Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

A violent Afghan summer

A violent Afghan summer

As the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan army gear up for a new push against insurgent forces in the south, the country looks set for a long season of intense fighting. The offensive focusing on Helmand and Uruzgan provinces comes as the Taliban extend their attacks to northern and western areas, well beyond their traditional stomping ground.Helmand, Uruzgan, Zabul and Kandahar provinces, all of which border on Pakistan, have long been referred to as "restive" or "volatile." But these descriptions now also apply to places like Wardak, a mere 20 miles from the capital, Kabul.
In recent months there has been a rise in Taliban attacks on police and army checkpoints in many provinces, and in some places they have won control of whole areas for days at a time. Clashes have occurred in places like Nimruz, Nuristan and Wardak - all outside the main Taliban areas. Most recently, insurgents captured and held a district in Uruzgan for four days.
U.S. military spokesman Colonel Tom Collins challenged the notion that insurgents were operating across the country.
"If we look at the four parts of Afghanistan, in two of them - the north and west - the situation is completely quiet. Where there are incidents, most are due to criminal activity, drug smuggling, especially in the south. We cannot attribute all incidents to the Taliban," he said.
Contrasting stories
Collins blamed the media for spreading the notion of growing Taliban influence, but reports on the ground tell a different story.
Take Wardak, for example. The province, which borders Kabul province in the central portion of the country, has a largely Pashtun population.
Interior ministry spokesman Mohammad Yousuf Stanezai insisted, "Wardak province is completely under police control. Police are patrolling the whole province."
Residents, however, tell a different story. They tell of regular attacks by insurgents on fuel tankers shuttling between the coalition forces' main base at Bagram and other U.S. facilities close to the Pakistani border.
They say that between May 26 and 27, at least 20 people were killed in the attacks on tankers on the Kabul-Kandhar highway, which runs through the province.
"My cousin was killed by the Taliban," said one resident of Shekhabad, a village in Wardak, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.
Intimidating the locals
The insurgent attacks appear designed to cut off the American troops' fuel and supply lines, and to intimidate the local population and erode cooperation with the foreign troops.
Another resident of Shekhabad claimed that he had seen the bodies of three of the Taliban's victims returned to the village.
"They buried them at night, because the Taliban had issued a 'night letter' warning people not to say prayers for those who work for the Americans. They said anyone who took part in their funeral would be in trouble," he said.
Such "night letters" - leaflets distributed surreptitiously - are a common tactic used by the insurgents to spread fear among the population.
Stanezai dismissed the report, saying no one really takes them seriously.
"'Night letters' are just the work of people who are afraid and unable to show themselves," he said. "They use the cover of darkness to spread fear, but the people know that and they aren't afraid."
According to many Wardak residents, mullahs in the province are taking the side of the insurgents, using prayer gatherings to preach jihad (holy war) and urging locals to take part in the struggle against the government in Kabul and coalition forces.
In the western part of the country, the story is much the same. The ancient city of Herat, long considered one of the most stable of Afghanistan's major centers, has witnessed an upsurge in insurgency-related violence.
"In the last three months, there have been three suicide attacks in Herat and 25 bomb explosions, as well as 10 people killed in private quarrels," said police spokesman Abdulrauf Ahmadi.
The most spectacular attack occurred in April, when a suicide bomber exploded a car in front of the offices of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Herat, killing five people and wounding nine.
Taliban activity has spread even farther north, to the formerly secure provinces of Balkh, Jowzjan, Sar-e-Pul, and even remote Badakhshan in the northeast - historically the only part of Afghanistan the Taliban never conquered.
For example, four employees of Action Aid, an organization helping with the national reconstruction program, were killed in Jowzjan late last month.
It is not always possible to determine which armed group is responsible for such attacks but Colonel Mohammad Ibrahim, the head of security in Jowzjan who is investigating the murders there, suspects the Taliban played a part.
"We have arrested four people in this case," he said. "These people are residents of the area where the attack took place. But we believe the Taliban told them to carry out the attack."
Destroy then rebuild
When he announced a major offensive in the south by coalition troops earlier this month, Collins made a point of noting that military operations would be followed by efforts to carry out reconstruction projects in troubled parts of the southern provinces.
"The problem cannot be solved by the military alone," he said. "We want to run reconstruction programs to give people hope for their future."
This would be a major departure for the U.S.-led coalition, which up until now has concentrated its efforts on conducting search-and-destroy missions intended to root out the Taliban and suspected members of al-Qaida.
Fazal Rahman Orya, an Afghan analyst, doubts that coalition forces can achieve a military or political solution.
"Afghanistan's problems cannot be solved by economic or military means," he said. "As the Americans step up military operations, people's animosity towards them increases."
Wahidullah Amani is an Institute for War & Peace Reporting staff reporter in Kabul.


Updated : 2021-10-19 20:38 GMT+08:00