Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tʜᴇ Mᴀᴘ: Rough Draft


This is a provisional map of who controls which districts in Afghanistan, as of 26 July 2008. The blue icons indicate control by NATO, the United States, and/or the central Afghan government. In order to avoid clutter (and crashing Google Earth), not all of these districts are shown; those that are shown are typically provincial capitals (especially those with Provincial Reconstruction Teams) or districts that the Taliban had controlled in the past. The black icons indicate districts and (and tribal agencies) held by the either the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan itself or the closely related Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan. This set is to the best of my knowledge complete, but bear in mind that this map is a rough draft. The green icons indicate districts and agencies that are held by Pakistan; obviously most such districts are not marked. The red icons indicate districts and agencies that are contested.

For the main image page on Flickr, click here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pakistani Taliban swarm into remote district

14 July 2008

Clashes come days after official says Nuristan may fall into rebel hands

A GROUP of Pakistani Taliban have crossed over the Afghan border and attacked a remote district in the north-eastern province of Nuristan, the Interior Ministry said.

The fighting, which began on Saturday, came days after the head of the provincial council warned that the entire province could fall into Taliban hands unless the government sent troops to stave off the Taliban assault in the Baga Matal district.

Five militants were killed and seven injured in the heavy fighting between police and Pakistani Taliban, the ministry said.

Extra troops have been sent into the district after several days of clashes, which saw residents take up arms against the rebels.

One of Nuristan’s Members of Parliament said the recent clashes had called into question the government’s ability to make swift, decisive decisions.

In the neighbouring province of Kunar, rebels killed nine US soldiers in one of the bloodiest attacks suffered by American troops since the US-led invasion of 2001.

Via Quqnoos.


This means that the Taliban now potentially controls at least three of Nuristan's eight districts, as well as the district of Pech in neighboring Kunar province (which has apparently still not been retaken). It is good that the Nuristanis are (or at least have been) resisting, but still, this is very, very bad.

Ajristan districit of Ghazni retaken by government

24 July 2008

The district in Ghazni which fell to Taliban recently is recaptured by Afghan government forces

Authorities in Ghazni province says that Ajristan district has been recaptured by Afghan forces.

The spokesman for Ghazni governor said that this district was taken on Wednesday during a joint Afghan and coalition operation and is once again under the control of the government.

According to the spokesman, 15 Taliban were killed and about 20 were wounded in the operation.

The Taliban captured Ajristan district 3 days ago. Ajristan is one of Ghazni’s remotest districts which neighbours Daykundi province.

Via Quqnoos.


Specifically, it neighbors Gizab district, which is one of the Taliban's major strongholds.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Taliban fighters 'killed' in battle

Afghan army troops killed at least 34 Taliban fighters in a firefight after an army convoy was ambushed in the south of the country, a defence ministry spokesman said.

According to Zahir Azimi, the clash erupted after "enemy elements" attacked Afghan forces in Zabul province on the main highway between the capital Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar on Thursday. "A fierce battle started and the enemy were caught between the Afghan army on both sides," Azimi said.

"At least 34 enemy dead bodies are at the battlefield, but we believe there are many more killed." More Taliban fighters have reportedly been killed in a district that the anti-government group captured three days ago, a defence ministry spokesman said.

Afghan soldiers backed by Nato ground and air support launched an offensive in the remote Ajristan district of central Afghanistan's Ghazni province, killing at least 15 fighters, during an operation to retake control of the area, an Afghan official said on Thursday.

Ismail Jahangir, a government spokesman, said: "At least 15 Taliban have been killed and several others are wounded since [Wednesday]." The operation continued for a second day on Thursday, with the troops able to recapture the district headquarters compound but still fighting for wider control, Jahangir, a government spokesman said. The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said: "The joint operations began with a co-ordinated air strike on Taliban fighters, inside Ajiristan. Several insurgents have been killed and wounded."

Remote districts

Ajiristan was previously captured by the Taliban in October 2007, and was retaken the following day when at least 300 security forces moved into the district centre.

The Taliban have captured several mainly remote districts in the past but have not been able to retain hold of them for long, although there are a handful in the southern Helmand province, that security forces admit are in rebel control.

