"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

Afghan war reaches a tipping point

Below is a great article from Asia Times Online which not only discusses the tactical implications of the airstrike against the Taliban in Kunduz, but also the strategic implications for NATO as a whole. For strategic implications we have:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) handed down to the Taliban a big political victory as a result of the air strikes in the northern province of Kunduz on Friday, which left over 100 people dead and injured. The Taliban propaganda portrayed the incident as "an intentional massacre".

However, the political impact is felt on several planes. These include, first and foremost, the sense of shock in Germany, where well over two-thirds of people already favor a withdrawal of the 4,500-strong German contingent from Afghanistan. Given the burden of history that Germany is fated to carry, the mere suggestion of the Bundeswehr having committed a war crime abroad becomes a sensitive issue. The political class in Berlin will keenly watch how the groundswell of public opinion pans out in the federal election due on September 27.

On the tactical/operational level, we have:

On the other hand, the Taliban are spreading their wings in the northern provinces, all according to a plan. The stage has come when it is important for the Taliban to demonstrate in political terms that they can expand the war to places of their choice. In military terms, the Taliban tactic aims at overstretching NATO....

No one needs to explain to the Taliban the strategic importance of Kunduz, which used to be center of their military command in northern Afghanistan before their ouster in October 2001. The demographic structure of the region provides an ideal platform for the Taliban's political work.

Finally, Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar discusses what is really at stake during the war in Afghanistan.

Germany is well aware that wars abroad are a serious business. In Afghanistan, in particular, the war has far-reaching consequences, being vastly more than a mere fight against international terrorism; it is also about NATO's future role as a global political organization and the "unfinished business" of the Cold War, as well as about defining the new world order.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Afghan Provincial Governor Praises German Army

From Der Spiegel.

The German army has been inundated with international criticism for ordering an air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers in Afghanistan. But the governor of Kunduz province where the attack happened has now praised the German forces. "They made the right decision at the right time," Mohammed Omar told SPIEGEL.

If you find this interesting, look at this.

German soldiers had always been criticized in the past for not taking robust enough action, he said. "They either flee back to their camp or they sit around crying," said Omar. The population had gotten the impression that the Germans were working together with the Taliban, he added. Now a gang of criminals had been caught in the act, he said.

Omar visited the German military base in Kunduz on Monday. He said he didn't know how many civilians were killed in the air strike. "But the Germans have the support of the population. We didn't receive any of the complaints one usually gets in cases where civilians are killed."

Eyewitnesses said there were 60 armed Taliban on the scene along with 15 to 20 other people. "But at half past two at night, no normal civilians would dare to go out in this area, which is more than four kilometers from the nearest village," said Omar.

Anyone in the vicinity of the fuel tankers must have been criminal or a supporter of the Taliban, he said. The US criticism of the attack appeared to be a gut reaction, he added. "The Americans probably didn't eat well and had bad dreams."

So, the attack was at 0230 in the morning. I agree with this article. Anybody 4 kms from their village at 0230 in the morning must have been supporting the insurgents.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Pakistan wields a double-edged sword

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

The first few thousand of more than 3 million people displaced by fighting in Pakistan's Swat and Malakand regions in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) have returned to their homes. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a tour to a refugee camp, said this week he was "optimistic" about the job more than 30,000 troops are doing in tackling militants in the area.

The months-long offensive in and around Swat has, however, stirred bitter resentment against the Pakistan Army and its Operation Rah-e-Raast (Operation for the Right Path), despite the positive spin the authorities try to put on the operation and their claims of killing top Taliban commanders.

Syed Saleem Shahzad describes some interesting missteps by the Pakistani Army in this article. He describes a credibility problem which has resulted in the Pakistani Taliban uniting vice being fragmented.

The incident stunned the army and it was faced with the reality that far from eliminating Baitullah, he had emerged as the leader of all of the Pakistani Taliban; tribal feuds had been put aside. This was despite the fact that the army clarified on a number of occasions that the military operation was only against Baitullah, not even against his tribe. Clearly, no one believed the army.

One thing which is certain is that a fight against an insurgency the population must be protected, respected, and secured. If the Pakistani Army is not keeping this in mind, it will not succeed. The insurgents will, when attacked, hide among the population and use them as shields. The Pakistani Army needs to restain itself to ensure it does not appear to be fighting the population and focus its efforts on the insurgents. If that means a known insurgent goes free, so be it. But collateral damage must be minimized. In this way, the population will decide to not support the insurgent and will begin to support the government.

A counter-insurgency is a tricky, tricky road to travel on and it must be done with care. The US learned this tough lesson in Iraq. The Pakistani Army will eventually learn this lesson in Pakistan. Unfortunately, until it does, civilians may suffer, from both sides of the conflict.

The good news is Pakistan is now starting to fight the insurgents in their country. The bad news is that tacit support of an insurgency comes not from believing in the insurgent's cause, but from fear of the insurgent's brutal methods. It is difficult to fight a war without brutality, but that is what a counter-insurgent must do everyday. And that is the lesson which Pakistan is now learning.

A final note. The Pakistani Army will learn how to fight the insurgency since the government is a freely elected entity. It will change its methods because it must to survive. An insurgent does not need to, and in fact, when push comes to shove, an insurgent will always sacrifice a civilian. This note is why an insurgency is best dealt with by a democracy which is answerable to its people.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Taliban uses Afghan fear to fight surge

From The Washington Times.

The Taliban is seeking to blunt the surge of an additional 20,000 U.S. troops through stepped-up attacks on Afghans working with the U.S.-backed government, U.S. and Afghan officials say.

This is the first mistake insurgents make when confronted with death. They start attacking the population indiscriminantly.

A U.S. defense official, who also spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the nature of his work, said the Taliban has been "invoking fear" by targeting innocent people who work for the U.S.-led coalition.

They will target known collaborators with the Coalition Forces, but also innocent folks. This word will get around, just like it has in Iraq. Mark my word, this is the beginning of the end for the Taliban. An insurgency cannot survive without the tactic support of the population. Fence sitters will stop becoming fence sitters when they see innocent people murdered.

When the insurgents need to resort to murder to maintain control, they have lost.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Predators and Civilians

From the Wall Street Journal.

Several Taliban training camps in the Pakistan hinterland were hit last week by missiles fired from American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, reportedly killing some 20 terrorists. Remarkably, some people think these strikes are a bad idea.

This article provides an interesting account of predator attack vice other fixed wing attacks. Keys to the discussion are low yield explosives and loiter time which limit collateral damage.

To read the full article, click here.

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Pakistan now facing 2-front war in Waziristan

From Saeed Shah writing for the Mcclatchy Newspapers published in the Miami Herald. The article starts with:

A militant commander in northwest Pakistan tore up a peace deal with the Pakistani government Tuesday, dealing a major blow to the government's campaign against Islamist insurgents in the extremist-controlled Waziristan region.

So the militant commander "tore" up the peace deal which will deal a "major blow" to Pakistan. Why?

"This accord is being scrapped because of Pakistan's failure to stop the American drone attacks in North and South Waziristan," said Ahmadullah Ahmadi, a spokesman for Bahadur. "Since the army is attacking us in North and South Waziristan, we will also attack them."

So, the Predator attacks must be hurting them, and hurting them hard, so hard, in fact, they have decided it is better to go to war with Pakistan than continue to be hit by predator attacks. However, this conclusion is never reached. Instead the conclusion that is reached is Pakistan now has to face a 2-front war.

"You have to have a strategy to isolate Baitullah, clear the Mehsud area, then make arrangements for (fighting) Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur," said Asad Munir, a former head of military intelligence for the tribal area. "You have to make every effort to separate the Wazirs and the Mehsuds."

Well really. That is surprising. I bet the only person who knew Pakistan was going to try to deal with Mehsud first and then Nazir and Bahadur was Mr. Munir. That is probably the reason Pakistan has been denying they are aware of the attacks and is representing they are powerless to stop the attacks.

I bet the fact that Pakistan was aware of the attacks never entered into the thought process of Nazir and Bahadur. I bet, seeing their fellow Taliban wiped out in Swat and a major offensive ongoing in South Waziristan and knowing they were next, never entered into their thought process that they better now side with Baitullah before his forces are wiped out.

I believe in this particular case, the Obama administration is on target.

The Obama administration contends that the drone attacks are hurting the ability of Taliban and al-Qaida commanders to plan and mount operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that the domestic political fallout from the strikes hasn't hurt the Pakistani government too badly, said two U.S. officials who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

Yes folks, Afghanistan and Pakistan are connected. They are linked. You cannot win one without the other. Surprise. We haven't heard that before. If that means you have to fight all enemy forces at one time, that is what it means. Would you rather fight one at a time? Of course, and Pakistan has been doing a great job up until now to fight only one, but Pakistan nor the US get to decide when the enemy will begin to fight. The enemy does. And the enemy has.

Will it be a different battle now? Sure. Were contingencies drawn up in case this happened? Undoubtedly. Did everybody know this day was coming? Of course.

What is more important is to see what comes next. And that will begin to shed some light on what the contingency plan really is.

To read the full article, click here.

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In Afghanistan, crackdown hurts Iran's once-sterling image

From Philip Smucker wrtiing for McClatchy.

"The Iranian government has finally exposed itself as a theocratic, totalitarian regime," said Faqiri, 23, a leader of the organization of a dozen students who meet secretly once a week because the Afghan government frowns on their independent political activities. "Iranian leaders are trying to hang onto power by killing people and destroying their free media."

What is important here is Iranian influence which is rapidly degrading among Middle Eastern nations. What is happening in Iran is a revolution. What is happening to Iranian influence in the region, is revolutionary.

By virtue of its economic ties and support for key areas of the Afghan government, Iran still wields considerable influence in Afghanistan. Increasingly, though, it's viewed by the broader public and by university students in Herat as an anachronistic and authoritarian regime that opposes the will of its own people.

Indeed, after the government crackdown and the popular defiance following the disputed June 12 election, Iran's political influence in Afghanistan is in a downward spiral.

For a full read of the article, click here.

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Pakistan engages the tribes in effort to fight the Taliban

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

As the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency rages in northwestern Pakistan, the Pakistani government has stepped up its efforts to engage the local tribes to battle the extremists.

The effort to gain the support of the Pashtu tribes in northwestern Pakistan was highlighted when General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the Chief of Staff of the Pakistani Army visited the Bajaur tribal agency, where a two-month old offensive against the Taliban is still underway.

Kiyani "expressed his satisfaction that local tribesmen have risen against miscreants and are fully supporting the Army," Geo TV reported. Miscreant is a term often used by Pakistanis to refer to foreign or al Qaeda fighters. "He reiterated that success in this operation was directly linked with popular support" in the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province.

As usual, Mr. Roggio does an excellent job at detailing the issues with bringing the tribes on board to assist the military in routing the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

For a full read, click here.

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Battle with remote militants pivotal to beating al-Qaeda

From the Taipei Times.

A massive battle with Islamist militants in an obscure Pakistani tribal region is proving to be pivotal to the country’s fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, officials said.

The six-week army operation in the remote region of Bajaur on the Afghan border is suspected to have sparked furious extremists into bombing the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad just over a week ago, they said.

While Waziristan has captured most of the headlines about Pakistan’s tribal belt in recent years, the military says Bajaur is where it faces the stiffest resistance since joining the US-led “war on terror” in 2001.

Why have the Taliban/Al Qaeda put up such a defense in Bajaur?

The rebels cannot afford to lose Bajaur’s strategic location.

To the east is the restive former tourist region of Swat and trouble is flaring south, through the Mohmand tribal area and into the major city of Peshawar.

On the Afghan side is a long frontier with the Taliban hot spot of Kunar Province.

Pakistan's battle into Bajaur is significantly affecting the Taliban/Al Qaeda. They have mandated concription. They have recalled forces from Afghanistan.

The Marriott bombing has only caused Pakistani government and military forces to fight harder and to turn the population more against the Taliban/Al Qaeda. If the Pakistani forces can break defenses in Bajaur, the population may turn in earnest against the Taliban/Al Qaeda. With their defeat in Bajaur, Waziristan becomes the next target.

Let us hope the Pakistani government and military has the fortitude to continue this battle through completion.

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Militants pouring in from Afghanistan: Pakistan

From the Khaleej Times.

Militants battling Pakistani forces are getting weapons and reinforcements from Afghanistan, security officials said on Monday, vowing no let-up in their offensive in the northwest.

Government forces launched an offensive in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border in August after years of complaints from US and Afghan officials that Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan were getting help from Pakistani border areas such as Bajaur.

Now the tables have turned and the militants locked in heavy fighting with Pakistani forces are getting help from the Afghan side of the border, officials said.

This report along with the report of the Taliban transcripting sons from Pakistan families in the FATA/NWFP region make an interesting series of reports.

We are told the insurgency in Afghanistan is on the rise. Some point to the fact that our involvement in Iraq, at the expense of Afghanistan, has caused this rise in insurgency in Afghanistan. If true, then while this battle wages in Pakistan, we would expect to see the insurgency in Afghanistan continue to rise or at least stay the same. However, if this report is correct, we should see a decline in the Afghanistan insurgency due to forces being taken out from Afghanistan to Pakistan. I believe the latter will be the case.

If the insurgency is on the rise and the Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent, as is commonly reported by the MSM, then these groups should have enough forces to battle on both sides of the border. Pulling insurgents back from Afghanistan shows this theory is also not correct as does mandating concription of Pakistani sons. Therefore the Afghanistani insurgency is not on the rise given these two reports.

More correctly, over the last two years, Coalition forces have increased in siginificantly in Afghanistan as Iraq winds down and NATO members are putting more forces in Afghanistan. As such, Coalition forces are moving further out from city centers causing battles with insurgents which are being reported by the MSM as a growing insurgency. While insurgent forces have initiated more attacks, I venture to say it is because of a more robust coalition force presence outside of cities vice a resurgent insurgency.

Finally, Pakistan is the last unassailable base for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They must keep the FATA/NWFP region if they hope to have their movement survive. Their unassailable base is now threatened and they are pulling forces out of Afghanistan to help in Pakistan. A similar pulling of forces was seen in mid 2007 from Iraq back to Pakistan/Afghanistan showing Al Qaeda's strength is not as reported.

Instead of losing the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Iraq, the surge defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq and began shaping operations for the Taliban's eventual defeat in Afghanistan where they are forced to withdraw to protect their last unassailable base in Pakistan. Surrounded, this shaping operation will soon beccome the decisive operation resulting in their defeat in Pakistan by a coalition of Pakistani and NATO forces.

This analysis is just another possible scenario not reported by the MSM. It may not be the exact scenario, but just another possible scenario, just as possible as the Coalition is losing Afghanistan.

Just putting out some food for thought.

