Taleban Government Appoints Two New Ministers



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A load of 'nonsense'
Brigadier General Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, is skeptical of the Taliban's claims, calling them unrealistic and no more than propaganda.
"Every year they claim a spring offensive. What offensive are they talking about? Blowing up cell phone towers in Helmand and Kandahar (provinces) or blowing up power stations in Ghazni? This is not an offensive," Branco told Asia Times Online in a telephone interview from Kabul.
"You know much better than me this (cutting supply lines) is not true. We rely on various means of transportation; besides, we do have a lot of supplementary stocks with us. Therefore, a few attacks will never have any effect. We do have sea problems (Afghanistan is landlocked) but this claim of completely chopping off our supply lines has no base in reality. I completely deny their claim," Branco said.
Commenting on the Taliban's new strategy, Branco dismissed it as old wine in new bottles.
"The Taliban haven't had a new strategy in the past, neither will they have one in the future. They will do what they did in 2007. They avoided any confrontation with NATO or the Afghan National Army and instead they attacked district headquarters and claimed they had captured the whole district. But before the arrival of our troops, they left.
"They did indeed attack some of our forward operation bases, but their attacks were ineffective as they lack the military capability... it makes me laugh when they try to compare their guerrilla strategy with that of General Giap's," said Branco.
"This is really nonsense. General Giap used coordinated guerrilla attacks and employing conventional tactics with a range of weaponry. The Taliban's tactics are useless. The tried to use those tactics in 2006 and suffered heavy losses. I don't think they will be able to repeat those tactics. They are not able to confront us on open ground, not even at the platoon level," Branco said.
Similarly, a United Nations representative who spoke to Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity said the tide had changed against the Taliban. He said this had been brought about by the National Solidarity Program - a rural development initiative - and with a more visible and effective presence of the army and police, especially in Paktia and Kandahar provinces.
He said governance is improving after some "inspired appointments" and that international organizations like the UN are gaining improved access in almost all areas.
Other observers, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), see the situation differently. The ICRC said in a press release from Kabul dated April 8: The president of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, is in Afghanistan for a seven-day visit to get a first-hand look at the situation in the country. "We are extremely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. There is growing insecurity and a clear intensification of the armed conflict, which is no longer limited to the south but has spread to the east and west," said Mr Kellenberger.
"Intensification of the conflict has forced a growing number of people from their homes. While the ICRC has stepped up its humanitarian activities in recent years, dangerous conditions often prevent it from reaching groups such as displaced persons who need protection and assistance. The harsh reality is that in large parts of Afghanistan, little development is taking place. Instead, the conflict is forcing more and more people to flee their homes. Their growing humanitarian needs and those of other vulnerable people must be met as a matter of urgency. The Afghan people deserve to live in a secure environment and have access to decent health care, safe drinking water and adequate food supplies," added Mr Kellenberger. These are different views from different perspectives. The Taliban, NATO, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations, they each have their own agenda. Ultimately what matters is what happens on the battle field.
A new generation of neo-Taliban has emerged under Sirajuddin Haqqani (son of veteran mujahid Jalaluddin Haqqani). They are ideologically more radical than their elders, but much more strategically attuned, having proved themselves in Indian-administered Kashmir against Indian forces a few years ago and against the Pakistani military.
Now they have to prove their claim that the summer of 2008 will be a hot one in Afghanistan.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online WWW-Text in English - - Hong Kong-based online newspaper with a Bangkok branch office focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe. Successor of the Hong Kong/Bangkok based print daily Asia Times that closed in 1997, it claims an average of 100,000 daily site visitors as of Feb 2006, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region. Root URL on filing date: http://www.atimes.com]


Asia Times: 'Brains, Not Brawn, in Afghanistan'
CPP20080428721009 Hong Kong Asia Times Online WWW-Text in English 1025 GMT 28 Apr 08
[Report by Syed Saleem Shahzad : "Brains, Not Brawn, in Afghanistan "; headline as provided by source]
KARACHI - Sunday's brazen attack on a military parade in the Afghan capital Kabul at which President Hamid Karzai was officiating marks the beginning of a new phase in the Afghan insurgency in which attrition will be the focus.
Taliban fighters armed with machine guns and grenade launchers sent salvos into the back of the stage on which Karzai was seated with a host of Afghan and foreign dignitaries gathered to mark the 16th anniversary of the fall of the last communist government.
Three Afghans and three Taliban were killed. Sunday's event was also aimed at showcasing the Afghan army's new training and equipment, mainly from the United States. It had been planned for weeks and security was at maximum levels, yet the Taliban came within 500 meters of the stage.
