It's been quite some time since The Black Rod's last look at the War in Afghanistan 2008.
First interruption was the Derek Zenk show trial, where we were the only ones to stand up to the lynch mob and expose how the Commission was supressing facts and manipulating public opinion.
Then there came the federal election, where we created a national stir by exposing the candidacy of a 9-11 Truther for the Liberal Party of Canada.
And then the employees of the Winnipeg Free Press went on strike and we revealed how they helped themselves to more than half a ton of government-subsidized food that was intended to be given to the poor and which may have been stolen from a local food bank.
We've certainly been busy this fall. But now its time to return to our weekly update of the mission in Afghanistan.
Playing catch-up, we first noticed a series of stories about an expected winter offensive by both sides. As expected, the mainstream media couldn't be more wrong in its assessment.
U.S. Expects Afghan Violence to Worsen
-- Wall Street Journal Tuesday, September 23, 2008
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say they expect the Taliban to launch a winter offensive, a move that could bring bloodshed during a time of year that historically has been relatively peaceful.
Since the U.S. invasion in 2001, violence in Afghanistan has usually tracked the country's seasons, decreasing during the harsh winter months and then resuming in the spring. This year is shaping up differently, with the U.S. picking up indications that militants who normally spend the winter months training in Pakistan are instead preparing to remain in Afghanistan, staying in position to launch attacks there.
"I do think there will be an increase in violence by the enemy in order to maintain a general sense of insecurity," said Brig. Gen. Mark Milley, deputy commander of the U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. "The winter fighting season this year will be more violent than in previous years."
And there's this story making the rounds on the anti-Bush blogs like Huffington Post from something called the Washington Independent, which describes itself as a fleet-footed webpaper of politics and policy.
"Taliban Ready to Make It a ‘Hot Winter’"
Washington Independent. September 24, 2008
"U.S. military officials are warning that intelligence now indicates that the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan plans to launch major operations this winter. While those officials publicly claim they’re prepared for a winter offensive, it would place U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in unfamiliar territory, with little precedent to guide them. It would likely entail a major escalation of insurgent aggression to cap off what has already been the bloodiest year for the U.S. military in the seven-year war.
“This kind of thing raises alarm bells,” said Vikram Singh, who worked on counterinsurgency and South Asia issues at the Pentagon from 2003 to 2007."
Somehow these alarmist stories fail to notice the obvious---the Taliban are staying in Afghanistan over the winter because they have nowhere to go. Their sanctuaries in Pakistan are under assault by the Pakistani military and U.S. drones are killing Taliban leaders wherever they find them in the lawless border regions where Taliban fighters went in the winter to rest and regroup.
There are also these stories:
Taliban plan to fight through winter to throttle Kabul
The Guardian, U.K. October 29
Militia fighters are operating just an hour's drive from the capital's suburbs, confident of undermining Western support for the war
The Taliban are planning a major winter offensive combining their diverse factions in a push on the Afghan capital, Kabul, intelligence analysts and sources among the militia have revealed.
The thrust will involve a concerted attempt to take control of surrounding provinces, a bid to cut the key commercial highway linking the capital with the eastern city of Jalalabad, and operations designed to tie down British and other Nato troops in the south.
Taliban planning major winter offensive: report
Updated Sun. Oct. 29 2006
CTV.ca News Staff
NATO says 70 suspected militants were killed in a battle this weekend, while a British newspaper reports the Taliban is gearing up for a major winter offensive and a push on the capital.
But then those stories were written in 2006!!! How did that Taliban winter offensive work out, anyway?
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan recognize the disarray the Taliban is in and they are planning their own winter operations to take advantage.
In September, during a teleconference with Pentagon reporters, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, the U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, said he was taking a two-track approach--fight hard and build well.
First, he said, he intended a “very aggressive winter campaign” whose goal was the elimination "of the support areas within our sector to diminish the enemy’s ability to operate next year.”
At the same time Schloesser's troops would undertake what he called a “development surge” - which will be essentially a jobs program for men of fighting age, like “clearing ice and snow from roads; doing construction training workshops; road maintenance; distribution of essentials to villages that are basically isolated, such as clothes and food...”
In October, the U.S. urged Pakistan to join them in a major winter offensive by blocking roads and pathways into Afghanistan, as well as undertaking joint patrols of the border with U.S., Nato and Afghan troops.
And this month Canada's top commander in Kandahar province added his voice.
