Afghanistan: So Many Targets, So Many Casualties


April 27, 2015: With the return of warm weather the government has ordered the security forces (police, military, national intelligence services) to cooperate in finding and attacking local drug gangs and Islamic terrorists. These operations also receive support from foreign troops, mainly in form of intelligence (gathered by aerial surveillance by UAVs and manned aircraft and informants on the ground) and a few thousand special operations troops plus the few warplanes still available. The UAVs also make attacks on key Islamic terrorists, killing 10-15 a month. Killing these leaders disrupts the Islamic terror groups involved and Afghan security forces can often take advantage of that. In response the Islamic terrorists and drug gangs have increased their efforts to bribe or intimidate the security forces (especially the commanders) to leave the drug operations alone. Russian experts on Afghanistan and the drug business estimate that at least 30 percent of the Afghan security forces (mainly police) have been bribed or intimidated to work for the drug gangs. This drug gang subversion is having some success despite most of the population hating the drugs (and the growing number of addicts created by all that cheap opium and heroin) and those that produce the drugs and protect that process while pretending to be religious zealots (the Taliban). When there have been similar situations in other parts of the world (Burma, Colombia, Peru) guns and money tend to have the advantage even though the drug gangs are often defeated (or at least driven away) eventually. The problem in Afghanistan is that the country is landlocked and most of the drugs must be exported. While a lot goes out via Pakistan (which borders Helmand) a growing portion goes north to Central Asia, Europe and East Asia. The old Silk Road has become a Trail of Tears. It has also turned northern Afghanistan, a very anti-drug and anti-Taliban part of the country into a battleground as the drug gangs fight to maintain access to their smuggling routes.

It gets worse. Afghanistan is still beset by ethnic and tribal differences as well as the every present corruption (which everyone agrees is a curse but not enough are willing to clean the mess up). Then there is the growing interference from Iran and Pakistan, something that has beset the region for thousands of years. Pakistan has also forced (since mid-2014) several thousand Islamic terrorists into eastern Afghanistan. In addition increasing anti-Afghan feelings in Pakistan has led to another effort to persecute and expel several million Afghans living (often illegally) in Pakistan. So far this year over 3,000 such refugees a month are returning from Pakistan. While many of these refugees could evade expulsion efforts over 40 percent of those who return cite growing anti-Afghan attitudes and harassment as the main reason for coming back to Afghanistan.

The newly elected government, while a lot less corrupt and more accommodating than the previous Karzai one, is still finding itself paralyzed by the often conflicting demands by politicians representing a wide number of tribal, ethnic, religious and personal interests. It’s like herding cats, but cats with automatic weapons and very short tempers.

The UN estimated that Islamic terrorist and drug gangs caused about 25,000 deaths in Afghanistan during 2014. Some 70 percent of the deaths were caused by the Islamic terrorists and criminals while 14 percent were caused by the security forces and for 16 percent it was unclear who was responsible. A growing number of civilian deaths are cause by roadside bombs and landmines, two weapons favored by Islamic terrorists. So far this year the deaths are up 5-10 percent over 2014. All this violence also threatens foreign aid, which has been responsible for a lot of the economic and social gains the country has benefitted from since 2001. Last year 57 foreign aid workers were killed and many more injured or kidnapped. Despite threats to cut back or even halt some aid programs the violence continues.

The kidnapping of 31 Hazara from a bus in February reminded more people that the newly built (since 2001) highways had become increasingly dangerous because of bandits and the Taliban. Robbery and kidnapping for ransom are increasingly common and as a result this year the passenger traffic in Herat, Ghor, Farah, Kandahar and Ghazni provinces has decreased by more than half. You can still travel safely if you pay a lot extra to go in a heavily guarded convoy. Those do not run frequently and that and the high cost has hurt the business for companies carrying passengers on all these new roads. Meanwhile the 31 kidnapped Hazara are still missing.

 Afghanistan has always been a violent place, even when technically at peace. This has been documented by years of foreign medical aid groups running clinics all over the country. The foreigners were astounded by the amount of domestic and casual (locals not getting along) violence. Afghans saw it as normal. Another thing that keeps the region unstable and violent is the tradition of the warlord. Any talented leader, able to organize a lot of gunmen to seize control of an area (and then get rich by “taxing” and exploiting it), is highly respected and admired. Even though these guys usually do not die in bed, the fact that they can have a few good years, or even decades, inspires others. While vilified in the West, becoming a warlord is still a popular career choice in this region. The drug business has made it possible for a lot more warlords to establish themselves and the enormous amounts of cash generated from producing and selling (mostly exporting) opium and heroin has kept the Taliban in business because the drug lords need hired guns and the Taliban need the cash.

Afghanistan is working directly with Pakistan to get the government and military there to shut down all Pakistan based Islamic terrorists groups. Groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network have long enjoyed sanctuary in Pakistan, but only if they made no attacks inside Pakistan. The Pakistani military and the ISI (the Pakistani CIA) are the main supporters of the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and other groups that only attack outside Pakistan (mostly inside Afghanistan and India). Getting the Pakistani government to agree to shut down these terror groups is easy, getting the Pakistani military to actually do it is another matter because in Pakistan the military and ISI can defy government orders and only a major change in public opinion towards Islamic terrorism in Pakistan generated enough pressure to get the military and ISI to act. This they did in mid-2014 but while they greatly reduced the number of Islamic terrorists in Pakistan several thousand of these Islamic terrorists escaped into Afghanistan.  

