How will Taliban Respond to Elections?

Tali
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by Thomas Omestad
U.S. Institute of Peace
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
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As Afghanistan moves toward April 5 elections for president and provincial councils, key questions loom: Among them, just what will the Taliban do to disrupt or distort that nation’s exercise in democratically selecting its leadership, and what might those efforts accomplish?

Two Peace Briefs recently published by the Institute lay out contrasting takes on those questions. Yet taken together, they illuminate an urgent issue that is shrouded by several factors: rapidly evolving circumstances, the internal complexity of the Taliban and the sheer opacity of its decision-making and follow-through. These two pieces offer much for anyone trying to understand Afghanistan’s internal conflict at a critical moment in its history.

U.S. and allied governments are focused on the April political contests as a vital opportunity for the Afghan government to demonstrate its legitimacy as the presidency of Hamid Karzai ends and as foreign military forces fighting alongside the Afghan Army prepare to withdraw. It is to be the first democratic transfer of power from one Afghan president to another, and relative success could provide a boost to the country’s stability as the United States and others end combat operations and Afghan forces take on full security responsibilities.

If Afghanistan can overcome logistical challenges, possible attempts at vote manipulation and Taliban threats and still run generally credible and transparent elections, then the government’s standing among Afghans will be strengthened, as will its position in future peace talks with the Taliban, should they happen.

The general Taliban line has been that elections cannot be allowed as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan and that the United States, in particular, will have a dominant hand in shaping the outcome.

Indications of the violence to come have appeared even two months before the polls open. On February 1, two members of the campaign team of former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, one of the leading candidates to succeed Karzai, were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the city of Herat.

“The attack came at a critical moment for Afghanistan on the eve of the election campaign,” said a statement issued by United Nations Special Representative Jan Kubis. “This cowardly action constitutes a violent intimidation of electoral candidates and their supporters, and cannot be tolerated.” Kubis called for heightened vigilance in the weeks before the elections and for efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The USIP Peace Briefs, in differing ways, anticipate moves by at least parts of the Taliban to launch violent, election-related attacks.

In the first paper, “Electoral Offensive: Taliban Planning for Afghanistan’s 2014 National Elections,” authors Antonio Giustozzi and Casey Garret Johnson note that “the Taliban have more resources and are better organized to disrupt Afghanistan’s 2014 national elections than was the case in any of the country’s last four elections. Still, there are disagreements between insurgent leaders about carrying out a campaign of violence and intimidation.”

Giustozzi, an independent researcher and expert on the Taliban who is associated with King’s College London, and Johnson, a senior program officer at USIP, offer a fascinating glimpse into Taliban thinking on the election that is based on more than 50 interviews last spring with Taliban foot soldiers, subcommanders and leaders. What they reveal is more internal disagreement—suggestive of widely varying levels of anti-election activity—than might be expected.

One group of Taliban led by Akhtar Mansur and tied to the Quetta Shura leaned toward a more conciliatory approach, at least for a period of time, Giustozzi and Johnson say. Some Taliban even met with Afghan government figures “to discuss allowing the polls to go forward.” However, disrupting the election is favored by Taliban military commander Zakir and the Peshawar Shura, the authors say. Their research indicates that the Peshawar group is more unified in its stand against elections and better funded.

The Taliban have created a network of so-called “electoral commissions” in part to convince influential elders not to vote in elections. However, in at least some areas, Taliban operatives bought rather than destroyed voters’ cards, copied them and returned them to elders with instructions to wait for orders, according to the Giustozzi-Johnson paper. That leaves at least the possibility that Taliban in some areas will seek to influence instead of undermine elections.

Adding further uncertainty, fighters in some areas might cut local deals with candidates or power brokers in which the Taliban refrain from election attacks. That sort of bargaining has occurred in past elections, they say.

In general, “the prospect of disruption is particularly worrying because Taliban influence is greatest in the Pashtun south and east. The suppression of turnout in Pashtun areas could lead to an indefinite suspension of the polls or an outcome seen as illegitimate by those unable to vote,” the authors say. Attributing attacks to particular Taliban factions will also be difficult, in practice.

The second Peace Brief, “The Taliban’s View of the 2014 Elections,” observes that the Taliban publicly reject the legitimacy of the elections and have ordered their disruption—but have also “left field commanders with wide discretion on how to go about doing so.”

This piece is written by Michael Semple, a visiting professor and conflict specialist at Queen’s University Belfast, and draws on interviews with Taliban conducted between November and January.

Semple concludes that within the Taliban there is “no scope for any faction to cooperate” with the election process, though many follow the political races and comment on them in ways similar to the political class in Kabul. And, he argues, whatever intensity of violence emerges prior to the election, it is unlikely to “derail the overall process.”

