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Taliban's Return: A Matter of Time?

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    Taliban s Return: A Matter of Time? The Battle Over Kandahar By Naseer Ahmad Nawidy — Islamabad http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2008
      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
      daily life.

      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
      both sides.

      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.


      Resilient Taliban

      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
      this year.

      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
      security forces.

      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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