Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Taliban finding clarity as NATO struggles to deliver message

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When almost 500 insurgents crawled their way to freedom this week through a dirt tunnel built by the Taliban under the walls of Kandahar’s main jail, news came fast — from the Taliban.
And when an Afghan Air Force pilot shot dead eight American troops and a civilian contractor at Kabul airport on Wednesday, the earliest guide to what would be the eventual casualty count came also from the Taliban, hours ahead of NATO confirmations.

The insurgency seems to be making a concerted effort to improve the quality of its breaking news communications, perhaps recognising that the first word often hits hardest.
And NATO, with its vast resources and innumberable media advisers, is struggling to keep up.
The insurgency in the past has always cloaked its victories in hyperbole, making nonsensical claims of enemies killed or wounded, destroying the credibility of the message.
It still does.
But with the mass escape Kandahar, which itself seemed too fantastical to believe at first, the claims in unusually clear English of more than 500 fighters freed proved very close to the eventual security forces mark of around 488.
And while it’s still uncertain how the insurgency knew of the pilot’s attack inside the military airport (was someone actually watching?), their early numbers for those killed were far closer than ISAF’s.
NATO’s vast media machine feeds out a daily diet of the mundane, and at times vies with the Taliban for Orwellian claims. Try this selection of recent headlines:
* “Attack on Ministry of Defence is no threat to transition. Despite public skepticism in light of the insurgent attack on the Afghan Ministry of Defense on Monday, MoD and International Security Assistance Force spokesmen say everything is on track for transition to begin.
* “Taliban attacked on multiple fronts. As Taliban fighters increasingly intimidate and launch attacks on civilian populations, village elders and residents, known as Guardians of Peace, are reporting insurgent activities to the Afghan National Security Forces, Afghanistan’s True Protectors.”
* “The first step towards a great cooperation. The first-ever Public Affairs meeting of Herat city was held today afternoon at Regional Command-West Headquarters at Camp Arena.”
Buts ISAF’s unwillingness to provide timely information on attacks means it is the Taliban’s voice that is often heard first in early stories. NATO information often comes late in the day or even at night, well behind the news cycle.
NATO claims often in its daily operational roundups to have killed Taliban or al Qaeda “facilitators”, a bizarrely vague description for insurgent organisers and weapons suppliers.
But as the conflict in Afghanistan intensifies ahead of a transition to full Afghan security control from 2014, a little more media facilitation of its own would not go astray to help build international confidence in the course of the war.

Pakistan and Afghanistan: strategic allies or sworn enemies?

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The armies of Afghanistan and Pakistan exchanged artillery firing across their border this week in which the Pakistan military said it had lost a soldier while several others including civilians were wounded. Newspaper reports in Pakistan speak of at least three Afghan soldiers killed in the clash near Angoor Adda in Pakistan’s South Waziristan region.

It isn’t new, there was a clash last week when an Afghan militia attacked a Pakistan border post in the Lower Dir district, according to the Pakistani media, in which 14 security personnel were killed besides a large number of the Afghan militiamen. 

Behind volatile U.S.-Pakistan ties : the Afghan endgame ?

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Pakistan’s anger over U.S. drone strikes in its northwest region is unabated and this weekend protesters sat on a highway blocking convoys carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Disrupting supplies, including fuel trucks, can severely impair the huge war effort in Afghanistan and its the sort of escalatory action that will likely draw a swift response from the United States, one way or the other.

from Photographers' Blog:

Poppy politics

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It's not hard to find a field of poppies in the village of Jelawar, north of Kandahar. Some are hidden discreetly behind mud walls but others have been brazenly planted within sight of the main road. During a recent patrol, I accompanied Afghan National Army Captain Imran (he uses one name) and a group of U.S. civil affairs soldiers on a tour of Jelawar's back roads as they tried to assess the extent of this year's opium production.

A large field of poppies grows on the north side of Jelawar village in Afghanistan's Arghandab Valley.   REUTERS/Bob Strong

The first field we came to was a couple of hundred meters across, filled with pink poppy flowers in full bloom. There were several men working the field and Imran asked them what they were doing. A farmer looked up from pulling weeds and said they were working on their onions. Indeed, in a poppy field the size of a football stadium there were a handful of green onion shoots pushing out of the soil. Not exactly the perfect cover, especially after the farmer admitted to planting the poppies in the first place.

