Taliban forces were sweeping through the northern approach to Kandahar City, outsmarting the Canadian and Afghan troops who were tied up protecting the southern and eastern access routes. It was surely Tet all over again.
But a day later...poof. The same dull tones returned to the news from Afghanistan. Canadian and Afghan forces had routed the Taliban without breaking a sweat, killing, wounding and capturing a third or more of the attackers and sending the rest running for their lives. Phooey.
Among the worst offenders was Graeme Smith of the Globe and Mail.
"The Taliban have opened a new front in their push toward Kandahar city, invading a previously secure district and holding parts of their freshly gained territory in a bloody seige that continued into the night." he wrote.
Well, it was sort of accurate. Note the carefully crafted buzz words. "New front." "Invading" "Previously secure" "Freshly gained." "Bloody seige."
As it turned out, a force estimated between 150 and 300 Taliban, scared lightly-armed police from a few checkpoints in Arghandab district and swept through a village that had been home to a highly regarded tribal leader who supported NATO forces in the region.
The "bloody seige" was them being killed by the dozens.
Reporters grasped at any slender reed they could to retain credibilty. Sure, the Taliban didn't capture Kandahar, but those wily fighters outwitted the Canadian forces by sneaking away to fight again. Just look, wrote one, at the small number of captured enemy fighters, eight.
"There are a lot of wild stories going on here. Some people say there are 250 Taliban and others say it is 1500..." an aid worker told CP. Maybe, just maybe, there weren't all that many Taliban to escape.
A couple of days later, the Globe reported that it looked like the Taliban hadn't actually intended on sweeping through to Kandahar City. More likely, they wanted to show the flag and maybe search for hidden weapons in the village they overan.
Maybe even shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the war against the Russians in the 80's. It made for a great story except that the villagers said there never had been a stash of weapons. And the fragile electronics on 20-year-old Stinger missiles might not be so good any more."
But the view from afar can only be one of confidence being displaced by doubt at our military success if settlement so close to the south's major city are this Taliban-vulnerable," wailed National Post writer Don Martin. Never one to give up the slightest chance of defeat, he added "Military brass at the Kandahar Airfield were spinning victory from the troubling scenario after the Taliban were routed by heavy fire, apparently fleeing farther north."
Yes, that's right. We have to "spin victory" after routing the enemy, imposing heavy casualties, taking none ourselves and only one soldier and three police officers for our Afghan allies, keeping the Taliban far from the "south's major city" and sending the message loud and clear: we're here and we're staying.
Somehow these journalists overlooked the fact that when fighting broke out, the people ran for help to the Canadians. They didn't stick around to help the Taliban. They've chosen which side they're on.
It appears that many in the Press have as well.
The MSM had their own second front this past week, too. General Rick Hillier said it will take at least a decade until Afghanistan has a fully trained military which can handle security in the country without major U.S. and NATO help.
The usual suspects, starting with the Toronto Star, the CBC and the Globe and Mail, pounced at once. Wasn't Hillier contradicting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government since the Speech from the Throne said Afghans will be able to defend their sovereignty by 2011?
The Globe seized the torch and ran with it, reporting major division between Hillier and the government.
"Tone it down, Ottawa tells top soldier 'Marching orders' issued over Hillier's controversial remarks"
BRIAN LAGHI ,OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF, With a report from Alan Freeman
November 1, 2007
Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, has been told to tone down his political interventions after he spoke out last week on the direction of the Afghanistan military mission, sources have told The Globe and Mail.
It sure sounded informative, until you actually read the story and discovered that the "sources" turned out to be, count 'em, one unidentified person in an undisclosed position who may or may not know a thing.
No problem. The Globe even ran a follow-up story reporting the Opposition had slammed the Conservatives for "trying to muzzle" Hillier.
"Mr. Robillard (Liberal MP Lucienne Robillard...ed) was commenting on a Globe and Mail story that Gen. Hillier was told to refrain from stepping into the polical realm..." wrote Brian Laghi.
Told by whom? Why, the single unidentified "source." Journalism at its best in Canada.
And the alleged division? The coalition of U.S. and NATO forces is well on its way to training enough Afghan soldiers to take over security in Kandahar province, where Canadian troops are stationed. Two Afghan National Army battalions of 500-600 men are already operating in Kandahar and gaining experience by the day. Remember, Canada's fighting force in Afghanistan is only about 1100 soldiers, with the rest of the 2500 personnel in support. Training an army of 70,000 will take longer.
