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Tuesday, March 27, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Prodi backed in key Afghan vote

Romano Prodi’s Italian government has won a vote in the Senate to keep Italy’s troops in Afghanistan.

The vote gives final approval to a measure that provides funding for all Italian missions abroad.

The government saw off a rebellion from some left-wing members of the ruling coalition, to repeat the victory it had already achieved in the lower house.

Commentators had said that a defeat in the vote could have led to the collapse of Mr Prodi’s government.

In the event it was carried by 180 votes to two, with 132 abstentions, which in the Senate count as “No” votes.

An interesting vote for a variety of reasons. For one, a foreign policy vote that was considered too pro-America almost led to Prodi’s ouster recently. For another, it would be problematic for the US and NATO for the Italians to withdraw their 1800 troops from Afghanistan at this point in time, one would think.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Nato in major anti-Taleban drive

Nato and Afghan forces have begun what they say is their largest offensive against the Taleban in the south.

Operation Achilles will eventually involve more than 4,500 Nato troops and nearly 1,000 Afghan soldiers in Helmand province, the alliance says.


Helmand, bordering Pakistan, is a known Taleban stronghold. Last month its governor said up to 700 insurgents had crossed to fight British forces.

The operation began at 5am local time (0030 GMT) and will focus on the northern part of Helmand, said officials.

The report notes that one soldier has been killed in combat.

This is primarily a British operation.

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Friday, March 2, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: BBC NEWS | South Asia | ‘Taleban leader held’ in Pakistan

Security forces in Pakistan have arrested a former Taleban defence minister, intelligence officials say.

Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, said to be a leader in the Taleban insurgency in Afghanistan, was reportedly seized in the south-western city of Quetta.

The raid coincided with a visit by the US vice-president on Monday, officials say. However, Pakistani officials have not formally confirmed the arrest.

A Taleban spokesman denied Mullah Obaidullah had been captured.

As always, one would like confirmation, but hopefully this is an accurate report, as his capture would be an important one:

Mullah Obaidullah was defence minister in the Taleban government before 2024 and the second of three top deputies of the Taleban’s leader, Mullah Omar, who remains at large.

He is effectively the Taleban’s number three, seen as the Taleban’s military chief and the man to whom the other Taleban commanders answer, our correspondent says.

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Friday, February 23, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: More UK soldiers for Afghanistan:

More than 1,000 extra British troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, the BBC has learned.

Defence Secretary Des Browne will give details of the new deployment to the House of Commons on Monday.

The UK has been reluctant to add to its 6,000-strong force there as it has reinforced several times already.


Britain has recently revamped its operations in Afghanistan to put most manpower into Helmand province in the south, where the fighting is at its most fierce.

Nato and British commanders have said for some time that more resources are needed if the Taleban are to be defeated.

But until now the government has argued that countries like France and Germany should contribute more.

This makes for an interesting juxtaposition with Iraq, where the UK is starting to withdraw its forces.

The moves comes as the NATO Secretary-General is visiting Afghanistan (via Reuters, Winning Afghan war essential for West - NATO chief):

The West must win the war against Islamic militants in Afghanistan or face attacks in their own countries, NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said on Thursday.

“If we like it or not, Afghanistan … is a frontline in the fight against those people who want to destroy the fabric of our societies,” he told a joint news conference with President Hamid Karzai after talks in Kabul.

“If we don’t succeed in Afghanistan, I am quite sure that the spoilers will come to us to the Netherlands, to Belgium, to the United Kingdom, (as) they came to the United States,” he said referring to the Sept. 11 attacks by al Qaeda.

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Thursday, February 22, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Spero News reports (Plan Afghanistan: Another Colombia mistake) that the next ambassador to Afghanistan is likely to be William Wood:

Wood, the US ambassador to Colombia since mid-2003, has been nominated to serve as the US ambassador to Afghanistan. His credentials, most agree, are strong. But it is worrying that he might promote the same failed policies used in Colombia - a supply-side drug control strategy that has a heavy military element with little development aid attached.

Colombia and Afghanistan have some commonalities. The governments of both countries fight an asymmetric war against an insurgency determined to remove it from power. Colombia is the world’s leading supplier of cocaine, Afghanistan of heroin. And both countries receive heavy amounts of military aid directed at combating “terrorism” and reducing drug demand inside the US and elsewhere through inflating street prices by attacking the supply.

I have no doubt that we will pursue identical policies in Afghanistan as we have in Colombia (with potentially disastrous consequences, as I noted last week).

