Afghanistan: Taliban Gets No Respect

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January 16, 2019: The Taliban refusal to negotiate with the government is, for most Afghans, another reason for not believing or supporting the Taliban. The Taliban insist on negotiating a deal with the United States first, to get all foreign troops (unless they work for Pakistan) out of the country. Many Afghans remember that this was similar to what happened after the Russians withdrew in 1989 and left behind a pro-Russian national government that had enough support to hold Kabul and some other parts of the country. Most of the rebels were still based in Pakistan where Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states financed refugee camps and religious schools that taught hatred of non-Moslems. This led to Pakistan creating the Taliban in 1994 by recruiting refugee Pushtun students from these religious schools (“Taliban” translates to “students”) arming them and providing logistical support and plenty of reinforcements from the Afghan refugee camps. The Taliban were, and still are, the Pakistani faction in Afghanistan and the Taliban are seen as repeating same mistake they made in mid 1990s by agreeing with other rebel factions that negotiation with the pro-Russian Afghan government was not possible and it was preferable to fight each other to determine who would dominate Afghanistan. This is what Pakistan wanted and by the late 1990s their Taliban faction was on their way to defeating all the other factions. That job wasn’t finished when September 11, 2001 came around and the Americans backed the remaining anti-Taliban coalition (the Northern Alliance of non-Pushtun tribes).

Two decades later Afghans regard Pakistan as the foreign invader to worry about not the American and NATO troops. The Taliban have even less credibility (as Afghan patriots) now than they did in the 1990s. The current Taliban as seen, by most Afghans, as a bunch of hired guns working for drug gangs or personal benefit. As long as the Taliban refuses to negotiate with the current pro-West government the Taliban are blamed by most Afghans for being the main obstacle to peace. This war has been going on since 1979. That is four decades of fighting because outsiders (first Russia backed Afghan communists ousting a pro-West monarchy and replacing it with a communist dictatorship). The two-century old Afghan monarchy was always dominated by Pushtuns and the kings were usually Pushtun because Pushtuns were not only the largest minority (40 percent of the population) but across the border, in Pakistan, there were twice as many Pushtuns. However, in Pakistan, the Pushtuns were a tiny minority of the much larger Pakistan population and kept on a short leash by the non-tribal majority that has always run Pakistan. It is true Afghans have long (for thousands of years) been hostile to outsiders and the outsiders feared most were the ones next door (especially many Indian and Iranian Empires.) This history doesn’t resonate with most Westerners but it is current events for most Afghans, who often consider most other Afghans (from different tribes or ethnic groups) as “outsiders” as well. Currently the Westerners are seen as less of a threat because all they want is no sanctuary for Islamic terrorists and no drug production. The majority of Afghans can agree with both of those goals as well as the incoming Western economic and military aid.

The Afghan Taliban are suffering the same fragmentation with more factions opposing Pakistani and/or Iranian control as well as cooperation with (and financial support from) the drug gangs. The one thing nearly all Taliban agree on is getting rid of foreign interference. The problem is deciding which foreigners are the biggest threat to Afghanistan. The majority of Afghans agree it is Pakistan and therein lies the main obstacle to Taliban domination of Afghanistan. That means most Afghans see the Taliban as the problem, not the solution.

The United States has long backed the possibility of working out a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban. The major problem with that is getting Pakistan to cooperate. The Afghan Taliban cannot make any deals without Pakistan agreeing. Then there is the larger problem of such a deal turning control of Afghanistan over to drug gangs, Pakistan, Iran and Islamic conservatives (who ban education for women and generally unpopular lifestyle restrictions). Russia and Pakistan believe this would be the best possible “peace deal”. Most American and Afghans disagree. So does India and many Pakistanis unhappy with their military-dominated government.

Then there are the traditional (usual) “how to negotiate with infidels” rules used by Islamic terrorist groups and some governments dominated by Islamic conservatives. These rules stress the use of lies and deception because the Islamic scripture mentions it so it must be the only way to go. This approach has been very consistently used by Islamic terror groups and the fact that the Afghan Taliban are actually a front for Pakistan makes no difference because Pakistan is increasingly dominated by their armed forces who have been using (if not all believing in) Islamic terror groups against their real or imagined enemies since the 1980s. The drug gangs, which also depend on Pakistan to stay in business and are largely run by Pushtuns, will go along with whatever Pakistan wants as long as drug trade is not trifled with.

