The War in Afghanistan 2007 Week Six
Without firing a shot at a single NATO soldier, the Taliban have achieved their biggest propaganda success in two years.
An estimated 200 insurgents have now controlled the village of Musa Qala in Helmand province for 11 days. Last year they managed to take a village here and there and "hold" it for a couple or three days before Afghan government forces could muster to head out and confront the enemy.
But 11 days and counting is an unprecedented victory being touted in Taliban propaganda everywhere in advance of the traditional Spring Offensive.
And more and more it's looking like the Taliban commanders outfoxed NATO generals badly. Is it coincidence that the takeover of Musa Qala happened just as Canadian forces were being redeployed and just before the arrival of 1000 Polish troops coming to bolster NATO forces?
Coalition forces have responded to the takeover of Musa Qala with barrages---of pamphlets.
One barrage was a pamphlet telling the Taliban to leave. Since they're on a mission to fight and die, this had no effect whatsoever. The next was a pamphlet telling the residents to leave. About 1000 people, half the village, have gone.
An air strike on a green Corolla last Sunday, one week ago, killed the Taliban commander behind the capture of Musa Qala and about 15 of his fighters. Since then --- nada.
NATO officers have promised a "strategic" assault to remove Taliban fighters. British forces are believed to be tasked with leading the attack, but they lack the tanks and armoured vehicles that the Canadians have, which means we could be on the front line again.The insurgents have had almost two weeks to prepare their defences. Can anyone spell Fallujah?
NATO generals may be hesitant to engage because they think this is a feint, designed to engage coalition forces while Taliban fighters slip into Afghanistan from Pakistan to launch the Spring Offensive. The Canadians rotating into Afghanistan won't all be in-theatre until the end of February. The Polish troops will arrive sometime this month. Putting your greenest troops in the front lines, seems a losing proposition.
What's clear as crystal is that the idea of peace deals with the Taliban has been a debacle and will not be repeated.
Brits in the thick
The British, who cast the Musa Qala peace deal, have been in the thick of fighting this week in the Kajaki district of Helmand, the province where the Brits are based.
On Monday they announced they had destroyed a Taliban base of 25 compounds, clearing the area so that repairs to the vital Kajaki Dam can finally be restarted. But just how tought it's going to be to keep the area clear was demonstrated at the end of the week. Thursday the British killed 10 Taliban, capturing a trove of weapons and ammunition. And on Friday, they killed another 11.
Poppy eradication starts
Elsewhere in Helmand, British forces are gearing up for an epic battle against drug traffickers and their Taliban allies.
A poppy eradication campaign was to begin Saturday and the Taliban announced they were throwing all their might into stopping it. The British hope to destroy 22,000 hectares of poppies, about a third of the 69,000 planted last year. In a policy of separataing "the greedy from the needy" the British are targetting the poppies along the fertile Helmand river where farmers have the option of growing other crops.
NATO's new boss
Four-star U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill took over command of NATO forces last Sunday and it looks like he's already sending a message there's a new sheriff in town. Coalition forces announced today that mortar fire from Pakistan into the eastern provinces of Afghanistan will be met with artillery. The ball is in Pakistan's court to stop the insurgents.
And there's been an intriguing shift in what NATO sees as the objectives of the Taliban offensive. For months we've heard that the insurgency will concentrate on isolating Kandahar province, where Canadian forces are stationed, before launching an attack to take the capital Kandahar City. They tried that in 2006 but were crushed and scattered. Now we've noticed that NATO officers are saying the fighting in spring and summer will be centred on Helmand province. Is this a product of new intelligence or a sign that the Taliban sees the British easier targets?
A Taliban spokesman declared they are 80 percent prepared for a bloody spring offensive and that they have 2000 suicide bombers ready to launch.
He failed to mention that the last Taliban spokesman who said almost exactly the same thing last spring is now a prisoner of the government he tried to overthrow.
Back to Terror
We may be reading too much into this, but for all the cheap talk about fighting NATO, the Taliban appears to be reverting to pure terror tactics---assassinations, booby traps, and suicide bombings.
And Kandahar was the target of most of the attacks this week
* Last Sunday gunmen on motorbikes in Kandahar City killed two--- a provincial religious council leader and the caretaker of a major shrine--- as they walked through a bazaar.
* Wednesday two private security guards were killed in Kandahar City when a parked motorcycle packed with explosives blew up as they passed.
* The same day in the Zahre district a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint as a convoy headed to Helmand passed. Three policemen were killed.
* Saturday a suicide bomber in a van attacked a convoy in Kandahar City, but blew himself up prematurely. Four more policemen were killed Friday in an ambush in Panjwayi district of Kandahar.
Even as this mayhem was going on, a "massive" development campaign has started in Panjwayi.
The Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development said this week that work has begun on 16 of an expected 50 projects. Elsewhere, four envoys of a national reconciliation program were kidnapped a week ago on their way from Uruzgan to Kandahar. Their fate is unknown.
And the Afghan government warned South Korea that the Taliban has threatened to kidnap S. Koreans working on aid projects to trade them for a top leader arrested a year ago.
This apparent switch to terror tactics may be a reflection of the difficulty the Taliban has had in recruiting new fighters and suicide bombers in the regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.
Interviews with Taliban-supporting villagers by British newspapers have shown a frustration at losing so many young men and boys to the insurgency. Hundreds have been enticed to join the jihad, but with few returning alive, parents are growing reluctant to see their sons leave on one-way trips.
In Afghanistan, the terror tactics may be backfiring on the insurgents. Village elders are tipping off government officials about insurgent operatives. Coalition forces made a few good catches this week which promise to provide strong intelligence leads.
* Wednesday, two Al Qaeda men were among six men arrested in the eastern Nangarhar province thanks to a tip. One man was shot and killed in the raid. Coalition forces were looking for a known Al Qaeda courier known to pass correspondence for al-Qaida senior leaders. Hmmm.
*The same day, in Kandahar City, Afghan forces arrested eight men who confessed to killing police and several religious clerics.
* And Thursday, village elders lead Afghan and U.S. forces to two terrorists in Paktika province who acted as facilitators for foreign fighers and suicide bombers in Paktika and neighbouring Khost province.