Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fatal clashes in northwest Pakistan

At least 15 people have been killed in clashes between suspected pro-Taliban fighters and members of an armed tribal group in northwest Pakistan, officials said.

Up to 80 members of the so-called tribal Lashkar, a group raised to tackle fighters loyal to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, were also abducted amid the fighting in the Matt area of Pakistan's Swat valley on Sunday, sources told Al Jazeera.

Three local commanders were killed in the clashes, while 12 tribal leaders were hanged, they said.

Fighting broke out when supporters of Maulana Fazlullah, a local religious leader with links with to the Pakistani Taliban, tried to abduct Pir Samiullah, leader of the Lashkar in Matta, a military official said on condition of anonymity.

"Scores of Taliban raided Mandal Daag village in the Matta district of the valley to abduct Pir Samiullah," the official told the AFP news agency.

Samiullah, who leads a 500-strong armed group of local people, and his supporters have demanded that the Taliban leave the valley.

Fazlullah has campaigned for a stricter interpretation of sharia in the Swat valley region.

Bajaur clashes

The fighting in Swat came as fresh fighting was reported in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani forces had claimed a rare succes in the region by retaking the town of Loi Sam, but on Sunday fighting continued with helicopters and artillery pounding targets in Bajaur.

Jamil Khan, a Pakistani official, said that eight anti-government fighters had been killed in the latest fighting in Bajaur.

Khan said reports from the region indicated several others had suffered injuries in the latest assault, but he gave no information about troop or civilian casualties.

Major-General Tariq Khan, a spokesman for the military, said government forces captured Loi Sam earlier this week "and killed the militants who were hiding there".

Reports said that nearly 200,000 civilians have fled the fighting in the town.

Civilian casualties

Kamal Matinuddin, a retired general and former ambassador to Thailand, said that there was a prospect of civilians being hurt by the fighting.

"It so happens that the militants that are in these tribal areas, particularly in Bajaur, are finding some shelter in the houses there. The job is becoming very difficult for the Pakistan army to avoid civilian casualties," he told Al Jazeera.

"Although the Pakistani army has called for civilians to leave the area so that they can carry put their military operations more successfully, unfortunately there are some civilian casualties occurring even now.

"But the fact remains that the Pakistan army has the support of the elected government and is determinted to carry out its objective in eliminating the militants from the tribal areas. They have achieved a certain amount of success."

Pakistan's tribal regions are considered a stronghold for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The army launched its offensive in Bajaur in early August, saying the region had become a "mega-sanctuary" for fighters who had set up a virtual mini-state.

Khan said troops had by Saturday overrun the area and were in "complete control" of the town, though he forecast it could take between six months and a year before authorities could gain complete control of Bajaur.

But some analysts criticised the military move.

"This is not the first time that the military or the Pakistani government has claimed that they have captured an important person or claimed to have attacked and been successful in destroying the sanctuary of the Taliban," Khalid Rahman, the director general of the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad, told Al Jazeera.

"Perhaps the whole strategy is not correct ... I am really afraid that this military strategy is going to increase the problem, unless it is accompanied by a genuine, sincere dialogue."


Talks are meanwhile expected to take place in Islamabad on Monday between Pakistani and Afghan political leaders with an aim to end violence in the border regions. Ethnic Pashtun tribal chiefs are also expected to participate.

The meeting, dubbed a Pakistan-Afghanistan "Jirgagai", or mini-jirga, is a follow-up to a grand assembly in Kabul last year in which delegates called for talks with Taliban fighters.

Around 50 political leaders, Pashtun elders and Muslim clerics from both countries will discuss growing violence by al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters on both sides of their disputed border.

"The two main objectives of the jirgagai are to expedite the ongoing dialogue process with the opposition and monitor implementation of decisions of the (Kabul) jirga," Mohammad Sadiq, a Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman, said.

But critics say the mini-jirga will be little more than a talking shop without the participation of representatives of the Taliban.

Via Al Jazeera.


Sorry about the lack of posts; I've been busy (and still am, which is why there's no commentary).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dozens killed in Afghan bus ambush

About 30 Afghans have been killed by the Taliban after it stopped a bus travelling from Kandahar to Helmand province, according to officials and the Taliban.

