afghan casualties down.
Another reason Afghans want to keep foreign troops around training and advising Afghan soldiers and police is because the foreigners can get away with speaking up about corruption in the security forces. Not only are police (and to a lesser extent soldiers) corrupt but some actively (for cash or conviction) work for Islamic terror groups. ISIL is the current favorite for idealistic and religious young men in uniform. Another big problem is the corruption in promotions. In the police it is usually bribes, while in the army it is more often doing someone a favor for tribal, family or business reasons. As always the climate of corruption is at the bottom of all this.
The impact of corruption in the security forces can be measured by the fact that both forces are shrinking, despite the high unemployment rate. The army has lost over ten percent of its strength since foreign troops began leaving in 2013 and now has about 160,000 troops. Part of this can be explained by the sharp increase in combat operations and the resulting casualties (about a hundred dead soldiers a month since late 2013). But troops still in and those who left spoke of corruption and poor leadership as the major reasons for quitting. The police report an increase in strength (to 156,000) but that is attributed to the greater corruption in the police and the practice of corrupt commanders to country deserted or non-existent police as present and take their pay.
One of ten ISIL members killed in Helmand three days ago turned out to be the newly appointed head of ISIL in Afghanistan. His predecessor was killed by an American UAV missile in February. ISIL is believed to have factions in Helmand, Farah, Logar, Ghazni and Kunduz provinces and is increasing in popularity but is still seen as an unsavory foreign influence by most Afghans. ISIL is small but very good at getting publicity, usually via outrageous statements and uploaded videos of ISIL men killing lots of “enemies of Islam”.
The Afghan Taliban keeps insisting that they are not involved in any peace talks with the Afghan government. This is despite regular government announcements that such talks are in the works. Those talks are not really going anywhere because militant Taliban factions violently oppose any peace deals (aside from complete surrender by the Afghan government). Currently the biggest (and most visible) split is between the Afghan political commander and the military commander. But there are a growing number of additional factions who feel entitled to a veto. Nevertheless a growing number of Taliban leaders recognize that their cause is hated by most Afghans and that number keeps increasing. If this is not dealt with the Taliban will devolve to another bunch of guns for hire who tend to work for the highest bidder (in this case the drug gangs).
Pakistan rounded up and deported over 2,000 Afghan refugees so far and threatens to expel most of the three million Afghans living in Pakistan. This is seen as payback for increased Islamic terror violence in Pakistan. Afghan Islamic terrorists are blamed for helping carry out the December Taliban attack on a Pakistani school that left 132 children dead. This attack by the Pakistani Taliban outraged most Pakistanis who demanded, among other measures, that Afghans in Pakistan illegally (or even as registered refugees) be expelled. Pakistan has put a priority on getting rid of Afghan clerics because many of these clerics preach a harsh form of Islam that encourages support for Islamic terrorists. But only about 400 of those clerics have been expelled so far. Pakistani efforts to expel large numbers of Afghans is proving more difficult. Many of those Afghans are important to the Pakistani economy and others will bribe or intimidate officials sent to supervise the expulsions.
One thing Afghan and Pakistani officials agree on is the need to force radical clerics out of jobs in mosques and religious schools. If these guys want to go underground then that’s another problem. But these cheerleaders for Islamic terrorism do a lot more damage when they can operate freely and openly. Even Saudi Arabia recognizes this and does not tolerate misbehavior by clerics within its borders.
March 15, 2015: In central Afghanistan (Ghazni province) unidentified gunmen kidnapped eight Hazara from two cars. This has police alarmed because three weeks ago, in the west (near Herat) gunmen stopped a bus returning from a Shia pilgrimage in Iran and kidnapped 30 Hazara passengers. Efforts since then to find these Hazara have turned up nothings despite killing, wounding and capturing over a hundred Taliban and gang members in the process. The Taliban (and Sunni Islamic terrorists in general) consider Shia heretics. The 30 Shia here were also Hazara, a group in central Afghanistan that is descended from Mongols who invaded and devastated much of southern Afghanistan centuries ago. Those bitter memories still linger among the Pushtun tribes, who comprise most of the Taliban. It is feared that the Shia captives will be murdered although a large ransom may be demanded since the Taliban are always short of cash. At first the local police refused to go after the kidnappers without orders from the national government. That order soon came but no bodies were found and no ransom demand received. The Taliban deny any involvement in the Heart incident. Many Afghans believe a new ISIL faction may have the Hazara and are planning to video a mass murder of their Hazara captives.
March 14, 2015: In the south (Helmand) soldiers clashed with a group of ISIL gunmen and killed ten of them
March 13, 2015: In the east (Nangarhar province) an American UAV fired missiles and killed seven Islamic terrorists, including a leader wanted by Afghan and American counter-terror forces.
March 9, 2015: A recent national opinion poll showed that 92 percent of Afghans want the election process reformed to reduce corruption. Currently only about twenty percent of Afghans trust the election process. Nothing kills democracy faster than a loss of faith in the reliability of the voting process. At the same time 85 percent of Afghans supported current (post Karzai) national government and 91 percent trust the newly elected president Ghani. At the same time 81 percent believe the country is moving in the right direction and 71 percent believed public support for the Taliban continues to decline. Despite the growing opposition to the Taliban these religious fanatics will remain a problem as long as they are allied with the drug gangs who have the cash and determination to keep the corruption and Islamic terrorism going because it is good for their business.
March 8, 2015: In Kabul gunmen walked into a Sufi mosque and murdered a senior Sufi cleric and ten other men using pistols with silencers. One Sufi survived by pretending to be dead. Who did this is a mystery because no one took credit and the Taliban denied responsibility. Faith is important in Afghanistan, and it’s not all the Taliban brand of Islam. A more practical reaction to all the misery in the country is another form of Islam. Afghan Islam has long been influenced by Sufism. That can be a problem for Sunni hard liners, as Sufi has some elements of Shia Islam, plus a strong mystical streak and a tradition of poetry, music, and spiritual dance. This is quite at variance with the hardline Sunni version of the faith being pushed by the Taliban. While open practitioners of Sufism have been persecuted by the Taliban in the past that began to stop after 2010 when many Sufis fought back. Since Sufis are only about two percent of the population the Taliban just backed off rather than engage a small but influential sect. Besides there were plenty more Shia (20 percent of the population) to go after. The most likely suspects now are ISIL or political rivals of the murdered Sufi leader.
February 25, 2015:
Afghanistan admitted that it had an arrangement with China whereby Afghanistan would seize and turn over to China any Chinese Moslems (especially Turkic Uighurs) found in Afghanistan. This recently led to a dozen Uighurs arrested in Afghanistan being sent back to China. In return China increases the diplomatic and economic pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting Islamic terrorists attacking Afghanistan. China is the largest foreign investor in Pakistan as well as the main source of modern weapons, so when China talks Pakistan must listen and at least pretend to act.