Tag Archives: taliban

Why the Taliban are Unbeatable: the justice system in Afghanistan

Afghanistan Courthouse in Asadabad. Image from wikipedia

Frustrated by Western-inspired legal codes and a government court system widely seen as corrupt, many Afghans think that the militants’ quick and tradition-rooted rulings are their best hope for justice. In the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Chaman, havens for exiled Taliban figures, local residents describe long lines of Afghans waiting to see judges.“You won’t find the same number of people in the Afghan courts as you do in the Taliban courts,” said Hajji Khudai Noor, a Kandahar resident who recently settled a land dispute through the Taliban in Quetta. “There are hundreds of people waiting for justice there.”

Western officials have long considered a fair and respected justice system to be central to quelling the insurgency, in an acknowledgment that the Taliban’s appeal had long been rooted in its use of traditional rural justice codes. But after the official end of the international military mission and more than a billion dollars in development aid to build up Afghanistan’s court system, it stands largely discredited and ridiculed by everyday Afghans. A common refrain, even in Kabul, is that to settle a dispute over your farm in court, you must first sell your chickens, your cows and your wife.  Countless training programs funded by Western allies for lawyers and judges have become bywords for waste….

The Taliban have seized on this discontent. In some areas, they have set up mobile courts to reach villages outside their zones of influence. They hold hearings two days a week in the southern borderlands, requiring plaintiffs to produce evidence and witnesses. In Kunar, Taliban legal experts embed with militant commanders to provide services to locals and the fighters.

While few Afghans recall the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 with any fondness, the lack of corruption in justice then was seen by some as a strong suit. Bribes were uncommon. The power of litigants and their extended clans mattered less. The implementation of Islamic law, or at least the rural Afghan version of it, was standard.

But the brutality at the heart of Taliban justice has not been forgotten. Mass public executions were common. Minor offenses, like cutting beards short or listening to music, often brought fierce beatings as punishment. Yet the government system still compares unfavorably in the eyes of many Afghan,s

Excerpts from AZAM AHMED, Taliban Justice Gains Favor as Official Afghan Courts Fail, NY Times,  Jan. 31, 2015

Afghanistan Withdrawal to Benefit US Bases Overseas

Salang Pass Road. Image wikipedia

Barack Obama says he is still deciding how many American troops to keep in the country after NATO’s combat mission expires in 2014. No doubt it will be a tiny fraction of today’s total. In the next 18 months America expects to remove as many as 28,000 vehicles and 40,000 shipping containers of equipment.  Shifting that much kit, with an estimated value of $30 billion, is daunting enough. The retrograde itself will cost as much as $6 billion and involve about 29,000 personnel, for the American part alone (each of the 50 coalition countries is responsible for its own logistics). The job is unprecedented in complexity; compared with Iraq, the region’s terrain and politics make it a mover’s nightmare.

The biggest problem… is that for the first time America finds itself fighting a war without a reliable seaport. From Iraq there was easy access to Kuwait. Afghanistan’s landlocked borders put the nearest usable port in Karachi, in Pakistan, which can be reached only by crossing the Khyber Pass in the east, or at Chaman in the south.  Uneasy relations between national governments have become the worst pitfall of those routes…..The difficulties of the southern route have spurred the search for an alternative. The “northern distribution network” crosses from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan, branching through the Central Asian republics and onwards, along a Soviet-era rail system, to the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and Europe. The route is safer and less volatile, but also slower and far more expensive. Perhaps its biggest drawback is Central Asian bureaucracy. …

A particular weak spot is the 3,900-metre-high Salang pass, which joins the north and south of the country. Prone to avalanches in winter, the road is in poor condition all year.   A final unknown is how the Taliban will react. Cargo trains make tempting targets, and some outbound convoys have already been attacked. Commanders are loth to reassign troops to their protection, when it would mean diverting them from building up the Afghan forces.

This unending procession of lumbering armour must be cleaned, stripped of munitions, loaded and secured for shipping. Each mine-resistant vehicle, for instance, is itemised as 17 different components, from turret to on-board computer, each piece to be logged separately. About 1m items are in the system. Some will be sent to other parts of Afghanistan, but 90% are bound for American bases overseas.

