Taliban's Return: A Matter of Time?
The Battle Over Kandahar
By Naseer Ahmad Nawidy Islamabad
A view of the Kandahar prison after a prison break, south of
Afghanistan, June 14, 2008. (Reuters)
For the last two weeks, fighting has been intensifying in Afghanistan
between the Taliban and the NATO forces, backed by Afghan forces,
over the southern part of Kandahar province, which is strategically
important to both sides for its special position in the south
bordering Pakistan and being the starting point and birthplace of
the Taliban. Taliban's control over this province, where the majority
of population supports them, will deal a tough blow to the frail
regime that is losing much of its credibility being unable to fight
corruption and mismanagement in nearly every aspect of Afghanistan's
The break of Taliban into Arghandab a district about 20 km north
west of the Kandahar city was an unexpected event. On June 14, about
500 armed Taliban elements sneaked into the city from Khakriz and
Zeray areas occupying 11 villages within three days. Hundreds of
villagers were forced to flee the area after Taliban fighters blew up
three bridges and laid mines along several roadways around Arghandab.
But can we say Taliban is coming back so quickly?
Taliban's spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an
undisclosed location that Taliban would use Arghandab for strategic
attacks on Kandahar city.
Responding to the Taliban offensive, 1,400 troops of Afghan National
Army (ANA) along with 600 NATO soldiers, mostly Canadians, backed by
gunship helicopters rolled into the battlefield. After massive air
strikes on Taliban's positions, the Afghan and NATO forces could
cautiously enter to the combat area on June 18. After a short time,
the government troops claimed killing of 20 Taliban militants while
Taliban, on the other hand, claimed killing many Afghan and foreign
troops and destroying their tanks and armored vehicles.
After 24 hours of the battle, the situation changed dramatically. A
statement was released by Taliban's spokesmen on a local website
saying that they had retreated from Arghandab during the night and
had tactically withdrawn to Shawalikot and Khakriz following orders
from their leader Mulla Omar.
The Governor of Kandahar, on behalf of Afghan government, claimed
that five villages had been freed from Taliban and more than hundreds
of militants including a Taliban commander, Mulla Shokur, were
killed. He further said that the battle was going on till the
complete defeat of the attacking Taliban. Leaders of Taliban denied
the reports of their loss.
The push into Arghandab came three days after a coordinated Taliban
attack on the Kandahar's prison that freed 400 fighters.
The Mortal Combat Arghandab has a strategic location for Taliban.
Being covered with trees, it allows Taliban to launch ambushes and
attacks more easily than any other place in the province. The trees
and terrain also enable them to hide from air strikes. Due to the
strategic importance of the area the battle was a mortal combat for
The Taliban attack was also accompanied by their media campaign being
launched by their spokesmen. They were consistently issuing warnings
of attack on Kandahar city after consolidating their positions in
Arghandab. They had warned that a group of bombers called Khalid
Ebinul Walid had entered Kandahar city to attack the Canadian and
Afghan troops and the government officials. They also had put a hint
to the joining of hundreds of their fellow fighters in Arghandab who
had recently escaped from the central jail in Kandahar.
The push into Arghandab came three days after a coordinated Taliban
attack on the Kandahar's prison that freed 400 fighters besides 600
criminals. Several analysts believe that the successful jail-breaking
operation of Taliban on June 13 was the basic motive of Taliban
attack on Arghandab.
The attack began when a tanker full of 1800 kg of explosives went off
at the main gate of Jail, some 30 km of NATO's main base in southern
Afghanistan. Shortly a walking suicide bomber blasted a hole in the
wall at the back of the prison. Lastly a commando group of about 30
people (according to Taliban's spokesmen) coming on motorbikes
attacked the huge wall of jail with their RPG rocket launchers
resulting in the release of about a thousand prisoners out of a total
1100. This successful operation of Taliban seemed as if they were
trying to strengthen themselves for further attacks on Kandahar.
Some reports suggest the BBC reporter was killed by government
elements for reporting on the 'corruption' in Helmand.
Forgotten Losers The Afghan government and NATO forces defused
Taliban in Arghandab forcing them to retreat to their previous
positions. According to General Zahir Azimi, spokesman of Afghan
defense ministry, 56 Taliban fighters were killed and many were
injured during the operation of Arghandab. The governor of Kandahar,
Assadulla Khalid, also claimed killing and injuring hundreds of
Taliban fighters but a few dead bodies were shown to media on June 20.
But the real losers in the battle are the people of Arghandab.
Thousands of them (about 5000 families) were displaced before the
fighting and hundreds lost their homes and crops, stacked for
threshing, due to the air strikes by the NATO aircrafts and the fire
trading with Taliban.
The Taliban, NATO, and Afghan forces may leave the area after
sometime, but the poor villagers would remain there to suffer the
added woes to their life bitterness. Who would compensate for their
losses or would rebuild their homes? This harsh reality in the
aftermath of the battle is a commonplace thing in the south of
Last year, when the Afghan and NATO forces recaptured Sangin and some
other districts of Helmand from Taliban fighters, they pledged to
compensate people for their losses and would speedily complete
reconstruction projects, but so far nothing has changed on the ground.
A vocal BBC reporter, Abdul Samad Rohani, who highlighted this
problem, was killed on June 8 near Lashkar Gah, capital city of
Helmand. Some reports suggest that he was killed by some elements
within the Afghan government for reporting about the 'corruption' in
the Helmand administration.
Pak-Afghan Troubled Relations
Karzai's statement spawned a huge reaction from Pakistan and
generated a heated debate in both countries.
