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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007 Week 22

In Brief:

· As predicted, following the death of Mullah Dadullah the focus of the fighting has moved east
· The long-awaited move to retake the village of Musa Qala from Taliban insurgents has probably begun.
· Al Qaeda in Afghanistan needs money. Lots. Quickly.

Charlie don't surf and Ahmed don't swim

In a fitting metaphor for the sinking fortunes of the Taliban, about 60 insurgents drowned Friday while trying to hightail it away from allied and Afghan forces in the Kajaki district of Helmand province.

It's the latest black eye for the insurgents who only three months ago were bragging to Al-Jazeera that they controlled Helmand province and were only waiting until the snows melted before capturing Kandahar province next door.

Taliban forces are being chewed to pieces by British-led operations in Helmand. The latest, Operation Lastay Kulang, involves 2000 troops, including 1000 British and U.S. soldiers. The goal is to trap Taliban fighters north of Sangin in the Kajaki Dam region. The pell mell retreat by the 60 of the drowned rat insurgents is proof of the success of Lastay Kulang.

Allied and Afghan forces chased the group out of the Kajaki area to the Helmand river. The insurgents built a makeshift raft out of tires and wooden planks. They paddled off, watched by a military helicopter. Mid-river, the raft sank and all aboard drowned.

But it was this operation that also resulted in the biggest loss of the week to allied forces. A U.S. Chinook helicopter crashed about 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Kajaki area, killing seven.

The crew were all members of the 3rd General Aviation Support Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, and were based at Fort Bragg--Chief Warrant Officer Chris Allgaier (ALL-guy-er), of Nebraska, pilot; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Rodgers of Nevada, co-pilot; Staff Sergeant Charlie Bagwell, of North Carolina, mechanic and crew chief; Sgt. Jesse Blamires of Utah; Sgt. Brandon E. Hadaway, of Alabama.

The two combat photographers aboard were Master Cpl. Darrell Priede of Canada and Cpl. Mike Gilyeat of Britain.

The helicopter may have been hit by an RPG round. It had just dropped off between 30 and 40 Special Forces soldiers. The U.S. has a batallion of troops from the 82nd Airborne operating in Helmand province. It's possible this group was headed for Musa Qala, where the first reports of fighting have appeared since the Taliban overran the village in February.

On Wednesday, an airpower summary said an "Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs supported ground forces fighting enemy personnel in Musa Qala by providing escort to a coalition convoy in the area." The next day, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle dropped a guided 500 pound bomb on an enemy compound from which mortars were fired "on coalition troops in Musa Qal'eh."

It's likely the Americans have been given the task of driving the Taliban out of Musa Qala while the Brits concentrate on their prime mission of driving insurgents out of the Kajaki Dam area. NATO hopes to carve out a safety zone around the Kajaki Dam so that contractors can get to work this year on restoring and expanding electricity to 2 million people, a project the Taliban wants to stop. Officials are hoping to bring a third turbine in this summer.

In a media interview Sunday, June 3, 2007, the British Commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier John Lorimer, spoke about the progress of Operation Lastay Kulang:

"To date the operation has been successful," he said. "We have managed to clear the areas that we wished to clear and we also have now engaged with the local nationals, with the tribal elders, and we're helping bring reconstruction and development."

British and Afghan forces have been fighting off harassing attacks by Taliban forces ever since driving them out of the Kajaki and Sangin Valley areas.

On Sunday Taliban militants ambushed a convoy of 24 supply trucks in Helmand, killing one driver with a roadside bomb. NATO and Afghan forces escorting the trucks fought back. A 10-hour battle complete with airstrikes killed "an estimated two dozen enemy fighters" said a coalition statement. In the south of Helmand, Harrier jets have been bombing Taliban hideouts and an insurgent trench system around the town of Garmsir. On Thursday a 500-pound bomb was dropped on fighters spotted near Kajaki Dam.

On Thursday, two F-15Es dropped 500-pound GBU-38s on an underground complex in Sangin after ground forces saw Taliban fighters enter the opening. And Royal Air Force GR-9 Harriers fired enhanced Paveway II munitions at caves being used by Taliban fighters. Secondary explosions revealed the cave was a possible ammo cache.

