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 since 2005, 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, April 22, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Weeks15 and 16

The cauldron of war was boiling in Afghanistan this past two weeks.

It wasn't until we had a bird's eye view of the activity that we realized the latest Canadian rotation into Kandahar province was getting a trial by fire.

* April 10. A suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy passing through the centre of Kandahar city, the capital of Kandahar province, about 10 a.m. The explosion killed 8 civilians and injured 22 bystanders.

* April 13. Two British troops, both Royal Air Force servicemen, were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb about 6:45 p.m. while they were on patrol outside Kandahar airfield. Two others in the lightly armoured Land Rover Wolf were wounded.

In a separate incident, Taliban militants attacked a joint patrol of Afghan and international forces on patrol near the Panjwayi district of the province. Four Taliban fighters were killed in the gun battle. There were no coalition casualties.

* April 14. Taliban fighters killed 11 policemen during a midnight raid on a police outpost 15 miles north of Kandahar City. A policeman on watch on the roof was strangled. Two policemen were found in a room, bound and shot in the head. Entering the compound, the Taliban fighters opened fire on the men sleeping on the mud floor, killing all but one who was found alive but gravely wounded.

Insurgents killed more than 925 Afghan police last year.

* April 16. Two U.S. marines were killed when they vehicle they were in hit a roadside bomb.

First Sgt. Luke J. Mercardante, 35, was the battalion sergeant major for Combat Logistics Battalion 24, the logistics element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Cpl. Kyle W. Wilks, 24, the other Marine killed, was a military policeman serving as part of the battalion.

*April 17. Two Canadian soldiers were wounded by a roadside bomb. But by there's more to the story that's not being told if the various news accounts of the incident are any clue.

Associated Press had this report:

2 Canadians hurt, tank destroyed
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) A roadside bomb struck a Canadian military vehicle on Thursday near Spin Boldak, a town on the Pakistani border, said Lt. Cmdr Pierre Babinsky, a spokesman for NATO troops in the south. No one died in the blast, but he declined to say whether any soldiers were wounded.

Canwest News Service reported it this way:

Roadside bomb causes minor injury
Ryan Cormier , Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, April 17, 2008

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - A Canadian soldier was slightly injured when a military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Thursday morning.

The incident happened about 9:30 a.m. local time in the Spin Boldak district.

The soldier received medical attention and was back on duty before the end of the day, Canadian Forces officials said.

Pajhwok Afghan News said this:

Friday, April 18, 2008,
Two Canadian soldiers injured
KANDAHAR CITY (PAN): Two Canadian soldiers under command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have sustained injuries after a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in the volatile Kandahar province, an official said on Thursday. Gen. Abdul Razaq commander of border battalion told Pajhwok Afghan News the wounded soldiers were rushed to Kandahar International Airport for treatment after a roadside bomb hit their vehicle at approximately 9:00 o-clock.

And Reuters may have supplied the missing piece of the puzzle:

"Also on Thursday, at least two NATO soldiers were wounded and a tank destroyed when a remote-controlled roadside bomb exploded in Kandahar's Spin Boldak town on the Pakistani border, border police chief, Abdul Raziq Khan, told Reuters."

A loss of one of Canada's tanks would be reason to keep the story hushed.

* April 18. 68 Pakistani men were arrested by Afghan army troops in the Spin Boldak area on suspicion of being insurgent fighters.

* April 19. One Afghan policeman and two Taliban fighters were killed in a firefight in Panjwai district of Kandahar. More than two dozen suspected insurgents were seized by troops who swept the area searching for the attackers.

* April 19. A convoy of civilian security contractors working for the US. firm DynCorp was hit by a roadside bomb near the border with Pakistan. There were no injuries and no serious damage, said the ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Commander Babinsky.

While much of the war's action appeared to be concentrated in Kandahar province, there were some significant incidents in Nimroz province to the west of Kandahar.

* April 17. As men were gathering for evening prayers at the central mosque in Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province, at least one suicide attacker blew himself up, killing 24 men and boys and wounded 30 others. A district police chief and a border reserve police commander were among the dead.

At least two other suicide attacks have hit Nimroz this month. An attack on April 1 left two policemen dead in Zaranj. Another on Saturday April 12 killed two Indian road construction engineers and their Afghan driver.

But here's the intriguing story that may portend trouble ahead...

Iranian, Afghan forces clash at southwestern border
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Sunday, April 20, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan police clashed with Iranian forces at the southwestern border between the two countries, leaving one civilian dead and two Iranian officers wounded, officials said Sunday.