The Taliban movement is hierarchical, with Mullah Omar retaining supreme authority. At all levels, Semple notes, Taliban say they are “boycotting” the elections.

But counter to the hierarchical tendency, the movement also functions like “a fraternity [which] means that local commanders and officials can use a high degree of discretion in choosing how they will conduct this opposition [to the elections],” Semple explains. That flexibility, or variation, in how the contests are opposed is a point of agreement with Giustozzi and Johnson. This aspect of Taliban structure will mean significant uncertainty about the scope of anti-election activity, probably up to the last moment.

Indeed, Semple says that some Taliban field commanders in eastern Afghanistan “expressed dissent” about general guidance to proceed with disrupting the elections, reportedly because they depend upon “maintaining local popular consent” to operate in some areas and attacks on civilians would undermine that. At the same time, in some provinces such as Ghazni, Afghan media have described cases of Taliban targeting civilians who have registered to vote. Such violence, Semple says, did not succeed in derailing the national voter registration campaign, in which 3.4 million additional cards were handed out last year.

He also refers to “rifts between pragmatists and hardliners” within the movement over whether to plan attacks on provincial council candidates.

Semple suggests that a 25 percent rise in violent incidents during the election period over what would have happened anyway is a “realistic” expectation. “Groups in the provinces will carry out more attacks than they would have otherwise, but the increase in violence will be less dramatic and widespread than hoped for by Taliban hardliners or predicted by their propagandists,” Semple writes.

Voting would likely be reduced in the rural south, southeast and east and generally in Pashtun areas, where the Taliban has more influence.

Semple believes that “the most significant impact of Taliban pressure” ultimately may not be the mayhem they unleash but rather the opportunities for electoral fraud they creates. How? The threat of Taliban attacks “will help create a category of stations which are difficult to monitor and inaccessible to voters and polling agents.” Any efforts to commit large-scale voting fraud, he argues, are likely to be concentrated in those areas.

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U.S. Institute of Peace

http://www.usip.org/category/countries/afghanistan

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Art courtesy of Ian Boa

http://www.ianboe.com/IB.html

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Shrapnel From Afghanistan V

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As I watched the platoon struggle that morning, I realized that I had overlooked a reality of Afghanistan.  We were facing two enemies, not one.  The Haqqani Network’s fighters we could handle.  Any time they chose to challenge us, we would smite them with firepower and make them pay for the effort.  We would not give ground, and I knew we would never know defeat.

But this other enemy was more devious.  How does one do battle with FOB (forward operating base) politics?  At the moment, I was at a complete loss.  Without a doubt, we needed to figure out a way to do it, because more blows like this one would tear the platoon apart…

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from the book

Outlaw Platoon

by Sean Parnell with John Bruning

2012

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We were here to help.  This was why we had joined the army in the first place.  We hadn’t done it because we lusted to kill.  We had joined because with our flag on our shoulders and the power of the army at our backs, we thought we could help change the world.

Today, we had changed a tiny piece of it…

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The villagers watched the entire event.  In his turret, Chris Brown saw Cole die and unleashed a barrage of obscenities at the villagers.  They knew the bomb had been planted; that’s why they’d come outside.  They’d wanted to see what would happen.  Nobody had warned our platoon, despite the fact that we’d been bringing aid supplies to the village all summer long.

Brown racked the bolt on his 240 and swung it around, wailing with grief.  It would have been easy to touch the trigger and walk that machine gun back and forth until those Afghans were nothing but bloody chunks.  A less disciplined man in a less disciplined unit would have done it.  The same sort of thing had triggered the My Lai massacre of Vietnam infamy.

Those villagers who had viewed our men die and suffer wounds as though it were a soccer spectacle owed their lives to Chris Brown’s  sense of duty.  Instead of killing them all, he tipped the barrel up and strafed an empty hillside as he vented his anguish…

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Unbeknown to us, some top secret national-level assets had been tracking unusual communications coming from our area.  Over the past several months, they had narrowed those transmissions down to FOB Bermel.

Somebody on post had been using our sat phones to contact an Iranian bomb-making cell operating out of a madrassa just over the Pakistani border.  We had an enemy mole in our midst.

On August 16, the mole had made contact with the Iranian team.  In coded references, he had revealed the exact loaction at which Outlaw Platoon planned to establish an observation post that day…

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We defeated the enemy every time they challenged us.  We took to rounding up their dead after each firefight and delivering them to the local mosques.  We masked this move as a gesture honoring Muslim burial rituals that required the deceased to be laid to rest within twenty-four hours of expiring, but the truth is that we were tired of the killing and were making a point: fuck with us, and your sons, brothers, and husbands will die.  Their mangled bodies will be dumped like bloody trash at your houses of worship…

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In the pockets of the dead were documents ~ visas, passports, and notebooks that we knew would be of value.  And then we made a startling discovery.  Some of these enemy fighters were not Haqqani or Al Queda at all.

