About Rawclyde!

I have employed a few pen names throughout the years. Rawclyde with an exclamation mark (!) is the one too sticky to go away... Came of age at Crawford High, San Diego, CA ~ writing sports, a column, & playing football ~ graduated in '68... Attended SDSU for a couple years... Hit the road in a '56 Chevy milk-truck, a "studymobile," filling up notebooks & working as a laborer in the southwest... Practiced the genteel art of fiction for several years in my hometown... Enlisted in the U.S. Army ~ they made me a newsman in Hawaii ~ wrote another column for a while... Attended more courses at SDSU ~ studied novel writing with Professor Charlie Brashers... Sold books out of an '85 Ford one-ton van, a "book mule," in the desert... Did some writing in an old hotel in Prescott AZ... Have written & self-published 9 or so books ~ many of which are hiding out on the cyber highway...

taliban face u.s. at peace talks

 

~~~

by Mujib Mashal

New York Times

March 26, 2019

~~~

DOHA, Qatar — When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and toppled the Taliban government, even those who surrendered were treated as terrorists: handcuffed, hooded and shipped to the American detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Now, in a stark demonstration of the twists and contradictions of the long American involvement in Afghanistan, five of those men are sitting across a negotiating table from their former captors, part of the Taliban team discussing the terms of an American troop withdrawal.

“During our time in Guantánamo, the feeling was with us that we had been brought there unjustly and that we would be freed,” said one of the former detainees, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa. “But it never occurred to me that one day there would be negotiations with them, and I would be sitting there with them on one side and us on the other.”

The five senior Taliban officials were held at Guantánamo for 13 years before catching a lucky break in 2014. They were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American service member to be held by the insurgents as a prisoner of war.

In recent months, as the Americans and militants took up intense negotiations to try to end the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership made a point of including the former prisoners. Each day during the recent round of talks in Doha, Qatar, the five men sat face to face with American diplomats and generals.

During days of slow and at times frustrated discussions at the most recent session, which ended on March 12, it was the Taliban side that was often more emotional. Some gave impassioned speeches about how vital it was that the Americans completely leave Afghanistan in as little as six months.

The usual response from the American side, led by senior envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, was to give detailed technical explanations about why withdrawing was complex and needed to be slower, perhaps over years.

But other than Mullah Khairkhwa, the former detainees seemed more reluctant to speak, officials involved in the talks said. When they did address the group, they seemed less harsh or strident than some of the other Taliban negotiators, perhaps mellowed by years of hardship or wary that their freedom could be fragile. Over the past few years, they have stayed in Doha and have been reunited with their families, but remain under watch by the Qatari authorities at the request of the United States.

The five former Guantánamo detainees had varying roles during the Taliban government reign. Mullah Khairkhwa served as a governor and acting minister of interior. Abdul Haq Wasiq was deputy minister of intelligence.

Perhaps the most infamous figure in the group is Mullah Fazel Mazloom, a front-line commander who was also chief of the Taliban army. While accusations of human rights abuses by the others have generally remained vague, there seems to be considerably more evidence against Mullah Mazloom, who is accused of mass killings and scorched-earth brutality.

During an initial tribunal hearing at Guantánamo — The New York Times obtained the transcript via the Freedom of Information Act — Mullah Mazloom (his last name means “meek”) showed no remorse.

“There is a 25-year war person to person, village by village, city by city, province by province, and tribe against tribe,” he told the tribunal. “If you think this is a crime, then every person in Afghanistan should be in prison.”

Still, he insisted: “I never fought against the new government. I never fought against America.”

In their introductions around the table as negotiations started last month, the five men held up their detention at Guantánamo as the most important part of their identity.

“In important moments like this, my own personal troubles don’t come to mind,” Mullah Khairkhwa said in the interview, after the negotiations had ended. “I am really not thinking about who is sitting across from me and what they had done to me.”

“What is important is what we are talking about,” he said, “and what is in it for our interests, for our goal and for our country.”

The men’s Guantánamo files include several notations about uncooperative behavior and instigations, including throwing milk at guards and tearing up their mattresses in protest.

Listed in Mullah Khairkhwa’s record, along with making disruptive noises or refusing to eat or shower at times, is this: trying to kill himself and urging others to kill themselves. But in his tribunal hearing, Mr. Khairkhwa denied having done so.

