Anne Stenersen of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment has published by far one of the most detailed studies of the Taliban, their structure, leadership and just how they view the world. Its interesting because even after all these years they remain a bit of an enigma beginning with the reclusive founder and supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
As Stenersen notes, a lot of the attention within NATO has been on defeating the insurgency or how best to manage it. Less attention has been given to trying to understand who the insurgents are, and what they are fighting for. Even the way we describe them is not very defined. The insurgents are often lumped together as “al Qaeda and the Talban” , even though in many fundamental ways they could be vastly dissimilar, or described as OMF (Other military Forces) as NATO tends to do in militaryspeak, perhaps in the belief that denying them a proper name diminishes them.
The people of Kandahar province have greater trust in the Taliban than in the local government and an overwhelming majority consider them to be our “Afghan brothers” according to a poll commissioned by the U.S. army ahead of an impending offensive in the Taliban’s spiritual capital.
Pakistan is conducting its biggest military exercises in 21 years and at the weekend thousands of troops backed by fighter jets took part in a mock battle to repel a simulated Indian military advance and inflict heavy casualties. The manoeuvres were designed to test a riposte to India’s Cold Start doctrine of a rapid and deep thrust into Pakistan in a simulated environment, but you are never far from real action on the heavily militarised border between the two countries.
Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.
Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.
The shoe’s on the other foot. The Pakistani army is saying that it’s being let down by U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan just when it has made hard-fought gains against militants along its stretch of the border.
Some 700 militants have fled a successful military offensive in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency to the Afghan province of Kunar just over the border but no action had been taken against them, according to a Reuters report from the area.
While Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his American backers were having a very public row, 170 people were killed in political violence in Afghanistan last week, foreign affairs expert Juan Cole points out on his blog Informed Comment.
There were 117 incidents according to the Afghan interior ministry, four times the number for the previous week. Most of the violence was in the south casting a shadow over supposed U.S. gains in the region, Cole says. Indeed residents in Marjah, the site of a major military offensive against the Taliban, are complaining of lack of security, he quotes a report by the local Pajwhok news agency as saying.
Leaders of more than 40 countries are gathering in Washington for a summit beginning on Monday to control the spread of nuclear weapons. Iran for obvious reasons is not invited, but it has announced a conference of its own soon after the Washington meeting. It’s called ‘Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None, and among those who have agreed to attend are India, Pakistan and China.
While the level of representation to the Teheran meeting is not at the same level as Washington for all three countries, the fact that they have chosen to attend seems to be a signal to the Obama administration just as it is trying to isolate Iran for its suspected nuclear weapons programme. India’s presence in particular has raised the question if it is starting to re-assess ties with Tehran that have in recent years been allowed to slip in the pursuit of a strategic relationship with America.
The British Ministry of Defence has apologised after Muslims complained that it was using replicas of mosques at a firing range in northern England to train soldiers ahead of deployment in Afghanistan.
Some 50,000 U.S., multinational and coalition troops moved through a U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan last month on their way to Afghanistan as part of the surge, along with millions of gallons of fuel for the war effort, according to the U.S. department of defence.
NATO has admitted that its forces were responsible for the deaths of five Afghan civilians including three women during a botched night-time raid in eastern Afghanistan in February. Two of the women were pregnant, one a mother of 10, the other had six children.
The alliance initially said troops had found the women already killed, bound and gagged, when they entered the compound in Gardez in Paktia province, but later acknowledged that was untrue. NATO is now looking at allegations by Afghan investigators that U.S. Special Forces involved in the raid tampered with evidence at the scene to cover the blunder.