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Militants shake off Pakistan's grip

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

Behind closed doors in Washington, London and Islamabad a few months ago, the consensus was to initiate a strategic phase of "conflict escalation" in the region, even though it was acknowledged that the price for this would be a surge in militancy in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is what happened, and, given the popularity of the Taliban among Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, peace treaties were then viewed as the best solution, provided the terms and conditions were set by the international and regional players and not by the Taliban.

This did not work, as militant activities have broken the will of Pakistan's leaders, so much so that they are using back channels to sign new peace agreements, but this time on the Taliban's terms.

For a full read of Mr. Shahzad's sobering assessment of Pakistan, click here.

I am not sure I agree with this assessment as spectacularly brutal Al Qaeda attacks in the past have only turned moderate Muslims away from Al Qaeda if a military presence provided security to the population. However, I do recognize this is a big if in Pakistan.

Escalation of attacks in the FATA and NWFP regions in Pakistan are needed to take pressure off of Afghanistan. Simultaneously, these attacks in Pakistan are intended to disrupt future planning and logistics of militants in Pakistan.

A push by Pakistani ground forces aided by precision air power from the US (whether Predator drones or Air Force fighter/bombers) may be needed to significantly disrupt militants in these regions.

While the initial reaction will be a loss of support for the Pakistani government by the people, weakening Al Qaeda/Taliban rule in the region and the presence of Pakistani troops providing security for the populous can shift this initial loss of support into strong support for a Pakistani military presence providing security and liberty for Pakstanis in this region.

While I agree with Mr. Shahzad that this escalation of conflict is not without risk, if played correctly, it could solve the militancy issue in Pakistan once and for all. However, I too am concerned whether the Pakistani leadership and military can pull off this conflict escalation and see it through to its nature end. Simultaneously, I am also concerned about how upcoming US elections may result in a dramatic shift of policy in mid-stream of this conflict escalation in Pakistan.

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How to Defeat al Qaeda: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

From CQ.

Don’t believe him? Consider, Bergen says, al Qaeda’s strategic errors: the bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2005, which killed about 222 and wounded 338; the bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2003, which killed about 35 and wounded more than 160; the hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, in 2005, which killed about 60 and wounded 115; and, of course, Sept. 11, which killed nearly 3,000. Al Qaeda’s attacks have been so egregious, even Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor, Salman al-Awda, took, to the airwaves in 2007 to denounce the al Qaeda leader, and his tactics, by name.

Now, al Qaeda is suspected of being involved in the Marriott Hotel bombings in Pakistan this past weekend, which so far has killed 53 and wounded more than 260.

What all these attacks have in common is the condemnation of not only the mostly Islamic governments of the countries where they occurred but also other Islamists. Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killing of innocent Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere has only intensified the jihad from within.

While I believe Al Qaeda is self-destructing from within due to its brutal tactics, I do believe its brutal tactics would more likely lead to intimidation of a populous if not confronted by a strong military seeking to secure the population and fighting against Al Qaeda.

However, I do agree with the article when it states we [thru our military forces] will not defeat Al Qaeda, only Islam will. For Islam to succeed in defeating Al Qaeda, these countries need to be supported by all our instruments of national power. Suporting governments fighting against the war of terror is the diplomatic arm of the four instruments of national power. Showing Al Qaeda's atrocities is the informational arm. Al Qaeda's source of fighters need to be given other employment, the economic arm of national power.

All four instruments of national power must be used in conjunction. In Iraq, the government needed to be overthrown, which is why the military instrument was the most heavily used. So to in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan freely elected a democratic government. In this region, we need to focus our effort on informational, diplomatic, and economic efforts; however, the military arm still needs to be used to keep the insurgents off balance.

For a full read, click here.

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The gloves are off in Pakistan

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

Pakistani authorities have compared Saturday evening's devastating truck suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel in the capital Islamabad to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

In terms of its psychological effect, the blast, which killed more than 80 people, injured hundreds and burnt out the hotel, has traumatized the nation, and, like 9/11, marks the beginning of a new battle: this time not the "war on terror", but the war by terrorists.

Pakistan is now the declared battleground in this struggle by Islamic militants to strike first against American interests before the United States' war machine completes its preparations to storm the sanctuaries of al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Just how will Pakistan fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Syed Saleem Shahzad notes in his article that over 300 American "trainers" just arrived in Pakistand and have taken over large area in Tarbella where the CIA operated out of in the 1990s.

There is little doubt in the minds of those familiar with the American activities at Tarbella that preparations are being made for an all-out offensive in North-West Frontier Province against sanctuaries belonging to the Taliban and al-Qaeda led by bin Laden. Pakistani security sources maintain more American troops will arrive in the coming days.

Now the battle for Pakistan begins in earnest.

I noted before Al Qaeda's bombing of the Marriott hotel was a huge mistake. It did not accomplish its tactical objective (killing Pakistani and foreign leaders) nor its operational objective (making the Pakistani leadership succumb to Al Qaeda's rule), and it had strategic consequences. Pakistanis themselves do not want a rampant insurgency in their country. The Marriott bombing shows they have one and the newly elected leadership will now go after them in earnest. The Marriott bombing has allowed the Pakistani leadership to take off their shackles to allow the full force of American Intelligence into Pakistan to hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership.

Do not forget that Pakistan represents Al Qaeda's last unassailable base from which to plan, coordinate, and conduct terrorist training and operations. Al Qaeda saw this battle coming with the loss of Iraq which is why Al Qaeda forces there have been redirected to Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the surge of forces in Afghanistan and Pakistani forces in the FATA/NWFP region, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will now be battling for their last remaining sanctuary.

Expect a tough, violent battle in this region. As the battle continues, expect Al Qaeda to alienate the Pakistani population more and more with indiscriminant attacks on innocent civilians to intimidate them. However, expect the Pakistani military to provide security rapidly for the population effectively limiting the intimidation. With an intelligence network already deeply entrenched in Pakistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will not last for very long. Nor will Pakistani leaders who are in bed with these members.

Looking back, one can understand why Al Qaeda fears a democracy more than anything else. It spells their death and destruction.

As we look forward from 9/11, we see several democracies on the rise in Muslim countries -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Al Qaeda made Iraq its central front of its war of terror. It lost that battleground despite the help of some unlikely players, namely Iran and Syria. The small surge of American troops in Afghanistan coupled with a new defensive posture of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan due to attacks directly in Pakistan will result in Afghanistan's democracy coming of age next year or a year later. Finally, with its defeat in Pakistan, we will now have three countries which have fought and won their democratic right.

The only thing we need to do at this point is to continue to support democratic reforms in these countries. This fact should be the crux of the debate when American go to the polls in November.

Al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks not only sought to bring down America militarily, but also economically. It was close to achieving its goal, and may very well do so in the near future. However, we should not go down without a fight. It appears the real fight has just begun, now that the battle for Pakistan begins in earnest.

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Jihadi Hellish message to Pakistan

Walid Phares' take on the bombing in Pakistan.

As shown by world networks, the hellish flames ravaging the Mariott Hotel in Islamabad seemed like a vision of the Apocalypse. That's at least how many survivors of the Terror attack that massacred more than 60 and wounded hundreds have described it: "The end of the World." But beyond the barbaric bloodshed and the human suffering ensuing, the heavy question fuses fast: How to read this Jihadi mayhem and what is the message behind the bombing?

As usual, Walid Phares provides interesting insights into Islamists tactics and objectives.

For a full read, click here.

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US strikes in Pakistan aimed at stopping the next Sept.11 attack

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

US Special Operations Forces have stepped up attacks inside Pakistan's lawless tribal agencies in part of an effort to prevent the next major attack inside the United States, senior military and intelligence sources told The Long War Journal.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said reports that the Bush administration is focused on "getting Osama bin Laden," the elusive leader of al Qaeda's global network, are overblown.

"Getting bin Laden would be nice, and it would clearly be a victory, but at the end of the day, al Qaeda's network will still exist," one source told The Long War Journal. "We need to take down that network to stop the next attack on US soil. Al Qaeda is more than bin Laden."

The cross-border raids are designed to disrupt al Qaeda's training camps and safe houses that aid in preparing for attacks against the West, sources say. The US is also targeting al Qaeda's Taliban allies in Pakistan, such as the powerful Haqqani family in North Waziristan and the Taliban forces of Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan.

Once again, Bill Roggio provides excellent analysis of ongoing Predator strikes in Pakistan and their overarching objective.

For a full read, click here.

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Muslim support for suicide attacks, bin Laden down: poll

From AFP.

The number of Muslims around the world who say suicide attacks are acceptable has fallen sharply in the past six years, as has Muslims' confidence in Osama bin Laden, a survey by a US think-tank showed Thursday.

Many pundits tell us that our War on Terror has only incited Muslims. However, as this article shows, the War on Terror has hit home with most Muslims. Overwhelmingly, they do not like suicide attacks. While the article states,

But, the Pew Research Center warned in its Global Attitudes Project, significant minorities of Muslims in eight countries surveyed continue to endorse suicide bombings and support the Al-Qaeda leader.

This significant minority of Muslims is never above 1/3 for suicide attacks and is a similar low percentage for support for Osama Bin Laden.

The question becomes why?

First, extremists muslims have killed fellow muslims which has caused intellectual turbulence among muslims. In fact, their attacks, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, are almost solely directed against fellow muslims.

Second, the extremists have lost in Iraq thanks to the surge of American forces which provided time for the Iraqi Army to build capacity. If we would have pulled out of Iraq and left it a quaqmire, I am sure support for Osama Bin Laden and suicide attacks would have been much higher.

Finally, as I have stated before, people, whether muslim, christian, or other, just want to be able to work and provide for their family. Extremist muslims, the type supported by Bin Laden who commit suicide attacks, prevent this from happening when they extort money, blow up shops, prevent commerce, etc, etc. Fellow muslims see and know this effect firsthand. They do not like it.

We must use this drop in popularity to our advantage in the information war against muslim extremists. This change in attitude is important to capitalize on. Bullets will never win this war. Changes in attitudes will. Changes in attitudes are happening.

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'This is Not Us'

From the Weekly Standard.

Photini Philippidou reports that there's a Pakistani protest song "Ye Hum Naheen", Urdu for "This Is Not Us", seeking to redefine Islam as anti-terrorist. The song has stirred 62.8 million Pakistanis to sign a petition, either by name or thumbprint, saying that true Muslims don't support terrorism. Check it out here.

It is interesting to note 62.8 million Pakistanis have signed this petition. Watching the video, it is noted that the Pakistani Soccer team also chanted this title.

It is reports like this which confirm what I have said in the past. Al Qaeda/the Taliban's extremism is not supported by the vast majority of Muslims. This fact was true in Iraq. It is true in Afghanistan. It is true in Pakistan.

However, Iraq had a surge of forces which secured the population enough so that fence sitters stopped their tacit support of the extremists eventually causing mass non-support for Al Qaeda in Iraq among the Sunni population in Al Anbar which spread through much of Iraq resulting in the relative peace Iraq now enjoys.

More forces are needed in Afghanistan to also cause these "fence sitters" to stop their tacit support of the Taliban. Similarly, the Pakistani Army needs to move full force into the FATA/NWFP regions to provide security for these fence sitters. Several jirgas have been held in these regions which only resulted in death to the jirga members and no response from the Pakistani military. In turn, tacit support of Al Qaeda/the Taliban still exists in this region.

Al Qaeda is demoralized in Pakistan as US predator attacks continue unabaited. Now is the time to strike at the heart of Al Qaeda in this region, their last unassailable base and the homeland of the birth of Al Qaeda. Compensatory payments for collateral damage on our part will go a long way to ensuring the population does not move over to Al Qaeda. A massive military build up in these regions by Pakistani forces will ensure Al Qaeda's presence is reduced.

While a surge of American forces was needed in Iraq to allow time for Iraqi forces to gain capacity, Pakistani forces already have this capacity. They just need to use it. Yes, the Pakistani military is not well trained in COIN operations, but neither was the Iraqi Army which trained on the battlefield. So too can the Pakistani Army train on the fly as they have a much more robust officer and NCO corps than the newly capable Iraqi Army.

The US must continue its pressure in this region to bring the Pakistani Army out of its garrisons and into the fight. While risky, it is much more risky to allow Al Qaeda to retain its unassailable base in this region.

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Letters from Al Qaeda leaders show Iraqi effort is in disarray

From Billl Roggio at The Long War Journal.

Al Qaeda's senior leadership has lost confidence in its commander in Iraq and views the situation in the country as dire, according to a series of letters intercepted by Multinational Forces Iraq earlier this year.

The letters, which have been sent exclusively to The Long War Journal by Multinational Forces Iraq, are a series of communications between Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda in Iraq's leader, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq. These letters were intercepted by Coalition forces in Baghdad on April 24, 2008. One of the letters written by Zawahiri is dated March 6, 2008.

Just how bad is it for Al Qaeda in Iraq now vice in March.

An operative captured on Aug. 21 said the group has "lost the overall fight" and suffers from "extreme financial difficulties." Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq do "not presently have any long time plan and are only focused on short time fighting," the operative told US forces.

Another operative, also captured on Aug. 21, said "foreign fighters in Iraq are on the brink of extinction and the group's "biggest concern right now is where to sleep at night without being arrested."....

Throughout Iraq, recruiting is difficult if not impossible. "The main problem is that al Qaeda in Iraq has lost support of the people in Iraq," one captured operative said. [emphasis added]

The significance of these findings cannot be overstated. For an insurgency to exist and proliferate, it needs three main things:

First and foremost, an insurgency needs an unassailable base, that is, a place from which insurgents and leaders sleep, plan future activities, and provide logistical support to the network. From the above we get Al Qaeda no longer enjoys an unassailable base and are not only not planning future activities, but are just trying to find a place to sleep.

Secondly, an insurgency needs at least the tacit support of the population. Tacit support is either allowing the insurgents to operate in a region out of fear of indifference or actively supporting an insurgent. Due to Al Qaeda extreme form of Islam and cruel punishment of members who did not obey this extreme form of Islam, Al Qaeda in Iraq lost its popular support. The surge of American forces and later Iraqi forces gave those who were fearful the backbone to confront Al Qaeda. The successful Awakening movement in Al Anbar thus quickly spread to the rest of Iraq. Al Qaeda lost its popular and tacit support from the population. This fact feeds back into the first tenet which is an insurgency needs an unassailable base. Without popular support, Al Qaeda also lost its unassailable base.

Finally, all insurgencies need external support. Iran is not providing for Al Qaeda and from the sounds of it, neither is Al Qaeda's Zawahiri as he no longer trusts Al Qaeda's in Iraq's Commander. Letters have gone unanswered as have requests for information. Al Qaeda in Pakistan is also being pounded every few days by Predator strikes which limits the support this level of command can give to Al Qaeda in Iraq. They are now trying to stay alive themselves much less plan detailed future operations for the network.

Al Qaeda made Iraq its central front of its terror war. It lost this battle not only against the Shia dominated Iraqi government, but more importantly among the Sunni minority population because it could not provide victories against the Shia dominated government and began a cruel abuse of its perceived power in the region.