Sunday's attackers penetrated no fewer than 18 security rings around the parade's venue and they used their latest weaponry - small mortars that are only manufactured by a few Western countries, including Israel. In Al-Qaeda adds muscle to the Taliban's fight (Asia Times Online, April 19, 2008) it was reported how the Taliban will use specialized weapons to launch precision attacks on high-profile targets.
Asia Times Online contacts say the armed men belonged to legendary Afghan mujahid Jalaluddin Haqqani's network and were facilitated by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami network in Kabul. Hekmatyar is an Afghan warlord and politician par excellence.
Ironically, Sunday's parade celebrated the victory of the mujahideen over the communists, which in turn led to several years of the country's worst-ever factional fighting until the student militia - the Taliban movement - seized power in 1996 and kicked out all the mujahideen leaders from governance.
The parade was attended by senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and United Nations officials, tribal leaders, diplomats and parliamentarians and was the most high-profile assault by anti-Western coalition militants since the suicide attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul on January 14.
The incident serves as a sharp reminder to people in the capital that the Taliban are not a spent force, as senior US commanders in Afghanistan like to relate.
Last week, Karzai criticized US-led coalition forces for their conduct in the "war on terror" in Afghan villages, alleging the real terrorist threat lay in the sanctuaries of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan.
These differences highlight the complex nature of the struggle in Afghanistan, and the constant changes both sides make as they try to exploit and bleed each other's weak spots.
The Taliban, for instance, have forgone their traditional direct-confrontation offensives against NATO's powerful war machine, while NATO is becoming less reliant on indiscriminate large-scale aerial bombing.
The Taliban tried to chop off NATO's supply lines through Khyber Agency in Pakistan, and this time NATO responded with intelligence rather than bullets, managing to get the Taliban's key patron in the agency to change sides. (See Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass Asia Times Online, April 26, 2008.)
Lessons of the battle of Nuristan
This month, US-led troops and Afghan security forces, backed by air power, reported they had killed a "significant" number of militants in a fight in the northeast province of Nuristan.
Initial reports said the attack involved Hekmatyar's fighters. However, the operation was conducted by a special Taliban guerilla group commanded by Shaheen Abid, whom Asia Times Online interviewed last November at Nawa Pass on the Pakistan border with Afghanistan. (See Death by the light of a silvery moon .)
In a change from previous years, NATO has made it a priority to understand the workings of the Taliban. So it was able to identify Abid as the leader of the attack, and tracked him back to Nawa Pass, where he was placed under surveillance.
On April 22, Abid's group launched another attack, on the Afghan National Army in easter n Afghanistan. But this time his movements were followed, and while returning to Nawa Pass he and nine of his group were killed.
By being smart, rather than relying on "smart bombs", NATO has eliminated a highly skilled Taliban combat group.
Similarly, commanders such as Haqqani have refined their methods, in Haqqani's case by orchestrating suicide attacks and missions such as Sunday's in Kabul.
Indeed, the Taliban have lined up a stream of attackers to target Kabul to rattle the Afghan government and NATO forces in coming days and weeks.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online WWW-Text in English - - Hong Kong-based online newspaper with a Bangkok branch office focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe. Successor of the Hong Kong/Bangkok based print daily Asia Times that closed in 1997, it claims an average of 100,000 daily site visitors as of Feb 2006, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region. Root URL on filing date: http://www.atimes.com]



Asia Times: 'Push Comes To Shove in Afghanistan'
CPP20080430721011 Hong Kong Asia Times Online WWW-Text in English 1035 GMT 30 Apr 08
[Report by Syed Saleem Shahzad : "Push Comes To Shove in Afghanistan "; headline as provided by source]
KARACHI - In what has been described as "a good public relations exercise", Prince William, second in line to the British throne, has visited Afghanistan to meet British troops in Kandahar province.
The brief unannounced trip is indeed headline-grabbing, but it cannot disguise the fact that the Western coalition has a monumental battle on its hands against the Taliban-led insurgency, and the first round has already begun.
Surprise Taliban attacks from the northern Afghan province of Kapisa (the Tagab Valley) to the southern Helmand districts and from Kunar to Nangarhar provinces have conclusively engaged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in its biggest operations since the deployment of its forces in Afghanistan in 2001.
In a telling development, several hundred US Marines this week engaged the Taliban in Helmand province near Garmser, the farthest south American troops have operated in that province.
The Taliban rule the countryside here all the way to the Pakistan border. The assault on Garmser was the first offensive by the 2,300 marines who arrived from the United States this month to bolster mainly British forces in the area.
