The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007 Week 12

So who knew?

British forces in Afghanistan fighting their way into the Taliban controlled town of Sangin called in an airstrike by Harrier jets using rockets made here in Winnipeg by Bristol Aerospace to destroy the main building in a compound where insurgents were gathering.

Finally. The clouds have parted and we can see what's going on down below on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

And what we see is that the British are bitchslapping the Taliban in Mullah Dadullah's backyard.

The British-led Operation Achilles achieved a major goal this week with the rout of Taliban forces from Sangin and district. This clears another swatch of Helmand province and paves the way for what may be the most important reconstruction project in Afghanistan, the Kajaki Dam which promises to bring electricity to 2 million people.

The taking of Sangin caps the month-old Operation Achilles which has been under a virtual news blackout since it started March 6. The details of the assault on Sangin, code-named Operation Silver, have been compiled from a variety of British, Canadian and American news sources:

The thundering blasts of British artillery late Wednesday night marked the start of what senior officers said was the biggest Royal Marine raid since the Falklands war.

As the guns fired, U.S. paratroops from the 82nd Airborne were dropped into Helmand Sangin valley under cover of darkness. Intelligence reports warned there were up to 350 Taliban in the area with advanced munitions. The warnings included concerns of reinforcement by 120 fighters from the north.

Eventually, British and U.S. Apache, Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters ferried hundreds of multinational troops into the area.

"This air assault itself was completed in a four-hour period. It was one of the largest ever conducted by (the International Security Assistance Force)," said Lt.-Col. Dan Huggins of the U.S. air force. Operation Silver was made up of an international force 1000-strong.

The spearpoint, an armoured column of 250 Royal Marines roared into Sangin in a 33-vehicle convoy travelling at 35 mph down the main highway from the north. Lima Company of 42 Commando under Major Gill Duncan, Royal Marines from 42 Commando were part of the initial assault which included the Estonian armoured infantry company, and Danish recce squadron, all part of the UK task force.

"It was a risk on a route we had never travelled before," said Col Matthew Holmes, commander of 42 Commando . "They wouldn't expect us to jump straight in on the road from the north. They would expect the US forces to lead the attack from the south. It was an opportunity to go for it, and fortune favours the brave."

At 3.30am the convoy hit the town right behind a missile strike from an Apache helicopter which destroyed a Taliban checkpoint before the convoy reached it.

Twenty minutes after they arrived and in the first light of dawn, the Marines began to sweep the area. They were backed up by Apache helicopters, Harriers and US F-15 and F-18 bombers, while artillery support was available from outside the town. Daylight saw a Canadian 155 howitzer airlifted into the fight.

An Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle dropped a guided bomb unit-38 on a building where insurgents had retreated after firing rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at coalition forces. A JTAC confirmed the building was destroyed. U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets dropped GBU-12s on an insurgent compound near Sangin. At one point a Harrier jet dropped a 1,000lb bomb.

Other F/A-18s conducted surveillance and reconnaissance for suspicious personnel. The F/A-18s reported a parked car, motorcycles and approximately six people. A JTAC directed the F/A-18s to drop a GBU-38 on the insurgents in the open. The weapon was confirmed a direct hit.

Reporter Tom Coghlan wrote "The Marines and assault engineers carried "mouse hole" charges to blast holes in thick mud walls, and mines to collapse Taliban tunnel systems.Marines with heat-seeking sights scanned roof tops for rebels moving to attack. The air was filled with the disorientating thump of explosive charges followed by sprays of machine gun fire as the Marines moved through the warren of buildings, blasting holes in walls and firing into the rooms beyond."

In the early stages, resistance was sporadic. Taskforce spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo said radio, letters and word of mouth had been used to warn locals before the battle started. "We asked the people of Sangin just to stay away from the fighting so that we could defeat the Taliban quickly."

The coalition troops suffered a small number of minor casualties. There were no reported civilian casualties.

The overall commander of the 3rd Commando Brigade, Brigadier Jerry Thomas, said the sudden attack sought to prevent a build up of Taliban reinforcements. "We were looking for shock action to overload the enemy command structure. Our intelligence suggests they went into complete paralysis today."

By noon the Marines had achieved their objectives. Nato forces hope to hand the territory gained to Afghan forces within the next few days.

The multinational forces uncovered a large weapons cache as Taliban fighters fled the area. It included machine guns, mortars, grenade launchers, anti-tank mines and bomb-making equipment and up to 20,000 small rounds, said Squadron Leader Dave March, a British military spokesman.