Now that Al Qaeda in Pakistan is being pursued more vigorously, Al Qaeda in general will lose more and more popular support in this region. We are already seeing this as tribal jirgas form to rid themselves of Taliban influence and fighters. The difference in Pakistan right now is the Taliban are able to strike back effectively against these jirgas. They lost this ability in Al Anbar, Iraq which resulted in Al Qaeda in Iraq's eventual collapse.

A surge of US forces into Afghanistan will yield similar results in Afghanistan. A push by Pakistani forces into the FATA/NWFP regions in Pakistan will limit Al Qaeda's last unassailable base.

The spring of 2009 is going to be an interesting time as the snow melts in this region and all forces are rested up to begin the next phase of the battle.

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Where Eagles Dare

From Michael Yon reporting from Afghanistan.

When I was briefed on the top-secret mission before it was launched, I thought : “Good grief. I might have to report on the failure of one of the largest and most important missions of the entire war.”

What what the largest and most important mission of the entire war?

The top-secret mission was to deliver a new turbine to the Kajaki Dam. The second-largest hydro-electric dam in Afghanistan, Kajaki is designed to operate three turbines, and was originally built with American money in 1953 to provide electricity to Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. But that was another era of the Great Game. Only two out of three turbines were installed, and they fell apart when the Soviet Union pulled out from Afghanistan in 1989.

During the march to Kajaki Dam, the convoy was ambushed several times but managed to bring all turbine components safely to the dam. The Taliban sustained 200-250 killed during the mission which tells one the importance they put on stopping this mission. Not a single Coalition Soldier was a combat casualty.

I agree with Michael Yon. Doubling power generation at Kajaki Dam may have very well been one of the most important missions of this war.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan reopens vital border crossing to NATO

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

Pakistan has reopened the vital Torkham border crossing point to NATO supply trucks destined for Afghanistan. The crossing point was closed late on Sept. 5, the same day the Pakistani military threatened to retaliate against the US for conducting attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda inside Paksitan.

Pakistan's defense minister said the border closure was meant to show the US that it would not tolerate airstrikes and raids inside its borders, Daily Times reported.

It is interesting to note it is also being put out through other government channels that the Khyber Pass was closed due to security reasons. Whenever there is confusion like this within one government, it usually points to a political vice a security issue. Expressed a different way, the security reason was the excuse to close the crossing but the real reason was political.

As Mr. Roggio points out, the US has conducted many raids within Pakistan recently to include assaulting in forces in helicopters. One of the many reasons Musharraf lost power in Pakistan is his close ties with the US. This mistrust from the people also made it difficult for him to fully engage the Taliban/Al Qaeda in the tribal regions.

Pakistani leaders still want the same ties with the US, but they do not want to run the risk of losing the popular support of the people. So where does that leave them? The Pakistani leadership can express their anger at the US and even close a crossing for a day to show their anger. Standing up in this way to the US endures them with their people. At the same time, they can allow US forces to continue to bomb Al Qaeda positions in the tribal regions to keep Al Qaeda on the defensive, and quite possibly get lucky enough to kill a significant leader here and there.

Since a counterinsurgency is not only a military fight, but also a fight for popularity among the people, the Pakistani government puts itself in a win-win situation. Al Qaeda leaders are taken out which increases the popularity of the government and helps in protecting the population. The Pakistani government protests and occassionally closes a vital supply route to show the US it can affect its supplies to Afghanistan. The people are happy because their leadership is showing them they are not puppets to the US and will stand up for their sovereignty.

I believe Pakistani and US leaders have finally come up with a winning strategy in dealing with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan will continue to use US high technology to strike deep targets within its borders keeping the Al Qaeda leadership on the run. In turn, Al Qaeda and the Taliban respond to such attacks with suicide bombs against the populous which results in the populous moving against these groups which makes it easier for Pakistan to use its military internally to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Since the key terrain in a counterinsurgency is the populous, winning over this terrain is key to stopping an insurgency. This fact is something Musharraf failed to accomplish but the PPP leadership in Pakistan is focusing on. Only when the population turns against the insurgent can military forces be used effectively to hunt key leaders which run the insurgency. What we are seeing now in Pakistan are shaping operations to win over the key terrain, the population. This ballet between shaping operations and decisive operations will continue until the population is fully won over, at which time we will see more direct military actions. This fact was also the reason why a temporary halt in direct military operations was called for in Pakistan during the month of Ramadan.

Make no doubt about it. Pakistani leaders want to ensure the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban are conducted on their terms, meaning defeating these insurgencies while maintaining power of the government. This fine balancing act is what Musharraf was unable to maintain. We will see if the PPP can maintain the balancing act better.

As winter approaches in this region, the insurgents will again go to ground and begin planning operations for next spring. Come next spring, we will see more Coalition troops in Afghanistan who will be able to move out and confront the Taliban. We will see the Pakistani military begin to take the fight more directly to the insurgents in the FATA/NWFP regions. We will see the population in Pakistan come closer and closer in line with the elected government and begin to rise up against the insurgents who will move their operations to the Afganistani side of the border just in time for Coalition forces to finish them off. A year or two from now, Pakistan will have a greatly diminished insurgent problem. As such, Afghanistan will also benefit.

The birthplace of the Salafist insurgency will be no more or will move to another location to begin to rebuild its base of support. Iraq will be a relatively free democratic government supportive of US interests in the region as will Pakistan and Afghanistan. Iran will probably be closer and closer to acquiring a nuclear warhead or will have finally acquired one. But it will be surrounded by a NATO member, Turkey, to the north and US friendly regimes to its west, Iraq, and east, Afghanistan which will have large armies to prevent it from using it fanaticism to "wipe" Israel off the map. Pakistan and India will become partners freeing up their forces to focus on the common enemy in the region, Iran. Who knows, Israel and Syria may have established diplomatic ties by then, further isolating Iran.

With all these US friendly regimes on its borders, intelligence coming out of Iran will be easier as their borders are infiltrated by tribal boundaries which overlap territorial boundaries. Good intelligence is the key factor which prevent wars and if wars become inevitable, its what makes wars winnable.

As I described above what is undoubtedly the long term strategic goal of the US above, it is not by any means as rosy as it appears. Three countries are also vying for control of this region, namely Iran, Russia, and China. Russia and China are two superpowers we know how to deal with. They have established countries and are players in the world economy. They too suffer from insurgencies. They will be easy to bring along as gains in this region will undoubtedly make these countries economically more secure. Iran is the country not willing to be a member of the greater world economy and is the promoter of a global insurgency. It is, in reality, the last unassailable base for radical islamic forces.

It must, in time, be taken to task for support to radical islamists. That is why Iran let us move into and dethrone Saddam. That is why Iran is now supporting an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. It knows its time will come. It; however, can only delay the inevitable.

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Afghanistan's war has a new battlefield

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

In anticipation of a new era in Pakistani politics under president-in-waiting Asif Ali Zardari, the first volleys have been fired in a renewed joint Pakistan-North Atlantic Treaty Organization venture to fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda beyond Afghanistan's borders.

Barely a week after a meeting on the US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian Ocean between the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, and the chief of the Pakistani Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, to discuss infiltration points for militants going from Pakistan to Afghanistan and to pin-point al-Qaeda training camps, American special forces carried out two attacks inside Pakistan.

However, according to the Daily Times, the Khyber Pass is closed. This strategic route brings about 70% of all supplies needed by Coalition forces in Afganistan.

Pakistan stopped supplies to the United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan through its western Torkham border on Friday, citing security concerns.

A senior official said the measure followed increasing Taliban threats to trucks carrying the supplies.

“All Afghanistan-bound supplies for the International Security Assistance Force have been stopped as the [Torkham] highway is vulnerable,” Khyber Agency Political Agent Tariq Hayat told Daily Times, dismissing the impression that the decision is a reaction to continued United States attacks in Waziristan.

It will be interesting to watch this situation develop. Has Pakistan committed to the war on terror as discussed by Syed Saleem Shahzad or is Pakistan forcing the US to stop cross border attacks by closing the Khyber Pass? I believe we will have to wait and see how this situation unfolds.

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Taliban win a fight - and settle scores (- As do others in the global match for control)

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

When several hundred Pakistani troops backed by paramilitary forces on Friday launched an operation against militants in Bajaur Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, they received a most unwelcome surprise.

News of the offensive, which proved to be the most bloody this year in Pakistan, had been leaked to the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda militants by sympathizers in the security forces, and the army walked into a literal hail of bullets.

In the first few hours, 65 Pakistani Soldiers were killed, 25 were taken prisoner, and several more were wounded. Furthermore, in the article Shahzad notes,

On Wednesday morning, Haji Namdar, the chief of the "Vice and Virtue" organization in Khyber Agency, a tribal region on the Afghan border, was gunned down in his office by Baitullah's men.

Although Namdar supported the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, he was a strategic asset for the Pakistani security agencies trying to wipe out al-Qaeda-influenced radicals and the neo-Taliban.

In April, he sold out the Taliban after initially agreeing to help them target the North Atlantic Treaty Organization supply lines passing through Khyber Agency. (See Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass Asia Times Online, April 26, 2008.) Namdar had survived an earlier suicide attack in which about 30 people died.

The above linked story is great read to understand why Namdar was killed. In another story in the Asia Times Online, Syed Saleem Shahzad reviews Al Qaeda's/The Taliban's strategy.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda have with some success squeezed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's)supply lines that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan, especially goods in transit in Khyber Agency on the border.

He continues with the Taliban's two major objectives,

An al-Qaeda member told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, "The single strategy of severing NATO's supply lines from Pakistan is the key to success. If the blockage is successfully implemented in 2008, the Western coalition will be forced to leave Afghanistan in 2009, and if implemented next year, the exit is certain by 2010."

Several al-Qaeda cells have apparently been activated in Karachi to monitor the movement of NATO supply convoys.

This focus on Karachi coincides with two major events. First, the Pakistani armed forces are heavily engaged in fighting against militants in Bajaur Agency and in the Swat Valley in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.

At the same time, the coalition government in Islamabad is preparing to impeach Washington's point man in the region, President Pervez Musharraf, mainly over his implementation of a state of emergency and dismissal of the judiciary last year when he headed a military administration

Later Mr. Shahzad notes,

NATO is understandably acutely concerned over protecting its supply lines into land-locked Afghanistan. When routes in Khyber Agency came under attack this year, NATO reached an agreement with Russia for some goods to transit through Russian territory. This alternative is costly, though, given the distances involved, and can only be used in emergencies.

Washington tried to get Iran to permit the passage of goods from its seaports into neighboring Afghanistan, but Tehran refused point-blank.

Now we are beginning to see the bigger geo-strategic picture, especially when tying together other players in this region. Iran, to no surprise refused to allow supplies thru its territory. In addition, America has had a pretty timid response with regards to Russia and its ongoing actions in Georgia. Finally, Isreal is also in the mix.

With the eruption of fighting between Russia and Georgia, Israel has found itself in an awkward position as a result of its arms sales to Georgia. Israel is now caught between its friendly relations with Georgia and its fear that the continued sale of weaponry will spark Russian retribution in the form of increased arms sales to Iran and Syria.

So, American supplies lines are threatened in Pakistan, especially with the death of Namdar. The only other option available is bringing supplies thru Russia, who could quickly turn this supply line off if the US interferes with its Georgia operations. Israel, who supplies arms to Georgia, is hard-pressed to continue to supply Georgia as Russia may retaliate by sending more arms to Iran, hindering its ability to reduce a potential nuclear threat from Iran. Finally, we have an article from an earlier Rambling from the Rock post about a naval task force composed of the US, Britian, and France on station at the Persian Gulf with a Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean

All the parties/players in this region are positioning themselves for control in key oil producing or oil shipping regions. A storm is coming, make no doubt about it. Who ultimately comes out victorious may well decide control of this region for decades to come.

Noting the coming storm, all parties may settle for a win-win proposition. Russian wants to reclaim Georgia and have control of its strategic oil fields and pipeline. Israel wants to diminish Iran's nuclear capability, as does all the other players, to include Russia. Russia; however, wants to limit US influence in its backyard, the Middle East, and therefore has no problem giving Iran nuclear technologies to keep the US focused on this enemy and not on its own actions in the Caucus region. For its part, Russia can continue to sell nuclear material to Iran knowing down the road the Iranian nuclear program has a good possibility of being bombed out of existence by Britian, France, the US, and/or Israel.

The staging of its (Russia's) naval task force close to, but in a position to not affect, an allied attack shows its supports Iran, but unfortunately could not come to its aid (in direct action against the US or its western allies which it fears). Therefore Russia continues to have good relations with Iran, possibly beginning again to build its nuclear capability, and in the meantime swallows up Georgia with future sites on the Ukraine. It becomes a winner with more capability down the road.

The reduction of Iran's nuclear ability will be the winning game for Britian, France, Israel, and the US, if they have the nerve to attack. If not, Russia wins this battle also. If they do attack, Russia still wins Georgia and can continue to resupply Iran and maintain influence in the Middle East.

If the US decided to blunt the attack in Georgia and attack Iran, Russia could assist the Taliban in closing the Khyber Pass supply line and close its own, or better yet, keep it open at a hefty cost. Russia still wins, but to a lesser extent. Russia could also decide to supply Iran with better air defense missiles allowing it to still influence Iraq without fear of retribution, thus continuing to tie up Allied forces in Iraq. As it stands now, the coalition just lost another partner in Iraq as 2000 Georgian troops are flying home to defend their country.

All the chess pieces are on the board. Now it is just a matter of future moves, counter-moves, and reactions. The permutations are endless, but the winners and losers are already identified.

Now for a lesson in global politics and strategy. Do you want to be a country in the global politics who can influence and defend its own future path or a country who depends on others to influence its future path? Personally, I want to be part of a country which has major pieces on the chess board to determine its own future path as opposed to a featherweight boxer in the ring with a heavyweight boxer.

The USA is the heavyweight champion in the realm of global politics and strategy. Russia is the contender who has been beaten once but is inline for a rematch. All others are lesser contenders who need the support of either of these two heavyweights to have say in the modern world.

As we move closer to another general election where the candidates are clearly for and against a military or other presence in the Middle East, we must keep in mind what is truly at stake. At stake is whether we will be the heavyweight champion in the region, the beaten contender, or just another featherweight boxer who needs a heavyweights assistance to have any say in global strategy and in the global economy. To me, the choice is easy.

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Missiles kill 10 militants South Waziristan tribal region

From Dawn.

At least 10 militants were reported killed when four missiles fired from Afghanistan hit their hideouts in a Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region, officials said Wednesday. The missiles struck two militant hideouts in Baghar village in the area Tuesday night, a senior security official told AFP. “At least 10 militants were killed in the strikes according to our initial reports,” he said.