“There was no spoon in my meal, so I asked the guard for a spoon,” Mullah Khairkhwa said, according to the transcript. “Other detainees also shouted that they did not have spoons, either. The sergeant said he was sorry and from orders of his boss he could not provide me with a spoon.”

“When I asked the reason,” Mullah Khairkhwa added, “he said that I was trying to kill myself and encourage others to do the same.”

Most of the men were detained and sent to Guantánamo after they had surrendered — or even after they had started cooperating with the leadership of the new government the United States had installed in Afghanistan.

At the time of his arrest, Mullah Khairkhwa had retreated to private life in his family’s home village, and had reached out to President Hamid Karzai, who came to power in the wake of the American invasion.

Mullah Khairkhwa, according to his Guantánamo documents, was accused of narcotics trafficking and of closely associating with Osama bin Laden’s men in Al Qaeda. He denied both accusations in his hearings.

The former Taliban government deputy intelligence chief, Mr. Wasiq, had come to a meeting with C.I.A. operatives to discuss cooperation with American and Afghan officials. But he and some of his associates who had come along were bound and taken away, with at least one of them rolled up in a carpet.

Mullah Mazloom had surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek strongman in northern Afghanistan whose militia allied with American Special Operations forces. General Dostum sent thousands of Mullam Mazloom’s men to an overcrowded prison, and his militia killed hundreds — if not thousands — of those foot soldiers after an insurrection in the prison.

Mullah Mazloom and some others were eventually turned over to the Americans.

A timeline for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a stubborn sticking point during the long days of talks. But an even more frustrating issue has been how to define who is a terrorist and who is not. That definition is central as the United States has tried to seek assurances from the Taliban that Afghan territory will not again be used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.

When they were toppled and hunted down, the Taliban were an oppressive regime, denying citizens basic rights, including keeping women and girls out of school and behind house walls. In the group’s 18-year insurgency since, they have resorted to acts of terrorism like truck bombings that have caused mass civilian casualties.

But now that the United States’ priority has shifted to withdrawal, and out of the pragmatic need to negotiate with the Taliban, American envoys have turned to parsing words to find some definition of terrorism they can hold in common with the Taliban.

In some of the sessions sitting across the table from the former Guantánamo detainees was Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in his four-star uniform. Last October, General Miller narrowly escaped death in an attack by a Taliban infiltrator that killed a prominent Afghan security chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, who had been walking beside him in a heavily guarded compound in Kandahar Province.

According to several officials on both sides who knew details of the talks, General Miller told the Taliban that he respected them as fighters, but that the war needed to end. He also evoked a mutual need to fight the terrorism of the Islamic State.

“We could keep fighting, keep killing each other,” General Miller was quoted as saying. “Or, together, we could kill ISIS.”

Mullah Khairkhwa said that even though the two sides had not been able to reach a final agreement this time, the two sides shared a common interest, at least, in ending the war.

“It’s been a long war, with lots of casualties and destruction and loss,” he said. “What gives me hope is that both teams are taking the issue seriously. On every issue, the discussions are serious, and it gives me hope that we will find a way out — as long as there are not spoilers to ruin it.”

~~~

editor

Rawclyde

!

~~~

a new breed in the village

~

Deception & camouflage & secret looks

Secret codes & secret trails to secret nooks

The glint of a knife & someone suddenly gone

Someone trusted suddenly faking a yawn

~

The U.S. Army colonel & her ex-Taliban spouse

Sneeking in & out of your very own house

Growing crooked, growing mean

A sudden realization that you’re a human being

~

Looking for God, looking for a friendly nod

Cleaning the dead enemy’s weapon with oil & rod

Not getting too rude while cooking some food

Trying to get some sleep but only able to brood

~

Then ye notice the bow, look close at an arrow

Accidentally shoot a poor innocent sparrow

Get the Goddess from God knows where

To finally see you & share

~

Some of her knowledge, some of her skill

Secret lessons, a miracle, a talent to kill

Hide like a gloomy secret agent everything that you are

An infinitely shining rapidly rising morning star

~

by Rawclyde!