Excerpt, Withdrawing from Afghanistan: The big retrograde, Economist, Apr. 27, 2013, at 38.

United States, the Taliban, and the spin doctors

Days after deciding to blacklist an insurgent group linked to the Taliban and responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to say whether she also would brand the Taliban a foreign terrorist organization.  Asked in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Radio if the Taliban — whose government gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terror network before the 2001 U.S. military actions — should be blacklisted, Clinton didn’t directly answer.

“You know, we do a very intensive analysis before we designate someone as a foreign terrorist organization,” she said. “We have reached that conclusion about the Haqqani Network, and we think it’s the right decision.”  Clinton’s decision on Sept. 7 to designate as a terrorist organization the Haqqani Network — a militant group with operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is closely affiliated with the Afghan branch of the Taliban [or simply another name for Taliban]– came after months of inter-agency debate.  One issue was the potential impact on already difficult relations with Pakistan. The Haqqanis operate from havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region with what U.S. officials have said are ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency.  Clinton said in the interview that blacklisting the Haqqanis wasn’t a message aimed at Pakistan.  “No, it is about squeezing” the Haqqanis, she said.  “It’s part of the continuing effort to try to send a message to them — not to anyone else, but to them — because of the really incredibly damaging attacks they have waged against us, against other targets inside Afghanistan, and it’s important that we use every tool at our disposal to go after them,” she said in the interview in Vladivostok, Russia, at the end of an 11-day trip through the Asia-Pacific.  The U.S. had already slapped the Haqqani group’s leaders with individual sanctions, and has long targeted them in military operations and clandestine drone strikes.Adding the Haqqanis to the group blacklist “gives us much greater reach into any financial assets or fundraising that they may engage in, it gives us better traction against assets that they might own,” Clinton said. “It’s important that we use every tool at our disposal to go after them.”

Though the Haqqanis were behind some of the highest-profile attacks on American and NATO interests in Afghanistan, including a day-long assault last year on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and an attack on NATO headquarters there, the debate on whether to blacklist them involved arguments that doing so might hinder U.S. policy goals.

The decision followed months of discussion within the White House, State Department, Pentagon, Treasury Department, Justice Department and the intelligence community over the merits and the timing of blacklisting the Haqqanis, according to officials from different agencies who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Opponents of blacklisting the Haqqanis had argued that slapping them with a label might hinder prospects for engaging them in reconciliation talks to take them off the battlefield. The same may be said of the Taliban…Another concern about blacklisting the Haqqanis — which can also be said of the Taliban — is that affixing a terror label to the group may affect U.S. relations with Pakistan. Some U.S. officials, including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, have said Pakistani intelligence and security forces have aided the Haqqanis in order to wield influence in Afghanistan. Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have said Pakistan needs to do more to crack down on the group.  Pakistan also has ties with the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, according to U.S. intelligence officials.  The U.S. wants Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban to engage them in serious peace talks with the Afghan government to help bring an end to the 11-year conflict.

Excerpts, Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Clinton Doesn’t Say If Taliban Should Be on Terror List, BusinessWeek, Sept. 9, 2012

See also statement of Taliban in their website Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

