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.

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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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 30

The Western press can't decide if the Taliban is resilient (bouncing back, recovering strength) or resurgent (rising again). Regardless of the adjective, the message is the same---the West has failed again. The terrorists are back as strong as ever.

As proof, reporters invariably mention that the number of coalition dead in Afghanistan is greater than the casualty total in Iraq for the nth month in a row.


What they carefully fail to explain is---why? The answer is painfully obvious.

WE WON.

That's right. Al Qaeda has been defeated in Iraq. It took several years but the terrorists are on the run in Iraq. They're being driven out by a determined coalition of Iraq soldiers trained to fight a new kind of war, the local populace that got tired of being cannon fodder for the terrorists and American forces that refused to give up. And they're running back home to Afghanistan.

What's more important, is they're making the exact same mistakes in Afghanistan that caused them to lose in Iraq. That game has only one conclusion.

The Globe and Mail, one of the leading journals of defeatism, recently carried a front page story headlined "Canada takes notes from failed Soviet war." The story was how Canada's military has been studying the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan for clues on how not to lose to the Taliban. The underlying message was "we're losing, we can't win."

We could have saved the Canadian government lots of time and money. The answer is simple.

DON'T FIGHT THE USA.

It's ludicrous to think the Soviets were defeated by an army of cavemen armed with kalyshnikovs. They were defeated by US stinger missiles, American special forces coordinating assaults by cavemen armed with American weapons, US intelligence gathered from satellites and listening posts on land, sea and air, and good old American ingenuity, courage and determination to win.

We're about to see those same skills applied in Afghanistan a second time, only hardened with the experience of Iraq.

Coalition forces in Afghanistan stepped up their decapitation campaign during Week 30, 2008. Bit by bit the Taliban's leadership is being winnowed right under the nose of the mainstream press which cannot recognize the significance of what's happening.

This week British forces in Helmand province have been celebrating success after success.

Mid-week they announced that the Special Boat Service had killed top Taliban commander Mullah Bismullah Akhund in a gun battle ten days earlier. Bismullah was responsible for supplying weapons and IED's to Taliban fighters. Killed with him was the brother of Mullah Rahim, the Taliban's shadow governor of Helmand.

Two weeks earlier another prominent Taliban Commander, Sadiqullah, was killed in a precision missile strike by a British Apache helicopter gunship. Sadiqullah was another "facilitator" who supplied IED's and suicide attackers against British troops. Following up on an intelligence tip, the helicopter destroyed a truck carrying Sadiqullah and several of his fighters close to the Kajaki dam.

"Combined with the elimination of Sadiqullah, this is the most significant blow struck against the Taliban logistics and facilitation chain in northern Helmand this year," said Lt Col Robin Matthews, a British spokesman.

Then the news just got better. Mullah Rahim, the top commander for southern Helmand province, was in the hands of Pakistani authorities. He either gave himself up in fear that the SBS had him in their sights next, which is how the British press is reporting it, or he was arrested by Pakistani police on his way home from a mosque in Quetta late Saturday night, which is how Pajhwok Afghan News reported it Sunday. But after having watched the British move up the leadership ladder, including killing his brother, the surrender makes sense for someone wanting to take the heat off for a while.

And it didn't stop there. On Sunday, NATO forces killed another high-level commander, Mullah Sheikh and two of his followers in the vicinity of Musa Qala in the north of Helmand. Mullah Sheikh was killed, along with three others, in a precision missile strike

British military sources called Rahim's surrender as "a massive breakthrough that would plunge militant force in Helmand into disarray."

One of Rahim's fellow Taliban fighters told Pajhwok Afghan News that three other "militants" were also missing in Quetta. Pakistan often conducts sweeps that result in announcements of the arrest of prominent Taliban commanders when political pressure from the U.S. gets too strong.

Next door in Kandahar province, Canadian forces had an announcement of their own regarding the decapitation campaign---an airstrike Wednesday had killed a commander of 250 fighters, and who happened to be the second-in-command in the shadow government the Taliban have created to govern Kandahar in the event they ever regain power.

A statement from Canadian military authorities said they had a tip that several insurgent commanders were going to meet up to regroup their forces and to plan new attacks against the Arghandab district and Kandahar city.

"Afghan forces established observation of the area and called in an airstrike using ISAF aircraft," the statement said. Mullah Mahmoud, the short-lived deputy governor-to-be, and eight of his pals were blown to bits.

"Our troops have the initiative in Kandahar province," Brigadier General Denis Thompson, Commander of Task Force Kandahar, said in an understatement.

