Tuesday, May 27, 2008

US Marines win 5 square kilometers (update)

The modern history of southern Helmand and its relations with the U.S. is a curious one. Much of its population are recent settlers who came in the wake of U.S. - built irrigation systems which enabled settlement in what was desert. It seems that much of this newly-created farmland is government owned. Thus its tenants have changed through the decades of turmoil as de facto rulers have resettled the lands to be more to their tribal and political liking.

Writing in the New York Times, after repeating a whole lot of U.S. military propaganda ("hundreds" rather than thousands of families displaced; Arab Taliban; Iranian Taliban, etc.), veteran Associated Press reporter Carlotta Gall sums up the US Marines' accomplishment:

After a month in the region, the marines have secured only half of a 10 square kilometer area south of Garmser, and Taliban operating out of two villages are still attacking their southern flank and even creeping up to fire at British positions on the edge of the town... (link)
And Pajhwok carries accusations from two Afghan politicians:
'Civilians the worst sufferers of Helmand operation'
Makia Monri

KABUL, May 26 (PAN) - ... Two senators from Helmand told reporters in Kabul on Monday that many civilians were killed, wounded and displaced [in Garmsir].

Haji Mahboob Garmsiri, a senator from the district, and Haji Sher Muhammad Akhunzada, head of the parliamentary committee for internal safety in the senate also from Helmand, said that the civilians were the worst sufferers in the operation...

[Garmsiri] said only the United Nations Development Program has distributed some aid to the IDPs, but that was very insufficient.

He also blamed foreign troops of breaking into civilians homes and detaining innocent people. He said there were already dozens of people detained. Some of them [were] taken to the Kandahar air field and some were freed later. He also claimed that more civilians were killed and wounded in the bombardments and raids that worried the local population. He blamed the Afghan forces of looting public property...

Earlier, head of the Helmand provincial council, Haji Muhammad Anwar, said more than 10,000 families have been displaced from the area. [N.B. The author may be confusing Anwar's earlier estimate of 10 - 15,000 people in total displaced.]

Sher Muhammad Akhunzada told the press conference that harsh treatment of foreign and Afghan forces with local people was causing further alienation of the population and have already resulted in more areas to fall in hands of the Taliban.

If the situation does not improve, people will increasingly turn to the Taliban and against the government, said Akhunzada... (link)
Haji Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, quoted above, has an interesting background. His uncle rose to prominence in Musa Qala district in the late 70's when Afghan communists drove many land-owners (i.e. traditional leaders) out. Soon, Nasim Akhundzada was a military commander of Helmand's most popular mujahiddin group. By 1987 Nasim Akhundzada became involved in a civil war of sorts as his Hezbi Enqalab fought a rival commander of Hezbi Islami so that when Russian occupation troops arrived in northern Helmand the population welcomed the security they brought.

Sher Muhammad Akhundzada became the first post-Taliban governor of Helmand on account of the connections the family had made with the Karzai family from neighboring Kandahar province during their exile in Pakistan. This despite the fact that the Akhundzadas are known drug lords.

The senator has weighed in on the issue of U.S. attacks before. Last year, he denounced an American air attack which killed civilians in Gereshk district of Helmand: "We want to tell the world we can no longer tolerate the situation obtaining in Helmand, where civilians are bombed day in and day out."

Speaking from Kabul, NPR's Ivan Watson reports: "From the indications I got there from NATO officials here, in Kabul, militants tried to stage frontal attacks against the marines, several weeks after they arrived in Helmand province." (See: Lexis-Nexus)

Update: Carlotta Gall reports that the U.S. Marines' original plan was in fact for a 3-day operation to secure the highway through Garmser.

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