On the ground, NATO and Afghan troops killed 34 Taliban in gunbattles, including four commanders.

It hasn't gone totally quiet in neighbouring Kandahar province either.

Operation Hoover

1000 Canadian, Portugese, British and Afghan troops launched Operation Hoover to root out as many as 300 Taliban fighters believed holed up in villages in an area known as Nalgham near the Arghandab River. The Afghans were in the lead with NATO mentors, Canadian Leopard tanks, British air power and howitzers manned by gunners from the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery backing them up.

The two-pronged offensive also included soldiers from the 2 RCR battle group massing just north of the Arghandab River in a classic hammer and anvil manoeuvre to prevent insurgents from escaping as the armour punched south.

At dawn the first day Afghan and Canadian soldiers roused some Taliban fighters and began exchanging small-arms fire. A Canadian sniper on a rooftop killed one insurgent.

A buried bomb hit and disabled a Canadian tank.

A second IED killed 25-year-old Cpl. Matthew McCully at about 8 a.m. local time on Friday. approximately 35 kilometres west of Kandahar City in the volatile Zhari district. McCully was a signals operator from 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signals Squadron. He was serving as a member of Canada's Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, which trains Afghans how to fight as organized units.

Another Canadian soldier, also one of the mentoring team, and an Afghan interpreter were wounded by the bomb.

But sometimes the bomb planters don't get away.

On Thursday three men were setting a roadside bomb in the Panjwai area when it went off in their faces. Two were killed. What was left of the third was taken away for interrogation.

Operation Hoover scored another victory Friday. A three hour gunbattle with insurgents left 20 Taliban dead.

In the two southern provinces, NATO and Afghan forces killed well over 100 insurgents in one week alone, 94 in a single day (Friday). Is it any wonder then why the Taliban have concentrated their offensive operations in eastern Afghanistan?

The worst attack was in Zabul province on Thursday. A police convoy headed to Kabul was ambushed and 16 police officers killed.

Elsewhere a terror campaign has been launched by the Taliban. In Paktia province the home of a police official was attacked; six Taliban were killed. In Khost province small bombs went off before dawn Friday outside the homes of six government officials and one interpreter working with NATO. In Ghazni province Taliban fighters attacked the local auxilliary police chief's home Saturday. They killed his wife, two sons and two nephews. Ten insurgents were killed by police who responded to the attack.

In Kumar province five rockets were launched from a mountain, striking several civilian homes and killing two women. NATO has responded with airstrikes.

And Taliban commanders appear be making special efforts to overrun Asabadad in Kumar and Forward Operating Base Orgun-E in the province of Paktika in southeastern Afghanistan, home of the 2nd Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment 10th Mountain Division and U.S. Special Forces.

Orgun-E is one of the largest of about a dozen similar bases along the eastern border with Pakistan and across southern Afghanistan. Air operations report almost daily strikes on enemy forces in both these locations in a battle for control that's gone unreported.

Allied forces, meanwhile, have counted their own successes. In Ghazni they captured a Taliban subcommander who was an expert in setting IED's and who was responsible for the deaths of dozens of civilians. In Khost three insurgents were arrested Sunday in a U.S. operation against Al Qaeda. They were hiding their Taliban ID cards when scooped.

At weeks end we learned that in the eastern province of Ghazni, hundreds of other Afghan and ISAF troops unleashed Operation Maiwand - named after a troubled Kandahar district where the British were defeated by an Afghan army in 1880. Four rebels have been captured since the launch of the offensive Saturday.

And a new offensive code-named "Hadalat" (justice) was launched in Kandahar - with Afghan and Canadian troops and US Special Forces. We're looking for details.

A sure sign of the insurgency's desperation is the plea by Taliban leader Mullah Omar for an independent body to investigate and identify those responsible for civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Yes, you read that right.

The head of the Taliban said the proposed investigative body should be comprised of the representatives of the International Committee of Red Cross, independent journalists, Afghan scholars and elders. The intent, of course, is to blame U.S. and NATO for civilian deaths.

Omar's call for investigations came a day after the United Nations human rights chief, Richards Bennett, said that between 320 to 380 civilians have been killed in the first four months of this year.

This number is much higher than one offered last week by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which said about 136 civilians had been killed to date this year.

