Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Is the tide turning in southern Afghanistan ?

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The American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War  has a new report out that says rather unequivocally that the United States is starting to turn the war around in southern Afghanistan following the surge. Since the deployment of U.S. Marines to Helmand in 2009 and the launch of an offensive there followed by operations in Kandahar, the Taliban has effectively lost all its main safe havens in the region, authors Frederick  W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan argue.  

The Taliban assassination squad in Kandahar has ben dismantled, the insurgents’ ability to acquire, transport and use IED materials and other weapons has been disrupted, and narcotics facilitators and financiers who link the drug market to the insurgency have been aggressively targeted.  Above all,  NATO and Afghan forces continue to  hold all the areas they have cleared in the two provinces, arguably the heart of the insurgency, which is a significant departure from the past.

The war is far from over, large parts of the country remain under insurgent control, and there is limited, if not negligent political  progress in the areas re-taken from the Taliban. But the momentum of the insurgency in the south has unquestionably been arrested and probably reversed, the authors say. 

Is the ground really shifting, and if so, what’s behind this breakthrough ? Part of the reason is the arrival of 30,000 U.S. troops under the surge  which military commanders said was necessary to make a dent in an insurgency at its deadliest since 2001.  Another 1,400  Marines  have just been ordered , all part of efforts to crush the Taliban so America can make an honourable ext from its longest war yet. But it is not just more troops that General David Petraeus has thrown at  the resilient Taliban.

A drop in Afghanistan’s drug ocean

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                                     By Andrew Hammond

U.S. private security guards mingled in the crowd, while Afghan security forces stood on guard on surrounding hilltops and
access roads. Afghans in dirty robes ran back and forward with paraffin canisters, two of them with the unfortunate task of climbing over
the pile of wood, and seized sacks of drugs to pour on the fuel.

“Broken Afghanistan” hits back at Britain

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British Defence Secretary Liam Fox with troops in Helmand province.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox with troops in Helmand province.

New British Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s remarks describing Afghanistan as a broken 13th-century country have predictably touched off a firestorm of criticism both at home and in Afghanistan.  For a moment, though, if you drove around  Kabul’s dusty hillsides dotted with dirt-poor, crumbling dwellings and saw the war-ravaged capital’s ruins, you could  forgive Fox for thinking he was in a medieval-era country.

Indeed the criticism against him in Afghanistan is not so much about it being a broken country, but that who exactly is responsible.  Mandegar, a local  newspaper, kicked off its reaction with the headline : “Our 13th century society is the result of your colonialism.”  It reminds readers about the British wars in Afghanistan and how each time Afghans succeeded in driving them out of the country.  “We don’t need Britain in Afghanistan,”  the Arman e-Melli daily said.

Germany slips up again in Afghanistan

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(German soldiers in Afghanistan salute as a helicopter carrying coffins of their fallen comrades departs)

(German soldiers in Afghanistan salute as a helicopter carrying coffins of their fallen comrades departs)

Germany has slipped up again in Afghanistan, mistakenly killing five Afghan soldiers after losing three of its own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents in the northern province of Kunduz. For a nation with little appetite for a war 3,000 miles away, the losses couldn’t come at a worse time. Germany is still feeling the repercussions of  an incident in September in which its forces called in a U.S. air strike that killed scores of people, at least 30 civilians,  the deadliest incident involving German forces since World War 11.

Reuters photographer and Marine meet again in Helmand

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Almost two years ago, Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic captured a dramatic shot of U.S. Marine Sergeant William Bee, from Wooster, Ohio, the moment a Taliban bullet hit a wall inches from this head.

In the photo Bee is just about holding on to his rifle as he is hit by a spray of rocks and dirt when the bullet hits a compound wall in front of him.

Women hold up half the sky even in Afghanistan ?

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(Women in Kandahar province. By Baz Ratner) (Women in Kandahar province. By Baz Ratner)

Back in 2002, onlookers would often gather outside the U.S. military headquarters in Bagram in Afghanistan, watching women soldiers in full battle gear sitting on top of vehicles on guard duty at the entrance to the base.

For a deeply conservative society such as Afghanistan, it was a novel sight to watch women in such a role, more so coming soon after the harsh regime of the Taliban. From time to time, the women would get annoyed and holler to the men hanging around and staring at them:  “Back off. Haven’t you seen a woman ever?”

Taliban demand freedom of speech, condemn ban on attack cover

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(Afghan widows in Kabul. Picture by Ahmad Masood)

(Afghan widows in Kabul. Picture by Ahmad Masood)

Afghanistan’s Taliban have condemned a government plan to ban live coverage of their attacks, saying the measure was a violation of free speech.   For a group that had itself banned television, not to mention music during its rule from 1996 to 2001, that’s pretty rich irony.

On Monday, Afghan authorities announced a ban on filming of live attacks, saying such images emboldened the  militants who have launched strikes around the country just as NATO forces are in the middle of an offensive. A day later, officials promised to clarify the restrictions, and hinted they may row back from the most draconian measures.

Afghan offensive : When the Marjah “pork chop” turns into a “lamb chop”

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(U.S. Marines in Marjah. Picture by Goran Tomasevic

(U.S. Marines in Marjah. Picture by Goran Tomasevic

                                                              By Golnar Motevalli

All militaries are notorious for their use of jargon, acronyms and code names to describe people, places and operations. The village of Koru Chareh in the centre of Marjah and a key area in the U.S. Marines’  objective to seize the town in Operation Moshtarak was also given a moniker.

America attempting a more “humane war” in Afghanistan

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(A U.S. Marine in Marjah, picture by Goran Tomasevic)

(A U.S. Marine in Marjah, picture by Goran Tomasevic)

One of the reasons the big U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan’s Marjah area has slowed down is because the Marines are trying to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, according to military commanders. So use of air power, the key to U.S. battle strategy, has been cut back because of the risk of collateral damage from strikes.

Lara M. Dadkhah, an intelligence analyst, in a New York Times op-ed says troops under heavy attack in Marjah have had to wait for an hour or more for air support so that insurgents were properly identified. “We didn’t come to Marjah to destroy it, or to hurt civilians,” Dadkhah quotes a Marine officer as saying after he waited 90 minutes before the Cobra helicopters he had requested showed up with their Hellfire missiles.

Protecting the “bullet magnet” and improving life in southern Afghanistan

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Katrina Manson is a Reuters reporter based in East Africa. She recently accompanied the British government’s development agency, DFID, on a visit to Helmand  province in south Afghanistan.

                                               By Katrina Manson  

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