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Sunday, April 27, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 17

The Taliban suffered their biggest defeat of the year last week in what may turn out to be the turning point in the war.

When even their biggest press cheerleader calls it a disaster, you know it's bad---for the enemy.

And you haven't heard a word of it in the mainstream media.

Remember we told you that the Taliban was bragging openly how they intended to strike a mortal blow to coalition forces in Afghanistan by throttling the main supply line through Pakistan's Khyber pass.

Well, today, "Their Khyber dreams are now in tatters." according to Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.

"The Taliban and their al-Qaeda associates, in what they considered a master stroke, this year started to target the Western alliance's supply lines that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan. " (Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass, Asia Times Online, Apr 26, 2008)

The Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies were emboldened by a attack March 20 which destroyed 40 gas tankers at Torkham - the border crossing in Pakistan's Khyber Agency leading into Afghanistan's Nangarhar province.

The Taliban were feeling the effects of Pakistani military pressure on their bases in the tribal regions bordering on Afghanistan and they were desperately looking for a way to turn the tide of battle within Afghanistan which has been running against them for two consecutive years. Al Qaeda, meanwhile, was being driven out of Iraq by strategic alliances between local tribes and the United States army and it needed something to recapture its waning influence among Islamic radicals.

"After coming under intense pressure in its traditional strongholds in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, al-Qaeda and the Taliban staged a joint shura (council). This meeting concluded that they had to be especially careful of local political parties and tribals who were all too ready to sell themselves in the US's quest to find Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. The council pointed to the example of Iraq, where the US's policy of courting Sunni tribes to turn against al-Qaeda has had marked success." wrote Shazhad, calling on his insider terrorist sources.

"At this point, the council hit on the idea of taking the initiative and turning Taliban and al-Qaeda attention on Khyber Agency with the aim of bleeding the Western coalition without having to launch major battles. "

The U.S. worked to replicate its success in Iraq by forging alliances with tribes within the Khyber Agency. The Taliban responded, wrote Shazhad, by threatening tribal chieftains and launching "a suicide attack on a jirga (meeting) convened to discuss eradicating the Taliban from the area. Over 40 tribals were killed. "

As we predicted, the Taliban would pay heavily for this campaign of intimidation.

In order to infiltrate the Khyber region, they had to find a local host they could trust. They settled on a man named , Haji Namdar, a travelling trader rather than a local tribe member, who shared Al Qaeda's Salafi ideology. He was supposed to set up a series of safe houses for Taliban fighters to hide in following attacks on convoys headed for Afghanistan.

Last Monday, the Taliban captured two employees of the World Food Program and their plans blew up in their faces.

Here's the story by Asia Times Online, interspersed with supporting accounts from other Pakistani news agencies:

"Anyway, with the Taliban's arrangement with Namdar, the stage was set and they steadily stepped up their attacks on convoys heading for Afghanistan, leading to the capture of the two WFP members and their vehicle on Monday." (Asia Times Online.)

"At about 11 a.m. local time, gunmen halted and hijacked a UN vehicle carrying a driver and a logistics coordinator from the Pakistani city of Peshawar to the Afghan border in the pass, said Ishrat Rizvi, a press officer with the UN in Islamabad, the capital. The two men were assigned to arrange customs clearance for truckloads of WFP food being sent into Afghanistan, she said." (Pakistani Troops Free UN Workers; Combat Closes Khyber Pass, James Rupert, Bloomberg News, April 21)

"Unlike in previous Taliban attacks in the area, local paramilitary forces chased the Taliban after this incident. The Taliban retaliated and five soldiers were killed, but then their ammunition ran out and they surrendered the two workers and tried to flee, but they were blocked. The Taliban called in reinforcements, but so did the paramilitary troops, and a stalemate was reached. Eventually, the Taliban managed to capture a local political agent (representing the central government) and they used him as a hostage to allow their escape."(Asia Times Online)

"According to the Political Administration, the armed and masked miscreants kidnapped three officials of World Food Programme (WFP) from Neki Khel area of Landi Kotal tehsil while they were on their way to Torkhum in a vehicle...Responding quickly, the Khasadars chased the kidnappers and after an exchange of fire near Ziaray Kandow area the miscreants changed their route.However they were again intercepted by the law enforcers in Walikhel area from where they also picked up the political Tehsildar.In a shootout in Walikhel area security personnel Riaz was killed while four Khasadar sustained injuries. The law enforcers tightened their cordon around the kidnappers who first released the Tehsildar and after some distance the WFP officials were also set free by the fleeing miscreants. (Associated Press of Pakistan, Pakistan - Apr 21, 2008)

And that's when things went from bad to worse for the Taliban.