Greg Weeks noted the same trend earlier this week, including the training of Afghan police by the Colombians.

Cross-posted at La Política Colombiana.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

When I saw this week’s Time cover, my response was, no joke–I knew that years ago.

Beyond that, however, I found a remarkable story in the magazine’s pages that is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy for its sheer stupidity–basically the US government decided it was better to damage our reputation in Afghanistan and to throw away assets that would aid our success in the region so that we could arrest someone we think was cultivating heroin poppies (and I suspect that he was):

For a week and a half in April 2024, one of the favorite warlords of fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was sitting in a room at the Embassy Suites Hotel in lower Manhattan, not far from where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood. But Haji Bashar Noorzai, the burly, bearded leader of one of Afghanistan’s largest and most troublesome tribes, was not on a mission to case New York City for a terrorist attack. On the contrary, Noorzai, a confidant of the fugitive Taliban overlord, who is a well-known ally of Osama bin Laden’s, says he had been invited to Manhattan to prove that he could be of value in America’s war on terrorism. “I did not want to be considered an enemy of the United States,” Noorzai told TIME. “I wanted to help the Americans and to help the new government in Afghanistan.”

For several days he hunkered down in that hotel room and was bombarded with questions by U.S. government agents. What was going on in the war in Afghanistan? Where was Mullah Omar? Where was bin Laden? What was the state of opium and heroin production in the tribal lands Noorzai commanded–the very region of Afghanistan where support for the Taliban remains strongest? Noorzai believed he had answered everything to the agents’ satisfaction, that he had convinced them that he could help counter the Taliban’s resurgent influence in his home province and that he could be an asset to the U.S.

He was wrong.

As he got up to leave, ready to be escorted to the airport to catch a flight back to Pakistan, one of the agents in the room told him he wasn’t going anywhere. That agent, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), told him that a grand jury had issued a sealed indictment against Noorzai 3 1/2 months earlier and that he was now under arrest for conspiring to smuggle narcotics into the U.S. from Afghanistan. An awkward silence ensued as the words were translated into his native Pashtu. “I did not believe it,” Noorzai later told TIME from his prison cell. “I thought they were joking.” The previous August, an American agent he had met with said the trip to the U.S. would be “like a vacation.”


Noorzai was also a powerful leader of a million-member tribe who had offered to help bring stability to a region that is spinning out of control. Because he is in a jail cell, he is not feeding the U.S. and the Afghan governments information; he is not cajoling his tribe to abandon the Taliban and pursue political reconciliation; he is not reaching out to his remaining contacts in the Taliban to push them to cease their struggle. And he is hardly in a position to help persuade his followers to abandon opium production, when the amount of land devoted to growing poppies has risen 60%.

Does this make any sense?

Here’s the bottom line and why it should be obvious why this move was monumentally stupid: no matter what we do, opium cultivation will continue on a massive scale in Afghanistan (if you doubt the certainty of my statement, or its validity, just look at our success rate at stopping massive coca cultivation in Andean region of South America–in other words, case closed). As such, the prosecution of Noorzai is nothing more than a drop in a vast ocean. Even if he is, as he is described by an official in the piece, the “Pablo Escobar of Afghanistan”* then he is still nothing more than the previously described drop (killing Pablo certainly curtailing the cocaine trade, didn’t it?). However, as an asset and ally who had intimate knowledge of the workings of the Taliban, and as a person of prominence in Afghansitan who was willing to work with the United States as we sought to bring stability to the country, and to rid it of Taliban and al Qaeda influences, his value was potentially limitless. Further, by arresting him, what signal does that send to other warlords in the region? How can we build a coalition to stabilize that country without the trust of the existing elites–especially given the very traditional nature of power in the countryside?

This is sheer folly–a trade-off that makes no sense. Prosecuting Noorzai will have a minuscule (if that) effect on the opium trade, but yet we place a higher value on that than we do on successful completion of the war in Afghanistan?

The administration makes claims that the war on terror is an existential struggle that requires extraordinary actions, including a number of highly questionable domestic surveillance programs and “coercive” interrogation of possible terrorists as well as potentially their life-time incarceration; however, we can’t recognize the imperfect nature of potential allies such as Noorzai? We prefer a drug arrest to progress in a central front on the war against radical Islam?


