Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

Parents Mobilise Against Taliban Targeting of Schools in Afghanistan

12 April, 2008

Following a recent upsurge in Taliban attacks on education targets in Afghanistan, which echoes a similar campaign waged by the Taliban two years ago, The Independent reports that officials are ‘trying to harness parent power in an attempt to stop the Taliban burning schools and murdering teachers’.

Under the protection programme, sometimes called School Councils or School Shuras, villagers agree to provide a small quota of night watchmen to take turns on guard. “Parent power is exactly what it is,” an education official said. “We bring parents, teachers and some key people in the community together to agree to protect the schools.”

In Logar province last month, a primary school was saved by a gang of furious fathers who chased would-be arsonists into the night. The head of the local PTA, Basir, said armed men approached a co-ed primary school for more than 600 students after midnight. “They had guns and petrol to burn the school. But the guards saw them and started shouting,” he said. “Everyone came out of their houses and when the terrorists realised, they ran away.”

According to The Independent report, at least 235 teachers, students and education workers were killed and 222 wounded in the period from February 2006 to February 2008, while in the last three weeks, ‘at least 10 schools have been torched and a guard had his ears cut off’.

The provinces in which the attacks have occurred since the new term started on 23 March are listed as Kunduz (3), Kandahar (2), Helmand (1), Paktia (1), Khost (1), Wardak (1), Logar (1), and Farah (1).

Attacks on Education Targets in Past 3 Weeks [IRG]

Attacks on Education Targets in Past 3 Weeks [IRG]

In January, the PakTribune reported a speech by President Karzai in which he claimed such attacks were keeping 300,000 children out of school – up from 200,000 the previous year. Nevertheless, more than 5.8 million children, including 2 million girls, now regularly attend classes.

With the government incapable of providing individual protection to the thousands of schools across the country, the School Shura initiative – which already provides protection for 9,600 schools – provides a practical solution. Furthermore, exploiting the desire by ordinary Afghans to enable their children to get an education seems an effective way of generating a cleavage between the insurgents and local populations, with the School Shuras possibly providing the foundation for the future implementation of more broadly scoped village defence committees.


Attacks in Afghanistan Up On 2007

10 April, 2008

Experienced Afghanistan commentator Barnett Rubin has a couple of charts posted on his Informed Comment blog comparing attacks by Taliban and Anti-Government Elements in the first 13 weeks of 2008 with attacks in 2007. One of the charts, showing a clear escalation in the operational tempo compared to last year, is reproduced below:

Insurgent Attacks in Afghanistan 08 vs. 07 [cf. Informed Comment]

A Plague on Both Their Houses

4 April, 2008

The Economist has an interesting take on the battle for hearts and minds in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Their correspondent argues that all sides in the conflict – the British, the Afghan government, and the Taliban – are losing popularity with local Helmandis, who increasingly see little to choose between them.

While many in the region had been optimistic following the arrival of the British, the failure to provide security, or even a stable form of insecurity, has drained their support:

Helmandis have endured instability for three decades. But the arrival of British forces and a surge in fighting two years ago have made things worse. Locals were used to negotiating a passage from a known commander, whether government or Taliban. Now they face a bewildering array of local bandits, corrupt police, tribal militias, Taliban and NATO forces. All can prove deadly. It is a grinding, bloody stalemate, with inevitable “collateral damage”.


The British government has sought to win local “hearts and minds” with reconstruction aid for roads, wells and the like. But most Helmandis impugn British motives. Xenophobic at the best of times, they spread their accusations widely: the British are intent on avenging 19th-century defeats in Afghanistan; are scheming with Pakistan; they are planning to steal drug profits. Attempts to co-opt elements of the Taliban, which led the Afghan government to expel two Western diplomats last December, reinforced suspicions.

However, based upon his interviews with locals, the correspondent concludes that the Taliban are faring little better:

It is some consolation that the Taliban are also ever more unpopular. And Western intelligence officials claim the militants’ co-ordination is breaking down under the relentless killing of Taliban leaders (200 have been killed and 100 arrested in the past year) by Western special forces. Taliban commanders in Helmand bear out this claim. Chains of command have become disjointed, they admit, with larger numbers of junior commanders filling the space left by senior figures such as Mullah Dadullah, their overall commander in Helmand, who was killed by British special forces last May. Internal discipline is harder to enforce. New recruits tend to be younger, more radical and from outside.

Two out of five Taliban fighters in Helmand are now outsiders, according to one Taliban leader. This causes friction with local people. One older Taliban commander admitted that some of his colleagues have been treating people “too harshly”. Local people have become more vocal in demanding that reconstruction be allowed and schools reopened. Militants differ over how to respond.