~

Afghaneeland Adventure Series

~

text copyright clyde collins 2015

~

Crash Landing

 Capt'n Fiddler's Prosthetic Leg

~

Floating up & down, floating all around

A floating nightmare unable to hit ground

I see Kabul, I see Herat

The parachute an eternal tea-party hat

~

Down below in Pluckame I see

The last Taliban setting fire to the voting shed

I loosen my artificial leg, it falls free

Like a smart bomb it hits him in the head

~

This vortex of wind is exasperating me

I shrug, embrace Afghaneeland reality

Dozing off with one leg left a dangle

I become a banner of star spangle

~

Sunrise sunset ticktocks by again & again

Dehydration comes along, hyperventilation too

Pretty soon I’m twirling with a crazy-boy grin

& a palpitating heart tells me I’m about thru

~

Then an arrow sticks into the heel of my one & only boot

Tied to the arrow is a very long string

This string gets taut as someone hauls me down

My last leg breaks when I slide across the ground

~

Mine is now a sorry plight

Without flight & without fight

Yours truly blacks out

& without light

~

Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II

Rawclyde!

~

(Text Copyright Clyde Collins 2014)

~

ANA Climbs Out Of Twilight Zone

~~~

by Aref Musavi

TOLO news

18 September 2016

~~~

The Afghan National Army (ANA) battling insurgency in the northern parts of the country has changed its war strategy from a defensive one to an offensive position and are systematically attacking insurgent strongholds, military officials confirmed.

“Now we are not in a defensive position, everyone knows that we attacked insurgents in Sar-e-Pul province and advanced up to Masjid-e-Sabz and Deh Mordeh villages. Also we attacked the Taliban in Baghlan and our operation is ongoing in Kunduz as well,” said General Mohmand Katawazai, a military official in the north.

Katawazai added that Afghan security forces are targeting the enemy but that they are having difficulties destroying Taliban strongholds in remote areas.

He said that the Afghan security forces are not afraid of the risks as they advance on the insurgents.

Meanwhile, military officials in the north have said the Taliban’s “Omari” operation – their summer offensive – has failed and that in the past five months a large number of insurgent have been killed in the north and south-east of the country.

“In the recent five months, 1,010 insurgents were killed and their bodies remained on the battlefields,” said General Hasibullha Quraishi, a special forces commander in northern Balkh province.

Quraishi added: “Around 405 wounded insurgents have been arrested by security forces. We can say that intelligence forces have confirmed this.”

He added that Afghan security forces also had sustained casualties, but their numbers were less.

However, the Kohistanat district in Sar-e-Pul province has been under Taliban control for the past year while a few other districts in the province are under serious threat.

Asked why an operation has not been launched to retake Kohistanat district from the Taliban, Mohammad Zahir Wahdat, governor of Sar-e-Pul, said: “The reason why a large-scale operation has not been launched in Kohistanat, I think is because security forces, the president, the chief executive, ministers and other security sectors are busy trying to solve the problems.”

However, he did not clarify what he meant by the word problems.

Officials have however urged the public to cooperate with security forces and to not listen to the propaganda of insurgents.

~~~

http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/27314-ana-changes-war-strategy-in-northern-zone

~~~

Daesh Won’t Leave Nangarhar Alone

~~~

by Ziar Ya

TOLO news

16 September 2016

~~~

A number of tribal elders and residents of Nangarhar said that despite of the ongoing military operations by Afghan security forces, Daesh insurgents have captured parts of the province once again.

They said that parts of Achin, Kot and Haska Mina districts have fallen to Daesh after security forces cleared the areas and were shifted to other parts of the province.

“Daesh has moved forward instead of moving back. They [Daesh militants] were in Mardana, Narai and Oba villages of Achin in the past, but now they have captured many areas in the district,” said Malik Osman, a tribal elder in Achin district.

Other tribal elder from the province, Jahanzeb Mohmand, said: “The sacrifices of the army, police and the NDS operatives did not help the province to be cleared of Daesh completely. There is no security in

Nangarhar and the reason is the poor management in relevant organizations.”

Meanwhile, a number of provincial council members of Nangarhar blamed local officials for insecurity in the province.

“Those who are working with government to suppress Daesh are following their own benefits. They used to get money for ‘Taliban project’ in the past and now they are taking money for ‘Daesh project’. Therefore, the presence of such figures is the main reason behind government’s failure in fight against Daesh,” said Ashab Wali Muslim, member of Nangarhar provincial council.

Member of Meshrano Jirga (Upper House of Parliament), Fraidoon Khan Mohmand, meanwhile said government does not have the will to destroy Daesh.