*Plus, the Escobar ref really doesn’t work. I assume by this it is meant that Noorzai was large-scale cultivator/trafficker. However, Escobar’s main threat (and what made him so notorious) was not the scope of his cocaine business as it was the fact that he decided his prominence and wealth meant that he had the right to challenge the Colombian state. He sought influence and power beyond just drugs. In Noorzai’s case, it would seem that he was quite the opposite in that regard, a figure who might have been of use in state-building–as such, he was no Pablo Escobar.

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Sunday, February 4, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: New chief for Nato Afghan force:

Gen McNeill took command of the multinational headquarters in a ceremony on Sunday morning, and said his aim would be to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans.


“Our mission is to facilitate the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

“We will enable the institutions of Afghanistan so that the Afghan people might enjoy self-determination, education, health and the peaceful realisation of their hopes and dreams.”

Gen McNeill has been based in Afghanistan before, and will take on the Isaf mission of bringing security and development, and helping win over the people for the Afghan government, our correspondent says.

Sound good–although how well it can be pulled off remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, via Reuters, we get warnings of increased violence: Taliban warn of bloody spring as U.S. takes NATO reins:

As U.S. General Dan McNeill took over the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO said the Taliban leader in a southern district was killed on Sunday as part of an offensive to recapture the key town of Musa Qala from the rebels.

The Taliban warns 2024 will be “the bloodiest year for foreign troops,” saying they have 2,000 suicide bombers ready for an offensive when the winter snows melt in a few months.

“We have made 80 percent preparations to fight American and foreign forces and we are about to start war,” Mullah Hayatullah Khan, a 35-year-old black-bearded guerrilla leader, told Reuters at a secret base in the east on Saturday.

Hopefully this is more bluster than reality, however I fear that they may be preparing to ramp up the attacks.

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Monday, December 18, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT comes a depressing, although not especially surprising, tale of the justice system, such as it is, in Afghanistan: In Afghanistan, money tips the scales of justice.

A key quote:

“This kind of justice system, which is not clean and transparent, threatens the government and democracy.”-Judge Muzafarddin Tajali

Indeed, the justice system is normally the most difficult component in the institutional puzzle of developing states.

The whole piece is worth a read.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT: Pentagon resists pleas for help in Afghan opium fight

While the Pentagon and the Drug Enforcement Administration, or the DEA, have been at odds, poppy cultivation has exploded, increasing by more than half this year. Afghanistan supplies about 92% of the world’s opium, and traffickers reap an estimated $2.3 billion in annual profits.

“It is surprising to me that we have allowed things to get to the point that they have,” said Robert B. Charles, a former top State Department counter-narcotics official. “It we do not act aggressively against the narcotics threat now, all gains made to date will be washed out to sea.”

The bumper crop of opium poppies, much of it from Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, finances the insurgency the U.S. is trying to dismantle.

The DEA’s advocates in Congress argue that the Pentagon could undermine the insurgency by combating the drugs that help finance it. Military officials say they can spare no resources from the task of fighting the Taliban and its allies.

Hmm. It seems like I read something over a year ago about the likelihood of this problem…

None of this should be a surprise. What should also not be a surprise is that members of Congress and the DEA think that there is a simple solution to this problem. Eradicating the crops is not an easy proposition–especially with the ongoing Taliban insurgency.

The current troop levels, further, are not adequate to such a task:

Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said that Afghanistan’s flourishing opium trade is a law enforcement problem, not a military one. It would be “mission creep” if the 21,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan were to turn their attention to opium, and it would also set a precedent for future combat operations, military officials say.

Of course, to say that this is a law enforcement problem, even if accurate, is to say that the situation is lost, because there is no effective state in Afghanistan, certainly not one that can assert control over the territory in question, to say it is a “law enforcement problem” is to say that nothing can be done about it. Also, based on our experiences (mixed results and all) in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia it is clear that crop eradication and interdiction policies are far from just “law enforcement problem[s].”

Now, the degree to which we should follow those models is a whole other debate, but since that is the operative paradigm in US counter-narcotics policy, then the SecDef needs to be honest about what he is saying about the problem.

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Sunday, October 8, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the NYT: NATO Sees Spike in Afghanistan Violence

Taliban militants have launched 78 suicide attacks across Afghanistan this year, killing close to 200 people, NATO said Sunday. Violence has increased sharply across Afghanistan the last several months, and the Taliban has acknowledged adopting the suicide bombings and remote-controlled attacks commonly used by insurgents in Iraq.


‘’There have been more suicide attacks in Afghanistan in 2024 than in the entire history of the country combined,'’ Jones said. ‘’That is one reason that the fatality numbers are so large — the suicide attack.'’

The unfortunate learning curve of insurgents emerges.

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