This trend of deploying additional troops in direct confrontations is expected to continue, even at the risk of higher casualties, in provinces such as Nangarhar, Ghazni, Kunar, Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban have established strongholds.
This follows a recent NATO summit at which the member countries agreed to reconcile their differences over Afghanistan and commit more troops, especially to the south, where previously many NATO members were not prepared to send troops.
A new generation of warriors
The Taliban anticipated this "surge" a la the policy of troop reinforcements in Iraq and adjusted accordingly.
Having had several key commanders killed by NATO forces last year, the Taliban's fight has been supplemented by a new generation of warriors who are the sons of war legends dating to the resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. These leaders have autonomous command, but are allied with the Taliban.
Local warlords in northeastern Kapisa province belonging to veteran Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami have already started guerrilla operations against NATO troops. New commanders have emerged, though, including Anwar ul-Haq Mujahid in eastern Nangarhar province and Sirajuddin Haqqani in Ghazni, Kunar, Paktia, Paktika and Khost area. Kabul, too, as happened on Sunday, will come under increased attack - there was another shootout with militants in the capital on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, a group belonging to Anwar ul-Haq carried out a suicide attack on a pro-government tribal jirga (council) in the Khogiani district of Nangarhar province. Khogiani is the native town of Anwar ul-Haq's late father and mujahideen leader against the Soviets, Moulvi Younus Khalis. Khalis had announced his decision to battle against NATO forces in 2005, but he died a year later and his son has now taken over command. His main stronghold is the Tora Bora mountains and Khogiani. His group says it will spread the insurgency to the provincial capital of Jalalabad this year.
Sirajuddin Haqqani's network has already blown the starting whistle for the spring offensive with the brazen attack on the Afghan national day parade in Kabul on Sunday. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the son of famed mujahideen commander against the Soviets, Maualana Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Consolidation in the tribal areas
Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, based in the South Waziristan tribal area, has ended peace talks with the Islamabad government, just a week after ordering a ceasefire against security forces. A spokesman for Mehsud is reported to have said the talks broke down because the government refused to withdraw troops from the tribal areas, the strategic backyard of the Taliban's insurgency in Afghanistan.
Under a well-orchestrated program, the Taliban "switched off" their attacks on politically vulnerable Pakistan this month and they patiently allowed the Western-sponsored game of carrots and sticks involving tribal peace accords to play out, even letting anti-Taliban politicians into their region. For the Taliban, it was just a matter of buying time until the end of April to put the finishing touches to their spring campaign in Afghanistan.
For the past few weeks, the Taliban have been flexing their muscles against "vice" in Mohmand Agency and in Bajaur Agency. They have executed robbers and rescued two abducted Sikhs from gangs of criminals who were demanding ransom for their release. The abductors were then executed. Importantly, the Taliban have established parallel administrations which have undermined moves by secular political parties to activate local tribal networks against the Taliban.
In North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Taliban commander, supported the tribal security forces (Khasadar) on the issue of their salary and negotiated on their behalf with the political agent representing the central government.
Tribal elders, the Pakistani security forces and the political parties watched these developments with some surprise, compounded when the the Taliban suddenly set a deadline for the withdrawal of security forces from the area, and then announced the suspension of peace accords signed only a few days earlier.
The timing of this suspension coincides with talks between the dominant party in the ruling government coalition, the Pakistan People's Party, and another key party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz group (PML-N), in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
These talks broke down on the issue of the judiciary: the PML-N wants judges dismissed last year by President Pervez Musharraf restored. It says if it does not get its way, it will pull its members from the cabinet.
The Taliban sense that political uncertainty in the capital will render the government incapable of pursuing military options in the tribal areas.
The young chief minister of North-West Frontier Province, Amir Haider Khan Hotti, who used his family's rapport with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to muster support behind the peace accords, besides the British Foreign Office, appealed in a state of shock with the Taliban not to take hasty decisions.
But the peace agreements and their breach are a part of the Taliban's broader regional designs.
From February to April, under the garb of various ceasefires, the Taliban have solidified their supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Hundreds of fresh recruits have been able to pass unimpeded from the cities to the tribal areas, where they received brief training before being launched into battle.
Hand-in-hand with the suspension of the peace accords, the Taliban are stepping up pressure on the government to withdraw all troops from the tribal areas. If this happens, and it is possible, the Taliban will have a free hand to expand their training camps for fresh recruits.
