War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 1
By this time last year, the Taliban had already laid out its plan for the takeover of Afghanistan.
2007 was going to be the decisive year when NATO forces would be driven out of the country and the Taliban would capture Kandahar City, pausing briefly to enjoy their triumph before moving on to take the capital, Kabul.
But after a year of being mauled relentlessly, sent running from even their longest held strongholds, and watching their dreams go up in smoke, often with their leaders, the Taliban have entered 2008 without their annual boastfest.
The first week of the new year delivered some of the reasons for the insurgency's new humility.
Afghan authorities say 200 fighters were killed last month in the operation to retake the town of Musa Qala which the Taliban had held for 10 months. And we don't know if that includes the 50 Taliban killed when the fleeing fighters tried to salvage a shred of dignity by attacking the nearby village of Sangin--- only to be driven off by the British soldiers who had booted them out of Sangin in the first place.
Given that the drive to re-capture Musa Qala lasted about seven days, that's what we call a good week's work.
And the secret of the sudden downfall of Taliban commander Mansoor Dadullah has been revealed.
Mansoor is the baby brother of Mullah Dadullah, the Elvis of the Taliban movement, a feared, ruthless commander revered for his fighting spirit, who is also now dead. Mullah Dadullah was supposed to lead the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive last year. Then the British killed him, spoiling those plans. Baby Dadullah was appointed to take his place as leader of the Taliban in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. As December came to a close, it was announced that Mansoor Dadullah had been fired by Taliban supremo Mullah Omar.
We've learned since that this may have been due to a secret, unauthorized mission by two British diplomats who were discovered in Helmand province with $150,000 cash on them. It seems they were holding secret meetings with Mansoor Dadullah in hopes of buying him off.
We don't know if he ever took cash from the pair or if he put it in a secret safety deposit box in the U.S.---oh wait, we've got him confused with former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney,so scrap that.
Nevertheless, Mullah Omar got wind of the money wafting around and Dadullah Jr. got the boot.
He's currently being shunned by his former Taliban pals, meaning he's a lone freelance insurgent. There's not much future in that job, but maybe he'll write a book. If he could write.
And, more good news, the Afghan National Army stood at 57,000 strong by year's end and is expected to reach the goal of 70,000 soldiers by May. We'll see as the year progresses how much of the heavy lifting is taken off the shoulders of coalition forces, particularly the Canadians in Kandahar province and British in Helmand, by the ANA.
But the size of the Afghan army is becoming a moving target.
"We think we need a 200,000 (strong) Afghan National Army which is in the interest of both Afghanistan and the international community," defense ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said at a news conference.
The year picked up pretty much where the last left off.
On New Year's Day a man wearing a bomb-vest was shot dead trying to enter a police checkpoint in the eastern province of Khost.
"He wanted to target our police but our guys shot him dead before he succeeded in exploding his bombs," police official, Mohammad Yaqoub, told AFP.
And in Ghazni province two insurgents were killed when a bomb they were trying to plant on a road exploded prematurely.
"Some Taliban fighters were busy in planting a mine on a road in Nawa district very early today to target government troops. Suddenly it exploded killing two insurgents on the spot," senior police officer in the province Mohammad Zaman told Xinhua.
Now that's bringing in the new year the way we like it.
The rest of the week was a familiar story--Taliban fighters killed in clashes with Afghan and coalition soldiers on the one hand and police and soldiers killed by suicide bombers and roadside bombs on the other.
A roadside bomb in Khost province killed one American soldier and interpreter. Another killed two security guards outside a U.S. base.
10 Taliban rebels were killed after attacking an Afghan police checkpost in the western province of Badghis on the Iranian border.
A suicide bomber killed six police officers and an Indian construction worker in an attack on a convoy in Nimruz province. Another suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a border police patrol killing one police officer in Spin Boldak, Kandahar province.
Afghan national security forces patrolling in the Sangin district of Helmand province discovered an IED placed along a roadway near a mosque. The soldiers secured the site and warned a coalition convoy on the road of the danger saving them from hitting the IED. After disabling the bomb the Afghan soldiers investigated the area and found a wire leading to the mosque, where an insurgent intended to detonate the bomb.
A mosque being used by insurgents. Gee, who woulda thought...
In Helmand province a roadside bomb was discovered by police but went off before it could be defused. Four people--two police officers and two civilians---were killed.
Most troubling is the possibility of a new tactic demonstrated in this incident:
Jan. 8 (UPI) -- A roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan killed two soldiers in the U.S.-led coalition as they responded to a police call for help in the eastern province of Nangarhar , the military said Tuesday.
"The troops were responding to a call from the local police who had discovered another explosive device nearby, when the second bomb exploded," a statement from the Bagram military base said.
The indiscriminate tools of terrorism--suicide bombers and roadside booby-traps-- are the only weapon the Taliban and its allies have left, as the sea of local support it depends on dries up.
According to the Pajhwak Afghan News Agency, in 2007 there were 137 suicide attacks, fewer than the 141 in 2006. 140 suicide bombers killed themselves in the attacks.
1057 civilians were killed or injured by the suicide attacks, not a good way to build support for your cause.
The bombers killed 300 civilians and wounded 757.
They were much less successful attacking military and government targets. 171 police were killed, 213 wounded. 37 Afghan police were killed, 50 wounded. And only 12 coalition soldiers were killed by suicide attacks and 54 wounded.