The fighting in Afghanistan meanwhile continued to take its toll on international forces. In the latest loss, a British soldier was killed in southern Afghanistan, the UK defence ministry said on Wednesday.

A ministry spokesman said no further details were immediately available.

Via Al Jazeera.


Al Jazeera does not appear to have even mentioned this district's fall. This is what I'm talking about when I call Afghanistan "the forgotten war".

As for AJ's statements about where the Taliban holds districts, it is true that Helmand has more than any other province, but at least half of the Taliban's districts are nonetheless in other parts of the country. I hope to have at least a rough draft of the map I've been working on available later today.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Taleban set up 'Pakistan courts'

Taleban militants in Pakistan's north-western Mohmand tribal area have set up permanent Islamic courts, they say.

The districts have been divided into four judicial zones, each having two judges and a permanent court address.

The Taleban have up until now used mobile courts - with no permanent offices or judges - to settle criminal and financial disputes.

They say the permanent courts show the diminishing authority of the central and local governments.

The Taleban currently control large areas of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) along the border with Afghanistan.



Strange how Pakistan objects so vehemently to our infringing on their sovereignty, but has no problem when the Taliban does it.

US Troops Leave Base Where 9 Died

KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S. and Afghan troops have abandoned a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan where militants killed nine American Soldiers this week, officials said July 16.

Compounding the military setback, insurgents quickly seized the village of Wanat in Nuristan province after driving out the handful of police left behind to defend government offices, Afghan officials said.

Some 50 officers were headed to the area to try to regain control, said Ghoolam Farouq, a senior provincial police official.

The July 13 attack by some 200 militants armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars was the deadliest for the U.S. military in Afghanistan in three years. Rebels fought their way into the newly established base, wounding another 15 Americans and suffering heavy casualties of their own, before the defenders and warplanes could drive them back.

The assault underlined how Islamic militants appear to be gaining strength nearly eight years after the ouster of the Taliban, and the difficulties facing foreign and Afghan forces trying to defeat them.

NATO said the post, which lies amid precipitous mountains close to the Pakistan border, had been vacated, but insisted that international and Afghan troops will "retain a strong presence in that area with patrolling and other means."

"We are committed, now more than ever, to establishing a secure environment that will allow even greater opportunities for development and a stronger Afghan governmental influence," NATO spokesman Capt. Mike Finney said.

Omar Sami, spokesman for the Nuristan provincial governor, said American and Afghan soldiers quit the base on July 15. He said they took the district mayor with them.

Sami said U.S. troops armed local police with more than 20 guns before they left, but that the officers had fled the village and crossed into neighboring Kunar province when 100 militants moved into Wanat.

Via, H/T Robrob.


Great. Another black pin on the map. (I've been using blue and black placemarks in Google Earth to try to determine who controls what.)

I sure hope this is temporary.


Although Wanat is just a stone's throw from Nuristan, it's actually located in the Pech district of Kunar province (though it could be culturally Nuristani). My understanding is that not only Wanat, but also Dara-i-Pech (the district center) have fallen. Some sources indicate that reinforcements are en route to retake the district, or even that they already have retaken it, but there aren't enough for me to consider them credible (at least not yet). Also, it seems that this base was still under construction when the Taliban attacked.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Radical web of Islam's Terror

A new generation of Islamist terrorists is connecting through the Internet, not al-Qaeda. Their lack of central organization makes them even more terrifying than their forebears

The world's most dangerous jihadists no longer answer to al-Qaeda. The terrorists we should fear most are self-recruited wannabes who find purpose in terror and comrades on the Web. This new generation is even more frightening and unpredictable than its predecessors, but its evolution just may reveal the key to its demise.



Any strategy to fight these terrorists must be based on an understanding of why they believe what they believe. In other words, what transforms ordinary people into fanatics who use violence for political ends? What leads them to consider themselves special, part of a small vanguard trying to build their version of an Islamist utopia?