The death of Mahmoud comes on the heels of the literal rooting out of almost the rest of the Taliban's shadow government in June when Afghan, Canadian and British troops swept Taliban fighters out of 18 villages. General Gul Agha Naibi, commander of the Afghan National Army's Kandahar corps, told reporters that among the 50-60 Taliban killed were the Taliban's "governor" of Kandahar, their "chief of police", their chief of intelligence, and their "banker."

The Taliban's plans for installing shadow governments in Afghan provinces has been taking a severe beating all summer.

In the northerwestern Faryab province, on the border with Turkmenistan, the Taliban's appointed shadow "governor", Akhundzada, was killed last week. A group of a dozen Taliban fighters showed up and tried to kidnap local aid workers who were building a well. Local villagers caught up with the terrorists the next day, killed the commander and would-be governor, and chased the rest of the band away. Akhundzada had recently returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan. Big mistake.

In May, the Taliban shadow governor for Ghor province, Mullah Jalil, and his appointed chief of police, were killed by Afghan troops. Being a Taliban governor is obviously as thankless job.

The pressure is getting to the insurgents who are becoming increasingly antsy. This story from a Pakistani news service is not at all uncommon any more:

Taliban fighters 'kill their own commander'
Online - International News Network, Pakistan - Jul 6, 2008
KABUL: Taliban rebels have killed one of their own commanders for allegedly spying for foreign troops in the western province of Farah, officials said.

Commander Haji Lala was killed in the Bakwa district the other day, the provincial governor, Mohammad Younis Rasoli, said.


The rebels killed the Taliban commander for passing information to NATO-led and US-led forces about the whereabouts of militant hideouts in the Kash Rod district of neighbouring Nimroz province, the governor said.

The Taliban's biggest success in Week 30 was, again, a propaganda victory. A temporary base set up by American airborne troops near the village of Wanat in eastern Kunar province, on the border with Pakistan's lawless tribal region, was attacked by 100-200 insurgents. Nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 15 wounded out of a garrison of 45 Americans and 25 Afghans.


THE INSURGENTS FAILED to overrun the base and were beaten back with heavy casualties.

Two days earlier, the temporary patrol base was set up in a perimenter about 300 metres long and 100 metres wide. It was basically concertina wire and sandbags surrounding strategically placed vehicles with observation posts.

The soldiers from Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) soldiers were on a reconnaissance mission. The attack started in the middle of the night and instantly became a slice of hell as the insurgents threw everything they had into overrunning the U.S. troops.

In a sign of the intensity of the battle, one trooper fired 600 rounds from his M-249 in five minutes--a bullet a second for five long minutes--until his gun seized up from the heat. He wasn't alone in that rate of fire. In many exchanges the battle was fought with grenades at a range of 10 to 15 feet. The insurgents breached the perimeter of the observation post, but got no further.

Some Taliban fighters, possibly out of ammunition themselves, threw rocks at a fighting position to get the soldiers to get out of their protected area. One soldier sat with his gun pointed at a tree, patiently killing would-be snipers one by one as they climbed up and looked for targets.

Apache attack helicopters arrived within about half an hour. Then came fighter jets, A-10's and F-15's. The insurgent force was routed.

Unlike the Canadian military, the American's don't wallow in grief. They celebrate the courage of their soldiers and give the families of the dead the knowledge that their loved ones died an honourable death.

"It was some of the bravest stuff I've ever seen in my life..." said Spc. Tyler Stafford, one of the wounded. "Normal humans wouldn't do that. You're not supposed to do that - getting up and firing back when everything around you is popping and whizzing and trees, branches coming down and sandbags exploding and RPGs coming in over your head … It was a fistfight...and those guys held ' em off."

"When you ask for volunteers to run across an open field to a reinforced o.p. (observation point) that almost everybody is injured at, and everybody volunteers... It kind of motivates you." Staff Sgt. Jesse Queck told Stars and Stripes. "There were a lot of guys that made me proud, putting themselves and their lives on the line so their buddies could have a chance."

"I just hope these guys' wives and their children understand how courageous their husbands and dads were," said Sgt. Jacob Walker. "They fought like warriors."

Col. Charles "Chip" Preysler, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, was especially critical of media reports that the scale of the attack is indicative of what's to come from the "resurgent" Taliban.

"The sky is not falling, and this is what we've been facing all along in the summer." said Preysler.

" When we first got here last summer and started fighting here in June, we were only seeing the enemy and engaging him first about 5 percent of the time. Now we're between 25 and 40 percent. We see the enemy, and we're engaging him first."

