Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coalition kills 16 civilians, say locals

While many western news sources reported the US-led coalition's claims of killing 12 insurgents in Wardak province, none of them relayed accusations by locals that many civilians were killed. Only in the Afghan press do such testimonies see the light of day:

16 civilians killed in Maidan Wardak operation
Habib Rahman Ibrahimi and Sher Ahmad Haidar

GHAZNI CITY, Oct 28 (PAN) - The US-led coalition forces say they have killed a dozen Taliban fighters in an operation in the central Maidan Wardak province, but local residents say 16 civilians were killed in a joint operation by US and Afghan forces.

A statement from the coalition forces said on Tuesday they killed 12 militants Monday and detained one while securing the site where a Coalition helicopter was forced to land in Wardak province after taking enemy fire...

However, eyewitnesses in Saiadabad districts Haftasiab area, where the operation took place, said 16 villagers were killed in bombing by foreign troops accompanied with ground operation by Afghan forces.

Muhammad Ibrahim, a resident of Dandoki village, said seven children were killed only in his village in bombing by foreign forces.

The children were in front of a mosque when foreign planes dropped bombs on them.

After this, government troops took out villagers from their homes in Haftasiab area, tied their hands to their backs and shot them dead, said Ibrahim.

Muhammad Tahir, another resident of the area, said he counted 16 bodies killed in the military ground and air operation by Afghan and foreign forces on Monday.

He added that a security contractor company guards were also with the Afghan forces that killed the civilians. (link)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Locals pelt soldiers with rocks

The Canadian Press reveals popular anger at our troops in Afghanistan:

Assessing Afghan security no easy task for troops

KANDAHAR, Oct 21 (CP) - Dozens of smiling children skipped along behind the heavily armed Canadian soldiers as they walked slowly through Kandahar’s dusty streets and muddy lanes, some trying out their hesitant English, some limited to a shy “hello” and a wave.

One of the soldiers, sweating in in full battle dress, glanced around with a wry smile.

It isn’t always this friendly. When we drive LAVs (Light Armoured Vehicles) down this road, we get pelted with rocks. Just pelted.” ...

“It’s difficult, there’s no doubt,” sighs Capt. Jean Breton of the Toronto Scottish Regiment, who’s learned to balance what he’s told with what he sees around him.

The patrol’s strategy is simple: walk down the road, taking care to maintain good battle order, and talk to anyone who’s willing...

Breton also tries to assess the people’s awareness of their local government. He asks everyone he meets if they’ve even heard of the city official who’s supposed to be the district manager. Out of 15 people, only one had heard of Abdul Qadar... (link)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kambakhsh case developments

Journalism student Pervez Kambakhsh, imprisoned for the past year, catches a break for once:

Afghan Journalist's Death Sentence Commuted

KABUL/PRAGUE, Oct 21 (RFE/RL) - An appellate court in Afghanistan has commuted the death sentence of student and part-time journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh but ordered him to spend 20 years in jail for distributing an Internet article that questioned Islam's treatment of women.

Kambakhsh's lawyer immediately challenged the court's logic in handing down any prison time for the 23-year-old from northern Afghanistan.

"I am not convinced by the court session because witnesses didn't say a word relating to the distribution of that anti-Islamic article of which he is accused -- they [witnesses] were simply discussing some classroom arguments with no logical connection to this case," lawyer Afzal Noristani told reporters after the verdict, according to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

"Moreover, an individual that was presented as an eyewitness to the primary court -- who has been forced to testify -- has admitted to providing false information," Noristani said. "I would perceive today's verdict as an attempt at conspiracy, since no credible evidence has been provided to the court."

Kambakhsh and relatives have said they suspected his prosecution was the result of a private vendetta by an influential local warlord... (link)
Britain's Independent, which headed a campaign calling for Mr. Kambakhsh's release, adds interesting details:
The appeal court decision was seen as a major legal victory for Mr Kambaksh. According to the defence team, as well as a number of other legal experts, the court had the power to uphold or set aside the death sentence, but it had no right to "arbitrarily" impose a jail term...

During yesterday's hearing, one of the prosecution's main witnesses, a fellow student, Hamid Ali, appeared to withdraw his testimony against Mr Kambaksh, who was also prevented by the judge from addressing the court over his protestations that an alleged "confession" had been beaten out of him.

After the hearing, Mr Kambaksh said: "I was, of course, hoping to be freed, but the fact that they have said I no longer face the death sentence is a big relief..."

Amnesty International appealed for Mr Kambaksh to be freed. "There are no legal grounds for either his conviction or this sentence," said Sam Zarifi, its Asia Pacific director. "While it can only be a positive step that he is no longer on death row, he should be freed immediately." (link)
  • (April 2008) Kambakhsh's appeal gives new hope.

Dead civilians are predictable outcome

An Op-Ed by Guardian editor Seumas Milne:

Civilian dead are a trade-off in Nato's war of barbarity
The killing of innocent Afghans by US bombs is the result of a calculation, not just a mistake. And it is fuelling resistance

Seumas Milne
The Guardian, October 16 2008

... By far the most comprehensive research into Afghan casualties over the past seven years has been carried out by Marc Herold, a US professor at the University of New Hampshire. In his latest findings, Herold estimates that the number of civilians directly killed by the US and other Nato forces since 2006, up to 3,273, is already higher than the toll exacted by the devastating three-month bombardment that ousted the Taliban regime in 2001. And over the past year civilian deaths at the hands of Nato forces have tripled, despite changes in rules of engagement...

It is that equation that makes a nonsense of US and British claims that their civilian victims are accidental "collateral damage", while the Taliban's use of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and classic guerrilla operations from civilian areas are a sign of their moral depravity. In real life, the escalating civilian death toll is not a mistake, but the result of a clear decision to put the lives of occupation troops before civilians; westerners before Afghans.

Dependence on air power is also a reflection of US imperial overstretch and the reluctance of Nato states to put more boots on the ground. But however much the nominal Afghan president Hamid Karzai rails against Nato's recklessness with Afghan blood, the indiscriminate air war carries on regardless. Given that the US government spent 10 times more on every sea otter affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill than it does in "condolence payments" to Afghans for the killing of a family member, perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise. (link)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rapes continue as military drags feet

From the Toronto Star:

Critics slam Afghan rape probe
Investigation drags even as more soldiers accuse Afghan allies of abusing young boys

Oct 19 - The Canadian military's National Investigation Service is telling some witnesses it could take up to two years to investigate claims by Canadian soldiers that they've seen Afghan soldiers and interpreters raping young boys near Canadian bases outside Kandahar...