They were Pakistan Army Frontier Corps soldiers, Pakistan’s ragtag border militia.  We found their identity cards…

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Now, in January, miles inside Afghanistan, we had discovered that Pakistani Frontier Corps troops had launched a joint offensive with Al Qaida and Haqqani Network fighters against a U.S. combat outpost…

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The weapons we collected were later examined by a civilain intelligence team, who matched their serial numbers to recent production runs from Iranian factories…

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I stood behind Greeson, Cowan, Sabo, and the rest of our platoon, watching the footage we’d captured.

It started with a rousing recruitment speech delivered in a Pakistani border town.  Jihadist orators urged the crowd of hundreds of men to join the fight against America.  By the time they finished, the enraptured crowd began to dance and sing.

The next scene showed a training range, also in Pakistan.  The Haqqani fighters were practicing short-range marksmanship, a necessary skill for urban fighting.  In other scenes, teams of jihadists practiced evading simulated gunfire.

When the training scenes ended, the screen went black for a moment.  At first I thought that was the end of the DVD, and I almost turned away.  I wish I had.

The next scene showed an Afghan Border Police checkpoint in the aftermath of a night assault.  The enemy had overrun the ABP (Afghan Border Police).  Bodies lay in heaps, illuminated by flashlights.

Then the cameraman stepped in front of a screaming captive…

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Shrapnel from Afghanistan IV

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from the book

Outlaw Platoon

by Sean Parnell with John Bruning

2012

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Baldwin had not joined the army for college money.  He hadn’t joined because he couldn’t find a job.  He’d joined to kill the sons of bitches responsible for 9/11.  This was his moment, and it made him positively glow…

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Through these long and often boring days, our patrols yielded tidbits of information about the enemy we faced.  To my surprise, we were not fighting the Taliban alone.  The papers back home made our enemy in Afghanistan out to be a monolithic force.  We had made the same mistake during the Cold War, assuming that all Communist countries formed a monolithic, anti-Western bloc.  That simply was not the case.

Same thing in Afghanistan.  The Taliban was the main group aligned against us, but its influence on the border was much less substantial than that of another shadowy organization, one that the CIA knew well.  Known as the Haqqani Network, it had first taken shape during the Afghan-Soviet War in the 1980s, thanks to the acumen of its leader, Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haggani.  Charismatic, moderate in his religious views, and a capable diplomat and organizer, Haggani led a band of warriors in southeast Afghanistan that destroyed hundreds of Russian tanks and downed dozens of aircraft while playing a key role in the defeat of the Red Army.  Jalaluddin’s moderate views and proximity to the Pakistani border made him a natural fit with the CIA and Representative Charlie Wilson’s campaign to support the Afghan insurgency.  Before the end of the war, the Haqqani Network owed its funding, its weapons, and some of its training to the United States.

After the Russians withdrew, the Haqqani Network formed a loose partnership with the Taliban.  In 1996, Haqqani fighters helped the Taliban throw the Northern Alliance out of Kabul, a battle that established Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, as the most powerful man in Afghanistan.  Jalaluddin, though a respected warlord in his own right, did not have the strength to challenge the Taliban for supreme control of Afghanistan.  So they remained uneasy partners, sometimes feuding, sometimes working together if it served their own interests.

By the time my platoon arrived on the border, Jalaluddin’s sons had taken over the day-to-day operations.  They were well suited for the task, as their father had groomed them for specific roles.  One had become a fund-raiser in the Middle East.  Another had become the military commander.  A third son, Sirajuddin, had been named Jalaluddin’s successor.

Beneath the Haqqani family’s leadership, the network was managed by a core of loyalists who had fought with Jalaluddin against the Soviets and in the subsequent civil war.  Below their ranks were the young Turks, the rising leaders within the network who earned their reputation while fighting Americans along the border.

The network recruited its foot soldiers mainly from Pakistan, though there were plenty of Afghans in the rank and file as well.  Over the years, young men inspired by their mullahs to fight infidels had become the key source of manpower for the network, and under Siraj, it had been trending toward a radical Islamic orgaization.  Those devoted men, most barely out of their teens, had died in large numbers since 9/11, but there were always ample supplies of idealistic replacements waiting for the chance to leave their madrassas and join the jihad.

It took some time for us to understand how the foreign fighters we had killed on the mountaintop on May 8 fit into this equation.  Eventually, we unraveled it.  The Haqqani Network maintained a loose association with Al Qaida, which supplied it with talented jihadists from all over the globe.  These experienced men, many of whom had fought in Iraq, Somalia, or Chechnya, formed the insurgents version of an NCO corps.  They had become the backbone around which the indoctrinated, if inexperienced, sons of Pakistan coalesced.  In combat, the foreigners served as small-unit leaders.  When on the other side of the border, they functioned as the training cadre, preparing each new wave of jihadist canon fodder for the crucible ahead.