What is interesting about this release is the missiles apparently came from Afghanistan. APF via Yahoo is reporting

In Kabul, the US military said the missiles were not fired by either NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) or the US-led coalition.

"This is not true. We have no reports of missiles being fired into Pakistan," US-led coalition spokesman Lieutenant Nathan Perry told AFP.

The US Central Intelligence Agency is also known to operate pilotless drone aircraft armed with missiles, but it was not available for comment.

The initial story from Dawn makes it seem like surface-to-surface missiles. However, the Yahoo story seems to link missiles from a Predator aircraft, which would seem more realistic. We will continue to monitor the story for more details.

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Report: Exams prove abuse, torture in Iraq, Gitmo

From Yahoo via AP.

Not wanting to downplay this article nor the use of torturous methods, but I find the wording of the article interesting. First the title.

Report: Exams prove abuse, torture in Iraq, Gitmo

Exams prove abuse, torture. Is it abuse, torture, or both? Clearly being locked up in a jail is abusive when compared to being free. But abuse if a far cry from torture. So, what does the article say about abuse and/or torture.

Medical examinations of former terrorism suspects held by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found evidence of torture and other abuse that resulted in serious injuries and mental disorders, according to a human rights group....

Seven were held in Abu Ghraib between late 2003 and summer of 2004, a period that coincides with the known abuse of prisoners at the hands of some of their American jailers. Four of the prisoners were held at Guantanamo beginning in 2002 for one to almost five years....

Because the medical examiners did not have access to the 11 patients' medical histories prior to their imprisonment, it was not possible to know whether any of the prisoners' ailments, disabilities and scars pre-dated their confinement. The U.S. military says an al-Qaida training manual instructs members, if captured, to assert they were tortured during interrogation.

Looking at three different parts of the article and putting them together we get seven were held at Abu Ghraib during a period of known abuse (again, not torture). The facts surrounding Abu Ghraib have already been reported. So is this article just a rehash of Abu Ghraib abuses that already resulted in disciplinary actions? The article also goes on to state the medical conditions of detainees was unknown beforehand. In addition, are the detainees using their training as the article discusses and then disregards. Now, let's look at what is considered torture.

_Stress positions, including being suspended for hours by the arms or tightly shackled for days.

_Prolonged isolation and hooding or blindfolding, a form of sensory deprivation.

_Extreme heat or cold.

_Threats against themselves, their families or friends from interrogators or guards.

Ten said they were forced to be naked, some for days or weeks. Nine said they were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation. At least six said they were threatened with military working dogs, often while naked. Four reported being sodomized, subjected to anal probing, or threatened with rape.

Stress positions - Economy seats on airlines are stress positions. However, the article states it "includes" (but doesn't state it was caused by) being suspended by arms or shackled. So, at the very least all detainees had handcuffs or zipcuffs on. And they apparently were on rather tightly. Again, where is the torture?

Blindfolding - We have all seen pictures of detainees blindfolded during transport within the prison and to/from the prison. I am not sure this constitutes torture, much less abuse.

Extreme heat/cold - Both or one of them? Ok, it is hot in Iraq and Gitmo. Got it, the prisoners were hot. So was I wrapped up in body armor in Iraq when it was 130F. While uncomfortable, I would much rather do that than fly in economy seats for prolonged distances on an airplane.

Threats - So, guards or interrogators told detainees they were going to kill and/or capture their other terrorists friends. Again, not sure where the abuse is in this story.

At times, guard/interrogators kept detainees naked, deprived of sleep, or threatened with dogs (understand it doesn't state there were actual attacks). These all sound like pretty sublime interrogation techniques.

However, the article does state, "Four reported being sodomized, subjected to anal probing, or threatened with rape. " Note, the article does not state that any of the detainees were sodomized or subjected to anal probing. Instead, detainees could have only been threatened with rape.

Finally, the article states,

The patients underwent intensive, two-day long exams following standards and methods used worldwide to document torture.

"We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering," he said.

Clear physical and psychological evidence was found of torture and abuse. What physical evidence? The article already stated that past records were not available. As for psychological evidence these detainees are fanatical terrorists who blow themselves up, make women cover themselves from head to toe, prevent women from being educated, or kill a women if she reports a rape. I question their psychological stability prior to detention.

In addition, the article never unequivocably states detainees were attacked by dogs, raped, or hung by the arms. It just states they were threatened or shackled. Again, these are interrogation techniques. The goal is to make the detainee believe that he is going to be attacked by dogs, raped, or hung by the arms if he does not talk.

I guess what the article is implying is we should put the detainees in 72F rooms with nice beds and pillows, TVs, and microwaves and then ask them for information. If they don't give us the information, we should give them ice cream and tuck them in for a good night sleep. If they still don't tell us anything, we should put them up in a middle class neighborhood in the middle of America and let them go free.

Come on folks. This is a war against people who drive up to an outdoor market with a car ladened with 300 pounds of explosives and blow themselves and scores of innocent men, women, and children. This is a war against people who kill women if they accuse a man of rape. This is a war against people who circumcise women to keep them faithful. This is a war against people who want possession of a nuclear weapon so they can kill thousands with a single push of a red button.

I truly believe that threatening detainees with dogs, handcuffing them, depriving them of sleep, blindfolding them, striping them of clothes, making them hot (or cold), threatening to hurt their friends (read other terrorists), and even threatening rape to make them talk are sound interrogation techniques, not abuse and certainly not torture by any stretch of the imagination.

It is called interrogation and it is what is done during war. It is what is done in a war in which the enemy does not wear a uniform, hides behind civilians, and indiscriminately kills innocent women and children.

Just my thoughts. I welcome yours.

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Militant group orders Baitullah’s Taliban to leave Khyber Agency - The Tale Continues

From the Daily Times.

Conflict has arisen between anti-United States jihadi groups, as Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahi Anil Munker chief Haji Namdar has ordered all Baitullah Mehsud-led militants to leave the Khyber Agency, following claims of responsibility for the suicide attack on him on Thursday.

All militants belonging to Baitullah Mehsud’s group have been ordered to leave the Khyber Agency following the confirmation that the suicide attack on Namdar was ordered by Baitullah,” a close aide to Namdar told Daily Times on Saturday.

One may ask who is Namdar. Recently, Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote an article in the Asia Times about how Namdar double-crossed the Taliban in the Khyber Agency after the Taliban successfully blew up 40 or more tankers waiting to cross the Pakistani border into Afghanistan.

In short, the tribes in Khyber Pass are businessmen who's history of monitoring the pass and exacting taxes for its use has made them more realists than the fanatical Taliban. The recent Taliban attack which destroyed 40+ tankers was an afront to their business as was the attack on the Shura they called to discuss the future of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Khyber Pass area. As such, their leader, a devout Muslim betrayed Taliban positions, resulting in many Taliban killed or captured.

What is critical here is a rift exists in the tribes in the NWFP in general and the Khyber Pass specifically. This rift is probably the biggest rift that has existed thus far. US forces must continue to support Namdar as he is an element which can be dealt with and trusted.

For a full read of the Daily Times article, click here.

For a full read of Syed Saleem Shahzad's article in the Asia Times, click here.

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Al-Qaeda is dwindling in Afghanistan and Iraq

From The Daily Star of Lebanon.

The most interesting discovery during a visit to Jalalabad, where Osama bin Laden planted his flag in 1996, is that Al-Qaeda seems to have all but disappeared. The group is on the run, too, in Iraq, and that raises some interesting questions about how to pursue this terrorist enemy in the future.

No only is Al Qaeda's presence reduced in the Jalalabad, it is also in the north, east, and southern part of Afghanistan. Now, insurgents in Afghanistan are a loose collection of insurgent groups, mostly linked to historic warlords, but not a centrally controlled organization. In Iraq, we see much of the same.

Traveling in Iraq this year, I've heard similar accounts of Al-Qaeda's demise there. That stems from two factors: the revolt by Sunni tribal leaders against Al-Qaeda's brutal intimidation; and the relentless hunt for its operatives by US Special Forces. As the flow of human and technical intelligence improves and the US learns to fuse it for quick use by soldiers on the ground, the anti-terrorist rollback accelerates.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online. A very interesting development, if true, in the Khyber Pass region in Pakistan.

KARACHI - The Taliban and their al-Qaeda associates, in what they considered a master stroke, this year started to target the Western alliance's supply lines that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Their focal point was Khyber Agency, in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a key transit point for as much as 70% of the alliance's supplies needed to maintain its battle against the Afghan insurgency.

The spectacular blowing up on March 20 of 40 gas tankers at Torkham - the border crossing in Khyber Agency into Afghanistan's Nangarhar province - sent shock waves through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led (NATO) coalition. So much so that it made a deal for some supplies to transit through Russia, a much more arduous route.

The Torkham success was followed by a number of smaller attacks, and the Taliban's plan appeared to be going better than they could have expected.

Then came this week's incident in which the Taliban seized two members of the World Food Program (WFP) in Khyber Agency, and it became obvious the Taliban had been betrayed, and all for the princely sum of about US$150,000.

Their Khyber dreams are now in tatters.

With friends like this ...

When the Taliban's new tactic emerged, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - which Pakistan's intelligence community says maintains its biggest South Asian presence in Pakistan - sprung into action and staged a coup of its own. But that's getting ahead of the story.

After coming under intense pressure in its traditional strongholds in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, al-Qaeda and the Taliban staged a joint shura (council). This meeting concluded that they had to be especially careful of local political parties and tribals who were all too ready to sell themselves in the US's quest to find Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. The council pointed to the example of Iraq, where the US's policy of courting Sunni tribes to turn against al-Qaeda has had marked success.

At this point, the council hit on the idea of taking the initiative and turning Taliban and al-Qaeda attention on Khyber Agency with the aim of bleeding the Western coalition without having to launch major battles.

This was fine in theory, but there were practical difficulties: the agency is the most unlikely place for "Talibanization". The majority of the population is Brelvi-Sufi Muslim, traditionally opposed to the Taliban's Deobandi and al-Qaeda's Salafi ideology. Being an historic route for armies and traders, the population is politically liberal and pragmatist, not easily swayed by idealist and Utopian ideology such as the Taliban's and al-Qaeda's.

So the Taliban sent in its own fighting corps gathered from other tribal areas, and drafted in Ustad Yasir, a heavyweight Afghan commander, from Afghanistan. These predominantly Pashtun fighters consider the Afridi and Shinwari tribes, the natives of Khyber Agency, as materialist and non-ideological, but all the same a local host was essential for their operation.

The Taliban hit on one of the few Salafis in the area, Haji Namdar, as their point man. Namdar is not a traditional tribal, he's a trader who has worked in Saudi Arabia. His Salafi ideology and the fact that he is a practicing Muslim lent him credibility - and trustworthiness - in the eyes of the Taliban.

Namdar came on board, offering to provide the Taliban with sanctuary for their men, arms and supplies along the main road leading to the border area. He gave these assurances to Taliban leaders in his own home.

The Americans were fully aware of the Taliban's designs on Khyber Agency and invested a lot in the tribes to protect the route. In response, the Taliban threatened tribal chieftains, and launched a suicide attack on a jirga (meeting) convened to discuss eradicating the Taliban from the area. Over 40 tribals were killed.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte also visited Khyber Agency to meet with chiefs, but out of fear for the Taliban only six tribal elders showed up. It appeared the Americans had been outwitted, but their game was not over.

Anyway, with the Taliban's arrangement with Namdar, the stage was set and they steadily stepped up their attacks on convoys heading for Afghanistan, leading to the capture of the two WFP members and their vehicle on Monday.

Things start to go wrong

Unlike in previous Taliban attacks in the area, local paramilitary forces chased the Taliban after this incident. The Taliban retaliated and five soldiers were killed, but then their ammunition ran out and they surrendered the two workers and tried to flee, but they were blocked.

The Taliban called in reinforcements, but so did the paramilitary troops, and a stalemate was reached. Eventually, the Taliban managed to capture a local political agent (representing the central government) and they used him as a hostage to allow their escape.

They retreated to their various safe houses, but to their horror, paramilitary troops were waiting for them and scores were arrested, and their arms caches seized. A number of Taliban did, however, manage to escape once word got out of what was happening.

The only person aware of the safe houses was Namdar, their supposed protector: they had been sold out.

Their worst suspicions were confirmed when Namdar broke his cover and announced on a local radio station that Taliban commanders, including Ustad Yasir, should surrender or face a "massacre", as happened when local tribes turned against Uzbek fighters in South Waziristan in January 2007.

Namdar said that he had the full weight of the security forces behind him, and he did not fear any suicide attack. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately called an emergency shura in North Waziristan to review the situation. Al-Qaeda's investigations revealed that the CIA and Pakistani intelligence had got to Namdar and paid him $150,000 in local currency.

The immediate result is that Taliban operations in Khyber Agency have been cut off. This in itself is a major setback, as the attacks on supply lines had hit a raw NATO nerve.

In the broader context, Namdar's betrayal vividly illustrates the dangers of traitors within the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The fear is that the various peace deals being signed now between the Islamabad government and selected tribal leaders could lead to a whole new batch of betrayals. The conclusion, therefore, is to go all-out to stop the government's dialogue process with militants and tribals.

Very interesting.... At the same time a peace accord is being finalized with the Taliban. This peace accord, unlike others has a specific timetable for eliminating foreigners.

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Iraqi Army soldiers discover large cache with Iranian-marked weapons during Operation Charge of the Knights

From MNF-I. If anybody is wondering what is the purpose of Operation Charge of the Knights, one only has to read this story from MNF-I.

The Iraqi Army discovered a large weapons and munitions cache in a house located in the Al Hyyaniyah area of Basrah April 19.

Soldiers from the 1st Iraqi Army discovered the cache during the search phase of Operation Charge of the Knights. The cache consisted of a large number of weaponry with Iranian markings.

The cache included a 240 mm high-explosive war-head and approximately 160 mortars. Some of which were less than 12 months old.

The cache also contained approximately 25 artillery shells, more than 20 complete improvised explosive devices, large quantities of IED components, several explosively formed projectiles and dozens of grenades and fuses. Also included was more than 20 blocks of plastic explosives, homemade anti-personnel mines packed with ball bearings, hundreds of meters of detonation cord, improvised rocket launching rails, and thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition.

Let's put these dates into perspective. It is currently April 2008. President Bush announced the Surge of forces in Iraq in January 2007 of which the first Brigades arrived in February or March of 2007. The full complement of surge Brigade were on the ground and the Surge effectively started 15 June 2007. This story is dated 19 April 2008 and some munitions were less than 12 months old meaning they were manufactured in Iran after April 2007 and then transported to Iraq probably at the earliest May 2007 or possibly later. In August 2007, after a very public battle in Karbala, Sadr announces a ceasefire to allow US forces to help him rid his militia of rogue elements. Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army continues to receive a supply of weapons from Iran.