Canadian investigators, who were initially slow to move on the claims, saying they lacked formal complaints, began reviewing the allegations in July at the request of military police...

Soldiers who allege they have witnessed assaults are continuing to return home from Afghanistan seeking trauma counselling.

The latest soldiers to request counselling are from a group of about 30 based in Newfoundland, said a senior military source who asked not to be identified. A medical officer is scheduled to go to Newfoundland to help the soldiers later this month.

In June, the Star reported that several Canadian soldiers had complained about the abuse of Afghan children to military officers in Afghanistan and chaplains and medical staff in Canada.

The first soldiers to complain said their allegations were ignored.

John Pike, an analyst with, a Washington-based military think tank, said a two-year timetable is "preposterous." ...

The NIS has interviewed soldiers such as Cpl. Travis Schouten, a Sarnia native who in 2006 was based at Forward Operating Base Wilson in Afghanistan.

Schouten said he heard an Afghan soldier raping a young boy at one of the outposts near Kandahar and later saw that the boy's lower intestines had fallen out of his body, a sign of trauma from the assault. Schouten has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome and the military intends to have him discharged.

A Canadian military chaplain has said she has heard similar accounts from other soldiers.

And Lt. Col. Stéphane Grenier said he counselled a British soldier who said he watched a young boy being raped by an Afghan soldier while his senior officer concluded a meeting nearby with Afghan army officers.

The Afghan rape allegations are the subject of two investigations.

Besides the NIS, a military board of inquiry is also examining the rape claims. (link)

Afghans seek a solution without guns

From Anand Gopal:

Afghanistan's emerging antiwar movement

KABUL, Oct 20 - In a musty room near the edge of town, a group of bearded men sit on the floor and heatedly discuss strategy. The men are in the planning stages of an event that they hope will impact Afghan politics – a peace jirga, or assembly, that will agitate for the end of the war between the Taliban and Afghan government by asking the two sides to come to a settlement.

"People are growing tired of the fighting," says Bakhtar Aminzai of the National Peace Jirga of Afghanistan, an association of students, professors, lawyers, clerics, and others. "We need to pressure the Afghan government and the international community to find a solution without using guns."

Mr. Aminzai is not alone in his sentiments. As violence and insecurity grow in this war-ravaged nation, a broad network of peace activists have been quietly pushing for negotiations and reconciliation with the Taliban.

This push coincides with recent preliminary talks in Saudi Arabia...

[B]ut many peace activists are critical of the Saudi talks. "We want reconciliation with the Taliban through a loya jirga," or grand assembly of Afghans, says Fatana Gilani, head of the Afghanistan Women's Council (AWC), a leading nongovernmental organization (NGO) here. "We don't want interference from foreign countries or negotiations behind closed doors," she says.

Like the AWC, many local NGOs have incorporated antiwar activities into their routine and are joining with other civil society groups to promote the idea of dialogue. The AWC convened a "peace assembly" this past Spring and invited members of the Afghan government and the Taliban to attend. It has also run seminars and conferences in Kandahar, the Taliban's heartland, promoting negotiation.

The National Peace Jirga also organized a series of peace assemblies in recent months, drawing thousands of people. The meetings often feature fiery speakers who condemn international forces for killing civilians – but who also criticize the Taliban.

"Afghanicide – the killing of Afghanistan – must be stopped," says Israir Ahmed Karimizai, a leader of Awakened Youth of Afghanistan, a prominent antiwar group. After seeing the violence grow sharply last year, Mr. Karimizai and a group of friends formed Awakened Youth with the aim of creating a movement that is independent of both the government and the Taliban. In late September the group headed an initiative to observe International Peace Day with speeches, rallies, and a pledge from both the international forces and the Taliban to lay down their arms for one day...

For Ms. Gilani and other peace activists, this doesn't mean however that they let the West off lightly, however. "We are against Western policy in Afghanistan," she says. "They should bury their guns in a grave and focus on diplomacy and economic development." (link)
  • (September 2007) More on negotiations.
  • (April 2008) More here.

Yes, but they're OUR warlords

Chris Sands, one of the better journalists working in Afghanistan, is the foreign correspondent for The National (United Arab Emirates). He writes from northern Afghanistan:

North slipping into different kind of hell
October 20, 2008

JOWZJAN, Afghanistan ...

While the Taliban insurgency across southern, eastern and parts of western Afghanistan grabs the world’s attention, the north of the country is slipping into a different kind of hell.

Here militia commanders with links to the government and its international allies are reasserting their control over a terrified population. Abductions, rapes, beheadings and assassinations are just some of their weapons of choice...

The picture [locals] paint of life in Sar-e-Pul province could hardly be worse. There is “lots of killing”, they said, and those involved are either in the government or connected to it.

According to them and countless others across the north, all the 2001 invasion did was effectively legitimise the power of warlords – giving them official positions and occasionally new uniforms.

“During the Taliban there was nothing like this,” Amruddin said. “We would leave our doors open and no one was raped.

“The British, the Americans, the Russians, they also wouldn’t do such a thing. But these people have raped a small girl.” ...

Five of the men responsible have been jailed, but they may not be behind bars long. Corruption is common throughout Afghanistan and freedom can easily be bought.

One judge in the province of Jowzjan admitted as much. Mohammad Harrun said foreign troops were making no effort to disarm or keep watch over local warlords...

Portraits of Abdul Rashid Dostum dominate Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan. Mr Dostum was a key ally of the United States in 2001, despite a long record of human rights abuses. His followers are now believed to be responsible for much of the violence in this region.

It is here that a commander in the Afghan National Army abducted Sweeta Khairi this year. Only 11 years old, she was taken to a military base and raped... (link)

NATO kills and injures civilians, says official

From Pajhwok Afghan News:

One killed, two injured by ISAF firing in Ghazni
Sher Ahmad Haidar

GHAZNI CITY, Oct 18 (PAN) - One civilian was killed and two wounded as NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers opened fire on a motorcyclist in the southern Ghazni province, an official said.

A security official who did not want to be named on Saturday told Pajhwok Afghan News the NATO-led ISAF soldiers opened fire on a civilian motorcyclist in the provincial capital at approximately 4:00pm. (link)

British MP on the ground

British Conservative MP David Davis has a jarring report from Afghanistan:

Independent (UK)
David Davis: We are losing Taliban battle

Monday, 20 October 2008

... Although the Taliban have nowhere near majority support, their standing is growing rapidly among some ordinary Afghans...

