Shabakah-‘i Ittila-Rasani-yi Afghanistan reports in Persian that on Monday, a squad of Taliban briefly took over the main government buildings in Pul-i Alam, the capital of Logar Province just south of Kabul (about 31 miles away). They began with a suicide bombing. Then they fired rocket propelled grenades and rushed the offices of the mayor, the police chief and the electoral commission, according to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. Afghan News.net says that Afghan army and US/NATO troops rushed to the city and took back the government offices in hard fighting that left 2 Afghan soldiers dead and 4 Taliban. Reuters reporters The Persian source above claimed much higher casualties, and alleged that the governor and his deputy had been wounded. (More details in English are here.)
For 12 or so fighters to occupy government offices in the capital of the province abutting Kabul directly to its south on the eve of a presidential election is sort of like al-Qaeda taking over Richmond, Virginia in late October in an election year. The guerrillas could only have succeeded because the Pul-i Alam police and military faded away rather than fight them. Only Afghan army and ISAF units from the capital were able to dislodge the guerrillas.
Logar province is about 60 percent Pashtun and has large Tajik (Sunni) and Hazara (Shiite) minorities as well. It is the birthplace of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani. During the Soviet period it was called “the Gate of Jihad” because it was on the route from Pakistan north to Kabul traversed by mujahidin such as Gulbadin Hikmatyar (once the CIA’s favorite holy warrior but now the leader of a militant group attacking the US and the Kabul government).
I take it that it is this sort of thing that impelled Gen. Stanley McChrystal to say that the Taliban are growing in power (even if he did not say that they are getting the upper hand, as he now maintains.)
And the WSJ reports that the US and the Kabul government are recruiting tribal levies to fight Taliban and to safeguard polling stations in the August 20 elections.
I’m not sure most Afghan tribesmen are sufficiently non-partisan that they would make good guards of ballot boxes.
The USG Open Source Center translates from a jihadi web site the demand by “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” i.e. the Taliban, that Afghans boycott the coming election (Sawt al-Jihad, p. 9, Aug. 9, 2009):
‘ . . . the Afghans and all the people of the world know that any election or step that is carried out under the occupation and by the orders of America and its allies will have no good consequences for the Afghan people and their interests. The election will not produce any government acceptable to the Afghans, and will not appoint anyone who will work for the benefit and interest of Afghanistan and its people.
“The Afghan people have experienced before the procedures and the transparency of the election of Kabul’s agent administration that was held four years ago. The votes of 30 million people were changed and replaced by the votes of a few people by force, and by methods involving cheating and deceiving which were approved by America. As a result of this past election, a corrupt regime and administration came into power and worked as a spy for the US forces. Due to this agent government, thousands of innocent civilians were killed and tortured, Afghan villages and houses were bombarded, prisons were filled with people, Islamic principles and Afghan traditions were insulted, poverty increased, corruption spread, the occupying forces came to Afghanistan, and all methods were used to deceive and destroy the next Afghan generation, and so it goes on…
“Now America is throwing dust in the eyes of the Afghans as it did before. Again it is trying to put its trained agents into power to rule the Afghan people, and to put the Afghans in a whirlpool of deception and trouble for more years!!
“As the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan-Taliban considers the serial of the so-called presidential election an insult and subjugation of religious and traditional Afghan principles, we call on the Afghan people not to expect from this anti Islamic US project any good for them, their country, or their beliefs.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan-Taliban urges the Afghan people to confront this US project as much as they can, prevent their families and relatives from participating, not support the infidelity and corruption with their votes, and not go to the election centers, which will be the target of mujahidin strikes.’
Richard Engels reports from Kabul via Chris Matthews’ Hardball on MSNBC that Gen. Stanley McChrystal maintains he was misquoted on Monday by the Wall Street Journal when it attributed to him the sentiment that the Taliban were gaining the upper hand. Engels says that eliminating the Taliban, an indigenous Pashtun movement, is impossible. He says the US commanders still hope to at least be able to pacify them.