US President George W Bush could not have summed up the situation better. In comments on Tuesday, he admitted the United States faced a "long struggle" in Afghanistan against a "very resilient enemy" intent on bringing the Taliban back to power.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online WWW-Text in English - - Hong Kong-based online newspaper with a Bangkok branch office focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe. Successor of the Hong Kong/Bangkok based print daily Asia Times that closed in 1997, it claims an average of 100,000 daily site visitors as of Feb 2006, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region. Root URL on filing date: http://www.atimes.com]



Asia Times: 'Taliban Claim Victory from Defeat'
CPP20080505715029 Hong Kong Asia Times Online WWW-Text in English 1022 GMT 02 May 08
[Report by Syed Saleem Shahzad: "Taliban Claim Victory from a Defeat"; headline as provided by source]
KARACHI - The Taliban have suffered their first major loss in this year's offensive, but they are putting on a brave face, even spinning the setback as a triumph in their broader battle against foreign forces in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, several thousand US Marines captured the town of Garmsir in the southern Afghan province of Helmand in their first large operation since arriving to reinforce North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops last month.
The Taliban-controlled Garmsir had served as a main supply route for their insurgency in the area.
The Taliban, however, claim the loss of one base is not critical, and anyway, for NATO to hold on to its gain it will have to commit
thousands of troops to the outpost, which is located in the inhospitable desert, if it is to effectively guard the lawless and porous border through which the Taliban funnel men, arms and supplies.
The Taliban also claim that one of their underlying goals since the US-led invasion in 2001 has been to tie down as many foreign troops as possible, much as the mujahideen wore down Soviet troops in the 1980s. Various Taliban leaders have told the media they will not resist the forces in Garmsir, one of the biggest concentrations since the 2001 assault on the country.
Meanwhile, the Taliban say they will energize their drive to win over the Pashtun tribal districts on both sides of the border and turn them into "Taliban country", a process that is already well underway.
For NATO, the fight against the Taliban has almost gone full circle. From the initial large offensive involving thousands of troops, NATO resorted to limited special operations with heavy reliance on air attacks. This only increased the population's anger against the coalition as many ordinary citizens died in the onslaught from the sky, and the Taliban were able to capitalize on this discontent.
NATO command has now decided to increase its ground presence, even at the risk of greater casualties. As mentioned above, this suits the Taliban and its al-Qaeda-inspired goal of tying up troops.
As NATO consolidates in the Garmsir deserts, the Taliban will be busy in eastern Afghanistan's border provinces, aiming to bring the tribes there under Taliban control.
One of their weapons is fear, as happens in the Pakistani tribal areas, where through targeted killings of high-profile enemies, such as tribal chiefs, clerics and pro-government personalities, they effectively intimidate their rivals.
Now it is happening in Afghanistan, the latest being the suicide attack, carried out by Anwar ul-Haq Mujahid's Tora Bora group, in the Khogiani district of Nangarhar province against the police chief of Khogiani, who had informed US forces in 2001 about the Tora Bora mountains and al-Qaeda's sanctuary there. The police chief survived, but at least 18 other people were killed.
The mastermind of this strategy is Ustad Yasir, a regional commander of the Pakistan and Afghan border regions, though he was recently rooted out from Khyber Agency in Pakistan after the Taliban were betrayed there. (See Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass Asia Times Online, April 26.)
Having "lost" Khyber Agency, where the Taliban had targeted NATO supply lines, they now want to continue this tactic in adjoining Nangarhar province.
The Taliban don't forget - or forgive - though. On Thursday, they launched a suicide attack in Khyber Agency against Haji Namdar, who betrayed them. Only one of the four explosive plates strapped to the bomber exploded, so Namdar managed to escape unhurt, although 30 others were injured.
At the time of the attack, Namdar was appealing to the masses for donations for the Taliban's struggle in Afghanistan. But now he has been exposed as a traitor and in fact not pro-Taliban. This may allow the Taliban to make inroads into his large constituency, which is traditionally suspicious of the Taliban, who still very much want to regain a footing in Khyber Agency.
Taliban sources have also claimed the capture of an important US military camp in Khost province (close to the Pakistan border), but that could not be independently confirmed. The camp is said to have been taken by Jalaluddin Haqqani and handed over to al-Qaeda militants. If this is true, it would be a step in the Taliban's march to wrest control of Afghan tribes.
Meanwhile, the NATO soldiers guarding the Garmsir deserts, one of the world's hottest spots, with temperatures reaching 50-60 Celsius, face a tough time. The area is central to the country's flourishing opium trade.
On the Afghan side of the border, it is run by elements in the Afghan administration and security forces. (See The Taliban's flower power Asia Times Online) Across the border, it is mainly run by Pakistani-Iranian Baloch smugglers.
The Taliban only allow the transportation of drugs and related activities for payment, which means the drug cartels will facilitate the insurgency, and make it even hotter for NATO.
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