Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

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- (The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban’s promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

“The Taliban had like many rogue regimes, acted in bad faith.  They had engaged not to compromise, but to buy time. They had made many promises, but did not keep a single one. The Taliban refused to isolate, let alone, expel Bin Laden , and al Qaeda metastasized,” says Rubin. The Sept 11 attacks were plotted at a time when U.S. engagement with the Taliban was in full swing.  (more…)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan and Pakistan: on the battle for Kandahar

arghandabIn the vast swirl of debate about Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is worth taking the time to read this piece in the Small Wars Journal by Michael Yon about the looming battle for Kandahar and the central importance of the Arghandab River Valley (pdf document).

Just as "a tiger doesn’t need to completely understand the jungle to survive, navigate, and then dominate", Yon argues, you don't have to master the full geographical and historical complexity of the Afghan war to grasp the importance of the Arghandab River Valley in securing Kandahar -- a battle he suggests will be crucial in 2010.

Canada’s soured Afghan mission

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If you want an idea of just how much the Afghan experience has soured for Canada, look no further than a furore over allegations that officials may have committed war crimes by handing over prisoners to local authorities in 2006 and 2007.

The accusations flying through Parliament — not to mention a cartoon portraying the Prime Minister as a torturer — cannot have been what Ottawa expected when it committed 2,500 troops to Kandahar in 2005 on a mission that has turned out to be much bloodier, longer and expensive that anyone had calculated. At best, Canada’s dreams for Afghanistan are on hold: the Taliban is still strong, corruption is rampant and there is little sign of the major development that Ottawa hoped for.

Growing beards to tame the Afghan insurgency

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AFGHANISTAN

If you were on the U.S-led coalition base in Bagram in Afghanistan soon after the 2001 invasion, you couldn’t help noticing soldiers with long, Taliban-style beards and dressed in light brown shalwar kamaeez down to the sandals.

They kept to themselves. They weren’t the friendly sort and before long you figured out these were the Special Forces who had fought along side the Northern Alliance in small teams to overthrow the Taliban and were then hunting its remnants and members of al Qaeda. The men grew beards to blend in during difficult and isolated missions in the Afghan countryside.

An Afghan mission that went wrong

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Reuters Kabul correspondent Jonathon Burch is currently on an embed with the U.S. Army’s Stryker brigade in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province. On October 27,  seven soldiers from a platoon of the Strykers, named after an eight-wheel armoured combat vehicle, and an interpreter were killed in a bomb attack on the outskirts of Kandahar city.

Jonathon was accompanying them at the time and here’s his story :

AFGHANISTAN 

The mission was simple. Some 20 U.S. soldiers were to patrol a riverbed in the dead of night, camp until morning, and provide backup to Afghan troops and their Canadian mentors in a clearing operation in Chahar Bagh village, an insurgent hotbed on the outskirts of Kandahar City.

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