Thanks to our signals intelligence section, we’d come to know a little about Galang, the man who led the jihadists into battle against us…

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The Apaches arrived overhead.  Their crews detected the launch sites, could see the teams reloading for the next volley.  But they could not shoot.  The Pakistan Army troops on the slope were intermingled with the enemy rocket teams.

Our “ally’s” soldiers functioned as our enemy’s human shields…

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Late that afternoon, we returned to Bermel through the Afghan National Army side of the base.  The ANA soldiers had spent the day inside the wire.  We passed knots of them playing dice games and kicking soccer balls.  Here and there, others sat in the dirt with vacant eyes, smoking hash.  Their polyglot uniforms were ill tended.  They were poorly groomed.  They looked like a unit that just didn’t give a shit.

From my turret, Chris Brown exploded, “You motherfuckers!  Fight for your own goddamned country!”

“Brown, knock it off,” I said…

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Shrapnel From Afghanistan III

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Historic Shrapnel #20

Despite Pakistan’s assertion that the Taliban had solid Afghan roots, these had atrophied over time and would be hard to rebuild.  Taliban ideology was more Pakistani than Afghan, and while its popularity surged in Pakistan’s NWFP, fewer Afghans saw it as a model for the future.  Its Pakistani-based leadership could not wage an insurgency without the recruits, bases, and safe refuge it had access to there.  If Pakistan ever reversed its policy of support, as it did to Mullah Omar in 2001, the insurgency in Afghanistan would be dealt a fatal blow…

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Historic Shrapnel #21

The Taliban’s condemnation of the Karzai regime as subservient to the United States looked hypocritical in light of their own subservience to Pakistani interests…

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excerpts from the book

Afghanistan

A Cultural and Political History

by Thomas Barfield

2010

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Historic Shrapnel #22

Afghanistan had always been the “other war” under the Bush administration, starved of resources, attention, and troops in favor of Iraq.  By mid-2009 that status was reversed.  The number of casualties and war costs in Afghanistan exceeded those in Iraq for the first time.  The first surge of seventeen thousand U.S. troops was designed to both provide greater security for the Afghan election in August 2009 and lay the foundation of a new counterinsurgency strategy.  That strategy was confirmed in December when after months of deliberation, President Obama announced the dispatch of another thirty thousand additional troops to Afghanistan, putting U.S. forces over the one hundred thousand mark in 2010.  The planned size of the Afghan army and police was also greatly increased…

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Historic Shrapnel #23

Afghanistan was the only place in the region that the United States had a direct presence that could prevent the reconsolidation of Islamic extremists, and serve as a base for responses to potential state collapse in the surrounding countries of central Asia and Pakistan.  And the fear that nuclear-armed Pakistan might either disintegrate in the face of an Islamist insurgency or that its government could be seized by a radicalized military faction that supported the insurgency’s cause gave a U.S. presence in Afghanistan even more importance.  As had many foreign powers before it, the United States found its Afghan policy as much driven by events in south and central Asia as those within Afghanistan itself…

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Historic Shrapnel #24

Qandahar in the south, Mazar in the north, Kabul in the east, and Herat in the west, remain the leading cities that dominate their own large regions in Afghanistan…

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Historic Shrapnel #25

Both the United States and India have given priority to eliminating the power of radical Islamists, and hence are more in sympathy with each other than either is with Pakistan.  Such an alliance, if it were to occur, would mark the end of the cold war legacy that has undergirded U.S. support of Pakistan for more than a half century…

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Historic Shrapnel #26

Pride in the past is no bar to change in the future.  Perhaps the best recent example of this was the Pashtun leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, in the NWFP.  Inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, he founded the nonviolent Khudai Khitmatgar (“Servants of God”).  After taking an oath to foreswear violence, retaliation, and revenge, its eight thousand members divided into trained regiments, and devoted themselves to village improvement, education, and reform.  They also led the resistance to British rule in the region in which hundreds of their members lost their lives in nonviolent protests in the 1930s.  When the British left India, Ghaffar Khan remained a gadfly.  He was jailed by the Pakistani government in the 1960s when he protested against military dictators there.  That such a nonviolent movement could emerge and thrive in a culture that had raised revenge to a holy principle should caution anyone against believing that people or cultures are forever prisoners of the past.  It also stands as a challenge to the Afghans themselves to take the lead in breaking the cycle of violence that has generated so much suffering for so little benefit for far too long.

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edited by Rawclyde!