In other words, the Afghan Taliban are actually a minor decision maker when it comes to peace in Afghanistan. That has always been the case, especially before the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan in 2001. Back then the Taliban provided sanctuary for Islamic terrorists, especially al Qaeda. This was allowed by Pakistan because that sanctuary policy was seen as a minor problem but it turned out to be a major problem. The Taliban is still on good terms with al Qaeda, although Pakistan is not. But as long as the Afghan Taliban cooperates in keeping al Qaeda out of Pakistan all is well.

The Afghan Taliban is also seen by the majority of Afghans as the creation of Pakistan and a largely Pushtun organization financed by Pakistan-supported Pushtun led drug gangs. The Taliban are also not a unified organization. The Afghan Taliban has sanctuaries in Pakistan which keep their senior leadership safe and are also the site of border crossings where most of the chemicals for refining opium into heroin get into Afghanistan along with the fertilizer and other chemicals used to make bombs.

All this is common knowledge and the only practical reason to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban is to force more Pushtun tribes (that are still technically Taliban supporters ) to decide if they still are pro-Taliban and OK with the Taliban and Pakistan controlling the Afghan government. Another obvious negotiating problem is the Afghan government, which is elected and democracy is haram (forbidden) as far as Islamic terrorists are concerned. All this explains why the U.S. is demanding a six-month ceasefire as a precondition to negotiations. The Taliban cannot afford to allow that because most of the Taliban activity is in support of the drug gangs which the majority of Afghans are quite vocal about opposing and not willing to leave alone for six months.

In other words, the peace negotiations are not about peace but about smoking out the real intentions of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Making it even more obvious that Pakistan is a major backer of Islamic terrorism and the heroin trade makes it easier to understand that the fears of Islamic terrorists having nuclear weapons have already been realized given the direction the military-dominated Pakistan government is headed. Again this is nothing new and certainly not a secret to those who have worked with (or paid attention to) Pakistan for a while.

While the Taliban have tried to improve their relationships with the Afghan civilians the Taliban tendency to shut down schools and cell phone service while putting a heavy “tax” on local commerce heavily. Increased Taliban use of landmines and roadside bombs has increased civilian casualties in 2018. All this is not popular. It’s gotten to the point where more tribes are simply mobilizing their armed men into self-defense militias and telling the Taliban to stay away. In times past the Taliban would have sent in some enforcers (often foreigners) to kidnap or murder some key people and dismantle that resistance. This no longer works (the news gets around, which is who most Afghans want their cell phones and the Taliban resist that). In short, it’s no longer fashionable to be associated with the Taliban. This is not something that happened overnight, it’s been going on for a long time and has reached the point where the Taliban are seen more as part of the problem than part of any solution.

The Hand Of Iran

At the end of 2918, the U.S. Department of Defense revealed that it had found (via its many contacts with the Afghan government) that it had become common for Afghan officials to be bribed by Iran to support Iranian interests. Most of the bribes are in support of Iranian economic activities. But there are also bribes regarding support for the Taliban, not to overthrow the Afghan government, but to help in the fight against ISIL and protection of the Afghan minority. This last point is important because most of the Afghan refugees still in Iran are Shia and over 20,000 have volunteered to serve as Iranian mercenaries in Syria. Iran does not support the Afghan drug gangs that provide the main financial support for the Taliban and the Iranian border with Afghanistan has been a battle zone for years as Iranian border forces shoot to kill when they encounter Afghan drug smugglers (who often shoot back and fight their way through.)

These bribes have also allowed Iran to maintain official contacts with the Taliban and participate in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. Iranian ally Qatar hosts a Taliban headquarters where the Taliban can, in effect, meet with anyone to discuss anything. Recent Russian sponsored Afghan peace talks attracted delegations from Russia, India, Iran, China, Pakistan and five former Soviet republics in Central Asia as well as non-government groups from Afghanistan and some Americans as observers. Technically the Taliban cannot be in Russia because Russia recognizes the international designation of the Taliban as a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, the Taliban insisted they would make peace only if all foreign troops left and there were international guarantees to keep the Americans from returning or aiding Afghans fighting the Taliban. Iran is seen as an ally (at least against Pakistan) by most Afghans and Iran is mostly Shia and sees itself as the defender of all Shia.