Read the full article here.

Strategic Chaos & Taliban Resurgence

3 April, 2008

For a far more critical assessment of the situation in Afghanistan than that provided by the MoD news site, the testimony of Mark L. Schneider – Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group – before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia is highly recommended.

Schneider begins by providing quantitative and qualitative arguments illustrating the Taliban’s resurgence. Among other indicators, he cites the fact that while suicide bombings were up 27% in 2007 over 2006, they were up a massive 400% when compared with 2005. He also points to the increasing emergence of an opium-based shadow economy, whose taxation is empowering a range of sub-state actors, not just the Taliban.

His analysis of how this situation was allowed to develop is worth quoting at length. The criticism of the excessively fragmented implementation of the counterinsurgency campaign is particularly damning, considering that ever since Templar in Malaya, the need for a unified civil-military command structure has been a truism of COIN practice. His criticisms of the role being played by PRTs are also worth considering.

The current state of affairs was not inevitable. It resulted from policy choices early on in the international community; light military and political footprints with the co-opting of local and all too frequently corrupt militia leaders rather than international boots on the ground. There was a failure to get UNSC-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) out into the provinces. In 2002, Crisis Group was arguing for a peacekeeping force of 25,000 to 30,000. Instead, there were 4,500 ISAF troops confined to Kabul. There was no reassessment of strategic alliances in Pakistan to ensure the Taliban sanctuaries across the border were closed down.

Today the lack of strategic coherence within the international community effort is reflected in separate civilian special representatives of the United Nations, of the European Union and of NATO, with no clear authority one over the other; and in a reluctance on the part of the United States and other major country contributors to be coordinated by any one of them.

On the military side there remains the US led Coalition Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) undertaking training of local security forces as well as its own operations, with separate commands, reporting to EUCOM and to NATO, reporting to CENTCOM and at least one reporting to the Special Operations command in Tampa.

The NATO-led ISAF has 40 contributing nations acting under a UNSC mandate and NATO command with five regional commands and 26 national-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) underneath it. Many of the nations involved have national caveats that restrict where the ISAF commander can send his troops and what they can be required to do. This means that the burden of risk and casualties is unevenly borne by the U.S., UK, Canada, the Netherlands and others whose forces are permitted to go to the areas of heavy fighting.

The PRT’s were established with the reasonable purpose of the military being able to provide some direct community benefits where insecurity prevented other, more appropriate, civilian actors from doing so. But there are serious questions about the use of PRT’s as instruments to achieve the wider goal of national development. While one could argue that differing local conditions may require flexibility in defining activities in a province, except for the 12-U.S. run PRT’s, there is little commonality among them and they operate without any transparent or common doctrine or even reporting lines for non-military actions.

The PRT’s may provide some capacity to undertake efforts in insecure provinces; however, many of the areas where the PRT’s operate are no longer high risk security. Reconstruction and development are not the role, responsibility, or comparative advantage of the military. In more stable areas, Afghanistan civilian agencies with their international civilian counterparts should be in the lead. Yet, there are no agreed-upon benchmarks for determining when that transition can take place and when it should take place. Today, the PRT’s often seem a supply-driven phenomenon, a way for nations to fly their flag in Afghanistan, but with little evaluation as to comparative impact or effectiveness.

Such an approach, particularly without strong civilian leadership, has meant a lack of a comprehensive international cooperation strategy. Instead, each country involved often appears to see Afghanistan largely through the lens of where they are based—the UK sees Helmand as Afghanistan; the Dutch, Uruzgan; and Germany, northern Afghanistan.

Schneider’s testimony is not consistently bleak, and he cites several causes for optimism, before stressing the vital importance of staying the course in Afghanistan. However, as he comments at one point, ‘While effective military action may deny victory to the insurgency—only effective governance will defeat it.’

Read the full testimony here.

Rebuilding Musa Qaleh

3 April, 2008

The MoD web site has a feature article examining efforts being made by the UK Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to implement the “British Comprehensive Approach” through the rebuilding and regeneration of Musa Qaleh, three months after British forces helped the Afghan National Army retake the town from the Taliban.


British soldiers from 5 SCOTS and the Household Cavalry conduct a ‘reassurance patrol’ while locals rebuild the main road.