General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the defence minsitry spokesman, said on Sunday that 31 civilians were killed in the attack in the Maiwand district, a Taliban-controlled area just west of Kandahar city.

But a Taliban spokesman said that 27 Afghan army personnel had been killed.

Qari Yusuf Ahmadi said that Taliban fighters had checked the documents of the passengers and released all the civilians before killing the soldiers.

Azimi denied the Taliban claims saying: "Our soldiers travel by military convoy, not in civilian buses. And we have military air transportation."

Taliban ambush

Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan, reporting from Kabul, the capital, said that there were several different versions of events and it was difficult to verify the truth as journalists are unable to travel to the area because of poor security.

"The police chief in Kandahar says that two buses were attacked on the way from Kandahar to Helmand a few days ago," Nolan reported.

"He says it was a Taliban ambush, that the first bus was able to escape with minor casualties, but the second bus was not. It was hijacked by the Taliban and 50 passengers were taken hostage.

"Now they have reports of 24 dead bodies, that another 18 are still missing. They believe that there are another 18 bodies still to be found," Nolan said.

"A Taliban spokesperson gives a very different version of events ... he told Al Jazeera that they did hijack a bus but they took 27 hostages and they were all Afghan national army soldiers.

"The spokesman for the Taliban said that they were travelling on a civilian bus because they were too scared to travel through this area in an army convoy."

'Soldiers captured'

On Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Ahmadi told Al Jazeera that the group had captured "at least 180 Afghan soldiers".

He said the the soldiers were seized while travelling in three buses on their way to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

Ahmadi said that the soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and were on a mission to reinforce government troops in the area, "to prevent the fall of Lashkar Gah into the hands of the Taliban".

Violence in Afghanistan this year has killed more than 5,100 people, mostly suspected Taliban fighters, according to an Associated Press news agency count of figures from Afghan and Western officials.

Via Al Jazeera.


Due to Al Jazeera's recent lackluster performance, I verified this story with other news sources.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More propaganda

"Afghan mayor turns Taliban leader," announces Al Jazeera's top headline. But the man in question had not been mayor since the Taliban came to power, and had defected well over a year ago after being fired from his job as head of Herat's Department of Public Works. This story is not news by any stretch of the imagination, yet Al Jazeera considered it to be more important than the current financial Armageddon the planet is facing. I am apalled at this recent spate of pro-Taliban articles, and am very seriously considering finding somewhere else to get my news.

In other news, Hekmatyar has indicated that he would not be averse to switching sides (something he has a great deal of experience with), and the TTP is saying "uncle." I doubt that anything will come of the first (though I wouldn't put it past him), but it will be interesting to see what, if anything, will come of the second, especially inasmuch as the tribes are concerned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taliban propaganda on Al Jazeera

Defections hit Afghan forces

After fighting the Taliban for the past seven years, many working for the Afghan security forces are now switching sides.

Sulieman Ameri and his 16 men were until a month ago serving the Afghan government as police patrolling the border with Iran.

Now they answer to the Taliban and their goal is to drive all foreign troops out of Afghanistan.

Ameri, now a Taliban commander, told Al Jazeera that he joined the Taliban because of what he called anti-Muslim behaviour by international soldiers.

"I have seen everything with my own eyes, I have seen prostitution, I have seen them drinking alcohol. We are Muslim and therefore jihad is our obligation," Ameri said in the mountains south of Herat.

"Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal," he added.

'Respectful behaviour'

Brigadier-General Richard Blanchette, a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said Isaf troops were "behaving in the most respectful way".

"I have no specific information about any activity that would have happened in Herat but I know for sure that the Taliban and other insurgents are conducting a propaganda campaign against us. And I can confirm to you that our troops are behaving in the most respectful way," he told Al Jazeera.

"Anytime that I would hear that somebody is joining the insurgency I think it is bad news because we know the Taliban are offering nothing for the future of this country," he said.

But Ameri and his men are not the only renegade government forces – some 70 police and soldiers have switched allegiances across the western region in the past two months.

Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan, reporting from Afghanistan, said "low wages for a dangerous jobs" did not seem to be the reason behind the desertions.

