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.

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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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007 Week 31

While all eyes were on the South Koreans being held hostage by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, we were looking up, way up.

Because there was some interesting air action over the very area the hostages were being held.

The daily airpower summary for July 31 reported U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts dropped laser-guided 500-pound bombs and fired cannon rounds at a group of Taliban insurgents in Muqur, the district next to Qarabagh district where the 23 South Koreans were kidnapped on July 19 In the same attack, an Air Force MQ-1 Predator fired a Hellfire missile.

The use of Hellfire missiles is usually restricted to "high value targets" like high ranking Taliban commanders.

It was around this time that the Taliban announced they had split the hostages up into smaller groups and were moving some or all into Paktika province closer to the border with Pakistan.

Coincidence?

In fact, it's been a week of Hellfire.A Predator fired a Hellfire missile at enemy forces near Gereshk, in Helmand province where British soldiers are pushing back Taliban insurgents. And another Predator unmanned aerial vehicle fired more than one Hellfire missiles at Taliban fighters gathering in a building near Kandahar, the province where the Canadian task force is stationed.

The International Security Assistance Force also announced this week that one of the most wanted Taliban leadcers, the chairman of the Taliban's military council, had been killed in a targetted raid in Helmand province on July 23. Qari Faiz Mohammed was a chief financier for the Taliban and his death has got to hurt. He was also a close associate of Taliban leader Mullarh Omar who is losing associates at a rapid clip.

In June, Mullah Mahmood Baluch, an important weapons smuggler active in Helmand and Nimroz provinces, was killed in an air strike as he led a convoy of weapons and ammunition over the Pakistan-Helmand border.Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles dropped some 500-pounders on the convoy in the village of Taghaz, Helmand. A Predator UAV finished the job with a Hellfire missile at a car that had been damaged by the F-15s. The car, and Baluch, were destroyed.

On the day Qari Faiz Mohammed's death was announced, the BBC listed the remaining 'Most Wanted' Taliban members as: Mullah Mohammad Omar, Mullah Berader, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, Abdul Rahim, Naime Bareech and Dadullah Mansour.

Well, scratch Abdul Rahim and maybe Dadullah Mansour.

On Thursday six Taliban commanders and their fighters gathered in the village of Qaleh Chah in the Baghran area of Helmand province to watch the execution of six men accused of cooperating with the central government. Tipped to the gathering, ISAF forces had the area under aerial surveillance for 24 hours and confirmed there were no women or children in the group. Then it was 'Bombs Away.'

A devastating air attack with one-ton bombs killed up to 100 insurgents who came to see two men die and stayed to die themselves.

Afghan military souces said Rahim and two other commanders were killed. They couldn't confirm the fate of Dadullah Mansour.

In a masterpiece of understatement, the daily air summary stated that: An Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s on enemies hiding in a tree line near Baghran. The bomb drop was reported to have good effects.

FYI, a B-1B can carry up to 24 GBU-31 JDAMs.

As usual, the Taliban announced civilians, hundreds by some accounts, had been killed and wounded. They pointed Western reporters to groups of injured brought to hospitals in Lashkar Gah, the Helmand provincial capital, and Kandahar, the capital of Kandahar province, and claimed more went for medical aid in Mizani district, Zabul province.

"It is interesting there were no females," said British Lieutenant-Colonel Charlie Mayo, suggesting the wounded adult males may have been Taleban fighters. "We are very confident we hit a large meeting of Taleban and they are very sore about it."

Then ISAF did something none of the reporters did. They investigated the claims.
Here's a portion of the ISAF report:


"For these individuals to receive treatment in a Zabul hospital, the injured civilians would have had to be moved over 180 kilometers of extremely rough roads in mountainous terrain through the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul," said Lt. Col. Bridget Rose, Regional Command South spokesperson.

After checking local hospitals in the general vicinity, Task Force Helmand officials found no civilians admitted for treatment.

Over 100 kilometers away, they found a total of 19 adult males and one 8-year-old child wounded in Lashkar Gah hospital. Over night, three of the adult males died. And in Kandahar hospital, they found wounded 14 adult males and three 10-11 year old males. There were never any women admitted with injuries, and none are reported injured or killed at Lashkar Gah hospital or any other local hospitals in the area.


"If there were actually a large number of civilian casualties as claimed by the Taliban extremist, it would be highly unusual that only fighting age males showed up for treatment at the local hospital over 100 kilometers away from the operation site," Rose said.

There is no evidence of civilian casualties caused by the above mentioned operation. It appears that the current Taliban extremist statements are just another example of their overall disinformation campaign.

"Over the past weeks," added Foss, "Several media have reported erroneous information on numbers of casualties from ISAF operations following Taliban extremist propaganda. But rushing to deny causalities is not the way ISAF communicates. We refer to confirmed facts, not hear-say and that obviously takes time. Unlike the Taliban extremists, we value the truth and our credibility."


