We've said that a good way to measure the effectiveness of what we're doing in Afghanistan is to listen to the enemy.
In the past couple of weeks we've come across two interviews with Taliban commanders who revealed more than they intended. One appeared in the German magazine Der Spiegel's online edition, and the other in Pakistan's Asia Times Online. Taken together and compared with the fighting on the ground they tell a story of defeat and despair:
* The Taliban have abandoned all hope--and pretence--of a military victory against NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. They're concentrating their efforts on killing police.
* Their only hope is for propaganda victories which they need to justify to their followers the deaths of almost 8000 fighters in the past two years.
* They've been reduced to reliance on their best weapon---suicide bombers, whose toll of hundreds of civilians is discounted as necessary and acceptable to Islam.
* The Americans have honed an incredibly successful defence against Taliban attacks in the East which has gone unnoticed by the news media, but not the insurgents forced to run for their lives.
"Taliban gearing up for spring offensive" read the May 18 headline in the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.
Believe it or not, that's a great headline.
It means that the Globe and Mail hasn't noticed that the so-called spring offensive has been ongoing for the past two months. Who says killing 8000 insurgents in the past two years hasn't had any effect?
In the words of Strategypage.com (May 14, 2008, http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/afghan/articles/20080514.aspx)
"Taliban Moving At Half Speed This Year"
"Afghan and security forces waited, and waited, for the Taliban Spring Offensive, but it never came. Gun battles with the Taliban were down 50 percent so far, compared to last year. Roadside bomb attacks were about the same. But Taliban casualties were up, as more Afghan and NATO forces went looking for them."
Der Spiegel interviewed Taliban commander Qari Bashir Haqqani , 40, who is the Taliban's military commander in Kunduz province in the north of Afghanistan where German soldiers are stationed.
May 21, 2008
INTERVIEW WITH A TALIBAN COMMANDER
'What's Important Is to Kill the Germans'
"By his own account, he is the head of the radical Islamists' executive council for the province. He counts 13 mujahedeen groups under his command. Three of them have been created this year for the sole purpose of perpetrating attacks against the Germans and other foreign "invaders." "
(Haqqani conceded the Taliban aren't winning, but held out hope the coalition will quit soon. )
Haqqani: "We are confident that we will win this war sooner or later. We are prepared for a war that could last a few decades, but we are sure that the West will start to leave Afghanistan in 2010 and that many countries will pull their troops out."
(He praised suicide bombers.)
Haqqani: The bombers are our weapons of choice because the Germans and all the others are afraid of them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you have any sympathy for the victims of this terror? Most are innocent civilians. And many NATO soldiers come with the honest intent of helping to reconstruct your country.
Haqqani: If the victims are Muslims, then we have sympathy for them and their families. We know that their deaths are important for the success of Islam and Allah, and we honor them as faithful and believers.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But these victims do not die willingly -- they were maliciously murdered.
Haqqani: The Afghans do not hold the Taliban responsible for such collateral damages because they know that the Taliban doesn't have enough high-tech weapons at its disposal.
The situation was hardly more encouraging in the Kunar Valley in the far western Kunar province where Asia Times Online sent its Pakistan Bureau Chief Syed Saleen Shahzed. (ATO, May 23, 2008, Ducking and diving under B-52's).
After an arduous trek he arrived at a Taliban safe house and met with a couple of Taliban.
"Our camp will be joined by several groups and we will carry out an attack tonight," one Taliban fighter told him. "We will place you at a height in a secure place from where you will be able to cover the event."
Only it never happened. Instead of fierce insurgents attacking cowed American soldiers, we got a picture of a small band of rebels constantly in fear, anticipating betrayal at every turn, ducking in and out of caves and always on the run from troops, helicopters and aircraft (all of which they call B-52's).
"Saleem, we have to hurry and pass through this terrain before the sun rises. Once the sun is up, people will spot you as a stranger, and a few houses here have informers for the Americans," Shahzed was told. "The Americans can easily pay $1000 for ordinary information. This a huge amount of money for them."
"We awoke before dawn and found a note left by Zubair, in which he explained that the Taliban had been unable to make an attack during the night, but thatt they would do so that evening."
Shahzed headed back to Pakistan.
"As we started the climb up into the mountains, we heard low-flying B-521's nearby. According to the Taliban such low flights mean bombing operations. Soon there was a constant noise all around us, including that of drones. We took shelter among some trees and large rocks.
"Generally, after such a noise, the helicopters arrive. And if they spot any movement, they launch special forces who have already cordoned off the area," Zubair explained to Shahzed adding "we had better get moving--and fast."
"There was a palpable tensiion created by the noisy monsters in the sky..." wrote Shahzed.
"The tension heightened several notches when gunfire broke out to our north, so close we could see the muzzle flashes of guns fired."
They made it to Pakistan "but my relief was short-lived: another firefight had broke out ahead of us, this time between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan army. The drones were also back in force."
So ended the adventure of covering the frontlines Taliban style, a far different picture than the relentless spread of Taliban power propagated by the western press.
The Taliban failed even to get a propaganda victory though not for trying.
