Thursday, December 21, 2006

Afghanistan grows more messy by the hour

Reports from NATO in Afghanistan are stating that about 50 key Taliban leaders and fighters have been killed in Operation Baaz Tsuka.

Several key Taliban leaders and about 50 fighters have been killed in Afghanistan in an ongoing operation launched last week to clear militants from the country’s violence-plagued south, officials said today.

Early indications are that Taliban fighters “are not fighting particularly hard, don’t know what to do, but are leaving the area,” said Brig. Richard E. Nugee, the chief spokesman for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force.


Nugee said about 50 Taliban fighters have been killed in the operation. There have been no casualties among Nato troops, he said.Kandahar’s governor has previously said that about 30 fighters were killed in the operation.
Stop right there. Two conflicting reports and the Brigadier is being a little cagey. He didn't announce 50 confirmed Taliban killed. It's an estimate. Further, the term "leaders" is undefined.

Which leaders? Are they known high-level Taliban or are they lower level officers? I suspect the latter.

In 1999 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1267 which, among other things, caused a long list of Taliban leaders to be produced. The names that occupy that list, produced before the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, are considered to be the power behind the Taliban. To date, nine of them have been killed or captured. The rest remain either "at large" or "whereabouts unknown".

Most of the Taliban power remains free, including one individual who is considered to be the military leader of Taliban forces, and the same man who Hamid Karzai is reported to have offered the post of prime minister.

Where are all these "leaders"?

Try Pakistan, or more specifically, Waziristan. And Waziristan has been made a safe haven for all things Taliban, Al-Qaeda and anything else that might decide to make a military incursion into Afghanistan.

As much as Brigadier Nugee would like to have everyone believe that things are going swimmingly, it only really applies to his little section of Afghanistan. Elsewhere things are getting worse.

Kabul, once relatively stable, is experiencing increased Taliban activity prompting the deputy-commander of NATO to request Germany send Tornado surveillance/fighter aircraft to beef-up forces in and around Kabul. Germany has also decided to deploy Marder armoured fighting vehicles to Mazar-e-Sharif, the German headquarters in the north. All of this has the Germans concerned since there were strict limitations put on the initial deployment and people in Berlin are starting to utter the words "mission creep" louder than a whisper. Germany did not want to be heavily involved in Afghanistan, although now it looks as though they will have little choice as the insurgency, being supported by the Taliban from the safety of Pakistan, is spreading into regions of Afghanistan which were previously considered secure.

The French have decided that the special forces troops they had deployed to Afghanistan were being misemployed and announced that they are pulling them out. The announcement was curiously timed as it occured shortly before rumours began to surface that French special forces had found Osama bin Laden twice and were not given permission to open fire. That rumour, by the way, lacks substantiation and belies the fact that French forces, whether under US command or not, probably did not need permission to fire on a known enemy.

However, given the fact that Pakistan is harbouring the Taliban, it is inconceivable that special forces are not being used on the Afghan/Pakistan border to monitor the movement of fighters through the various entry points, particularly from the Waziristan region.

Afghanistan will become an endless war unless someone does something to confront Pakistan. Pakistan's dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, is a liar. His past support of the Taliban regime, including providing diplomatic recognition, is a strong enough linkage to suggest that his sympathies have not changed. And, confronting Pakistan won't be easy. Diplomatic efforts have already produced nothing of value and any military confrontation would be bloody for any force even attempting to clean out Waziristan. Why? Because given the deal the Taliban have made with Pakistan, the Pakistani armed forces would be employed on the side of the Taliban.

If all that sounds like a monumental problem, little attention has been paid to what may become an even larger problem: Iran.

Western Afghanistan borders Iran and, up to now, there has been little activity. Today a bomb was detonated in Herat province, once considered a safe region. But things seem to have changed and the apprehension of British Corporal Daniel James, suspected of passing information about Afghanistan to Iran, suggests Iran's interest in seeing the NATO/US mission end in a military failure may be much stronger than any of the brass-hats and cravats originally believed. Now, incursions from Pakistan will become only one of two major problems ,with Iran potentially becoming the most serious.

So, while operations in Panjwaii may give the impression of some sort of progress, nothing could be further from the truth. It's like squeezing a half-full bag of water. There's lots of room to move.

If you thought Afghanistan looked like a lost cause yesterday, well, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

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