The explanation for their behaviour is found not in how they think, but rather in how they feel. One of the most common refrains among Islamist radicals is their sense of moral outrage. In the 1980s, the most significant source of these feelings was the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan. In the 1990s, it was the fighting in Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir. Then came the second Palestinian intifada beginning in 2000. And since 2003, it has been all about the war in Iraq, which has become the focal point of global moral outrage for Muslims all over the world. Along with the humiliations of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, Iraq is monopolizing today's conversations about Islam and the West. On a more local level, governments that appear overly pro-American cause radicals to feel they are the victims of a larger anti-Muslim conspiracy, bridging the perceived local and global attacks against them.

In order for this moral outrage to translate into extremism, the frustrations must be interpreted in a particular way: The violations are deemed part of a unified Western strategy, namely a "war against Islam." That deliberately vague worldview, however, is just a sound bite. The new terrorists are not Islamic scholars -- jihadists volunteering for Iraq are interested not in theological debates but in living out their heroic fantasies.

How various individuals interpret this vision of a "war against Islam" differs from country to country, and it is a major reason why homegrown terrorism within the United States is far less likely than it is in Europe. To a degree, the belief that the United States is a melting pot protects the country from homegrown attacks. Whether or not America is a land of opportunity, the important point is that people believe it to be. A recent poll found that 71% of Muslim Americans believe in the "American Dream" -- that's more than the American public as a whole (64%). This is not the case in Europe, where national myths are based on degrees of Britishness, Frenchness or Germanness, and non-European Muslim immigrants do not truly feel they belong.

Feeling marginalized is, of course, no simple springboard to violence. What transforms a very small number to become terrorists is mobilization by networks. Until a few years ago, these networks were face-to-face groups. They included local gangs of young immigrants, members of student associations and study groups at radical mosques. The group acted as an echo chamber, amplifying grievances, intensifying bonds to each other and breeding values that rejected those of host societies. These natural group dynamics resulted in a spiral of mutual encouragement and escalation, transforming a few young Muslims into dedicated terrorists willing to follow the model of their heroes and sacrifice themselves for comrades and cause. Their turn to violence was a collective decision, rather than an individual one.

During the past two or three years, however, face-to-face radicalization has been replaced by online radicalization. The same support and validation that young people used to derive from their offline peer groups are now found in online forums, which promote the image of the terrorist hero, link users to the online social movement, give them guidance and instruct them in tactics. These forums have become the "invisible hand" that organizes terrorist activities worldwide. The true leader of this violent social movement is the collective discourse on half a dozen influential forums.

At present, al-Qaeda Central cannot impose discipline on these third-wave wannabes, mostly because it does not know who they are. Without this command and control, each disconnected network acts according to its own understanding and capability, but their collective actions do not amount to any unified long-term goal or strategy. These separate groups cannot coalesce into a physical movement, leaving them condemned to remain leaderless, online aspirations. Such traits make them particularly volatile and difficult to detect, but they also offer a tantalizing strategy for those who wish to defeat these dangerous individuals: The very seeds of the movement's demise are found within the movement itself.


There has been talk of an al-Qaeda resurgence, but the truth is that most of the hard core members of the first and second waves have been killed or captured. The survival of the social movement they inspired relies on the continued inflow of new members. But this movement is vulnerable to whatever may diminish its appeal among young people. Its allure thrives only at the abstract fantasy level. The few times its aspirations have been translated into reality -- the Taliban in Afghanistan, parts of Algeria during its civil war and, more recently, in Iraq's Anbar province -- were particularly repulsive to most Muslims.

What's more, a leaderless social movement is permanently at the mercy of its participants. As each generation attempts to define itself in contrast to its predecessor, what appeals to the present generation of young would-be radicals may not appeal to the next. At present, the major source of appeal is the anger and moral outrage provoked by the invasion of Iraq. But as the Western footprint there fades so will the appeal of fighting it.

The U.S. strategy to counter this terrorist threat continues to be frozen by the horrors of 9/11. It relies more on wishful thinking than on a deep understanding of the enemy. The pursuit of "high-value targets" who were directly involved in the 9/11 operation was an appropriate first step to bring the perpetrators to justice. And the United States has been largely successful in degrading the capability of al-Qaeda Central. But this strategy is not only useless against the leaderless jihad, it is precisely what will help the movement flourish. The main threat to radical Islamist terrorism is the fact that its appeal is self-limiting. The key is to accelerate this process of internal decay.