" I mean this [battalion] has had 9,000 patrols in 15 months - we're out there taking the fight to the enemy," We're out there taking the ground that he used to own exclusively, and we have separated him from the people in many locations," Preysler said. "This is one area that is still contested, and we're going to have to go back in there and fight hard to separate the insurgents from the population, and that is exactly what we're going to do.

"These guys have fought for 15 months, and they have fought harder, and I mean this literally, they have fought harder and (had) more engagements, more direct-fire engagements, than any brigade in the United States Army in probably the toughest terrain. These guys are absolutely veterans and they know what they're doing and they have that airborne spirit and they fought a very, very tough battle and held the ground and did everything they were supposed to do."

Preysler was particularly upset at reports the U.S. had abandoned their "outpost."

"There is nothing to abandon. There were no structures, there was no COP or FOB or anything like that to even abandon. So, from the get-go, that is just [expletive], and it's not right." he said.

The Americans did remove their temporary base after the Talilban attack. Two days later, ANA troops killed seven insurgents near Wanat.

******
For the record: As of July 21, 2008, there have been 18 coalition soldiers killed in combat or by roadside bombs and IED's.

Twelve died during the week of July 13 to July 20.

In July 2007, 28 foreign soldiers met combat-related deaths in Afghanistan.

To date, coalition combat casualties number 95.

In 2007, coalition forces suffered 189 combat deaths.

********
A familiar pattern

The week saw a familiar pattern in insurgent attacks---they give the Afghan army a wide berth preferring to attack lightly armed police. But a new pattern may be developing. The police are giving as good as they get or better in the exchanges.

* A suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up next to a police patrol in the southern province of Uruzgan killing 24 people, including 19 civilians, a provincial police chief told Associated Press. Five police officers were killed and more than 30 others wounded, he said.. Most of those killed and wounded were shopkeepers and young boys selling cigarettes and other goods in the street.

* Taliban rebels ambushed a police convoy in the eastern province of Khost, killing one policeman. NATO helicopters attacked them and killed 20 insurgents, AFP reported.

* Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpoint in the capital of Helmand province.


"Police returned fire at the insurgents and called for reinforcement," a police spokesman told Chinese news agency Xinhua. "Two hours' fierce fighting claimed 15 rebels and two policemen."

* A roadside bomb killed four policemen in Kandahar province.

The Taliban has learned the hard way not to mess with the ANA.

The Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan border police and US special forces killed more than 150 fighters in a single operation in south eastern Paktika province this week.

"Last night, more than 350 fighters, most of them Pakistanis, entered Afghanistan from Pakistan, and attacked in the Barmal district of south-eastern Paktika province," Ghamai Khan Mohammed Yari told DPA in a telephone interview Wednesday. Afghan forces, aided by a coalition airstrike, "counter-attacked the militants and after one hour's fighting, more than 150 insurgents were killed, most of them Pakistani nationals."

"A driver with a truck full of explosive materials also was arrested by Afghan forces. The driver was from Pakistan," Yari added.

The 400

The Taliban claimed to have captured a provincial district in Ghazni province. They "captured" the same district in October. They stay long enough to call a newspaper with an announcement of the "capture". Then they run for the hills before government forces arrive to "re-capture" the district.

One district the Taliban no longer talk about is Garmsir in the south of Helmand province. Now we know why. Last week we told you how even pro-Taliban news stories in Pakistan acknowledge the Taliban has lost control of Garmsir in the wake of a concerted campaign by U.S. marines. This week Col. Peter Petronzio, the commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said his men had killed "somewhere beyond 400" insurgents since May.

"The Taliban proved that they wanted to fight for Garmsir, and we took the fight to them," Petronzio said.

This week brought disturbing news of new Taliban tactics to disrupt the roads and supply lines of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In Kandahar a powerful bomb was used to cut the main highway west of Kandahar City. Canadian forces had to rush their Quick Reaction Force of infantry and combat engineers to rebuild the road.

And on the same highway, a convoy of Afghan civilian fuel tankers was attacked with rocket propelled grenades. Five tankers were set on fire. A woman passerby was killed in the attack.

In Pakistan on Friday, local Taliban broke windows and punctured the tires of 22-wheeler trucks loaded with goods for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

And Sunday gunmen attacked an oil tanker in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan, killing the driver. The burning tanker set fire to a passing minivan , killing six innocent people in the van.

While such sporadic attacks on fuel tankers are expensive and annoying, apart from the loss of innocent lives, the Taliban has been unable to recreate the progaganda coup of four months ago when they managed to destroy 36 tankers at a border parking lot.

There's so much more, but we'll stop now and pick up again in a few days. Hopefully we can resume a more regular schedule for our Afghanistan reports for the rest of the year.

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