May 8, 2009

Battling for control of Talibanistan

POLITICS - If you're not familiar with the term "Talibanistan", let me explain.

The United States and allies only captured parts of northern Afghanistan. The Taliban is still in control (after 8 years of fighting) of southern Afghanistan and have been spreading their realm of influence into Pakistan. The area controlled by the Taliban pays taxes to the Taliban, pays their electricity & water bills/etc to the Taliban-controlled utilities.

So as much as we may think we've won that war, its evident we haven't even come close. The Taliban (and Al-Qaeda) are still very much in control of the southern region of Afghanistan. The USA and allies really only control major cities in the south, but within those cities are constantly under attack from roadside bombs and suicide bombers.

Across the Pakistan border, the Taliban have entrenched themselves in order to avoid military sweeps by the USA. Lookouts watch out for American troop movements and then radio (using cellphones) to their allies to warn them to duck and cover. Its essentially a cheap and dirty radar system relying on word of mouth.

Pakistan's army vowed today to eliminate militants from a northwestern valley of Pakistan known as Swat, but warned that its under-equipped troops face thousands of Taliban extremists who have taken control of Pakistani towns, planted improvised bombs made from pressure cookers, and brainwashed children to become suicide bombers in a holy war against the hated Americans. (The village of Swat is one of the rumoured locations of Osama bin Laden.)

The United Nations and Pakistani officials predict 1 million refugees will soon burden the turbulent Afghan border region as people flee the growing conflict between Pakistan and the Taliban. Pakistan officials estimate 250,000 people have already fled the region in the past week. U.N. officials say the numbers may be twice that.

The Taliban's power has only been growing, with their most recent advance placing them within 60 miles of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. That places them within easy striking distance of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, which has caused the United States to become concerned about the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of the Taliban.

There are doubts about the resolve of the Pakistani army and Pakistan's ability to sustain the kind of grinding counterinsurgency warfare needed to defeat extremists whose rhetoric resonates widely in a Muslim nation deeply skeptical of American goals in the region.

Pakistan officials say they need helicopters, surveillance drones and night-vision equipment, which the United States is scrambling to provide.

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