Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory: How ISAF infighting helped doom Sangin to its ongoing violence

Afghanistan Analysts Network

View over Sangin district centre and the southern Green Zone

View over Sangin district centre and the southern Green Zone | Julius Cavendish

Sangin district in Helmand has again, this year, seen heavy fighting, this time between the Afghan National Security Forces and the Taleban. With dozens killed and thousands displaced following an insurgent assault involving hundreds of fighters, the Taleban leadership is once again showing how much it values this strategic crossroads and poppy-producing hub. Guest author Julius Cavendish,* who reported on fighting in Sangin in 2010 and 2011 and is following what’s happening in the region closely since, has been looking into the background of one of the most contested districts in the country. He reveals how ISAF repeatedly squandered the chance to build a durable political settlement in the district, including bombing a meeting of Taleban while they were discussing going over to the government. He argues that institutional dysfunction and competing agendas within the coalition helped ensure that the generals and bureaucrats overseeing the campaign in Helmand repeatedly undermined efforts to build a lasting peace. (With additional reporting by Muhib Habibi in Kandahar.)

On 20th November 2010, Taleban commander and shadow district governor Mullah Abdul Qayum met all afternoon with other disaffected insurgents in his high-walled garden in southern Afghanistan. According to local elders and British officials, the men — incensed by months of brutality by out-of-area insurgents — were plotting to hand one of Afghanistan’s most violent districts over to government control. It was a brazen double-cross that would, Qayum and his accomplices hoped, finally bring peace to their valley. Now, following months of secret correspondence with Afghan and British officials, they wanted a demonstration of government good faith. That is when a NATO bomb slammed into the meeting. Read the rest of this entry »


The jihadists’ frightening new front

The Economist

Extreme Islamists are threatening the region—and an ancient African heritage

LEGEND held that the main gate of Timbuktu’s Sidi Yahya mosque, a wood-panelled affair with metalwork cast in the shape of crescent moons, would open only at the end of time. In a metaphorical sense that is what Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda who control the ancient trading-post in northern Mali have now unleashed. On July 2nd they battered down the ancient entrance with picks and shovels to “destroy its mystery” as part of a city-wide programme of cultural vandalism inspired by religious zeal that has left inhabitants aghast with horror. Destroyed, too, are eight mausoleums and a number of saints’ tombs. More wreckage is feared. Read the rest of this entry »


After the US pulls out, will CIA rely more on Afghan mercenaries?

The Christian Science Monitor

Thousands of Afghan mercenaries are believed to be helping America battle Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies. But they’re accused of flagrant human rights abuses.

With his broad cheekbones, hair swept back under a sequined cap, and the gentle manner of a well-to-do Pashtun, Atal Afghanzai might easily pass for a doctor or an engineer.

Instead, his career path led into a cloak-and-dagger world of covert armies and foreign agents, until a rare lethal run-in with an Afghan police chief landed him on death row in Kabul’s most notorious prison.

Young and motivated, Mr. Afghanzai is one of thousands of Afghan mercenaries believed to be working with the CIA to help America battle Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies. His story – confirmed by US diplomats, other Western officials, and Afghan authorities – illustrates the military advantages of this secret war. But, with the US poised to ramp up reliance on paramilitaries like Afghanzai as it pulls out frontline troops, the practice is raising the ire of Afghans who accuse the groups of human rights abuses. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghan peace effort in tatters as turban bomb kills ex-president

The Independent

Delegates’ reaction to Rabbani’s role as High Peace Council head was so ferocious that he was forced to flee

A militant detonated a bomb hidden in his turban as he met the former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani yesterday, killing the man given the task of reconciling with the Taliban and further crippling efforts to bring peace to the county.

Two insurgents feigning an interest in coming in from the cold met Mr Rabbani at his house in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave, close to the site of last week’s 20-hour battle between security forces and Taliban-linked militants.

According to initial reports, one of them detonated the explosives hidden in his turban, as he hugged Mr Rabbani, killing the politician instantly. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghanistan Reality Check: Taliban Strikes Undermine U.S. Optimism

Time.com

Claims by U.S. officials that the insurgents are on the run are challenged by new attacks in the capital

Four earth-shaking explosions in Kabul on Tuesday signaled the start of the Taliban’s latest riposte to claims by the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan that the insurgents are on the run. After a Sunday truck bombing that had injured 77 American troops, militants stormed a high-rise close to the U.S. embassy and began firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. In hellish scenes replayed repeatedly on Afghan TV, dust swirled on deserted streets as civilians, some soaked in their own blood, fled whenever a letup in the fighting allowed. Under a gunmetal sky, Afghan military Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships flew in to support a rapid-reaction force, unleashing bursts of heavy machine-gun fire back at insurgent positions. “This is not an exercise,” the public-address system at nearby NATO headquarters crackled. “This is an ongoing situation.” Read the rest of this entry »


The Tangi Valley: site of the SEAL Team Six helicopter crash

The Tangi valley in April 2009. On Saturday a U.S. military Chinook crashed under fire killing 38 people on board, including 22 members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six (Julius Cavendish)

The Tangi valley in April 2009. On Saturday a U.S. military Chinook crashed under fire killing 38 people on board, including 22 members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six (Julius Cavendish)


Hekmatyar’s not-so-quiet diplomacy in Nuristan

Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar was seen out and about in Nuristan earlier this spring. Here’s (maybe) why

Not one to shy away from making trouble, Nuristan provincial governor Jamaluddin Badr did his best earlier this year to discredit one of his subordinates—and rivals—the nominally pro-government Hezb-i-Islami strongman, Maulawi Sadeq, sources have told me.

