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.

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:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 6

We were just about to put Week Six to bed when we got word of the fate of Mansoor Dadullah.

If the name sounds familiar, it should, as you'll see. The last time we wrote about him we wondered what would become of him. Now we know and it would be tragic if it wasn't so funny.

Mansoor Dadullah's life this past year has been a microcosm of the fortunes of the Taliban in Afghanistan and so we're forced to re-top Week Six with his story.

A year ago, last March, his big brother Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's chief military commander, was shot to pieces by British (or Australian) special forces, sucking the life out of the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive he was supposed to lead. He didn't even have time to strap his artificial leg on before he gasped his final farewell.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar appointed Mansoor Dadullah to take over his bro's leadership of insurgent forces in the southern and western provinces---just in time to see his fighters decimated by an aggressive NATO offensive.

And that was the high point of the year. In December, Omar got wind that British diplomats were roaming Helmand province with pockets packed with cash to bribe Mansoor Dadullah into switching sides. Omar immediately sacked Mansoor and ordered his troops to shun their former leader.

After a month of sulking, Mansoor tried to sneak into Pakistan Monday from either Helmand or Kandahar provinces, only to be spotted by border security guards. He and five companions refused to stop, and the guards gunned them down. Mansoor is alive, but "critically wounded."

With his luck, he'll live, and get to undergo, uh, questioning by Afghan intelligence officers.

Mansoor's capture comes two weeks after one of Al-Qaeda's top leaders, Abu Layth al-Libi (spellings vary) was killed in Pakistan by a Predator drone. This week we learned from the Kuwaiti daily al-Watan that the Hellfire missile also killed three other important Al-Qaeda leaders, two Kuwaitis and a Libyan. It looks like there was some sort of terrorist summit meeting under way when the bomb dropped.

Don't you love stories with happy endings.

Mansoor Dadullah may actually have gotten out of southern Afghanistan while the getting was good for the British are bringing in their big guns for the coming spring fighting season.

The Sunday Times has reported that "3,000 paratroopers, including the entire Parachute Regiment" are being sent to southern Afghanistan and the number of UK special forces is being tripled.

"It will be the first time in the regiment's history that all four para battalions, including its reservists, have fought together on the same battlefield. The number of UK special forces personnel will rise to more than 800 and will include the bulk of the Special Forces Support Group, which is largely comprised of paratroopers." said the Times.

The Telegraph adds that "All three regular battalions of the Paras will take over from existing infantry in the southern province of Helmand in April, providing the backbone of 16 Air Assault brigade, it was reported. advertisement They will be sent out with extra firepower including more armoured vehicles and new Merlin helicopters. It is the first time that so many Paras have been sent on a joint combat mission since the Second World War."

The Telegram says that the paras will be sent out "with extra firepower including more armoured vehicles and new Merlin helicopters" and, according to the Times, The RAF will be adding Tornado and Typhoon ground attack planes to its existing Harrier squadrons

"The aim is for special forces to target the Taliban before they cause problems, while the paras provide security for reconstruction to get going in earnest," one officer told the Times.

And this year UK special forces will be going after drug barons who fund the Taliban. When NATO and Afghan forces recaptured the Helmand town of Musa Qala they discovered up to 70 heroin factories and an estimated $300- to $500-million in opium.

And the incoming troops know what's waiting for them. When 1 Battalion of the Royal Anglians returned to England in November they revealed that they had fired one million rounds in their six month tour. They killed more than 1000 insurgents. The intensity of the fighting his year could be as great as the British concentrate on refurbishing the Kajaki Dam, probably the most important single reconstruction effort of the current NATO mission to Afghanistan which is already one year behind schedule.

In next door Kandaha province, Canadian forces are seeing another rotation of troops this week. The fighting has died down considerably but Kandahar appears to be the prime target of the Taliban's roadside and suicide bomb campaign.

"A mine planted by Taliban insurgents and exploded by remote-control Monday night (Feb. 4)south of Kandahar city, capital of Kandahar province, left three policemen dead and injured two others," police chief of Kandahar Syed Aqa Saqib told Xinhua news service.