The regime we are defending is corrupt from top to bottom. While the President's brother faces accusations of being a drug baron, some three-quarters of the Afghan National Police actively steal from the people...

The government appears to have been run for the financial benefit of 20 families. From the allocation of mineral rights to the awarding of contracts, ministers frequently intervene to favour families and friends. Even more disturbing, the beneficiaries of this corruption are old-time warlords and faction leaders responsible for past atrocities. Today, they operate with impunity, even over acts of violence and attempted murder. Many public officials, from police chiefs to governors to ministers, have acquired multi-million dollar fortunes in office...

That is the regime we are defending and are perceived to be supporting.

The Taliban play on this. They offer a system of courts which is fast, decisive, and effective. An Afghan living in a non-Taliban part of a southern province, who has a dispute – over property, immigration rights, or a criminal matter – is quite likely to go to the Taliban area and ask them to arbitrate. They will summon both parties, hear their petitions, spend a few days collecting evidence – and then issue, and enforce, a judgement...

In Helmand, we control five town centres, but rural areas and roads are dominated by the Taliban. Kandahar is little better. The problem is spreading. (link)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

NATO strike kills up to 30, say locals

From the International Herald Tribune:

NATO airstrike killed over 25 civilians, Afghans say

KABUL, Oct 17 - A NATO airstrike on a village near the embattled provincial capital of Lashkar Gah killed 25 to 30 civilians, according to Afghan officials in the area...

Residents claiming to have witnessed the airstrike said at least 18 bodies, all women and children - including one only 6 months old - were pulled from the rubble and taken to the provincial governor's compound in protest.

At nightfall Thursday in Kabul, the NATO command issued a statement confirming only that an airstrike had taken place in the Nadali District, northwest of Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand Province in the southwest...

Local officials and residents of Nadali said Thursday that a bomb had hit three houses in a village in the Loy Bagh District where seven families were seeking refuge from fighting elsewhere. Mahboob Khan, the district chief, said in a telephone interview that 18 bodies had been retrieved, and that as many as 12 other bodies remained in the rubble. Khan said the bombing had caused widespread anger among the villagers...

The BBC reported that one of its journalists had seen 18 bodies, all women and children ranging in age from 6 months to 15 years.

Accounts gathered over the telephone by a reporter for The New York Times in Kandahar, about 135 kilometers, or 85 miles, east of Lashkar Gah, were similar. (link)
The Times relays claims by the office of Helmand's governor that the victims may not have died from military action, but from a collapsing house.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tajik insurgents

Those with a passing familiarity with Afghanistan will know that Tajiks are the second-ranked (in both size and status) ethnic group there. It is also well known that the Taliban are almost entirely composed of ethnic Pashtuns, the dominant group in the country. It is thus somewhat surprising to learn that at least one newly-formed ethnic Tajik insurgent group sees itself as allies of the Taliban.

From Al Jazeera:

Afghan mayor turns Taliban leader
Akbari says he will not negotiate with the government until foreign troops leave

OCTOBER 17 - The former mayor of Afghanistan's Herat province is now the most powerful local Taliban commander.

Ghullam Yahya Akbari told Al Jazeera that he will not negotiate with the Afghan government as long as foreign troops are on Afghan soil.

Given exclusive access to one of his 20 mountain bases hidden deep inside rugged terrain that Akbari says were also used to fight the Russians, Al Jazeera's Qais Azimy found a group of at least 60 well-armed Taliban fighters.

Akbari's steely resolve to fight foreign forces comes amid reports of many soldiers defecting to the Taliban. Many are unhappy with the "un-Islamic" ways of the foreign troops...

The former mayor is not interested in peace talks and said he would even turn his guns against Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, if he negotiated with the Afghan government.

"I do not believe that Mullah Omar would do that but if they sit with the Afghan government and negotiate then for us they will be like all the other members of the government and we'll continue our jihad," Akbari said...

Twenty Afghan members of parliament have meanwhile gone on strike in protest at the worsening security situation in Herat, and over what they say is the government's inability to fix it. (link)
See the Al Jazeera interview here.

Akbari is identified as a Tajik in an earlier Al Jazeera interview with him:

Smith on the Taliban

The Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith joins the growing chorus of journalists who note that Taliban insurgents have won the active support of many Afghans:

Reversal of fortune leaves Kabul under Taliban's thumb
Graeme Smith, Oct 14

... Interviews suggest that the Taliban have gained control along three of the four major highways into the city, and some believe it's a matter of time before they regulate all traffic around the capital.

That marks a shocking reversal of the insurgents' fortunes...

[T]he insurgents are grabbing the same political high ground the Taliban exploited during their previous sweep to power in the 1990s, by positioning themselves as the best enforcers of security in rural Afghanistan.

The roadblocks have also started to pinch the foreign troops. Military bases find themselves running short of fuel and other supplies...

Truck drivers often leave a rear door open at the back of their tractor-trailers, securing their cargo with a spider web of ropes, so that Taliban can easily look inside and check the shipment for anything forbidden by the insurgency. The Taliban even scrutinize the drivers' customs paperwork to certify that the goods are destined for non-military consumers.

The problem of Taliban influence on the southern highways grew especially acute this summer, said Brigadier-General Richard Blanchette, NATO's chief spokesman in Afghanistan.

“There was this saying, that the insurgency begins where the highway finishes,” Gen. Blanchette said, referring to a popular aphorism among the foreign troops. “Well, for a while it was almost the opposite.”

The Taliban make a point of allowing ordinary Afghans to drive the roads without harming them, but Gen. Blanchette said their actions are starting to affect the average traveller...

Each of the four major gateways into Kabul are guarded by Afghan police, soldiers, and intelligence officers, Col. Abed said, but the insurgents easily bribe their way through. People with loyalties to the insurgents have also infiltrated the ranks of Afghanistan's security establishment, he added: “They're not working honestly.” ...

But at a bus stop on the dusty edge of the Shomali plains, drivers and ticket-sellers say even this road is getting worse.

“Only one road remains now, this road, but in a year you won't be able to travel even this one,” said Nafis Khan, 36, a ticket vendor.

