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War in Afghanistan 2007, Week One

With Canada involved in its most sustained military mission since the Korean War more than 50 years ago, we find ourselves wanting more information about the situation in Afghanistan than we're getting from the usual news sources.

We've had to dig out news and analysis from sources throughout the Internet. It got us to thinking. If we have to do it ourselves, we might as well share our information with our readers.

So The Black Rod is aiming to post a weekly update on Afghanistan, the action and analyses. We're hoping to make it a regular Friday feature to coincide with Red Fridays. This will be Week One.

The Action

The Taliban has recognized it can't win a fighting war with NATO, so its changed tactics to fight a media war. Phase One is to offer "proof" that it controls the country and has NATO on the run.

The insurgents tried out this strategy in 2006. It's simple. A force of 50-100 fighters crosses into Afghanistan from Pakistan. It takes over a village for half a day. It burns down a few buildings, maybe kills some police officers, then disappears before the Afghan army shows up. A news release is issued declaring that the Taliban has seized Village X which is reported everywhere.

Sunday, December 31. Insurgent forces attacked Khak-e-Safid in Afghanistan's western Farah province which borders on Pakistan.

Taliban fighters in six pick-up trucks took over the main government compound Sunday evening. Most of the police and army troops stationed in Khak-e-Safid were not in place because of the Muslim Eid holidays. Not that that mattered much. There were only 9 police in the village and only five on duty when the Taliban attacked.

The raiders burned down a wheat storage depot, captured and later murdered the police chief, and fled with mortars, a government pick-up truck and a machine gun before a battalion of army reinforcements arrived Monday morning.

On Tuesday, Jan. 2, Taliban forces announced they had captured the Washir district of Helmand province with little resistance from government troops. They were in full control "till Wednesday morning," according to Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf (also spelled Qari Mohammed Yusuf).

The Taliban brags that it controls much of southern Afghanistan, but that "control" is often more like the boxer who delivers a fierce beating to his opponent's fist with his chin.

On Monday, Jan. 1 a joint NATO-Afghan clean-up operation in the Kajaki district of Helmand province, which is next door to Kandahar province where Canadian forces are stationed, killed 11 insurgents, including "local commander" Mullah Maroof, according to provincial police chief Mohammad Nabi Mullahkhil. Dad Mohammad Rasa, an interior ministry spokesman, said Maroof was a senior commander who directed Taliban forces in the district. Two Taliban pick-up trucks were destroyed. An interior ministry spokesman said 3 wounded Taliban were taken into custody.

Then, two days later, Taliban fighters ambushed a patrol in Kajaki. NATO and Afghan forces fought a three-hour ground battle with the militants, killing 15 of them in the mountains. A group commander, Mullah Azizullah, was among the dead. Azizullah was a deputy to Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, according to chief of police of Helmand province, Mohammad Nabi Mullahkhail.

Osmani, once named to succeed Taliban leader Muhammad Omar if he died, was killed by a NATO air strike in December. Was Azizullah just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or has Coalition intelligence gotten so good that we're closing in on the Taliban leadership?

Also on Friday in Helmand, three Taliban blew themselves up when the explosives they were planting went off accidentally. The joke, as they say, was on them.

The situation in Kandahar, meanwhile, leaves us shaking our heads.

The Canadian military has declared Operation Baaz Tsuka a success. NATO forces entered villages where there had been no Afghan government presence before, brought promises of humanitarian aid, and began the installation of Afghan National Police (ANP) or Afghan National Auxialliary Police (ANAP) in those communities to thwart Taliban influence.

The plan is to have 1300 auxilliary police deployed in Kandahar province. There are currently 800 in place, with more being trained.During the campaign, military intelligence estimated up to 700 Taliban fighters were boxed into a 10 square mile pocket by Coalition troops during December's Operation Baaz Tsuka (Falcon's Summit, in English, or Bazooka, in phonetics).

Not only did NATO forces not engage the enemy...
Not only are NATO commanders seemingly happy that there was no fighting with Taliban insurgents...
But now Canada's top commander, Brigadier General Tim Grant is spinning fairy tales about the success of the campaign.

There is "significant evidence" that "low level Taliban have simply put down their weapons and run away", he told reporters Tuesday.

