Afghan Taliban hone hit-and-run tactics, assassination campaign

Christian Science Monitor

The Afghan Taliban is waging an assassination campaign against government officials in Kandahar. Their hit-and-run fight marks bid to draw NATO forces into a war of attrition.

At COP Fitzpatrick (Lucian Read)

The high-velocity snap of a bullet passing the lanky sentry from South Carolina was the first sign combat outpost Fitzpatrick was under attack.

Men scrambled for weapons and flak jackets, running up the stairs to the roof of the pink cinder block building that had once been a police station. “Go, go, go!” went the yell to civilians caught in the open. Already soldiers were scanning the lush green foliage for movement. Then snap, snap, snap – more bullets passing by, and the platoon’s first sergeant, Samuel Frantz, was calling for “203s on that tree line over there.” Read the rest of this entry »


Insurgents in Kandahar’s undergrowth drag Nato forces into ‘green hell’

The Independent

Spring brings renewed risk from IEDs, and political solutions seem a long way off. Julius Cavendish reports from Pashmul

Under a baby-blue sky Sgt Michael Ingram was bleeding his life into the Afghan dirt. Explosives hidden in a mud house had taken off both his legs, and as the call went out for a medic, it took a moment to realise that the medic was also hurt, along with a third US soldier who had taken shrapnel in his shoulder.

One of the most popular men in Charlie Company, First Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, Sgt Ingram died from massive blood loss. “There is no way to comprehend an IED (improvised explosive device) until you see someone hit one,” Lt Mark Morrison, a platoon leader in the same company, said later. “Then everything changes.”

In the half-deserted village of Pashmul – as much a front line as any in southern Afghanistan’s indefinite war of ambush and IED – Taliban fighters are stepping up the fight. With fighters arriving from Helmand and Pakistan, and budding vegetation providing ample cover, the Taliban are using bolder tactics in an attempt to suck foreign forces into a battle of attrition. “The Taliban want to pull us into the grape fields,” Charlie Company’s commander, Capt Duke Reim, said. “Slowly take a company from 130 [men] and bring it down to 115. That’s what they’re looking to do, because the more we focus here on the grape fields the less we focus on Kandahar [City],” – which, with its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, is the prize in Nato’s population-centric campaign. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghanistan war: Taliban escalates violence with Kandahar blasts

Christian Science Monitor

The Taliban appear to be making good on a promise to escalate violence in Kandahar, where NATO is planning to launch what it sees as the next major offensive of the Afghanistan war.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

Three explosions rocked Kandahar on Monday morning as the city slid deeper into violence. The southern Afghan city is where NATO is planning to launch what it sees as the next major offensive of the Afghanistan war.

The blasts, two of which apparently targeted Kandahar’s deputy police chief, killed two civilians and prompted the United Nations to say it was scaling back operations there. The aid community already has a far lighter footprint there than in other parts of Afghanistan.

Residents sound increasingly fatalistic about their prospects this summer, with the Taliban apparently making good on a promise to escalate violence in the city in response to NATO’s plans to restore central government authority to a city that, in as much as it is controlled by anyone, is in the hands of a murky nexus of local powerbrokers and gangsters. Read the rest of this entry »


Julius Cavendish: Taliban and the mafia: a terrifying combination

The Independent

The faded prettiness of its old town used to belie the fact that Kandahar was a city gripped by fear. Unlike Kabul, the rising tide of violence was less frequently used as an excuse to smother the colonnades and tree-lined boulevards in reinforced concrete. That has changed now. Suicide bombers targeted the jail and police headquarters in February, leaving 35 dead and over 50 wounded. A Canadian photographer in the city on the night of that attack said that people were “genuinely scared. These men hear explosions every third or fourth day and they were shaken. The fear was really palpable that all hell was breaking loose and nothing was going to stop it.”

As a result, roads are now shut and the drab march of blast barriers has begun. It is just one sign that things are getting worse. Foreigners cannot walk down the street or stop in the bazaar to gauge the local climate. Meetings invariably take place in private rooms deep inside fortified compounds. Yet for some reason, Kandaharis continue to risk talking to journalists in the knowledge that what they say might get them killed.

“Yes, I’m scared,” Haji Mohammad Zahir, a villager who moved to Kandahar to work in construction, told The Independent. “When I was coming in I was scared because the insurgents are watching. Maybe some of them looked at me, and will call tonight asking why I am meeting with foreigners.” Read the rest of this entry »


Mosque murder leaves Kandahar on the edge

The Independent

Deputy Mayor’s assassination is latest in series of bloody attacks in city by Taliban as Nato prepares offensive

Assassins killed the deputy mayor of Kandahar yesterday as violence in Afghanistan’s second city continued to spiral out of control before a planned Nato offensive.