“The Taliban are not the problem,” he added. “When people saw the bad behaviour of the foreigners and government, the Taliban stood up to protect them. Day by day, their power increases.” (link)
  • Two interviews (here and here) with Nir Rosen, who embedded with the Taliban.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Empty promises or just lies?

As we will see below, a recent announcement by NATO commanders that rules for air strikes have been changed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties appearas to be mere propaganda.

Here's the claim, courtesy of Reuters:

NATO Troops To Retreat If Afghan Civilians At Risk

KABUL, Oct 14 (Reuters) - NATO has ordered its troops in Afghanistan to pull back from firefights with the Taliban rather than call in air strikes that might kill civilians, Afghan and NATO officials said...

NATO defense ministers endorsed the restriction at a summit in Budapest last week after three U.S. air strikes killed more than 100 Afghan civilians in the three months...

If there is a risk to civilians, troops have now been ordered to withdraw if they can, rather than order bombings that would earn a short-term victory but boost Taliban opponents in the longer term.

That should lead to a drop in the number of air strikes, which are up sharply from last year, said a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

ISAF chief U.S. General David McKiernan has also told his officers that as far as possible all operations should be conducted alongside Afghan forces, an ISAF spokesman said...

"There will be no uninvited entry into an Afghan house or a mosque without having the lead from the Afghan Army unless there is a clear danger that comes from that house," said ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Richard Blanchette. (link)
The Washington Post has some pertinent details:
NATO Modifies Airstrike Policy In Afghanistan
Commanders Told to Consider Alternatives

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service

KABUL, Oct. 15 -- In a bow to public outrage over a recent spate of U.S.-led airstrikes in Afghanistan that resulted in more than 100 civilian deaths, NATO officials have ordered commanders to try to lessen their reliance on air power...

Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, NATO's chief spokesman in Afghanistan, said commanders are now under orders to consider a "tactical withdrawal" when faced with the choice of calling in air support during clashes in areas where civilians are believed to be present...

U.S. Gen. David D. McKiernan, top commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, issued the new order early last month. (link)
The order, expected to lessen air strikes, was given by Gen David McKiernan sometime before September 8. Have air strikes lessened since the new order was issued? The data say no.

The US Air Force issues airpower summaries nearly every day on their website. These summaries relate the number of close air support (CAS) missions in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. Back in 2006, the average number of CAS missions in Afghanistan was about 40 per day. By 2008, the average had risen to about 70. So, let's look at what happened both before after the new order took effect.

Here are the reported numbers of CAS missions from August 1 to 10 (no Aug 8 airpower summary was issued):
67, 69, 69, 45, 70, 74, 72, 78, 60. Avg= 59.4

For reasons unknown to me, the daily airpower summaries stopped from August 10 to September 7. Now, here are the first nine reported totals after reporting recommenced on September 7. (Keep in mind, the new order was given in early September, as per above.):
44, 70, 77, 74, 81, 51, 74, 68, 72. Avg= 67.9

And now the nine most recent reports, up to October 16:
69, 70, 47, 70, 71, 68, 66, 70, 72. Avg= 67

So, before the new rules took effect, there were actually fewer CAS missions than there were after the rules took effect.


More Nir

Nir Rosen again, this time talking with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. He deftly outlines the quagmire that Afghanistan has become and gives a lucid explanation of how civil war might erupt in the future. Hear the audio here. Excerpts:

Democracy Now
Oct 15

Investigative journalist Nir Rosen has just returned from Afghanistan, where he embedded with the Taliban and traveled far from capital city of Kabul, “Afghanistan’s version of the Green Zone.” He doesn’t think the US-led NATO occupation is winning in Afghanistan. His latest article for Rolling Stone magazine is “How We Lost the War We Won: A Journey into Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan.” ...

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “how we lost the war we won”?

NIR ROSEN: Well, it wasn’t my title. But this was obviously a battle that was very quickly over initially in November 2001. I mean, the Taliban were quickly dispatched. But they weren’t exactly hunted and destroyed, nor was their senior leadership. They fled to Pakistan and eventually reestablished themselves. It’s just shocking that this could have actually been a fairly easy country to deal with. The destruction, the misery, the despair was so utter that you didn’t have the same initial hostility to foreign forces that you might have seen in Iraq. With a little bit more of attention with—if they hadn’t focused on the war in Iraq, if they had focused more reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, if they had not allowed the warlords to take over from an early period, then perhaps Afghanistan could have been a relative success...

And an increase in troops in Afghanistan will only be more counterproductive. You’re going to kill more civilians. You’re going to have more engagements with the so-called enemy. You’re going to call in more air support. More civilians will be killed as a result of that.

And it’s unfortunate that—Obama, of course, one of his major platforms is to withdraw from Iraq. That’s the bad war; he needs the good war. So Afghanistan now is the good war. He needs to prove, as a Democrat, that he too can kill brown people. I think that’s what it comes down to, that we’re not weak; we can kill foreigners, too. All you’ll do, if you increase the troops in Afghanistan, is alienate more of the population...

AMY GOODMAN: So what do you think needs to happen in Afghanistan?

NIR ROSEN: I think that international troops should withdraw, or certainly change their approach in terms of pursuing the Taliban. I think negotiations with the Taliban are the only hope of any kind of peaceful solution.

And what I saw when I was with Taliban commanders is that they are far more pragmatic than they were in the ’90s. Their attitudes towards women’s education—haven’t exactly become feminists, but they accept that women should be able to work and go to school. They accept that they should be able—that they should negotiate with the Afghan army and security forces when the foreigners leave. Many of them weren’t calling for Mullah Omar to come back. They disapproved of suicide bombings, a lot of the guys I was with. These guys were watching TV, even Indian soap operas, which the Taliban would have been very upset about in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: Nir, you’re saying something most people aren’t, that there’s less violence in Iraq, not because of the surge, but because of ethnic cleansing. Do you see the same thing happening in Afghanistan?

NIR ROSEN: Well, it’s a very different situation. Iraq was a civil war. And Afghanistan can be pushed toward civil war. The Taliban is becoming more and more, in some ways, a representative of Pashtun nationalism. And if they proceed with the elections, which they’re trying to have in Afghanistan, I think you may see the country going in that direction of civil war, because you just cannot have election registration or actual elections taking place in Pashtun areas. People who go to register will be killed. People who go to vote will be killed, meaning Pashtuns won’t be able to vote, just as Sunnis couldn’t vote in Iraq. And that caused a civil war eventually, Sunni alienation in Iraq. If the Pashtun, as a much larger group in Afghanistan, aren’t able to feel enfranchised, they too—I think you’ll see some kind of clash between Tajiks and Pashtuns. (link)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Why do people prefer the Taliban?

