Afghanistan: The Real Enemy Grows Stronger


June 10, 2015: So far this year civilian casualties are 50 percent higher than last year. Over 300 civilians a month are dying, mostly because of Taliban and drug gang efforts to terrorize civilians into supporting, or at least not opposing them. Casualties are up for the security forces as well but Taliban and drug gang losses are up the most (over 80 percent compared to last year). For example in May over 4,600 “hostile individuals” were killed. The drug gangs and their Islamic terrorist allies (mainly the Taliban and Haqqani Network) are desperate to resist increased effort by Afghanistan and Pakistan to destroy the power of the drug lords.

Meanwhile the Taliban have a growing problem with former Taliban (including most of the non-Afghans, mainly from Central Asia and Chechnya) who have left to form local branches of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). It was recently revealed that on June 3rd a group of Taliban in the east (Nangarhar province) were ambushed by ISIL members and ten of the Taliban were eventually found with their heads cut off. The Taliban tried to keep this a secret but the news got out and spread. ISIL has declared war on the Taliban and justified it with accusations that the Taliban were created and still work for Pakistan. This is largely true, but the Taliban also work for local drug gangs. ISIL is aware of that but knows that the Pakistani connection is more of an issue to most Afghans. Yet the growing presence of ISIL in Afghanistan is bad news because ISIL is basically Islamic terrorists who have become even more violent and uncompromising. In 2014 the defections began when a few Taliban leaders (especially field commanders who have armed followers and know how to fight) defecting to ISIL and were soon at war with a Taliban they see as sell-outs and reactionary Islamic radical pretenders. Many of these new ISIL groups appear to have modified their stance on the drug trade as even ISIL fanatics have operating expenses and ISIL has replaced the Taliban as drug gang hired guns in some parts of the country. The drug gangs aren’t taking sides in the Taliban/ISIL feud because for a drug lord it is all just business. Now ISIL is using more direct attacks on nearby Taliban factions in what appears to be a sustained effort to replace the Taliban.

The government insists that Afghanistan and Pakistan had not signed an intelligence cooperation agreement. Such an agreement is still being negotiated and would not be signed until the terms were acceptable to most Afghans. Many Afghans oppose such a deal because they believe the Pakistanis cannot be trusted. Afghans are most upset at the continued Pakistani refusal to shut down the Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan (just across the border from Kandahar and Helmand provinces). The U.S. has been instrumental in persuading (some say bribing or coercing) both sides into these intelligence cooperation deals. But first the intense Afghan distrust of Pakistan must be overcome. The Afghans have good reason not to trust Pakistan. This all began when Pakistan stepped up and provided bases for the Afghan resistance to the 1979 Russian invasion. Since then Pakistan has assumed a much greater role in internal Afghan affairs. This is much resented in Afghanistan, mainly because of how Pakistan got involved in the Afghan civil war in the 1990s. The Russians left in 1989 and two years later the Soviet Union collapsed. The pro-Russian Afghan government soon fell because Russian subsidies disappeared after 1991. Pakistan then invented the Taliban, using young Afghan religious school faculty and students in Pakistan refugee camps to defeat all the other factions and create a pro-Pakistan religious dictatorship. That the Taliban almost did, until late 2001 when Taliban support of al Qaeda (and the September 11, 2001 attacks) brought in active American support for the northern factions still holding out against the Taliban. But since 2001 continued Islamic terrorist violence, still supported by Pakistan, has left nearly 150,000 dead in Afghanistan and Pakistan. About a third of the dead were civilians with most of the rest being Taliban and various drug gangs. A third of the dead occurred in Pakistan, which began using Islamic terrorism to fight India in the 1970s and eventually found that the Islamic terrorists were getting out of control and killing lots of Pakistanis. Afghans have always been religious, but not fanatic and Afghans blame Pakistan for letting the Saudi financed Islamic radical (Wahhabi) missionaries set up schools in the refugee camps during the 1980s and indoctrinate a generation of Afghan kinds that Islamic terrorism was the solution to everything. The Afghans know that a lot of Islamic terrorist radicals have been running Pakistani intelligence (ISI) for decades and cannot be trusted.

Afghan police recently arrested several members of the Pakistan-supported Haqqani Network and charged them with planning and carrying out the May attack on a Kabul hotel. Groups like 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 the North Waziristan offensive into Afghanistan.  Haqqani bases in North Waziristan were shut down but then they showed up in the largest city (Peshawar) in the Pakistani tribal territories. This sort of thing makes it very difficult to get Afghans to agree to work with Pakistani intelligence.

In late May police seized a truck from Waziristan that was found carrying 16 tons of explosives. Further investigation found that the explosives belonged to Haqqani and were on their way to Kabul to support more terror attacks in the city. Since most of the casualties from these attacks are civilians there are a lot of Afghans willing to supply information on Haqqani operations.

