Monday, March 3, 2008

Karzai gov't controls 30% amid rising violence

Some articles concerning the state of the war:

Karzai controls a third of Afghanistan

By PAMELA HESS, Associated Press

The Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai controls just 30 percent of the country, the top U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the resurgent Taliban controls 10 percent to 11 percent of the country and Karzai's government controls 30 percent to 31 percent. But more than six years after the U.S. invasion to oust the Taliban and establish a stable central government, the majority of Afghanistan's population remains under local tribal control, he said.

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the Defense Intelligence Agency director, told the committee at the same hearing that the Pakistan government is trying to crack down on the lawless tribal area along the Afghan border area where Taliban and al-Qaida are believed to be training, and from which they launch attacks in Afghanistan. But neither the Pakistani military nor the tribal Frontier Corps is trained or equipped to fight, he said.

Maples said it would take three to five years to address those deficiencies and see a difference in their ability to fight effectively in the tribal areas. ... (link)
It's not noted in the article above, but the remaining 60% of Afghanistan is under the effective control of warlords, according to the General's testimony. Note also Gen. Maples' mention of the Frontier Corps. We have seen (here) that the US has plans to train that force.

Meanwhile, Australian and Dutch forces are seeing an intensification of the conflict in Uruzgan province. First the Australians:
Aussies turn big guns on Taliban

By Peter Veness
Herald-Sun (Australia)

February 27, 2008

AUSTRALIAN troops have been forced to use some of their heaviest firepower to fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan during a series of recent skirmishes, the Department of Defence says.

The soldiers have been using 81mm mortars, which can hit targets kilometres away but which have not been widely used by Australia since the Vietnam war.

No Australian soldiers were killed or injured in the fighting and it was not clear if any Taliban had been hit.

The Taliban have launched multiple simultaneous attacks during the past fortnight.

The raids have been aimed at a security post that soldiers from the Reconstruction Task Force (RTF) have been building about 15km from Tarin Kowt, in the Afghan province of Oruzgan. ... (link)
The Dutch experience in the same area is the focus of a recent Washington Post article:
NATO Confronts Surprisingly Fierce Taliban

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service

TARIN KOT, Afghanistan -- Lt. Col. Wilfred Rietdijk, a 6-foot-7 blond Dutchman, took command of his military's reconstruction team in the southern Afghan district of Deh Rawood in September. Tranquil and welcoming, it seemed like the perfect place for the Netherlands' mission to help rebuild this country. ...

But the day after Rietdijk arrived in Afghanistan, his field officers reported hundreds of villagers suddenly fleeing parts of Deh Rawood. "Within a few weeks, everybody was gone," Rietdijk said. "We didn't understand why."

Now the Dutch say they realize what happened. Even as the soldiers believed they had won the support of the local population, the Taliban had secretly returned to reclaim Deh Rawood, home district of the group's revered leader, Mohammad Omar. ...

Taliban fighters began arriving in the heart of Deh Rawood -- a triangle-shaped district about seven miles long and seven miles wide -- late last summer. They came one by one, or in groups of twos and threes. They rented mud houses, befriended neighbors with gifts of cellphones and motorcycles and appealed to villagers on the grounds that the Taliban was fighting for the cause of Islam.

By autumn, for reasons even some villagers didn't understand, the Taliban turned on them, driving them out of their houses and ripping up the new NATO-built bridges. The Dutch have since pushed Taliban fighters out of the district, but have decided not to push them beyond the surrounding territory. ...

[Dutch Lieutenant-Colonel] Hogeveen's troops and the Taliban skirmished almost daily.

... "The intelligence guys said, 'If you go in with large forces, they will leave,' " Hogeveen recalled in an interview.

He sent larger contingents of heavily armored troops into the heart of the Taliban stronghold in northern Deh Rawood, a jumble of mud houses connected by mazes of narrow lanes.

"Everyone thought the Taliban would not fight," Hogeveen said. "The intelligence was wrong." ...

Today, after 2 1/2 months of often intense combat, Dutch troops have reclaimed some of the villages of Deh Rawood and are helping villagers repair the damage caused by weeks of fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban. ...

Even so, the Dutch say, the Taliban forces have merely relocated to the fringes of the district, and thousands of villagers remain too frightened to return to their homes. ... (link)
What could be pushing all these men to join the Taliban? Poverty is one factor, according to the UN's humanitarian news agency, IRIN:
Poverty pushing youth into arms of Taliban?

LASHKARGAH, 27 February 2008 (IRIN) - Abdul Malik, aged 17, joined Taliban insurgents in the south after two Taliban supporters gave him a mobile phone. A short while later his dead body was brought to his family.

"He was killed in a military operation near Musa Qala District [Helmand Province]," Malik's older brother told IRIN in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province.

"In our district many young guys join Taliban ranks for pocket money, a mobile phone or other financial incentives," said Safiullah, a resident of Sangeen District in Helmand. ...

High levels of rural poverty or unemployment are probably helping to drive young people like Malik to join the Taliban.

Due to insecurity in the southern provinces there are no available unemployment figures. However, a report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission on the social and economic rights of Afghans estimated that in some parts of the country the unemployment rate was as high as 60 percent.

Another reason why there are so many rural poor is the fact that agriculture, which employs over 60 percent of the estimated 26.6 population, has received only US$300-400 million of the over US$15 billion of international development aid given to Afghanistan since 2002, Oxfam International reported in January. ...

To defeat Taliban insurgents the US military spends $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan ($35 billion for 2007), Oxfam International said.

However, aid agencies and some experts doubt an increase in military spending will end the growing violence in Afghanistan: "There are no military solutions to Afghanistan, so rather than spending so massively on keeping NATO troops in the country, more money should be used towards resolving this long-term and critical challenge," [NGO director Edward] Girardet said. ... (link)
The pivotal role played by poverty in supplying the Taliban with recruits is also remarked upon by Barnett Rubin, the leading scholar on Afghanistan:
... At several meetings I have heard former Minister of Finance of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani say that the most common definition of a "Talib" in southern Afghanistan is "an unemployed youth." Some Kandahari fruit traders I interviewed said that nearly all the fighting in Afghanistan was due to unemployment. Statistically, youth employment is one of the most robust correlates of civil violence.

Another thought -- this bad weather, drought, and so on leading to shortages not seen in decades.... Could it be related to climate change? I don't know. But I suspect that neither missile strikes, nor more NATO troops, nor a deeper study of Islamist political ideology will enable us to solve these problems. (See Informed Comment blog, here.)

No comments: