Friday, October 26, 2007

Pakistan cleric's base under siege

Troops have surrounded a pro-Taliban cleric's hideout in northwest Pakistan, leading to heavy clashes with his supporters, witnesses say.

Supporters of Maulana Fazlullah responded by beheading three paramilitary soldiers and a police officer and displayed their heads in a village near the town of Swat, according to a provincial official.

However, an Al Jazeera cameraman said that pro-Taliban fighters had beheaded 12 soldiers and killed another by shooting him in the head.

The battle broke out on Friday in the Swat valley in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where Fazlullah has based a campaign to introduce pro-Taliban laws.

Two civilians were killed in the fighting that broke out at the village of Imam Dheri, where Fazlullah has a religious school.

A day earlier, a blast hit a security forces vehicle in Swat, killing about 20 people and wounding another 35, after the arrival of more than 2,000 Pakistani soldiers in the area earlier this week.



This has the potential to become another Red Mosque. In fact, it may even be worse, because Swat is deep in the heart of nowhere, where the Pakistani government does not exert meaningful control. The locals could well view this as an act of aggression.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bin Laden issues Iraq message

Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, has released a new audiotape calling on fighters in Iraq to unite and stand shoulder to shoulder. In the tape broadcast by Al Jazeera on Monday, a voice sounding like bin Laden admitted that mistakes had been made in Iraq and exhorted the fighters to rectify them.

"Some of you have been lax in one duty, which is to unite your ranks," bin Laden said. "Beware of division... The Muslim world is waiting for you to gather under one banner."

In the audio recording, entitled A Message to the People of Iraq, bin Laden called on tribal leaders and the leaders of armed groups to initiate an agreement between the different groups. "The interest of the Islamic nation surpasses that of a group," he said. "The strength of faith is in the strength of the bond between Muslims and not that of a tribe or that of nationalism."


Bin Laden said fighters in Iraq should admit "mistakes" and try to correct them in the interest of unity. The recording was aired as Iraq's government reported violence had dropped by 70 per cent since the end of June, following a series of US-led offensives.
Iraq's wing of al-Qaeda is one of the groups fighting US-led forces and the Baghdad government, but bin Laden's followers have angered other Sunni groups and tribes through their interpretations of Islam and indiscriminate killing of civilians. "The mujahidin are the children of this nation ... they do right things and wrong things," bin Laden said. "Those who are accused of violations of God's commandments should face trial," bin Laden said. In the recording, bin Laden mentioned battles in the province of Diyala, indicating that he made the remarks since the start of a US offensive there in June. He said he was addressing "mujahidin [holy warriors] in Iraq", Sunni Muslim groups fighting US-led forces. Last month, bin Laden issued three messages, including a video marking the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington in which about 3,000 people were killed. Bin Laden said in the video that the United States was vulnerable despite its power and insisted only conversion to Islam would end the conflict.


Phil Rees, who has written on al-Qaeda, told Al Jazeera: "I think there's always been a tension between the leadership [of al-Qaeda], wherever that is ... and elements such as, say, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "We know there were various communications condemning some of the sectarian attacks and feeling that al-Zarqawi was something of a loose cannon." He said the tape could be an attempt by bin Laden to re-establish control over Sunni fighters in Iraq. "Maybe its a sign that he is in charge and he is trying to rein in these people," he said. In recent months Sunni tribal groups have formed alliances and worked with US forces to confront al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Via Al Jazeera.


It had been my intention to wait a day or so for Al Jazeera to publish the full text of the message, but unfortunately it doesn't look like that's going to be happening any time soon. All they've released in English has been excerpts, and apparently even those haven't been released in Arabic.

Going by what's in this article, I'd say it's pretty clear that al-Qaeda's feeling the heat. While Osama is not, as was claimed by FOX News, "apologizing to the people of Iraq", he was definitely trying to salvage a very bad situation. He seems to have blamed everyone except al-Qaeda — individual "mujahedin", Crusaders who've infiltrated their ranks to make them look bad, the tribes, he even brings up the Jews at one point (though I'm not sure what the context is). The problem, though, is with al-Qaeda itself. Wherever it goes, whatever it does, people die. Its methods are terror, oppression, and the very disintegration of society, and any who oppose it are held to be apostates and dealt with accordingly. Osama has called for the Iraqis and the members of al-Qaeda to unite under the banner of Islam. He does not realize that this is impossible, for he has removed himself from the fold.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Afghan suicide bomber kills own family

A mother who tried to stop her son from carrying out a suicide bomb attack triggered an explosion in the family's home in southern Afghanistan that killed the would-be bomber, his mother and three siblings, police said Monday.

The would-be bomber had been studying at a madrassa, or religious school, in Pakistan, and when he returned to his home in Uruzgan province over the weekend announced that he planned to carry out a suicide attack, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said.

Surviving family members told police that the suicide vest exploded during a struggle between the mother and her son, said Juma Gul Himat, Uruzgan's police chief. The man's brother and two sisters were also killed.

Family members said the would-be bomber gave his family $3,600 before telling them he intended to carry out the attack, Himat said.

