Shrapnel From Afghanistan IX

kabul graveyard

Kabul graveyard

~

quoting

The Wrong Enemy

a book by Carlotta Gall

copyright 2014

~

They were poor farmers with weather-beaten faces and gnarled hands.  They slipped off their muddied galoshes and sat cross-legged on the floor of a deep verandah, sipping green tea as Wudood recounted his story of the uprising.  As I looked around at the gathering of elders, I realized what I was witnessing:  the end of the road for the Taliban in this area…

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He was proud that he had never been driven from his home ~ not by the Soviets, not by the chaos of mujahideen rule, not by the seven years of Taliban govern- ment, and not through ten years on the frontline between Taliban insurgents and American and NATO forces…

~

_44791030_afghan_afp466b

Afghan farmer

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Resentment of the Taliban was already brewing in the village of Pishin Gan Sayedan.  When villagers had begun their yearly collective task of cleaning the irrigation canal, digging out the silt and clearing the undergrowth along the sloping banks, the Taliban commander Mullah Noor Mohammad turned up with a group of fighters and ordered them to stop.  The undergrowth provided the Taliban with good cover for ambushes, he told them.  The villagers answered back that they needed the water to flow for their crops.  They continued working.  These Taliban were outsiders, and the villagers were fed up with them.  The Taliban caused trouble by laying mines everywhere and staging ambushes in the village.  Now they were threatening the villagers’ livelihood by disrupting the irrigation supply.  “The Taliban were saying we don’t care if your fields die, or if you die, so the people said, ‘Then you can die,'” one resident told me.

The Taliban resorted to force.  They waded in with their rifle butts, cracking several people on the head and breaking the arms of two of the farmers.  They detained the village elder in charge of the canal cleaning and took him off to their base in the desert.

Just a few days later, the Taliban returned, looking for Wudood and his sons.  By now the mood in the village was boiling.  Villagers who had lost relatives to the Taliban offered their support to Wudood.  When he met with the police chief, they hatched a plan.  Sultun Mohammed immediately sent a posse of fifteen men to guard Wudood’s house in case the Taliban came back.  After three days of waiting, they decided to spring an attack on Taliban positions in the nearby village of Kakaran.  The place was an operational base where the Taliban were making bombs and explosives, and where they believed the Taliban commander stayed since the approaches were heavily mined.  The police gathered a force of local and national police and intelligence officers, and attacked from two sides.  Thirty to forty unarmed villagers accompanied the police, guiding them through the land mines and acting as lookouts.  In a short firefight, they shot three members of the Taliban and seized control of the village.  The Taliban commander, Mullah Noor Mohammad, escaped with ten others.  The police knew his radio code name, Rahmani, and were able to follow his movements on the radio.  The three wounded Talibs died as they retreated south.

Villagers from all around, delighted that the Taliban had been sent packing, now came forward to give their support to Wudood.  They thronged his courtyard and pledged to stand with him.  His group of thirty supporters grew to hundreds, from thirty different villages.  Overnight the whole of Zangabad turned against the Taliban…

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sourthern reaches of Afghanistan

Southern reaches of Afghanistan

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Having security forces strong enough to protect them had encouraged the people to turn against the Taliban, General Razziq said…

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By the end of February, fifty men from Zangabad had joined the local police program.  Villages further along the horn of Panjwayi had come over to the government and were asking for local police, Sultan Mohammed, the police chief, told me.  “It is not thirty, not fifty, it is hundreds of villages…”

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Afghan village

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An Afghan elder who lived  in Quetta (Pakistan) and knew many members of the Taliban in his neighborhood told me that the insurgent fighters were more scared of the local police than the NATO forces and all their firepower.  “Forty-two countries have come here with all their high-tech equipment, but the Taliban are not as scared of their technology as they are of the local police.”

In Zare, the local police turned the tables on the Taliban.  Drawn from the villages, trained and mentored by U.S. special forces, they were largely responsible for preventing the Taliban from regaining a foothold in the district in 2012, and the population swung behind them, residents told us…

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afghan village homes

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By September 2012, spontaneous uprisings against Taliban forces had occurred in half a dozen places around the country including Ghazni, Nuristan, Wardak, Ghor, Faryab, and Logar provinces…

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In Kamdesh in Nuristan, local tribesmen fought for months against a determined Taliban and al Qaeda force.  At one point the government and the United States flew in supplies and commandos to assist them.  A senior Afghan intelligence official warned that it was not enough and the government was going to lose the moment.  Kamdesh remained cut off by road, and the government was doing nothing to clear the route, the official told me.  Karzai was issuing orders, but the ministry responsible was not acting.  Nevertheless the tribesmen hung on…

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Looks like northeast Afghanistan...

