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War in Afghanistan 2009 Week 14

The British in Afghanistan are using an artillery piece so accurate we may have to redefine the word sniper.

A Taliban commander was hit in the chest with a 35 pound shell fired from the gun 1.8 miles away. The blast killed him instantly and blew apart two of his subordinates. Time from firing to detonation: 5 seconds.

The 105mm Light Gun, installed last month by the defenders of the town of Musa Qala, has become the weapon most feared by the local insurgent fighters, who call it The Dragon because of the tongue of fire that blasts out of its muzzle whenever its fired.

The two-ton gun was flown by helicopter to the foot of a cliff, dismantled because of concerns the pathway couldn't handle the weight, then carried in pieces up a 130 foot hill by the men of 8 (Alma) Commando Battery, 29 Cdo Royal Artillery.

But it's not the only weapon the Taliban hates, and fears.

The bombing campaign in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions by unmanned drones is starting to unnerve the Taliban leaders in what used to be safe territory where they could train and regroup in peace.

About 25 people were killed by two drone attacks this week, alone. Since the drones were let loose last year, about 35 strikes have killed about 350 people, including mid-level al Qaeda commanders, according to reports from Pakistani officials, residents and insurent sources. Since US President Barack Obama took office drones have killed at least 81 people, primarily Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, underlining the message that there is no sanctuary for terrorists anymore.

Pakistani Taliban leaders have started a suicide bomb terror campaign within Pakistan to get the American drones stopped. A suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque south of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, killed 22 people Sunday, and a suicide bomber blew himself up in a packed mosque near the Afghan border at a Friday prayer service, killing 48 people.

The splinter group that claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack called for an end to the drone attacks and a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud threatened two suicide attacks per week in Pakistan if the drone attacks continued.

Canadian forces in Afghanistan have a new weapon of their own.

CH-146 Griffon helicopters, equipped with Gatling guns, have begun flying escort duties to protect CH-147 Chinook transport helicopters and ground convoys. They can also spot roadside bombs from the air.

Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, are flying as helicopter door gunners, becoming the first Canadian air gunners in combat since the Second World War.

Retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie addressed our concerns in this article in the Edmonton Sun:

"(He) said movies like Black Hawk Down (about an ill-fated U.S. military operation in Somalia in the 1990s) can give the impression that helicopters are flying death traps, easy targets for anyone with a shoulder-mounted grenade launcher.

In fact, MacKenzie said, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are not designed for airborne targets and only have a range of a hundred metres or so. Helicopters can easily fly above that.

Real surface-to-air missiles are harder to come by, and so far the Taliban don't appear to have any weapons that sophisticated."

(Canuck helicopter team adds a vital eye in the sky, Edmonton Sun, Andrew Hanon, Tuesday, February 03, 2009)

Why We Fight
In case you forgot...

Taliban blocks UN polio treatment in Pakistan
Taliban miliants in northern Pakistan have triggered a medical emergency by refusing to allow UN health officials to conduct a polio vaccination campaign.

By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad and Ashfaq Yusufzai in Mingora/ U.K. Telegraph
26 Mar 2009

Militants in northern Pakistan have triggered a medical emergency by refusing to allow health officials to conduct a polio vaccination campaign.

Taliban militants in the former tourist destination of Swat Valley have obstructed officials from vaccinating over 300,000 children.

Militants have seized control of most of Swat and its capital, Mingora, and have extended their rule since striking a peace deal with the government and army earlier this year.

“There is a real emergency there. It is urgent to go in and vaccinate children,” said Dr Nima Abid, the Polio Team leader from the World Health Organisation in Pakistan.

Extremist clerics have used mosque loudspeakers and illegal radio stations to spread the idea that the vaccinations cause infertility and are part of a US-sponsored anti-Muslim plot.

Dr Abid said that militants have not allowed polio vaccinations to take place at a critical time.

“Polio vaccination is effective in first three months of the year when virus transmission is lowest and so there is no interference with the vaccine virus,” said Dr Abid.