It’s an entirely uncritical assessment, but nevertheless provides an insight into life in Musa Qaleh, and into British efforts in the region. The following is an extract:

Supporting Governor Salam, and key to the success of the British Comprehensive Approach, is the location of the PRT’s Stabilisation Advisor, Richard Jones, in the District Centre in Musa Qaleh. This is the first time that a member of the PRT has been deployed permanently to such a forward location. By being located in the town, Richard is able to assist and advise the Governor and his team on development and local governance initiatives:

“The Comprehensive Approach is really all about ensuring that all the elements of government necessary to rebuild and stabilise an area like Musa Qaleh fall into place,” he explained. “It is really a reflection of the complexity of conflict nowadays that you have to have the involvement of not just the military but also the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.”

When asked about the achievements made in Musa Qaleh since December, Richard pointed to the opening of the town’s school as just one example of a success story:

“The school reopened here in the middle of February and has certainly been one of the most successful stories in terms of reconstruction and development.”

In contrast to the Taliban’s failed efforts to open madrassas in the town, the school project has received the unreserved support of the population and enjoys an attendance of some 850 children between the ages of six to sixteen learning everything from maths to English. Such is the thirst for knowledge that the children and teachers attend the school against the very real threat of intimidation from Taliban elements in outlying areas.


Many of the reconstruction projects in Musa Qaleh have created employment for the local population through the PRT supported ‘cash-for-work’ programme employing up to 150 people on a daily basis:

“One of the most successful projects that we have run is the ‘cash-for-work’ programme and this has taken some 350 members of the local community and employed them doing the sort of jobs that you would expect a local municipal or civil works department to undertake such as canal clearance, drainage clearance, rubbish collection and street sweeping,” Capt Adams added.

Read the full article here.

h/t: Peace Like a River

UAE Forces in Afghanistan

31 March, 2008

The BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, has a feature on the little-known role being played by troops from the United Arab Emirates in Afghanistan.

Troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been delivering humanitarian aid to their fellow Muslims and, on occasion, fighting their way out of Taleban ambushes. Though Jordanian forces have been carrying out some base security duties, the UAE’s troops are the only Arab soldiers undertaking full-scale operations in the country. Until now, their deployment has been kept so secret that not even their own countrymen knew they were here.


I asked Maj Ghanem whether he was worried about how some people in the Arab world might react to this.

“We have an answer for that. Even if you are asking back in the UAE or in the Gulf, or you asking here, we have the same answer,” he said. “We make a contract with the US Army to help the people down here, not to fight”.

But I put it to him that in fact his troops have been fighting insurgents as well as handing out aid.

“If we have any types of personal attacks we react with fire. And after that we go to the elders in this area: ‘Why are you shooting us? We came here to help you.

“‘If you have the same picture of all coalition forces, we are different. We came here to help you.’

“And we try to convince the people about the US, about British. They came here to give you peace.”

The portrait painted is a positive one, with the only negative point made being that what the Emiratis are achieving is unlikely to make a significant difference unless it is more widely emulated by other forces in-country:

These are hearts-and-minds operations at their most effective – drinking tea with Afghans, discussing what help can be provided. The Emirati approach is to meet their fellow Muslims’ religious needs first, then build schools and clinics later. But for this to have a wider, lasting, and national effect, the blueprint would need to be repeated and expanded by others, many times over and throughout Afghanistan. And that is not likely to happen in the near future.

There is no doubt that the reported role being played by the Emiratis is beneficial, but the implication that it should provide a template for NATO forces is overly simplistic. Furthermore, as Joshua Foust points out on

Of course, the very salient fact that UAE was one of the only countries to have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, and to have funded many of their brutal campaigns throughout the 90s, is left unsaid.

Read the BBC piece here.

Interview with Defence Secretary Des Browne

29 March, 2008

Today’s Daily Telegraph has an interview with UK Defence Secretary Des Browne. The interview covers a range of topics, and some of what he has to say is likely to prove controversial.

Browne’s assessment of the situation in Iraq is upbeat, despite (and even because of) this week’s developments in Basra:

The Defence Secretary is remarkably calm under fire. Last week, he visited Basra and returned “as optimistic as I have ever been about the future of Iraq”.

That optimism has not been blown apart by the violence this week. “The Iraqis have decided that they’re ready to take on the militia. Their very presence in the city engendered a response. That was to be expected.”

The British did not, in his view, cut and run. “We left at exactly the right time. The majority of the violence when we were in Basra was directed at us.”

There is no plan for British troops to return to the city, although he does not altogether rule out re-engagement.

To my surprise he says the British withdrawal of troops could be “accelerated” rather than delayed by recent events.

“This operation is taking place on a timescale that’s quicker than we would have thought as a consequence of the growing confidence of the Iraqis. We hope by spring to be able to get to about 2,500 [British troops]. I’m not thinking that everybody could be home by Christmas but when the time is right we can reduce our forces.”