Sovereigns or Unlawful Combatants? the US-Taliban Peace Talks

Taliban negotiators have begun holding preliminary talks with US officials in Qatar on plans for peace negotiations aimed at ending the decade-long war in Afghanistan, a former Taliban official said Sunday.”The actual peace talks have not yet begun — they are in the process of trust-building and obviously this will take some time,” Mawlavi Qalamuddin told AFP.  Qalamuddin, who once led the Taliban’s feared religious police when the hardline Islamists were in power, is now a member of the High Peace Council appointed by the government of President Hamid Karzai.  The Taliban, ousted from power by a US-led invasion in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, announced earlier this month that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar ahead of talks with Washington.  Qalamuddin said the delegation already in the Gulf state included Mohammad Tayeb Agha, a close ally and secretary of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and Shahabuddin Delawar, the Taliban’s former ambassador to Riyadh.  With them were Sher Mohammad Abaas Stanikzai, former deputy foreign minister in the Taliban government, and Aziz-Ul Rahman, a former Taliban diplomat in Dubai, said Qalamuddin.”At the moment the delegation is holding preliminary talks. It’s in its very early phases. You need to build some trust before starting talks.”  One of the trust-building measures demanded by the Taliban is the release of five of its members from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, while Washington wants the insurgents to renounce violence…..In another effort to soothe Karzai’s doubts, a delegation from the Qatar government is expected to visit Kabul to explain its role in the talks, High Peace Council secretary Aminundin Muzaffari told AFP.”We are expecting a delegation from Qatar to come to Kabul to discuss with us the role of Afghans in peace talks and when and how peace talks in Qatar should happen and proceed.”

Excerpt, Sardar Ahmad, Taliban, US negotiators meet in Qatar, Agence France Presse, Jan. 29, 2012

Little Savage Wars of Peace, Afghanistan

While the Taliban has been pushed out of some areas of its southern heartland, the insurgency has intensified along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.  Remote Kunar with its steep mountain valleys, where bin Laden once had his base, has become the more active front of the war against the Taliban.  The area is used by insurgent fighters as an infiltration and smuggling route from Pakistan, which is just over the mountains to the west. The United States had largely pulled out of Kunar a year ago, focusing the war effort on the southern base of the Taliban, but it has since added troops.

“After 9/11, I had an idea that it was going to be a long, hard campaign. These smaller wars, these savage little wars of peace tend to go on for a long time. They’re not as quick and clean as America generally likes them to be,” said Captain Tim Blair of the 22nd Infantry from Long Island, New York.  The nature of the enemy was such that the war could go on for a long time with varying intensity. If the United States is to be kept safe, then its soldiers had to go out and take the fight to the enemy.

“I’ve always kind of thought of the Afghanistan operation as kind of one of those bug lights or lamps that you put on your front porch during the summer months to help prevent the bugs from getting into the house,” said First Lieutenant Edward Bachar from Freehold, New Jersey.  “You know, and that’s the way I think of our efforts here. We take care of the bad guys in their backyard so the people in the United States don’t have to worry about it.”

Excerpt from Nikola Solic, On the Afghan frontline, U.S. soldiers see longer war ahead, Reuters, Sept. 9, 2011

The Handover: Haqqani, bunkers, caves, raids, Afghanistan

At least 80 militants were killed in a series of operations involving Afghan and NATO forces during a day-long firefight last week in the country’s restive southeast, Paktika provincial governor Mukhlas Afghan said Sunday. NATO said it could only confirm 50 insurgents were killed in the fight.  The operation, which began Wednesday and spanned the night into Thursday, was fought in a “known Haqqani network” area.  The Haqqani network is an insurgent group loosely affiliated with the Taliban and is believed to be based in Pakistan’s frontier territories.  The raid included Afghan special forces and engaged “multiple groups of insurgents” who were armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force reported Friday.

Multiple insurgent groups were holed up in areas that included caves and fortified bunker positions, ISAF said.  Elsewhere, coalition raids on Sunday in Helmand province left five militants dead, including three Taliban commanders, according to provincial governor Dawood Ahmadi. Three others were captured, he said.  Sunday’s announcement coincides with formal ceremonies marking the handover of security to Afghan forces in parts of Kabul and Panjshir province.  They are the fifth and sixth areas to be transferred to national forces.

David Ariosto, Gunbattle in Afghanistan leaves 80 militants dead, governor saysBy,CNN, July 24, 2011

Osama is Dead but Afghanistan Escapes

It was, said the president’s spokesman, a “disaster”. Some 500 prisoners, mostly Taliban fighters, had escaped in the early hours of April 25th from a prison holding insurgents in southern Afghanistan.  The caper involved an 18-man crew working from outside the prison undetected for five months. They dug a tunnel some 320 metres (1,050 feet) long into the heart of the Kandahar jail. The tunnellers started their work from a compound that housed a construction company. They deftly concealed the excavated soil. They put in metal beams to support the tunnel as it ran under one of the country’s main highways, and they installed lighting and ventilation.