“We doubt government’s measures against Daesh, because we witnessed that President [Ashraf Ghani] and the NDS chief came here and vowed that they will eliminate Daesh with the help of foreign forces, but now we see that the local officials are deceiving us and they are not uprooting the militant group,” he said.

Despite repeated efforts, Nangarhar officials would not comment on the report.

~~~

http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/27281-parts-of-nangarhar-fall-to-daesh-once-again-residents

~~~

One Hundred U.S. Soldiers

~~~

by Sune Engel Rasmussen

in Kabul for The Guardian

22 August 2016

~~~

More than a hundred US troops have been sent to Lashkar Gah to help prevent the Taliban from overrunning the capital of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, in what is thought to be the first US deployment to the embattled city since foreign troops withdrew in 2014.

Since late July, the Taliban have seized new territory across Helmand, defying a series of about 30 US airstrikes, and raising concern of an attack on the capital. The militants have also stepped up attacks in the country’s north, closing in on Kunduz, which they briefly captured last year.

“This is a big effort by the Taliban. This is probably the most serious push we’ve seen of the season,” Brig Gen Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan, told reporters on Monday.

Cleveland called the US reinforcement in Helmand a “temporary effort” to advise the Afghan police, though he declined to say how long it was expected to last, citing “security reasons”.

“They’re not about to go out and conduct operations or something like that,” Cleveland said.

Neither did he specify the exact number of troops, but said they numbered “about a hundred”. Sources in Helmand believe about 130 US troops have arrived at the airport where they will be based.

The most significant Taliban advances have been Nawa and Nad Ali districts, a stone’s throw west of Lashkar Gah, where the government retain control of only a few administrative buildings.

The situation has become so bad that civilian elders of Nawa, traditionally one of Helmand’s most peaceful districts, have asked the provincial governor for weapons to join the fight, said Wali Mohammad, a villager from that district.

The Taliban also continue to block parts of the main highway leading north from Lashkar Gah, said Mohammad Rasoul Zazai, spokesman of the Afghan army’s 215th Corps. He said the road would take days to clear because it had been heavily mined.

In recent days, the Taliban have also closed in on Baghlan province, as well as Kunduz, the northern city they seized for two weeks last year, where a US airstrike destroyed a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) trauma centre.

On Saturday, government forces were briefly pushed out of the nearby Khanabad district. Fighting has already forced families to flee, as they did barely one year ago.

In Helmand, MSF has relocated part of its international staff from Lashkar Gah.

The uptick in violence has caused the Afghan army to send senior commanders around the country in a flurry to boost morale. Efforts have concentrated on Helmand, where government forces have reportedly fled the battlefield when faced with attacks, despite vastly outnumbering the Taliban.

Meanwhile, as soldiers and police are looking to commanders for military guidance, the political leadership in Kabul is on the brink of disaster as well.

In a rare public outburst, President Ashraf Ghani’s government partner, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, recently lashed out at the president for neglecting him, calling him “unfit” to rule the country.

~~~

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/22/us-troops-sent-afghanistan-taliban-lashkar-gah

~~~

The Coma

  by Rawclyde

  !

Fiddler's stray leg

~

Aye, the coma long, the coma deep

The coma comatizes as in a coma I sleep

I levitate above the planet & my baboon race

I ricochet from orb to orb in outer space

~

I mingle with floating souls here & there

We meander dust-like without a care

Like molecules we form little critters & moss

Get tied together with webs of dental floss

~

An avalanche occurs & zillions are buried

No longer able to breath, a remnant of me is carried

Back to the Afghaneeland that I know

Dropped into a crack like a flake of snow

~

I hide out here for centuries without one melt

On a mountain ridge memorizing how it felt

To be alive like a snow leopard a sprint

Of the future a distant rumbling is one hint…

~

imagesCAV8W9E3

Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II 

~

Text / Copyright Clyde Collins 2014

~

The Coma II (Taliban Brains)