Such optimism isn’t entirely misplaced. As Max Boot has argued, “If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered.” This echoes an argument put forward in the Financial Times, in which Steve Negus states that, while enormously risky, “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia and addressing fears that a withdrawal of US troops would leave Iraq’s fragile state at the mercy of armed factions.”

However, Browne’s repetition of the standard government line that the initial withdrawal from Basra was justified by the fact that the majority of the violence in the city had been directed against British troops is less convincing. The argument fails to acknowledge that the current clashes are in part a consequence of the British failure to displace the militias from the city, which made the kind of reckoning we are seeing now inevitable eventually.

Browne goes on to argue that we should be talking to militants such as the Taliban and Hizballah. This is likely to be questioned by some, coming as it does after the controversy that erupted following comments made by Jonathan Powell – a former aide to Tony Blair – who suggested it was a mistake not to be talking to groups such as Al-Qaeda. It is worth noting, however, that unlike Powell, Browne draws the line at engaging with Al-Qaeda:

In his view, the West must be seeking diplomatic as well as military solutions. Controversially, he argues that Britain should be willing to talk to extremists groups.

“What you need to do in conflict resolution is to bring the people who believe that the answer to their political ambitions will be achieved through violence into a frame of mind that they accept that their political ambitions will be delivered by politics.”

A former Northern Ireland minister, Mr Browne says there will always be some people who are “irreconcilable” to a peaceful path – he draws the line at al-Qa’eda because “their demand is an end to our way of life”.

But, he argues that the West should be willing to talk to people with a history of violence – including elements of the Taliban and Hizbollah.

“In Northern Ireland I talked to people with a past. There are different varieties of these organisations. There’s no question that some of them if we succeed will transfer into the political dimension.”

Read the interview here.

Interviewing the Taliban

28 March, 2008

Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail has conducted a fascinating research project designed to gain an insight into the attitudes and motivations of ordinary Taliban footsoldiers.

A local Afghan was given basic journalism training and sent into five districts in the province of Kandahar to pose a standard set of questions to a total of 48 Taliban fighters. The results were combined into an online documentary comprising six short segments, each focusing on the results from a particular sub-set of the questions. In addition, the raw video of all 48 interviews has also been made available.

While in no way a scientifically-sound survey, the project nevertheless provides a rare and intriguing glimpse into the minds of the insurgents.

Check it out here.

Al-Qaeda Bloggers vs. the Taliban

13 March, 2008

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty has an interesting piece about an ongoing online spat in the blogosphere between Egyptian-based Al-Qaeda sympathisers and the Afghan Taliban. Apparently the Egyptians are accusing the Taliban of “straying from the path of global jihad” – accusations which have prompted sharp retorts from Taliban spokesmen.

The criticism expressed on pro-AQ blogs follows Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s recent declaration that, while committed to expelling foreign forces from Afghanistan, his movement wishes to maintain positive relations with the international community:

We want to have legitimate relations with all countries of the world… We are not a threat to anyone. America believes that the Taliban is a threat to the whole world. And with this propaganda, America wants to use all other countries to advance their own interests.

Such sentiments were more recently echoed by the Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Salam Zaief, whose views are said to be in line with those of the Taliban leadership. Zaief stated:

The conflict in Afghanistan doesn’t mean [the Taliban] has to confront the world… Afghans are very tired of war. They want their homeland. They want peace in their country. They want independence. Whether they are Taliban or other Afghans, I don’t think either wants to confront the entire international community. The Taliban doesn’t want to rule the world.

In addition to these apparently conciliatory statements, which seemed designed to distance the Taliban from their more hardline AQ allies, pro-AQ bloggers were further angered in early March when the Taliban expressed solidarity with Shia Iran by condemning recent UN Security Council sanctions imposed on the country in response to its nuclear activities.

Such criticisms were dismissed by Zaief however, who argued that the “irresponsible comments” of foreign extremists indicated they were more motivated by their own self-interest than what was good for Afghans.

Read the full article here.

Countering Asymmetric Taliban Strategies

6 March, 2008

One Day Workshop at RUSI
26 March 2008

This one day conference at RUSI, which is open to all, should be of interest:

This conference explores the various asymmetric strategies deployed by the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan. It will bring together military officers, Afghan experts, and international civilian analysts to review the information we possess about Taliban strategies and explore possible improvements which the Alliance could implement in Afghanistan.

The conference will discuss the use of asymmetrical media strategies, and evaluate the progress already achieved in developing indigenous Afghan media networks, thereby building and maintaining Afghan support for the ISAF mission.


Further details are available here.