The War in Afghanistan 2007 Weeks 14 and 15
Even as the Canadian news media do their best to undermine the country's mission to Afghanistan, the past two weeks have been filled with signals from the enemy that NATO is winning.
Let's start with the pep talk Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar gave his followers last week. Taliban commander Mullah Hayatullah Khan told Reuters by satellite phone that Omar had contacted senior and regional commanders and congratulated them for carrying out "successful" attacks in recent weeks.
"Taliban mujahideen (holy warriors), through unity in their ranks, should continue and increase their guerrilla and suicide attacks on occupation forces and the infidels will soon run away," Khan quoted Omar.
Tough talk from two guys who spend their lives hiding in caves.
More importantly is that Omar, who almost never goes public, chose this time to pop up, namely when the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive has been such a complete disaster.
And if you need more proof, there's this celebrity endorsement:
Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's main military commander in southern Afghanistan, told Al-Jazeera this week that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden personally masterminded the suicide bomb attack outside Bagram military base during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.
"You may remember the martyr operation inside the Bagram base, which targeted a senior U.S. official. ... That operation was the result of his wise planning. He (bin Laden) planned that operation and guided us through it. The operation was a success," Dadullah told Al-Jazeera.
The Feb. 27 bombing killed 20 Afghan civilians, a U.S. soldier, a U.S. contract worker and a South Korean soldier. The bomber never got past the first checkpoint, detonating his explosives in a crowd of civilians. Cheney was in meetings half a mile away.
This is what the Taliban call a success, but at this stage they have to start grasping at straws.
Operation Achilles, the British-led expedition in Helmand province to drive Taliban fighters out of the district centre of Sangin achieved its goal and more. It humiliated Mullah Dadullah, who had supposedly moved into Helmand province to personally lead the Spring Offensive. And it took the initiative away from the Taliban which has been unable to coordinate any kind of offensive.
Taliban leaders conceded this week they have been driven out, although they put different spins on their defeat.
"We don't care about Operation Achilles," a top Taleban commander in Sangin district, who asked not to be named, told IWPR (a student journalism project in Helmaned). "We will never leave Sangin. We withdrew from the centre [town of Sangin] because the tribal elders asked us to. They told us, 'You can't fight here any more right now because it's time to harvest the poppy. You have to go.' So we left, and ISAF came in.
"But now we're ready to fight again."
Mullah Qasem, a Taleban commander in northern Helmand, accepted that the overwhelming ISAF presence had also been a factor in persuading the insurgents to pull back.
"We did withdraw from Sangin," he said. "It was a tactic. NATO brought many troops to the area, and we did not want to fight them. But now we have dug trenches and we are prepared to take back the district centre very soon."
But then, as they say, action speaks louder than words.
When four Taliban fighters attacked a patrol of Afghan army troops from 1st Kandak, 209th ANA Corps and coalition forces in the Sangin district just before nightfall April 19, they found just how much things had changed in Helmand. Three of the four were captured.
Intelligence (or was it interrogation) led to an estimated 40 Taliban fighters attempting to set up ambush positions. U.S. Special Forces caught 'em red-handed. A seven-hour battle ended when the Americans called in air support. 24 Taliban fighters were killed and four vehicles were destroyed.
Another successful achievement of Operation Achilles was to give Afghan army forces firsthand experience in fighting insurgents. Trained and battle tested they will have front line roles in operations to keep the Taliban out.
Despite the bravado of late winter, Taliban forces have been bloodied like never before. In the first four months of 2007 almost 700 insurgents have been killed, according to figures compiled by AP from Afghan, NATO and U.S. officials. That's more than triple the Taliban dead over the same time period in 2006.
And using a conservative ratio of three wounded to every one killed (the World War 2 rule of thumb), you have over 2000 insurgent fighters wounded. In only four months.
Thirty-nine coalition and NATO soldiers have been killed, up from 15 during the same period of 2006. At least 280 Afghan civilians have been killed, mostly by sucide bombers and roadside bomb attacks.
the news media gave headline treatment to Taliban boasts of 10,000 fighters ready for the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive. How much coverage have you see of this fact:
Last year's ominous upsurge in Taliban strength prompted calls to boost the number of U.S. and NATO troops, which are expected to total 52,000 by summer's end from the current 47,000, NATO spokesman Col. Tom Collins said. That compares with about 32,000 at the start of 2006. (April 26, 2007, Afghan, Taliban death toll up sharply; As violence escalates, NATO forces upbeat about operations to combat insurgency By Denis D. Gray, Associated Press)
It's late April and the temperature in Afghanistan is climbing to 38 degrees C. (that's 100 degree F.) but the annual Feared Taliban Spring Offensive is late getting traction.
The insurgents tried twice to get some press.
Last week, April 17, about 100 Taliban fighters in the province of Kapisa, 60 miles from Kabul, cut the road to the capital north of the town of Sarobi and about 35 miles southeast of Bagram, the main American military base.
The road was reopened the next day, but not before many press commentators remarked how the attack was the furthest north since 2001 and marked a resurgence of the Taliban.