The ferocity of the assault took the insurgents completely by surprise and, despite mounting a weak counter-attack, they could not stop the Royal Marines from linking up with American troops from the 82nd Airborne Division from the south.

Troops of the Royal Canadian Regiment battle group moved west to support the British and Afghan units in Sangin. Maj. Alex Ruff, commander of the Canadian armoured task force, says his troops are being held in reserve.

An artillery troop armed with howitzers and mortars moved across the border from Maywand district in Kandahar province to take up a position south of Sangin.
"That troop will provide additional fire support for the ongoing operations," said Lt.-Col. Robert Walker, commander of the 2 Royal Canadian Regiment battle group out of CFB Gagetown, N.B.

Royal Marines set up blocking positions Thursday to prevent the Taliban reinforcing their fighters.

On Friday, a Canadian combat team in Leopard tanks and LAV-3 armoured vehicles herded a huge column of trucks and Humvees stretching back kilometres through Helmand province. The convoy of Afghan and American troops and tonnes of supplies, including vulnerable fuel and munitions trucks and tractor-trailers carrying heavy construction gear, was heading to the Sangin Valley -- where coalition forces and insurgents are still fighting.

"I've never seen a military convoy that big before," said Sgt. Maj. Wayne O'Toole who just marked his 30th year in the Canadian military.

The main body of the convoy is an Afghan National Army infantry battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Maria Carl, spokeswoman for the NATO-led international Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said ISAF was moving 500 Afghan security personnel to the south to intensify the push to flush out the Taleban from northern parts of Helmand.

Although they spotted a few mines along the road, none of them exploded and the convoy was safely handed off to an Estonian battle group for the final 10-kilometre push to the Sangin District Centre.

On Saturday, ISAF regional commander south, Major General Ton van Loon, visited troops in the centre of Sangin as the forces were still engaging the militants. Colonel Angela Billings, an ISAF spokesperson said the joint forces engaged the militants six times since the start of the operation to retake the town, and their bases received several mortar attacks but no casualties were caused among the soldiers.

The Taliban fighters are believed to have fled to the north towards Musa Qala, the village captured by Taliban forces at the beginning of February and held by them ever since. NATO has held off taking the village by force while the Afghan central government tried to negotiate with the Taliban to leave peacefully.

But it looks now like the British will be re-visiting Musa Qala very soon. They cannot let that village remain in Taliban control to threaten the Kajaki Dam project. Already the Danish Formation Recce Squadron, has reconnoitred the the area of Shir Gazay, between Sangin and Musa Qala. A British forces spokesman said "the Danes had pushed forward and drawn fire from 4 Taliban Firing Points, which they'd then engaged, calling in some aggressive fire support from the AH Apaches and guns of 29 Cdo Royal Artillery. Moving on through the town they'd surprisingly not encountered any further resistance, allowing them freedom of movement to patrol and gather information before heading south back towards (Forward Operating Base) Bastion."

All in all, the British Spring Offensive in Helmand has stolen the thunder from Mullah Dadullah, whose Feared Taliban Spring Offensive can't find any traction.

On Tuesday, Afghan and coalition forces killed more than 10 suspected Taliban militants and arrested two others in a raid in Helmand. What's more interesting is that the firefight in the Sagin district was triggered by a raid after the joint forces received "credible information" regarding the whereabouts of a Taliban sub-commander with direct ties to Mullah Dadullah.

Tuesday's military statement did not say if the targeted sub- commander was among the two arrested, but Taliban fighters ambushed the force returning from the raid. Do you think they wre trying to free somebody in custody? In any event, the coalition forces fought off the ambush, killing some Taliban fightes and destroying an arms caches.

Dadullah claimed in a broadcast on private Tolo TV last week that he had thousands of Taliban fighters in Helmand province to wage war on the British. Note how the mainstream media no longer talks about those 10 thousand fighters and 2000 suicide bombers champing at the bit to launch the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive.

On the very day the Brits moved on Sangin, war drums (literally, not figuratively) were being beaten in the tribal regions of Pakistan to announce a jihad against the Uzbeks who had settled there. The internecine fighting between Taliban supporters has taken the lives of well over 200 fighters so far. The call to jihad means many more of the fighters Mullah Dadullah was counting on will be busy killing each other instead of attacking NATO forces.