At almost the same time in neighbouring Helmand province a civilian car struck a roadside bomb in Gereskh district, killing five people including a woman and two children.

A published report says that since 2005, the year Canadian Forces starting arriving in Kandahar province, there have been 34 successful attacks by roadside bombs. Twenty-eight soldiers have been killed and 72 have been wounded, according to statistics on the Canadian American Strategic Review website.

On Feb. 4, seven Taliban fighters were killed in an airstrike as they were they were trying to mine a road in Panjwayi district. Next day the airpower summary described the action this way:

2/5/2008 - SOUTHWEST ASIA ( AFPN ) -- In Afghanistan, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle conducted a show of force in order to deter enemy activities in the vicinity of Kajaki Dam. The on-scene joint terminal attack controller declared the mission successful.

An Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-38s on positions in Kandahar where improvised explosive devices were located. The mission was declared successful by the JTAC.

A day later three Canadian soldiers hunting for roadside bombs were shaken up when their Cougar bomb-hunting vehicle hit a roadside IED under a culvert 1200 feet from an Afghan police substation.

The only other attacks of note were a series of suicide bombings.

A suicide car bomber in Ghazni province, southwest of the capital Kabul, targeted an Afghan army convoy Friday, Feb. 7. The explosion killed one soldier and two civilians, one of them a child. Five soldiers were wounded.

The previous day a suide car bomber blew himself up near a NATO convoy in Khost province in the east. Three soldiers were slightly wounded.

And two civilians were injured in a bungled suicide attack in the southwestern province Nimroz.

The relative ineffectiveness of the Taliban's suicide bomb campaign is noteworthy. We've come across numerous individual accounts of the Taliban recruitment which, as you'll easily see, belie the image of a popular insurgency stocked with eager recruits.

Here's an excerpt from a story on youths in Afghanistan from IRIN, a United Nations news agency:

Youth in crisis: Coming of age in the 21st century
AFGHANISTAN: Economy, violence hit prospects for youth

"A few days ago, while I was going to school, the Taliban stopped me and asked me to quit school and learn religious education in a Madrassa instead, or else I should join their armed ranks," 17-year-old Kandahar student Habibulhaq told IRIN.

"They also told me that I would be paid, but that first I need to get military training before taking part in the fighting against the government," the teenager revealed.

"Now I am afraid that they might kill me one day because I continued studying at school and didn't give in to their demand," he said.

[This article is part of a special IRIN series that looks at how conflict, poverty and social alienation are affecting the lives of schoolchildren ]

And here's a more chilling anecdote from the Daily Express about a 12-year-old boy attending school in the U.K. (Suicide Bomber, 12, at UK School, Daily Express, February 10, 2008):

Extremists recruited the boy shortly after his father, a Taliban fighter, was shot dead by British soldiers in a gun battle. One elder told him: "You must avenge his death by becoming a martyr." During intensive mountain training the youngster learned how to handle explosives and sophisticated detonators. He even went on dummy missions with bags taped to his body.

Taliban fanatics instructed him to wander towards British patrols, pretending to be a tearful lost child, and once surrounded by soldiers - or taken to an Army base - he would blow himself up.

But after weeks of secret training the boy blurted out to his mother what he was doing. She could not bear the thought of losing a son as well as her husband, so worried family members pulled all their resources together and paid for him to be spirited out of Afghanistan to escape the clutches of evil Taliban leaders

It's dozens of stories like this that Canadians never read about in the mainstream media as the pundits pontificate about the chances of an election over Afghanistan.

By coincidence we came across this passage from Shakespeare which seems almost written for Canada:

Henry VI, Part 1, Act 1, Scene 1

Messenger: Among the soldiers, this is muttered---
That here you maintain several factions,
And whilst a field should be despatched and fought,
You are disputing of your generals:
One would have lingering wars, with little cost:
Another would fly swift, but wantest wings:
A third man thinks, without expense at all,
By guileful fair words peace may be obtained


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