Three days later, an airstrike killed Fateh Gul Haqparast, who was described as a "significant regional Taliban leader." involved in assassinations, improvised-explosive-device attacks and assaults on Afghan and coalition facilities in Laghman and Kapisa provinces. Coincidence? Or connection?
"This strike marks the sixth senior insurgent leader killed or captured in Laghman province in the past three months," said Army Maj. Stephen Grabski, operations officer for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
Perhaps more important was the target's "extensive ties" to the Hekmatyar Gulbuddin network. Hekmatyar broke with the Taliban a month ago and announced he would conduct his own personal jihad from now on. So the Kapisa attack was just as likely an independent operation as a Taliban raid.
On Friday insurgents overran a district in Ghazni province, 110 miles from Kabul, setting fire to buildings, cutting phone lines, and killing the mayor, police chief and 3 policemen. When a force of 250 government officers arrived, the raiders had fled. As usual.
The Taliban is desperate for a propaganda victory to show their efforts are doing more than just sending young men to their deaths.
They see the killing of a district governor as their ace. Tuesday they tried to kill the governor of Paktika province. A suicide attacker blew himself up close to the governor's car as the official was travelling to work. Only the bomber died.
Less publicized was an attempt a couple of weeks ago to kill the governor of Laghman province. He was under fire near Tirgari when at the request of a coalition ground commander a B-1B coalition aircraft arrived and dropped multiple flares in support of the Afghan police who were fighting the insurgents. The police won the day.
Taliban planners are increasingly targetting the Afghan police who are the weak link in the security chain. Two police were killed Monday by a remote bomb in Zabul.Four police guarding a hydroelectric plant under construction in Herat province were killed in an ambush Thursday. Three police were killed in Ghazni the same day. In Uruzgan province four police wre killed when a convoy was ambushed.
In Heart, Afghan authorities killed three Taliban who had set up an illegal roadblock. They discovered the men were wearing police uniforms. In recent weeks authorities have confiscated more than 100 police uniforms and false ID cards.
U.S. officials say insurgents have been stocking setting up phony checkpoints in western Afghanistan to discredit the national police force. Keep that in mind when you read the next mainstream media story about corrupt police.
Afghan and coalition forces had their success stories this week.
*A large car bomb was found and defused in Kabul. Intelligence officers discovered it in battered old taxi parked in a crowded civilian area where NATO and U.S. convoys often drive past. Authorities found a tank of gasoline, 3 gallons of explosive chemicals, three grenades and a mortar inside the car. There have been at least three suicide bomb attacks in Kabul this year, and more than 40 nationwide, mostly in the south and east, a threefold increase on the same period in 2006.
* A Taliban commander was arrested in Uruzgan province. Three vehicles, one of them packed with explosives, were also seized.
* And authorities in Khost arrested a man wearing a belt of explosives before he could blow himself up.
Taliban forces have retaliated by targeting intelligence officers.
An intelligence service vehicle in Laghman province driving was hit by a remote-controlled bomb killing six men. A similar attack killed two intelligence officers, a soldier and a driver in the provincial capital, Mehtar Lam, on Sunday. Also Sunday, an intelligence service employee was kidnapped and beheaded by Taliban at a home in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul.
The hotspot of the week appears to be Asabadad in Laghman province.
B-1B Lancers, A-10 Thunderbolts, and F/A-18 Super Hornets have been dropping 500-pounds bombs on cave entrances and sniper positions all week.
But the big picture is not the fighting.
It's what we're fighting for.
Here's just a sampling of the week's news:
April 27, 2007
In post-Taliban recovery, Afghan infant mortality declines/ Carlotta Gall
KABUL: Infant mortality has dropped by 18 percent in Afghanistan in one of the first real signs of recovery for the country five years after the fall of the Taliban regime, health officials said.
(Dr. Muhammad Amin Fatimi, the health minister, said) that means that 40,000 to 50,000 fewer infants are dying now than in the Taliban era, Fatimi said. "Thanks be to God, they are celebrating, laughing and smiling," he continued. "These infants are the future builders of our country."
(Benjamin Loevinsohn, a health specialist from the World Bank) attributed the lower infant mortality mainly to the expansion of health clinics to rural areas and to the better coverage of the population with basic vaccinations against measles, polio and tetanus. Immunization coverage in 2003 was 19.5 percent of the child population; in 2006 it rose to 35 percent. The target is 80 percent.
Progress being made in Kandahar
Friday April 27, 2007 (0448 PST) PakTribune
KANDAHAR: Hidden within the confines of a cobblestone courtyard, and just beyond the flaps of a large white tent, progress is quietly being made in Kandahar City. Within those walls, a class of young girls were doing what their counterparts could mostly only dream about just a few years ago - getting a daily education.
"The girls have joined the school since the Taliban regime collapsed and this new regime took over," Abdul Aziz, the school`s principal said. Aziz, who runs a mixed girls and boys school for almost 1,600 children in downtown Kandahar, acknowledged in an interview he faces great personal risk for running the school,
In one class of almost 30 young girls at Aziz`s school on Tuesday, many of the students spoke proudly and confidently of their ambitions, and of their plans for the future.
"Engineer," said one girl when asked what career she wants to pursue.