The Uzbeks are Al-Qaeda supporters who have worn out their welcome. And wouldn't you know it, there's a Canadian connection to all this. It seems the tipping point came when the Uzbeks killed a widely respected Saudi, Sheikh Asadullah, on March 13. It seems that Asadullah had succeeded Ahmad Saeed Abdur Rehman Khaddar Al Canadi (aka the patriarch from Canada's infamous Kadr family) who had been the moneybags of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in the tribal belt.

Dadullah has reacted to seeing his army dismantled by attacking the defenceless, the innocent and the weak.

Adjmal Nasqhbandi, the Afghan interpreter and fixer who was captured along with for "La Repubblica" correspondent Daniele Mastrogiacomo on March 5, was murdered on Dadullah's command. Mastrogiacomo was released March 19 after five arrested Taliban fighters, including Dadullah's brother, were freed by Kabul. His driver Sayed Agha was beheaded, as was Nasqhbandi.Tom Coghlan, of the London-based "Daily Telegraph" newspaper (quoted earlier), had used Agha's services as a fixer and had this observation of Dadullah on learning of his friend's death

"Mullah Dadullah Akhund is the best known and most feared Taliban commander operating in the south. He has been compared to the Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi for his extremist beliefs, psychopathic savagery and love of self-promotion. It is a measure of Dadullah's character that Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, sacked him as commander of Taliban forces in Bamiyan in 1998 because his behaviour towards the Shia Muslim Hazara people of the region, whom Dadullah considered heretics, was too brutal even for Omar's tastes."

Taliban forces are still holding two French aid workers kidnapped Wedneday along with three Afghan colleagues in the western province of Nimroz. The French nationals, identified by Jihad Unspun, a pro-Taliban website, as a man called Eric and a woman called Salma, are employees of an NGO called Terre D'Enfance or Children's Land. The three Afghans included their interpreter, driver and another colleague.

"The Italian prime minister called me several times and asked for cooperation from our side," Karzai said. "The Italian government was facing collapse," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told AP. "For [the sake] of all the help from the Italian people, even though we knew what this action will cause, we had to do it."

NATO, Afghan and EU lawmakers criticized the prisoner swap that secured Mastrogiacomo's release saying it would encourage more kidnappings. Karzai has ruled out another swap to secure the freedom of the two French aid workers and their Afghan colleagues.

Six Afghans working with a de-mining organization, Ranco, were killed and two wounded when Taliban forces ambushed a convoy of three vehicles. The convoy was traveling on the highway from Kandahar to western province of Herat. The insurgents opened fire from the rooftops of houses in the area. Guards returned fire and one woman caught in the crossfire was killed. Two of those wounded also worked for the company and two others were women caught in the clash.

Two Afghan civilians working for NATO were shot dead and another injured by gunmen near a school in Khost province, NATO said.

A truck driver hauling fuel for ISAF forces was killed and another wounded in southern Ghazni province, ISAF said in separate press releases.Taliban insurgents attacked a road construction camp Thursday night and killed five guards in Zabul province of southern Afghanistan. The camp was between the provincial capital Qalat and Mizan district on Thursday night .

Attacks like these are intended to demoralize the public and undermine the central government. But murder has its limits. An example is what happened in western Afghanistan recently.

On March 24th, in Farah province, some Taliban gunmen attacked a group of Afghan and Indian engineers who were examining a dam which needed some work. Hearing gunshots, over a hundred armed men rushed from a nearby village and attacked the Taliban, killing three and driving the rest away. The villagers understood that the engineering team meant economic progress and jobs.

And then there's this story from today's newswires:

Elders defy Taliban ban on schooling
Source: Pajhwak Afghan News Agency
By Sher Ahmad Haidar
GHAZNI CITY, Apr 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Hundreds of elders in Andar district of the southern Ghazni province gathered to defy the Taliban threats of stopping people from sending their children to schools. The meeting was held on Thursday, during which the elders announced their support for opening of schools in the district.
Taliban, in the lawless Anadar district, had warned people against sending their children to schools a few days back. Andar chief Abdul Rahim Desiwal told Pajhwok around 600 elders and influential attended the gathering. The participants unanimously voiced support for opening of schools and sending of children to educational institutions, said the district chief. An elder Anayatullah said Taliban should not create hindrances in the way of education. His call to the Taliban was joined by a teacher Juma Khan, who said seeking of knowledge is compulsory in Islam.
Secretary of the Ghazni provincial council Ustad Habibur Rahman told Pajhwok the elders had started negotiations with the Taliban regarding the reopening of schools. Earlier, Taliban had said they did not agree with the curriculum introduced by the government and wanted to teach their own curriculum at the schools.

