Afghanistan: Boom Time For Smugglers


October 10, 2017: American air support in Afghanistan is continuing to increase. In September 2017 aircraft used 751 smart bombs or missiles, which is up sharply from 503 in August. Aerial weapons use (or “weapon release”) hasn’t been this high since August 2012. This trend began in February 2017 and if it continues the number of “weapons released” will approach levels not seen since 2012. The U.S. Air Force has also increased the number F-16s in Afghanistan from 12 to 18. B-52s, which have longer endurance and larger bomb capacity than any other aircraft are spending more time over Afghanistan. If there is a major operation requiring a lot of airstrikes, one B-52 can handle that for most of a day, using dozens of smart bombs in the process.

A growing number of airstrikes are carried out by the Afghan Air Force, which has a dozen A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft and over twenty attack helicopters (armed MD-530F). The helicopter depends on laser guided missiles while the A-29 can use JDAM (GPS guided bombs) as well as unguided rockets. The Super Tucano is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. This aircraft carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns along with 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain and cheap. The U.S. is paying $17.7 million for each Super Tucano, which includes training, spare parts and support equipment and giving all this to Afghanistan as military aid. These aircraft are more useful to the Afghans than jet fighters (which the Afghans would like to have, if someone else would pay for them.) All twenty are to be in service by the end of 2017.

With the growing availability of air support more Afghan troops (and some police units) can go on the offensive. In fact this year the Afghan security forces have a record number of units carrying out offensive operations and doing so all over the country.

Meanwhile Pakistan, or at least the military and ISI intelligence agency, continue to deny that they are providing sanctuary and support for any Islamic terror groups. This despite much evidence to the contrary. Many Pakistanis believe these accusations continue as a way to persuade the elected officials in Pakistan to continue pressuring their military to submit to civilian authority.

Ignorance Preferred

There are now 30 million Afghans, but 70 percent of them still live in the countryside. That means it is difficult to safely promote education for everyone. As a result increasing the literacy rate (the lowest in Eurasia) is stalled. Despite over a decade of building schools (currently nine million Afghans are in school) the illiteracy rate is still 60 percent. Since 2002 over six million Afghans have received at least a basic education and 60 percent of those have been female, despite vigorous Taliban efforts to block that. In the last few years the Taliban have put a priority on destroying schools, especially those that educate girls. As a result the number of girls getting an education is declining.

Nearly all the newly literate are young, creating a growing problem as now there is one more item dividing the younger and older Afghans. But in the rural areas 90 percent of women are still illiterate. That has become less of an issue because since 2002 cell phone service has become available for nearly all of the rural areas. For a largely illiterate population this is a big deal. At the same time half the population has access to the Internet but unlike cell phones the Internet is most useful to those who are literate. By increasing literacy efforts, especially among adults, the government hopes to speed up economic growth. More literacy means more economic growth and while most children are growing up literate, without more literacy among adults economic progress is limited. This is acceptable to the Taliban who base their strategy on Islamic fundamentalism which regards most technology introduced since the 8th century as “un-Islamic”. For many Moslems this is a belief worth killing and dying for. A growing percentage of literate Afghans are no longer willing to fight traditionalists like the Taliban and concentrate on moving to some other part of the world. This is making Afghan smugglers rich.

Smuggling has long been a major part of the Afghan economy. While the drug smuggling is still doing well, despite growing attacks, the people smugglers are seeing less business because fewer of those who pay to be smuggled out are allowed to stay in the West and that discourages more from trying. Nearly 10,000 Afghans were forcibly returned by European countries in 2016, about three times more than in 2015. The number being returned continues to grow. More illegal migrants are also returning from Iran and Pakistan, often voluntarily (or semi-voluntarily). Afghans still want to leave but first they have to find a destination they can expect to settle in, not just visit.

So Much For So Little

The Taliban, or local drug gangs have, after two years of strenuous efforts come to control ten percent of the 407 districts (each of the 34 provinces is composed of districts) in the country. The gangs are a growing presence in another 35 percent of the districts, although officials in some of these districts only suspect Taliban or drug gang presence. Part of this is the corruption. If the national government lets it be known that additional resources are available to districts threatened by the Taliban local and provincial authorities will sometimes cooperate to make a case that there is a threat so that the officials involved can steal the additional aid. The Taliban are active mainly in the south (Helmand and Kandahar, where most of the heroin is produced), the east (where many Pakistan/ISI supported Islamic terrorist groups operate) and the ancient northern trade routes (that go through Kunduz).

SAS Returns

Britain confirmed that they had special operations forces (especially SAS commandos) operating in southern Afghanistan (Helmand province) again, for the first time since 2014. About 600 British troops are involved in an operation to hunt down and capture or kill key Taliban operatives, particularly bomb builders.

