Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Reuters correspondent Golnar Motevalli was emebedded with U.S. Marines as they launched one of the biggest offensives of the eight-year-war in Afghanistan last month. Here’s her moving account of how soldiers and civilians are both scarred by deaths around them in the southern district of Marjah where the operation was carried out.
Corporal Jacob Turbett gave out a single groan of pain before the Taliban bullet, which had pierced his heart, ended his life.
Medics had carried Turbett from the bank of dirt he was standing on, where the bullet ricocheted and entered his chest, laid him out on the dusty ground of a small Afghan home, and frantically tried to resuscitate him. Above them T-shirts and woolen sweaters on washing lines flapped in the breeze.
It was February 13, late morning. Hours earlier, I had landed by helicopter in a muddy field in Marjah in pitch darkness as last month’s massive U.S.-led military assault in southern Afghanistan got underway. As day broke, the crack of bullets erupted from a few hundred meters away and the troops of Bravo Company, First battalion, Sixth Marines were locked in an intense gunbattle.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is visiting Pakistan, and one of the issues on the table is a rather audacious Pakistani offer to train the Afghan National Army.
The Pakistani and Afghan security establishments have had a rather uneasy relationship, stemming from Pakistan’s long-running ties to the Taliban.
Iraqis are voting today for a new parliament and despite the bombings in the run-up to the election, the over-all trend is down, according to the Brookings Institution. Not so in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, America ‘s other war, which remains red-hot according to a country index that the Washington-based thinktank puts out for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The index is a statistical compilation of economic, puiblic opinion and security data.
It’s quite instructive just to look at the numbers in the three countries. Weekly violent incidents in Iraq are about 90 percent less frequent than in the months just before the surge. Violent deaths from the vestiges of war are in the range of 100 to 200 civilians a month, meaning that mundane Iraqi crime is probably now a greater threat to most citizens than politically-motivated violence, Brookings says in its latest update.
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.
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.
It is a measure of the shadowy nature of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan that it is hard to come up with even a couple of names of senior figures who could possibly succeed top commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader following his capture in a joint U.S.-Pakistan raid.
Such is the diffused leadership structure - more like a franchise down to the villages – that the only thing you can say for certain is that the Islamist movement is still led by the one-eyed Mullah Mohammad Omar, although according to reports he hasn’t been seen even by his own followers in the past three years.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
In "My Life with the Taliban", Abdul Salam Zaeef -- who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 -- writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.
"It is work that has no connection with the world's affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind," he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.
It must take a particularly determined lot to bomb a bus full of pilgrims, killing scores of them, and then following the wounded to a hospital to unleash a second attack to kill some more. Karachi’s twin explosions on Friday, targeting Shia Muslims on their way to a religious procession were on par with some of the worst atrocities committed in recent months.
It also came just two days after a bombing in Lower Dir, near Swat, in which a convoy of soldiers including U.S. servicemen were targeted while on their way to open a girls school. Quite apart from the fact that the U.S. soldiers were the obvious targets, the renewed violence along with fresh reports of flogging by the Taliban calls into question the broader issue of negotiating with hard-core Islamists as proposed by the Afghan government just over the border.
The United States has carried out the most intensive series of unmanned ”Predator” drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal areas since the covert war began, following December’s deadly raid on a CIA base just over the border in Afghanistan. Pakistani newspapers citing interior ministry data, say there were 12 missile strikes in January fired by the unmanned Predator and Reaper planes, the highest for any single month. The highest number of attacks in a month stood at six previously, which was in December 2009. There were just two strikes in January 2009, reflecting the surge in the drone campaign to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban since the Obama administration took over last year.