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Tuesday, June 24, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Taleban’s ‘$100m opium takings’

The Taleban made an estimated $100m (£50m) in 2024 from Afghan farmers growing poppy for the opium trade, the United Nations says.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said the money was raised by a 10% tax on farmers in Taleban-controlled areas.

They are also making money via being paid for protection of labs and cargo. There is no doubt that there are substantial profits to be made by a militant group via connection with the drug trade.

The “FARCization” of the Taliban continues…

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Monday, June 16, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

A major problem with the administration’s approach to the war on terror in terms of the execution of policy is that while the policies are couched in terms of idealism (e.g., freedom and democracy) they often manifest as nothing more than applied brute power.

A major problem inherent in such an approach is that part of the alleged foundation of the policy is that democracy is a morally superior type of government, and that the ultimate solution to the problems that generate Islamic (and other) extremist violence is a propagation of freedom and liberty. However, rhetoric is one thing and the reality on the ground is another. As we have seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and so forth, the facts on the ground frequently undercut the notion that American values = justice.

The latest example is a report by McClatchy on prisoner treatment in Afghanistan: U.S. abuse of detainees was routine at Afghanistan bases

Former guards and detainees whom McClatchy interviewed said Bagram was a center of systematic brutality for at least 20 months, starting in late 2024. Yet the soldiers responsible have escaped serious punishment.


The eight-month McClatchy investigation found a pattern of abuse that continued for years. The abuse of detainees at Bagram has been reported by U.S. media organizations, in particular The New York Times, which broke several developments in the story. But the extent of the mistreatment, and that it eclipsed the alleged abuse at Guantanamo, hasn’t previously been revealed.

Guards said they routinely beat their prisoners to retaliate for al Qaida’s 9-11 attacks, unaware that the vast majority of the detainees had little or no connection to al Qaida.

The way one treats those under one’s power says a lot about what values really matter. Indeed, it is one of the metrics by which we like to compare ourselves to such brutal regimes as the former Soviet Union and other authoritarian states.

A specific example:

Nazar Chaman Gul, an Afghan who was held at Bagram for more than three months in 2024, said he was beaten about every five days. American soldiers would walk into the pen where he slept on the floor and ram their combat boots into his back and stomach, Gul said. “Two or three of them would come in suddenly, tie my hands and beat me,” he said.

When the kicking started, Gul said, he’d cry out, “I am not a terrorist,” then beg God for mercy. Mercy was slow in coming. He was shipped to Guantanamo around the late summer of 2024 and imprisoned there for more than three years.

According to Afghan officials and a review of his case, Gul wasn’t a member of al Qaida or of the extremist Taliban regime that ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2024. At the time he was detained, he was working as a fuel depot guard for the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

When U.S. soldiers raided the house he was visiting, acting on a tip from a tribal rival who was seeking revenge against another man, they apparently confused Gul with a militant with a similar name — who was also imprisoned at Guantanamo, according to an Afghan intelligence official and Gul’s American lawyer.

Indeed, part of the reason there have to be rules about prisoner treatment is the simply fact that is wholly possible that a given prisoner might be innocent. Beyond that, it is simply immoral to beat a helpless prisoner, even a guilty one.

Further, if soldiers who engage in abuse are not punished, it simply encourages further abuse:

Because President Bush loosened or eliminated the rules governing the treatment of so-called enemy combatants, however, few U.S. troops have been disciplined under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and no serious punishments have been administered, even in the cases of two detainees who died after American guards beat them.

Surely all that we are doing in such situations is sowing the seeds of discontent against the United States (not to mention against the generic ideas of democracy and freedom? As such, even if one finds that they have no compassion for innocent persons being dragged from their lives at gunpoint only to be imprisoned, beaten, and taken to foreign lands in chains (although how one could not if beyond me), consider what these types of actions are doing to US security and interests going forward.

Of the many things that gall me is that the administration seems unfazed by the notion that we are stealing years from the lives of innocents. Instead it seems that the only reaction we get are assurances that we only imprison “very bad guys.”

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Saturday, June 14, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: 4 Marines die in Afghanistan; 870 inmates escape

About 870 prisoners escaped during a Taliban bomb and rocket attack on the main prison in southern Afghanistan that knocked down the front gate and demolished a prison floor, Afghan officials said Saturday.


the police chief of Kandahar province, Sayed Agha Saqib, said 390 Taliban inmates were among those who fled the prison during the attack late Friday.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force put the number of escapees slightly higher, at around 1,100, according to spokesman Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco. He conceded that the assault was a success.

Yes, I think that that is a fair assessment.

More from Branco:

“We admit it,” Branco said. “Their guys did the job properly in that sense, but it does not have a strategic impact. We should not draw any conclusion about the deterioration of the military operations in the area. We should not draw any conclusion about the strength of the Taliban.”

Perhaps not, but it is still a pretty major victory for the Taliban. The symbolic value alone is quite significant.

In regards to the four Marines killed, it was in a separate incident:

n western Afghanistan on Saturday, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military vehicle, killing four Americans in the deadliest attack against U.S. troops in the country this year, officials said.