October 9, 2017: In Kabul police raided a Taliban bomb making workshop, seizing over 100 kg (220 pounds) of materials for making roadside bombs, suicide bombs and so on. Two men at the site refused to surrender and were shot dead.

The Red Cross announced that it was shutting down much of its Afghan operations, especially in the north (Balkh province). Afghanistan is the most dangerous country where the Red Cross operates and they have lost seven people so far this year and been subject to numerous attacks. This was not a sudden decision and began in December 2016 with kidnappings in the north (Kunduz province). It got worse in February in nearby (Jowzjan/Jawzjan province, on the Turkmenistan border) when the Red Cross temporarily suspended some emergency aid operations because an aid convoy, bringing food and other supplies to villages cut off by heavy snow falls, was attacked and six Red Cross workers were killed. The local Taliban and al Qaeda groups denied responsibility and it was eventually discovered the attackers were from a small band of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members trying to survive up there. Even local bandits tend to leave aid convoys alone, especially in bad weather. That sort of violence is how blood feuds begin and even the Islamic terrorist groups have learned to respect that. But ISIL members tend to disregard all the rules, even the ones that will make it easier to operate among the local tribes.

There are many areas in Afghanistan where there are few Afghan or foreign troops. Here, the bad guys do what armed men usually do in Afghanistan, behave badly. This angers the foreign aid NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations, like the Red Cross and so on), who believe the locals should be more appreciative and the foreign troops should provide more protection. But no one has enough troops for guard duty, and the NGOs are warned to hire their own security and beware of the "loot mentality" that is so popular in Afghanistan. Loot is anything you can steal from foreigners (someone not from your tribe or clan). Taking loot is a big deal in Afghanistan, right behind owning a gun and going out with some of your buddies to see what's over the next hill. ISIL is right at home in Afghanistan and survives by recruiting the more extreme members of religion-based groups like the Taliban.

October 7, 2017: In the north (Kunduz province) a weeklong army offensive to clear the Taliban out of a prosperous agricultural district (Imam Sahib) on the Tajikistan border has apparently succeeded, for now. About a quarter of the local population is Pushtun and the Taliban have taken advantage of that to establish control of several villages near the border. This is an important base for smuggling heroin north into Central Asia and beyond. The recent fighting has left about a hundred Taliban dead and as many wounded. The Islamic terrorists have fled several villages so far. Some Taliban and ISIL leaders have met and discussed working out some kind of truce and cooperation deal but so far that does not appear to have gotten past the discussion phase.

Further south, in central Afghanistan (Uruzgan Province, just north of Helmand and Kandahar) the Taliban were on the offensive and a week of fighting left 24 soldiers and police dead along with about 80 of the attackers. Both here and in Kunduz air power (both Afghan and American) has been a key weapon in defeating the Islamic terrorists.

In the east (Nangarhar province) ISIL suffered heavy losses (20 dead, 12 wounded) when three of their camps were hit with missiles from American UAVs. At the same time police found and disabled five roadside bombs or mines ISIL had recently placed. Despite setting up bases in an area with populations that contain many fans of Islamic terrorism, ISIL has many more enemies. This is largely because ISIL seems unconcerned about local civilians getting killed by their operations. Planting landmines, especially anti-vehicle mines in roads, is particularly frowned upon. Thus many locals who might support the Taliban are willing to pass information to the security forces about what ISIL is up to.

October 6, 2017: The U.S. removed limits on the number of American troops that can be in Afghanistan. Senior U.S. commanders, like those running CENTCOM and operations in Afghanistan now can agree on additional forces and order them in without worrying about limits imposed after most NATO forces left Afghanistan in 2014. Until now there was a limit of 8,400 American troops (set by a previous U.S. government) that has already been exceeded by the new (since this year) American government. There are currently about 11,000 U.S. troops in the country and at least that many contractors plus several thousand non-combat training and technical personnel from other NATO nations. Before the end of 2017 there will apparently be about 15,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and an even greater increase in American air support. Some of the troops scheduled to arrive soon will be delayed for several weeks as they were diverted to help with disaster relief (several major hurricanes after hardly any for twelve years).

In August American commanders were again allowed to determine the ROE (Rules of Engagement) for U.S. troops overseas, especially in places like Syria and Afghanistan. For example in Afghanistan U.S. troops can now fire on the Taliban even when the Taliban are not firing on them and at long distance. Afghan civilians, the most frequent victims of Taliban violence, complained when the U.S. gradually changed its ROE after 2008 to make it impossible for Americans to fire on the Taliban when Afghan civilians were nearby. When asked Afghan civilians pointed out that was when they most needed the Americans to open fire.