As the surge is focusing on Al Qaeda in Iraq elements in and around Baghdad, the Iranian regime is stockpiling weapons in the south in support of the Mahdi Army and other Special Groups. By January 2008, the surge against Al Qaeda in Iraq is effectively winding down as it has been routed and focus is starting to shift to the next most powerful enemy, the Mahdi Army and Special Groups, in February 2008. Sadr announces a continuation of the ceasefire in February 2008.

Iran attempts a coup in Southern Iraq in March 2008 which PM Maliki blunts. In April 2008, the Iraqi Army is still clearing Basra and Sadr City after having secured the cities of Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah in March 2008. Iran's coup is blunted, and its Qods Forces Commander must come to Basra to personally assure the Iraqi General in charge of operations that his forces will be pulled out of Basra.

All of these actions by Iran are taking place while it is denying any involvement in Iraq, support of Special Groups, and support of the Mahdi Army.

One must wonder what Iran is doing with regards to nuclear weapons in its own coutnry if it is attempting to do all of this under the nose of the US and Iraqi government in southern Iraq, all the while saying its nuclear development is only for peaceful purposes.

I stated before, the Battle of Basra is a major strategic turning point in Iraq. It showed all external forces, both Al Qaeda and Iran, that the Iraqi Army, the Government of Iraq, and PM Maliki have the courage to defend their country at the risk of harming relationships with Iran, a neighbor and also a Shia led power. In addition, it showed the Iraqi Army can quickly be repositioned to affect an attempted coup while still maintaining order elsewhere in the country. Also, it showed Sistani would allow (and even approve) Shiite on Shiite attacks as long as it was happening to ensure the terroritorial integrity of Iraq. Finally, it showed the weakness of the Mahdi Army, and Sadr in particular, which PM Maliki is now capitalizing upon in Sadr City as his forces are seeking to dislodge the Mahdi Army from this last bastion of control in Iraq.

Far from showing PM Maliki's and the Iraqi Army's weakness, the Battle of Basra has shown both are willing and able to secure their country. It is no wonder the Iraqi Accord Front (the major Sunni bloc in government) just announced it would return to the government. It also appears the Iraqi List (headed by interim prime minister Iyad Allawi) and Al Fadila party (an offshoot of Sadr's Mahdi Army) will possibly be returning soon.

PM Maliki just showed Iran and its Special Groups, Sadr and his Madhi Army, and the Sunnis who once were associated with Al Qaeda that military coups are no longer possible in Iraq. If an element wants to have influence in Iraq, it must seek this influence politically within the frameworks of the constitution and through democratic elections. Militarism will no longer be tolerated. In fact, militarism will be put down by force.

While many mistake the Battle of Basra for a small tactical battle which some say the Iraqi Army lost, it has much larger operational (Iraqi Army able to reposition forces quickly) and strategic (rule of law back by a strong central government) consequences.

This undeniable fact is proved by the Qods Forces Commander personally coming to Iraq to validate a ceasefire, the Iraqi Accord Front, Iraqi List, and Fadila party looking to come back into the government, PM Maliki's continual push into Basra and Sadr City, Sadr's unheeded words that he will unleash his Madhi Army, and finally Al Qaeda in Iraq's yet unseen renewed terror.

Iran will continue to attempt re-establish its influence in Southern Iraq. Al Qaeda will continue to attempt re-establish its campaign of terror in the west and northwestern part of Iraq. However, people making progress in Iraq are doing so within the democratic framework established by the constitution, like the Kurds who will continue to work within the constitution and with the central government for semi-autonomy. Neighboring countries will continue to open embassys, to include Kuwait. The EU is even in the process of signing up for oil from Iraq.

The much feared month long offensive by Al Qaeda in Iraq has failed to materialize as will Iranian influence in Southern Iraq wain. Iran's remaining major influence, Sadr's militia, is being systematically dismantled. Al Qaeda is the walking dead with leaders being killed or captured daily. This is not an organization the Sunnis wish to rejoin, in fact, they are rejoining the government.

In this war where we have the strategic Corporol whos actions have far reaching ramifications, we have small battles like Basra which have large strategic implications. While the US was slow to realize this fact, it did realize it in late 2006 and adjusted its tactics with the surge in early 2007. Al Qaeda in Iraq still has not realized the implications of the strategic Corporol, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. Iranian Special Groups may have just realized it, which is why Coalition forces have now shifted focus to these Special Groups.

As I have stated before, 2008 will be an interesting year for the Global War on Terror. It is shaping up to be an interesting year indeed. Al Qaeda is defeated in its central front and has changed tactics to blunt losses in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran has lost a major underground effort in southern Iraq and is currently losing its voice in the Iraqi Parliament as Sadr's party will potentially be banned from participation in future elections. It may very well lose all influence if the Mahdi Army is defeated wholesale in Sadr City and Basra. The two Muslim extremists groups vying for power and control in the region have suffered major defeats at the hands of freedom and democracy, thanks to the Great Satan.

Iraq is truly becoming the beacon of democracy in the Middle East. The defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007 and the defeat of Iran in the Battle of Basra in 2008 has assured this young democracy is alive, well, and will continue to influence other nations in the Middle East. President Bush's bold maneuver in the heart of the Middle East is paying off. A democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East is fast becoming a shining star which all other Middle Eastern country's will emulate.

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US, Pakistan say Taliban commander killed

From Dawn.

A Taliban commander blamed for the deadliest attack on U.S. troops has been killed in a shootout with security forces in Pakistan, American and Pakistani officials said. Police killed Ahmad Shah, also known as Mullah Ismail, at a roadblock near Peshawar, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said. Two U.S. security officials confirmed Shah's death in a shootout and said Pakistani authorities had his body. U.S. and Afghan officials have described Shah as the leader of Taliban militants who ambushed a group of U.S. commandos in June 2005 and shot down a Chinook helicopter sent to rescue them. Sixteen American special forces members died on the helicopter. Jehanzeb Khan, a police official in Badhber, six miles south of Peshawar, said local officers responding to an emergency call about a kidnapping on April 10 set up a roadblock to check passing vehicles and opened fire on one car when the driver tried to speed away. Khan said two suspected kidnappers were killed and their victim, an Afghan national, was freed unharmed. He said the dead men carried papers that identified them as Haroon and Noor Agha. He said local police took the bodies to a local morgue and had no more details about the case. But the senior Pakistani intelligence official said the papers were false and further investigation had identified one of them as Shah. He did not identify the second man or provide other details of the incident. Spokesmen for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan and the Pakistan army said they could not confirm Shah's death. Zabiullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, also said he did not know if Shah had been killed.

While I am not keeping a running count. Senior Taliban commanders are dropping like flies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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The Taliban talk the talk

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

With the destruction of a bridge on the Indus Highway in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) region of Darra Adamkhel last weekend, the Taliban have taken another step towards choking the supplies that flood through Pakistan to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission in Afghanistan.

At the same time, the Taliban believe an agreement Russia concluded with NATO at its summit last week will not alleviate the situation. Moscow agreed to the transit of food and non-military cargo and "some types of non-lethal military equipment" across Russia to Afghanistan. NATO is acutely aware that the 70% of its supplies that enter Afghanistan through Pakistan are in jeopardy with the Taliban's new focus on cutting transit routes.

Syed Saleem Shahzad discusses "new" tactics the Taliban may be employing this year.

These developments take place as the Taliban-led battle in Afghanistan is about to enter a new phase; for the first time since their ouster in 2001, the Taliban will scale back their tribal guerrilla warfare and concentrate on tactics used by the legendary Vietnamese commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, an approach that has already proved successful in taming the Pakistani military in the tribal areas.

It is a very interesting read with input from NATO, the Taliban, and humanitarian organizations and how each side sees the battle going in Afghanistan. One thing that General Giap had going for him which the Taliban do not is an overwhelming anti-war movement in America. While the war in Iraq is not popularly supported, this same is not true for Afghanistan. From the American public's perspective, it is ambivalence at best.

General Giap lost every battle and his army suffered immense loses. The Taliban do not have the numbers in their insurgency to properly employ General Giap's techniques which is another reason to suspect their adoption of his tactics. Finally, the precision guided munitions have vastly changed the ability of counterinsurgent forces from General Giap's time. These munitions allow the Americans to surgically strike the Taliban in Pakistan. Albiet, the popularity of the war in Pakistan is akin to Vietnam's popularity in America.

They do; however, have an unassailable base in Pakistan. They also have a point of weakness for the Americans, namely the Khyber Pass that General Giap did not have. It will be interesting to see how the Taliban adopt and adjust General Giap's tactics. Only then will we know if they will ultimately be successful in adopting his tactics.

For a full read, click here.

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The Afghanistan success story

From the American Thinker.

Mr. Ray Robison discusses Afghanistan. He shows quite clearly that Afghanistan is a success story despite media misreporting. I particularly like the facts he reports.

Here are a dozen more facts from the report you are unlikely to see in media reporting:

1. The Afghan Army is growing in size, experience, and leadership capabilities.
2. A recent study found that 90% of the Afghan population trusted the countries military force.
3. More than 4,000 km of roads have been built where only 50 km existed in 2001.
4. The rehabilitation of the North-East power system has advanced and access of the rural households to electricity has been significantly increased.
5. In 2007 alone, ISAF nations completed 1,080 civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) projects.
6. 2,000 schools were built or repaired in the last five years and around 6.4 million children (including 1.5 million girls) are now in schools.
7. Since 2001, both infant and under-five mortality has declined by 26% and 22% respectively.
8. In 2001, 8% of Afghans had access to some form of healthcare. Now more than 80% of the population has access to medical care.
9. The non-opium economy has grown at an average of 12% over the past four years; the number of poppy-free provinces has grown from six in 2006 to 13 in 2007.
10. Afghan public support for international involvement in Afghanistan remains high with around 70% of Afghans supporting the presence of international forces.
11. The majority of Afghans believe their country is going in the right direction and 84% support their current government (as opposed to 4% who would support the Taliban).
12. They also maintain a positive view of reconstruction efforts with 63% saying that reconstruction efforts in their area have been effective since 2002.

For a full read, click here.

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Top Taliban militant arrested, 15 killed in Afghan raids

From Yahoo via AFP.

In Kandahar city, police arrested Taliban commander Abdul Jabar, who served as deputy to captured militant leader Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the interior ministry said.

The ministry described Jabar as the most senior Taliban commander after Dadullah, who was taken into custody in Pakistan in February.

Taliban Commanders are beginning to drop like flies in Afghanistan. On 16 March, Al Qaeda confirmed nine of its leading commanders had died in southern Afghanistan. With the capture of Dadullah and Abdul Jabar, Al Qaeda/the Taliban are losing commanders at a high rate this year.

For a full read, click here.

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France Sends Troops to Afghanistan, Eases NATO Strain (Update5)

From Bloomberg.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered a battalion of troops to fight the Taliban insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, heeding calls by the U.S. and other allies for France to take on a frontline role.

Sarkozy's offer of 700 additional French troops will allow the U.S. to divert soldiers to Afghanistan's south, where Canada had threatened to pull out its 2,500 troops in the absence of reinforcements.

"If we want to pull out one day, we have to win today,'' Sarkozy told a press conference at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Bucharest today.

Two things are significant here.

1. France is going to where there are attacks taking place.

2. France may be signalling a committment to NATO after a 42-year absence.

For a full read, click here.

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Dozens of NATO oil tankers destroyed on Pakistani-Afghan border

From Monsters and Critics.

Dozens of tankers carrying oil for NATO forces were destroyed Sunday in a bomb blast targeting a Pakistani border crossing where they awaited clearance to enter Afghanistan, officials said.

'The explosion took place this evening when the oil tankers were parked in the parking lot of Torkham border in the tribal town of Landi Kotal. More than 60 tankers caught fire and 35 of these were completely destroyed,' a government official Bismillah Khan told Deutsche Presse-Agentur DPA.

This attack is part of Al Qaeda's ongoing strategy this year. It seeks to disrupt NATO forces where it hurts most, logistics coming through Pakistan. Al Qaeda suspects supplies through the Khyber Pass is NATO's "Achilles' heel".

The US is paying a hefty price to tribes in the Khyber Pass region to protect these fuel shipments. As such, these tribes have generally been loyal to the US and Pakistani effort in the region.

Three possible scenarios exists here:

1. The tribes have turned against American forces and are no longer protecting fuel shipments. If this situation is the case, Americans will have to seek different (and possibly much more costly and potentially less abundant) methods to bring supplies into Afghanistan. While possible, this situation does not seem probable as fuel shipments through the Khyber Pass have gone unimpeded for many years now.

2. The tribes have not turned against American forces and Al Qaeda infiltrators managed to execute this attack despite tribal protection. If this situation is the case, then Al Qaeda has alienated another set of tribes. In doing so, this attack may show the desperation of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda's recent attack on a tribal jirga which was being held to gather support against Al Qaeda militants in the region is another desperate attack. While this attack is definitely dramatic, US and Pakistani forces will ensure the fuel shipments are better protected in the future.

3. Given that Afghan National Army had to dispatch two fire brigades to the attack, the attack may have occurred on a seam between Pakistani tribal protection and Afghan National Army protection on the Afghani side of the border. If this is the case, this seam will be closed rapidly and we should not see anymore dramatic attacks such as this one. While attacks will persist, they should include tens of tankers being destroyed. Rather we should see one here, one there.

While the loss of 60 plus tankers is definitely significant, it should not significantly disrupt NATO's future missions if NATO can stop further dramatic attacks. This situation is worth watching to see how NATO, Pakistan, and Afghanistan respond to this potential "Achilles' Heel" to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. NATO and Afghanistan must protect the shipments to continue their mission. Pakistan must protect the shipments to continue its aid from America.

This attack may force the new Pakistani government's hand against the militants as they were recently seeking peace talks with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Again, we will have to wait and see reactions on both sides of the border.

For a full read, click here.

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Operational Update: Rear Adm. Greg Smith, March 16

From MNF-I.

Iraq is in a tough fight… a fight between a lethal minority who want to destabilize the country by indiscriminately killing innocent men, women and children …executing a campaign of intimidation and terror in order to instill a corrupt and foreign ideology of hate and division … and the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who find such ideology bankrupt and have rejected violence in order to help build the new Iraq.

Much of this violence has been carried out by foreign fighters … al-Qaeda foreign fighters … which is the sole topic of my brief to you today.

Not only have Iraqis turned against Al Qaeda, foreign terrorists entering the country are also turning against Al Qaeda.

The indoctrination always used two common themes: Americans were abusing the people of Iraq; and the recruits had a duty to avenge these abuses by joining al-Qaeda’s jihad in Iraq....

During their interrogations, these 48 men told us they were lured here with the promise they would be killing Americans … but they were disappointed that most of the violence they saw was directed at the Iraqi people … fellow Muslims. Again and again, we heard this reality bothered the recruits … this disconnect between the stories they were told as they were recruited and being indoctrinated and the reality of a war against innocent civilians was deeply disturbing … they had not come here to kill Iraqi civilians. They also complained of a different shading of the truth … many of the recruits told us they were promised they would see a victorious al-Qaeda … and instead they found an organization constantly being hunted by security forces and on the run and rejected by the Iraqi people. They felt misled.