Uh, that's called guerilla warfare, General.
Hide the gun, pick up the hoe, smile, then shoot the soldier in the back tomorrow.
"Hardline" Taliban may have fled to Pakistan, said Brig.-Gen. Grant. Or maybe not.
Whistling past the graveyard is a very bad military strategy.

Taliban forces smuggled a million rounds of ammunition into Kandahar before Operation Medusa last summer. They used 400,000 against Canadian troops. Are they using the new Dutch-made strategy of appeasement to re-stock? We'll know next spring.

A squad of Afghan troops, with Canadian advisors, was attacked in Kandahar Friday as they went from compound to compound looking for Taliban during the final stage of Operation Baaz Tsuka. Local residents knew the Taliban were in the area and demonstrated by driving away from the area in a long line of vehicles. Somehow, despite General Grant's make-love-not-war philosophy, they forgot to warn the Canadians of the impending ambush. Damn.

The Canadian members of OMLT (Operational Mentoring Liason Team) called for air support and an American F-16 showed up, scaring off the Taliban fighters and ending the barrage of mortars and RPG's. But an air strike was called off because there were civilians in the area.

Let's see. Don't use your best weapon. Pretend the enemy has gone away. Be nice.

Yep, that's how you win.
Oh wait. No it isn't. That's how you get killed in a war zone.

About 15-20 Taliban insurgents were involved in Friday's attack. They all got away to fight again. But no Canadian troops got hurt. That's what's called success according to the new rules of engagement.


Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has surfaced to give his first interview in five years. He says he hasn't spoken to Osama Bin Laden since the Americans drove the Taliban from power.

"I have neither seen him nor have made any effort to do so, but I pray for his health and safety," he said. But the Taliban and Al Qaeda fight for the same goals, he said. World domination for Muslim fundamentalism.

Omar's reappearance is no coincidence.

His best pal, Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, got blown up real good by a Coalition plane during the first phase of Operation Baaz Tsuka. Osmani controlled Taliban forces in Kandahar and Helmand provinces and you can bet his killing shook up the troops pretty badly. Omar had to go public to reassure them that the revolution was on track.

The most interesting part of his interview (by e-mail, long-distance; satellite phones are a sure-fire death trap) concerned his defence of schooling for girls.
"Girls schools were either too few or were nonexistent before we took over," he said. "We were preparing a strategy for girls' education in accordance with the Sharia."

The mere fact he's claiming that the Taliban planned schools for girls shows that education is a fault line in the battle for the allegiance of Afghan citizens. And the Taliban knows its losing on the issue.

Even more intriguing is the appearance of senior Taliban military commander Mullah Dadallah at an al Qaeda base in Afghanistan last month just as Operation Baaz Tsuka was underway. Video footage of his visit was posted on the Internet Dec. 28, 2006. Was he the real target of the air strike that killed Osmani? An Afghan intelligence source said last week that Osmani was killed five minutes after he left a meeting with Mullah Dadullah.

Look Ahead/ Look Behind

The news agency Pajhwok Afghan News collected statistics of suicide attacks in Afghanistan.

By their count, there were 131 suicide attacks in 2006 compared to 22 in 2005 and none in 2004.Kandahar province had the most, with 51.

The southeastern province of Khost was second with 22 and Kabul was third with 12. Their survey showed that 1,166 people were killed or injured by suicide bombers (including the bombers, themselves).

The dead included 81 civilians (not counting the bombers), 12 NATO soldiers, and 45 Afghan police and army members.

The wounded were 732 civilians, 63 foreign soldiers, and 101 Afghan police or troops.American officials said they counted 142 suicide attacks, eleven more than the news agency.

According to U.S. sources, 15 NATO troops were killed (three more than in the Pasjwok Afghan News survey) and 92 wounded.

The highest government official to be killed by a suicide bomber was the governor of Paktia province, in the southeast of the country.

The largest casualties were caused by a car bomb in a market in the Canadian controlled Panjwayi district in August (21 civilians), a car bombing near the U.S. embassy in Kabul in September (18 dead including two soldiers) and an individual bomber who blew himself up at the gate of the interior ministry in heart of the capital (13 dead) the same month.

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