Up north Taliban gunmen continue trying to fight their way into Kunduz City. This has been going on since April 24th. The Islamic terrorists have suffered thousands of casualties and are still stuck in the city outskirts. This is part of a decade’s long effort to establish base areas outside the south. These efforts have not gone so well but the Taliban keep trying because control of border areas, and routes to them, in the north (to Central Asia) and east (to Pakistan, the port of Karachi and then the world) are essential for the drug gangs. Most drug sales are outside of Afghanistan and these smuggling routes are essential and must be safe enough to get most of the drugs out without being seized and destroyed. Bribes do most of the work with force being applied as needed. This explains the constant battles in northern and eastern Afghanistan. The fighting in the south is easier to understand because that is where the opium and heroin are produces. The problem in the north is that the Pushtun tribes up there are minorities, and are more concerned about angering non-Pushtun neighbors than in cooperating with Pushtun-run drug gangs from the south. As a result in the north more people are providing information on Taliban movements, and more Taliban are getting caught or killed up there. Kunduz Province has always been the key to the northern smuggling route and Kunduz City (the provincial capital) is the key to controlling the province. Trying to seize control of Kunduz City is risky but a bold move nonetheless. Unfortunately the Taliban offensive came at the same time that a newly elected president came to power and proceeded to keep his campaign promises to dismiss corrupt and ineffective officials. That included a lot of senior people in the defense ministry and northerners blame the sloppy army performance in Kunduz on this housecleaning in the senior ranks of the army. Fortunately the non-Pushtun tribes that dominate the north have militias that were willing to defend Kunduz, as they had back in the late 1990s. Taking Kunduz is a big deal for the Taliban and a defeat up there will hurt morale and income. This will make some of the true-believer Taliban consider switching to ISIL as it is clear to most Taliban that the Kunduz operation is mostly about the drugs, not establishing a religious dictatorship in Afghanistan.

Hatred of the drug gangs and the Taliban is most intense in the north, where the non-Pushtun tribes (who are 60 percent of the Afghan population) are very hostile to any Pushtun “invasion”. The battle for Kunduz City is a test of whether dug gang money and hired guns (the Taliban) can overwhelm local hostility. Drug gang bribes have already bought temporary loyalty of many northerners, but can guns and money control the entire province? So far it’s a standoff with Taliban gunmen blocking most roads around the city while the government and local tribes send more reinforcements. ISIL is also active in Kunduz Province and apparently also employed by at least one drug gang. So far over 100,000 civilians have fled the area, fearing that the fighting will escalate before it is over. The danger to the civilians has encouraged the local tribal and warlord militias to go after the Taliban, who are seen as foreign invaders and deserving of no mercy.

The army has some justification for not sending massive reinforcements to Kunduz. That’s because the army is currently fighting in 16 provinces (Herat, Badghis, Ghazni, Nangarhar, Paktia, Paktika, Daikundi, Kandahar, Sar-i-Pul, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Balkh, Baghlan, Helmand and Uruzgan)

The new Afghan president also ordered a crackdown on drug dealers. This led to raids on known drug distributors and dealers in Kabul and other cities. People were not surprised to hear that some senior politicians called police to get some of the drug dealers released.

In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) troops and warplanes continue searching for and attacking Islamic terrorists. The Shawal valley is one of their last hideouts in North Waziristan as well as an ancient smuggling route into Afghanistan and base for many smugglers. The army moved several thousand troops into the area for this operation which is being supported by artillery, warplanes and helicopters (transports and gunships). The infantry have not yet advanced and will not do so until the Islamic terrorists have been demoralized by air and artillery attacks. The Pakistanis are cooperating with Afghan troops in the other side of the border to share information and coordinate operations to minimize the number of Islamic terrorists who try to move their operations into Afghanistan.

Despite the anger at Pakistan and distrust of ISI the new Afghan government is cooperating with Pakistan in trying to force most Afghan Taliban to negotiate a peace deal. Pakistan drove the drug gangs out in the 1980s but the drug business simply moved to Afghanistan and both countries now suffer from widespread addiction and the growing financial and political (via bribes) power of gangsters thriving on drug profits. Pakistan is openly (and covertly) pressuring the Afghan Taliban to call off their current “Summer Offensive” and get serious about peace talks. Some Taliban factions are willing to talk (and are talking) but many Taliban factions are either too addicted to the drug money and power it confers or are still determined to turn Afghanistan back into a religious dictatorship. Many of these religious fanatics are breaking away and joining ISIL which weakens the Taliban still further. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan agree that the main enemy here is the drug gangs, some of them masquerading as Taliban. In both countries the growing power of these gangs is felt everywhere, not just by locals becoming addicts but because government officials and even tribal leaders are taking bribes to openly or covertly support the drug lords.

June 8, 2015: In the east (Logar province) the Taliban released nine of the ten deminers they had seized the day before. Apparently the deminers were freed through the intervention of tribal elders (and probable threats of tribal retribution). The Taliban still held the deminer vehicles and one of the drivers. This man is now believed to be a Taliban supporter who proposed this “kidnapping” as cover for the theft of the deminer vehicles and equipment. Deminers are much more popular than the Taliban. 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).

June 7, 2015: On the Tajikistan border three government officials charged with corruption were arrested as they sought to flee the country. The three were suspended from their jobs (in the Ministry of Urban Development Affairs & Housing) on May 28th along with three others. This is part of the new government effort to curb corruption. The new president has ordered old corruption investigations reopened and the arrest of prominent officials notoriously corrupt but until now seemingly “untouchable”.

In the east (Kunar province) an American UAV missile strike killed one of the local Taliban commanders. In late May two UAV attacks in the east killed eleven Taliban, including two leaders.  

Elsewhere in the east (Badakhshan province) troops reached a remote district and began attacking a large force of Taliban that had taken control of the district capital the day before. The Taliban often do this in remote areas, to intimidate civilians, local officials and police and do some looting.  

May 31, 2015: In the west (Farah province) police arrested a senior Taliban combat commander who had joined ISIL while the Taliban killed another ISIL leader in an extended gun battle.

May 27, 2015: In Kabul several days of fighting with Islamic terrorists at a hotel in the heavily guarded “diplomatic quarter.” The Taliban took credit but it was later discovered that the Haqqani Network was also involved. The four attackers were after foreigners but all the foreign guests get away safely and the attack turned into a siege.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close