These foreign terrorists told us that, eventually, they felt discouraged and just wanted to go home. But their al-Qaeda facilitators had their passports and their money … they felt trapped and hopeless.

Admiral Smith also says Al Qaeda is "deeply suspicious of the fighters from other lands". They are suspicious because they know they have lied to recruits to get them to Iraq. Once in Iraq, these foreign fighter see they are only killing Muslims. They don't see the abuse against Muslims at the hands of the Americans. This is why the following occurs.

They told us they were actually relieved to be captured … some of them even cried tears of relief during their initial interrogations … ironically they were relieved having been captured by the very Americans their recruiters said they would kill in Iraq.

You cannot keep lying for very long. Lies told by Al Qaeda are causing the organization to lose membership. Innocent killing of Muslims further degrades support for Al Qaeda. This is why the Sunni Tribes ran them out of Al Anbar. This is why Al Qaeda had to strike a jirga in North Waziristan. Those tribal leaders were voting on the same thing the Al Anbar tribes voted on, namely, to withdraw support from Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda is an evil organization that will eventually implode upon itself if pressured. Right now, America and NATO are keeping up the pressure. Currently America is creating more pressure on Al Qaeda in their unassailable base, Paksitan.

For a full read, click here.

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France eyes sending troops to Afghan combat zone

From Yahoo via Reuters.

France may send hundreds of ground troops to east Afghanistan where NATO-led forces are fighting al Qaeda-backed insurgents, Le Monde newspaper reported on Tuesday....

France has about 1,900 soldiers under NATO's Afghan command, most of them based in relatively calm Kabul, and Le Monde said the fresh troops would be deployed outside the capital.

"Their destination would be zones of potentially fierce fighting, preferably the eastern region of Afghanistan close to the tribal areas of Pakistan," it said.

You got to like Sarkozy.

For a full read, click here.

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Qaeda's Zawahri vows revenge over Libi killing: Web

From Yahoo via Reuters.

Al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri vowed revenge for the killing of a top group commander in a suspected U.S. attack in Pakistan, speaking in a video posted on the Internet on Wednesday.

"No chief of ours had died of a natural death, nor has our blood been spilled without a response," Zawahri said in the video posted on an Islamist Web site, referring to the killing of Abu Laith al-Libi.

If one wonders whether or not Libi was a high level Al Qaeda operative, this statement should answer the question.

For a full read, click here.

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The Taliban have Kabul in their sights

From Asia Times Online.

As Pakistani politicians scramble to form a coalition government following last week's parliamentary elections, there has been a surge in violence in the Swat Valley and in other parts of North-West Frontier Province, and on Monday a senior army officer was assassinated.

Syed Saleem Shahzad discusses the Taliban's future plans.

Asia Times Online investigations show that the Taliban's three-pronged plan for their spring offensive comprises cutting off NATO's supply lines running from Pakistan to Afghanistan, recruiting fresh volunteers and, most importantly, the creation of a strategic corridor running from Pakistan all the way to the capital Kabul.

And he provides some insight to NATO's and Pakistan's counterstrategy.

American special ground troops have escalated their activities in Kunar and Nooristan provinces and a US base in Kunar, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency, is now fully operational. Once the operations are in full swing, Pakistan will provide assistance through its air base in Peshawar for attacks on militant bases in the agencies.

"The operation has to start in the month of March as the Taliban have to launch their operation in April," a Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online.

Musharraf has instilled a multi-pronged strategy to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban whether or not he maintains his position as President.

For its part, as Al Qaeda/Taliban continue to attack inside Pakistan, they continue to lose popular support, which will eventually be their downfall.

In addition, tribes which are benefitting from allowing supplies through the Khyber Pass will have to be dealt with by Al Qaeda/Taliban.

Either way, this spring should bring an interesting time in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For a full read, click here.

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Two Winnable Wars

From Anthony H. Cordesman writing for the Washington Post.

No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won. They are also clearly wars that can still be lost, but visits to the battlefield show that these conflicts are very different from the wars being described in American political campaigns and most of the debates outside the United States.

These conflicts involve far more than combat between the United States and its allies against insurgent movements such as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban. Meaningful victory can come only if tactical military victories end in ideological and political victories and in successful governance and development. Dollars are as important as bullets, and so are political accommodation, effective government services and clear demonstrations that there is a future that does not need to be built on Islamist extremism.

He ends with,

Any American political leader who cannot face these realities, now or in the future, will ensure defeat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Any Congress that insists on instant victory or success will do the same. We either need long-term commitments, effective long-term resources and strategic patience -- or we do not need enemies. We will defeat ourselves

The choice is our America. We can only defeat ourselves in both of these wars.

For a full read, click here.

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Taleban are worn down, say British troops

From Times Online.

British troops in southern Afghanistan have “worn down” the Taleban and forced them to abandon many of their key strongholds in Helmand province, a senior commander said yesterday.

Brigadier Andrew Mackay, commander of 52 Brigade, said: “The Taleban are now suffering from a lack of manpower and that is why they are having to rely on foreign fighters. They are also now operating outside their normal areas because they lack support from the local populations.”

There is evidence that the Taleban are now having to adopt new methods of attacking British and other Nato troops. There have been more asymmetric attacks and suicide bombings in places such as Kandahar in the south. Brigadier Mackay said that the use of more foreign fighters had damaged the Taleban's relations with the Pashtu people living in the area.

Up to 80 per cent of the population is now under government protection, according to the latest military assessment. Three thousand extra US Marines are joining Nato forces in southern Afghanistan to concentrate on defeating the Taleban in Garmsir.

Several articles are stating how the Taliban are resurgent noting that 6500 people, mostly Taliban, have been killed in 2007 which is up a few thousand from 2006. What these articles fail to understand is the ANA is now powerful enough and with the help of NATO forces they are able to go into places like Musa Qala and defeat the Taliban.

Quite simply, the number of Taliban deaths are up in 2007 from 2006 because NATO forces brought the attack to the Taliban and stunted their spring offensive.

In turn, the Taliban replaced their forces with foreign terrorists who kill indiscriminantly using suicide bombers. Hence the rise in suicide bomber attacks in 2007 and early 2008. However, Al Qaeda's use of suicide bombers is now having the same effect in Afghanistan that it did in Iraq, namely loss of support from the population. The question becomes why has it taken more time in Afghanistan for the populous to turn against Al Qaeda than it has taken in Iraq? A little history of the conflict has to be reviewed.

After initially overrunning the Taliban in 2001, instilling a friendly government, and executing free and fair democratic elections, Afghanistan quickly turned to an economy of force operation in the Long War from the American perspective, especially given the onset of a persistent insurgency in Iraq and Al Qaeda labeling Iraq as their central front. As such, attacks in Afghanistan were sporadic and did not affect most of the population.

The Taliban were easily overrun in 2001 because they did not have active support from the population. They did; however, have tacit support from the population. The difference here is that a tacit population are fence sitters. If side X is more powerful, the population will tend to support side X. If side Y is more powerful, side Y tends to be supported. With the American military making Afghanistan an economy of force operation and neither side able to gain terroritory, much of the population in Afghanistan remained on the fence, not wanting to commit to either side in case the other side proved victorious. For its part, NATO has been unable to get European committment to soundly defeat the Afghanistani insurgency.

From 2001 to 2006 however, NATO forces increased in size (mostly due to American increased) and scope of combat operations they could conduct. In addition, the ANA grew in size and capability. Over this time, Taliban Commanders have been killed as have several thousand of their foot soldiers. But no major change in front lines occurred. Hence most Afghanistanis still straddled the fence, providing tacit support to whoever controlled the terrority where they lived.

Finally, in late 2006/early 2007, Iraq exerienced the Al Anbar Awakening and the complete collapse of the insurgency in this country. With Iraq lost, 2007 saw a rise in foreign Taliban and Al Qaeda forces moving to Afghanistan instead of Iraq. In turn increased NATO numbers and ANA capabilities resulted in many battles which the Taliban were consistently defeated and overrun.

Less Afghanistani Taliban, more foreign Taliban, and the loss of key battles all resulted in the Taliban in Afghanistan to begin employing more suicide bombers which ultimately led to more indiscriminantly killings of innocent Afghanistanis. As such, tacit support of either side is beginning to shift to active NATO/ANA support. This change of attitude is especially noticable in the recent defection of Mullah Abdul Salaam who has been put in charge of the Mula Qasa district in Helmand province.

Rewarding Mullah Abdul Salaam with a governship is no different than putting Sunni tribes in charge of Al Anbar. It is the only way to win an insurgency. They enemy must be turned to our side. Once turned, the new friend must be rewarded. His defection to NATO is no different than Risha changing sides in Al Anbar. The difference is foreign Al Qaeda were not prevalent in sufficent numbers in Afghanistan until recently, which is putting the Afghanistani "Awakening Movement" behind the Iraqi one. However, the end result will be the same, especially given the recent "surge" of Marines to Afghanistan. Afghanistan in late 2007 is reminiscent of Al Anbar in late 2006/early 2007.

2008 will be the year to watch in Afghanistan. There should be an increase in attacks as Al Qaeda attempts to terrorize the population in submission. "Awakening Movements" will begin in the spring of 2008 as Al Qaeda's terror campaign gets into full swing. Slowly, over the course of a year to 18 months, Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan will be defeated and pushed out of several areas where they currently have tacit support. They will be pushed back to the FATA regions in Pakistan. A year from now, Iraq will be essentially peaceful, Afghanistan will still have a low-grade insurgency trying to survive (much like Iraq currently), and Pakistan will very well see an increased insurgency.

Pakistan has at most a year before Al Qaeda launches a full fledge insurgency in Pakistan as they see their fortunes failing in Afghanistan and Iraq completely lost. In fact, if Al Qaeda is smart, it would start a full insurgency now while the government of Pakistan is in transition. However, this action is also risky as it may leave Musharraf in office as the President and result in rapid loss of support among fellow Pakistanis.

Either outcome does not bode well for Al Qaeda. They will be completely defeated in Iraq by next winter. They will have been defeated in Afghanistan, and they will begin being pursued in their last remaining secure base, the FATA regions in Pakistan.

Yes, 2008 will be an interesting year. Even more interesting will be the 2008 Presidential elections which will see marked success in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a battle possibly raging in Pakistan. One candidate is fully supportive of the Long War we will be undeniably winning at the time of the elections. The other candidate(s) will be trying to change his/her story about how they now really support the long war.

Whoever is elected will be forced to keep a strong, but reduced presence in Iraq, increase forces in Afghanistan as NATO force committments expire, and coordinate with whoever is in charge of Pakistan to assist this military in defeating the last remanents of Al Qaeda in the region.

For its part, Europeans will once again feel disenchanted with their governments because they did not stick it out with the victors to see the destruction of Al Qaeda as a viable international force.

I thank God I live an a country that still has a backbone. Americans have always been tough. And when the going gets tough, Americans shine. Lets hope we change Europeans more to our way of thinking in the upcoming four years instead of America moving closer to a European spineless attitude. It is looking good from this perspective as more conservative leaders have all been elected in Germany, France, and England since the Long War kicked off. If we are successful in strengthening European's backbones, we have nothing to fear from a nuclear Iran. If we are not successful, then unfortunately Iran will become Al Qaeda with a bomb. And that will not be a pleasant time.

George Bush is not a very effective communicator; however, he did give Americans a backbone for the Long War. As we were waivering and unsure of what to do, George Bush surged forces into Iraq which resulted in Al Qaeda in Iraq's defeat. It will be interesting if we give up this backbone in November 2008. While the social policies of all remaining candidates are not much different now, the international policies are clearly distinguishable. It is in foreign policy where this presidential election will be decided.

In the last eight years, George Bush, for all his failings, will have done his part to defeat Al Qaeda. We know Europeans run when the going gets tough. The question is will we? If we do, we must prepare for battle with a nuclear Iran and the Long War will continue.

Alexander III, king of Macedon, became Alexander the Great and forever has a place in history due to the Battle of Gaugamela in which he defeated Darius, the Persian King. With all hope lost, he turned the battle into a rout of the Persian Empire. George Bush, with the surge, has done the same thing in modern times against Al Qaeda. Again, the question is will we do the same again present day Persia?

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Taliban commanders killed in Afghanistan

From Yahoo via AP.

Afghan and NATO-led troops killed two regional Taliban commanders in southern Afghanistan, and an explosion in the same province claimed the life of a British soldier, officials said Thursday.

"As a result of this successful attack (on the commanders), the Taliban's networks have suffered another severe setback," said Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

The joint NATO-Afghan forces killed commander Mullah Abdul Matin and his associate, Mullah Karim Agha, in the southern province of Helmand on Monday, the alliance said in a statement.

I know I will be sleeping a little easier tonight knowing two more Taliban Commanders are with Allah.

For a full read, click here.

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Devastating suicide attack rocks Kandahar

From Matt Dupee writing for The Long War Journal.

A Taliban suicide bomber detonated himself among a densely packed crowd in southern Afghanistan during a dog fighting match, killing at least 55 people and injuring 80 others. Local Kandahar health officials have counted 70 dead bodies, and claim families took away other dead bodies from the scene for a traditional quick burial making a final death toll unknown, according to an NPR report.

The intended target of the attack appears to be Abdul Hakim Jan, an anti-Taliban militia leader, who was in attendance at the event. Jan was recently appointed as the leader of the auxiliary police force in the contested Arghandab district of Kandahar province. He opposed the Taliban in the early 1990s when he served as Kandahar’s provincial police chief. Witnesses say the bomber came within 15 feet of Jan before detonating. Investigators have so far failed to find Jan’s remains but have presumed him to be dead.

Mr. Dupee does an excellent job of detailing high profile attacks in Afghanistan. It shows how the Taliban are focusing their efforts on local representatives. However, just like in Iraq, this will eventually alienate its own citizens as they see leaders representative of their beliefs killed.

Without respect to whether dog fighting is legal or moral in this country, it is obviously part of the culture in this region. Where Al Qaeda/Taliban constantly alienates themselves is in attempting to impose its will and beliefs on citizens. Individuals who do not agree with Al Qaeda/Taliban are blasted to death by suicide bombs.

It is hard to state you are obeying Muslim tradition when you kill innocent people at a dog fight, at a mosque, or at a memorial service. While we in this country may be adverse to dog fighting, it is not worth blowing up 70+ people. For these reasons alone, Al Qaeda/Taliban will continue to alienate themselves among Afghanistanis.

It must be remembered that the Taliban in Afghanistan fell in 2001 not due to overwhelming US forces in the country attacking the government but to Special Forces uniting already anti-govenment forces against the Taliban.