NATO to attack Taliban during winter 'rest'
JESSICA LEEDER, Toronto Globe and Mail, November 1, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Canada's top military official in southern Afghanistan said NATO forces here will rely on "competitive advantage" over the Taliban this winter to push insurgents out of pockets they use as safe havens and reduce perceptions of insecurity in the volatile province.
"We have a distinct advantage in that we can continue to conduct operations throughout the cold winter months while the insurgents typically have to limit the scope of their activities," said Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, who commands NATO troops on the ground in Kandahar province.
"We are going to take the fight to the insurgents. My intent is ... to deny the insurgents the ability to rest, resupply and reconstitute their leadership in Kandahar province over the winter months. Doing this will force them farther from population centres, limit their ability to conduct large-scale operations and make it increasingly difficult for them to terrorize the civilian population," he said.
One of the biggest challenges we now have in following the war in Afghanistan is understanding what's happening in neighbouring Pakistan where a major push is underway to root out Taliban and Al Qaeda forces from the tribal regions.
We have to learn a whole new geography and geo-political balance.
Taliban forces are slowly being defeated in Bajaur Agency, a tribal area adjoining Kunar province. The army says it has killed more than 1,500 militants in the offensive that began in August, including Uzbek, Chechen and Turkmen foreign fighters. Another 950 "militants," including more than 300 are Uzbek, Tajik, Nuristani, Afghani and Hazara, have been captured
Their captured bases have given up valuable intelligence material.
Taliban documents reveal scale of operations in Pakistan
By Ben Farmer in Kabul The Telegraph, U.K.
Last Updated: 6:39PM GMT 11 Nov 2008
The documents, discovered in a tunnel complex in the Bajaur tribal agency, contain precise, coded maps of the nearby territory pointing out weapons caches and rendezvous points in an area where hundreds have died in fighting in the past three months.
Pakistani commanders said the tunnels in a Taliban stronghold also contained guerrilla training manuals, jihadist propaganda, bomb-making instructions and students' notes, suggesting the insurgents used the battleground near the Afghan border to train fighters.
"They were training people here," said Colonel Javed Baluch in an interview with the Times. "This was one of their centres. There were students here taking notes on bomb-making and guerrilla warfare. They were well trained and well organised."
Britain and America have claimed terrorists including al-Qaeda operatives have found a safe haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), where they plan and train for attacks around the world.
Tribal leaders in the region have fallen in line with the central government, pledging to eliminate Taliban insurgents from their region providing the Pakistani military doesn't bring its forces in. A tribal council was held Monday to solidify those promises. The government is applying pressure on footdraggers. But it's more bad news for the Taliban, and more good news for Canadian and other Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Take on Taliban or face action, Mamonds told
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
10 militants surrender, six killed in Bajaur
By Mushtaq Yusufzai, News International, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: The government in the restive Bajaur Agency threatened Mamond tribesmen on Monday with a wider military action if they failed to take practical steps against the militants in their area. Warplanes continued bombing the suspected hideouts, killing six militants.
Also, the Utmankhel tribal Jirga handed 10 suspected militants to the authorities in Khar. Tribal sources said unwillingness of the Mamond tribesmen to act against the militants and their alleged delaying tactics had annoyed the local administration that asked them to take cue from their Salarzai fellow tribal people and act against the militants, otherwise the military would launch operation.
The political administration on Monday morning called a Jirga of Mamond tribal elders at Khar, headquarters of the tribal region, and reminded them of their pledge to raise a Lashkar and burn militant hideouts. Senior officials of the political administration told them in plain words that time was fast running out and their areas could come under attacks by planes if they failed in taking action against the militants.
The tribal sources said the Mamond tribal Jirga assured the government of their full support in the current armed drive against the militants but demanded a halt to air strikes and shelling on Mamond so that they could approach the tribesmen and get them united against the militants.
The authorities reportedly came down hard on elders and accused them of buying time in raising Lashkars. The government officials said they had given enough time to the Mamond tribesmen for holding meetings and raising Lashkars, but they could not show any tangible results. Even airstrikes were halted for sometime to enable the people to raise Lashkars and take on militants.
More examples of ordinary people standing up to the Taliban are being reported each day. Take this one in the New York Times:
As Taliban Overwhelm Police, Pakistanis Hit Back
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH,
New York Times, November 1, 2008
SHALBANDI, Pakistan - On a rainy Friday evening in early August, six Taliban fighters attacked a police post in a village in Buner, a quiet farming valley just outside Pakistan’s lawless tribal region. The militants tied up eight policemen and lay them on the floor, and according to local accounts, the youngest member of the gang, a 14-year-old, shot the captives on orders from his boss.
