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Canucks in Afghanistan: Tested as Warriors. Passed with Honours.

My, my, how time flies.

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Taliban launched their feared spring offensive in Afghanistan.

"With the arrival of the warm weather, we will make the ground so hot for the invaders it will be unimaginable for them." Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban told Al Jazeera through an intermediary in mid-March.

The mainstream press told us that the Taliban was flush with new recruits, more money, better arms, and leaders trained in the terror tactics of Iraq, including suicide bombings. It looked grim.

The Taliban made no secret of what they planned --- to kill as many NATO troops as possible to put pressure on European and Canadian political leaders to pull their countries out of Afghanistan and stop supporting the U.S.

Dead in their sights were the Canadian forces who were moving into Kandahar province in the south. A Canadian general will command NATO forces when they officially take over the protection of Afghanistan's southern provinces in August.

The Taliban saw Canadians as weaker than the Americans they were replacing, and easier to intimidate.

The joke was on them.

This spring the Canadians were tested as warriors. And passed with honours.

Two months into the vaunted spring offensive, they had sent the Taliban three messages:
· You can't run
· You can't hide, and
· If you stand and fight, you die.

Al-Qaeda was pressuring the Taliban to "capture some ground, particularly in Kandahar, to claim their active presence," said the governor of Kandahar province, Asadullah Khalid, citing Afghan intelligence.

By mid-May, as many as 300 Taliban fighters from three provinces had mobilized for an attack on Kandahar city, the provincial capital and second-largest city in Afghanistan, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope, commander of Canada's Task Force Orion's battle group.

Canadian and Afghan troops began patrolling hills, roads and villages to head them off.

They soon came across the enemy, and the countryside erupted in a series of firefights, ambushes, and hot pursuits lasting more than a week. With UAVs overhead tracking the insurgents and American helicopter gunships and B-1 bombers providing air cover when needed, Coalition forces decimated the Taliban, particularly in the Panjwai district.As you may have guessed, there was no attack on Kandahar city.

In neighbouring Helmand province, where British forces will be based, hundreds more Taliban fighters launched an attack on the village of Musa Qala, the capital of Musa Qala district. Afghan police and soldiers fought them off for eight hours. According to locals, 100 or more insurgents were killed.

The Pathfinders, an elite British unit, about 30 strong, of 16 Air Assault Brigade, pursued the Taliban militants for five days. Whenever they stopped to fight, the Brits called in the airpower.

The last time, the night of May 20-21, the Pathfinders caught the Taliban setting up an ambush near a village called Paysang. They called in French Super Etendard jets based on the Charles de Gualle aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean, to soften up the insurgents. Then Afghan police attacked the Taliban force and the British troops joined in, fighting the first engagement with the Taliban since British force of 3,300 soldiers arrived in Helmand province. American A-10 Warthog aircraft swept over enemy positions with their own devastating firepower.

"We are happy that they are coming to Helmand," Mullah Razayar Noorzai, the senior Taliban commander in Helmand province, said of the British in February. "It is both a trial and a great honour for all Muslims. We will now get a fair chance to kill them."

He's not so happy 90 days later with his forces dead, dying or running for their lives. In fact, he may have become one of the casualties.

By late May, press reports were quoting Mullah Mohammed Kaseem Farouqi , 35, as the (new?) Taliban commander in Helmand Province.

"Our country has been occupied by infidels. The Americans, the British, Canadians and others have destroyed Afghanistan. We are hunting every individual who supports this imposed democracy " he told the London Times via satellite telephone from a secret location in Afghanistan.

The Spring Offensive has been a complete failure. So much so that senior Taliban commanders like Mullah Dadullah have been demoted.

Afghan press sources say the one-eyed head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, has promoted Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani to be key commander of the insurgency. Who?

Haqqani is legendary in Afghanistan. He was a commander of the Mujahadeen who fought against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and was responsible for seizing the first major city, Khost, in 1991 from the communist government.

Word is that Mullah Omar has given him hundreds of young men who trained in Iraq, and has made him commander at large. He was given authority to launch suicide attacks anywhere in Afghanistan.

Haqqani may have already given the Taliban their first propaganda victory.

The provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan are commonly known as the heartland of the Taliban. Mauled and bloodied by the Canadians in Kandahar and the British in Helmand, the insurgency picked an easier target in Uruzgan, where the Dutch will be handling security, but not until August.

Afghan police with Coalition air support killed at least 24 insurgents May 23 in a fierce six-hour gun battle and subsequent clean-up operation in Uruzgan. But this week the insurgents struck back.

Taliban rebels overran the town of Chora and held it for several hours while burning government buildings and cars, exactly the sort of thing that will make it onto a recruiting DVD. But more worrisome is the abduction of 40 policemen.

" The kidnapping of 40 police will be particularly worrying for Afghan police, as sources in Helmand have revealed that Taliban rebels have been dressing as police to carry out well orchestrated executions. The equipment they will have obtained through this latest raid could easily be put to deadly effect." Nasir Ahmad, 19, a police officer in the central police station in Lashkar Gah, told The (London) Times: "It's a big problem. During the night the Taliban are wearing our uniforms and killing government employees."

In Iraq, insurgents wearing stolen government issue uniforms have infiltrated military bases and police recruiting stations and detonated suicide belts, killing scores.

There have been around 35 suicide bombs in Afghanistan, with most of them in the south, including 18 in Kandahar. That's more than double the number in all of 2005. 22 of the suicide bombings have been in the past two months. As often as not, the only causalty was the suicide bomber himself.

The Taliban Spring of 2006 has already passed into history.

This week UPI carried this story about the struggle in Afghanistan:

Analysis: A long hot Afghan summerBy Jason Motlagh May 30, 2006,

And wouldn't you know it, all the evidence of the defeat of the Spring Offensive-the hundreds of fighters killed and captured, the taking of the initiative by Coalition forces, the expansion of NATO soldiers into Taliban-controlled territory, the disruption of plans to take and hold cities--- has become evidence of a resurgent Taliban insurgency.

The street violence that shook the Afghan capital Sunday heralds the tide of unrest and frustration that has swept the southern provinces of the country, where the Taliban is waging its fiercest campaign since being ousted from power five years ago by U.S.-led forces.

More than 300 people have been killed and thousands displaced in the past two weeks as Taliban militants step up the frequency and sophistication of attacks for a summer fighting season that is only expected to intensify.

The Taliban commander in Helmand, Mullah Mohammed Kaseem Farouqi, told Britain`s The Times the London by satellite phone this week: 'My message to (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair and the whole of Britain is, `Do not send your children here. We will kill them.`' He boasted of having 'between 2,500 and 3,000 men (men) fighting at the moment,' with 'thousands more... in their homes waiting for (his) message to fight.'

Sigh. Here we go again.

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