As well as flaunting the Taliban’s ability to pull off remarkable stunts, the episode also exposed, yet again, the feebleness of Afghan security forces. The Afghan army and police are meant to take over the handling of the country’s security from the Western-led international coalition by the end of 2014. The president, Hamid Karzai, joined the chorus of people claiming that the escapees must have got inside help from prison guards. Insurgent infiltration of the security forces is a subject of mounting concern. A series of deadly attacks have taken place, especially against coalition forces, by men in Afghan uniforms. The latest came on April 27th, in Kabul, when an Afghan pilot killed eight American soldiers and a civilian contractor. It is unclear whether the pilot, who was killed, had Taliban sympathies.

Yet others, including one of the Taliban escapees, gainsay the idea that the breakout had inside assistance. Contacted by telephone soon afterwards, the 28-year-old said there was no need to infiltrate the guards. They were, he said, all stoned. He said it was normal for them to get high on marijuana or heroin and then turn in for a good night’s sleep. The guards realised only hours later that their charges had escaped. The contrast between Afghan government hopelessness and insurgent craftiness could hardly have been more stark. The Taliban were quick to follow up the escape with an information campaign, putting out a press release in perfect English that crowed about their success.

Excerpt: Afghanistan security: Break for the hills, Economist, April 30, 2011, at 45

Taliban as Political Actors: who is afraid of negotiations?

Washington’s military strategy in Afghanistan now aims to avoid the appearance of defeat for America, but for Afghanistan it is a recipe for unending civil war.  In essence, it is a version of the strategy pursued by the Soviet Union in the second half of the 1980s: to build up the Afghan army to the point where it can contain the insurgents without the help of outside ground forces, while seeking to win over individual insurgent commanders and their supporters.  This strategy may create forces that can defend key cities against the Taliban. But it is unlikely that Afghan security forces will be able to do this on their own. And it offers little real prospect of either eliminating or winning over enough of the Taliban to control the Pashtun countryside and end the insurgency. Nor can such a large security force be sustained by an impoverished country through its own resources.

Faced with awesome U.S. military power, most Taliban fighters neither fight to the death nor surrender. They just go home to their villages, and wait to see what happens next. This is exactly what happened after the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.To contain continuing Taliban influence across a large swathe of the country would require effective, honest, representative and locally rooted Afghan civilian authorities. Is this possible, given the experience of the past 10 years?

The overwhelming probability therefore is that existing U.S. strategy will lead to a situation in which, once American troops withdraw from an active ground role, the Taliban will re-establish their control of the countryside and besiege the southern and eastern cities, which will be defended by a mixture of the Afghan National Army on the ground and U.S. firepower in the air. Because they will need their help in this war, the Taliban will be compelled to preserve their links to Al Qaeda, and continue to draw revenue from the heroin trade.

There will be an enduring risk that the weakness of the Afghan government and the deep ethnic divisions in the Afghan Army will intensify internal strife and face Washington with the choice of either reoccupying the country with ground troops or pulling out and leaving Afghanistan to its fate.

Faced with this reality, there is a growing consensus in the international community and among many U.S. experts on the idea of peace talks with the Taliban — not just to break away individual commanders, but to draw the movement as a whole into a peace settlement. And as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in a key speech at the Asia Society in February, Pakistan will have to play an essential role in any settlement. In this way, Pakistan can be turned from Washington’s “problem” into an asset.  Declaring U.S. readiness to “reconcile with an adversary,” Ms. Clinton spelled out three “red lines for reconciliation” with the Taliban: “They must renounce violence … abandon their alliance with Al Qaeda, and abide by the Constitution.”  Then came a crucially significant shift in the U.S. position. The three redlines were no longer described as pre-conditions but as objectives — as “necessary outcomes of any negotiation.”