Two helicopters were shot down in the past two weeks, without any casualties. A military helicopter was forced to land in Nuristan province after being hit by enemy fire. And, more significantly, a helicopter carrying the governor of Helmand province was forced down near the village of Musa Qala which had been a Taliban stronghold for 10 months before being recaptured last December.
The main thrust of Taliban attacks was directed at police. The Taliban know that attacking Americans is sure death; attacking other NATO troops is asking for a pasting, and even attacking Afghan army forces now is useless and dangerous.
That leaves the undertrained, underarmed police who can still be attacked with some degree of success.
We counted at least 20 police killed.
* One was beheaded when he went home on leave.
* Four were captured, interrogated, then murdered.
* Two bombs were discovered in Kabul intended to target police.
* A suicide attack in Musa Qala was aimed at the local police chief (who survived.)
* A suicide bomber disguised as a burqua wearing woman managed to kill 11 police in Farah province.
There were at least 5 suicide bombings over the two weeks just past. Two suicide bombers were captured in Balkh province in the north (it's next to Kunduz). Another was shot and killed before he could blow himself up in Khost province. A week later another suicide bomber in Khost killed four ANA soldiers and a child.
In Kandahar province a 10 year old boy was wired up with remotely-detonated explosives and sent to attack a convoy of Canadian soldiers. The next week another suicide bomber blew himself up attacking a Canadian convoy, wounding five soldiers and two children.
The terrorists have taken to placing remote-controlled bombs in bicycles in Kandahar. One blew up Thursday May 22 as a convoy of Afghan soldiers passed by. One soldier was killed. Five days earlier another bicycle bomb killed a 9 year old child.
By our count, six NATO soldiers were killed in the past two weeks, mainly with roadside bombs.
Finally, we can't let the week pass without expressing our disgust at our German so-called allies.
In March, 2007 we wrote how the Germans took credit for a vital road built by Canadians and paid for in the blood of three Canadian soldiers who died defending it during construction. (The Black Rod, Wednesday, March 14, 2007, The news from Afghanistan you haven't read). It's only gotten worse. Once again is "The News from Afghanistan you haven't read."
Der Spiegel Online, as mentioned above, carried this story:
German Special Forces in Afghanistan Let Taliban Commander Escape
By Susanne Koelbl and Alexander Szandar
German special forces had an important Taliban commander in their sights in Afghanistan. But he escaped -- because the Germans were not authorized to use lethal force. The German government's hands-tied approach to the war is causing friction with its NATO allies.
He is the Baghlan bomber. The Taliban commander is regarded as a brutal extremist with excellent connections to terror cells across the border in Pakistan. Security officials consider him to be one of the most dangerous players in the region, which is under German command as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. The military accuses him of laying roadside bombs and of sheltering suicide attackers prior to their bloody missions.
He is also thought to be behind one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan's history, the Nov. 6, 2007 attack on a sugar factory in the northwest province of Baghlan. The attack killed 79 people, including dozens of children and many parliamentarians and other politicians, as they celebrated the factory's reopening.
Germany's KSK special forces have been charged with capturing the terrorist, in cooperation with the Afghan secret service organization NDS and the Afghan army. The German elite soldiers were able to uncover the Taliban commander's location. They spent weeks studying his behavior and habits: when he left his house and with whom, how many men he had around him and what weapons they carried, the color of his turban and what vehicles he drove.
At the end of March, they decided to act to seize the commander. Under the protection of darkness, the KSK, together with Afghan forces, advanced toward their target. Wearing black and equipped with night-vision goggles, the team came within just a few hundred meters of their target before they were discovered by Taliban forces.
The dangerous terrorist escaped. It would, however, have been possible for the Germans to kill him -- but the KSK were not authorized to do so.
The threat to the international relief workers and the ISAF soldiers stationed in the north may now be even greater than it was before.
Warned of ISAF's activities and intent on taking revenge, the man and his network are active once again. Over 2,500 Germans are stationed between Faryab and Badakhshan, along with Hungarian, Norwegian and Swedish troops.
The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul.
Want more? The Spiegel story continues:
"More trouble has been brewing for the Germans in Afghanistan. They are actually supposed to be currently participating in Operation Karez in northern Afghanistan in conjunction with the Afghan army and the Norwegian Quick Reaction Force. The operation, like a mission in autumn 2007, is aimed at fighting Taliban who have a stronghold in the northwestern province of Badghis. The Taliban forces there currently include about 150 hardliners and some 500 irregular fighters.
But because the area of operation, which is in Ghormach district, lies exactly on the border with the area under Italian command, the German government hesitated to deploy the reconnaissance, logistics and KSK forces which were originally promised by the German regional commander. It was only at the end of last week that German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung decided to approve the mission after all. At that point, Germany's allies had already been taking part in bloody fighting for a week."
Disgusting is the only term to describe the Germans.
The Canadian troops, meanwhile, have the honour of making it to the top of the Taliban enemies list.
Remember the Taliban commander, Qari Bashir Haqqani, who spoke to Der Spiegel? He identified the soldiers the Taliban most hates (never mind the first, they only get a mention because Der Spiegel has a German readership):
"Those who work for the invader in any capacity will be seen by the Taliban as enemies, just like the Germans, the Canadians and the Americans."
It's an honour just to be nominated.