Nothing ruins a good story quicker than the facts.

Mullah Abdul Rahim, by the way, was the Taliban's operational commander for southern Helmand province. In February he boasted that the insurgency had 10,000 fighters ready to launch a fierce offensive in the spring "as the weather becomes warm and leaves turn green." The Taliban are well aware they are overmatched by ISAF air power and they would like nothing better than to have some way to counter it.

The Daily Telegraph reports that, for the first time, Taliban insurgents have used a heat-seeking surface-to-air to attack a plane, an American C-130 Hercules that was flying at 11,000 feet over the southwestern province of Nimroz.

The missile was fired on July 22 and it was touch and go for a bit for the pilots. The Daily Telegraph wrote:

The crew reported that a missile system locked on to their aircraft and that a missile was firedIt closed in on the large C-130 aircraft, pursuing it as the pilots launched a series of violent evasive manoeuvres and jettisoned flares to confuse the heat sensors in the nose of the missile. Crew members said that they saw what they believe was a missile passing very close to the aircraft.

The plane was within the 2.5-5 km range of a shoulder-launched missile system such as the SA7. The newspaper said that the U.S. supplied Stinger heat-seeking missiles to the Afghan resistance during the Soviet occupation in the 80's but its felt that the sophisticated electronics and battery systems have long deteriorated. Just in case, in 2002 the U.S. bought back any Stingers that warlords till had in their arsenals for $40,000 a missile.

However, according to the Daily Telegraph, this past April Special Boat Service soldiers in Nimroz province seized a working SA7 missile in several truck loads of weapons coming across the Iranian border.

Iranian made armour piercing explosives of the kind being used in Iraq have been found recently in western Afghanistan, according to The Sunday Times.

"These are very sophisticated IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and they're really not manufactured in any other place to our knowledge than Iran," (Colonel Thomas Kelly) said, adding that the explosives were factory made. He stopped short of saying they were supplied by the Iranian government.

The Taliban meanwhile continue to use suicide bombings in a futile attempt to counter the ISAF's military strenghth. There were three last week:

* In Kunduz province a bomber blew himself up as Afghan intelligence officers moved to arrest him. One intelligence officer was killed and three wounded, along with eight civilians and one policeman.
* A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of troops on the outskirts of Kabul. Seven civilians and three soldiers were wounded. The attack happened outside Camp Phoenix, a U.S. base.

* A suicide bomber attacked a convoy in Kandahar province, killing himself and two civilians.

We confess we've lost count, but as of mid-June there had been about 57 suicide bombings in Afghanistan this year, compared to 47 in 2006. The number by now must be near or past 70.

However an analysis by Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, assistant profesor of Islamic history at the University of Massachussetts-Dartmouth indicates that Afghanistan has the world's worst suicide bombers.

In 43 percent of the bombings last year and in half of those this year (as of June 15), the only people killed by suicide bombers were themselves.

In the spring of 2006 (from Feb. 20 to June 21), 26 of 36 suicide bombers, almost three of four, failed to kill anyone but themselves.

This will be gratifying news to soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

But to understand the depths of depracity of Taliban leaders one has to read further into Dr. Williams' study (read to the end):

... interviews and field work conducted in Afghanistan for this study revealed considerable evidence that the "duped, bribed, brainwashed" paradigm applies to a growing percentage of the bombers being deployed in the Afghan theater. [4] Afghan police told of numerous incidents where citizens in Kabul reported finding abandoned suicide vests in the city. They seemed to signify a last-minute change of heart in several would-be bombers.

In one case, they told of a mentally deranged man who threw his vest at an Afghan patrol, assuming it would explode on its own. [5]

Several of the bombers apprehended by the NDS were carrying mind-altering hallucinogens or sedatives, which they had been told to take to calm their fears during their last moments of life. Others, including a Taliban bomber who was arrested while pushing his explosives-laden car toward its target after it ran out of fuel, appear to be inept beyond belief. [6]

Recent media and think-tank reports have also mentioned the utilization as suicide bombers of an Afghan war invalid who was blind, another who was an amputee and one who was a disabled man whose only motive was to make money for his family. Coalition troops who have spoken of seeing bombers blow themselves up far from their convoys have characterized it as the act of drugged or mentally unstable bombers.