Terrorist acts must be stripped of glory and reduced to common criminality. Most aspiring terrorists want nothing more than to be elevated to the status of an FBI Most Wanted poster. "[I am] one of the most wanted terrorists on the Internet," Younis Tsouli boasted online a few months before his arrest in 2005. "I have the Feds and the CIA, both would love to catch me. I have MI6 on my back." His ego fed off the respect such bragging brought him in the eyes of other chat room participants. Any policy or recognition that puts such people on a pedestal only makes them heroes in each other's eyes -- and encourages more people to follow the same path.

It is equally crucial not to place terrorists who are arrested or killed in the limelight. The temptation to hold press conferences to publicize another "major victory" in the war on terror must be resisted, for it only transforms terrorist criminals into jihadist heroes. The United States underestimates the value of prosecutions, which often can be enormously demoralizing to radical groups. There is no glory in being taken to prison in handcuffs. No jihadi Web site publishes such pictures. Arrested terrorists fade into oblivion. Only martyrs live on in popular memory.

This is very much a battle for young Muslims' hearts and minds. It is necessary to reframe the entire debate, from imagined glory to very real horror. Young people must learn that terrorism is about death and destruction, not fame. The voices of the victims must be heard over the bragging and posturing that go on in the online jihadist forums. Only then will the leaderless jihad expire, poisoned by its own toxic message.

Via the National Post. H/T Muslims Against Sharia.


While I'm not by any means convinced of their explanation of the source of Apostasy, they do still make a number of good points.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Al Qaida groups 'leaving Iraq for Sudan, Somalia'

Baghdad: Some groups of Al Qaida terror network in Iraq have started leaving the country towards other hot spots in Africa like Sudan and Somalia, security sources tell Gulf News.

A key reason behind the change in strategy by the so-called Al Qaida Organisation in Mesopotamia is the intensity of the latest military strikes launched by Iraqi and US forces against the network, which has been the major challenge to restoring the stability of Iraq, the sources said.

"Our intelligence information indicates the withdrawal of certain groups of Al Qaida from Iraq because of the military strikes. Many of them have escaped through the borders with Syria and Iran to hotter zones such as Somalia and Sudan," Major General Hussain Ali Kamal, head of the Investigation and Information Agency at the Interior Ministry, told Gulf News.

"I believe this is the beginning of the complete withdrawal of Al Qaida from Iraqi territory."

A source at Iraqi Ministry of National Security said that documents and letters found in hideouts of "some elements of Al Qaida" during search operations in Sunni suburbs in Baghdad, which were previously under the control of Al Qaida, "prove these elements left Iraq for Somalia and Sudan".

The information, which could not be confirmed by independent sources, could represent a victory for the Iraqi government, headed by Nouri Al Maliki.

The number of bloody attacks by Al Qaida has declined remarkably in Baghdad in the past 12 months, an indication the terror network faces a difficult situation on the ground, said Major General Abdul Jalil Khalaf, former police commander in Basra province.

"This also highlights the increasingly improving performance of the Iraqi armed forces and the speed by which they can operate in different places," Khalaf told Gulf News.

Khalaf, who is said to be considered for a top post at the Ministry of Defence, said the recent campaign against the Shiite militias in Basra negatively affected Al Qaida.

"Al Qaida began to lose a lot of sympathy on the Sunni streets after realising that Al Maliki government launched a war against the Shiites fighters, believed to be backed by Iran."

The latest political rapprochement between Iraq and other Arab states has also led to the weakening Al Qaida and "its gradual withdrawal from Iraq", he explained. But Khalaf warned that Al Qaida will not withdraw fully from Iraq. "This will take years," he said.

Via Gulf News.


I admit to having been vehemently against Maliki's crackdown, but it seems to have paid off. I appear to have underestimated him.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

US and Iraqi forces drive al-Qa'ida from stronghold

AMERICAN and Iraqi forces are driving al-Qa'ida in Iraq out of its last redoubt in the north of the country.

