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Monday, May 14, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007 Week 19

Our feet are tired from doing the happy dance and our throats sore from cheering Yaaa-Hooooo.

Mullah Dadullah is dead. Who's your daddy now, Dadullah?

U.S. Special Forces tracked him down and killed him Saturday morning. And with him the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive just went pffft.

This will come as a great surprise to the mainstream media which has been engaged in its annual spring ritual of writing how revived the Taliban is, how rearmed and ready to overrun Afghanistan.

But any objective observer has watched the net closing on Dadullah for months.

For more than a year the Taliban has been operating under the delusion they defeated the Americans in Afghanistan. They saw as proof the handover of the southern provinces to NATO forces--the British in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold; the Canadians in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, and the Dutch in Uruzgan, a virtual no-man's land.

As they saw it, having forced the Americans out, it would be a simple matter to overwhelm the NATO troops and recapture Kabul. They came close with the British, who found themselves overextended and led by a general who struck "peace deals" that saw the Brits turn a blind eye to Taliban activity in their region. And the timidity of the Dutch generals made the plan look gold.

It was when they attacked the Canadians, who many thought the weak link in the NATO chain, that the plan went awry. The Canadians turned out to be tough, trained and tenacious. By the time the summer was over, the Canadian-led Operation Medusa had forced the Taliban into a humiliataing retreat from an important corner of Kandahar province, and the tide had turned even though the news media overlooked the victory and perpetuated the myth of the invincible Taliban.

The dawn of 2007 saw a new commander of NATO forces in Southern Afghanistan, U.S. General Dan McNeill, who brought with him the American drive for victory which he immediately put into effect. The first to feel it was Mullah Dadullah, who had been put in charge of Taliban forces in Helmand and Kandahar provinces and who was the overall tactical commander for the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive.

Except that NATO wasn't waiting for spring. The British-led Operation Achilles seized the initiative in Helmand province forcing Dadullah into a defensive fight from the git-go.

The Taliban admitted they couldn't overcome the NATO firepower in straight-up battle (something they learned the hard way from the hundreds of dead they left behind during Operation Medusa). So Dadullah promised to match NATO with a terror campaign of a thousand suicide bombers just waiting for him to give the word.

Coalition forces had a new tactic of their own, roughly translated as "kill the head and the body dies." They began targeting Taliban leaders, in raids and airstrikes.

In December, Mullah Akhtar Osmani one of the top 3 Taliban leaders ate a guided bomb in Helmand. In February, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the former Taliban defense minister, was arrested in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta where he had been planning the spring offensive. In between and since, airstrikes have killed a score of Taliban commanders hither and yon across the south of Afghanistan.

Just this past week Afghan forces backed by NATO air-support killed 64 Taliban in an operation in the joint ongoing Afghan-NATO military Operation Tandar which started in the Gerishk district of southern Helmand province on May 1. "The dead bodies of Mullah Younis Akhund, Mullah Abdul Hadi Akhund, Mullah Abdul Aziz Akhund, Mullah Janan and Qari Ezatullah, the Taliban commanders, were left in the battlefield, and were identified," a spokesman said.

And U.S. Special Forces kept popping up everywhere, raiding villages and compounds and generally disrupting Taliban forces.

One place they turned up Saturday morning was the village of Kakeban in the Girisk district of Helmand just when Dadullah was visiting the home of his wife's brother. The home was surrounded and Dadullah was told to surrender. He chose to shoot it out and he and 10 other Taliban fighters were killed. Among the dead was Dadullah's brother, Mansoor Ahmad, who was one of five insurgents released from custody last month in a swap for an Italian journalist.

Nobody is talking how they tracked Dadullah down. In Afghanistan, though, the adage "trust no one" can't be overstated.

Obviously you can speculate that authorities staked out the brother's family until he showed up with Dadullah in tow.

After the hostage swap, authorities locked up Rahmatullah Hanefi, the manager of the Lashkargah hospital, who negotiated the deal with the kidnappers. He may have "remembered" some pertinent details under incisive questioning.

Or warlord and would-be political powerbroker Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who pulled out of a grand Taliban alliance earlier this year, may have sold him out after testing the winds and realizing who was winning.

Or Dadullah's patrons in Pakistan may have decided to send the Taliban a message after Taliban commanders in Pakistan's tribal areas that border Afghanistan launched a campaign to "Talibanize" villages be forcing sharia law on businesses this month.

Or U.S. forces picked up some clues from the chatty Dadullah's cell phone calls to Al-Jazeera.

Just by coincidence, this story showed up on the wires Saturday, after news of Dadullah's demise was reported:

Afghanistan's Taliban are reported to be threatening to target the base station towers operated by Roshan Telecommunications, claiming that the company is collaborating with US and Afghan authorities. The Taliban have given the operator 20 days to end its "collaboration" otherwise they will start attacking the towers. They claim that Roshan is providing their phone numbers to the US coalition and blocking its mobile phones.

Whatever the reason, Dadullah's death couldn't have come at a worse time for the Taliban. They spent months trumpeting this as the decisive year in retaking control of Afghanistan, only to watch their spring offensive totter and collapse in a heap. Hekmatyar divorced the unified assault, regional commanders kept getting killed or captured, a civil war broke out between Taliban allies in Pakistan, the British-led offensive in Helmand kept local insurgents on the run, bomb-makers were being arrested weekly, and those pesky U.S. Special Forces showed up where they were least expected.

Then this week, this word came from Syed Saleem Shahzad , Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief, whose pro-Taliban stories are useful for an insight into the thinking of the insurgency.

KARACHI - The Taliban are poised to launch Ghazwatul Badr to seize control of Kabul. The name of the offensive is a reference to the Battle of Badr commanded by the Prophet Mohammed in the Arabian Peninsula some 1,400 years ago.

The Battle of Badr was the key battle in the early days of Islam and a turning point in Mohammed's struggle with his opponents among the Quraish tribe in Mecca.

The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention and the genius of Mohammed. In this century's version of the battle, more than 30,000 youths have been trained in the Pakistani tribal areas of North and South Waziristan as cannon fodder in a struggle that the Taliban believe will be the key turning point against foreign occupation forces and the Taliban's opponents in Kabul.

On the eve of the offensive, however, machinations within the ranks of the resistance have opened divisions among the field commanders. Plans to foment a mass uprising across Afghanistan will go ahead, but it could be that the offensive will have more than one leader and several movements, under the brand name of the Taliban.

When you're depending on divine intervention and the genius of Mohammed for victory, you know you've reached rock bottom.

The story discusses the divisions of the Taliban insurgency which are hampering the offensive. Now add the death of the guy who's supposed to lead the fight and things look grim--for the enemy.

Time to happy dance and shout Yaaa-hoooooo.

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