There is also a growing recognition in the American establishment that the Afghan Constitution is not set in stone and can be renegotiated by Afghans themselves — including the Taliban.  Ms. Clinton’s speech narrows the difference in approach between the United States and Pakistan, which has long insisted that the war can only be brought to an end by political, not military means, and that talks must begin without preconditions. It also closed the gap with America’s NATO allies in Europe, virtually all of whom have privately been calling for talks with the Taliban to secure a political solution.

In talks with the United States, Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has suggested interim peace-building measures, intended both to lay the basis for later talks on a final settlement and to allow the U.S. to explore which leaders and elements in the Taliban are in fact ready for compromise. He has said that Pakistan stands ready to help in such a process.  His call for a sequenced approach to a peace settlement involves in the first instance a mutual deescalation of violence to open the way for negotiations and offer an incentive to the Taliban to disavow Al Qaeda. Peace-building measures can include local cease-fires to instill trust for serious talks, which must be led by the Afghans themselves.

Other steps can also be taken to prepare the ground for political negotiations. An important step would be the creation of a Taliban office possibly in a Gulf country to encourage their transformation into a political actor from a fighting force. Such measures need be initiated without delay, for without them the prospect of an unending conflict looms, an outcome that is in nobody’s interest.

However, Gen. David Petraeus and the Pentagon have yet to accept the notion of talks with Taliban leaders. So far they have only embraced a policy of “reintegration,” which aims at splitting and weakening the Taliban, and not “reconciliation” which means negotiating with them.  A European diplomat depicted this stance rather graphically: “the U.S. military only wants to talk with their boots on the Taliban’s neck.” This approach no longer enjoys the confidence either of the international community or of a majority of Americans. Above all the Afghans want an end to the fighting and a chance at peace.

ANATOL LIEVEN and MALEEHA LODHI, Bring in the Taliban, NY Times, April 22, 2011

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan: how to run an insurgency

Midway through December, Afghan police officers arrested a man who had hidden a fake bomb near a government office in Miri, a village in eastern Afghanistan. The man, who gave the name Muhammad Mir, confessed, saying he wanted to gauge the security force’s reactions to a Taliban attack, according to American intelligence officials.  A paper found in his pocket, though, proved more significant than evidence of the Taliban’s reconnaissance. It was handwritten in Pashto, and when translated here, it revealed a tax-collection ledger of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — the resurgent Taliban.  Muhammad Alnabi, it showed, had paid the Taliban 1,600 afghanis, or about $37. Sergeant Akbar had paid 700 afghanis, and Abdulla Kaka had remitted 6,500, funds for a so-called shadow government to carry on its fight.

The scrap in Mr. Mir’s pocket, hinting at both boldness and organization, became one part of a gradually expanding portrait of how the Taliban has organized and fought its guerrilla war in a corner of rural Afghanistan.  The picture is of an underground government by local fighters, organized under the Taliban’s banner, who have established the rudiments of a civilian administration to complement their shadowy combat force. They run schools, collect taxes and adjudicate civil disputes in Islamic courts. And when they fight, their gunmen and bomb makers are aided by an intelligence and support network that includes villagers, who signal for them and provide them shelter, and tunnels in which to elude capture or find medical care.

As part of the Obama administration’s campaign to subdue a sprawling insurgency and create a durable Afghan government, the military sent thousands of soldiers last year into rural areas under the influence, if not outright control, of the Taliban. One of those task forces, the Third Battalion of the 187th Infantry Regiment, arrived in Miri in September to help establish a government presence in a place — though it is the official seat of the Ghazni Province’s Andar District — where government had been sporadic for a decade.  Almost five months later — through prisoner interrogations, informants’ reports, intercepted radio chatter, surveillance of fighters’ funerals, Taliban documents, nearly 200 gunfights, and captured photographs, equipment and bombs — the Americans have assembled an expanding portrait of how the latter-day Taliban functions here.

The battalion’s sense of its enemies is far from complete. Officers say they do not have detailed profiles of most fighting cells. Important questions, including whether outside financing flows to the insurgents in this area, remain unanswered.  But its analysis, built nearly from scratch and revealed through interviews with commanders, soldiers and analysts, nonetheless sketches a tactical, social and visual map of an organization that is at once widespread but rarely seen by outsiders. And it presents an implicit reminder of the difficulties facing the Pentagon’s plan to turn over areas like this one, with its determined and deep-rooted insurgency, to Afghan security forces by 2014.