Gunmen entered a mosque where Azizullah Yarmal was bowing his head in prayer and shot him at point-blank range, according to a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar.

It was the latest of a string of attacks in Kandahar City which has killed dozens of government employees. Hours earlier, a donkey laden with explosives was remotely detonated, killing three children from a prominent pro-government family. Read the rest of this entry »


In Afghanistan war, government corruption bigger threat than Taliban

Christian Science Monitor

Warlords and government corruption may destabilize the country even more than the Taliban, say Afghan and NATO officials. The city of Kandahar reflects this central problem of the Afghanistan war.

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

Over the past month in Kandahar CityTaliban death squads have killed dozens of people in drive-by shootings. Yet many living in this southern Afghan city say the insurgents are the least of their worries. Far more pernicious is the murky nexus of warlords and corrupt government officials whose rule some compare to mob bosses.

Indeed, the fear and corruption they perpetuate undermine efforts to build a stable government and help the Taliban win support among locals, say Afghan and NATO officials, private citizens, analysts, and local journalists. The trend echoes a pattern from the 1990s, when violence among competing warlords gave rise to the Taliban and their brutal ways of imposing law and order.

The concern was repeated in more than a dozen recent interviews: The biggest problem is not the Taliban; it is the gangster oligarchs looming over the city. Read the rest of this entry »


Kandahar attacks are a warning to NATO, says Afghanistan Taliban

Christian Science Monitor

An Afghanistan Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated Kandahar attacks Saturday, saying they were a warning to NATO, which will soon focus on securing Kandahar City and its approaches.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

The sudden explosive violence its inhabitants have learned to live with gripped Kandahar City in southern Afghanistan again Saturday as militants launched a series of coordinated attacks in an attempted jailbreak.

More than 35 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in five blasts as Afghanistan Taliban suicide bombers targeted the jail and police headquarters in the Kandahar attacks. Most of the casualties were civilians, including members of a wedding party celebrating near the police headquarters.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they were intended as a warning toNATO, which has promised to focus on securing Kandahar City and its approaches this summer.

Following on the heels of Operation Moshtarak, which saw coalition and Afghan forces seize control of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in neighboring Helmand Province, NATO commanders say the focus of their counterinsurgency campaign will switch to Kandahar City and its approaches. Kandahar is the political, spiritual, and religious capital of the south.

Blast barriers prevent jailbreak

Had the Taliban’s attack gone to plan it would likely have boosted the insurgents’ ranks by freeing captive fighters. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s younger brother and chairman of Kandahar’s provincial council, says that blast barriers prevented the attackers from breaching the prison.

These were introduced following a similar attack in 2008 that saw around 1,000 prisoners escape. More than 400 militants were among them.

Taliban to focus on Kandahar City now?

Mr. Karzai predicted that the arrival of thousands of US troops in Kandahar Province would herald a shift in tactics by the insurgents, who would seek to undermine the government by launching more wholesale attacks within the city limits. “They organize this kind of attack in the city to show they are still around,” he told the Monitor. “They will definitely be focusing more on Kandahar City, that’s for sure.”

It’s for this reason that the provincial governor is calling on Kabul to bolster the police and Army presence inside the city, and to liaise better with NATO forces stationed in the districts.

Security in Kandahar has steadily deteriorated over the past few years as a murky nexus of warlords, criminal syndicates, and insurgents has vied for control. The number of bombings and assassinations has spiked in the past two weeks.


Afghanistan war: US troops’ new push into ‘heart of darkness’

Christian Science Monitor

US soldiers in the Afghanistan war are battling to clear the ‘heart of darkness’ in Kandahar Province where Taliban chief Mullah Omar used to preach. It’s one of many operations gearing up in southern Afghanistan as more foreign troops arrive.

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

The soldiers came under Taliban surveillance as soon as they set out. Intercepted radio chatter among insurgents left no doubt that Charlie Company was walking into an ambush as it closed on a Taliban stronghold deep in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province.

The sudden clatter and whine of small-arms and machine-gun fire sent everyone scrambling for cover. Bullets spat up dust from the berms of a grape field. The shots hit far more accurately than those of local fighters – one of many signs that committed militants had returned early from their winter break in Pakistan.

“They were close. That was good stuff,” said Spc. Justin Jun, of Lake TahoeCalif. “I don’t think I’ll need to shave in a while.”

Since being deployed here six months ago, the United States Army company (1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment) has been pushing due west of the provincial capital, Kandahar, into what foreign forces call the “heart of darkness.” Zhari district – a patchwork of irrigation ditches, grape fields, and tightly packed mud compounds – is not only ideal guerrilla territory but also an area of enormous symbolic importance. Four miles west of Charlie Company’s patrol route lies the village mosque where one-eyed cleric-turned-Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar preached in the 1990s.

