On Saturday morning, a force of some 300 guerrillas attacked a US outpost and an Afghan police outpost in Nuristan. They killed 8 US troops and two Afghan police, but failed to overwhelm the bastions, and had to withdraw in the face of withering US air power once it arrived. Some of the fighters are reported by Dawn to have been driven from the Swat Valley this summer by the Pakistani army. It is a worry that as the Pakistani military prepares for a major campaign in South Waziristan, it may inadvertently increase violence in Afghanistan, as the fighters move up to Helmand and Uruzgan.
On Monday morning, Taliban blew up a bomb in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad near the World Food Program offices. Early reports said at least three people were killed. The Taliban have suffered many reversals in Pakistan in the past few months, and this bombing seems likely an expression of frustration and revenge.
The LAT suggests that the attack may have been planned by the Hizb-i Islami or ‘Islamic Party’ of Gulbadin Hikmatyar (an old-time 1980s anti-Soviet ‘freedom fighter’ once backed to the hilt by the US and Pakistan), who now considers US and NATO troops foreign occupiers every bit as objectionable as the Soviet Red Army had been. But if Dawn is right that many of these fighters were from Swat, it could have just been a tribal attack.
Just to say that it worries me that the guerrillas were able to fight in a unit as large as 300. I don’t think the Iraqi Sunni radical guerrillas ever assembled a force greater than 30 or so except maybe at Fallujah. I suppose in Iraq the US air force would have destroyed such a large troop contingent in the desert, whereas Afghanistan’s craggy geography makes that a more difficult proposition.
National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones told CNN on Sunday that Afghanistan is not on the verge of falling to the Taliban, that the Taliban are not “coming back,” and that there are less than 100 al-Qaeda personnel in the whole country. Well, I guess we aren’t spending billions and tying down our army to fight al-Qaeda, then.
I was struck by the confidence of the US military personnel that they could attract the loyalty of the pro-Haqqani tribes this winter when the guerrillas withdraw during the bad weather to Pakistan for more training. I’d want to know how alienated locals were by the searches conducted by the US troops through their villages; and how many of the villagers are cousins to the more committed guerrillas, who might have rather minded the helicopter gunship attack on 14 of the latter from the air, which the video shows. And, if it were possible to attract the loyalty of locals, why hadn’t it been done before now and why are so many more Pashtuns gradually going over to the anti-government fundamentalists? And, wouldn’t the Kabul government be the one that had the most chance of attracting the loyalty of Afghans? I have a dark suspicion that the US commanders think the locals are only supporting the guerrillas because they are coerced into it (as, to be fair, was often the case in Iraq). In Afghanistan, I don’t think there is the same disjuncture between Pashtun tribes and militant guerrillas as there was in Sunni Iraq. Someone like Jalaluddin Haqqani has been fighting as a guerrilla in those areas, first against the Soviets and now against the Americans, for nearly 30 years. Surely he has constituencies that won’t just abandon him. Ironically, some of those constituencies were built up back in the day with Reagan’s money.
This report in Dari Persian about hundreds of demonstrators in the western city of Herat who came out Sunday to chant “Death to America” is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. The protest was also a funeral procession, for a 20-year-old Afghan man, who had been traveling on a road outside the city when he was kidnapped. The thugs demanded a $100,000 ransom, which his family did not have. The demonstrators, however, blamed the United States and the Karzai government for the lack of security. That is, as security deteriorates, there is a danger of a snowball effect, whereby the US loses any legitimacy even in the eyes of Persian-speaking Tajiks precisely because it is unable to provide basic needs like security. If the foreigners aren’t even useful foreigners, the Afghans are unlikely to want them occupying the country.
CBS also reviews the course of the war in Afghanistan and explores Gen. McChrystal’s proposed counter-insurgency strategy, which he contrasts with a smaller, targeted counter-terrorism strategy:
One of the keys to successful counter-insurgency is the establishment of government legitimacy and efficiency. In Afghanistan, things are going in the opposite direction. Peter Galbraith, who formerly served in the UN in Afghanistan, says that the UN collected evidence that one third of the ballots for incumbent Hamid Karzai cast last August 20 in the presidential election were fraudulent. If this is true, it would drop him from the current 54% of the vote he is said to have received to less than 50%, triggering a run-off. Galbraith charges that he was pressured to cover up the fraud in the interests of national peace. He was fired from his post and made to leave the country because of differences with his boss, Kai Eide of Norway. Some UN and US officials worried that a runoff election between Karzai, who is backed by Pashtuns, and his chief rival Abdullah Abdullah, who is backed by Tajiks, could throw the country into ethnic turmoil just as the US military was implementing a policy to pacify the Pashtun provinces.
But Galbraith’s charges have stiffened Abdullah Abdullah’s resolve to contest the results to the end, making him the Mir Hosain Mousavi of Afghanistan. In a news conference on Saturday, Abdullah pointed to Peter Galbraith’s letter as proof that the UN is not an impartial watchdog of the elections. Besides, a conviction that Karzai was fraudulently elected would be far more damaging to Tajik-Pashtun relations than would a free and fair runoff.
In a Persian interview, Abdullah pledged to use all legal means to protest the unjust character of the declared election outcome. That sounds like instability to me.
Meanwhile, Aljazeera English says that Pakistan is pushing back against American demands that Washington be allowed to hit Taliban targets in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, via drones firing rockets. The current drone strikes most target the no-man’s land of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which are vaguely akin to US Indian reservations. But to allow a Western, Christian power to bomb a major Pakistani city and provincial capital is a different matter altogether.
As it is, Pakistani public opinion is vehemently against US drone strikes on Pakistani soil.
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