The quality of the ANA has been highly criticized in the reporting from Afghanistan. The quick and effective reaction to the Arghandab incursion showed how the Afghan army has matured.
"This was one of the first truly joint operations between Canadian and Afghan forces operating together as equal partners," said Lt. Commander Pierre Babinsky, spokesman for international troops in Kandahar Province. The Taliban forces were thrown out on their ears by 350 ANA troops with Canadian mentors, 200 Afghan police with American mentors and 300 Canadian soldiers. Local residents complained to reporters that Afghan troops had to do all the fighting because there weren't enough coaltion troops. And they obviously did a good job.
Army Lt. Col. Karl Slaughenhaupt is senior advisor to 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps, of the Afghan National Army. His team supports ANA troops as they patrol Zabul province, through which runs the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway
."The ANA on more than one occasion demonstrated incredible tenacity by rallying back after being ambushed and inflicting heavy losses on the enemy by fire and maneuver," he said. "Bottom line: that when the ANA gets in a fight, they win." he told the American Forces Press Service.
He described a recent week-long operation which foiled a Taliban attack on a forward operating base.
"Afghan soldiers tracked nearly 100 Taliban fighters as they approached the coalition base, the colonel explained. They then pinned down the enemy in rugged terrain, blocking any chance of escape. U.S. commanders verified insurgent' position using an unmanned aerial vehicle then called in airstrikes by two F-15 fighter jets, Slaughenhaupt said. Meanwhile, U.S. and Romania ground forces, Afghan National Police officers, coalition special operations teams, as well as provincial reconstruction, civil affairs and medical teams, rushed in to assist, he said.
"This is a great example of full-spectrum, counterinsurgent operations, combining kinetic and non-kinetic operations to simultaneously defeat the insurgents while reaching out to the Afghan people," he said. "This is a decisive victory in what has been traditionally considered an insurgent safe haven."
Afghan National Army Defeats Taliban in Key Southern Province,
American Forces Press Service David Mays, 11/02/2007
In search of something positive, the Taliban this week were trumpeting the taking control of three districts in Farah province in the west of Afghanistan. Control, though, turns out to be a slippery term.
On Sunday they announced they had taken the Khaki Safed district of Farah. A closer look at the details told a different story. The insurgents in about 40 trucks chased the police away at 1:30 A.M A couple of hours later, at 3:30 a.m. when Afghan forces arrived, the Taliban were gone.
They do still apparently hold the Bakwa and Gulistan districts in Farah province which they took without a fight last week. Even then, an examination of the situation suggests some interesting angles.
Gulistan is close to Musa Qala, a district of Helmand province next door, which the Taliban overran in February and have held as a base ever since. U.S.-led troops have been conducting reconnaissance missions and ambushes in Musa Qala district for weeks now, suggesting that the taking of Gulistan is an attempt to take some of the heat off the defenders in Musa Qala.
Farah is on the border with Iran and Farah provincial police chief Abdulrahman Sarjang said there were "many" Iranians and Pakistanis fighting among the Afghan Taliban.
And, maybe most tellingly, locals in the two districts of Farah overrun by the Taliban have complained that NATO is no helping Afghan forces retake the territory. Farah province is under command of the Italians who, like the troops from most European countries, are unwilling to fight, thereby giving the insurgents free reign until the Americans come calling.
Otherwise the week has been a bleak recitation of same old, same old.
- Four Taliban killed in a firefight in Badghis province in the far northwest of the country.
- Four police killed in Ghazni province by an IED.25 Taliban killed in a major operation in Uruzgan province.
- A suicide bomber blew himself up in Paktika province. Nobody could figure out what his target was. There were no coalition troops or convoys. The only injuries were to four taxi drivers.
- A Dutch soldier was killed by an IED in Uruzgan.
- Three police died in an IED blast in Nangarhar province.20 Taliban were killed by NATO planes in Badghis province.
And a suicide bomber walked up to a delegation of visiting lawmakers in the town of New Baghlan, in northern Afghanistan's Baglan province. The explosion killed at least 26, including six members of Afghanistan's parliament.
"Most of those killed are elders who gathered to welcome these parliamentarians in front of the factory, and schoolchildren, and especially children who were there to sing," said Commander Kamin, a police officer.