Like other infantry battalions fanned out from Kandahar, home to 800,000 people, these soldiers are carrying out Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategy of blocking Taliban fighters from civilianswhom they hide among and intimidate.

Similar operations are underway across southern Afghanistan as more US troops arrive, with the largest coalition operation of the nine-year war now gearing up in Marjah District in neighboring Helmand Province.

‘Heart of darkness’

In many places, as in Zhari, the battle is just beginning.

Until the deployment of 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment here, US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan lacked the troops to even challenge the insurgents in the “heart of darkness.”

A single Canadian rifle company had tried to cover the district, while a contingent of 2,500 troops had responsibility for the 20,000 square mile province Kandahar and its million-plus residents. Relative to their number, the Canadians took heavier casualties than any major troop contributor in Afghanistan, accounting to nine percent of the coalition’s 1,626 fatalities despite providing two percent of its current forces.

In Charlie Company’s operations area, villagers who can afford to have fled to more peaceful parts of the district, leaving behind the desperately poor and the militants. Commanders and foreign fighters who left at the start of winter have streamed back, including Kaka Abdul Khaliq, a former mujahideen fighter whom theUS military holds responsible for the deaths of several servicemen.

“Before he left for Pakistan last year they were conducting all kinds of attacks,” says Noel Engels, an American law enforcement official who works with coalition and Afghan units across the district. “It’s a big year for [the Taliban]. They need to hold Kandahar as much as possible.”

A sharp enemy

The Taliban are sophisticated fighters. Using children as spotters, they have developed an effective early warning system allowing them to plan ambushes and thwart coalition missions targeting their leaders. They exploit the US tendency to counterattack aggressively by drawing the foreign soldiers into traps by planting improvised explosive devices. They have an unsurpassed knowledge of the terrain. They use a command structure under which members of different units – whether IED-making cells or assassination squads – must seek permission before carrying out attacks, allowing greater coordination and instilling a sense of discipline.

Meanwhile the Taliban’s shadow government, led by “district governor” Jebar Agha, organizes gatherings, bans schools, and metes out the brutal but impartial justice that helped raise the original Taliban to power.

There is talk among US officers about the bringing in an entire brigade, but nothing is definite. For the soldiers already in Zhari their work is cut out.

Protracted fight

As the initial confusion of the Jan. 27 attack subsided, Charlie Company began returning fire. Kiowa attack helicopters launched salvoes of missiles, A-10 gunships came in on strafing runs, and F-16 fighter jets growled overhead. In the three-hour attack, only one Afghan man was wounded, shot in the back with a Taliban bullet.

Knowing that the coalition can eavesdrop on their conversations, the Taliban radio operators vowed that reinforcements were on their way. But the insurgents, masters of hit and run, were already slipping away, blending back into the population until the next patrol to come their way.


To fight deadliest Taliban threat in Afghanistan, US troops go low-tech

Christian Science Monitor

To thwart militants in Afghanistan from planting roadside bombs, or IEDs, US soldiers are pleading with locals to alert them to threats. Air surveillance can be too imprecise and approval for airstrikes too slow in coming.

COMBAT OUTPOST JFM, AFGHANISTAN

The metal detector was almost off the scale.

In front of a dusty track lay a five-foot-wide crater where an Afghan farmer had been killed by a roadside bomb. Scrap metal used for shrapnel was buried everywhere.

For the United States and coalition soldiers fighting theTaliban, every civilian the insurgents kill adds weight to the argument they repeat over and over: “The solution is to make the Taliban go away,” Lt. Mark Morrison, a US platoon leader from Albany, N.Y., deployed in southern Afghanistan, told villagers. “That way you won’t be in danger, and I won’t be in danger.” Read the rest of this entry »


Julius Cavendish: Struggle to destroy the bombers in the fields of Kandahar

The Independent

Villagers are threatened with beheading if they inform on the Taliban

The four men digging on the road exploded silently. The video feed from a US helicopter gunship showed a volley of rockets dispatching them with brutal efficiency. Under the cover of darkness they had been planting an improvised explosive device (IED) on a route used recently by American soldiers.

It was a rare success in the battle against the Taliban bomb-makers, responsible for so many coalition casualties in Afghanistan. They were, perhaps, the kind of men that may eventually, if the peace plan approved in London actually works, accept Western money to come off the battlefield and turn instead to working on a farm or be trained for a job.

For now, the emphasis of the Nato campaign remains firmly fixed on preventing civilian casualties. The problem is that insurgents laying IEDs are usually long gone before soldiers get confirmation of all the criteria needed to order an attack. Read the rest of this entry »