Afghan lizard & bullet shells

~

Crack a chunk of eggshell lying on the path

Murder is threatened with zealous wrath

The border gots holes, the mullah gots souls

Duck when ye dig-up yer leader’s secret goals

~

Holier-than-thou bumpkins shout

One thousand & one Taliban sprout

A mushroom cloud flowering in the sky

Pakistan spits in Big Bo’s eye

~

The pack on your back gets smaller & smaller

‘Til there’s no more to eat & nothin’s there

The enemy your mullah proposed gets taller & taller

‘Til he’s a mountain & curling clouds are his hair

~

Virgins circle around after a knock on the head

They’ve got long-feathered wings & oops, you’re dead

They chirp & chirp but you never get layed

You been buffaloed by the prayers you prayed

~

Grubby little Worm sails across the sea

He’s got ammo & a gun & he’s comin’ fer me

He blows me away, I’m gone now for writing this

A cloud now splattering him with piss

~

Ohhh a long endless coma is such bad news

Thoughts molesting n’ all I can do is snooze

Doggerel snapping at my fingers & gnawing on my shoe

Saved on the net & done yip-yipping at you…

~

Rawclyde!

~

snow-leopard--afghanistan

Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II 

Text / Copyright Clyde Collins 2014

The Coma III

FlyingCarpet

~

by Rawclyde!

~

I love my magic carpet

I ride it every day

Now that I’m in a coma

I arrive right away

~

This morning while riding

In a shrunken state

Like an ant on a bread crumb

However, I was late

~

burkha

~

I was supposed to sing in

Mamoodia’s ear

Before she arose from her blankets

She’s up now without cheer

~

She peers at my somnolent form

on the mat in the corner

She is now wearing her burka

& I’m eternally the foreigner

~

Sufi_by_zweeZwyy

~

Lost in a maelstrom deeper & deeper

Of comatose sleep nobody can understand

Nobody but he who voyages thusly

In strange strange Afghaneeland

~

Yes, lying there with plenty of time to think

He has discovered lots of things

How to do this, how to do that

& how to give Afghaneeland wings

~

cosmicdance

~

Being as this strange land is

Really just a bubble in mine own head

I have discovered that it is I who is in charge

As I, yes, I twilight sleep on that thin bed

~

However, as I also ride my magic carpet

Here & there throughout the house

I discover my colonel

Sneaking a kiss with her ex-Taliban spouse

~

celticdragon_3_by_sayara_s-d6i90ru

http://sayara-s.deviantart.com/art/CelticDragon-3-393451050

~

What a reminder is this!

How can it be that I rule this bubble

When Colonel Sheena Johnson rules me?

I, Capt’n Chuck Fiddler, gots trouble

~

DSCN5948_resize

~

Until I figure out what to do

I’ll continue my coma, my coma true blue

Where there is trouble, comfort may be found too

Mamoodia’s arrow stuck in the heel of my shoe

~

Deviantart-Stock-Collection-Hijab-2014-5

Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II

Text / Copyright Clyde Collins 2014

~

Airstrikes Assist in Helmand

~~~

by Mujib Mashal & Taimoor Shah

New York Times

August 8, 2016

~~~

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan security forces are struggling to head off an intensified Taliban offensive in Helmand Province in recent weeks, heavily relying on American airstrikes as the insurgents have again tightened the noose around Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, according to officials and residents.

Even as Afghan and American officials insist that they will not allow another urban center to fall, concerned about the political ramifications for the struggling government in Kabul as well as the presidential campaign in the United States, residents and local officials describe Lashkar Gah as practically besieged.

The main road connecting the city and the highway to the southern commercial and military hub of Kandahar has been repeatedly blocked in recent days by the Taliban, who blew up several bridges. Civilian passengers can travel on an alternate dirt road, but have to pass through insurgent checkpoints. Many businesses and nongovernmental organizations based in Lashkar Gah are trying to evacuate, and the road blockages have added to their alarm.

The Afghan forces’ continuous failure to hold ground in a province that has seen the deployment of a large number of troops and resources, as well as hundreds of NATO military advisers, is taking a toll on the residents of Lashkar Gah. The city has long been a haven for people displaced from other areas of Helmand by the constant back and forth between the Taliban and the coalition and government forces.

Questions are also being raised about the sustainability of a military response that relies desperately on airstrikes against a guerrilla force.

“People are still coming from fighting areas to Lashkar Gah, but what if the Taliban enter Lashkar Gah?” said Ahmad Shirzad, a resident who said the sounds of distant shelling and aircraft had become constant. “We have witnessed fighting for so long that we are really fed up with this life and would be happy to be killed by the Taliban, or NATO to be done with this hardship.”

While the Taliban have held the Lashkar Gah suburb of Babaji for months, in recent weeks they have mounted offensives in Nad Ali District, overrunning a neighborhood there that is less than 10 miles from Lashkar Gah.