Meanwhile Afghanistan sees the Pakistani success in North Waziristan and Khyber resulting in a lot of these Islamic terror organizations simply moving across the border to Afghanistan. This has led to a lot more violence and counter-terror operations in eastern Afghanistan and Afghan requests that the America keep their troops strength up (to 10,000) for at least a year is one of the responses. Afghanistan also wants Pakistan to help the Afghans deal with Islamic terror groups that have long worked for Pakistan but have now relocated to Afghanistan. At the moment Pakistan is leaving alone Islamic terrorists who specialize in attacking India no matter where they are.

April 26, 2015: In the north (Kunduz) an anti-Taliban cleric was killed by a bomb placed in his vehicle. Elsewhere in the province a joint police-army operation killed 40 Taliban. Six of the dead were identified as foreign (four Tajiks and two Chechens).

April 25, 2015:  In the south (Uruzgan province) the provincial police chief was killed by another policeman. His predecessor was killed six weeks earlier by a suicide bomber in Kabul.

April 24, 2015: The Taliban “Spring Offensive” officially begins today, at least according to a Taliban announcement on the 22nd. The government expects more violence in Nangarhar, Kunar, and Helmand provinces as well as the capital (Kabul). This is the first Spring Offensive in which Afghan forces were not heavily supported by foreign troops and aircraft. There hasn't been a real "Taliban Spring Offensive" since 2005-6 and that’s partly because of cash flow problems and the presence of foreign troops. The key Taliban financial resource; heroin in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, has been under heavy attack since 2009. The poppy (the source of opium and heroin) crop has been hammered by drought and disease, growing competition from Burmese heroin and drug gang income has suffered. The Taliban expected drug gang profits, al Qaeda assistance, and Pakistani reinforcements to help them out. But al Qaeda is a very junior, and unpopular, partner, and the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 was a big blow to morale. Pakistani Taliban are mostly sending refugees and competitors, not reinforcements. Since 2012 the Taliban have been suffering and that means their attacks down and casualties are up. This year they have civil war to worry about as there is an increasingly violent dispute within the Taliban over negotiating peace deals with the government. Some Taliban factions (or pro-Taliban tribes) have done so but the Taliban traditionalists (especially the leadership living in a Pakistan sanctuary) oppose peace deals. Then there is the recent announcement that the Taliban and the growing ISIL membership are at war with each other. So many targets, so many casualties.

April 21, 2015: In the east (Paktia province) 19 Afghan deminers kidnapped by some Islamic terrorists (group unspecified) were freed through the intervention of tribal elders (and probable threats of tribal retribution). Since 2008 the Taliban (and other Islamic terror groups) have been increasingly planting more mines themselves and then attacking or scaring away mine clearing teams. Yet another reason why the Taliban are hated, something that shows up every time nationwide opinion polls are done in Afghanistan (which is fairly regularly).

April 20, 2015: In the south (Helmand province) the Taliban and ISIL openly declared war on each other. This is serious as Helmand is where most of the heroin is produced and where the Taliban are strongest. ISIL sides with most Afghans in considering Taliban cooperation with drug gangs evil and against Islam. Now the Taliban and drug gangs have some very dangerous Islamic terrorists to worry about.

April 18, 2015: In the east (Nangarhar province) a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 33 people outside a bank (waiting for it to open). This led to some confusion over who was responsible. The Taliban denied any involvement while the newly formed ISIL said it was their work. But intelligence officials said it was probably the work of a rogue Taliban faction.          

In the north (Ghazni province) five Hazara men were kidnapped and murdered (beheaded). The Taliban were suspected because Hazara, a group in central Afghanistan that is descended from Mongols who invaded and devastated much of southern Afghanistan centuries ago, also tend to be Shia. That and the bitter memories of the Mongols still linger among the Pushtun tribes, who comprise most of the Taliban. Meanwhile other Islamic terrorist groups have come to consider the Taliban a bunch of drug gang lackeys and sellouts to the cause of radical Islam. The Taliban has a growing list of enemies including the security forces, tribal militias (especially in the north) and a growing list of other Islamic terror organizations. In response the Taliban try to carry out more “religious” killings against Shia or clerics who openly condemn Taliban violence.

April 9, 2015: The Afghan Air Force received three Cheetal helicopters from India.

April 8, 2015: The UN has approved sanctions against Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah. This follows Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States agreeing in January to cooperate in finding and killing Mullah Fazlullah, who is believed to operate from a hideout in Kunar province (eastern Afghanistan on the Pakistan border). All three countries now pool their intel on Fazlullah while the Americans will seek to kill Fazlullah as soon as he is found (before he can find another hiding place) using missile armed UAVs. This sudden cooperation over Fazlullah is the result of Pakistanis capturing radio messages in which Fazlullah can be heard directing the December Taliban attack on a Pakistani school that left 132 children dead. 


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