October 5, 2017: In the north (Jawzjan province) there was yet another clash between ISIL and Taliban forces. In this case ISIL lost 11 dead and the Taliban nine. This fighting has been going on here for most of 2017 and is pretty brutal, with ISIL often beheading captured (or recently killed) Taliban. All this is over control of drug smuggling routes across the border. There have been clashes between ISIL and Taliban in other parts of the country but it has worst in Jawzjan.

October 4, 2017: In the east (Nangarhar province) someone fired into Pakistan (Kyber region) and killed a soldier and wounded another at a newly established border post. The Afghans complain that more than 80 rockets have been fired into Afghanistan from Pakistan in the last two days. There were apparently no casualties in Afghanistan.

September 27, 2017: In Kabul the Taliban fired several rockets and mortar shells at the airport, apparently in an attempt to hit the transport that just brought in some senior American defense officials. There were no casualties at the airport but the location of the fire was found and surrounded. An airstrike with a missile suffered equipment failure and a missile hit another building wounding some civilians.

September 26, 2017: There is another major effort to vaccinate Afghan children against polio and it will end on the 31st. The Afghan Taliban have openly supported the vaccination program but there still some rural areas where local Moslem clerics or teachers continue to denounce the vaccinations. Despite this continued resistance Afghan polio cases continue to decline. There have been at least six so far in 2017 compared to 13 for 2016 and, at the time, a record low (eight) in 2015. This compares to 54 in neighboring Pakistan for 2015. In 2016 there were 37 cases worldwide (all in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Nigeria). Most of those (21) were in Pakistan where Islamic terrorists have been most successful in disrupting vaccination efforts. In the 1980s, when the polio elimination effort began there were 350,000 cases in 125 countries. In both countries Islamic terrorists (especially the Taliban) ban polio vaccinations and attack anyone trying to deliver the vaccine to vulnerable children. Islamic terrorists in general tend to believe the vaccination teams are spying for the government and that the vaccinations are a plot to sterilize Moslems. This is what causes the problem in Nigeria as well.

September 24, 2017: In the east (Nangarhar province) an American UAV used missiles to attack an ISIL camp, killing five of the Islamic terrorists including a known leader.

In Kabul a suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy killing himself and wounding three nearby civilians. Some vehicles were damaged.

September 23, 2017: In the east (Nangarhar province) someone fired into Pakistan (Kyber region) and killed a soldier at a newly established border post. Pakistan blamed this on Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan while the Afghans pointed that a lot of Pushtun tribes on the Afghan side of the border object to Pakistan building new border posts.

September 21, 2017: In the east (Nangarhar province) someone across the border in Pakistan fired 37 mortar shells into Afghanistan. Two civilians were killed and three wounded.

September 20, 2017: Senior Pakistani and American officials met in New York to discuss the Islamic terrorism problems in Afghanistan and South Asia. The Pakistanis continued to blame India for continued Islamic terrorist violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Americans have openly sided with India and Afghanistan on this issue and now Pakistan is being forced to decide. The U.S. threatens to cut off all military aid to Pakistan and treat Pakistan as a hostile nation if Pakistan continues providing sanctuary for Islamic terror groups it controls (and attacking those it does not control). Some Pakistani military leaders want to push back on this but this is another issue where Chinese advice gets in the way and the Chinese advise everyone to be pragmatic about the situation.

September 18, 2017: In the south (Kandahar province) Pakistan closed the Chamman border crossing because a suicide bomber on the Pakistan side attacked the Pakistani guards near the crossing itself, leaving 22 people wounded. The Chamman crossing was closed for several hours. Chamman is the second most active border crossing with Afghanistan. The most active crossing is Torkham Gate in northwest Pakistan and that one was subject to a bomb attack a week ago.

Elsewhere in Pakistan the new prime minister (Shahid Khaqan Abbasi) agreed that three of the four Islamic terrorists who carried out a major attack in Afghanistan during May (that killed 150) came from Pakistan. The Afghans determined that early on but Pakistan denied it until now. Abbasi admitted that the Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban were still a problem but denied (despite ample evidence going back to 2002) that Pakistan was providing sanctuary for these two groups. Abbasi got his job when his predecessor was removed from the job by a Supreme Court decision that confirmed the previous prime minister was involved in corrupt practices. The military denies that they had anything to do with that court decision but few Pakistanis (or anyone outside the country) believe that. Meanwhile the military is pressuring the courts to allow Pakistani Islamic terrorists (as recognized internationally but not in Pakistan) to run for seats in parliament and, in effect, obtain another layer of protection from extradition and prosecution for their past (and often ongoing) terrorist activities.


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