Since Sunday, the militants have also carried out attacks in Nawa District, the southern gate to Lashkar Gah. Nawa had remained one of only two safe districts in Helmand Province, according to internal Afghan government communications. Of Helmand’s 14 districts, the Afghan government considers four entirely under Taliban control, four facing a high threat of collapse, four with a medium threat but limited government activity, and only two as safe.

The tempo of fighting increased over the summer after a brief lull for the late-spring opium cultivation season. The escalation of the Taliban offensive this year was also slowed down by a leadership change after their supreme commander was killed by American drone strike in Pakistan.

But in that pattern, and in the intense escalation of fighting in recent weeks, this year looks much as last year did — a disastrous season of setbacks when the Taliban overran the northern provincial capital of Kunduz at the end of September and sent fear through other important cities. Also as they did last year, the insurgents are mounting offensives across several provinces to stretch the resources of an already struggling government and security establishment.

A report by ToloNews, Afghanistan’s largest news channel, found that insurgent attacks across the country had increased by 28 percent in July compared with the previous month, with Helmand Province remaining near the top. Over the same period, ground operations by Afghan forces decreased by 22 percent. But airstrikes conducted by United States and Afghan forces increased by more than 50 percent — including, for the first time in years, the reintroduction of American B-52 strategic bombers to the Afghan battlefield.

Officials said that most of those airstrikes were directed at Islamic State affiliates in eastern Afghanistan. But Afghan and American officials confirm that there has also been an increase in Helmand, where the Afghan forces have struggled to hold the line as the Taliban have drawn closer to Lashkar Gah.

Col. Mohammad Rasoul Zazai, the spokesman for the 215 Maiwand Corps of the Afghan Army, said, “We are going to weaken the enemy through airstrikes and then start ground offensives.”

Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the main spokesman for the United States military command in Afghanistan, confirmed that there had been an escalation in airstrikes in Helmand — up to two or three each day, he said.

But Gen. Aqa Noor Kentoz, the police chief of Helmand, said that the average had actually been more like six or seven airstrikes a day in the past couple of weeks, and that they had been having an important effect.

“For example, 11 airstrikes have been carried out by NATO forces since yesterday, and the Afghan forces are also conducting strikes,” General Kentoz said. “The airstrikes have busted the momentum of the Taliban; otherwise Taliban would have control of the provincial capital.”

Even amid reports of insurgents sending special units to Helmand, and Afghan commanders’ claims that insurgents have amassed from neighboring areas, the Taliban numbers in the province do not exceed 2,000 fighters, with only about 500 active, according to Abdul Jabar Qahraman. Mr. Qahraman recently quit as President Ashraf Ghani’s envoy overseeing the Helmand battle and since then has publicly uttered harsh and repeated criticism of the Afghan military leadership.

That the Afghan forces, which Mr. Qahraman said numbered “20 times more than the Taliban,” have struggled so badly in Helmand despite repeated changes of leadership and scrutiny from Kabul does not bode well at a time when there is no political resolution to the conflict in sight.

Mr. Qahraman attributed the failure of the government forces mainly to the military leadership’s deep corruption and the local people’s loss of trust in them, with many feeling less harassed under Taliban rule. Many of the military leaders sent to Helmand over the years have returned richer, while the situation has only deteriorated.

Relying on airstrikes, a quick fix that is quickly becoming the main tactic of defense, is unsustainable in the face of a resilient guerrilla force, he said.

“The U.S. and Afghan air forces are increasing the bombing of areas — it is ineffective,” Mr. Qahraman said. “This is not a war of tanks and artillery. It is a guerrilla war, and the government should deal with it that way. “

~~~

~~~

Copyright New York Times 2016

Taliban Dwelling in Kunduz

~~~

by Najim Rahim & Mujib Mashal

New York Times

July 28, 2016

~~~

KUNDUZ CITY, Afghanistan — When President Ashraf Ghani visited the northern provincial capital of Kunduz last fall, after the city had finally been reclaimed after falling to the Taliban, he promised improvements to make sure things never got out of hand again.

Among the changes was creating three new administrative districts to help improve government support in the province. But nearly eight months later, those three districts are firmly under the control of the Taliban — and, in fact, government forces were never able to clear them and install the new officials. It is the same story in much of the rest of Kunduz Province, where the Taliban control or have mined many roads and have enforced their ban on smoking and listening to music in several areas.

