A Hellfire missile fired from an American Predator UAV killed a baker's dozen of Taliban commanders meeting last Monday in Mir Ali, a town in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.
When they got through putting the pieces together, they confirmed that one of the bodies belonged to none other than Abu Laith al-Libi, the No.3 man in al-Qaeda, behind only Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. And that's not even the good news.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online spelled it out in no uncertain terms in his story on al-Libi's death:
KARACHI - With the killing of Abu Laith al-Libi this week, the Taliban have suffered their biggest loss since being ousted from power in 2001, and they are left without their finest military brain just two months before their spring offensive.
.... He was the de facto commander in chief of the Afghan resistance against the occupation forces in Afghanistan and he was the main engine behind all of the Taliban's successful attacks, especially in the east of the country.
...Libi was the best instructor the Taliban ever had.
And you can just imagine who else was blown up with him. Generals don't usually hold sitdowns with sergeants.
Libi had acted as a restraining influence on hard-line Islamists in Pakistan's Waziristan tribal areas who believe in war against any non-practicising Muslims and who supported attacks on Pakistan, often at the expense of the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Asia Times Online says a Taliban delegation from the Afghan province of Helmand has arrived in South Waziristan "to build bridges between various feuding factions and unite them for the spring offensive. "
If Libi's death means the diversion of resources away from Taliban forces in Afghanistan it will be a relief for NATO forces, particularly the British and Canadians in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.
Libi's removal is just another blow to the top leadership of the Taliban. And we learned this week that the turmoil in Pakistan continues to pay dividends.
It turns out senior Taliban leader, Maulvi Saifur Rehman Mansoor, was killed in January in fighting between Sunnis and Shiites in the tribal region of Parachinar. Mansoor---or as the Pajhwak Afghan News Agency calls him, dreaded Taliban commander for Khost and Paktia provinces-- had been a member of the Majlis Shura, which is like the board of directors for Al Qaeda that supposedly gives the okay for all major worldwide terror attacks before money and logistics are provided.
Pajhwok Afghan News reports that a source in the National Intelligence Departments press office said, "The news of his death was being kept secret to keep Taliban morale from plummeting."
And the U.S. confirmed the death of Darim Sedgai, a top Taliban facilitator of IEDs and suicide bombers, of injuries suffered in an ambush in Pakistan. Sedgai was a powerful sub-commander of notorious Taliban leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani. The so-called Haqqani network is based out of North Waziristan and leads insurgent operations in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces. It was responsible for the deadly assault on the Serena Hotel in Kabul on Jan. 14. where at least eight people were killed.
Sedgai was put on a "12 Most Wanted" poster put out by the US military last October. He is the third sub-commander of the Haqqani network to be killed since October. Col. David Anders, Combined Joint Task Force-82, opined that "Siraj Haqqani will increasingly have to provide direct operational guidance rather than remaining in Pakistan. He will no longer have the luxury of hiding out while others do his fighting for him." And when he shows up, the U.S. will gladly eliminate him, as well.
General Dan McNeill, the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said coalition troops will be pursuing Taliban insurgents aggessively this year.
"More important, what you will see different this year is the increased Afghan National Security Force capacity. So we expect to be not out front as we were last year, we expect the Afghans to be out front and we are going to support their operations," he said.
An early sign of this new aggressiveness is a 10-day operation that just wrapped up in Uruzgan province. Coalition forces searched compounds in the Deh Rahwood district targeting a Taliban arms supplier. They uncovered caches of small arms and ammunition rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, as well as an improvised explosive device, and three wireless sets have also been seized by the police, all of which will have to be laboriously replaced if the Taliban is to launch a spring offensive.
Although the Afghan army is expected to grow to 70,000 by the end of 2008, the general said, citing Afghan authorities, the ANA is not expected to be capable of independent operations until late 2011 or 2012.
The insurgents launched meager attacks this week. An ambush on police in the Geresk district of Helmand province killed two police officers and left three wounded. A car bomb driven by a suicide attacker in Kabul exploded next to an Afghan army bus, killing one civilian and wounding four more.
The most successful attack was in Helmand province where a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, killing the deputy governor, Pir Mohammed, and five others. 18 people including two children were wounded.
Pir Mohammad had served as a deputy governor of Helmand for the past five years. He had two wives and 11 children, said Sher Mohammad Akhunzada, a former provincial governor.
Afghan authorities said Mohammad had just come from a meeting with the Helmand governor.
"After finishing his meeting, the deputy governor walked to the mosque for prayer," said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal. "As they were praying, the bomber detonated his explosives." The mosque's prayer leader was also killed, he said.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said an Afghan from the eastern Paktia province, Qudratullah, carried out the attack. The significance of this shouldn't be overlooked. The fact they had to import a suicide bomber demonstrates the lack of support for the Taliban in the south particularly when it comes to extremist tactics.