Militants had reportedly agreed to allow the vaccination program to take place as part of the peace agreements.

However, the militants had reneged on their word and despite assiduous efforts made by the increasingly irrelevant local administration, no vaccinations have taken place.

“It’s a US tool to cut the population of the Muslims. It is against Islam that you take a medicine before the disease”, said, Muslim Khan, Swat’s Taliban spokesman, speaking by telephone.

Yesterday government officials convened another meeting in Swat an attempt to break the impasse, according to Dr Abdul Jabbar, the WHO’s polio team leader in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Swat had recorded 4 cases of polio last year of the total 53 recorded by NWFP and the tribal areas. Pakistan had 118 cases in 2009.

The disease is concentrated in NWFP where 60% of the refusals were attributed to “religious reasons”.

Danger isn't stopping children from heading to school
Some schools are overflowing and new ones opening as education is increasing in Kandahar
March 26, 2009

Highlights of Galloway's story:

She quotes Hajim Anwar, director of education in Kandahar province where Canadian troops are stationed.

* school enrolment went up by 15 to 20 per cent across the province in the past year.
* Most of the increase has occurred in the rural districts outside the relative security of Kandahar city, where large numbers of children have been enrolled for some time.
* The schools "are overflowing," said Drew Gilmour, director of Development Works, an aid agency in Kandahar.
* The Mirwais Mina high school, where men on motorbikes sprayed the faces of girls and teachers with acid last November, is bulging at the seams.
* Enrolment increased from 800 to nearly 1,300 in one year and, although students stayed away immediately after the attack, nearly all have returned.
* new schools have opened even as others have closed.
*In Shorabak in the southeastern part of Kandahar province, he said, there were no schools a year ago and now there are seven.
*In the district of Shah Wali Kot, the northern part of which is largely controlled by the Taliban, there were five schools last year and now there are nine.

AFGHANISTAN: Dozens of schools reopen in volatile south
KABUL, 26 March 2009 (IRIN) - Eighty-one primary and secondary schools which had previously been closed in southern areas of Afghanistan owing to insecurity have reopened in the past three months, the Education Ministry (MoE) has said.

Highlights of the IRIN story:
* “The reopening of 81 schools in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces will enable over 50,000 students to reclaim their right to education,” Asif Nang, a spokesman for the MoE, told IRIN in Kabul.
* Some 15 percent of the 50,000 students are girls, MoE said.
* According to UNICEF, the country has one of the highest adult illiteracy rates in the world: 71 percent in general, 86 percent for females.

Sadly, on Wednesday Mohammad Anwar Khan, Kandahar's director of education, was killed along with 12 others when four Taliban suicide bombers disguised in army uniforms attacked the provincial council.

But more and more there's evidence that the populace has had enough of the terrorists.

In Herat province, Afghan soldiers, assisted by coalition forces, were on a combat reconnaissance patrol in the Shindand district when "concerned local villagers" stopped them and directed the commandos to the location of two weapons and ordnance caches in a nearby area.

One cache, which was buried less than two-feet deep in a dried-up riverbed near a well-traveled road, consisted of 10 mortar rounds, seven cases of 30 mm anti-aircraft rounds, one 100 mm projectile, nine rocket fuses and four grenades.

The second contained 20 rocket-propelled grenades, 30 armour-piercing sabot rounds, eight Russian smoke canisters and two cases of 20 mm anti-aircraft rounds.

The Taliban this week continued their tactic of disrupting NATO supplies entering Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Nine NATO vehicles were destroyed in a depot near the Pakistani city of Peshawar by Taliban forces Friday.

The US, meanwhile, is making arrangements to ferry supplies through the former Soviet republics bordering Afghanistan. A transit deal with Tajikistan has been signed allowing up to 250 NATO trucks a day to cross the border. Bilateral agreements with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are expected to be signed soon.

Kyrgyzstan, however, announced last month it was shutting down the US base near its capital Bishkek. This is the last US outpost in Central Asia and has been valuable for moving troops and supplies into Afghanistan.

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