Even in some of the Kunduz districts nominally under government control, officials’ true reach remains limited to the bazaars and the administrative buildings, with the Taliban having free movement in the villages, according to local residents. And last week, the government all but lost control of another district in the province, Qala-i-Zal.

“The district administrative building is neither with us nor with the Taliban,” the provincial police chief, Gen. Qasim Jangalbagh, said in an interview in Kunduz on Wednesday. “We have planted mines, and they have planted mines. So, it’s back and forth like that.”

The situation in the northern province speaks to a broader struggle this year for the Afghan security forces, with months of the Taliban’s offensive still ahead. Although the Afghan forces have so far done better in defending territory this year after a disastrous 2015, they have seemed unable to turn back the insurgents’ gains.

Even the expansion of American powers to conduct airstrikes has not eased the concerns of local officials in a year in which both civilian casualties and Afghan security force losses are on pace for record highs.

Abdul Karim Khadimzai, the head of the provincial council in Uruzgan, expressed concern that the security situation was spiraling out of control. 

“Most of the districts are cut off by the Taliban and only the district centers are nominally controlled by the government,” Mr. Khadimzai said.

“There is nothing to eat and wear, our men are staying in the trenches for 14 months, and they are homesick and have not got a single day off to take rest or be out of danger,” said Anar Gul, a local police commander in Khas Uruzgan. “We are just counting days and night in this hardship, and any moment we are expecting death.”

In Helmand, officials said the government has been unable to regain the territories lost last year, although airstrikes have so far prevented further Taliban advances. The Babaji suburb of the provincial capital and many of the province’s northern districts remain controlled or contested by the Taliban.

Estimates differ about the amount of Afghanistan under insurgent control or threat this summer.

“As of May, our assessment was that approximately nine districts were under insurgent control and about 27 districts were under some level of insurgent influence,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for United States forces in Afghanistan.

Sediq Sediqqi, an Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, said government forces did not have control over nine districts and faced threats in 40-45 other districts that they were working to repel.

Privately officials worry that the Taliban threat remains at least as high as it was last year.

The Taliban made another push around Kunduz City this spring. While officials said changes in the chain of command and improved discipline had helped fend off the offensive, they were quick to note that American airstrikes have been the most critical factor.

Just weeks before slowing down the withdrawel of the remaining American troops in Afghanistan, President Obama gave his commander here broader powers to use force — essentially drawing American forces deeper into a war in which the Taliban are not the government’s only enemy.

On Wednesday, the United States military announced for the first time that American troops had been wounded in combat with fighters for the Islamic State offshoot in eastern Afghanistan: Five soldiers were reported to have taken “nonlife-threatening” injuries during an offensive against the group in Nangarhar.

Mostly, though, the broader authority for American commanders has been a freer hand in using airstrikes to help the Afghan forces.

“As a commander, and working closely with my Afghan comrades every day, this is a big difference — it enables them to retain the initiative against the enemy,” Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of American and NATO forces, said in a recent briefing. “Whereas before we were preventing defeat, now we are able to help them gain and retain the initiative.”

One senior Western official in Kabul, however, said the loosening airstrike restrictions came out of a realization that losing more territory, particularly cities and district centers, could further destabilize the country as the fragile Afghan government is struggling to manage political and factional tensions.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private briefings, said that more intense airstrikes were crucial to trying to achieve some sort of stalemate with the Taliban that could eventually increase their interest in negotiating.

But in Kunduz right now, officials describe a situation in which district centers remain under government control, but the Taliban are just around the corner.

The main road from Gul Tepa, one of the areas Mr. Ghani declared a new district in November, to Kunduz City is cut off by Taliban mines, residents said. A trip to the city that once took 15 minutes, now rerouted, takes an hour. The road closures have also affected the region’s main agricultural produce: melons and watermelons.

“In Gul Tepa, it’s all Taliban — they treat us well, but they make every home serve them food every 10 days or so, and they have told people not to smoke cigarettes and hashish or listen to music,” said Zabihullah, a shopkeeper in the district who goes by one name. “Since the government said this place will be a new district, we haven’t seen the government carrying out an operation to come and help our pain.”

~~~

Taimoor Shah & Mohammad Fahim Abed contributed reporting from Kandahar & Kabul, Afghanistan

~~~

Copyright New York Times 2016