Afghanistan: The North Remembers

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July 21, 2015: In the capital the government allows the police and intelligence agencies to publicize many of the Islamic terrorist attacks they prevented. There were a lot more of these recently because of Ramadan (a month long fasting period for Moslems) events. Islamic terrorists consider it more rewarding (from a publicity and religious standpoint) to murder lots of people during Ramadan. Despite the efforts of the Afghan security forces some of these attacks occur, and they are particularly unpopular. While in some countries these attacks intimidate in Afghanistan they tend to make people eager for revenge. That’s why Afghanistan is such a violent place but also why Islamic terrorists have a hard time because the locals come after them. The government also finds it is good for morale (of the security forces and the general population) to publicize attacked that have been foiled, even if this risks providing the enemy with some insight into police methods. In most cases the attack was foiled when someone noted something odd and tipped off the police. Cell phones, the bane of Islamic terrorists in this part of world, have made such tip offs a lot easier, and safer for the tipster.

American intelligence analysts believe that at least a third of Afghan Islamic terrorists are firmly opposed to any peace deal. Chief among these is the Haqqani Network but there are also Taliban factions who hold similar views. It is feared that many of the peace talk resisters will opt to join ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and become even more violent and reckless. That may work in the Middle East, but in Afghanistan it just creates more equally violent enemies for ISIL.

While American combat troops are largely (except for several thousand commandos) gone there is still a lot of American air support. Air reconnaissance are running at about 65 percent of the 2014 level and are nearly all in support of Afghan forces. While armed air support missions are down 85percent over 2014 that is changing.  For the rest of the year the U.S. appears to be returning to about 65 percent of 2014 levels of armed air support. The Afghans have long asked for this pointing out that it makes a big difference for the effectiveness and morale of the Afghan soldiers and police who, until 2014, could depend on that air support.  

The government sees great benefits from the possibility that economic sanctions against neighboring Iran might be lifted (because of the recent peace deal). This is particularly attractive to Afghans getting fed up with the rising costs (bribes, theft) of moving imports or exports via Pakistan. The new treaty, if it gets ratified and implemented, means a lot for Afghanistan. For example there is the existing project between Iran and India to expand the port of Chabahar in southeastern Iran. Work here, on the port and new roads and railroads to Afghanistan and Central Asia, are already underway. With the economic freedom of the new treaty Iran has already asked India to expand its investment. While this project hurts Pakistan with regard to Afghan trade (the movement of most Afghan imports and exports) the new treaty enables Iran to go forward with a long-delayed (by sanctions) project to build a natural gas pipeline to Pakistan, as well as electrical power transmission lines. Pakistan is suffering debilitating power shortages and Iran is the most immediate source of help. Some Pakistanis respond to the prospect of losing business by reducing the bribes and thefts and that’s the kind of leverage the Afghans are looking forward to.

Some of the Islamic terrorists who survived the mid-2014 Pakistani offensive against the North Waziristan terrorist sanctuary on the Afghan border fled and moved across the border to Afghanistan. From there they return to plant landmines and stage ambushes in Pakistan. The Pakistanis estimate that over 20,000 Islamic terrorists were in North Waziristan in June 2014. Nearly all of these Islamic terrorists have been killed or driven out of North Waziristan. Some 2,500 were captured, providing lots of information on Islamic terrorist operations in North Waziristan and elsewhere in the region. There has been a noticeable drop in terrorist attacks against civilians but intelligence specialists know that the terror groups are scrambling to reorganize and rebuild, so the offensive continues but at a different pace and with different tactics. This is the major reason for the new cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan to share information on cross-border Islamic terrorists and work together to eliminate these groups. As part of this deal the Pakistani military has agreed that there will never be another Islamic terrorist sanctuary in North Waziristan. Afghanistan is still demanding that the sanctuary in southwest Pakistan for the Afghan Taliban be shut down as well. This is still being negotiated (with the Afghan Taliban, several other Islamic terror organizations and the Afghan government). The Afghans don’t trust the Pakistanis but so far these peace talks have shown some progress.

Foreign donors are threatening to reduce or halt aid if the Afghans don’t make more progress in dealing with the epic levels of corruption in the country. The government points out that progress has been made. When this corruption problem is actually measured Afghanistan finds that it is one of the most corrupt nations in the world. However, Afghanistan has made some progress in 2014. The year before Afghanistan was in a three way tie with North Korea and Somalia at the bottom of the list of 175 nations surveyed. The latest survey shows North Korea and Somalia still at the bottom together but Afghanistan has moved up to 172. Corruption in this Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The two most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 and the least corrupt (Denmark) is 92. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. In Afghanistan the most lethal aspect of the corruption is how it makes it easier for terrorists to operate in a major city, like Kabul. In a crowded place like that well-funded terrorists can pay off enough people to stay hidden. Foreign donors point out that much of their aid is wasted because of the corruption and their cash is better spent in less corrupt areas. Afghanistan protests that Afghans will suffer if there is less aid. The donors point out that Afghanistan is not alone in that respect and the donors want to use the money where it will do the most good. This provides a very powerful incentive to reduce the corruption. In Afghanistan such incentives often fail because for a long time Afghans have tended to make the wrong choices and blame the results on evil outsiders.