Sadeq came over to the government last year, and is credited with keeping a lid on things in Kamdesh district. But as Badr tried to turn local elders against Sadeq, everyone began to fear a change of leadership. Enter Hekmatyar. After attending Friday prayers in Kamdesh in late March or early April, he made a point of being seen about town.

“Whether or not that’s what he normally does, it sends a message of support [to Kamdeshis], to show that Hezb-i-Islami has invested there and they’re not going anywhere,” a Western diplomat says. Hekmatyar paid Kamdesh a second visit later in April, presumably for the same reason. Read the rest of this entry »


Turban bomb kills Kandahar mayor – and leaves Karzai bereft of allies

The Independent

As Nato prepares to pull out, the Taliban is positioning itself to step into the vacuum

A suicide bomber has killed the mayor of Kandahar City, depriving the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, of yet another ally in southern Afghanistan just as Nato troops start pulling out of the insurgency-wracked country.

The murder of Ghulam Haider Hamidi, a childhood friend of the Karzai family and a naturalised US citizen, who had returned to Afghanistan at the President’s personal request, comes just two weeks after a trusted bodyguard gunned down Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President’s half-brother.

The hit eliminates one of the leading contenders to become Kandahar’s next governor, leaving the way open for Gul Agha Sherzai, a bear of a man who dispenses patronage like one of Afghanistan’s kings of old. A nominal Karzai ally, Mr Sherzai will almost certainly consolidate lucrative Nato contracts and drugs revenues for his own family if he gets the nod, diminishing Mr Karzai’s influence in the south. Read the rest of this entry »


Kandahar Mayor’s Killing Another Blow to U.S. Afghanistan Effort

Time.com

The latest victim in a string of killings of local officials loyal to President Hamid Karzaai, Ghulam Haider Hamidi tried to build good governance against the odds

An honest man in a city of thieves, Kandahar mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi once exemplified hopes that the U.S.-led nation-building effort would leave behind a better Afghanistan. His killing by a suicide bomber on Wednesday, less than two weeks after the slaying of Kandahar’s strongman provincial council chairman Ahmed Wali Karzai, underscores the declining prospects of the Western military mission there.

“More than 50 percent of the violence comes from these corrupt people, the ones who sit with you and smile,” Hamidi told the Washington Post earlier this year. The former accountant had returned to Kandahar in 2007 after 30 years in the United States. Having been invited to serve as mayor by his childhood friend Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Hamidi said goodbye to the comfort of his northern Virginia home and threw himself into the maelstrom of the southern Afghan city’s politics. He initiated a slew of projects — from paving roads to collecting taxes and building schools — intended to revitalize the city, and made a name for himself trying to root out graft and curb the power of local strongmen and warlords on whom he blamed Kandahar’s ills. Read the rest of this entry »


Killing of Karzai’s Adviser Takes Another Hit at the President’s Circle

Time.com

The second high-profile assassination of an Afghan politician in a week, the killing of Hamid Karzai’s long-time adviser Jan Mohammad Khan has Afghans worrying that anyone close to the President is a target

Gunfire rang out again Sunday night in Kabul, first as single shots and then in stuttering bursts, as two gunmen stormed the villa of President Hamid Karzai’s long-standing confidante Jan Mohammad Khan. Armed with AK-47s and grenades, the attackers shot their way into the compound in a leafy quarter of Kabul called Kart-e-Sey, at around 8 p.m. They knocked out Khan’s son with the butt of a rifle and killed a guard, according to an officer on the scene with Kabul’s criminal-investigations department. Then they shot Khan as he sat on a couch, chatting with a member of parliament who had come to visit.

Khan and the MP Mohammad Hashem Watanwal died instantly, but what followed ran for eight and a half hours as the attackers took hostages and holed up inside the villa. A rapid-reaction force from the Afghan police and intelligence services slowly closed the net, killing one assailant with a direct shot and freeing the last of the hostages shortly before midnight. As dawn broke, and the house burned after the gunmen threw 13 grenades according to one police source, counter-terrorism officers and their foreign advisers ended the siege, blowing apart the wall of the bathroom in which the last surviving attacker was concealed, killing him.

That was the easy part. Khan’s death is the second high-profile assassination of an Afghan politician in a week, and will almost certainly add to the shivers of uncertainty rippling across Afghanistan. His peach-colored compound may hardly have been Fort Knox (Khan apparently sent all but one of his guards home each evening) and the Uruzgan strongman may not have been the power that once he was. But taken in conjunction with the assassinations of President Karzai’s half-brother on July 12, and the police chief for northern Afghanistan, General Daud Daud, earlier this summer, Khan’s killing plays right into the Taliban narrative that no one, no matter how close to Karzai, is safe from their assassination campaign. Read the rest of this entry »


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