American journalist Nir Rosen, whose reporting on the war in Iraq is second only to that of Patrick Cockburn, is one of the finest journalists in the world. Recently, he visited Afghanistan where he was able to "embed" with Taliban fighters in Ghazni province.

His experiences, as outlined below, surely amount to the richest source of recent information about the insurgents. Highly recommended:

PBS: October 14, 2008
Journalist Recounts His Experiences With Taliban in Afghanistan

[...] Q: And who are these Taliban commanders? Can you describe who your guides were?

NIR ROSEN: One of them was an experienced Mujahid, he fought the Soviets in the ‘80s and then had grown disenchanted with the Mujahideen who had began to fight each other following Soviet withdrawal. And eventually joined the Taliban out of frustration with the war lords who were terrorizing the Afghans and now continues to fight on behalf of the Taliban against the Americans.

And the other guy was a little more senior and he was also a liaison with the Taliban Minister of Defense. The Taliban actually has ministers and governors for each province. They have on paper at least a well established structure. Although I was to learn that in reality of course it falls victim to Afghanistan which is much more vociferous and bitter rivalries divide different groups just as they did the various Mujahideen parties in the ‘80s.

Both these commanders drove me down to Ghazni to the Andar District...

And we went on various patrols with the Taliban during the day. They go around with RPGs, rocket grenade launchers, machine guns, really not a care in the world as if there's no Americans in the country at all. They feel very confident. They adjudicate disputes between farmers, they hold trials and execute alleged spies, conduct operations against so-called collaborators with the occupation, whether they're police or army or government workers...

Q: And it didn't last long because you got into some trouble at one point right with, you were detained by a Taliban leader. Who was he and what did he want?

A: It turned out that my commander that was sort of protecting me, taking me around had clashed with this rival commander called Dr. Khalil. My commander had killed 11 Pakistanis and two Arabs under the command of the other guy...

[The rival commander] basically ordered me detained and put on trial for being a spy. It was never clear if he actually believed I was a spy or just wanted to hold onto me for the ransom.

But it took about 24 hours for my various contacts to be able to reach just about every Taliban commander they could think of and finally the Taliban Minister of Defense and only he was able to secure my release. The Taliban governor for the province actually tried and failed. So it was one look into the various rivalries that divide the movement. And what I also got to see was just some of the daily life, what these guys do when they come home. The commander I was with sat down and watched Indian soap opera.

Q: And also Iranian, you said Iranian pop music.

A: Yeah. Iranian pop music both of which the Taliban would have severely punished in the ‘90s certainly. This guy was a commander so he obviously knew that but he didn't seem to care at all. And there was very little separating him from your average Pashtun from the region. I think he could have almost just as likely joined the police or the army. In fact very little often separates tribes or villages who join the police or those who join the Taliban could be just an insult over a contract. It could result from the governor favoring one tribe over another, but I also found that these guys, many of them could, seemed like they could be brought into the system, into the process. They seemed willing to negotiate with the army and the police once the foreigners left, that was one of their requirements. When the foreigners leave they said they wouldn't have a reason to fight anymore.

Q: What can you say about in terms of how much the Taliban has evolved since they were driven from power in 2001? I mean at one point you mentioned their attitude towards women seems to have changed a bit. Several commanders have told you that they thought women could have jobs and go to school. Now is that a major shift on their part?

A: Acknowledging that women can work even be, even serve in the government and go to school is definitely a step forward. Because throughout Afghanistan the plight of women is just absolutely horrible and it's not like it's unique to the Taliban. They were also more, I would say the Taliban are becoming more of a Pashtun nationalist movement in the sense of Pashtun alienation. The Taliban are seizing upon that and in some way becoming less of purely Afghan or Islamist movement. And perhaps that's also a good thing in a sense that they're appealing to local grievances.

There is a danger, of course, that they're becoming more linked to, to global jihadist movements. They definitely resent foreigners which includes foreign fighters, it includes Pakistan, and the Arabs who join them, Pakistanis who join them. It was clear that the guys I was with disapproved of suicide bombings which are common tactic of the Taliban. And one of them actually complained that the Taliban are killing too many civilians. So these aren't exactly huge steps forward but they are a sign of an increased pragmatism.

So there are signs that perhaps could be taken advantage of. However, I doubt that the Americans have the elegance and the subtlety to be able to that. Moreover, I think the Taliban are so confident because they really are at this point becoming more and more victorious. They might see little reason to negotiate. Once you leave Kabul, you're entering Taliban territory. They're taking more and more land approaching Kabul in attacks in and around Kabul Province are more and more brazen. They've shut down the main roads leaving Kabul. And it really seems irreversible... (link)
The Christian Science Monitor's Anand Gopal has more along the same lines:
Some Afghans live under Taliban rule – and prefer it
By Anand Gopal

PORAK, Afghanistan, Oct 14 - After a gang of thieves had continually terrorized an Afghan neighborhood near here months ago, locals decided they'd had enough. "We complained several times to the government and even showed them where the thieves lived," says Ahmad, who goes by one name.

But the bandits continued to operate freely. So the villagers turned to the Taliban.

The militants' parallel government here in Logar Province – less than 40 miles from Kabul, the capital – tried and convicted the men, tarred their faces, paraded them around, and threatened to chop off their hands if they were caught stealing in the future. The thieves never bothered the locals again.

In several provinces close to Kabul, the government's presence is vanishing or already nonexistent, residents say. In its place, a more effective – and brutal – Taliban shadow government is spreading and winning local support.

"The police are just for show," one local says. "The Taliban are the real power here."

Widespread disillusionment with rampant crime, corrupt government, and lack of jobs has fueled the Taliban's rise to de facto power – though mainly in areas dominated by fellow ethnic Pashtuns...

Villagers say that almost every household in Logar Province has Taliban fighters. By day the area is quiet – most people stay indoors behind large mud walls or tend to their fields. A tiny roadside market sells dried fruits and soft drinks, and the shops often go unattended for hours.

As nightfall approaches, Taliban fighters slowly emerge from the houses and surrounding hillsides, some lugging rocket-propelled grenade launchers over their shoulders, ready to begin a night's work. The guerrillas set up checkpoints along Logar Province's central highway, stopping trucks and taxis to check IDs.