NATO said last week that 85 people, including 40 civilians, died in the first 23 days of May from improvised explosive devices, including suicide and roadside bombs. Three children were killed when an explosive device they were playing with detonated in Sangin district of Helmand province on Saturday.

Omar also forgot to mention he plans to kill an Afghan doctor and three nurses kidnapped by the Taliban unless the government hands over Mullah Dadullah's body.

And then there's these tidbits from Counterterrorism blog and Strategypage respectively:

Al-Qaida Leader in Afghanistan Begs for Cash Donations
By Evan Kohlmann
May 25, 2007
In a new As-Sahab Media Foundation video broadcast yesterday on Al-Jazeera, the declared leader of Al-Qaida's forces in Afghanistan Shaykh Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (a.k.a. "Shaykh Saeed") signals that the Taliban are suffering from a serious cash crunch. An unidentified interviewer asks, "What are the current needs of the Jihad in Afghanistan?" Whereupon, Shaykh Saeed responds:

"As for the needs of the Jihad in Afghanistan, the first of them is financial. The Mujahideen of the Taliban number in the thousands, but they lack funds. And there are hundreds wishing to carry out martyrdom-seeking operations, but they can't find the funds to equip themselves. So funding is the mainstay of Jihad. They also need personnel from their Arab brothers and their brothers from other countries in all spheres: military, scientific, informational and otherwise... And here we would like to point out that those who perform Jihad with their wealth should be certain to only send the funds to those responsible for finances and no other party, as to do otherwise leads to disunity and differences in the ranks of the Mujahideen."

Terrorist Cash Crunch Causes Change in Strategy
May 29, 2007: The Taliban announced a new strategy, which involves sending assassins and suicide bombers after government officials and foreign troops. There will be less emphasis on have large numbers of armed Taliban out and about (where they are spotted from the air, and attacked).

This new tactic was opposed by the late Taliban senior combat commander, Mullah Dadullah, as it meant giving up trying to control parts of the country. To do that, you need large numbers of armed Taliban to go out and terrorize heavily armed villages and tribal leaders. Even though the Taliban pay their gunmen twice, or more, than soldiers or policemen, the high loss rate has made recruiting difficult. Al Qaeda, which is desperate for cash, is willing to help with Taliban suicide bombing operations. The suicide bombers usually work for free, so this cost cutting measure avoids a collapse of the Taliban finances. While the alliance with the drug gangs brings in lots of cash, much of it gets diverted to friends and family of Taliban leaders. This is, after all, still Afghanistan, and that's the way things work here. Family comes first.

And finally, did he or didn't he?
Did actor Robert De Niro become the Afghanistan war's Jane Fonda?

An ex-CIA agent who helped De Niro research his movie The Good Shepherd spilled some beans at the TriBeCa Film Festival. According to New York Daily News gossip columnists Rush and Molloy:Rarely have former spooks shot from the hip like ex-CIA agents Milt Bearden and Robert Baer did during the "Spies Like Them" gabfest. In fact, festival co-founder Robert De Niro may have wished Bearden were a little more covert.

Bearden, a consultant on De Niro's "Good Shepherd," recalled introducing the director to "a bunch of KGB colonels and ex-generals" in Russia. Just to be social, De Niro joined the Russians in a sauna, where "a 9-foot-tall [masseur] with a tank tattoo" was wailing on him with wet birch branches. "He'd say to De Niro, 'Do you love me?' Bob didn't."

Later, on the northwest frontier of Pakistan, they had tea with some "fun-loving" Taliban warriors, who invited De Niro to "fire rounds from their machine gun across the valley," reminisced Bearden. "They said, 'It's not at anybody, we don't think.'"

While almost all the subsequent reports said De Niro fired the guns, that's not exactly what Bearden is quoted as having said. And De Niro, himself, doesn't mention the incident in an interview with UNCUT (UK) magazine:

Q: You went on a fact-finding journey to Afghanistan and Pakistan. What can you tell us about that?
A: That was an interesting trip! We met one of the commanders of the local Taliban. We had tea with them, and gave them $200 for a woman's school, which I know they went away and set up. It was very interesting in those tribal areas, because they're places like no other. It was all very cordial when we met them. Over tea, very friendly. They showed us how they defeated the Russians...

So, did he or didn't he?

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