July 20, 2015: In the east (Logar province) an American helicopter gunship fired on a group of Afghan soldiers, killing or wounding over a dozen. There used to be a lot more of these “friendly fire” incidents but in the last few decades new technology and tactics has greatly reduced such losses. The U.S. Army will investigate this incident and try to modify procedures to prevent. But in Afghanistan that is often not enough. For example NATO trainers, advisors and troops insist that Afghans be disciplined and organized (cleaning their weapons, firing only when ordered to, not taking bribes and abusing civilians). The Afghans resent this nagging and often resist this advice. That tends to result in poor combat performance, which often includes firing weapons at the wrong time, accidentally hitting Afghan or NATO troops or killing civilians. It is particularly dangerous when Afghan forces have access to NATO air support. This sort of thing is common in any poorly trained force and has been noted by foreign trainers for over a century (since modern firearms became available, and made friendly fire easier to happen.) Thus friendly fire incidents were often the result of poor discipline and sloppiness. More often, the victims are fellow Afghans and it's not always clear if the shooting was deliberate or not. A lot of Afghans are tossed out of the security forces because of their inability to handle their weapons properly. It's been more difficult to get rid of Afghan officers who cannot do the job, particularly higher ranking ones with political connections.

July 17, 2015: Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, released a recording on the Internet in which he explicitly endorsed peace talks with the Afghan government. Omar has been living in a Pakistani sanctuary (Baluchistan) since late 2001 and has long opposed peace talks. But pressure from many of his subordinates in Afghanistan, plus Pakistanis seeking to cut off assistance the Pakistani Taliban sometimes gets from their Afghan counterparts, is also advising Omar to negotiate.

July 16, 2015: In Wardak province (west of the capital) an American UAV missile attack killed ten Islamic terrorists from the Haqqani Network.

July 13, 2015: In the north (Baghlan province) a Taliban set off a bomb in a major mosque as 500 gathered to break the Ramadan fast. Over 40 were wounded and several later died.

July 12, 2015: In the east (Khost province) a Taliban suicide near an American base left 27 civilians and six police dead.

July 10, 2015: In Afghanistan the U.S. announced that an airstrike had killed Hafez Saeed, the top ISIL commander for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Saeed, a Pakistani, has been at a gathering with 30 other Islamic terrorists in Nangarhar province. ISIL later insisted that Saeed was still alive but provided no conclusive proof. If Saeed is dead he would be the fourth ISIL leader to die in the last week. The local ISIL franchise is largely composed of former Afghan and Pakistani Taliban who feel more violence is needed to achieve victory. This involves fighting other Taliban so now ISIL has the Afghan and Pakistani security forces hunting for them as well as American UAVs and other Taliban. ISIL has made itself particularly hated in Nangarhar because of the recent assassination of several tribal chiefs who refused to cooperate.

July 8, 2015: In the east (Nangarhar province) an American UAV missile attack killed 25 Islamic terrorists. In the past weeks such air attacks have killed over 120 Islamic terrorists in Nangarhar and wounded many more.

July 7, 2015: In the north (Balkh province) three major northern political parties announced an alliance to fight the growing Islamic terrorist (mainly Taliban) activity in the north. These three parties include several major warlords and tribal chiefs who command large militias. It is also another sign that the north does not forget the 1990s civil war in which the southern Pushtun tribes tried to conquer the north. To the outside world it was the Taliban that made war on the north but the Taliban were (and still are) largely Pushtun and the northerners see growing drug gang efforts to expand their heroin exports via the northern border as an invasion. The Taliban are hired guns for the drug gangs and are usually the ones defending the heroin and opium shipments.

The first round of new peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government began in the Pakistani capital (Islamabad). Senior Afghan Taliban leaders have yet to speak out about these talks, which do not involve all Taliban factions.

July 2, 2015: In the first six months of 2015 there were over 5,000 violent incidents handled by the security forces. There were 563 attacks by Islamic terrorists, 341 attacks using mines and roadside bombs and 60 suicide attacks. In the first six months 14,597 Islamic terrorists (including a growing number of foreigners) were killed along with 1,485 soldiers and police, 917 civilians and four foreign soldiers. Worldwide terrorist attacks occurred in 95 countries but some 6o percent of it occurred in just five countries (Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria). Some 80 percent of terrorist related deaths occurred in just six countries (Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria).

 

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