"They retreated to their various safe houses, but to their horror, paramilitary troops were waiting for them and scores were arrested, and their arms caches seized...The only person aware of the safe houses was Namdar, their supposed protector: they had been sold out." wrote Shazhad.

In a hurried post mortem, Al Qaeda sources declared that the CIA paid Namdar $150,000 (local currency) to betray the Taliban insurgents.

"The immediate result is that Taliban operations in Khyber Agency have been cut off. This in itself is a major setback, as the attacks on supply lines had hit a raw NATO nerve.

In the broader context, Namdar's betrayal vividly illustrates the dangers of traitors within the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The fear is that the various peace deals being signed now between the Islamabad government and selected tribal leaders could lead to a whole new batch of betrayals. " concluded Asia Times Online.

As if to underscore the growing impotence of the Taliban in the area, the Globe and Mail in Canada and the Scotsman in Scotland (of course) wrote this week about Mangal Bagh, an Islamic warlord who claims total control of the Khyber agency with 10,000 men under his control and who rejects the Taliban.

The Scotsman wrote:

"He has received repeated entreaties to combine forces with the Pakistani Taleban, who run other parts of the country's wild north western border, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). A traditional jirga - meeting of elders - was held between Lashkar-i-Islam and the Taleban about 40 days ago.

"I told them (the Taleban] that what I am doing is enough. It is the right direction. There is no need to join you," he said.

"The Taleban consists of religious scholars. We are fighters for Islam, lay people. We don't have any religious figures in our organisation."

On Sunday, Pakistan announced a peace agreement with Mangal Bagh who assured the government no armed attacks would be carried out in the tribal areas.

The fighting in Afghanistan spilled over into Pakistan on Wednesday when Taliban insurgents learned that the rules have changed and hot pursuit doesn't end at the border.

Insurgents attacked three government checkpoints in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province then made a run for it into Pakistan. But Afghan army troops backed by U.S. warplanes and helicopter gunships chased them all the way. Ten Taliban fighters were killed and one Pakistani border trooper also died in the fighting. Pakistan protested the incursion, the coalition forces said "sorry" and the Taliban got the message.

Back in Afghanistan proper, the much vaunted Taliban Spring Offensive is turning out to be an assault on policemen across the country. At least 21 police officers were killed during the week with many others wounded.

* April 21. An attack on a police checkpoint in the Marouf district of Kandahar leaves 3 policemen dead. Four insurgents were killed.

* April 23. An attack on a police post in the Gereshk district of Helmand province. Five police are killed and seven Taliban.

* The same day, a suicide bomber targets the police chief of Gereshk as he leaves police headquarters. Two policemen were killed and three wounded, but the police chief was unhurt.

* April 23. A roadside bomb in Badghis province killed three policemen.

* April 23. Five policemen are killed and four wounded in an attack on a police post in Kunar.

* April 24. A gun battle raged for three hours when insurgents attacked a police checkpoint in Paktia province. No injuries were reporter.

* April 26. A mine explosion killed two police and wounded four in Ghazni.

* April 26. A roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded another in Farah province.

Once upon a time reporters would pepper their "exclusive" interviews with Taliban spokesman with boasts of how they disregarded American airpower. Not any more.

Seven Taliban planting roadside bombs got the surprise of their lives last week when they got blown up by an airstrike in Paktia province. Another 15 insurgents were killed by an airstrike in Paktika province next door three days later.

Kandahar province, where Canadian troops are stationed, was less of a hot spot this past week.

A roadside bomb damaged an American vehicle and slightly injured the two troops inside. Security officials arrested a man they described as a facilitator for suicide bombers. Two days later a suicide bomber blew himself up in Spin Boldak, a town near the Pakistan border, killing three civilians and wounding 14.

In eastern Laghman province, four Taliban insurgents were moving explosives in a car when it went BOOM. The joke was definitely on them.


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