Monday, February 18, 2008

Khalid blames Canadian troops.

There is an awful lot missing from this story. In fact, too much.
Concerns that the Taliban are changing tactics grew today after another brutal bombing in southern Afghanistan, and the local governor suggested the bloodbath could have been avoided had Canadian troops heeded Afghan government warnings.

A suicide bomber blew up his car next to a Canadian convoy patrolling near the Afghan-Pakistan border Monday afternoon, killing 38 Afghans, wounding dozens more and injuring four Canadian soldiers.

The blast in a busy market area in Spin Boldak came one day after the worst explosion in Afghan history – more than 100 people are believed killed in the suicide attack at a dog-fighting festival on the outskirts of Kandahar city.

Set aside any feelings you may have about the "mission" for a moment. This is about the rights and wrongs on the ground, after which you might find more reasons to question what is going on.

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said he tried to warn the police commander away from Sunday's event, much like he warned Canadians away from Spin Boldak on Monday.

"We informed the Canadian Forces to avoid patrolling the border areas because our intelligence units had information that suicide attackers were in the areas and wanted to target Canadian or government forces," Khalid said.

"Despite informing the Canadians, they went to those areas anyway."

First, I wouldn't trust Asadullah Khalid as far as I could throw him. While he may be marginally better than his predecessor, Gul Agha Sherzai, he is far from a clean player.

Secondly, while I have no doubt Khalid has intelligence units, there is surely a reason Canadian field intelligence isn't using his information. Either they believe Khalid is providing inaccurate information or they don't trust him.

I'm going with the latter.

The fact that a Canadian patrol went to Spin Boldak shouldn't be interpreted as a surprize. The Canadian ISAF force mans a forward operating base there. And Spin Boldak is a critical tactical choke-point.

Located on the border with Pakistan (Durand Line) it is a major port of entry on the Afghanistan side of the Toba Kakar mountains. It is a crucial trade route between Afghanistan and Pakistan and a main supply route (MSR) through which ground transport resupplies NATO forces in southern Afghanistan.

It is also an infiltration point for Taliban and other similar groups harbouring in Pakistan's tribal areas to the north of Balochistan.

Since there is little to stop the movement of insurgent fighters into Chaman, Pakistan, just across the border from Spin Boldak, keeping Spin Boldak defended is essential if the vital supply route is to remain open.

The presence, therefore, of Canadian troops in Spin Boldak shouldn't be viewed as unusual.

Unless there has been a major change, the MSR runs right through the middle of the town of Spin Boldak. There is also a large UN world food operation which has attracted thousands of Afghani refugees who have set up camps on both sides of the road. The location of the "market area" which took the suicide attack is a question mark. There is more than one.

That Khalid is suggesting that Canadian troops should stay away when it is their job to patrol that area of the Afghan-Pak border is highly suspicious. Why would they do that? By staying away they would risk losing Spin Boldak to insurgents and then have to fight to regain it.

Khalid's statement suggests that the presence of Canadian troops caused the deaths of 38 Afghanis. That is a disaster but hardly one which can be laid at the feet of the Canadian Forces. That convoy was where it was supposed to be, doing the job it was supposed to do. From everything available in open-access reports Canadian troops didn't fire a shot.

If Asadullah Khalid feels that it is operationally sound to allow insurgents to gain a secure foothold in Spin Boldak then perhaps he has a point. Perhaps the answer is to withdraw NATO forces altogether and let Khalid handle the situation himself.

And since Khalid seems to know where insurgents are going to show up, there may be more to Asadullah Khalid than that of a disgruntled provincial governor.

As I said, there is too much missing from this story and I don't trust Asadullah Khalid.

H/T liberal catnip and reader Cat.

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