War in Afghanistan 2008 Weeks 7 and 8
Canada's top general this past week flushed out the biggest threats to this country's mission to Afghanistan.
In a speech last Friday Gen. Rick Hillier said MP's are endangering the lives of Canada's soldiers by delaying a decision on our role in Afghanistan. The Taliban see the debate as a weakness to be exploited by increasing attacks and casualties to frighten Canada out of Kandahar.
And, he said, "the least our soldiers could expect" is a unanimous vote of support for the troops once a decision is made in Parliament.
The counterattack from the Taliban's best allies in the country was immediate.
Huh uh, said the citizen of France who leads the Liberal Party of Canada. Wat duz zee gen-ee-rall know? The Tal-ee-ban will killing be the Canadians soldiers, debate or non.
Shut the f___ up, said the NDP's defence critic. The general is stupid and a liar, she said in slightly different words, yet eloquently summarizing her party's cut-and-run surrender philosophy.
The soldiers on the ground and their replacements en route had to be shaking their heads in despair.
It was different in-country where the Taliban launched a three-day terror blitz in Kandahar province which may have backfired big time.
Sunday the 17th a suicide bomber (possibly wearing a police uniform although accounts differ) slipped into a large crowd attending dog fighting matches. He blew himself up, killing more than 100 people, including his likely target, the fiercely anti-Taliban police commander Abdul Hakim Jan and 35 other police officers. The slaughter of civilians was so unprecedented that nobody has publicly claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Janes, locals were disgusted by the high civilian casualties "and condemned the bombing as a grave sin against Islam."
A sucide attack of this proportion without any regard to civilian casualties is so out of character for the Old School Taliban commanders like Mullah Omar, that it's a clear sign that they have been pushed aside by the more radical Al Qaeda-linked new breed. The backlash from the civilian population that the Taliban has always claimed welcomed and supported them will be punishing to Taliban fortunes.
The very next day, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a Canadian army convoy in the town of Spin Boldak on the border with Pakistan. The convoy was passing through a bazaar of small shops and roadside vendors. The explosion left four Canadian soldiers shaken up, but killed 37 civilians and wounded more than 30 more.
The dead and wounded were from the Achezai tribe, which makes up the local police force as well. The Taliban attack has made permanent enemies of the Achezai tribe, and as the Al Qaeda defeat in Iraq has shown, there's nothing more dangerous to them than the enmity of local tribesmen.
The following day, a third Taliban attack killed one civilian when a remotely detonated car bomb went off as a police car passed in a suburb of Kandahar city.
It may be a sign of the revulsion over the dogfight bombing but within days local authorities captured 7 men accused of assisting in the attack.
If the Kandahar attacks were an attempt to influence the Canadian parliament, the Taliban may have been testing another weak link in the NATO chain Tuesday when they fired five rockets at a Germany base near the northern city of Kunduz. The rockets were fired by timing devices. Two of them landed on the base but caused no damage.
On the other hand, the attack on the Germans was likely just a matter of money.
"We have intelligence information that Taliban would give 50,000 Pakistan rupees (900 US dollars) for their fighters for firing one rocket on Afghan and international forces targets. If the rocket hits the target the person would be rewarded with 100,000 Pakistan rupees," a Kunduz government spokesman told told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The British in Helmand province suffered two dead in separate incidents last week bringing the total coalition killed in 2008 to 17. Cpl. Damian Lawrence of the Yorkshire Regiment was killed Sunday while on foot patrol in the Kajaki district and Cpl. Damian Mulvihill of the Royal Marines was killed Tuesday by a landmine while patrolling near the town of Sangin.
But the British struck back.
On Monday one of the coalition's top targets was crossing the desert by motorbike with a couple of lieutenants when soldiers from the Special Boat Service dropped into their path by helicopter. When the gunfight ended, Mullah Abdul Matin, and his pals were dead and crossed off the most-wanted list. Troops recovered night vision goggles, grenades and a detonator and some slightly shot-up motorbikes.
A few days later British and Afghan troops attacked a concentrated group of insurgents between Musa Qala and Kajaki districts. In the five-hour battle an estimated 30 Taliban fighters were killed, mainly by air support. Another 11 were captured.
Among the casualties was Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Bari.
"Mullah Abdul Barry (sic), a Taliban commander, was wounded in the attacks and later died of his wounds in hospital," said an official NATO notice.
Bari led Taliban operations against the British in northern Helmand province in the Kajaki, Musa Qala and Baghran districts. He escaped when British-led forces re-captured the town of Musa Qala in December. His former colleague Mullah Abdul Salaam, who defected to the government forces before the British push into Musa Qala, spoke to village elders about Bari in mid-January according to Afgh.com.
"Abdul Bari is our brother," Salaam said. "He can come and sit among us. He is from this land. Speak with him. But don't let him be stupid. If he is not on the right path then don't let yourself be sacrificed for him. Tell him to take his jihad somewhere else."
But there's an indication there was more than jihad on Bari's mind. Following the fight, Afghan forces seized weapons, two trucks full of explosives and half a ton of opium. They said they also destroyed a heroin-processing factory.
The battle may have been a preemptive strike against the Taliban leader who needed to sell the drugs to finance operations in the coming spring.
To wrap up the week, a suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army convoy in Khost province, killing only himself. And seven security guards died Saturday when their vehicle hit a landmine in Kunar province.
We will end the overview of the week with three developments that will affect the fighting once the winter snows melt in the next few weeks.
* The Afghan National Army (ANA) will boost troop levels in mid-March across the Taliban's traditional stronghold of southern Afghanistan, the Afghan Defence Ministry's chief spokesman has said. Mohammad Zaher Azimi told reporters in Brussels: "A year ago we had only 30,000 trained troops available. Today we have 70,000-plus weapons such as M16 and M4 [infantry assault] rifles." 2008 Jane's Information Group
*Pakistani Moderates Make Gains in Northwest at Taliban's---Voice of America News
Pakistan's Islamist political parties fared poorly in this week's elections, particularly in their traditional stronghold in the country's northwest, where the military has battled pro-Taliban militants in the past year.
In the last provincial elections in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, a coalition of Islamist parties - many sympathetic to the Taliban - swept into power, causing many observers to worry about a growing Islamist political force.
This week, however, the Islamist coalition called the MMA lost its majority, winning just 10 of the 96 contested seats in the provincial assembly.
*Accord for attacks by pilotless planes: NYT (from Dawn, Pakistan's most widely circulated English language newspaper)
NEW YORK, Feb 22: American officials are reported to have reached a quiet agreement with Pakistani leadership to step up secret air strikes against suspected terrorists.
The New York Times said in a report on Friday that the strikes would use pilotless Predator aircraft. The new arrangements allow, among other things, an increase in the number and scope of patrols and strikes by armed surveillance aircraft launched from a secret base in Pakistan. This is reported to be a far more aggressive strategy to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban than had existed before.
The newspaper said that the change, described by senior American and Pakistani officials who would not speak for attribution because of the classified nature of the programme, allows American military commanders greater leeway to choose from what one official who took part in the debate called 'a Chinese menu' of strike options.
Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low.
One thing for certain---this ain't your daddy's war.