Afghanistan : The gnawing fear of transition

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U.S. Afghanistan ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry (L) meets tyhe local mullah in Kandahar's Khakrez district on Monday. Eikenberry, a former general, is trying to sooth uncertainty in the country about the transition to Afghan security to be completed from 2014 and ahead of his own departure. (PICTURE: Rob Taylor (Reuters))

There is perhaps no word so misunderstood in Afghanistan right now as transition, or one causing as much unease among ordinary Afghans still grappling for a sense of their future.

U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, expected to soon leave the country, is on an urgent reassurance mission, leaping this week onto an open special forces buggy without a flak jacket or heavy escort to tour a former insurgent stronghold in Kandahar’s Khakrez district, hoping to prove safety is on the uptick. ”Just about one year and a half ago it would have been difficult for me to be here. The security would not have allowed me to,” the energetic former general told village elders clustered in sunshine on a lawn walled by roses.
Eikenberry has visited probably every province of Afghanistan with his long immersion in the country, including a stint commanding U.S. forces.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Solving Afghanistan and Pakistan over a cup of tea

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cups of teaI have never read "Three Cups of Tea", Greg Mortenson's book about building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I tried to read the sequel, "Stones into Schools" and gave up not too long after the point where he said that, "the solution to every problem ... begins with drinking tea." Having drunk tea in many parts of South Asia - sweet tea, salt tea, butter tea, tea that comes with the impossible-to-remove-with-dignity thick skin of milk tea - I can confidently say that statement does not reflect reality.

So I have always been a bit puzzled that the Americans took Mortenson's books so much to heart. Yes, I knew he boasted that his books had become required reading for American officers posted to Afghanistan; and yes, there is the glowing praise from Admiral Mike Mullen on the cover of  "Stones into Schools", where he wrote that "he's shaping the very future of a region". But I had always believed, or wanted to believe, that at the back of everyone's minds they realised that saccharine sentimentality was no substitute for serious analysis. Just as hope is not a strategy, drinking tea is not a policy.  (To be fair to the Americans, I have also overheard a British officer extolling the virtues of drinking tea in Afghanistan.)

US-Pakistan ties : bleeding America in Afghanistan

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Supporters of the religious and political party Jamaat-e-Islami take part in a protest rally against U.S. citizen Raymond Davis in Lahore

U.S.- Pakistan ties are entering an even  more dangerous phase, going  by the language that the two sides are employing ever since a public airing of  differences over covert U.S. activities in Pakistan 

It’s a game of smoke and mirrors and some of it could be bluff and bluster, but there is little doubt that Pakistan and America are  stuck in an unhappy relationship, attacking each other as much as  the militants  they joined forces against ten years ago.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, a deterrent against India, but also United States ?

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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have been conceived and developed as a deterrent against mighty neighbour India, more so now when its traditional rival has added economic heft to its military muscle. But Islamabad may also be holding onto its nuclear arsenal  to deter an even more powerful challenge, which to its mind, comes  from the United States, according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led President Barack Obama’s 2009 policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan and the United States are allies in the war against militancy, but ties have been so troubled in recent years that  some in Pakistan believe that the risk of a conflict cannot be dismissed altogether and that the bomb may well be the country’s  only hedge against an America that looks less a friend and more a hostile power.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures April 3, 2011

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In case anyone is in any doubt about the volatile situation many of our staff and stringers work under in Afghanistan I want to recount what happened on Saturday. Ahmad Nadeem was covering a demonstration that was sparked by the actions of extremist Christian preacher Terry Jones, who, according to his website, supervised the burning of the Koran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida. The mood at the demonstration changed very quickly as the crowd sought a focus for their anger. Ahmad, our stringer in Kandahar was targeted. He was beaten with sticks, his gear smashed and his hand broken. Then an armed man instructed the mob to kill him. Ahmad fled for his life escaping into a nearby house where he successfully hid from the mob. Earlier in the day a suicide attack also hit a NATO military base in the capital Kabul, the day after protesters overran a U.N. mission in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and killed seven foreign staff in the deadliest attack on the U.N. in Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN-VIOLENCE/KABUL

Bullet holds are seen on the windshield of a car used by insurgents after an attack at Camp Phoenix in Kabul April 2, 2011. Insurgents clad in burkhas attacked a coalition base in Kabul with guns and rocket-propelled grenades on Saturday, but were killed either when they detonated their explosives or by Afghan or coalition fire outside the entrance, NATO and police said.    REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

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