While this might explain some of the Afghan suicide bombers' failures, there also appears to be a financial motive behind several of the bombings that offers further explanation. United Nations representatives spoke of a bomber who entered a Kabul Internet cafe in 2005. Instead of setting off his bomb in the middle of the cafe where it would do the most damage, he went into a bathroom to set it off, killing only two people. [7] There are many such examples of Afghan suicide bombers seemingly with a conscience or reluctance to inflict mass casualties.The possibility that a number of them are doing it simply for payments for their families might explain this. [8]

Research in the Pashtun areas to the southeast of Kabul reveals an even more disturbing trend than the employment of suicide bombers who are mentally unsound, using drugs or working solely for money: the use of child bombers. Afghanistan's child bombers Villagers interviewed for this study - living in front-line provinces such as Khost, Paktika and Paktia - have reported that Taliban recruiters were active in their areas. Many parents have lost their young, impressionable sons to those who prey on them. [9]

Parents often learn of their tragic fates only when the Taliban arrive at their homes to hand out their sons' "martyrdom payments". Villagers are, of course, outraged by such tactics, but there is often little recourse in light of the Taliban's dominance in the countryside.


In one case, a powerful tribal chieftain in Khost province who discovered that his son had been recruited by Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani for a "martyrdom operation" managed to get him back (after threatening to attack the Taliban with his tribe); unfortunately, this is an exception...

In one notorious instance, Taliban soldiers arrived at the Oxford High English medium school in Tank and began to recruit young boys by asking them to fulfill their "jihad duty" and engage in an "adventure". According to witnesses, "The militants came to town with a mission, and wanted to convert us to their cause. 'They said that jihad was obligatory and those who heed the call are rewarded,' the principal said. 'As many as 30 students from each of the four government schools in Tank enlisted.' A similar number have also joined from private schools. The ages of those taken are between 11 [and] 15 years."

According to one of the teachers involved, the students who were recruited without their parents' permission were subsequently trained as suicide bombers. The age of these bombers would explain why one of the courses in Taliban suicide camps teaches students how to drive a car. While Mullah Nazir, a powerful Taliban leader in Pakistan's Waziristan provinces, recently made an unprecedented request for the Taliban to stop recruiting children, a recent video of a suicide-bomber ceremony in the region would seem to indicate that his appeal has been honored in the breach.

In the video that was obtained by the American Broadcasting Co (ABC), boys as young as 12 are shown "graduating" from a suicide-bombing camp run by Mullah Dadullah Mansour, the successor to his brother, the recently slain Mullah Dadullah.

As disturbing as this video is, it pales in comparison to the discovery Afghan security officials recently made in eastern Afghanistan.

In an incident that caused tears of fury among villagers, a six-year-old street urchin approached an Afghan security checkpoint and claimed that he had been cornered by the Taliban and fitted with a suicide-bomber vest. They had told him to walk up to a US patrol and press a button on the vest that would "spray flowers". Fortunately, the quick-thinking boy instead asked for help, and the vest was removed.

And, finally:

In our look at the first six months of 2007 in Afghanistan, we predicted that the tipping point in the struggle will be the completion of the Kajaki Dam which will provide electricity to 2 million people

Fantasy?

This validation, from the Daily Times, came right on the heels of The Black Rod.

A massive phenomenon in Afghanistan: Television
By Barry Bearak
Thursday, August 02, 2007



But television is off to a phenomenal start, with Afghans now engrossed - for better or worse - in much of the same escapist fare that seduces the rest of the world: soap operas that pit the unbearably conniving against the implausibly virtuous; chefs preparing meals that most people would never eat in kitchens they could never afford; talk show hosts wheedling secrets from those too shameless to keep their troubles to themselves.



Women, whose public outings are constrained by custom, most often watch their favourite shows at home. Men, on the other hand, are free to make television a communal ritual. In one eatery after another, with deft fingers dipping into mounds of steaming rice, patrons sit cross-legged on carpeted platforms, their eyes fixed on a television set perched near the ceiling. Profound metaphysical questions hover in the dim light: Will Prerna find happiness with Mr Bajaj, who is after all not the father of her child?

"These are problems that teach you about life," said Sayed Agha, who sells fresh vegetables from a pushcart by day and views warmed-over melodramas by night.



True-crime shows introduce Afghans to the sensationalism of their own pederasts and serial killers. Reality shows pluck everyday people off the streets and transform them with spiffed-up wardrobes. Quiz shows reward the knowledgeable: How many pounds of mushrooms did Afghanistan export last year? A contestant who answers correctly wins a gallon of cooking oil.

Some foreign shows, like those featuring disasters and police chases, are so generic that Tolo is able to rebroadcast them without translation. Other formats require only slight retooling. (Daoud) Sediqi is beginning his third season as host of "Afghan Star." He has never seen "American Idol" and said he had never heard of his American counterpart, Ryan Seacrest. Nevertheless, he ably manages to introduce the competing vocalists and coax the audience to vote by cellphone for their favorites. "I must tell you that I am having very good fun," Sediqi said, employing his limited English.

Dam = power = T.V. The Taliban don't stand a chance.

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