A few miles away sits a police checkpoint, but the police say they don't dare enter the Taliban-controlled areas. Yet many villagers say they don't need the police, since crime has almost vanished...

The Taliban now have a strong presence in all seven of Logar's districts, including outright control of four of them, locals say. "In these districts the Taliban patrol openly in the daytime and there is no government presence at all," says Qabir.

In neighboring Ghazni Province, the Taliban is in full control of 13 of the 18 districts, according to locals. Similarly, in Wardak, which neighbors Kabul, the insurgents have control of six of eight districts...

In areas under their control, the Taliban has set up their own government, complete with police chiefs, judges, and even education committees.

An Islamic scholar heads the judicial committee of each district under Taliban control and usually appoints two judges to try cases using a strict interpretation of sharia law, according to locals and Taliban members. "We prefer these courts to the government courts," says Fazel Wali of Ghazni city, an NGO worker. Taliban courts have a reputation of working much faster than government ones, which often take months to decide cases and are saddled with corruption, he says.

The Taliban's parallel government is also involved in local education. Employees with Coordination for Afghan Relief, an Afghan NGO that works in Ghazni city and trains teachers, say Taliban authorities recently gave them a letter detailing the "allowed curriculum" in local schools.

Abdul Hakim, a Taliban "Emir of Education and Culture" in Ghazni Province, says his group checks all schoolbooks to ensure that they adhere to their version of sharia law. "We want to ensure that our youth are trained in Islamic education," he explains. "First, they should learn sharia law and religious studies. Then comes science and other subjects.... But we don't burn or close down schools if they are in accord with Islam."

However, locals say that the number of schools in Taliban-controlled territory is dwindling fast... (link)

Is American opinion turning against the war?

We have seen in recent months that Afghan public opinion has turned against the war. So too has Australian opinion, thus joining most of the western troop-deploying countries like the UK, Canada, Germany, Italy, etc. (Note that this fact puts paid to any suggestions that the war is somehow about promoting democracy.)

So far, however, American public opinion has been in favor of the war. But that might be changing:

Newsday (Long Island, NY)
Poll: Tired of warfare, Long Islanders want troops brought home

OCTOBER 14 - Long Islanders are tired of seeing America wage two wars and want troops to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, a Newsday poll found.

Nearly two-thirds want a timetable for pulling troops out of Iraq. That overwhelming sentiment echoes the opinions of other Americans, and puts Long Islanders in line with Barack Obama's position on Iraq.

At the same time, about half of Long Islanders say the United States should decrease troops in Afghanistan or even pull out. That's a sharp disagreement with both Obama and his Republican challenger, John McCain.

The poll surveyed 761 likely Long Island voters from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

The strong feeling about troops in Afghanistan surprised some local analysts, who expected Long Islanders would be supportive of the candidates' constant calls to send more troops to Afghanistan. Only 28 percent of those polled want an increase in troops and about 10 percent want them kept at current levels.

Richard Himelfarb, a history professor at Hofstra University, called the anti-Afghanistan poll numbers "remarkable."

"The Afghanistan finding is surprising in that the public mood is directly against the two candidates," said Himelfarb, a McCain supporter who advocates the war in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq.

But Patrick Kelly, a history professor at Adelphi University, said he's noticed public support eroding for the Afghanistan war in the last few weeks as the American economy has imploded...

By far, Long Islanders are most critical of the war in Iraq. Not only do nearly 65 percent of them want a timetable, but it is favored by all demographic groups, including Republicans. (link)

The downward spiral

Some sobering observations from a veteran reporter in the Sunday Times:

Afghanistan: A country locked in a spiral of doom

Christina Lamb has been reporting from Afghanistan for 20 years. Here she offers a chilling frontline analysis of why we cannot beat the Taliban

OCTOBER 12 - [...] Miles and miles from anywhere, we fly [over Helmand in a Chinook helicopter] low over a man with a cloth turban wrapped round his head and a small herd of ragged brown sheep. He does not even look up.

What does he think about these foreign soldiers flying back and forth, I wonder. I wonder the same as we swing round into a patch of green trees and the Helmand River, swooping low over compounds where I can see colourfully dressed women and children. We have come to help them but it looks like anger in their faces...

Two and a half years, a doubling of troops to more than 8,000, and several million bullets later, British forces may hold five small districts in Helmand but the local governor himself says the Taliban control at least half the province.

As for the rest of the country, in all but the north the picture is unrelentingly grim. An aid worker smuggled me security maps compiled by the United Nations (no longer made public because they reveal just how bad things are). These show the relentless sweep from Helmand and the south across the country of pink, which represents “uncontrolled hostile environment” – no-go areas. In 2005, when the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which included British military personnel, was active in the country, there was not a single pink patch; today more than half the country is pink.

Violent incidents have gone up from 44 a month in 2003 to 573 this year, and more than 4,500 people have been killed this year. . .

Most alarming is the way Kabul has been encircled by the Taliban, prompting a sense of being under siege both among Afghans and foreigners, behind their concrete blocks and armed guards. Of four highways into the capital from the south, east, west and north, built with hundreds of millions of foreign aid money, only the northern route is considered safe. Even that has become prone to rocket attacks. . .

“We are spending our blood and treasure for what?” asked a senior Nato officer angrily. “For an Afghan government that is spending its time lining its pockets? It’s time to think about what we are doing and what we are really trying to achieve.”

Back in Kabul, the sensation of the Taliban approaching the gates of the city has led to a frenzied fin-de-siècle atmosphere. Among the foreigners in their ever more fortified homes, every night seems to be party night, with people drinking heavily and bemoaning the fact that their cooks are leaving because they fear they will be targeted for working for foreigners. . .

Karzai spends weeks on end cooped up inside the Arg, the presidential palace where so many of his predecessors were horribly murdered.

Two months ago he stormed out of a meeting with both the British and US ambassadors and the Nato commander over highway security when they refused to fund his idea for creating a highway police force and empowering communities along the roads.

So bad is the situation that British and American forces are indirectly funding the Taliban as they get their own fuel and water supplies through. The private contractors they use estimate that 25% of the $4,000 per truck paid for security ends up with the Taliban. . .

It is hard to find anyone in the international community with a good word to say about the man they chose to lead Afghanistan because he spoke good English and looked good. Influential Afghans echo their dismay. . .