"Doctor," added another.
"Teacher," called out a third.
It was a scene that would have been virtually unthinkable under a Taliban regime, one where women could only study the Koran until age eight, and then were banned from any kind of education
Aziz, who became a teacher about five years ago, said part of the reason he is able to operate his school is because the security situation in Kandahar City has been getting continually better. It was a position officials at Canada`s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar said reflected what they see happening throughout the city.
On Tuesday, soldiers from the PRT brought almost 130 pairs of new shoes, pens and notebooks to Aziz`s school that he could hand out to children. The shoes were sent to Afghanistan by Sonya Bata, co-founder of Bata Shoes, Canadian officials said, explaining they were part of a donation of about 500 shoes meant for poor or orphaned Afghan children.
"I am very happy," said Hayatullah, 9, an orphan and student who wants to be a doctor. "I didn`t have any shoes. These are very nice and very good looking," he added as he pulled on a new pair of shiny black leather shoes.
Before military officials left, however, the principal made one final request.
"We need a good building for a school," he said, pointing out the schools` 11 tents are not sufficient to even carry the current load.
"If we have a good building and more classes I believe the numbers could increase to 3,000 or 4,000 students."
There's a reason stories like this don't make the front pages and don't make the nightly newscasts---they don't fit the preconceived view of the mainstream reporters that we're not winning, we can't win and we shouldn't win.
Look at how a CBC reporter blogging from Afghanistan has to twist himself into knots to deny the good news he sees with his own eyes:
Visiting Kandahar's amusement park
Wednesday, April 25, 2007 10:44 AM ET
By Chris Brown
The other day, an Afghan journalist we work with from time to time called me and said that the amusement park was finally open. An amusement park? In Kandahar? Where it seems every day there's an explosion or a bombing or an attack of some kind or another?
And yet, there it was.
On the city's outskirts, there is indeed an amusement park, with rides, a ferris wheel, popcorn and families having fun, just like in Canada. Well, almost like you'd see in Canada. There were no women at this amusement park. Only fathers with their kids. Though pretty much all Afghan women in Kandahar wear the familiar blue burka, I didn't see any at the park.
But back to the main point - how on earth can people relax and go to an amusement park in the middle of an insurgency?
I was told it was an initiative of a former provincial governor. The park has yet to officially open but the manager told us staff opened it early because there is so much pent-up demand from Kandahar's population to go somewhere fun.
So, does this mean the Canadian military is right - and that the city of Kandahar really is a safer place now than it was, say, a year ago? It seems a cop-out, but perhaps the best answer is yes, and no.
And here he launches into a pre-programmed spiel on what's wrong with Afghanistan.Too little security for aid groups in Kandahar. Suicide bombings and roadside bombs. Hundreds of civilians killed. (He doesn't mention the Taliban are responsible. That would be impolite.)
"The military claims Kandahar's bazaars are busier, merchants are doing better and great progress has been made building new police stations, schools and other crucial bits of infrastructure." (A CBC reporter won't actually go to the bazaars and talk to merchants if what they might say threatens the official line.)
His rant leads to the inescapable fact (to him) that Canadian soliders are fooling themselves if they think they're making a difference.
... it makes me realize just ... how immensely difficult it is to measure progress. As the Taliban continue to fight NATO's presence and roadside bombs shake the city, Afghans will go about their lives, shopping at the markets, taking their kids out to play and visiting the amusement park along the way. As one family told us, in the last three years, they've just become used to it.
Note how he whitewashes the Taliban. All the Taliban are fighting for, according to the CBC, is for NATO to leave Afghansitan. Not the imposition of a fanatical brand of Islam on the country and ultimately the world through a campaign of unrestricted terror and barbarism.
Note also how he ends with a dismissive comment from an alleged family. They allegedly told him "they've just become used to it."
Just as we've become used to the undisguised bias of the CBC.
Finally a reader took the time to send us some facinating about the reasons behind the name of a recent Operation by the PPLI.
In your 2007 Week 11 coverage of the war in Afghanistan, you mentioned elements of the Princess Patricia's Light Infantry participating in Operation Marguerite. You mentioned that you did not know the significance of that name.
Just for your info, the PPCLI was raised in 1914 by Captain Hamilton Gault, who donated the then-enormous sum of $100,000 for initial expenses. He asked the Governor-General, Lord Connaught, if he would permit his daughter, Lady Patricia, to be their Coronel-in-Chief (an honourary position). Approval was given, hence the regimental name.
Lady Patricia designed the regimental capbadge, which featured a daisy (or 'marguerite') after Gault's wife, Marguerite. As it happens, the Gaults entered into a bitter (and for those days, terribly scandalous) divorce action and Gault tried to have the marguerite in the cap badge replaced as he could not stand such a reminder of her infidelity. The badge however remained unchanged until 1933 or so when the flower was replaced by the VP cypher of Lady Patricia.
As a bit of a coincidence, the maiden name of Lord Connaught's wife (Patricia's mother) was also Marguerite.
The name Marguerite therefore is of some significance to the PPCLI - almost certainly the link to the name of the operation.
Great site - keep up the good work.