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

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 18

Three wars are being fought concurrently in Afghanistan.

The Taliban lost the Education War the minute they were driven from power in 2001. Afghan parents, like parents everywhere, want their children educated as best they can be. Despite the news medias' swooning over every attack on a school or murder of a teacher, the Taliban's attempts to stifle education has failed at every turn.

The Fighting War limps along but it's clear the Taliban have lost.

The Winnipeg Free Press may have been the first newspaper in Canada to admit the obvious in an editorial April 29, 2008, in which they wrote: "The war has already been won in the field...The war now is one of commitment as the Taliban attempt to sap the will of the West and the Afghan people to persevere."

After two straight years of terrible defeats in the field of battle, the Taliban conceded this year they cannot win. They're reduced to a campaign of terror against civilians and civil servants which the media diginifies by calling it asymetrical warfare.

That leaves the Drug War, and this past week, it dominated the news from Afghanistan.

Where they once railed against drug use and the poppy trade, the Taliban are now allied with the opium growers. They tax the growers and use the great sums they raise to fund their insurgency.

But this year the tide may have turned even in the Drug War.

Paging Al Gore

The weather in Afghanistan has been beastly, and that's good news for those fighting the Drug War.

Call it a triple threat---freezing winter temperatures, late rains on its heels, and a possible drought after that (temperatures are running 110 degree F. already). Add them up and Afghanistan's opium harvest could be cut in half in the southern provinces that grow the most poppies.

The Independent's reporter in Kabul, Jerome Starkey, had this Drug War update:

"The fierce winter cold - which claimed hundreds of lives across Afghanistan - is thought to have stopped millions of poppy seeds from germinating. Late rains have then stunted many of the plants that survived.

One expert said: "It was too cold in some areas for the seeds to come alive. Between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the seeds may not have germinated."


"The poppy farmers worst affected are those who planted in November, after the cold spell set in. That includes half of Helmand's poppy farmers and a third of growers nationwide."

The Telegraph (Big advance in war on Afghanistan poppy, April 28, 2008) said that 20 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces will be declared "opium poppy free" this year, including Nangahar and Badakhshan, which as recently as 2004 were behind only Helmand in production.

However, Helmand's share of the poppy crop is a debatable number with estimates in the press varying by 150 percent.

Tom Coghlan, of the Telegraph, wrote:

"Last year 250,000 acres of opium poppy were planted in Helmand, according to Western counter-narcotics experts. Slightly less have been planted this year, while 10,000 acres have been eradicated."

While Michael Evans, of The Times, said in a story April 23, 2008:

"Last year, as part of the Government's eradication programme, about 3,000 acres (1,215 hectares) of poppy crops in Helmand were destroyed - out of nearly 100,000 acres in the province."

Tell it to the Marines

The weather isn't the only thing putting the squeeze on the Taliban's plans. When the British re-took the town of Musa Qala in northern Helmand province, they also captured tons of opium waiting to go to market and destroyed drug labs for making heroin. That took a big bite out of Taliban funding.

Last week, more bad news for the insurgents as the U.S. Marines landed in Helmand. Woohaa.

The Marines immediately made their presence known in and around the town of Garmsir (alternately spelled Garmser) in the southern half of the province. British forces have been concentrated in the northern half and Taliban insurgents have had the run of the south until now. The mission for the Marines---disrupt the poppy trade south to Pakistan and the stream of insurgents north into Helmand.

USA Today was with them on their assault (Marines, Taliban battle in Afghanistan poppy fields - , Paul Wiseman, May 2)

"Infantrymen from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit came under intense fire from rockets and rifles Friday, the fourth day of their mission in Helmand. Taliban leaders ordered their fighters to defend the ground at all costs, according to information intercepted by the Marines.

Behind the Taliban's resolve: The Marine Operation Azada Wosa - "Stay Free" in the local Pashto language - threatens to disrupt the Taliban's lucrative trade in opium, says Maj. Tom Clinton Jr., executive officer of the Marines' infantry battalion.

"We're sitting on their money," Clinton said at this military base near Garmsir, a Helmand market town seized earlier this week by the Marines. "If they don't have money, they can't buy weapons."

Operation Azada Wosa, the Marines' first mission since arriving, is designed to clear the Taliban out of southern Helmand, where they have operated with impunity for more than a year, and to cut off their escape routes to Pakistan."

A day earlier Wiseman described the Marine casualties:

"Six Marines had been injured, none critically: One was shot in the foot, perhaps accidentally; one suffered a concussion from a Taliban rocket or mortar attack; one was bitten by a dog; one fell from a roof and broke an ankle; two broke their legs; and two more sprained their ankles."

The Taliban found easier targets in another part of the country.

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) April 30- A suicide bomb tore through a team preparing to eradicate opium poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing 19 people, most of them policemen, the government said.

The hardline Taliban movement said one of its men carried out the attack in the small town of Khogyani in Nangarhar province, near the insurgency-hit border with Pakistan.

The bomb struck as a counternarcotics team was preparing to travel to opium fields to destroy illegal poppy crops, the interior ministry said in a statement.

"Nineteen people including 12 police and seven civilians lost their lives and 41 others were wounded," it said.

The dead included an Afghan working on a United Nations counternarcotics programme and a child, Nangarhar governor Gul Agha Sherzai told reporters in the city of Jalalabad 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Khogyani.

The Taliban almost scored their biggest publicity coup of the war Sunday by assassinating President Hamid Karzai. The attack on Karzai at a public ceremony in Kabul failed, although three onlookers were killed as well as three gunmen.

The news media seized on the attack as proof of the Taliban's ability to strike anywhere in the country, but follow up stories showed it was proof of the incompetence of the Afghan intelligence service which had prior warning of the assassination attempt but failed to stop it.

Afterward an intelligence spokesman said that the men who fired at Karzai exchanged "cellphone text messages with people in Pakistan's Bajur and North Waziristan regions and in the main northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar."

At mid-week the intelligence service raided the hideout of conspirators in the attack on Karzai. Seven people were killed in the ensuring gunbattle. Six other suspects were arrested elsewhere in Kabul.

Three NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan this past week.

* Sunday, Apr 27, 2008 Lance Corporal Jason Marks, 27, an Australian Special Forces soldier, was killed in combat in Uruzgan province.

* Wednesday, April 30, 2008, a Czech soldier was killed in the explosion of a roadside bomb in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan. He was the driver of the Humvee. Four other soldiers in the vehicle were injured, one seriously.

* Saturday, May 3, 2008, A British soldier, originally from Fiji, Ratu Babakobau, 29, was killed in Helmand province by an IED explosion.

His death reignited the debate over a shortage of helicopters to carry troops from base to base.

"The lack of helicopters means we are building up predictable patterns of behaviour. The enemy are just adjusting tactics to hit us where we are vulnerable," one senior officer was quoted in the British press.

There are only six RAF Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan. British commanders have asked for more but have been told by the Ministry of Defence that they "have access to other helicopters provided by Nato allies."

Canadian forces, hard hit by IED fatalities, have also asked for troop-carrying helicopters. But, speaking not even as armchair generals, we have to point out the obvious risks. While currently NATO countries suffer primarily single deaths from roadside bombs, a downed helicopter could mean multiple fatalities in one fell swoop.

A year ago a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Helmand province killing seven--- five American soldiers, a Canadian soldier and a British soldier.

Babakobau was the 48th soldier among the coalition to die this year. That's a rate of about 10 fatalities a month. Should helicopters become the primary method of transport, and the Taliban achieve anti-air missile capability, the death rate would rise exponentially.


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