The Taliban/Al Qaeda was never liked by the vast majority of Afghanistanis. Indiscriminant killings currently on the increase in Afghanistan will further alienate an already alienated Afghanistani population which is why suicide bombers were for so long no employed in Afghanistan.

The fact that they are now being employed shows how desparate the situation has become for the Taliban.

For a full read, click here.

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Revolt in Pakistani Tribal Areas

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online in Part I and Part II.

The ceasefire deal between the Pakistani security forces and a leading member of the al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, brokered by two stalwart Afghan commanders who persuaded Mehsud to stay in Afghanistan, is just the lull before a big storm and the beginning of a new chapter of militancy in Pakistan.

Mr. Shahzad continues that the ceasefire is tenuous and is not expected to last.

Even before Thursday's ceasefire, the Taliban's preparations in the strategic backyard of Pakistan were well underway. This included the isolation of Mehsud and appointing a new team of commanders in the Pakistani tribal areas. Most of the new appointments are Afghans, to signify the importance of fighting a war in Afghanistan rather than in Pakistan. The two main commanders are Abdul Wali in Bajaur Agency and Ustad Yasir in Khyber Agency.

A key component of the Taliban's offensive this year will be to counter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) plans against them and al-Qaeda. (emphasis added)

I find this Al Qaeda strategy interesting in that it is a defensive strategy rather than an offensive one. Their prime strategy is to counter NATO's plans against them. This fact shows that Al Qaeda is on the ropes in Afghanistan despite MSM reporting. Al Qaeda tells of its areas where it will focus.

"But since the Taliban want to chop off NATO supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban have warned these tribal elders to stay away from the conflict. However, the elders have received huge bribes [funds] from NATO, and so they are obsessed with providing protection to the supply convoys. Therefore, the Taliban will increase their activities in Khyber Agency, which means a war with the elders of the Shinwari and Afirdi tribes," the contact said.

The second sector of Taliban activity will be in Nooristan and Kunar provinces in Afghanistan, where US forces are conducting huge counter-insurgency operations.

"This year, the Taliban will focus their main attention on a new plan specifically aimed at Kunar and Nooristan. The details of the plan cannot be revealed at this point," said the contact. (emphasis added)

The Khyber Agency in Pakistan and the Nooristan province in Afghanistan both border the Khyber Pass from which US forces in Afghanistan receive supplies from Pakistan. On the Pakistani side of the border, Peshawar will be key to Al Qaeda attacks in the Khyber Pass. Tank and later Bannu would have also given Al Qaeda a tactical advantage. However, securing Tank was the key to securing Bannu. With Tank back in the hands of Pakistani forces and the Shinwari and Afirdi tribes in the Khyber Pass still supporting the flow of supplies, one is hard pressed to see how Al Qaeda can continue with this strategy which is why I find the strategy more of a defensive strategy than an offiensive one.

It appears that both the US and Pakistani forces are more apt to go on the offensive this year noted by the following.

Wana military airfield in South Waziristan and Miranshah airfield in North Waziristan have been upgraded from makeshift airstrips into proper runways with backup facilities, which indicate plans for a powerful air operation.

The deployment of US forces at Lowari Mandi and Ghulman Khan checkpoints (both on the Afghan side of the border near North Waziristan) and the construction of a new military camp near Shawal (North Waziristan), on the Afghan side, indicate that the US is not planning on peace for very long.

American and Pakistani forces are building capability to attack Al Qaeda in its unassailable base in Northern and Southern Waziristan. Precision air power has been used very effectively in Afghanistan to prevent any Taliban advancement. It appears the Pakistani military is planning to use precision air power in Pakistan also given the upgrades to the air fields noted above. Al Qaeda however believes that any large scale operation it launches would fracture Pakistan.

"We assess that any large-scale operation would break the army and Pakistan, and this would be a blessing for us. Of course, the Indians would take advantage of the situation and that's why we have a plan to immediately spread this war to the whole region, including India and Afghanistan," Abu Haris explains, basing his arguments on information from al-Qaeda's intelligence and review committee.

While this is certainly a possibility, Musharraf's multi-pronged strategy takes into account the current fragile nature in Pakistan. He and US forces will be able to contain Al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan, destroy training camps in the future using precision air power, and maintain the flow of supplies through the Khyber Pass.

Mr. Shahzad notes Al Qaeda is aware of future Pakistan and US forces intentions, but Al Qaeda has a plan to strike first. While valiant, this tactic from Al Qaeda will mark its death. While Pakitanis overwhelminingly do not want the US to interfere in their country, they also overwhelmingly do not want Al Qaeda to persist in Pakistan either. As Al Qaeda forces move into the cities, they are spreading fear and panic among the population. While Pakistanis have a certain mistrust for the Armed Forces in their country, they trust Al Qaeda much less.

If Musharraf can ensure the Army secures free and fair elections, support for the Army will be greatly enhanced. Al Qaeda will shortly attack after free and fair elections which will result in Pakistani's favoring an Army presence in their cites to secure them. In turn, Pakistani air power will strike with precision at the heart of Al Qaeda camps in North and South Waziristan. Al Qaeda will have nowhere to retreat as the main border crossings in these regions have been closed by US forces in Afghanistan. Bringing India into the battle will only seal another Al Qaeda avenue of retreat.

It is no wonder that Mullah Omar is paniced that Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban are choosing to do battle in Pakistan and has subsequently sacked Meshud. Continued battle in Afghanistan is at least hopeful as NATO countries are reconsidering their presence in this region. However, a 600,000 man Pakistani Army in their unassailable base supported by precision air power and US intelligence will spell the death of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan.

However, at this point Al Qaeda can do nothing else but attack knowing well that a large-scale operation in Pakistan will spell its ultimate destruction. This very fact is why Al Qaeda's tactical focus in Pakistan is defensive (countering NATO actions) while it is pretending to be offensive (large-scale operation in Pakistan).

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Senior Taliban figure caught in Pakistan

From Yahoo via AP.

Pakistani security forces critically wounded a top figure in the Taliban militia fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, among six militants captured after a firefight near the border Monday, the army said.

Mansoor Dadullah, brother of the Taliban's slain military commander Mullah Dadullah, and the five others were challenged by security forces as they crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan. They refused to stop and opened fire, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

For a full read, click here.

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Media Spins Success in Afghanistan as Failure

From the American Thinker.

American and Coalition forces have taken the initiative in Afghanistan, and have the Taliban on the run. Yet major American media outlets, to the extent they cover fighting in Afghanistan, are portraying the Taliban as "resurgent". Going on the offense and succeeding at it always increases violence. But is being spun onto bad news?

The increase in fighting in Afghanistan is not a sign of a stronger Taliban, but rather a more desperate one. Despite all the media reports to the contrary it is we who are surging in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran tries to make up lost ground

From Asia Times Online.

The conventional wisdom, particularly in the United States, is that Iran has gained from the US's invasion of Iran's neighbors since the events of September 11, 2001. Yet, a careful reading of the changing security calculus caused by the exponential increase in the US's military presence in Iran's vicinity leads to the opposite conclusion.

Sure, Iran has gained from the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein and his dreaded Sunni Ba'athist regime in Iraq, yet the problem with the standard analyses, for example by the US's ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, is that even though they are couched in the language of "balance of power", nonetheless these analyses are tainted by a major gap. That is, forgetting the US superpower's role in the equation that, on balance, has tipped the scales away from Iran, in a word, amounting to a net loss for the country.

For a full read, click here.

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Afghanistan: Ex-Taliban Commander Lectures Mullah Omar About Koran

From RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

From his hilltop headquarters in the center of the southern Afghan town of Musa Qala, former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Salaam has a sweeping view over dusty flatlands in northern Helmand Province. But Musa Qala is like a ghost town now compared to the bustling center it had been under Taliban control last year.

Salaam continues with,

"My brothers," Salaam says, "these were the first five verses of the Koran that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at Mount Hira: 'Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created all, has created man from a blood clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who has taught by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.'”

Salaam says those verses led him to question who the Taliban really are after seeing them "taking pens from our children and taking away schools and education."

These facts are why Al Qaeda and its ilk will fail. Salaam is a powerful ally for the Coalition.

For a full read, click here.

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Administrative system changes in NWFP, Fata likely

From Dawn.

NWFP Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani on Thursday disclosed that the government was actively considering a set of measures to bring about structural changes in the administrative system in the NWFP and adjoining tribal regions to improve governance and ensure better security.“

Extraordinary times require extraordinary decisions,” Mr Ghani said in his maiden interaction with senior journalists at the Governor’s House.“

The government system in settled districts and the political system in tribal regions are heading towards a state of collapse. It’s a matter of grave concern. We face tough challenges. The whole system has become weak, demoralised and despondent. We are facing unusual set of circumstances that require unconventional and extraordinary support for the administrative system,” he said.

The Pakistani government is establishing below the Governor, Regional Coordinating Officers (RCOs), District Coordinating Officers, and making the offices of the political agents in the NWFP and FATA regions active and functional to accomplish three strategic objectives:

To strengthen the NWFP’s own financial resource base, improve its trade potential by improving its infrastructure and create necessary incentives to attract investment for industrialisation.

This economic development sounds a lot like what US Forces are doing in Iraq. Pakistan is establishing layers of government (which will likely be held by tribal leaders) thoughout the NWFP and FATA region to control and promote an accountable financial base, trade, and manufacturing. What we are seeing here is Musharraf's multi-pronged strategy in the NWFP and Fata regions. He, like George Bush, knows the only way to prevent further recruitment for Al Qaeda is to establish law and order (which he will do with the military after elections); promote investment, trade, and manufacturing (which is his economic prong); and democratic elections for parliament (the political prong).

And like US Forces have done in Iraq, Musharraf is also looking towards reconciliation.

Answering a question, he said that no talks were being held with militants in South Waziristan but emphasised that contacts were essential to create conducive atmosphere for negotiations.

He said that militants had carried out eleven concerted attacks on Luddah fort in South Waziristan and stormed the Sara Rogha fort while negotiations were on through a tribal jirga. “This was an open war against the state,” he said. But he made it clear that the government’s action was in line with the Riwaj (local traditions). “The government was forced to react,” he said.

Musharraf is keeping open contacts with tribal leaders who are looking for reconciliation. These same tribal leaders may very well find themselves rewarded as future District Coordinating Officers or political agents if they choose reconciliation backed by the Pakistan military. Reconciliation is still possible because the Pakistani government's actions are still in line with the Riwaj, noted above. This reconciliation again sounds a lot like reconciliation with Sunni tribes in Al Anbar.

While we (the USA) may not like it, Bin Laden is not Musharraf's number one enemy. Currently it is Baitullah Meshud who has unified the Pakistani Taliban. He needs to find and kill/detain Meshud to break up the Pakistani Taliban. Having RCOs, DCOs, and political agent positions open will allow Musharraf to bring the now disparate Pakistani tribes into the government and provide stability to the NWFP and FATA regions. He already has the CLCs in place. They are the Frontiers Corps. However, due to tribal relations with locals, they have been less than proficient at holding the tribes in check.

For his part, Musharraf is silently happy with the CIA using Predator aircraft on Al Qaeda targets. Killing Al Qaeda makes his future reconciliation easier with the tribes. He can always protest to show his concern for the people in the tribal regions, but also blame lawlessness created by Al Qaeda on his inability to have sway over the CIA. The US is seen as the bad guy and Musharraf slowly sues for peace with the fractured Taliand puts tribal officials into the government; thereby incorporating them into the government. While Governor Owais states,

“The battle for peace and stability in the region will be won and lost in Afghanistan,”

Governor Owais is only half right. Both countries are completely linked. Peace and stability in the region is dependent on both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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US envoy: Iran gained from US invasions

From Yahoo via AP.

The headline of this article, "US envoy: Iran gained from US invasions" does not accurately represent what Khalilzad stated or implied in his speech at Columbia University, but unfortunately will be used as another example of the failure vice success of Bush's presidency.

Iran is stronger today because of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the American ambassador to the United Nations said Friday.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq removed a key rival of Shiite Iran with the ouster of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government. Iran has friendly ties with the Shiites now in power in Iraq....

And Afghanistan, too, the change was helpful to Iran."

Five terrorist sponsoring states in a row (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) enabled terrorists to freely roam from Asia to Europe. Now three of those five states are actively pursuing terrorists. Two are still actively supporting terrorists. This dramatic change is not a bad record for seven years however it is attempted to be portrayed. Khalilzad notes,

"And I used to tease the (Iranian) ambassador that we have done so much for you in Iraq and Afghanistan, the least you can do is to be helpful to this effort. Otherwise, one day you will get a big bill."

The two remaining terror sponsoring states have indeed been momentarily strengthened due to the decline of other terror sponsoring states; however, Khalilzad also warned Iran to be helpful to this effort or it may one day get a big bill. The following statement would be a much more appropriate title, "US envoy: Iran will pay for its defiance" because in time it will pay for the terrorists it supports or harbors just like Pakistan is currently paying for it.

For a full read, click here.

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NATO force chief vows more pressure on Taliban in 2008

From Yahoo/AFP.

NATO troops will more aggressively pursue Taliban militants in 2008 with Afghan forces playing a larger role in fighting the insurgents, the head of the force in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeill said.

General McNeill acknowledged that NATO was not doing its part. Speaking of a shortfall of 7,500 NATO troops, General McNeill stated,

The shortfall could be met if "you look at all members to do a little more", he added, noting that some nations had already stepped up such as France which will this year send military trainers to the southern province of Uruzgan.

Asked about the increase in Taliban activity in 2007, McNeill stated,

The increase in fighting was a reaction to having more troops on the ground and that soldiers moved out of their bases more to "pursue the enemy," he said.

"It was a superb year. The insurgents won nothing on the battlefield."

ISAF records showed that 70 percent of Taliban attacks, such as suicide and roadside bombings, took place in only 10 percent of the country, said the general, who first served in Afghanistan in 2002.

I find this quote fascinating. If one listens to the MSM, one gets the feel that we are barely holding on in Afghanistan. But according to the commander on the ground, one of the reasons for the increase in violence is ANA and Coalition forces moved out of bases and pursued the enemy.

While head counts are not the only metric in war. Everytime the Taliban battled with ANA or Coalition forces, deaths in the range of 25-50 were noted. In a few instances, the Taliban suffered upwards of 150-200 killed in action. Numbers like these are difficult to overcome for an insurgent.

Speaking of ANA forces,

"More important, what you will see different this year is the increased Afghan National Security Force capacity.

"So we expect to be not out front as we were last year, we expect the Afghans to be out front and we are going to support their operations," he said.

Another of ISAF's missions is to help rebuild the Afghan army, which was destroyed in the civil war of the early 1990s. It is projected to grow to number 70,000 soldiers by the end of this year.

ANA forces will begin taking the lead this year.

