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War in Afghanistan 2009, Week 23

Midnight has tolled for Canada's Cinderella army in Afghanistan.

Three years of combat and counter-insurgency has ground down the Canada's ability, and will, to carry on the fight.

On April 30 a Canadian-built strongpoint in Panjwai district of Kandahar province was dismantled. Canadian military officials called it a tactical victory--- weasel words for 'we're retreating.'

The strongpost was built two years ago to disrupt Taliban activity in the region of Musan, a community about 40 kilometres west of Kandahar Air Field. Military spokesmen said in a briefing to reporters that the post had done the opposite, drawing constant attacks and heightening Taliban activity.

So the 65 Afghan national army soldiers manning the post, with their eight Canadian army mentors, were being drawn back to Kandahar City. They claimed the post was abandoned at the request of the Afghan military. Afghan officials said they had to leave Mushan because it had become isolated after Canadians last year dismantled two other strongposts east of Mushan which provided essential support.

"The villagers have not been abandoned," Major Stephane Briand, operations planning officer for the Canadian Forces battle group in Kandahar, was quoted telling reporters. "I can see how it could be [interpreted that way]. But the main reason for the drawback was to reassign [troops)."

"[Reprisals] can happen in Mushan, but it [also] happens elsewhere."

Canadian officers admit that much of the Panjwaii peninsula, an area of some 160 square kilometres, is back under Taliban control.

Panjwai was the scene of Operation Medusa, the bloodiest conflict fought by Canadian troops since the Korean War. The Canadian army made its reputation in Operation Medusa, blunting the Taliban's trumpeted campaign to defeat the Canucks, overrun Kandahar, and drive Nato forces out of Afghanistan.

Taliban forces announced a retreat and moved west to areas such as Mushan.

Canadian troops are now retreating closer to Kandahar City where 75 percent of the province lives. They are leaving the heavy lifting to the American forces which are moving into Kandahar as part of a force of 21,000 new U.S. troops coming in 2009.

A US army brigade of Stryker armoured vehicles is expected to be deployed around Kandahar province, in July and August.

Canadian forces were simply spread too thinly across Kandahar to have much impact on Taliban operations. Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, commander of the army, has said many times that the Canadian army has been strained by the constant demands of the Afghan mission.

While one battle group is deployed in Afghanistan for six months, another is training at home to replace it, while a third is recovering from its tour. But with battle groups up for their third stint in Afghanistan already, with at least two years of the mission to go, the pressure is showing on both men and equipment.

Canadian officers are trying to spin the redeployment of battle troops to safer havens near Kandahar by claiming the arrangement will actually mean a 30 percent increase in patrols. But that style of soldiering has already become outmoded.

The traditional strategy of using big units to “Find ‘em, fix ‘em, finish ‘em,” searching for main force insurgent units to destroy, will be abandoned, Pentagon officials have said.

Americans forces are adopting new and more aggressive tactics.

General David McKiernan has been fired as US commander in Afghanistan after less than one year, a period marked by an surge in Taliban attacks. He's been replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a Ranger and Special Forces expert.

Richard Sale, Middle East Times Intelligence Correspondent had some fascinating details regarding the change in tactics. Here are some snippets:

"Some U.S. officials have said that McKiernan’s preference for slow, cumbersome, large-unit sweeps, confined to Afghanistan’s few useable roads, allowed the insurgents to disperse without suffering damage. The elements of surprise that is key to fighting insurgents was never obtained, they said."

"McChrystal, who headed U.S. Special Operations forces during the famous troop surge in Iraq in the late spring of 2007, used a whole new array of methods to detect, locate and kill insurgent leaders, which many claim was key to the success of the operation."

"One key innovation was something called “fusion cells.” As first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed by U.S. intelligence sources, these consist of small, highly mobile teams of Special Forces and intelligence specialists working together supported by forensic and computer specialists, mapping experts, along with political and tribal analysts.

Some of the intelligence collection techniques involve using GPS devices to locate hostile bands, new space-based surveillance strategies, new methods of infiltrating enemy communications, and the use of tiny, hand-launched miniature drones like the Gnat which is packed in a tube that looks like a rolled-up umbrella. When when the drone is taken out, its spring-powered wings pop open, and it can be tossed into the air and can track targets up to three hours. Larger drones like the Predator can loiter for up to 14 hours.