Despite all that good will, the worsening economy in Iran (made worse by the American revival of sanctions in March) caused over a quarter of the three million Afghan refugees still in eastern Iran to return to Afghanistan in 2018. Most of these Afghans are Shia who feared to return as long as the Afghan Taliban (and ISIL) were active in Afghanistan. These two groups, and Sunni Islamic terror groups, in general, consider Shia heretics and targets them for death on a regular basis. But Iran has made returning to Afghanistan easier by increasing its support for the Afghan Taliban. This gesture is also a favor to Pakistan, which Iran is trying to maintain good relations with (as Pakistan is also an ally of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is the only Moslem nation with nukes).

Americans Persuaded To Stay

A week ago the United States was persuaded to withdraw fewer troops than initially announced in December. Current plans are to withdraw 3,000, not 7,000 of the 14,000 American military personnel in Afghanistan. The Afghan political and military leaders made a case to continue current levels of support because the alternative was still more chaos and uncertainty in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Taliban canceled the next round of peace talks in Qatar because the Americans insisted on including representatives from the Afghan government. That made it clear that a negotiated peace in Afghan was not likely in the near future.

The Afghans point out that their security forces continue to fight despite increased Taliban activity. Afghanistan claims they killed over 8,000 Taliban and ISIL personnel in 2018, which is more than their security forces lost and to Afghans that is a win. The Afghans also point out (and American military advisors agree) that American air power is considered a crucial combat advantage for Afghan security forces and demoralizing to any Taliban groups they encounter. This forces the Taliban to avoid battles with Afghan forces and instead rely on smaller attacks on checkpoints and isolated police stations and army bases where they know that air support will be slow in coming because there are no ground controllers to direct the aircraft to specific targets (and not friendly forces or civilians who might be mistaken for the enemy from the air.) The Afghans also pointed out that in November and December joint U.S.-Afghan operations killed more than 1,100 Taliban, ISIL and other enemy fighters. This includes ground operations where American special operations troops worked with their Afghan counterparts to carry out raids or recon missions, which gather crucial information on Taliban and other Islamic terrorist operations. Less visible is the training and advice Afghan intelligence personnel receives. Afghan intelligence has been increasingly effective at uncovering Islamic terror operations before they can be carried out. This often includes attacks on Americans and foreigners in general.

In 2018 nineteen NATO military personnel have died in Afghanistan. Fourteen of those were American, one less than 2017 and more than the 13 in 2016. The increase has to do with more active use of American air power and the U.S. trained Afghan special operations troops. The Afghan commandos were often accompanied by American trainers who observe and provide backup if needed. The Americans also provide the helicopters if a mission requires them but in most cases, the Afghan special operations forces travel via ground transportation. The Afghan Special Forces and commandos have been especially effective in finding and killing Taliban and ISIL leaders. Another factor in higher American losses is the Taliban deliberately going after foreign troops. Five other NATO soldiers were killed in 2018, the highest number since most NATO forces left Afghanistan in 2014, when 14 died, along with 55 Americans.

The first eleven months of 2018 saw American airpower used more often in Afghanistan than at any other time (including the 2011 surge). In 2018 coalition warplanes (mostly U.S.) used 12 percent more bombs and missiles than in 2011. Coalition warplanes have flown an average to 662 sorties a month, with 12 percent of sorties resulting in weapons being used. This includes AC-130 gunships but not attack helicopters. The trend has been accelerating throughout the previous year. In some months the U.S. Air Force used more smart bombs and missiles since late 2010. The Taliban want the Americans gone in large part because of the greater use of airstrikes by American and Afghan warplanes and changes to the ROE (Rules of Engagement). In 2017 American commanders were again allowed to determine the ROE 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. As the Afghan air force carries out more airstrikes (about a dozen a day by mid-2018) the Afghan ROE has reduced the enemy use of human shields. The Afghan ROE ignores human shields and puts the priority on killing Taliban or ISIL fighters. This made human shields in general much less effective, even though most of the air strikes are carried out by foreign (usually American) warplanes. So far in 2018 American aircraft are carrying out airstrikes at the highest rate ever (about eighteen bombs or missiles used a day) and a third higher than the previous peak year (2011). The greater availability of air strikes encourages Afghan security forces to be more aggressive.