The incident in the village of Pul-e-Abreshum in Nimroz province happened Saturday after an Iranian patrol entered Afghanistan, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Afghan police dispatched a unit to the village and a gunbattle ensued. A teacher from the village was killed during the firefight, said provincial police chief Gen. Ayub Badakhshi.

Two Iranian officers were wounded, the statement said.

Taliban Plans Revealed

Asia Times Online reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad has the latest on the Taliban's stratgegy for 2008.

Under the headline "The Taliban talk the talk" Shahzad advises "...the Taliban-led battle in Afghanistan is about to enter a new phase."

"(F)or the first time since their ouster in 2001, the Taliban will scale back their tribal guerrilla warfare and concentrate on tactics used by the legendary Vietnamese commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, an approach that has already proved successful in taming the Pakistani military in the tribal areas.

"For the first time, the Taliban will have a well-coordinated strategy under which we will seize isolated military posts for a limited time, taking enemy combatants hostage, and then leaving them," "Dr Jarrah", a Taliban media spokesman, told Asia Times Online in a telephone conversation from Kunar province in Afghanistan.

"This is the second tier of General Giap's guerrilla strategy. The third tier is a conventional face-to-face war. This aims to demoralize the enemy," Jarrah explained. "We have been delayed by rainfall, but you shall see action by mid-April."


The Taliban's new focus is the brainchild of several retired Pakistani military officers who are now part of the Taliban movement. They are complemented by men trained by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence's India cell to fuel the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.


During 2008, the main center of Taliban activity will be eastern Afghanistan.

"Almost 90% of the men have been launched for this spring," a Pakistani Taliban told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. He is known for his professional military skills and strategic planning.

"About 10,000 fresh men have joined hands with us. Of these, half of them have been trained and launched, along with the old lot, while the other half [5,000] are getting training and will be launched in the next phase," the man said.

NATO Red Tape wastes military resources

The Baltimore Sun reports that U.S. marines sent to southern Afghanistan have been immobilized by NATO.

Marines immobile in Afghan red tape
Multinational force has multiple leaders
By David Wood Baltimore Sun reporter
April 11, 2008

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Disagreements and coordination problems high within the international military command are delaying combat operations for 2,500 Marines who arrived here last month to help root out Taliban forces, according to military officers here.

For weeks the Marines -- with their light armor, infantry, artillery and a squadron of transport and attack helicopters and Harrier strike fighters -- have been virtually quarantined at the international air base here, unable to operate beyond the base perimeter


Frequent changes among command leaders and unclear lines of authority have made it difficult for the Marines to win general approval for the timing, goals and extent of proposed operations.

Marine operations planning, which is routinely completed in hours or days, has gone on for weeks while they await agreement and approval from above.

"They invite us here ... and they don't know how to use us?" said Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. "We are trying to keep our frustration in check ... but we have to wait for the elephants to stop dancing," Henderson said, referring to the brass-heavy international command.


But living conditions at this huge base are comfortable, with a well-stocked PX, an off-duty recreation area with a Burger King and pizza shop and an Afghan bazaar. Marines sleep on cots in air-conditioned tents, and the food is considered above-par."

Global Warming cost hits Afghanistan

The worldwide food shortage, due in large part to diverting land formerly used to grow food crops to growing crops for bio-fuels, is having deadly repercussions in Afghanistan.

At the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan, border guards from both countries got into a gun battle that left one Afghan policeman dead. Two Afghan border police were wounded and two Pakistani soldiers were wounded in the gunfight.

Pakistan, it turns out, has restricted how much wheat can be shipped into Afghanistan. Three wheat trucks had crossed into Afghanistan, and Pakistan soldiers were chasing them, sparking the shootout.

Afghan Sports Report

We almost missed this story in the Sunday Herald, because at first we didn't catch the pun of the title. Then we thought it had to be a hoax. But, apparently not...

Raging Kabul
By Nick Meo, Sunday Herald

TWICE A week in a dingy gym in the recesses of Kabul's National Stadium, a group of teenage girls gather to practise boxing. With their jaunty headscarves, determined expressions and male coaches, it looks like a scene from the Taliban's worst nightmare.


Inside the stadium, down a long dark corridor adorned with puddles and peeling paint, tiny girls are shadow boxing, practising ducking and sparring. This is quite new for Kabul and, for some of its inhabitants, deeply troubling.