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Shrapnel From Afghanistan II

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Historic Shrapnel #9

The presence of international forces and outside aid had ended the civil war.  Millions of refugees had rapidly returned from exile in Iran and Pakistan.  A political process for creating and ratifying a constitution had run smoothly, allowing the popular election of a national leader, Hamid Karzai, for the first time in Afghan history.  On the other hand, the military and financial resources allocated to the country were grossly inadequate to provide security and improve one of the world’s lowest standards of living.  The large sums of money pledged for reconstruction first raised the expectations of ordinary Afghans to unreasonable levels, but as the years passed people had a right to be disappointed by how little was being accomplished at such great expense.  Worse, project priorities were set by the funders, not the Afghans, so they rightly questioned the wisdom of building schools and hospitals without teachers and doctors to staff them, or repairing roads with foreign labor while local people remained unemployed…

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Historic Shrapnel #10

The high point of the constitutional process came with the successful presidential election in October 2004.  While there had been parliamentary elections in the past, this was the first time in Afghan history that a national leader had ever sought electoral approval.  Karzai was therefore keen to see elections held quickly once the constitution had been approved despite the concerns of international critics, who doubted the ability of the Afghans to organize the balloting and feared that the elections would be marred by violence.  The Afghan people instead seemed genuinely motivated by the election process and turned out in large numbers, including a relatively high participation by women.  Opponents of the Karzai regime, including the Taliban, failed to disrupt the process, in part because it had such popular support.  Despite many irregularities the election was deemed relatively fair…

tribal-elders-gather-near-pakistan-border-eastern-afghanistan-20071

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excerpts from the book

Afghanistan

A Cultural and Political History

by Thomas Barfield

2010

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fighting_holes

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Historic Shrapnel #11

The U.S invasion that expelled the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan created an odd circumstance in its wake.  The usual priority among the Afghans of expelling foreign invaders was replaced by a tacit strategy of keeping them there to guarantee security and finance the development of the country.  This was because the Afghan population was looking for stability after decades of war and protection against predation by factions within Afghanistan as well as from neighbors seeking to exploit its weaknesses…

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Historic Shrapnel #12

The new NATO command would take responsibility for all of Afghanistan except for the east, where the United States would retain direct control…

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Historic Shrapnel #13

 Later in the summer, British and Canadian troops deployed to Helmand and Qandahar confronted a well-armed and full-blown insurgency led by a reinvigorated Taliban…

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U.S. Army outpost

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Historic Shrapnel #14

There was also trouble in eastern Afghanistan, which experienced a sharp rise in cross-border attacks from Pakistan’s autonomous tribal territories, where al Queda and Taliban forces were becoming dominant…

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U.S. Army outpost

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Historic Shrapnel #15

Indeed, the strongest base for Islamists inside eastern Afghanistan was not among the Pashtuns but instead among the more remote Nuristanis in the high mountains northwest of Jalalabad…

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A foreign presence in Afghanistan

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Historic Shrapnel #16

Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami was the best known of those factions opposing a foreign presence in Afghanistan.  It was most influential in the provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, and Nuristan.  The lack of early U.S. resistance to Hekmatyar allowed Hizb-i-Islami forces to take control of many villages in mountainous Nuristan, where they linked up with al Qaeda forces on the Pakistan side of the border.  Despite Hekmatyar’s radical rhetoric, some members of his party joined the Kabul government, and Hekmatyar hinted at a willingness to cooperate if Karzai ceded enough power to him.  A more radical insurgency based on Pastun tribal networks arose further to the south in the provinces of Paktia, Paktika, and Khost that straddled the frontier with Pakistan’s FATA.  Commanded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a prominent resistance commander against the Soviets, its greatest influence was among the resident Pashtun tribes, particularly Haqqani’s own Zadran people in Afghanistan and FATA’s north Waziristan, where he had his headquarters.  Hazzani’s influence extended well beyond the frontier.  His network orchestrated the majority of terrorist attacks in Kabul itself (at the behest of Pakistan’s ISI, according to the Afghans).  His faction also included many foreign fighters and was closer to al Qaeda than Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami…

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Historic Shrapnel #17

The largest and most intense insurgency was centered in Qandahar and Helmand provinces, and led by Mullah Omar’s Taliban…

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Historic Shrapnel #18

The absence of any earlier economic development left the region dependent on an illicit opium economy.  This provided the Taliban with a revenue source to tax and gave them allies among those benefiting from the illicit trade.  In the absence of any significant international military presence, the Taliban were able to regroup unimpeded in any area they knew well for at least two years before NATO troops were deployed to confront them…

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Historic Shrapnel #19

While the Musharif government proved willing to hunt down foreign al Qaeda members, Pakistan still saw the Taliban as allies, and had not abandoned its goal of controlling Afghanistan through a Taliban regime or faction in the Afghan govern- ment when the United States withdrew…