The analysis outlines two distinct elements of Taliban structure: — a quasi government and the military arm that empowers it.

On one level, the Taliban has firmly re-established its hold over civilian life in rural Ghazni. Even with an American battalion patrolling Andar and the neighboring Deh Yak District each day, the Taliban runs 28 known schools; circulates public statements by leaflets at night; adjudicates land, water-rights and property disputes through religious courts; levies taxes on residents; and punishes Afghans labeled as collaborators.  “There are tangible indicators that a shadow government does exist and has been strong for the past two or three years,” said First Lt. Michael D. Marietta, the task force’s assistant intelligence officer.

American officers said the Taliban’s influence grew in a vacuum: there had been an almost complete absence of government-provided services here since the Taliban were unseated in the American-led invasion of 2001.  “The most common complaint we hear from Afghans,” said Lt. Col. David G. Fivecoat, the battalion’s commander, “is that we haven’t seen the government in ‘X’ number of years.”

On another level, the Taliban fights. Task force analysts estimate that the Taliban can field roughly 400 fighters in Andar and Deh Yak, which have a combined population of perhaps 150,000 people.   The fighters harass Afghan and American forces and pursue a campaign of intimidation against residents who cooperate with, or even acknowledge, the central government. Dressing as civilians, they battle Western forces with a familiar script: using small ambushes and makeshift bombs with minimal risk and conducting the occasional rocket or mortar attack.

They also have a support network, the officers said, of at least 4,000 civilians. The supporters provide food, shelter and part-time help, like passing false information to the Americans and signaling the movements of the battalion’s patrols with mirrors or thick plumes of smoke.  Local knowledge has often given the fighters the ability to seemingly disappear, slipping away in canals or village alleys.

On Jan. 20, a squad from C Company was watching escape routes from the village of Maumud, where other soldiers and police officers were searching for weapons.  A check of the entrance to a karez, the traditional underground aqueduct system of the high Afghan steppe, led to the discovery of a Taliban battlefield-aid station deep underground.  Inside the aqueduct’s main tunnel, which continued for several hundred yards, the soldiers found soiled sheets, bloodied bandages and intravenous lines, syringes and penicillin — signs that wounded fighters had recently been treated there.

Unlike in some areas of Afghanistan, the task force officers said, the Taliban fighters of eastern Ghazni appear to be entirely local men.  The battalion has not heard languages typical of foreign fighters in Afghanistan — Arabic, Uzbek and Urdu, for example — on intercepted radio messages. Surveillance of how the dead Taliban fighters are treated has consistently pointed to local roots.

“We haven’t seen foreign fighters,” Colonel Fivecoat said. “We know that because we’ve killed fighters and followed it through to the funerals. They are all being buried in local villages by their elders.”  But external influences are evident in the fighters’ command and control. The vast majority of insurgents in Andar and Deh Yak, the officers said, answer to the Quetta Shura — the organization, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, that formerly governed Afghanistan.  The intelligence officials also said that there was a small presence in easternmost Ghazni Province of fighters loyal to the Haqqani network, the internationally designated terrorist organization, based in Miramshah, Pakistan, that is aligned with the Taliban.

Some improvised bombs bear signs of being assembled by Haqqanis, or by people who have been trained or supplied by them, Lieutenant Marietta said.  With its local origins and connections, the Ghazni Taliban have been able to intimidate the government and exert influence over the population.

Several American officers said Taliban fighters were largely untroubled by the two districts’ small contingent of Afghan police officers, with whom, in some cases, they have brokered under-the-table arrangements.  When the battalion arrived in Deh Yak, it discovered that a police post overlooking the village of Salamanzi had been sold in July by its commander to the Taliban, which had looted it of ammunition, including rocket-propelled grenades.  The outpost has since been re-established as a government position. But suspicions linger. “We have six-man police posts out there in bad areas that never get attacked, and almost every time we go there we get attacked,” Colonel Fivecoat said. “So something is going on.”