Instead, they deserted for ideological reasons, Nolan explained.

"When Russia came it was only one country, today we have 24 foreign infidel countries on our soil. All our men and women should come and join the jihad," Fida Mohammad, a new Taliban recruit, told Al Jazeera.

'Infidel' training

But though they reject the "infidels", they are not averse to receiving weapons or military training from them.

The recruits - so fresh that many have not yet grown their beards, while some are still smoking, a practice banned by the Taliban - carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training by the US.

Abdul Rahim, another new recruit, said he received training from American military contractor Blackwater for 45 days.

"I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them," he said.

The switch in allegiances comes as the UN special envoy to Afghanistan warned on Tuesday that the Taliban's influence continues to spread beyond traditional strongholds to provinces around the capital, Kabul.

Kai Eide also told the UN Security Council that Taliban attacks - at a six-year high – would probably grow in the coming weeks instead of easing, as they have in previous winters.

"We should be prepared for a situation where the insurgency will not experience the same winter lull, the same reduction in hostilities we have experienced in past winters," he said.

Eide added that attacks against humanitarian workers had also increased.

Abdul Hakim Ashir, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, denied that a high number of police officers had defected.

"I strongly refuse that 70 people [have defected to the Taliban] because this year we lost only 10 officers who maybe joined the Taliban,"

"We have increased the number of officers from 61,000 to 82,000 this year. The police recruitment process is going very well. Those from the young generation especially are joining the police forces.

"Over the last month, we have graduated 2,000 non-commissioned officers. That means there has been an increase and not a decrease in the police force."

Via Al Jazeera.


70 is less than one tenth of one percent of 82,000. That's not exactly what I'd call "many". I'm pretty disgusted with Al Jazeera on this one.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We gain one, we lose one.

There's a lot to talk about today, so I'm going to depart from my usual format.

According to Al Jazeera:

In a second battle in Helmand province, Afghan and international troops retook the Nad Ali district centre - which had been held by fighters - during a three-day fight, Ahmadi said.

That battle, which also involved airstrikes, ended on Saturday and resulted in the death of 40 Taliban fighters, officials said.

Afghan police and soldiers were now in control of the district centre.

Nato said its aircraft bombed fighters after they were seen gathering for a major attack, killing "multiple enemy forces".

"If the fighters planned a spectacular attack prior to the winter, this was a spectacular failure," Richard Blanchette, an Isaf spokesman, said.

Although I was somewhat disappointed to learn that there had been a district that I had not known was held by the Taliban, this is of course good news, as is the news, also reported in the article, that NATO had repulsed a major attack on Lashkar Gah. However, AJ did not mention this somewhat less cheerful development, which I found out about via Quqnoos:

Taliban claim to have forced NATO-led troops from a remote district

THE NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has withdrawn from a district in the north-eastern province of Nuristan, the international force said.

ISAF said it retreated from its forward operating base in the Kamdish district on Friday following advice from Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry.

But the Taliban claimed that it forced ISAF troops in the district to retreat after engaging them in fierce fighting in the district, one of the country’s most insecure.

The situation in Nuristan has been growing increasingly worrying. According to my current map prototype, the Taliban currently controls three of its eight districts, as well as the Dara-ye Pech District just across the border in Kunar Province, and a fourth district, Bargomatal, was attacked by Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan back in July. I still have been unable to determine the outcome of that battle, but am inclined to think that, even if the TTP did manage to take it, which I don't think they did, their forces have since been withdrawn to fight the Pakistani security forces in Bajaur, which would leave the district only nominally in the Taliban's hands, just as so much of the rest of the province is only nominally in the hands of NATO and the central government. I have seen reports that some of the forces currently fighting in Bajaur had previously been fighting in Afghanistan, which lends some credence to this theory.

Nuristan, for those of you who are not familiar with it (i.e. pretty much all of you), is one of the most isolated inhabited regions on the face of the Earth. Its terrain is nearly impassable, and it is so out of the way that Islam didn't reach it until the end of the 19th century. Before then it was known as Kafiristan (land of the unbelievers) and its inhabitants as the Red Kafirs; their cousins, the Black Kafirs, or Kalasha, live on the Pakistani side of the Durand line and still practice their age-old pagan religion. The Nuristanis speak languages that are unusual even for Mianistan; while most languages in the region are either Iranian (e.g. Pashto, Wakhi, Yidgha) or Indo-Aryan (e.g. Khowar, Kalasha, Torwali) (although this "Dardic" sub-group of the Indo-Aryan branch is pretty weird), the Nuristani languages form a group all of their own.

