View from Sangin: A tentative peace accord struck at the start of the year is holding, at least to the extent that it still exists
Seven months ago 500lb bombs were tearing into Taliban positions outside Sangin district centre in Helmand province as the US Marines here launched an aggressive and costly campaign against Taliban insurgents. What was already Afghanistan’s bloodiest district for foreign troops quickly became more so.
The infusion of troops, including US Marines, was part of President Obama’s surge and despite widespread suspicion of Nato’s spin, it genuinely seems that their arrival had an impact, especially in Helmand and neighbouring Kandahar – although neither province is yet safe, nor going to be in the immediate future. The Taliban matched Obama’s surge with their own escalation, knowing full well that tactical defeats matter little, provided they can simply hang-on under the drawdown.
But the gun battles and roadside blasts that once took place in Sangin’s heart have migrated to its fringes – and it’s hard to see that as anything but a vindication of the Marines’ aggressive tactics. Yesterday there was barely a single explosion within earshot of the Marines’ main base. Continue reading
There’s an excellent piece in The Guardian by Jon Boone about the Kabul bank saga that’s a good read for many reasons, not least this description of “the man accused of rivalling only the Taliban in terms of the damage he has done to Afghanistan”:
Khalilullah Ferozi, supposedly under house arrest, settles into a seat and orders a shisha and several plates of rice and kebab. On his wrist sits a diamond-studded watch. As he talks, getting animated, a steady spray of half-masticated kebab flies across the table.
Here’s a partial transcript of an interview with a Taliban judge conducted just after Osama bin Laden was killed. His nom de guerre is Khanjari, and he operates in Pana in Giro district in Ghazni province.
We sleep in the mountains at night, in the hills, in caves, and by day we’re moving from village to village. It’s a hard life. In our own country. Sometimes when we go home there are choppers in the sky. Sometimes we stay an hour and go. Sometimes we stay a night or two nights or three… high-ranking Talibs are lucky to see their families once every three months. We have comrades who haven’t seen their families for years because too many villagers know them, know who they are, know what their motorbike looks like. They can be easily identified and detected. So that’s why they stay away. I’ve seen my mother twice since last autumn. She came to my uncle’s house, which is as far from here to Maidan Shah, and I have a secret cellphone number, which she has. If I have network coverage she’ll call me and I’ll answer and we’ll meet. When I first joined the Taliban I was able to live with her and my father but now she knows that if go back home, I couldn’t live there, even if I surrendered, abandoned the war and my job. Each time we meet she cries. Sometimes she says forget about leaving your job. She knows even if I give up I can’t live there anymore. Continue reading
Miles Amoore has lots of fresh detail on the Taliban’s takeover of Nuristan in the Sunday Times, including the siege of the provincial capital, Parun:
So far a militia led by a former Taliban commander and backed by Afghan police has held the Taliban at bay outside the city. But the blockade has brought the city to its knees, sources say.
Nato denies Parun is under siege but acknowledges that “insurgent activity on the roads … up to Parun has restricted civilian and Afghan police movement”.
Amoore also provides the only account to appear in the mainstream media of the NATO airstrikes that took place in Du Ab (or Doab or Do Ab, you choose) on May 25:
When the planes screeched over Doab, the only police commander who had refused to surrender, Commander Said Rasoul, was having lunch with his men next to a field of wheat. The Taliban, who had entered the main town that morning, had been taunting Rasoul over his radio, his cousin Qari Daoud said. Continue reading
Apart from the tragic loss of the groom and many of his relatives, the attack by Pakistani militants indicates a once-stable province is now back in play
It was past midnight when the insurgents crossed into Afghanistan’s Dur Baba district on the border with Pakistan and began their descent. In the valley below, relatives of the district governor, Hamisha Gul, a tall, handsome man in his late 40s, had gathered at his compound to celebrate the impending marriage of his cousin Nawshir. The wedding would take place the next day and the plans were festive. Men would dance the traditional Pashtun attan to the beating of the tabla and the plucking of the rabab. At Gul’s pre-wedding party, dozens of men were taking advantage of the seasonal warmth to sleep out under the trees. That’s when the masked gunmen opened fire.
In total the Taliban-linked militants killed nine, all men, including Nawshir and his father Rozi Khan. Five more were wounded, and the attackers torched a nearby house and car for good measure, as well as briefly abducting one of the guests. Thursday saw villagers bury the man whose wedding they had come to celebrate. Hundreds gathered to pay their respects before shouldering the litters on which the bodies lay, draped in white shrouds, carrying them to fresh graves. Continue reading
Historically, Nuristan province has been key to power in Afghanistan, and the militants and their non-Afghan allies are slowly taking control there
Every morning at 8, Maulawi Zahir heads into Waygal district center, a remote mountain village of stone houses stacked almost vertically up granite slopes. As the undeniable man in charge of the Afghan village, the Taliban leader is there to hear and settle disputes. But despite his group’s ascendancy, he struggles to burnish his credentials among his constituents, even in an area where loathing for NATO and the Afghan government runs deep. “People aren’t happy, but they pretend to be,” says one local trader. “They dislike the Taliban as much as they dislike government.”
Zahir’s attempt at daily dispute resolution is important in one respect: for the first time in almost a decade the Taliban are administering an Afghan district unmolested. In fact, Waygal has been almost completely abandoned by NATO for the past three years. For the insurgents — and their non-Afghan militant allies from Pakistan and Arabic-speaking countries — it is the most visible step in a longer term strategy to turn Nuristan, itself virtually given up by the alliance since 2009, into a militant hub and a staging post for attacks on strategic targets, including the capital, Kabul. Continue reading