This comes on the heels of published reports last fall that Taliban insurgents had overstayed their welcome in Helmand.
"In Helmand there are reports of a lack of local willingness to fight for the Taliban."
(War without end, The Economist print edition, Oct 25th 2007)
KANDAHAR, 27 September 2007 (IRIN) - Over 2,500 families have left their homes in different districts of insurgency-battered Helmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan over the past two months, provincial officials told IRIN on 27 September.
Many displaced civilians who have flocked into Kandahar city say they left their homes because Taliban insurgents tried to force them to join their ranks, feed and care for their wounded fighters and provide financial support for their campaign. (IRIN is a unique humanitarian news and analysis service. Part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)
More proof of the waning influence of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, where the movement was started and where many of its leaders were born, comes from former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Salaam who defected to the central government in December forcing the surrender of the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala.
From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Feb. 1, 2008:
"In exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Salaam says he decided to support the Kabul government after he became convinced that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his followers were violating the "orders of God" as revealed in the Koran.
"My brothers," Salaam says, "these were the first five verses of the Koran that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at Mount Hira: 'Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created all, has created man from a blood clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who has taught by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.' "
Salaam says those verses led him to question who the Taliban really are after seeing them "taking pens from our children and taking away schools and education."
"If we take action based on the Koran and based on God's orders, God says to take up the pen," Salaam says. "But if the Taliban does not allow us to take up the pen, then I must demand to know what they are inspired by."
"And now, [Omar] is so weak that he is hiding in a cave. He gives his orders on an audio recording. And he orders the killing of teachers and students and the destruction of schools. This is not the Islamic way."
One year ago, in almost the first Afghanistan report in The Black Rod, we wrote that the 'education war' would be the tipping point that would separate the insurgents from the population. It appears its come to pass and will only escalate.
The mainstream press, meanwhile, continues to undermine the mission in Afghanistan with an unrelenting negative slant to the facts. Here are a couple of examples of how far they will go.
Number of students, teachers killed in Taliban attacks on schools up sharply
Jan 23, 2008
KABUL - Afghan education officials say the number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks has tripled over the last year.
It says the attacks appear to be part of a Taliban strategy aimed at closing down schools and forcing teenage boys to join the insurgency. The Afghan Education Ministry say the number of students out of class because of security concerns rose from 200,000 to 300,000 last year.
Meanwhile, the number of schools forced to close rose to 590 from 350 the year before - a 69 per cent increase.
If you continued to read the story, say another 15 paragraphs almost to the end you would see...
Still, there is good news on the education front since the days of the Taliban, when girls couldn't attend schools and fewer than one million boys did. Some 5.8 million students now attend class, up from 5.4 million a year ago. Thirty-five per cent of students are female.
The Education Ministry's goal is that within four years 75 per cent of all boys will attend classes - up from roughly 50 per cent currently - and 60 per cent of all girls - up from less than 30 per cent today.
In other words, 100,000 students couldn't attend classes because of security concerns in 2007. BUT EVEN SO 400,000 MORE students started school in 2007.
That story, BURIED.
And how about this....
Taliban attacks on allied troops soar by up to a third
Jason Burke, Sunday February 3, 2008, The Observer
Attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan surged last year, according to previously unpublished figures from allied military forces fighting insurgents.
Statistics compiled by the multinational International Stabilisation Force in Afghanistan show attacks on international troops and the Afghan government have gone up by between a fifth and a third.
But although admitting the figures show a 'significant rise', Nato insists the geographic extent of the violence remains limited. 'Seventy per cent of the incidents took place in just 10 per cent of the country, where no more than 6 per cent of the population live, and many have been initiated by our forces as we engage with the enemy,' a Nato source said. 'That is the same area as in 2006 which shows the insurgency is not spreading.'
So, attacks went up by one-fifth to one-third -- and still the insurgency failed to accomplish a thing.
Indeed, NATO forces extended their control of territory, killed thousands of insurgents, decimated the Taliban leadership, built roads and bridges to speed commerce, extended health care into the most isolated parts of the country, and won the support of Afghans desperate for education for their children and jobs for themselves.
In the eyes of the press, that means NATO is failing and the Taliban is succeeding.
See how The Observer manages to pepper their story with negative buzzwords...
"The figures...will fuel the bitter dispute between Nato countries..."
"Recent weeks have seen fierce criticism of European nations' efforts..."
"...there has been a bad-tempered exchange..."
"Canada threatened to withdraw..."
"The argument comes as a series of reports warning of 'failure'..."
" British policy in Afghanistan sustained a major blow ..."
"A particular frustration for the US..."
"General Carlos Branco... conceded to reporters last month that violence had increased in Afghanistan, but argued that suicide bombs reflected desperation by the Taliban."
Now go back to the beginning of The Black Rod and see everything that's missing from the Observer's story. And wonder why.