We said way back, was it in Week One?, that education would be the wedge issue that defeated the Taliban.Dadullah continues to send out suicide bombers whose main victims continue to be Afghan civilians.

On Sunday a suicide bomber rammed his car into a military convoy patrolling Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. He died. No one else did. One American soldier suffered a minor injury and has returned to duty.

Two days earlier, a suicide bomber killed six people dead and four wounded in Kabul. He was driving the road to Afghanistan's Parliament when a policeman at a checkpoint tried to stop him. The policeman was one of those killed when the bomber detonated his explosives. But the relevant fact is that the suicide bomber failed in his attack. The checkpoint worked as it was designed. This escapes the Taliban who continue to send deluded fanatics to kill indiscriminately.

The mainstream press salivates when civilian deaths can be blamed on NATO forces, yet can never get worked up to condemn Taliban suicide bombers. That's why you've never read anything about this protest in March.

Afghans protest against suicide attacks
KABUL, March 3 (Xinhua) -- More than 2,000 Afghans in a gathering held in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province termed suicide bombing as against Islamic law and denounced it, said a statement of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) released on Saturday. Over 2,000 Afghan citizens, led by tribal elders and local officials, gathered at Khost Stadium on Thursday to demonstrate their opposition to suicide attacks. Addressed by Khost governor Arsala Jamal, tribal chieftains and religious leaders, the speakers condemned suicide bombings and announced their support to government. The rally is taking place amid increase in suicide attacks and Taliban's vow to intensify activities in this spring. Suicide attacks and bombings have claimed the lives of over two dozen people mostly civilians and injured more than 60 others over the past one week.
"The citizens of Khost province support the legitimate, democratically elected Government of Afghanistan. They know that the only way to reconstruction and economic development is through peacefully rebuilding their country," the statement said. Taliban-led insurgency and violence has left over 400 people, mostly insurgents, according to officials this year in Afghanistan.

Mullah Dadullah's suicide bomb offensive has been running into as many roadblocks as his Feared Taliban Spring Offensive.

On Monday we learned that Afghan intelligence officers arrested 3 Pakistanis and one Afghan man in eastern Nangarhar province, alleging they were preparing suicide attacks inside Afghanistan. The four were carrying 290 pounds of explosives, 12 fuses and an AK-47 assault rifle. They were detained the previous Thursday, shortly after crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

And police raided a suicide school in remote western Afghanistan this week. They arrested 22 people, alleging the madrassa was involved in organising Taliban suicide attacks. The school was in the western province of Farah which last month saw several suicide blasts.

A Taliban commander named Mullah Hayatullah was allegedly using the madrassa to indocrinate students to become suicide bombers.

As always, there's so much more, but we'll leave with this: something interesting is happening in Kunar province, especially near Asmar village.

A week ago, French Air Force Mirages flew "show of force" flights for coalition forces near Asmar. This past week French Mirage 2000s and an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle launched a coordinated strike launching guided bombs on a cave entrance where Taliban insurgents were spotted.

Same week, Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle pilots tipped coaliton forces to about 40 insurgents positioned to ambush them. And just this weekend, near Asadabad, Kunar, U.S. B-1B bombers "provided overwatch for an air assault taking place."
What's so interesting? We remember this story not so long ago....and wonder if there is a connection.

Media Release
Sept.28, 2006
Brushing aside a French intelligence report that Osama bin Laden has died of typhoid, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf says intelligence input suggests the al-Qaeda leader is hiding in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, possibly with the help of an Afghan warlord.
Interviewed by The Times in New York, Musharraf said he believed that bin Laden was in Afghanistan, and suggested a possible link with the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. "It's not a hunch. Kunar province borders on Bajaur Agency. We know there are some pockets of al-Qaeda in Bajaur Agency. We have set a good intelligence organization. We have moved some army elements. We did strike them twice there. We located and killed a number of them," he said in the interview published today. "In Kunar province it is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is operating," Musharraf said, observing "there must be some linkages."
The Pakistani leader shrugged off a leaked French intelligence report suggesting that bin Laden may have died from typhoid sometime between August 23 and September 4 while hiding in Pakistan.

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