The War in Afghanistan 2007 Week 13
Week 13 was unlucky for Canadian forces in Afghanistan.
Eight Canadian soldiers were killed in two incidents, the country's worst single week of combat deaths in 50 years.
But overall, enemy forces proved ineffective whenever they abandoned terror tactics and tried to tackle Afghan and coalition forces head on. Taliban fighters continued to press British forces in Helmand province. Six weeks of Operation Achilles has failed to drive insurgents out of the Sangin valley, although they are getting the worst of every encounter.
The "new military" is in love with pamphlets. Prior to each stage of the British-led Operation Achilles, NATO aircraft dropped pamphlets warning Taliban fighters of the coming of coaliton and Afghan forces to their village.
Needless to say, when British arrived, the insurgents had left, except for the odd die-hard jihadists who stayed to fight and die and collect their virgins in Muslim heaven. Now, those insurgents who left are coming back to lay seige to the British in Sangin.
That's why the daily airpower summaries contain reference after reference to airstrikes "near Sangin", in the treeline, in caves, in compounds, etc. Most deflating are the accounts of continued Taliban attacks near the Kajaki Dam. The prime goal of Operation Achilles was to clear the area around Kajaki Dam to allow reconstruction work to begin on what is arguably the most important single project in the Afghan rebuilding mission.
The bright side is that the Taliban who engage in harassing attacks around Sangin are being whittled down surely and soundly.
In late February, Al Jazeera reporter James Bays wrote gloatingly that the Taliban were "in effective control" of Helmand province, where British forces are stationed.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2007
Taliban 'in control' in Helmand
By James Bays, Helmand province, Afghanistan
The group operates not only in rural areas but also towns such as Sangin.We filmed along the main street, past the shopping bazaar.
There were Taliban fighters - with weapons - everywhere, and no sign of Nato or Afghan forces.
We filmed from a car, occupied by heavily armed Taliban fighters, yet the vehicle drove straight past the compound housing the British troops based in the town.
The Taliban fighters claim the British are too scared to even leave their base.
The sound of aircraft can be heard - but the fighters are not afraid - they dismissively call the planes "Bush's kites".
And they claim soon they will soon be using a new anti-aircraft weapons.
One fighter said: "We are not scared of their aircraft - God is with us. We are not scared of anything."
That was then. Today, British troops have driven Taliban fighters out of Sangin proper and are harassing them in turn throughout northern Helmand. And Taliban fighters have a new appreciation of "Bush's kites."
Early last week six Taliban in a vehicle attacked an Afghan army truck with RPG's shortly before nightfall. They drove away, no doubt celebrating their strike. What they didn't know was that a Predator UAV was following them every foot of the way. The aircraft watched them drive several kilometres out of Sangin. A Hellfire missile fired from the Predator killed all six insurgents.
The same day, French Navy Super Etendard aircraft dropped 250-pound bombs on a number of vehicles hidden in the treeline. And insurgents firing mortars at Kajaki Dam had their fun interrupted by some guided one-ton bombs.
Next day, four Taliban ambushed some ANA and coaliton troops northeast of Sangin. Aircraft swooped down as they tried to escape and killed all four. Five fighters attacked ANA and coalition forces with mortars in the Bermel district of Paktika province; the good guys returned mortar fire and an airstrike killed two Taliban and wounded the other three.
And so it went, day after day. Saturday, a Harrier jump jet followed insurgents to a cave near Sangin and put a 540-pound airburst bomb in their laps. Thursday, a civilian helicopter made a forced landing in Ghazni province when it developed engine problems. Three Taliban fighters tried to attack the five contractors and pilot aboard, only to be killed when coalition aircraft arrived. Tuesday, an airstrike near Sangin killed a Taliban supply driver who was delivering ammunition to insurgents. Friday, an airstrike destroyed an observation post overlooking British forces in Helmand; six Taliban were killed.
Enemy forces turned their inability to challenge NATO forces into attacks on softer targets. A week ago Sunday they killed two drivers of fuel trucks headed to a coaliton base in Ghazni. And killers on motorcycles murdered two Afghans driving to work at FOB Salerno in Khost province. A group of Taliban engaged security guards in Paktika province Monday in a four-hour gunfight; killing two. A mortar attack on coalition forces in Uruzgan province, severely wounded a local woman who suffered shrapnel to her chest and abdomen.
And the suicide bomb offensive continued, killing more innocent civilians. Monday a suicide bomber attacked a patrol in Nangarhar province, killing only himself. On Wedneday an attack on a military convoy in Kandahar province left eight civilians dead. On Sunday also in Kandahar a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed four Afghans guarding a road construction crew. And three men with explosive strapped to their bodies blew themselves up in Ghazni province on Friday, although we don't know whether to count this as a single attack or three attacks.
The slaughter of innocents is a hallmark of the Taliban summer offensive.
This Monday, Human Rights Watch released a tally from nongovernmental organizations and the media showing that insurgents killed 669 civilians in 2006.
Bombings killed 492 civilians and another 177 died in ambushes and cold-blooded executions.
Following the crushing defeat of Summer Offensive 2006 on the shoals of the Canadian-led Operation Medusa, the leadership of the Taliban reverted to Mullah Dadullah, of whom we've written about many times before in this series.
Dadullah concedes he cannot defeat NATO in Afghanistan by force of arms.
"Our resources against the infidels are limited, because all the infidels have united and are dedicating to destroying the Muslims and using all their advanced technologies against Islam." he was quoted last week on England's Channel 4 News.
In response, he's putting all his hopes on a campaign of suicide bombing to bring Afghanistan into chaos to mirror Iraq.
Defeatists like Canada's NDP and Liberal parties can't grasp how this nihilistic philosophy is central to NATO's mission in Afghanistan.
Dadullah's key ally, Baitullah Mehsud, the chief commander of the Taliban in the South Wazirstan tribal area of Pakistan, provides training for suicide bombers in the Pakistani border city of Quetta. In January, he told the BBC exactly how the Taliban defines the struggle in Afghanistan and their ultimate goal.
"We will continue our struggle until foreign troops are thrown out. Then we will attack them in the US and Britain until they either accept Islam or agree to pay jazia (a tax in Islam for non-Muslims living in an Islamic state)."
This month an Afghan journalist filming for Channel 4 News spoke with one of the suicide volunteers deep in the central province of Ghazni.
Mohammad Asim was 25, with two children. His comments reinforce the message that the new Taliban see themselves very much as part of the global jihad.
He said: "We were 500 people from many different Islamic countries who went through this training. This even included Muslims from America and Britain who registered themselves for suicide bombing and got trained."
Minutes after the interview, Asim gets the call. It's the order to go. He doesn't hesitate. He puts on a jacket packed with explosives, wires poking out of his pocket ready to connect to the detonator. He says farewell to his commander and heads out.
Sooner or later, some of these volunteers may be on their way to bomb London or New York.
Or Toronto. Or Montreal. Or Vancouver, say during the Olympics.
A year ago, Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star interviewed a former associate of Osama Bin Laden in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, Pakistan. She wrote:
Khalid Khawaja, a former Pakistani intelligence officer, says there is no quit in the Islamic principles that inspire the Taliban. "We play only a win-win game," he says. "For this reason, you cannot win from us. You fight to live; live a comfortable life. We fight to die. You love to live. We love to die."
That's what Canadian troops are fighting for and dying for.