Bashary said the explosion happened on Sunday, but Himat said it occurred on Monday morning. It was not clear why the two accounts differed.



Sorry about the post hiatus, there was an unexpected development in my life that kept me somewhat preoccupied.

I posted this story as a reminder of the personal toll of the conflict. It is easy to get caught up in the grand machinations of state and system, and to forget that this war is being fought by real, individual human beings, each with their own story. Moreover, the battlefield itself is alive, filled with an elaborate tapestry of individual civilians; each one trying to life their life as normal, though chaos descends around them. On the broader analytical level, this story is of no importance. It was just another suicide bombing, and not even a particularly deadly one. On the incident maps I've been working on, it would just be another little red dot. But how much more is it to those whose lives it touched or ended! It is the single most momentous instant of their entire lives, the climax of their stories, and sometimes their end. What would not merit so much as a footnote in a history book would rival Shakespeare and Sophocles if fiction. But it is not fiction. No, this is all too very real.

This is the soul of war.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Curfew lifted in northwest Pakistan

Pakistani forces and fighters have reached a ceasefire in northwest Pakistan where fighting killed some 250 people last week, according to a tribal leader and officials. The Pakistani army lifted a curfew in the region on Tuesday after a tribal council brokered the truce on Monday in the area around Mir Ali near the Afghan border.

Major-General Waheed Arshad, the military spokesman, said the curfew had been lifted to help civilians while authorities were considering a request from the fighters for a ceasefire. Tribal leaders said the situation was returning to normal after talks between elders' council and the fighters.

"There is now peace in the area," said Maulana Faizullah, a tribal leader who was involved in the negotiations. "The Taliban will not attack security forces unless they are attacked." Fighting in North Waziristan, and violence in other parts of northwest Pakistan, has intensified sharply since July when a nine-month pact broke down and commandos stormed a mosque complex in Islamabad supported by fighters from Waziristan.



The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan poses a bit of a problem. Virtually unknown to most Americans, it lies in Pakistan along the Afghan border, and is one of the two regions to have reached stage three of the plan (referenced in previous posts). While it is not technically a state, per se, the central Pakistani government has no real control over it, so it is de facto independent. It appears to have the support of the local populace; the absence of anyone crying for liberation, as well as the huge difficulties that would be involved in removing it, argue strongly for leaving it alone.

Unfortunately, stage three of the plan does not call for a life of peace and solitude. Instead, these Emirates are expected to expand the area of Apostate control by assisting terror groups in neighboring regions, and ultimately invading. Indeed, Waziristan has been crucial for the Taliban's continued existence, providing them with a safe haven beyond the Coalition's reach. Were it not for the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan would be little more than a fading memory.

What, then, to do? Pakistan has been trying to deal with them, but lacks the muscle and support to do so effectively. It is in Musharraf's best interest to establish a lasting cease-fire. We can't come marching in, because a) our military is busy elsewhere and b) Waziristan is technically Pakistani territory, and one of the most sure-fire ways of alienating an ally is bombing them. However, we can't just let them continue to cause problems in Afghanistan. There are no easy answers.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ramadan bombs rock Afghanistan

On the eastern fringes of Kabul, Abdul Mobin, a doctor, is home early from work, but he cuts a lonely figure as he walks down the hill from his house. Last week his wife and two children died, killed in a suicide attack on a bus taking police officers to work. "Every day they left home 15 minutes before me, every day they said goodbye, my son Munir, on that day, I'm not lying, he said goodbye three or four times. He even came back to the house and said father goodbye." The Taliban claimed responsibility and said it was part of an offensive to mark the holy month of Ramadan.A surge in the number suicide bombings has wracked Afghanistan during Ramadan making it one of the mostly deadly periods in the country since the invasion of foreign troops in 2001. Forty-nine civilians were killed during Ramadan as a result of the Taliban's 'Nasrat' (victory) offensive, according to the Afghan public health ministry. The campaign involved a spate of at least 14 suicide bombings and a series of roadside explosions, most of which were aimed at foreign military as well as Afghan police and army officers. Civilians, however, were among the casualties in almost every attack. Ramadan has seen a distinct shift the type of violence in the Afghan conflict, and there are increasing similarities with the conflict in Iraq.



This is a fairly long article, but one which I strongly recommend reading all of.

The Nasrat offensive, according to the article, indicates, or at least illustrates, a change in the Taliban's strategy. It seems that the war in Afghanistan is becoming less and less of a classical military struggle and more and more of a terrorist insurgency, as is seen in Iraq. In particular, the article notes, attacks have been focusing more on "soft" targets, such as convoys, than more fortified positions. Also, there is a growing "disregard for civilian casualties" — a disregard that may prove costly in the long run, as al-Qaeda has been discovering in Iraq.

I am preparing a map showing the various suicide bombings of the Nasrat offensive. It should be ready later today.

EDIT: There are more technical hang ups than I'd anticipated. In the meantime, here is a simpler map made with Google Earth. I actually quite like it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Management of Savagery

I've finally posted a link to The Management of Savagery, a book I've referred to several times in previous posts. It's available in the Documents section.