Saturday, November 10, 2007

Recent unrest - a Taliban pre-winter offensive?

Following the Taliban's surprise attack (see here) some 2 weeks ago in Arghandab district, 16km north of Kandahar City, the insurgents quickly withdrew. This despite the reported fact that NATO/US/Afghan forces had some 200 fighters surrounded.

Coincidentally, a very similar thing happened during Operation Medusa, when troops of the Canadian-led battle claimed to have several hundred fighters surrounded, only to see them escape without being caught.

However, the recent Taliban attack in Arghandab may have a hidden and surprising motivation. The Globe and Mail reports on suspicions that insurgents may have robbed the armories of recently deceased warlord Mullah Naqib. Naqib had been hailed as a powerful, pro-government influence and his recent death is said to endanger the uneasy allegiance of local notables to the Karzai government. Like most strongmen, he was rumoured to have only partially decommissioned his arms under a government program.

The stolen arms, if they exist, may well have been put to use in the recent spate of Taliban attacks throughout Afghanistan. A review:

First, Taliban rebels captured the Farah district of Gulistan [on October 29], then on[Oct 31] took nearby Bakwa. On [Nov 4], the insurgents seized Khak-e Sefid without a fight. [Khak-e Sefid is also in Farah province] (link)
One report relays the revelations of an unnamed Western security analyst who says that "up to 38 police officers defected to the Taliban" during the unrest in the area. Additionally, "Local residents have complained that NATO-led troops, under Italian command in western Afghanistan, have not helped Afghan forces to retake the districts." (link) This wouldn't be the first time that Italian troops have stayed out of combat in Herat. This past summer, when NATO and US airstrikes reportedly killed 108 civilians, Italian forces were quick to add that they were uninvolved.

It is of note that when the insurgents attacked Khak-e Sefid district, the fighters reportedly did so aboard some 40 vehicles. (Undoubtedly many Toyota pick-ups were present.) This represents a rather sizable force, and one in operation while their fellows were holding down the other two Farah districts. (In more recent days, Afghan military officials have claimed they have retaken these Farah districts, though there has been no definite confirmation regarding all three districts yet, as far as I can tell.)

Soon after in Kunar province on November 2, several police officers were killed in two separate insurgent attacks (link).

The same day in southern Uruzgan province, one Afghan and one foreign soldier were killed in an attack by insurgents (link). Afghan officials later claimed that Afghan forces killed 25 Taliban in a fresh attack. While such claims must be taken with a grain of salt, it raises the possibility that Taliban were again attacking in larger numbers.

On November 6, Taliban forces captured a district of Daykundi province, attacking from three directions (link).

Meanwhile, on November 6 unknown attackers ambushed a convoy of supplies destined for Coalition forces in Wardak province.

Also on November 6, a suicide bomb in Baghlan province killed at least 75 people including 59 schoolchildren. A Taliban spokesperson denied their involvement.

Most recently, a "complex ambush" mounted by insurgents killed 6 American and 3 Afghan soldiers while injuring almost a dozen others. The attack occurred in the eastern province of Nuristan on Satuday, November 10.

Also, an attack on foreign forces in Kapisa province killed one soldier, while attacks and bombings in Helmand and Zabul have killed both Afghan police and several civilians. (See this link for latest security incidents.)

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