Similarly, last fall, when the Taliban ordered residents not to vote in the parliamentary elections, the officers said, the order had its intended effect. “There are 110,000 people in Andar,” said Sgt. First Class Jason S. Werts, the battalion’s senior intelligence sergeant. “Three people voted.”

The organization’s intelligence network has also been effective.  An American sweep of the village of Bashi turned up a detailed terrain model of Forward Operating Base Andar, where the American battalion’s headquarters are located. The model, officers said, was accurate — indicating that the Taliban had informants on the base.  Another sign of the intelligence network’s effects emerged in remarks of Afghan police officers working at the re-established outpost in Salamanzi. In interviews, three police officers said that though they lived near the post, they were afraid to go home.

‘The Taliban have spies everywhere,” said one of the officers, Abdul Wasay.  The same spy network has identified local civilians who have helped American and Afghan troops.  “The guy we had who was willing to give us information about the Taliban is the guy we found dead last week,” said Capt. Edward T. Peskie, who commands one of the battalion’s companies.  That informant, Abdul Hamid, had been stopped on a dirt road, taken from his vehicle, and shot. An American patrol to the nearby village of Janabad produced no information. Several villagers acted as if they had not heard of the man.

The Taliban’s use of hit-and-run tactics has often made it difficult for soldiers to see their foes clearly. But late in December, in the village of Alu Khel, a platoon found dozens of Taliban photographs while searching a compound.  The photos revealed the faces of the fighters, most of them young men. They also included images of small boys, some of whom appeared to be 5 or younger, brandishing assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers or tactical radios.

These photos included signs of the Taliban’s logistical sources. Several images, for example, showed fighters with the distinctive rifle of the Afghan police — the AMD-65.  NATO began issuing AMD-65s to Afghan police officers in 2006. Their presence in Taliban hands suggests that weapons purchased by the United States had escaped government custody.  Similarly, an examination by The New York Times of 15 captured Taliban rifle magazines found they contained ammunition identical to that purchased by the Pentagon for issue to the Afghan police — another sign of leakage.

The Taliban’s success at obtaining ammunition and weapons has not always been matched with an ability to use them well. At times, the vaunted movement has appeared to be bungling. “They sometimes are not good at the basics,” Sergeant Werts said.  In nearly 200 small-arms attacks against the Americans in recent months, the insurgents’ bullets have struck only six American soldiers, one fatally, according to the battalion’s medical data.  Early last fall, to cite another example, the Taliban fired four 82-millimeter mortar rounds at Forward Operating Base Andar. All four landed within the perimeter walls, including one that crashed through the roof of a tent crowded with American soldiers. But none exploded. Whoever fired them, the soldiers said, forgot to insert their fuses.

The Taliban’s hidden bombs have also included several duds.  The officers said they took small comfort in signs of the Taliban’s marginal weapons skills. Both sides have spent months assessing each other.  When spring arrives, the officers said, the Taliban in Ghazni will continue the work of their shadow government, including collecting taxes. But the fighters, they said, could follow patterns seen elsewhere when American forces have settled in, and shift toward more improvised bombs.

C. J. CHIVERS, In Eastern Afghanistan, at War With the Taliban’s Shadowy Rule, NY Times, Feb. 6, 2011

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has established a website in English.  To get a flavor see Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

Afghanistan: predatory government and shaky allies

 

While the United States has touted military success against the Taliban, officials admit they have made less progress off the battlefield in improving Afghanistan’s government and charting its political future.  Critics say the Obama administration lacks a strong political strategy to complement military plans, but officials contend they are making headway in the difficult task of turning a nation shattered by war into a stable democracy.  The White House is hoping its strategy — which rests on a bigger U.S. civilian presence to help improve basic services and governance, political support for reconciliation talks, and pressure on Pakistan to end militant safe havens — will bear more fruit as it starts to withdraw troops in July.