The sensors and cameras on the Gnat are operated from a lap top computer by a single operator and are so powerful that can relay data to major command centers and even the White House Situation Room in real time, according to former and serving military officials.

Other collection devices include cameras mounted on the helmets of elite troops that relay intelligence such as papers found on dead insurgents to headquarter analysts who can analyze it with such a fast turn-around time, that, once interpreted, it can be used immediately to stage additional raids, sometimes several in one night, sources said.

Where in Iraq, the high-value targets were al-Qaida leaders, but in Afghanistan, the fusion cells will be focusing on Taliban leadership cadres in Afghanistan and in northwestern Pakistan, they said.

As in Iraq, quick, lethal reaction to intelligence is everything, and from now on, U.S. counterterror operations will be small, swift, mobile, based on precise information about targets, they said."

On Friday, June 5, Fox news reported "the Pentagon is sending 1,000 more special operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan to bolster a larger conventional troop buildup, and is revamping the way Army Green Berets and other commandos work to rid villages of the Taliban."

"Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal... who underwent a Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing Tuesday, is expected to put more emphasis on using commandos in counterinsurgency operations and on finding or killing key Taliban leaders."

"... McChrystal has asked two veteran special operators on the Pentagon's Joint Staff, which he directs, to accompany him to Afghanistan once he wins Senate approval for a fourth star. The two are Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, who headed intelligence for the chief terrorist hunting unit in Iraq; and Brig Gen. Austin Miller, a Joint Staff director for special operations.

Military sources say Brig. Gen. Ed Reeder, who commands special operations in Afghanistan, went in-country earlier this year to revamp the way Green Beret "A" Teams, Delta Force and other special operators conduct counter-insurgency.

"Reeder heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command. It is a mix of the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos, and the super-secret Delta Force and Navy SEALs who conduct manhunts."

"McChrystal is a former commander of Joint Special Operations Command, the home of Delta Force. He led the hunt in Iraq that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of Al Qaeda's leading terrorists in the Middle East, in 2006."

Those who worked with him talk of a tenacious warrior who worked to link his direct-action fighters with the intelligence operatives who provided crucial information on terrorist locations. McChrystal allowed Delta operatives at the troop level (akin to a conventional platoon) to call in Predator spy drones during a mission."

The front line in the Afghanistan mission, meanwhile, has moved into Pakistan's northwestern frontier.

In February the government of Pakistan surrerendered the Swat Valley to Pakistani militants (and, according to the Green news service AKI, paid them $6 million in compensation). The deal called for Pakistani troops to move out and Shariah law to be imposed on the tribal region.

The Pakistani Taliban saw this as a weakness to be exploited, and two months later moved 400 fighters into the neighbouring district of Buner, only 60 miles from the capital Islamabad.

Buner’s capture alarmed the Pakistani government and shocked the international community, and prompted the government to launch an all out offensive against the Taliban.

For five weeks now the Pakistani army has been fighting to drive Pakistani Taliban forces out of the Swat Valley and Buner. While the military progress on the ground has been slower than expected, the tide of public opinion has turned against the Taliban.

The BBC's correspondent in Pakistan sent this report Saturday:

"Only four weeks ago most Urdu television channels were acting as cheerleaders for the Taliban. Most Urdu columnists in newspapers were presenting the Pakistani Taliban as the reincarnation of early Muslim warriors.

Now in a rare consensus they are all clamouring for an all-out war against them. Even the people who were sitting on the fence - or considered the Taliban a localised problem - have suddenly realised that actually the Taliban are out to destroy their way of life. Every single opinion poll carried out in Pakistan has concluded that the country is a hotbed of anti-Americanism. But now, faced with a war against the Taliban, the nation seems to have united behind the most American of slogans: they are threatening our way of life. How did we change our minds so quickly? More than the government or the media, it is the Pakistani Taliban who are responsible.

This collective change of heart can be traced back to a two-minute flogging video that made headlines around the world. Everyone knew that the Taliban flog and behead people, and when they want to show their softer side they just shoot them or slice off their ears. But nobody had seen them at work. In this video men in regulation Taliban dress and beards are holding down a young girl and methodically whipping her. The girl screams. She asks for forgiveness. It is never clear what her crime is. One of the men in the video tells the other one to hold down the girl firmly. This series of images had more impact on the people's psyche than a thousand theological debates raging on television. For the first time a young girl's screams silenced the Taliban cheerleaders. Then the Taliban leaders, in a series of interviews, have been outlining their roadmap for the nation on television. It was not just the Swat valley they wanted to purge of evils like schools, music, democracy, barbers and the judiciary. If it was good for Swat, it should be good for the rest of the country. And later they wanted to impose the same model on the rest of the world. They demanded that the government give them arms to carry out their mission. It was a spectacular public relations disaster."