January 15, 2019: The Taliban threatened to withdraw from peace talks unless the Americans agree to withdraw all their forces from Afghanistan and persuade other foreign countries to do the same.

Germany revealed it had recently arrested an Afghan immigrant, who was now a German citizen, and charged him with spying on the German military for Iran. The arrested Afghan had long worked as an interpreter and cultural advisor for the German military and had considerable access to German military operations and plans, especially regarding Afghanistan and Iran. Germany has been on the alert for much of 2018 to the increased Iranian espionage, smuggling and assassination activity in Europe and especially Germany. Iran often recruits Afghans to work for them in Europe because many Afghans speak Farsi (Iranian) or are Shia and thus easier to recruit.

January 14, 2019: In Kabul, a Taliban car bomb went off outside the heavily guarded “Green Village” compound where many foreigners live and some NGOs have their headquarters. The explosion near the entrance killed five and wounded over 110. The Taliban wants all non-Moslem foreigners out of Afghanistan as well as foreign troops yet attacks like this injured more Afghans than foreigners. One statistic the Taliban does not want to dwell on is that Taliban violence killed or wounded more Afghans in 2018 than ever before.

January 6, 2019: In the north (Badakhshan province), at least 30 Afghans died while working in an illegal gold mine. The government has made it possible for foreign firms to establish mining operations in areas that were long known to have gold deposits. It takes expertise and a lot of money to build commercial mining operations that can extract the gold profitably. But these commercial mines attract enterprising locals who realize the foreigners have located a major gold deposit and the locals will often dig tunnels near the commercial operation and extract what gold they can. This is profitable enough, especially during the cold weather when other work is not available, to attract a lot of rural Afghans. At least fifty illegal miners were in the poorly built tunnel when it collapsed. These legal and illegal mining operations also attract the Taliban who try to extort payments to protect the miners from Taliban attacks.

December 25, 2018: In Kabul, five Islamic terrorists (a suicide car bomber and four gunmen) attacked a government compound and after several hours of fighting the five attackers were dead, as well as 38 civilians, police and soldiers.

December 24, 2018: As previously agreed, an Indian firm (Indian Ports Global) took over management of the southeastern port of Chabahar. This management deal lasts ten years and that played a role in ensuring that the renewed American sanctions on Iran would not interfere with the new trade route from Afghanistan, via Iran to the Indian Ocean port of Chabahar. The Americans make exceptions for these sanctions and in this case, Pakistan is seen as a larger threat to Afghanistan than Iran. Most of the truck traffic that used to go through Pakistan to the port of Karachi is now using the new route via Iran to Chabahar (built by India and Iran mainly for traffic to Afghanistan and Central Asia). At least $5 billion worth of trade to and from Afghanistan will use Chabahar each year. Pakistan is the big loser here, especially since they had recently increased higher traffic on Afghan goods moving through Karachi. In addition for the last year, Pakistan has frequently closed the main border crossings to Afghan traffic entering Pakistan. Yet Pakistani goods are allowed into Afghanistan and now the Afghans are considering blocking that and depending on trade links via Iran and Central Asia. This is an undeclared trade war by Pakistan. The main reason is growing trade with India and switching from Karachi to Chabahar for Afghan imports and exports. The United States, India, Afghanistan and the UN are increasing pressure on Pakistan over Pakistani support for terrorism.

December 19, 2018: The American president, in keeping with a campaign promise, announced the withdrawal of American forces (about 2,000 troops) from Syria and about half the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. No timetable was given and many suspected this announcement was also a negotiating tactic, which turned out to be the case . This campaign promise arose from the fact most Americans have noticed that since the 1990s there have been a growing number of overseas military operations undertaken by different American governments and that these operations, initially described as short term, never seem to end. For example, there are still U.S. troops stationed in Kosovo, an assignment which was to have ended within a year but somehow never did. Putting American troops into Syria was supposed to be temporary until ISIL was destroyed, not indefinitely as new reasons were put forward why the U.S. troops were essential.

 

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