There is, however, yet another major development regarding Afghanistan in the news today. Quqnoos reports:

US wants to reduce dependence on government by arming militias

THE UNITED States plans to arm tribal militias against the Taliban, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said at a NATO summit in Hungary.

As part of a plan to create greater co-operation on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, the US wants to train tribal militias in an attempt to reduce its dependence on the central government in Kabul.

Parliament members had already suggested arming the tribes, but the idea was not given any currency at the time.

This is a superb idea. Working with the tribes worked in Iraq, is working in Pakistan, and, unlike McCain's bizarre idea to "clear and hold" some of the most impassible terrain on Earth, it would also work in Afghanistan. In case you haven't noticed, I am strongly pro-tribe, not only because of my own tribal identity (Stewart of Bote FTW!), but also simply because it works. Indeed, in regions such as Mianistan I would venture to say that it is the only strategy that will work. My friend Woke at News Hounds has often said that it is impossible for a conventional army to defeat a popular insurgency. Although it is possible to do it if you brutally punish the civilian population, as Genghis Khan did, that's not really an option if you're the good guys, so it's true so far as we are concerned. This means that if you are faced with an insurgency, the only way that you can win is if it stops being popular. The psychopathic, woman-oppressing, elder-beheading Taliban are already helping us out on this one. However, their antisocial ways can be counteracted by the collateral damage we often inflict when we fight them directly. This means that there needs to be a popular insurgency against the unpopular one. We can then support the locals rather than killing them. And in the tribal reality of Mianistan, supporting the locals means supporting the tribes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blast hits Pakistan tribal meeting

An explosion at a meeting of tribal elders in northwest Pakistan has killed at least 20 people and wounded 70 others, an official said.

The suspected suicide bombing happened on Friday in the Orakzai district, one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal regions, security officials said.

"We were busy in raising a lashkar [a tribal militia] to evict Taliban from the region when this attack took place," Qeemat Khan Orakzai, a member of the council, told the Reuters news agency.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The members of the Alizai tribe had met in the town of Ghaljo in mountainous Orakzai, which is the only one of the tribal regions that does not border Afghanistan.

'Hideouts' destroyed

A security official said that the attack came a day after tribesmen had targeted two hideouts belonging to pro-Taliban groups operating in the area.

"The tribesmen blew up two hideouts of the militants a day earlier and it is possible this attack was in revenge for their actions," a security official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

The bombing came a day after four tribal elders in Bajaur, a tribal region north of Orakzai, were abducted and beheaded after attending another pro-government meeting, officials said.

"People will tell you that Pakistan is already in a state of war. Every day there are suicide bombings," Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from the North West Frontier province, said.

"The violence is escalating at a time that the national assembly is not able to come to grips with the situation.

"The death toll could rise further," he said.

Violence has intensified across Pakistan in recent months since the army began an offensive against the pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in the Bajaur and Swat regions.

Orakzai, near the main northwest city of Peshawar, has been relatively peaceful compared to the other tribal regions.

Via Al Jazeera.


The stupidity of the Taliban is breathtaking. I am at a loss as to how a Californian suburbanite has a better understanding of tribal politics than a group that's based in a heavily tribal region. When the tribes told the Taliban that they should leave because of the effect that their war with the Pakistani security forces was having on civilians, they should have done so. They should have pulled back to Waziristan, where the Pakistani government still has little inclination to fight them. Then, once the security forces had been withdrawn, they should have begun re-infiltrating the northern districts and agencies. That was their only real option, because the tribes are the reality, and you cannot declare war on reality and win.