Fighting in Arghandab occurred in the backdrop of tense and
unfriendly relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghan
government and NATO officials have been consistently blaming Pakistan
for its April peace deal with Taliban where the two sides agreed on a
15-point agenda. The blame game started after Baitullah Mehsood,
leader of Tahrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP), said to continue the
fight against the NATO forces in Afghanistan. NATO officials also
claimed to have realized 50 percent increase in Taliban attacks after
that peace deal.
The situation got worse when Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened
Pakistan on June 15 to send the Afghan Army into the tribal areas of
Pakistan to stamp out "militias" and "terrorists". The statement
spawned a huge reaction from Pakistan and generated a heated debate
in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Soon after the end of fighting in
Arghandab, General Azimi claimed that the majority of the Taliban who
attacked Arghandab were Pakistanis. The next day, the Kandahar
governor also told the media that most of the killed people during
the fighting were Pakistanis belonging to Baitullah Mehsood, Muhammad
Omar, and Sufi Muhammad. He openly called upon the people of
Afghanistan to "defend" their country against the "foreign invasion".
This indicates that the blame game between the two countries would
have no stop but rather would intense over the Pakistani Taliban
issue as both sides have different policies towards the group. The
new government of Pakistan, despite the US pressure, is pursuing a
peace policy with the militants in its Federally Administrated Tribal
Areas (FATA). On the other hand, the Afghan government claims that
FATA is a safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters and demands
the Pakistani side to use force against them and close down their
training camps in the area.
The US and NATO claim that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are inside
the Pakistani territory. They also blame Pakistan for its peace deal
policy with Taliban. All these developments indicate that Pakistan's
tribal areas would remain an issue of concern for all the regional
players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, the NATO, and the US.
In a recent development, Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas
captured three US helicopters: Chinook, Black Hawk and Cobra, while
they were being shipped in huge containers from Peshawar to Jalalabad
in Afghanistan. This operation, which took place some weeks ago,
shocked the Pentagon and the US administration. According to the Los
Angeles based Daily News of June 18, top US officials have recently
asked Pakistan to launch an operation for the recovery of their
stolen helicopters. They have expressed concern that instead of
initiating the operation, the new Pakistani government is negotiating
peace with Taliban. In the meanwhile, the US and NATO planes are
hovering over the Waziristan and Mohmand agencies. Locals are in fear
especially after the US and NATO attack on an outpost Mohmand agency
in which 12 Pakistani soldiers were killed.
According to some reports, the US assistant secretary, Richard
Boucher, is due to visit Pakistan and Afghanistan soon in view of the
complex situation in the region.
Naseer Ahmad Nawidy is a writer and researcher for the Institute of
Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad. He is specialized in researching the
Taliban movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Click here to reach him.
The Pentagon said the Taliban have regrouped after its initial fall
from power and have coalesced into a resilient insurgency. (Google
CAIRO The Taliban have regrouped after its initial fall from power
by the US invasion and have coalesced into a resilient insurgency,
according to a Pentagon report cited by the Washington Post on
Saturday, June 28. "The Taliban regrouped after its fall from power
and have coalesced into a resilient insurgency," said the report.
"It now poses a challenge to the Afghan government's authority in
some rural areas."
The "Report on Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan"
said the Taliban have stepped up attacks despite efforts of the US-
led forces to kill or capture its leaders.
"The Taliban is likely to maintain or even increase the scope and
pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008."
In the latest sign of the movement's growing might, hundreds of
Taliban fighters swarmed on Tuesday, June 17, into Arghandab district
near the strategic city of Kandahar, taking over a number of villages
in their way.
The Taliban were ousted by US-led forces in 2001 shortly after the
9/11 attacks for harboring top Al-Qaeda leaders.
Since then, Taliban has been engaged in protracted guerrilla warfare
against foreign forces and the West-backed government of Hamid Karzai.
A recent report by the Senlis Council said Taliban has permanent
presence in more than half of Afghanistan.
The report said Taliban are not the only challenge, as a "more
complex, adaptive insurgency" is developing in the east "from
warlords, criminals and drug dealers.
"The power of these entities is increasingly challenged by the
growing competence of local and national government."
The Pentagon said these groups have joined hands against foreign
forces with "insurgents" changing their tactics, launching deadly
attacks against foreign forces.
"The success of Afghan and international forces in military
engagements has led insurgents to increase asymmetric attacks," it
"As such, [improvised explosive device] attacks are on the rise. IED
incidents reached a high of 2,615 incidents in 2007, up from 1,931 in
A senior defense official said the use of roadside bombs increased
more than 40 percent in eastern Afghanistan during the first half of
The report cited a number of problems facing progress in Afghanistan,
including corruption, the illegal poppy trade, human rights abuses
and slow progress in reconstruction.
It said there was no comprehensive strategy to combat the illegal
poppy trade in Afghanistan.
"There is a clear nexus between narcotics and the insurgency in
Afghanistan that threatens US gains in Afghanistan and the region."
The Pentagon report painted a pessimistic assessment of the Afghan
It said only one Afghan army battalion and a headquarters unit can
operate independently without the help of foreign forces.
Development of the Afghan police is taking longer and has been
hindered by "corruption, insufficient US military trainers and
advisers, and a lack of unity of effort within the international
The Afghan Army is scheduled to reach a strength of 70,000 by the end
of this year, with an ultimate goal of 80,000 soldiers.
"However, at this point in time, a lack of US military trainers and
mentors available for police mentor teams precludes the acceleration
or expansion of the training program."
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