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Shrapnel From Afghanistan I

Afghan Shrapnel

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Historic Shrapnel #1

The campaign against the Kafirs, an ancient society that still maintained its pagan religion in mountainous eastern Afghanistan, was fought mostly for symbolic reasons.  Abdur Rahman, the amir of Afghanistan, had been portraying himself as a paragon of Islamic leadership, and the opportunity to engage in a war against true (and relatively powerless) infidels was too good to pass up.  He also feared that if he did not assert his direct control there, the British or Russians might do so.  A winter campaign in 1895 when the region was snowbound led to a quick victory.  Unlike the incitement to violence in the Hazara campaign, the amir prohibited the enslavement of prisoners or the pillaging of property.  The mass conversion of the region went quickly, and the region was renamed Nuristan, which means “Land of Light”…

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Historic Shrapnel #2

During the 1960s, the economic and social development of Afghanistan accel-erated at the fastest pace that the country had every known as it opened itself more to the outside world, ending the severe isolation first imposed by Abdur Rahman…

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Afghan Shrapnel 2

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excerpts from the book

Afghanistan

A Cultural and Political History

by Thomas Barfield

2010

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Hit By US -  Nareng Afghanistan - 4 yrs ago

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Historic Shrapnel #3

Also, in the 1960s, Kabul University became a particular hotbed of political radicalism, spreading among the disaffected.  Advanced educational opportunities drew talented youths from the countryside; they were introduced to new ideas, new opportunities, and each other at the university.  After graduation, they stayed in the capital whether or not they found employment because it was the country’s primary city, overshadowing everywhere else.  Radical politics flourished in Kabul with secret societies formed to seek the overthrow of Afghanistan’s social and political order.  At opposite ends of the spectrum, the two most important actors were the Islamists and the Communists, who often clashed violently on campus and in the streets of Kabul…

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Historic Shrapnel #4

The Soviets assumed that they could begin withdrawing their troops after a few months when order was restored.  Instead, the intervention marked the beginning of a decade-long occupation that would result in the death of one million Afghans, the flight of four million refugees to Pakistan and Iran, and the displacement of millions of others internally…

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Historic Shrapnel #5

The United States had financed a war to bloody the Soviets, and achieved that result.  The Saudis had paid for a war to expel an infidel occupier, who was now gone.  Only Pakistan saw benefits from further fighting because it desperately wanted to dominate Afghanistan’s postwar government…

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Historic Shrapnel #6

Chaos in the south led to the rise of the Taliban in 1994, a religious movement led by clerics from Qandahar that pledged to restore order in the name of Islam…

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Historic Shrapnel #7

The Taliban seized Kabul in 1996 and by 1999 controlled all of Afghanistan, except the northeast…

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Historic Shrapnel #8

The Taliban granted training bases to various international jihadists groups with whom they shared common values, such as Osama bin Ladin’s al Qaeda.  The cost of this cooperation proved fatal when al Qaeda operatives attacked New York and Washington, DC, on September 11, 200l.  Before the year was out, the United States and its coalition allies expelled the Taliban from Afghanistan, and helped establish a new government in Kabul…

Afghan Shrapnel

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Who Are These Hooligans?

Benasir B

Benazir Bhutto

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Quaint Quotes From The Truthful Tome

GHOST WARS

by Steve Coll

2004

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Mohammed Zia-ul-haq, the dictator of Pakistan at that time, about the early 1980s, encouraged the financing and construction of hundreds of madressas, or religious schools, along the Afghan frontier to educate young Afghans ~ as well as Pakistanis ~ in Islam’s precepts and to prepare some of them for anticommunist jihad.  The border madrassas formed a kind of Islamic ideological picket fence between Pakistan and communist Afghanistan.  Gradually Zia embraced jihad as a strategy.  He saw the legions of Islamic fighters gathering on the Afghan frontier in the early 1980s as a secret tactical weapon.  They accepted martyrdom’s glories.  Their faith could trump the superior firepower of the godless Soviet occupiers…

Zia-ul-Haq1

Zia

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Osama Bin Laden’s “role in Afghanistan ~ and he was about twenty-four, twenty-five years old at the time ~ was to build roads in the country to make easy the delivery of weapons to the mujahedin,” according to Ahmed Badeeb.  The Afghans regarded Bin Laden as “a nice and generous person who has money and good contacts with Saudi government officials…”