Even Karzai’s closest friends and relatives admit that only by acting tough now to sack the worst culprits might he save himself and the country. . . (link)
It seems that perhaps President Karzai himself shared Lamb's view of Karzai's best course of action. The Afghan president recently shuffled his cabinet.

British military historian Max Hastings reflects similarly on his recent visit to Afghanistan:
The Guardian
Afghanistan's best hope is for controlled warlordism
Max Hastings

Oct 13 - [...] It is almost impossible for westerners, military and civilian alike, to engage with Afghans. Almost none speak the language. It is only possible to travel outside heavily fortified bases in helicopters or armoured vehicles. Afghan gratitude for the creation of a few schools and hospitals is outweighed by the simple fact that, in a diplomat's words: "Seven years ago most of the population felt safe. Now they don't."

He added brutally: "The British army has been irresponsible in suggesting that it could do the business in Helmand. We should never have taken it on. It's much more than we can handle." ...

The newish governor of Helmand, Gulab Mangal, is much more convincing. He is 52 years old and a former commissar in the Afghan army in Russian times; he was a businessman and ruler of two other provinces before he was transferred to Helmand during the summer. The British are much in love with Mangal, whom they perceive as one of the country's only honest and able officials. Their enthusiasm is dangerous, however. It feeds Karzai's morbid suspicions of him as a prospective rival...

On these pages Simon Jenkins has said from the outset that the Afghan war is unwinnable. I have always shared his dismay about western blundering. Yet it seems to me that we must keep trying, though the odds against success are greater than ever. It is futile to escalate the Nato troop commitment. The only slender chance of stabilising Afghanistan lies in sustaining military and economic aid for Afghans to help themselves.

The highest aspiration must be for controlled warlordism, not conventional democracy. A civil war may prove an essential preliminary before some crude equilibrium between factions can be achieved. If this sounds a wretched prognosis, it is hard to find informed westerners with higher expectations. (link)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Czech public opposes war ramp up

From Angus Reid:

... Just under 500 Czech soldiers have been serving in Afghanistan since March 2004.

On Oct. 1, the government led by Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek approved the expansion of foreign military missions, including Afghanistan. According to the new plan, up to 745 soldiers would be sent to serve in the war on terror in 2009. The prime minister declared: "We have been gradually withdrawing troops from Iraq. We will participate in two big missions, in Kosovo and Afghanistan."

Polling Data

Do you support or oppose deploying an additional 250 Czech soldiers to Afghanistan?





Source: STEM
Methodology: Interviews with 650 Czech adults, conducted in October 2008. Margin of error is 3 per cent. (link)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Soldier says end it now

From the Toronto Star:

LETTER -October 8

Soldier says it's time to end Afghanistan war

. . . Do we want to be remembered for hating, killing and destroying, or caring, healing and helping with reconstruction?

The war in Afghanistan is a lie. How can we inspire the Afghan people to respect liberty, democracy, equality for women, education for children, human rights and respect for life when we are maiming and murdering them and destroying their homes, communities, the economy and their country? . . .

If we wish to end this cycle of death, injury, destruction, hate, sorrow and despair, then we must stop war. So, when in future, our maimed soldiers walk down the street and our children ask, "Why?" we will say "Afghanistan" and mean a place where Canada turned against war and for peace, and not an obscene memory.

My fellow citizens, help me and soldiers like me end the war. Let's hear your voices. Let's do something we can all be proud of. If we achieve peace in Afghanistan, then the deaths of 97 of my "comrades in arms" and of unreported thousands of innocent Afghans will not have been in vain. Support the troops. Support peace. Bring our troops home now.

Corporal Paul Demetrick, Canadian Army (Reserve), Penticton, B.C. (link)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Matrix of Death

Professor Marc Harold has released his long-awaited study on the Afghanistan war, which features a lengthy discussion of civilian casualties, to coincide with the seven-year anniversary of the beginning of the war.

Highlights include:
  1. Exposing three common subterfuges used to rationalize the killing of Afghan civilians;
  2. Pointing out that Afghan civilians killed by U.S/NATO forces’ direct action since January 1, 2006 now outnumber those who perished in the original U.S. bombing and invasion during the first three months (2001) of the U.S. Afghan war. The overall human toll is far greater than just those killed by direct U.S/NATO actions as it includes all those who died later from injuries, the internally displaced who died in camps, etc.;
  3. Documenting that close air support (CAS) bombing is more deadly to Afghan civilians than was the strategic bombing of Laos and Cambodia;
  4. Revealing that CAS air strikes now account for about 80% of all Afghan civilians who perish at the hands of the U.S. and NATO;
  5. Emphasizing that by relying upon aerial close air support (CAS) attacks, US/NATO forces spare their pilots and ground troops but kill lots of innocent Afghan civilians. Air strikes are 4-10 times as deadly for Afghan civilians as are ground attacks.
  6. Revealing that Human Rights Watch “counts” at best only 50% of the Afghan civilians killed by U.S/NATO actions, whereas the figure for the Associated Press is a mere 33%; moreover neither present verifiable/reproducible disaggregated data thereby violating a basic tenet of social science;
  7. Presenting a unique analysis of compensation/condolence payments made by the United States in eight countries. The United States spent ten times more on saving an Alaskan sea otter after the Exxon Valdez oil spill than in condolence payments to Afghan families for a family member killed by U.S. occupation forces. (link)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Seven years on: worse than ever

Radio Free Europe's Ron Synovitz has reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan for several years, making him something of a veteran. (Not to say he's a great reporter - he embedded with US forces in Iraq in 2003.) He reports on the feelings of Afghans, seven years into the occupation of their country. While Synovitz finds several locals who praise the foreigners, those who criticize the foreigners make for interesting reading:

Seven Years After First Air Strikes, Afghans Hope For Jobs, Peace
By Ron Synovitz

OCTOBER 7 - Seven years ago, the United States began bombing Taliban-ruled Afghanistan after its refusal to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders who plotted the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. . .

"During the seven years that foreign troops have been in our country, they have brought misery to our country," [an unemployed Kabul man] says. "Our economy has become weaker and weaker. There are no jobs. People are suffering day by day. Look at us, we wait here from morning until evening and don't find work."

Shamsullah Khan stayed in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and the years of fighting between rival Afghan militia factions after the Soviet withdrawal. It was the fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban during the last two years in his home province of Helmand that forced him to move his family to a camp for displaced Afghans. He says he does not consider the deployment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan as a positive development for the country.