After being forced from its strongholds in the west and centre of Iraq in the past two years, al-Qa'ida's dwindling band of fighters had made a defiant "last stand" in the northern city of Mosul. A huge operation to crush the 1200 fighters who remained from a terrorist force once estimated at more than 12,000 began on May 10.

Operation Lion's Roar, in which the Iraqi army combined forces with the US 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, has already resulted in the death of Abu Khalaf, the al-Qa'ida leader, and the capture of more than 1000 suspects.

The group has been reduced to hit-and-run attacks, including one that killed two off-duty policemen at the weekend, and sporadic bombings aimed at killing large numbers of officials and civilians.

Even in the district of Zanjali, which was previously a hotbed of the insurgency, it was possible for reporters to accompany an Iraqi colonel on foot through streets of breeze-block houses studded with bullet holes. Hundreds of houses were searched without resistance.

US and Iraqi leaders believe that while it is premature to write off al-Qa'ida in Iraq, the Sunni group has lost control of its last urban base in Mosul, and its remnants have been driven into countryside to the south.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has also led a crackdown on the Shia Mahdi Army in Basra and Baghdad in recent months, claimed yesterday that his Government had "defeated" terrorism.

"They were intending to besiege Baghdad and control it," he said. "But thanks to the will of the tribes, security forces, army and all Iraqis, we defeated them."

The number of foreign fighters coming over the border from Syria to bolster al-Qa'ida's numbers is thought to have significantly declined.

Brigadier General Abdullah Abdul, a senior Iraqi commander, said: "We've limited their movements with check-points. They are doing small attacks and trying big ones, but they're mostly not succeeding."

Major-General Mark Hertling, US commander in the north, said: "I think we're at the irreversible point."

Mr Maliki was speaking at ceremonies marking the fifth anniversary of the 2003 assassination of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a leading opponent of Saddam Hussein who was killed in a truck bombing in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf after returning from exile in Iran.

Such attacks plagued Iraq following the US-led invasion, but violence in the country has fallen to its lowest level in four years. The change has been driven by last year's build-up of American forces, the Sunni tribal revolt against al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Mr Maliki's crackdowns, among other factors.

Mr Maliki plans to visit the United Arab Emirates today and also Italy and Germany later in the month - hoping that improved security at home will lead to greater international support.

Iraq is enjoying a surge in oil revenue driven by record crude prices and the highest production levels since Saddam's ouster. The Government expects to earn $73 billion from oil this year if prices remain high.

Putting some of this money to work, the Iraqi Government held a groundbreaking ceremony at the weekend for a project to refurbish the main road to the Baghdad airport.

Via The Australian. H/T Muslims Against Sharia.


Hallelujah. If Bush manages to avoid screwing things up in the next 197 days, we will essentially have won — a Pyrrhic victory, to be sure, but victory nonetheless. Hopefully, once President Obama is debriefed by the brass, he'll accelerate the withdrawal, and we can finally turn our attention to bin Laden. In fact, Bush could probably start withdrawing now, and have all of our troops out before the election, but, having refused to heed calls for withdrawal for so long, he is now invested in an eternity of war, as is John McCain. It's ironic: the Right accuses us of being invested in defeat, but in reality it's the other way around.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Believe Me, It’s Torture

What more can be added to the debate over U.S. interrogation methods, and whether waterboarding is torture? Try firsthand experience. The author undergoes the controversial drowning technique, at the hands of men who once trained American soldiers to resist—not inflict—it.

by Christopher Hitchens August 2008

Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as sere (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave men and women were introduced to the sorts of barbarism that they might expect to meet at the hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the Geneva Conventions. But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict.


Which returns us to my starting point, about the distinction between training for something and training to resist it. One used to be told—and surely with truth—that the lethal fanatics of al-Qaeda were schooled to lie, and instructed to claim that they had been tortured and maltreated whether they had been tortured and maltreated or not. Did we notice what a frontier we had crossed when we admitted and even proclaimed that their stories might in fact be true? I had only a very slight encounter on that frontier, but I still wish that my experience were the only way in which the words “waterboard” and “American” could be mentioned in the same (gasping and sobbing) breath.



Were it any president other than Bush, this would result in instantaneous impeachment.