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For centuries religious faith in Afghanistan had reflected the country’s political geography.  It was diverse, decentralized, and rooted in local personalities.  The territory that became Afghanistan had been crossed and occupied by ancient Buddhists, ancient Greeks (led by Alexander the Great), mystics, saints, Sikhs, and Islamic warriors, many of whom left monuments and decorated graves.  Afghanistan’s forbidding mountain ranges and isolated valleys ensured that no single dogmatic creed, spiritual or political, could take hold of all its people.  As conquerors riding east from Persia and south from Central Asia’s steppes gradually established Islam as the dominant faith, and as they returned from stints of occupation in Hindu India, they brought with them eclectic strains of mysticism and saint worship that blended comfortably with Afghan tribalism and clan politics.  The emphasis was on loyalty to the local Big Man.  The Sufi strain of Islam became prominent in Afghanistan.  Sufism taught personal contact with the divine through mystical devotions.  Its leaders established orders of the initiated and were worshiped as saints and chieftains.  Their elaborately decorated shrines dotted the country and spoke to a celebratory, personalized, ecstatic strain in traditional Islam…

~

In Pakistan civilians and the army were sharing power, opportunistic politicians debated every issue, and a free press clamored with dissent.  Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister was Benazir Bhutto, at thirty-six a beautiful, charismatic, and self-absorbed politician with no government experience.  She was her country’s first democratically elected leader in more than a decade.  She had taken office with American support, and she cultivated American connections.  Raised in a gilded world of feudal aristocratic entitlements, Bhutto had attended Radcliffe College at Harvard University as an undergraduate and retained many friends in Washington.  She saw her American allies as a counterweight to her enemies in the Pakistani army command ~ an officer corps led by Zia that had sent her father to the gallows a decade earlier…

~

Taliban were as familiar to southern Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan as frocked Catholic priests were in the Irish countryside, and they played a similar role.  They taught schoolchildren, led prayers, comforted the dying, and mediated local disputes.  They studied in hundreds of small madrassas memorizing the Koran, and they lived modestly on the charity of villagers.  As a young adult a Talib might migrate to a larger madrassa in an Afghan city or across the border in Pakistan to complete his Koranic studies.  Afterward he might return to a village school and mosque as a full-fledged mullah, a “giver” of knowledge now rather than a seeker.  In a region unfamiliar with formal government, these religious travelers provided a loose Islamic civil service.  The Taliban were memorialized in traditional Afghan folk songs, which sometimes made teasing, skeptical reference to their purity; the students were traditionally regarded as so chase that Pashtun women might not bother to cover themselves when they came around for meals…

~

Mullah Omar

Omar

By the early 1990s, Mohammed Omar had returned to religious studies.  He served as a teacher and prayer leader in a tiny, poor village of about twenty-five families called Singesar, twenty miles outside of Kandahar in a wide, fertile valley of wheat fields and vineyards.  In exchange for religious instruction, villagers provided him with food.  He apparently had no other reliable source of income, although he retained ties to the relatively wealthy trader Bashar.  He shuttled between the village’s small mud-brick religious school and its small mud-brick mosque.  He lived in a modest house about two hundred yards from the village madrassa

~

Benazir Bhutto was suddenly the matron of a new Afghan faction.  The Taliban might provide a battering ram to open trade routes to Central Asia, as she hoped, yet they also presented complications…

Bhutto said that in the months that followed the first meeting between ISI and the Taliban, the requests from Pakistani intelligence for covert aid to their new clients grew gradually.  “I became slowly, slowly sucked into it,” Bhutto remembered.  “It started out with a little fuel, then it became machinery” and spare parts for the Taliban’s captured airplanes and tanks.  Next ISI made requests for trade concessions that would enrich both the Taliban and the outside businessmen who supplied them.  “Then it became money” direct from the Pakistani treasury, Bhutto recalled…

“I started sanctioning the money,” Bhutto continued to recall.  “Once I gave the go-ahead that they should get money, I don’t know how much money they were ultimately given…  I know it was a lot.  It was just carte blanche…”

~

Omar summoned more than one thousand Pushtun religious scholars and tribal leaders to Kandahar for a two-week grand assembly in the early weeks of spring 1996.  It was the most overt political meeting of Pushtuns under Taliban leadership since the movement’s birth.  Omar chose his ground and his symbols carefully.  At the meeting’s climax he called the delegates to the great stone-and-tile square across from the Kandahar government’s house.  Within the square’s gates stood the tomb of the eighteenth-century king Amed Shah Durrani and the tile-inlaid Mosque of the Cloak of the Holy Prophet.