The Taliban has responded in its usual fashion, launching a campaign of suicide bombing within Pakistani cities, including the capital Islamabad.

And, predictably, this has backfired.

Following a suicide attack on a mosque in the Northwest region's Upper Dir district, which killed 33 people, local tribesmen formed a militia and attacked five villages known as militant strongholds. Three villages have been cleared of Taliban, with 11 militants dead. Fighting continues in the other two as 200 Taliban face off 400 angry tribesmen. At least 20 houses where Taliban fighters found refuge have been razed.

And to add insult to injury...Saturday, the Taliban ambushed a military convoy taking two senior leaders of the banned Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law to Peshawar. They intended to free the men. Instead, they killed them in the ambush.

The London Times reported last week that Al Qaeda has sent a hit team of seven men from Iraq to Pakistan to target senior Pakistani leaders--- President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, General Kiyani, and other senior military officers, cabinet ministers, and provincial leaders.

"The seven operatives, who were behind deadly attacks in Iraq, reportedly met in Afghanistan's eastern province of Paktia on May 3 to plan the operations, according to a report in the Daily Times. The al Qaeda operatives are assigned to cooperate with the Pakistani Taliban, led by Baitullah Mehsud." reported the newspaper.

And we just couldn't let this story go by.

In perfectly classic fashion, it demonstrates the lengths to which left-wing supporters of the Taliban will go to delude themselves and everyone else about their "cause."

Joanie de Rijke is a Dutch journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban in the Sorobi district of Afghanistan's Paktia province last year. She arranged to meet a Taliban commander, to ‘hear their side of the story’ of killing ten French commandos last August.

Lo and behold, despite her sympathies with them, she found herself kidnapped.

And raped.

By the commander she wanted so anxiously to interview.

The Taliban wanted $2 million in ransom for her, but the Dutch and Belgian governments said No. She is a Dutch citizen but lives in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern half of neighboring Belgium.

The far left magazine she works for, P-Magazine, managed to raise 100,000 Euros and offered it to her captors, who accepted. After her return home, she published a book last month in which she wrote she didn't blame the Taliban for raping her, she blamed the governments for not paying her ransom.

Her Taliban rapist “could not control his testosterone. I had the impression that afterwards he regretted what had happened. He knew it was wrong.”

He even “invited her to a threesome,” i.e. to have sex with him and one of his three wives. “Ghazi was a very religious man. It is all so hypocritical. He was a complete fool,” she wrote.

“I do not want to depict the Taliban as monsters. I am not angry with Ghazi Gul. After all, he let me live,” she said. About the rape, she explained. “It’s not black and white. These things can exist side by side. That doesn’t mean that I’m suffering from Stockholm syndrome.”

Currently, at least two western journalists of various description are known to be prisoners of Taliban groups.

Beverly Giesbrecht, publisher of the on-line pro-Taliban, pro-militant Islamic website Jihad Unspun, was kidnapped November 11, 2008 after arranging a meeting with a Taliban spokesman in the town of Miranshah, in the North Waziristan tribal agency of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan, where she was gathering material for a documentary.

In March 2009, a Taliban video was sent to the Miranshah Press Club showing Giesbrecht pleading that the Taliban would be killed unless Canada paid a $2 million ransom.

"We have a very short time now. I am going to be killed at any time as you can see by the dagger. I am going to be beheaded like the Polish engineer, probably by the end of the month." She was referring to the gruesome beheading of Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak by the Darra Adamkhel-based Taliban on 7 February 2009.

No ransom was paid.

David Rohde, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with the New York Times, was kidnapped also in November, 2008, with his driver and interpreter, in Logar province some 50 miles south of Kabul. Rohde was co-chief of the Times ‘s South Asia bureau, based in New Delhi.

While a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his coverage of the Srebrenica massacre.

The last word on his whereabouts came from Greek news service Adnkronos International (AKI) which quoted its sources as saying Rohde was abducted by a Taliban group known as Siraj Haqqani and has been taken to eastern Afghanistan.

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