Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Encircling Kabul, Taliban Gaining Ground
Today's coordinated Taliban attacks inside Kabul, and the length of time it took to eliminate the perpetrators, is an important indication of two things: the growing strength of the Taliban, and the rapid decay of the Karzai government.

It is no secret that the rampant corruption, tolerance for many years now of abusive (and extremist) warlord governors and lack of focus by the outside world have worn out the civilian population and convinced many that democracy holds few benefits.

The Taliban, in response, has been following two tracks: using drug money to recreate themselves from a defeated force immediately after 9/11 to a force controlling much of the country-and now able to carry out attacks in the heart of the capital, the last government stronghold; and spreading terror among the population, knowing the government cannot protect them.

The attacks are important for several reasons: it shows the Taliban has good intelligence within Kabul, as well as an infrastructure of safe houses and access routes for combatants. It shows the ability to select specific targets and coordinate several different groups.

By targeting the Justice ministry, the Education ministry and prisons, the Taliban have shown their priorities. Anything resembling a modern educational system is an anathema, particularly the education of women or girls. If the justice system remains crippled, there is no hope of building a system under the rule of law. And the jails house Taliban combatants that are valuable when let free.

Those of us who have lived through serious guerrilla offensives in nation's capitals (mine was San Salvador 1989) know the huge psychological impact these types of attacks have. They both demoralize the government and citizens, while reinforcing the insurgent's view that they are on the cusp of victory.

The third element, which the Obama administration is clearly wrestling with, is the fact that the Taliban is not an Afghan force, but a multi-national force that enjoys extraterritorial support from neighboring states. Any study of insurgencies and counterinsurgency shows the vital role these types of extraterritorial state support are to an insurgency's success.

One cannot pretend Pakistan is not a major player, or that the border itself is not a major area of concern. The traditional notions of sovereignty, which states embrace, have little or no meaning for non-state actors except as tools to use for their cause. Pakistan offers refuge and resupply lines. Other border areas offer access to drug pipelines, and still others offer access to the weapons supply chains.

The Taliban cannot be understood as a single actor acting within a single state. It is multi-level actor, with criminal, political and religious aspects, all of reach far beyond the borders of Afghanistan.

Karzai has allowed corruption to the highest levels. Nothing makes a government less defensible by its own people than betraying so completely the trust of a desperate population already brutalized by years of war. It may be too late to save it from itself.
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