The girls are dwarfed by their outsized boxing gloves. Most wear long-sleeved T-shirts donated by a Californian boxing apparel company and jaunty bandanas. Some have on demure headscarves and black training pants or jeans.

Their femininity seems weirdly out of place in the gym, which smells of old socks. Anywhere else in the world, the place would be utterly depressing. The punch bags are old and mended with bits of tape; one is homemade. But the room is full of the energy of determined teenagers. Being Kabulis, they are used to dilapidation and it doesn't trouble them.


During a break from shadow boxing, Beheshta Naiemy, who is 17 and wants to be a journalist, laughs with incredulity when I ask if she has ever worn a burkha. The Taliban days, and the terrible civil war that came before them, blighted the lives of her mother's generation. But for her, they are like a bad dream that has been forgotten.

"When the Taliban were here, ladies couldn't see TV or play sports. Now they can go out. Things are much better," she says. "There are still a lot of problems though."

One of the problems is the threat the girls face for daring to be boxers. A fortnight ago, they were back at the stadium for the first time in more than two months after a savage attack on Kabul's sole luxury hotel. Eight guests, several of them foreigners, were killed. The Taliban haven't by any means vanished from Afghanistan.

Amid fears that the attacks could herald a terrorist onslaught against civilians, training sessions were stopped for a while, just in case.

So far only seven of the most enthusiastic girl boxers have come back to the gym, with a couple of friends watching. Some are sick. Perhaps a few have been frightened off. In January there were four times as many.


The girls' boxing sessions grew out of women's football, which was pretty radical for Kabul. Just over a year ago, some of the girl footballers saw women's boxing on TV - another revolutionary development, banned under the Taliban, which their mothers may never have seen. They asked their soccer trainers if they could have a go, and soon found a boxing trainer.

Saber Sharify is a gaunt 48-year-old who has a permanent wry grin, like many Afghans who have survived the upheavals of 30 years by developing a cynical sense of humour that never quite crushed their idealism. Once, in the 1980s, he was a hero of Afghanistan for winning a silver medal at the Asian Games in Delhi. Then the wars came to Kabul and after that the Taliban and, for him, there were years of exile in Pakistan where he ran a boxing gym. But like millions of Afghans, he came back to his shattered homeland and now teaches young girls boxing in his spare time.

"Afghan women are very brave," says Sharify. "And we want our girls to do sports. Some people say it is very dangerous for girls to do boxing. Others say Afghanistan is not ready for this. These girls are proving those people wrong."

Read the rest. It's a great story.

Talking to the Taliban

And finally, every once in a while you find a story that just needs to be distributed as widely as possible. This is such a story:

It's a story that should be read by every voter in the country.

The appeasers regularly spin the argument that NATO is wrong to fight the Taliban, that NATO can never defeat the Taliban, that NATO must talk with the Taliban if there is ever to be peace.

Well, it turns out it's a story of been there, done that, forget it.

The story was titled "Even local Afghans come up short in Taliban dealings" by Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service, Published: Monday, March 24, 2008.

It told how elders in Zabul province, immediately east of Kandahar, tried to reason with Taliban fighters at a sit-down.

"Zabul ranks a close fourth behind Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan as the most violent of Afghanistan's southern provinces. But its proximity to the Pakistan border, where al-Qaeda and Taliban militants regroup and re-energize to launch attacks in the south on coalition troops, poses an additional security threat." wrote Blanchfield.

Tired to insecurity, fighting, abductions of school teachers and local mullahs, the local elders contacted Taliban leaders without telling the American military authorities in the region or even the government representatives in Zabul.

Blanchfield learned what happened from Haji Hashem, chairman of Zabul provincial council.

"They arranged a meeting in Sharizifat, a remote rural region,"

"We asked them, don't burn our schools, don't bother those doing construction, don't torture or kill," he recalled.

But the message that came back from the four Taliban commanders sent to talk was firm.

"We got orders from Pakistan. We got orders to burn reconstruction projects," he recalled.

The Taliban told them not to send their children to school, and to withhold support for the 39-country International Security Assistance Force. They called ISAF thieves, who "don't have a specific plan" to help their country.

"If you have a social problem, come to us," was how the Talib negotiators put it, said Hashem.

But the locals made some progress with the Taliban before the meeting broke up.

"They agreed not to kill and torture, but said they will continue to damage," Mr. Hashem said.

"The Taliban negotiators told them that if they allow reconstruction projects to take place, it would only legitimize Afghanistan's government and that could not be allowed."



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