The fighters stole uniforms and weapons and fled into the mountains. Almost instantly, the people of Buner, armed with rifles, daggers and pistols, formed a posse, and after five days they cornered and killed their quarry. A video made on a cellphone showed the six militants lying in the dirt, blood oozing from their wounds.
Soon after the citizen mob killed the six Taliban, he said, undercover work led police officers to a house where they found a suicide vest packed with 20 pounds of explosives and 15 pounds of ball bearings. That discovery led to a potentially more lethal find: a full kit of ingredients for major explosions.
In a house near his police headquarters, investigators found more than 500 pounds of explosives, a cache of 30 detonators, 10 remote-control devices, dozens of battery cells, a police uniform and a motorcycle, Mr. Shah said.
Worryingly, he said, the explosives had been methodically delivered into Buner over time in small parcels by motorbike. One of the men arrested in the case had been friendly with the police, a shopkeeper who prayed at the same mosque as the police.
The New York Times tried mightily to spin the story as negative as possible.
"The stand at Buner has entered the lore of Pakistan’s war against the militants as a dramatic example of ordinary citizens’ determination to draw a line against the militants. But it says as much about the shortcomings of Pakistan’s increasingly overwhelmed police forces and the pell-mell nature of the efforts to stop the militants, who week by week seem to seep deeper into Pakistan from their tribal strongholds."
But they couldn't overwhelm the message the people of Buner sent the Taliban--get lost or we will kill you.
"Since the events in Buner, the inspector general of the police in the North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, has encouraged citizens in other towns and villages in his realm to form posses of their own. The hope is that determination itself will deter Taliban encroachment, building on the August victory with one phalanx after another of committed citizens."
The U.S. has been applying its own pressure, in the guise of bombs dropped from unmanned drones. At least 18 drone attacks have been announced in Pakistan's tribal regions, primarily west of Bajaur agency in the North and South Waziristan areas. The U.S. doesn't waste expensive weapons on simple gunmen, so you can believe that each attack is on a high-value target, such as Al Qaeda's propaganda chief who was blown to bits late in October.
Note also the other top level targets in this story from Pakistan's Daily Times:
Qaeda propaganda chief killed
* Masri had $1m bounty on his head
*Maulvi Nazir narrowly escapes Wana strike
*Death of Akasha not confirmed
PESHAWAR: Egyptian Al Qaeda operative Abu Jihad Al Masri described by the United States as the terror network’s propaganda chief was killed in one of the two separate US drone strikes in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas on Friday night, security officials said.
Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir narrowly escaped with a leg injury in the strike in South Waziristan, while the death of Al Qaeda finance manager Abdur Rehman Abu Akasha Al Iraqi in North Waziristan could not be confirmed.
The US has offered a one-million-dollar bounty for the death or capture of Al Masri. The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice website said that the balding Al Masri “is in charge of Al Qaeda media and propaganda. He may also be the chief of external operations for Al Qaeda”.
Pakistani officials said he was known to have moved to the Pakistani tribal belt in 2005 or 2006.
“[Maulvi Nazir] has received small bruises in his legs from the attack but he is OK now and has been shifted to a safer place,” his close aide was quoted as saying on Saturday in Wana, regional headquarters of South Waziristan.
“We just returned from the site and it was a miracle that Maulvi Nazir escaped the attack,” sources told Daily Times by telephone from Wana.
A TV channel reported Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, dead in the strike, but that is not probable because Nazir has been fighting Uzbeks and claims to have driven them out last year.
Nazir is seen to be very close to the Afghan Taliban and derives his strength from the Kandahar province. Wana residents had seen an increasing number of ‘people with long kameez’ in the area- a reference to Kandahar Taliban.
One final note in this Fall catch-up on war casualties.
Canada has suffered 18 combat deaths so far in 2008. That's 25 percent fewer than the 24 combat deaths at this time last year. In 2007, a total of 27 soldiers died from combat related causes.
The reduction in Canadian casualties can be attributed to the assistance our forces have received from U.S. troops in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. U.S. casualties are much higher than last year.
Total U.S. and Nato combat deaths stand at 227 to date in 2008, a sharp increase over the 283 combat deaths for all of 2007.
It should be noted that news sources are now saying there have been about 5000 war-related deaths in Afghanistan this year.
They do not say that by mid-November 2007 there had been 5500 deaths.
A reduction of almost 10 percent is apparently not news in the mainstream media.