Of course, the Taliban should never have let it come to this in the first place. From the very beginning, they should have been trying to bring tribal elders over to their side— through bribery, conversion, or what have you. They should have jockeyed for power within the tribes, perhaps poisoning the odd rival, or having a rival group take him out. When they did take such action towards an elder, it should never have been direct; proxies, or even false flags, should always have been used. They should have formed alliances, exploited old feuds, and arranged strategic marriages to solidify these networks of support. This would have established themselves as a major, if not the major, political power. This was the logical, reasonable thing to do. It's what the Prophet Muḥammad did. If they had done it, the security forces would have been the ones to receive the ultimatum, not them.

But they did not do it, and they did receive the ultimatum, and they are responding to it in the worst conceivable way. Beheading elders? This sends a very clear message, not only to the tribesmen of the elders in question, but also to all of the other tribesmen. If I were a Waziri elder, I would be getting very nervous right about now.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pakistan tribes attack Taliban

Tribal volunteers in Pakistan have threatened to destroy the house of Maulvi Omar, a senior Pakistani Taliban spokesman, in the north of the country.

The volunteers surrounded Omar's house on Monday and also said that the homes of other Taliban supporters would be targeted.

The threats are part of a crackdown on the Taliban some tribes people are launching in the Bajaur Agency.

The volunteers' commander says they have 20,000 men ready to carry out the campaign and that they are not asking for any government help.

Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad, said that a military operation in Bajaur had made it the scene of heavy fighting and displaced tens of thousands of people from the area.

"[This] caused considerable anger at both the, so called, Taliban in the region for destabilising the region, and the military coming.

"That disillusionment now seems to have turned against the fighters who have been fighting the military."

Hyder said that the locals have been burning the houses of senior commanders who have allied themselves to the Taliban and surrounded the house of Omar.

"There was some desperate attempts by the pro-Taliban elements to try and prevent the destruction of Maulvi Omar's house, but the tribals have said that they will go ahead anyway."

However, Hyder said that Afghan refugees and some Afghan commanders in the area were still attempting to resist the tribal volunteers.

Rocket attack

The attacks came a day after opposition fighters fired rockets at the home of a politician in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan.

Two rockets damaged three homes in the town of Marden on Sunday.

The rockets failed to hit the home of Amir Haider Khan Hoti, the North West Frontier Province's chief minister and the intended target.

No one was injured in the attack. Hoti was said to be in Peshwar, the provincial capital, at the time.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the provincial information minister, said: "We expect more such incidents."

"They are not going to be stopped here. We are facing a war-like situation."

The strike followed a number of attacks targeting politicians in the lawless border area.

A suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside the house of a leading pro-government politician last week, killing four people.

Via Al Jazeera.


This is only one example of a number of tribal activities currently underway against the Taliban.

In other news, I have finally found highly detailed maps of the border region, which I am working on integrating into a single very high quality reference map.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Afghan victory hopes played down

The UK's commander in Helmand has said Britain should not expect a "decisive military victory" in Afghanistan.

Brig Mark Carleton-Smith told the Sunday Times the aim of the mission was to ensure the Afghan army was able to manage the country on its own.

He said this could involve discussing security with the Taleban.

When international troops eventually leave Afghanistan, there may still be a "low but steady" level of rural insurgency, he conceded.

He said it was unrealistic to expect that multinational forces would be able to wipe out armed bands of insurgents in the country.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says Brig Carleton-Smith's comments echo a view commonly-held, if rarely aired, by British military and diplomatic officials in Afghanistan.

Many believe certain legitimate elements of the Taleban represent the positions of the Afghan people and so should be a part of the country's future, says our correspondent.

'Taken the sting out'

Brig Carleton-Smith is the Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade which has just completed its second tour of Afghanistan.

He paid tribute to his forces and told the newspaper they had "taken the sting out of the Taleban for 2008".

But he stated: "We're not going to win this war.

"It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army."

Brig Carleton-Smith said the goal was to change how debates were resolved in the country so that violence was not the first option considered.

He said: "If the Taleban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that's precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this.

"That shouldn't make people uncomfortable."

Since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001, 120 UK military personnel have been killed.

Via the BBC.


This is actually what I've been expecting to happen for a while. Provided that they hand over bin Laden, Zawahiri, etc., I don't have that much of a problem with the actual rank and file of the Taliban. It's moot at the moment, though, since the Taliban are still too strong to be willing to negotiate.