Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Afghanistan’s Taliban: cowards or fearless warriors?


(The defaced poster of a woman candidate in last month's parliament electionU.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have often called the Taliban cowards for planting crude roadside bombs, the biggest killer of troops and civilians. They should come out and fight like men, instead of planting these improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and then slipping away into the countryside. If you are out on a patrol with the forces, that’s the kind of thing you often hear.

But some people are questioning this kind of labelling, asking if it is right to dismiss your enemies as cowards, especially one in this case that has fought the world’s most powerful military to a draw, if not a possible retreat.

Can you really call the Taliban who go to war wearing robes, sandals and turbans and armed with assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and whatever else they can lay their hands on as cowards, asks NightWatch, an intelligence firm that produces regular assessments. They are fighting an army that comes with the most advanced  equipment in the history of warfare – body armour, tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, backed by helicopter gunships, artillery and surveillance aircraft.

And above all, the drones – the unmanned aircraft that hover over the skies for hours at a stretch beaming back high resolution pictures down to the numbers on the license plate of pick-ups that the Taliban use in the mountains that straddle Afghanistan and Pakistan. And these unmanned planes are being remotely controlled all the way from the United States.

from Photographers' Blog:

Medevac! Medevac! Lifeline over Afghanistan

I had just reached the camp of the unit I would be embedded with at remote Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.

Members of "Dustoff" medevac team from 101st Airborne Division, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow play cards while waiting for a medical evacuation mission in a tent in a small military base near Kandahar, Afghanistan September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

As soon as I got off the military aircraft that took me there, I saw a helicopter with a red cross sign painted on it. I approached a crew doing a routine check on their aircraft and, after introducing myself, they explained the details of my embed and gave me some instructions. They pointed me to a section in the chopper where they said I should keep my body armor and helmet, which I have to put on when we flew.

America takes the war deeper into Pakistan



One of the most interesting things in Bob Woodward’s re-telling of the Afghan war strategy in his book “Obama’s Wars” is the approach toward Pakistan. It seems the Obama administration figured out pretty early on in its review that Pakistan was going to be the central batttleground, for this is where the main threat to America came from.

Indeed, the mission in Afghanistan was doomed so long as al Qaeda and the Taliban were sheltered in the mountains of northwest Pakistan straddling the Afghan border. The question was how do you deal with Pakistan?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Claiming Jinnah’s mantle: Musharraf joins the queue

jinnah flagThe minute I entered the elegant book-lined club in central London where Pervez Musharraf was about to launch his political career, it was clear who was to dominate the proceedings - Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam, Founder of the Nation, Father of Pakistan. In his trademark peaked Jinnah cap, it was his photo alone which was hanging prominently on the platform where the former military ruler was to speak; and his photo on the little entrance ticket they gave you to get past security.

It was his spirit which was invoked even in the name of Musharraf's political party -- his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) was a deliberate echo of the pre-independence All India Muslim League, through which Jinnah created the state of Pakistan in 1947.

‘Obama’s Wars’ and clandestine operations



Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars” is making waves for laying bare the policy divisions and the personality clashes within the administration over the U.S. President’s Afghan policy. The author, according to the excerpts published by the New York Times and the Washington Post ahead of the book’s release next week, exposes the colliding egos of senior political and military figures in even more stark detail than Rolling Stone‘s profile of General Stanley McChrystal that cost the U.S. commander his job.

But what may turn out to be even more explosive in the theatre where America’s longest war is being waged is the revelation that the CIA is running a 3,000-strong Afghan army to carry out clandestine operations in not just Afghanistan, but more importantly over the border in Pakistan. The idea that an Afghan army is fighting al Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistan is not something that Islamabad can tolerate easily. Or at least the public disclosure of it.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Rumours of “regime change” choke Pakistani airwaves


Few in Pakistan believe that the army is going to make a grab for power at this time, but it hasn't stopped speculation over the fate of the civilian government, widely seen to have to failed to mount an effective response to the nation's worst floods since its creation. 

The powerful military which is fighting a full-blown insurgency by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda has raised its standing in the eyes of Pakistanis by spearheading relief efforts. It is unlikely to exploit the vulnerability of the weak civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari to itself get bogged down in Pakistan’s enormous problems by staging a coup. 

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures, September 19, 2010

This week has seen a dramatic increase in violence and tension throughout much of the Asia region, and  the pictures on the wire reflect this mood. It seems that actions by not only nations, armed groups but individuals have all had a dramatic impact on the mood of the region. The weight of the news feels almost claustrophobic as I try to keep on top of what is happening.


U.S. Army soldiers from Delta Company, a part of Task Force 1-66 carry a wounded 7-year-old Afghan boy, a victim of a road side explosion, at their base near the village of Gul Kalacheh, Arghandab River valley, Kandahar province, September 18, 2010.  REUTERS/Oleg Popov

Are some Afghan “ex-warlords” hypocrites or democrats?


Many in the West think they can bash or label the Taliban movement as “extremists”, “fundamentalist”, “Islamists” and “terrorists”.

They may disagree if an Afghan argues that whatever you say, at least the Taliban were not hypocrites, changing their public ideologies like some of the former warlords who sided with Washington in overthrowing the Taliban government nine years ago.

How many al Qaeda can you live with ?

- (A box of  'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

(A box of 'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

A furious debate has raged for several months now whether it makes sense for the United States to throw tens of thousands of  soldiers at a handful of al Qaeda that remain in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, nine years after launching the global war on terrorism.

CIA director Leon Panetta  told ABC News in June thatal-Qaeda’s presencein Afghanistan was now “relatively small … I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100.” And in nextdoor Pakistan, arguably the more  dangerous long-term threat, there were about 300  al Qaeda leaders and fighters, officials separately estimated.