Guerrillas killed 5 US Troops in Afghanistan on Saturday, along with a dozen civilians. Another American soldier died in an accidental explosion. Two were killed in the south of the country, a stronghold of the Old Taliban of Mullah Omar. Three were killed in the east, by small arms fire or roadside bombs, in an area where the Haqqani network is active, though Taliban have made inroads there in the past year. So far in July, 23 US troops have died in Afghanistan.
Guerrillas set off a bomb on a motorcycle in the southern Pashtun city of Qandahar, killing at least one person and setting many cars ablaze, as well as blowing out the windows at a nearby shoping mall. By that time Afghans had heard on the radio already about three other blasts, in the eastern provinces of Khost and Zabol, and in the northern province of Qunduz (the latter lightly wounded two German soldiers).
Controversies continue to roil US relations with the Kabul government of President Hamid Karzai. Karzai is said to be resisting a plan by Gen. David Petraeus to encourage local village militias to take on the Taliban in their areas. Karzai fears that these local forces will eventually come to serve regional warlords and so create problems for the central state. Petraeus met similar opposition from the Iraqi prime minister to the US Sons of Iraq or Awakening Councils program in Iraq, which has in fact proved problematic as the US has begun withdrawing in numbers. SOI members have been targeted for reprisal killings by Sunni fundamentalist vigilantes, and the vast majority of them has been rejected for service in the national security forces, so that many are now without pay and carrying a big red target on their backs. Whether some have reverted to insurgent operations is unclear.
Another problem is US and NATO killing of civilians. NATO admitted to unintentionally killing 6 civilians on Thursday with errant artillery fire, a day after US friendly fire killed 5 Afghanistan National Army troops.
Afghans allege that on Wednesday, US forces wrongly killed two Afghan security guards in a raid on a market in the northern Balkh province on the outskirts of Mazar-i Sharif. According to Afghanpaper writing in Dari Persian, in that city on Saturday, about 1,000 demonstrators marched from the shrine of Ali to the offices of UNAMI, a UN organization, chanting and walking for 3 hours in protest against the wrongful killing. NATO said that the two security guards declined to lower their weapons, which is why they were shot, and that NATO forces were pursuing elements of the Haqqani Network in the area. Dr. Muhammad Afzal Hadid, head of the Balkh consultative council, was among those who marched. He said that Balkh has been a relatively secure province but that such actions risk causing its residents to begin taking a dim view of the foreign military forces and of the Afghanistan government. The demonstrators presented a petition at the end that the Afghanistan state intervene to prevent NATO and US troops from engaging in these senseless strikes.
Mazar is Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city (after Herat), with a population of about 300,000, and is largely Persian-speaking Tajik, with significant other northern populations such as Turkic-speaking Uzbeks and Turkmen. Mazar residents are among the more secular-minded Afghans, as well has having the best-developed local economy. (They have long been under Russian influence via Uzbekistan to the north). They hated the Taliban so much that they rose up and massacred them in the thousands (the Taliban later repaid the favor). For the US to manage to get up a demonstration against itself in Mazar is a pretty alarming sign of losing hearts and minds. (For more on the ‘counter-insurgency campaign not working’ theme, see Ann Jones at Tomdispatch.com.
In the southeast of Afghanistan, guerrillas attacked a party of Pakistani traders from Kurram Agency, killing 11 and wounding 3. Because of insecurity, expensive tolls, or closed roads, Kurram is for the moment cut off from the major entrepot city in the Pashtun northwest of Pakistan, Peshawar. Traders and ordinary travellers sometimes therefore use Afghanistan for transit. What went wrong is not clear from the sketchy press reports. Did insurgents mistake them for anti-Taliban tribal militias of the sort Pakistan and the US are now forming? Did they resent not having been paid a bribe to allow transit? Did they recognize that these travelers were from clans belonging to the minority Shiite branch of Islam? ( Sunni-Shiite faction-fighting has flared in Kurram in the past few months).