"After the arrival of the Americans in Afghanistan, we can see they have brought disunity," he says. "They have made each part of Afghanistan a battlefield. We want unity between the people and stability in our country. None of these are possible as long as the Americans are present. The Americans say, 'We are fighting the Taliban.' But we see them continuing to kill and bomb civilians." . . .

Mohmand Akbar, a resident of the northern Baghlan Province, says that security and the economy are the issues where progress needs to be made.

"During the past eight years, the only significant changes have been that there are a lot more explosions now, less security, and higher prices," Akbar tells RFE/RL.

Zia ul-Haq Mamozai, who works for a foreign nongovernmental organization in Kabul, says that he is acutely aware of the economic hardships faced by Afghans who are not fortunate enough to earn a salary from a foreign firm.

"The changes we feel is that it was better before than it is now," Mamozai says. "It was better before [the first U.S. air strikes] because prices were lower. Both poor and rich people could afford to buy bread. But now, only those Afghans who work for foreign organizations, or those who have a good business, can afford good food and good homes." (link)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Civilians reported killed

From the Afghan press:

Foreign troops kill two civilians in Kunar

ASADABAD, Kunar, Oct 2 (PAN) - Local people of Narang district in Kunar province claim that foreign forces killed two civilians and injured five other last night.

Mohammad Nasir, a relative of the deceased told Pajhwok Afghan News that the killed were smuggling firewood at night when attacked by the foreign forces.

NATOs Afghan spokesman in eastern provinces Sabawoon Hothak said foreign forces opened fire on those who were transferring weapons from the river.

But he said he had no information about casualties. (link)
American forces command the NATO operation in Kunar.

Heck in a handbasket

A stream of informed opinion now holds that the US and its allies are losing the war in Afghanistan. Adding to the chorus with a trio of explosive articles in The Sunday Times is Christina Lamb, writing from Helmand province where British troops lead the NATO forces there:

The Sunday Times
War on Taliban cannot be won, says army chief
By Christina Lamb

HELMAND, Oct 5 - [...] Carleton-Smith, commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which has just completed its second tour of Afghanistan, said it was necessary to “lower our expectations”. He said: “We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.” ...

“We want to change the nature of the debate from one where disputes are settled through the barrel of the gun to one where it is done through negotiations,” Carleton-Smith said.

“If the Taliban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that’s precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this. That shouldn’t make people uncomfortable.”

Last week Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, said the Taliban controlled more than half the province despite the increased presence of British forces. (link)
Lamb vividly illustrates just how far gone the war is:
The Sunday Times
Grim reality of life beyond Helmand

HELMAND, Oct 5 - [...] Known as Helmandshire, the concrete building inside the heavily guarded British headquarters in Lashkar Gah houses what is surely the most bizarre outpost of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and one of the costliest. By December it will employ 140 people - the size of one of Britain’s larger embassies - for a population of fewer than 2m, smaller than that of Wales.

Most never venture beyond the compound walls. Those who occasionally brave the five-minute drive to the governor’s office do so in armed convoys, surrounded by bodyguards and travelling at high speed. The cracks on the vehicles’ windows from rocks thrown almost every time they go out are a measure of the locals’ appreciation.

The Taliban might be in control just seven miles down the road in Nad Ali, but earnest civil servants boast of British success in winning over the population and creating five zones of development in Lashkar Gah, Sangin, Musa Qala, Gereshk and Garmser.

A day spent in this Foreign Office fantasy land was reminiscent of a propaganda tour I was taken on by the Russians in the dying days of their occupation in the late 1980s. They too controlled the cities and towns but not the roads or countryside.

They spoke of building up Afghan capacity and sent many locals to be trained in the Soviet Union. One of their commissars was Gulab Mangal, now governor of Helmand, the survivor of 13 assassination attempts and the object of much British praise.

The man heading the British project could hardly have better diplomatic credentials. Known as the viceroy of Helmandshire, Hugh Powell is the son of Lord Powell, Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser, and a nephew of Jonathan, who was Tony Blair’s chief of staff. Another uncle, Chris Powell, an advertising executive, recently visited to advise on public diplomacy. . .

When I asked for evidence that Britain is improving life in Helmand, Hugh Powell said: “You saw the bustling bazaar.”

I pointed out that we had had to drive through it at great speed in heavily armoured vehicles. When I added that in April 2006, before the British forces arrived, I stayed a week in Lashkar Gah and the bazaar was thriving, he replied: “That’s not what I’ve heard.”

Derided by a senior British military officer as “Powell’s folly”, the place has the feel of a cult where the mantra is “Believe” and anyone who dares question the enterprise is regarded as a Jeremiah. . .

This week wheat seed and fertiliser will be distributed to 32,000 farmers. “We’ve provided £6m but told the governor, ‘Don’t say it comes from us, say it’s from the government’.” . . . (link)
That's not all. Lamb has another article:
. . . Yet, while the British claim 78% of the population [of Helmand] lives in their zones, the governor of Helmand says half the province is under Taliban control and they are fighting in Nad Ali, less than 10 miles from brigade headquarters in Lashkar Gah.

Carleton-Smith acknowledges the preponderance of Taliban ringtones proclaiming “Death to the Invader” that are heard on the street, but dismisses them as “quite a good insurance policy to have on your phone”. He insists that “the very conventional battlefield of 2006 no longer applies”. . . (link)
The BBC adds some reinforcement to Lamb's story:
. . . The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says Brig Carleton-Smith's comments echo a view commonly-held, if rarely aired, by British military and diplomatic officials in Afghanistan.

Many believe certain legitimate elements of the Taleban represent the positions of the Afghan people and so should be a part of the country's future, says our correspondent. . . (link)
More today from The Times:
[Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith] told The Times that in his opinion, a military victory over the Taleban was “neither feasible nor supportable”.

“What we need is sufficient troops to contain the insurgency to a level where it is not a strategic threat to the longevity of the elected Government,” he said. . .

Brigadier Carleton-Smith admitted that it had been “a turbulent summer” but he said that the Taleban were “riven with deep fissures and fractures”.

He added: “However, the Taleban, tactically, is reasonably resilient, certainly quite dangerous and seems relatively impervious to losses. Its potency is as a force for influence.”
And the UN's envoy Kay Eide chimes in on similar lines:
"I've always said to those that talk about the military surge ... what we need most of all is a political surge, more political energy," Kai Eide, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, told a news conference in Kabul.

"We all know that we cannot win it militarily. It has to be won through political means. That means political engagement." (link)