Omar climbed to the mosque’s roof and unveiled the holy cloak.  As the crowd roared their approval, he wrapped himself dramatically in the relic.  The assembled delegates formally ratified him as Amir-ul-Momineen, “Commander of the Faithful.”  They created and sanctified a new name for the expanding territory under Taliban control:  The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan…  Surrounded by the symbolic remnants of a lost Durrani empire, they had proclaimed their own one-eyed king…

~

On February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden summoned newspaper and television reporters to his original Khost camp, the scene of his 1980s jihad glory.  At a table draped with promotional bunting and equipped with microphones he announced a new enterprise: the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.  Bin Laden had worked for hours on the front’s manifesto.  Its contents were dictated over his satellite telephone to editors at a prominent London-based Arabic-language newspaper.  An angry litany of anti-American threats and grievances, the manifesto was signed by militant leaders from Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir.  Its publication represented bin Laden’s first explicit attempt to lead an international coalition of Islamic radicals in violent attacks against the United States…

O B Laden

Laden

~

In their classified reports and assessments, analysts in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center described al Queda by 1999 as an extraordinarily diverse and dispersed enemy.  The mid-1990s courtroom trials in the World Trade Center bombing and related cases, and evidence from the Africa bombing investigations, had revealed the organization as a paradox:  tightly supervised at the top but very loosely spread at the bottom.  By 1999 it had become common at the CIA to describe al Qaeda as a constellation or a series of concentric circles.  Around the core bin Laden leadership group in Afghanistan ~ the main target of the CIA’s covert snatch operations ~ lay protective rings of militant regional allies.  These included the Taliban, elements of Pakistani intelligence, Uzbek and Chechen exiles, extremist anti-Shia groups in Pakistan, and Kashmiri radicals.  Beyond these lay softer circles of financial, recruiting, and political support, international charities, proselytizing groups, and radical Islamic mosques, education centers and political parties from Indonesia to Yemen, from Saudi Arabia to the Gaza strip, from Europe to the United States.

Al Queda operated as an organization in more than sixty countries, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center calculated by late 1999.  Its formal, sworn, hard-core membership might number in the hundreds.  Thousands more joined allied militias such as the Taliban or the Chechen rebel groups or Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.  These volunteers could be recruited for covert terrorist missions elsewhere if they seemed qualified.  New jihadists turned up each week at al Qaeda-linked mosques and recruitment centers worldwide.  They were inspired by fire-breathing local imams, satellite television news, or Internet sites devoted to jihadist violence in Palestine, Chechnya, and Afghanistan.  Many of the Arab volunteers from countries such as Algeria or Yemen were poor, eager, and undereducated; they had more daring than ability and could barely afford the airfare to Pakistan.  Yet some were middle class and college-educated.  A few ~ like the four men who arrived secretly in Kandahar in the autumn of 1999: Atta, Jarrah, al-Shebbi, and Binalshibh ~ carried passports and visas that facilitated travel to Europe and the United States.  These relatively elite volunteers moved like self-propelled shooting stars through al Qaeda’s global constellation…

~

Anglophilic education, a vast and mobile business diaspora, satellite television, a free domestic press, and the lively, open traditions of Pakistan’s dominant Punjabi culture still insulated its society from the most virulent strains of political Islam.  The Punjabi liberals who mainly ran Pakistan’s government resented the fearful, nattering lectures they heard from former Clinton administration officials such as Strobe Talbott, who spoke publicly about the dangers of a Taliban-type takeover in Pakistan.  Yet even these liberals acknowledged readily by early 200l that two decades of official clandestine support for regional jihadist militias had changed Pakistan.  Thousands of young men in Quetta, Peshawar, and Karachi had now been inculcated in the tenets of suicide warfare.  The country’s main religious parties ~ harmless debating societies and social service agencies in the first decades after partition ~ had become permanent boards of directors for covert jihadist wars.  They were inflamed by ambition, enriched with charity funds, and influenced by radical ideologies imported from the Middle East…

~

Nor did the United States have a strategy for engagement, democratization, secular education, and economic development among the peaceful but demoralized majority populations of the Islamic world.  Instead, Washington typically coddled undemocratic and corrupt Muslim governments, even as these countries’ frustrated middle classes looked increasingly to conservative interpretations of Islam for social values and political ideas.  In this way America unnecessarily made easier, to at least a small extent, the work of al Qaeda recruiters…

~

In memory of

Benazir Bhutto

1953-2007

~

Quotes from The Outpost

Enduring Freedom

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…They suspected that however loudly the 1-91 Cav officers may have tooted their own bugle about their counterinsurgency accomplishments, their fifteen months’ worth of effort wasn’t about to undo decades’, if not centuries’, worth of habits and traditions of self-preservation.  (p.392)

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af10_16832683

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…The United States had gotten itself in the middle of a variety of blood, land, and tribal feuds, Brown believed, and the government of Afghanistan itself had very little, if any, interest in making serious efforts in that region.  The insurgency was actually gaining strength, especially in the remote rural areas of eastern Afghanistan.  (p.408)

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us-drone-strikes-kill-18-in-north-waziristan-1372853795-4131

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…On May 21, 2012, President Obama and the NATO allies announced that in the summer of 2013, Afghan government forces ~ ready or not ~ would take the lead on providing security throughout the country, and that U.S. combat forces would see their mission end come midnight, December 31, 2014.  (p.608)

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Jake Tapper

The Outpost

2012

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