But more than nine years after the ouster of the Taliban government, Afghanistan is plagued by corruption. Ties with neighboring Pakistan are precarious and there is little evidence to suggest nascent talks with the Taliban will make quick progress.  Below are scenarios for several of the key areas of the United States’ political strategy for Afghanistan.

GOVERNANCE GAP

Afghan institutions are stronger than they were in 2001, but many Afghans still go without basic services like health care and clean water. Few Afghans trust courts and local government is often described as “predatory.”  Last year Washington sent hundreds of civilian officials to Afghanistan to help bolster governance at the local level, but officials say change will be slow at best.  Rule of law is critical. You’re not going to solve this by military means alone,” said John Dempsey, a senior State Department adviser who works on governance issues.

In the best scenario, U.S. efforts to get local jobs filled with technocrats would bear fruit. New judges would improve faith in the judiciary and service delivery would improve.  Such steps, however, will depend on improving security, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and progress in curbing corruption that has plagued the public sector.

If that does not happen, civilian efforts to transform local government could fall flat. In that scenario officials continue to prey on Afghans and corruption goes on unchecked.  All of this could endanger the plan to put Afghans in full control of their own country by the end of 2014 and give Western countries a chance to exit gracefully.

DEMOCRACY AND THE KARZAI CONUNDRUM

As U.S. attention has turned from Iraq to Afghanistan, a gulf has widened between Washington and Afghan President Hamid Karzai over corruption, civilian casualties, and more.  “There is a trust deficit between the U.S. coalition and the government of Afghanistan. Often … Karzai has believed the United States was working to undermine him,” one former U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Widespread reports of fraud in the most recent presidential and parliamentary polls did nothing to put to rest some U.S. officials’ desire to see new leadership in Kabul.  This month the country was plunged into a new crisis when Karzai faced off against incoming lawmakers over his efforts to delay the new parliament’s inauguration.

In an ideal scenario, Karzai would get tough on corruption and foreign officials would smooth over past strains. A more productive relationship would blossom between Karzai and lawmakers, adding to the government credibility.  If this does not happen, U.S. officials may find a less cooperative central government that would make it more difficult to transition smoothly out of the war. Corruption would alienate Afghans and fuel support for the Taliban.

TALKING TO THE ENEMY

As security has deteriorated over the past year, a consensus has grown around the idea that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won without a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.  Karzai’s government has been speaking to the Taliban for at least two years but reportedly nothing of substance has been discussed.

If the U.S. gamble succeeds, last year’s troop surge will further weaken the Taliban and put the Afghan government in a stronger negotiating position. In an ideal scenario, Saudi Arabia and Turkey would broker discussions and true decision-makers within the loose, shadowy Taliban organization would come to the table.  If Western military efforts sputter, however, the Taliban will have little incentive to seriously negotiate. In this scenario, Taliban leaders in Pakistan would refuse to lift preconditions, including a full withdrawal of foreign troops, and would be loathe to risk losing by engaging with Western powers. Talks would fail to get off the ground.

PAKISTAN: FRIEND, FOE OR ‘FRENEMY’?

Perhaps the most uncertain element in U.S. strategy is Pakistan, which Washington has been pressing to quash Taliban and other militants sheltered within Pakistani borders.  “It’s a dilemma because in some ways Pakistan is an ally. It allows supplies and attacks on al Qaeda in Waziristan, but it also acts as an adversary,” the former official said.

In one scenario, massive U.S. aid funds combined with veiled threats will convince civilian and military leaders in Islamabad to deploy troops to restive lawless areas along the country’s western border, reducing the need for U.S. drone attacks in those regions.  Pakistan would also crack down on elements of security forces who are cooperating with or supporting militants and Islamabad would do more to foster reconciliation talks.  In the other scenario Islamabad’s decisions are driven by awareness that U.S. military presence will soon shrink.  Preferring a stronger Pashtun Taliban than an Afghan government friendly to its arch-rival, India, Pakistan would hedge its bets. Taliban attacks in Afghanistan would continue.

Missy Ryan, SCENARIOS – Will U.S. political strategy succeed in Afghanistan?, Reuters, Jan 25 2011