Northeastern Afghanistan

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When I remember the beleaguered state of Afghanistan in 2001, I marvel at the changes the American intervention has wrought:  the rebuilding, the modernity, the bright graduates in every office.  Yet after thirteen years, a trillion dollars spent, 120,000 foreign troops deployed at the height, and tens of thousands of lives lost, the fundamentals of Afghanistan’s predicament remain the same:  a weak state, prey to the ambitions of its neighbors and extremist Islamists.  The United States and its NATO allies are departing with the job only half done.  Counter-insurgency is slow work.  A comprehensive effort to turn things around only began in 2010.  The fruits were only starting to show in 2013, and progress remains fragile.

Meanwhile the real enemy remains at large.  The Taliban and al Qaeda will certainly seek to regain bases and territory in Afghanistan upon the departure of Western troops.  Few Afghans believe that their government and security forces can keep the Taliban at bay.  I believe they can, but they will need long-term financial and military support…

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village boys with gifts Afghanistan

Gifts

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The Haqqania madrassa, near the famous Moghul fort of Attock in Pakistan, is a notorious establishment; it follows the fundamentalist Deobandi sect and is often described as the alma mater of the Afghan jihad since it has trained generations of students over three decades for war in Afghanistan…

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The Haqqania madrassa houses three thousand religious students from Pashtun areas, Afghans and Pakistanis, in large, white-washed residence blocks built around a series of courtyards.  Ninety-five percent of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan have passed through its classrooms, a spokesman for the madrassa, Syed Mohammad Yousuf Shah, proudly told me…

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Jalaluddin Haqqani or son

Jalaluddin “The Ugly” Haqqani

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Their most famous graduate is Jalaluddin Haqqani, the veteran Afghan mujahideen commander, who took his name from the madrassa and won renown as a ferocious warrior against the Soviet occupation.  During that time, he forged strong ties with Arab groups, including bin Laden’s, and the ISI (Pakistan secret service).  He served as a minister in the mujahideen and Taliban governments, and remained an important ally to Pakistan, with control of a large section of eastern Afghanistan.  That did not change after 9/11.  He continued to head a network of commanders known as the Haqqani network and became the main protector of al Qaeda in North Waziristan.  His long and close ties to the ISI and to Arab groups has been the critical element in creating a safe haven in the tribal areas for the Taliban and foreign militants.  It is Haqqani who is the linchpin for the entire ISI operation in the tribal areas.  He is the most powerful commander who oversees all the other groups.  Now elderly, he has passed daily operations to his son, Sirajuddin.  Born of an Arab mother, Sirajuddin Haqqani is known as the Khalifa, or Caliph, to his followers although he does not have a high religious standng.  He derives his power from his military clout and mafia businesses.  His network has become the main instrument for ISI-directed attacks in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan…

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the_sufi_mg56

The Sufi

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Wahabi Extremism

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Shrapnel From Afghanistan VI

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The first significant American encounter with a revitalized Taliban came in eastern Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, when four Navy SEALs were ambushed in a well-organized attack, and a helicopter with SEAL and Army Special Forces reinforcements sent to assist them was shot down…

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The Taliban were joined in their depredations by other extremist groups, most notably those led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (to whom we had provided weapons when he was fighting the Soviets) and Jalaluddin Haqqani…

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Two thousand six had been the bloodiest year since 2001…

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I made my first visit to Afghanistan in mid-January 2007, less than a month after being sworn in…

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excerpts

from the memoirs entitled

“Duty”

by

U.S. Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates

Copyright 2014

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My intent upon becoming secretary had been to give our commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan everything they needed to be successful: I realized on this initial visit to Afghanistan I couldn’t deliver in both places at once…

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That Afternoon we helicoptered east across the snow-covered mountains to Forward Operation Base Tillman, at an elevation of some 6,000 feet in eastern Afghanistan, only a few miles from the Pakistan border and near a major Taliban infiltration route…

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I was met by Captain Scott Horrigan, the commander at FOB Tillman, who gave me a tour.  His troops were partnered with about 100 Afghan soldiers in this fortified outpost in the mountains…

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Captain Horrigan was overseeing road building, negotiating with local tribal councils, training Afghan soldiers ~ and fighting the Taliban.  His base was attacked by rocket and mortar fire at least once a week.  The range of his responsibilities and the matter-of-fact way he described them and conducted himself took my breath away…

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We had to transition from European-favored comprehensive nation-building toward a more focused counterinsurgency, no matter how much it upset the Europeans.  If we had learned one lesson from the surge in Iraq, it was that we had to give the people a sense of security before anything else could work…

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Given Afghanistan’s history, if the people came to see us as invaders or occupiers, or even as disrespectful, I believed the war would be lost…

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And so, with some 33,000 U.S. troops in-country, several thousand more en route, almost 31,000 coalition troops there, and the commander’s pending request for another 20,000 troops or so, a troubled war in Afghanistan would be handed off to a new president…

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To be continued…