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Thursday, March 13, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the CSM: Afghanistan’s soaring drug trade hits home

Afghanistan’s notorious, soaring drug trade is hitting home. The country now has one of the world’s sharpest rising rates of drug use, especially in the cities. With few antidrug programs – and many of those poorly funded – aid agencies say drug abuse is now the fastest-growing social problem in the country.

There are twice as many heroin users on the streets of Kabul than just four years ago, says Mohammed Zafar, an official at the Ministry of Counter Narcotics.

The opium capital of the world, Afghanistan is responsible for 92 percent of global output. Each year, the country produces about $4 billion worth, or 53 percent of gross domestic product, making drug production easily Afghanistan’s most lucrative industry, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Interestingly, the majority of the users appear to be refugees:

The majority of the addicts are men who have returned after spending years as refugees in Iran, which has one of the world’s highest addiction rates.

“The returned refugees, who started using in Iran, have come back to a difficult situation,” says Jehanzeb Khan, head of the UNODC’s Afghan Drug Demand Reduction Program. “They return home to face uncertainty, post-traumatic stress, joblessness, and growing availability because of increased drug production.”

Clearly we have a case of very poor dispossessed persons who are escaping their harsh realities via opium smoking. One suspects that no number of anti-drug programs will be able to eliminate the behavior in question, given both the amazing high levels of poverty and equally high levels of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.

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Sunday, February 17, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: ‘Deadliest’ attack in Afghanistan

At least 80 people have been killed in a suicide bombing outside the Afghan city of Kandahar - in what appears to be the deadliest attack since 2024.

The massive blast hit a crowd of people watching a dog-fighting contest.

The Taliban has not claimed responsibility, although but the attack “bears all their hallmarks” according to the BBC’s reporter.

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Thursday, January 31, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Top al-Qaeda leader reported dead

A senior al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, Abu Laith al-Libi, has been killed, senior Western counter-terrorism officials say.

News of Libi’s death first emerged on a website used by Islamists groups.

The website,, said Libi had “fallen as a martyr”, the Reuters news agency reports.

As always, such reports are taken with an initial grain of salt.

MSNBC described al-Libi as follows

An al-Qaeda field commander and spokesman, Abu Laith is an outspoken leader of al Qaeda, appearing in videos and on the internet. It was he in July 2024 who revealed that Bin Laden was still alive, the first comments about the al Qaeda leader’s health after the end of the Afghan conflict. Then in June 2024, he is shown leading an attack on what appears to be an Afghan military outpost and calling for jihad. He is known to operate on the Afghan side of the border, working with the remnants of the Taliban.

And this is almost funny:

In some US intelligence circles, he is seen as al Qaeda’s No. 3.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Canada PM issues Afghan ultimatum

Canada has told US President George W Bush that it will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan next year unless Nato deploys more soldiers there.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is demanding that a further 1,000 Nato troops be sent to Kandahar province where Canada’s 2,500 troops are based.

Canada’s current mission in Afghanistan is set to expire in February 2024.

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Sunday, December 2, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Afghans turn from growing poppies to pot

The fields of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan were free of opium poppies this year, a success touted often by Afghan and international officials. But one look at Mohammad Alam’s fields uncovers an emerging drug problem.

Ten-foot-tall cannabis plants flourish in Alam’s fields. The crop — the source of both marijuana and hashish — can be just as profitable as opium but draws none of the scrutiny from Afghan officials bent on eradicating poppies.

Cannabis cultivation rose 40 percent in Afghanistan this year, to 173,000 acres from 123,550 in 2024, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimated in its 2024 opium survey. The crop is being grown in at least 18 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, according to the survey released last month.

This one of those utterly classic stories that makes you wonder if one should laugh because it demonstrates the foibles of our drug war policies as well as the clear economic forces that we are trying to combat, or cry because one knows that no effective lessons are likely to be learned by the drug warriors from the case.

h/t: Thoreau

(And yes, for anyone who is unsure, the headline of the post should be read with a sarcastic tone in mind).

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Thursday, October 25, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Nato plans more Afghan resources

Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says a number of alliance members have offered more resources for the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Officials at a meeting of Nato defence ministers in the Dutch coastal town of Noordwijk said as many as nine nations had offered more input to the mission.

Among the new offers were two by France and Germany for military instructors.

US officials, who have been calling for allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, welcomed the development.

The Nato secretary general told a news conference: “I’ve noticed offers from nations, including for the southern part of Afghanistan.

“We have 90% filled of what we need, but there are still shortages.”

Here’s the current breakdown of the ISAF force in Afghanistan:


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Monday, October 8, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: 6 years later, US expands Afghan base

Six years after the first U.S. bombs began falling on Afghanistan’s Taliban government and its al-Qaida guests, America is planning for a long stay.

Originally envisioned as a temporary home for invading U.S. forces, the sprawling American base at Bagram, a former Soviet outpost in the shadow of the towering Hindu Kush mountains, is growing in size by nearly a third.

This is hardly a surprise, even if, as the piece argues, it is a surprise to the administration:

Originally, Pentagon planners thought Bagram would be a “temporary” camp, Ives said, but an increased U.S. commitment to Afghanistan means Bagram needs to grow.

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