So what we have for 2008 in Afghanistan is an extra 3,200 Marines which will arrive in April, just in time for the spring. Increased ANA capacity with the ANA taking the lead in battles this year. Al Qaeda and the Taliban divided in purpose and in their main effort, Afghanistan or Pakistan. The Pakistani military battling Al Qaeda and the Taliban in force in the tribal regions. Al Qaeda in Iraq generally recognized as defeated.

While 2008 will be much more violent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this increase in violence should not be taken as an increase in Al Qaeda's or the Taliban's capacity. Instead, this increase in violence should be taken for what it really is, Pakistani, ANA, and Coaltion forces moving into safehavens and taking the fight to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban wield the ax ahead of new battle

From Asia Times Online.

With the Taliban's spring offensive just months away, the Afghan front has been quiet as Taliban and al-Qaeda militants have been heavily engaged in fighting security forces in Pakistan's tribal regions.

But now Taliban leader Mullah Omar has put his foot down and reset the goals for the Taliban: their primary task is the struggle in Afghanistan, not against the Pakistan state.

Mullah Omar has sacked his own appointed leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, the main architect of the fight against Pakistani security forces, and urged all Taliban commanders to turn their venom against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, highly placed contacts in the Taliban told Asia Times Online. Mullah Omar then appointed Moulvi Faqir Mohammed (a commander from Bajaur Agency) but he refused the job. In the past few days, the Pakistani Taliban have held several meetings but have not yet appointed a replacement to Mehsud.

It appears that Mullah Omar wants the focus of Taliban operations to be in Afghanistan. Mehsud wants the focus of operations to be against Pakistan. In doing so, Mehsud has brought the wrath of the Pakistani military against the Taliban in Pakistan. During tribal jirgas, Mehsud is being offered as a martyr.

"While talking to government representatives in the jirga [peace council] we could clearly discern a grudge against Baitullah Mehsud and the Mehsud tribes by the security forces. And there are signs that the government is obsessed with a military operation to make Baitullah Mehsud a martyr," a leading member of the peace jirga in South Waziristan, Maulana Hisamuddin, commented to Voice of America.

But where does Al Qaeda stand? They want the fight in Pakistan.

This major development occurred at a time when Pakistan was reaching out with an olive branch to the Pakistani Taliban. Main commanders, including Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the main Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan, Sirajuddin Haqqani, signed peace agreements. But al-Qaeda elements, including Tahir Yuldashev, chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, undermined this initiative.

So we have Mullah Omar, who originally gave safehaven to Al Qaeda now turning against Al Qaeda and their Pakistani Taliban, Mehsud. We have discussed the split among the Taliban and Al Qaeda earlier in this blog. However, can the Taliban focus on both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Possibly.

Certainly, the Taliban will be keen to advance from these positions, but they will also concentrate on destroying NATO's supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The Taliban launched their first attack in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province on Monday, destroying a convoy of oil tankers destined for NATO's Kandahar air field.

Attacking supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan is smart from a Taliban perspective. But this supply line is not critical, it is just economical. This supply line can also be diverted. Supplies can flow in from other countries or airfields.

More importantly, Mullah Omar wants the Taliban to retake Afghanistan. Meshud and Al Qaeda want to concentrate on Afghanistan. If Al Qaeda gets its way, expect Mullah Omar to be suddenly killed by Pakistani forces. If Mullah Omar gets his way, expect Meshud to become a martyr in Pakistan. Regardless, the above is proof of a significant split among Al Qaeda and the Taliban and internally within the Taliban.

This split is something both Musharraf and the U.S. can use against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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A Workable Strategy

From Harlan Ullman writing for the Wahington Times.

Though not called it, World War II was a "great" war. Good triumphed over evil. Enemies became friends as Japan and Germany grew into democracies. And ultimately, allies who grew into enemies — Russia and China — at least re-emerged as potential partners and not yet permanent threats.

We had a strategy — hold in the Pacific, win in the Atlantic first — and powerful allies in the Red Army that kept Hitler bloodied and at bay in the east. Nations were united and unified. And we had the collective wisdom and compassion not to leave the defeated powers to fester and arise as enemies.

With the onslaught of primaries and national elections, politics in the United States has moved to hyper-spin. That spin spills over of course into foreign policy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now into fears about Pakistan's future. Neither the president nor the administration has succumbed to declaring the surge in Iraq as "mission accomplished." However, the administration and its fiercest supporters are certainly suggesting that image as violence in Iraq has declined, in large measure due to the additional 30,000 U.S. forces.

For a full read, click here.

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Al Qaeda's Isolation and Freedom's Expansion

From U.S. News & World Report.

The remaining top al Qaeda leaders are increasingly isolated and have growing difficulty directing plots, according to Dell Dailey, a retired lieutenant general who serves as the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator.

"We see them with much, much less central authority and much, much less capability to reach out," Dailey told a group of defense reporters this morning. "They can't centrally plan aspects from where they are located, whether it's Pakistan or not, and their franchise folks aren't very good."

Dailey credited the response from the United States and other nations for taking out key al Qaeda leaders and disrupting their ability to plan, finance, and carry out attacks. According to Dailey, most of al Qaeda's recent activity has been carried out by franchises, using supporters already in place in countries like the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

"The one area where al Qaeda has this centralized reach capability is in the media," he said. "They have not been able to build back their centralized, core strike capability."

Dailey did say that al Qaeda's recent alliance with the Algerian-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (which has been renamed al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) is troubling. But he also said that the groups miscalculated with their recent attack on a United Nations office in Algeria. "For al Qaeda, taking on the U.N. is a bad move." {emphasis added)

A few things which LTG (Ret) Dell Dailey states are key. But we need to first get back to the basics about fighting an insurgency. For basics, one needs to go back to T. E. Lawrence and The Mind of the Insurgent. This article discusses the six principles of fighting an insurgency taken from Lawrence's time battling an insurgency in WWI.

1. A successful guerrilla movement must have an unassailable base.

2.The guerrilla must have a technologically sophisticated enemy.

3. The enemy must be sufficiently weak in numbers so as to be unable to occupy the disputed territory in depth with a system of interlocking fortified posts.

4. The guerrilla must have at least the passive support of the populace, if not its full involvement.

5. The irregular force must have the fundamental qualities of speed, endurance, presence and logistical independence.

6. The irregular must be sufficiently advanced in weaponry to strike at the enemy's logistics and signals vulnerabilities.

The three most enduring principle which T. E. Lawrence espoused is an insurgency needs to have an unassailable base, passive support of the population, and presence in the population. On the counterinsurgent's side, they must be sufficiently weak in numbers so as to be unable to occupy the disputed territory.

In this context, let's examine LTG (Ret) Dailey's comments.

1. Key leaders are isolated: Al Qaeda (whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or elsewhere) are isolated for several reasons. First, because of their extremism and indescriminate killing of fellow Muslims, in many areas where they had/have a presence they are losing the passive support of the population. At a microcosm level, this is what happened Al Anbar with the "Awakening" movement of Sunni tribes. This "Awakenig" movement pushed them out of Al Anbar, their unassailable base in Iraq to such an extent that Al Qaeda in Iraq no longer has a significant presence in this region from which to terrorize and subdue the population, hence causing a loss of passive support.

This same dynamic is seen in Afghanistan to a lesser extent and is most notable in Mula Qasa, the town which was recently liberated by the Afghan National Army and Coaltion forces. In addition, the ex-Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Salaam, became disfranchised with Al Qaeda and is now in charge of the district. In Mula Qasa, Al Qaeda has lost an unassailable base, the passive support of the population, and its presence.

Finally, this same dynamic is becoming more prevalent in Al Qaeda's largest unassailable base, the FATA region in Pakistan. With the recent assassination of Bhutto and the ongoing suppression and killing of fellow Muslims, Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) are losing the support of the population. The Pakistani Army has recently established a presence in the region, limiting Al Qaeda's (and the Taliban's) presence in the region.

What used to be a region squarely under Al Qaeda's control from which it could launch operations worldwide is now threatened which brings us to another back to LTG (Ret) Dailey's comments.

2. "They can't centrally plan aspects from where they are located."

For all the reasons noted above, Al Qaeda's ability to centrally plan operations is extremely limited. Their presence in Iraq has been signifcantly degraded. In Afghanistan last year alone, 4500 militants were killed Several more were wounded, effectively taking them out of the fight. Strategically significant towns, such as Mula Qasa with its huge cache of refined opium (cash for the insurgent), have been lost. Loss of key terrain is also seen in Somalia and Indonesia. With the attack on the UN in Algeria, Al Qaeda repeated the same mistake it made in all other areas and will lose support in this region. Now, their last unassailable base, the FATA region in Pakistan, is under attack. It is hard to focus on operations outside your area of operations when your area of operations is under attack. Similarly, it is hard to gather support when your operations have at best resulted in the status quo and at the worst, a complete rout of your forces which bring us to the third significant comment from LTG (Ret) Dailey.

3. "Their franchise folks aren't very good." Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Taliban, or the Islamic Courts all have a habit of disenfranchising the very population they need support from, which causes them to lose their passive support, loss of presence in these regions, and finally their unassailable base as the population with help from military forces expel them from their stronghold. While the cycle is in different stages in all these areas, the cycle is the same and stems from Al Qaeda wanting to create a single Caliphate in a world in which people associate themselves as Iraqis, Algerians, Afghanistanis, Somalis, or Pakistanis. In addition, while these people are Muslim, they all have different aspect of beliefs within the Muslim religion and most do not share the extremist views espoused by Al Qaeda.

4. We finally go to LTG (Ret) Dailey's last comment. "Dailey credited the response from the United States and other nations for taking out key al Qaeda leaders and disrupting their ability to plan, finance, and carry out attacks." This comment ties in with T. E. Lawrence's last principle above. On the counterinsurgent's side, they must be sufficiently weak in numbers so as to be unable to occupy the disputed territory. Established nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Phillipines, have enacted systems and rules which significantly limits Al Qaeda's activities and freedom of action. Politically changed nations, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, are rebuilding armys and taking the fight to Al Qaeda directly. Other established nations, such as Pakistan, now see Al Qaeda as the threat that it is and are putting forces against it to counter its influence.

Al Qaeda's ability to occupy disputed territory has been significantly decreased since 9/11. Nations across the globe have seen what Al Qaeda does when it occupies a region or a state. They see it everyday in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Algeria. No nation wants Al Qaeda within its borders disrupting it society and decreasing its political and economic stability.

This leads us back to LTG (Ret) Dailey's orginal comment and T. E. Lawrence's principles. "The remaining top al Qaeda leaders are increasingly isolated and have growing difficulty directing plots." Whereever Al Qaeda occupies a region, they enact Sharia law, initially welcomed by the population resulting in passive support. Later they begin to terrorize the populous as stricter forms of Sharia law are enacted. In turn, the populous, whom Al Qaeda depends on for passive support, withdraws this support. This action by the populous causes Al Qaeda to increase it reign of terror, killing innocent Muslims. Over time, populations, typically with outside military assistance, rise up and kick Al Qaeda out of their region. Al Qaeda loses presence and hence influence in the region (unassailable base). These "Awakening" groups, Concerned Local Citizens (CLCs), tribes, peoples, or governments band together to increase the counterinsurgents numbers and decrease the disputed territories Al Qaeda can occury in the future.

It is for these reason that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being/or is defeated. It is for these reasons that the Taliban cannot retake Afghanistan and in fact are losing ground and support. It is for these reasons why Al Qaeda and the Taliban are facing hundreds of thousand of regular army troops and frontier corpsmen in the FATA region of Pakistan. It is for these regions why Ethiopia stepped into Somalia.

Al Qaeda is on the wane. Freedom is on the march.

Muslims the world over, once intent on helping Al Qaeda with support, an unassailable base, and presence in their states against what they considered a imperialistic United States are beginning to see firsthand what the Iraqis in Al Anbar saw two years ago. Al Qaeda is nothing but a bunch of unholy, sadistic extremists who violate Islamic principles by killing innocent Muslims as they enact stricter and stricter Sharia law on the populous.

Due to the Long War, Muslims the world over are seeing Americans firsthand and not the America portrayed on SITCOMs and in movies. Muslims are seeing America's greatest ambassadors, young American Soldiers and Marines who embody a warrior ethos respected in this region and the world over. These warriors are dying while battling Al Qaeda to spread to the rest of the world those unalienable rights written down by our founding fathers more than 200 years ago, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Al Qaeda only delivers, Death, Subjugation, and Despair.

Far from America being further branded as an imperial power seeking to control the world, America is becoming the savior of many peoples and nations delivering freedom and in some cases democracy through its young ambassadors, Soldiers and Marines. President Bush's bold move to plant the seeds of democracy in the center of Middle East and in Asia are having and will continue to have far reaching consequences. Namely, it will result in the decline of tyranny in "Non-Integrating Gap" countries. In time, these countries will move closer to democracy and therefore freedom. Given more freedom, individuals in these countries will increase their standards of living and begin to contribute to the world economy. Instead of being destructive members of society, they will become productive members of society and share in those unalienable rights given to all men and women by their Creator

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Terrorism the key challenge, Afghan leader tells parliament

From Yahoo/AFP.

President Hamid Karzai opened the third working year of Afghanistan's post-Taliban parliament saying terrorism was the nation's biggest challenge and must be fought inside and outside the country.... (emphasis added)

He again called for extremism to be fought at its "original sources," a likely reference to neighbouring Pakistan where Afghan and Western officials say Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked rebels have bases.

"Without a broad-based strategy, the fight on terrorism can't be successful and meet its goals," Karzai said.

"Targeting its original sources, drying up its finance sources and stopping the expansion of extremism must be included as the key points in the fight on terrorism."

Karzai continued with,

Another main challenge was opium production, the president also told the legislators....

"Drugs cultivation, production and smuggling, the existence of international drugs mafia and the terrorism leaders' and drugs mafia connection are another major challenge of our country," he said.

President Karzai is an outstanding leader who is not afraid to tell it like it is. Terrorism and opium is keeping Afghanistan from being a robust, vibrant, free democracy.

For a full read, click here.

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All quiet on Quebec war protest front, despite casualties, antiwar sentiment

From the Canadian Press via Yahoo.

Quebecers were expected to rise in protest against the war in Afghanistan when hometown soldiers from the local regiment began to fall on the fields of Kandahar.

Instead, the return of 11 flag-draped caskets since the Royal 22nd Regiment took the lead of the mission last summer has triggered little outcry from the province's political leaders, public personalities or ubiquitous street protesters.

The quiet response has left Raymond Legault, a member of antiwar umbrella group Collectif Echec a la guerre, reaching for explanations.

"I think when soldiers get killed, people are more sad than angry," said Legault, who helped organize small protests this fall that failed to spread very far.

Polls have suggested about 60 per cent of Quebecers are against Canada's mission in Afghanistan, a level of opposition that has remained constant for nearly five years.

It is interesting to see these numbers. Sixty percent are against Canada's mission, yet there are no protests calling for an end of the mission. We see the same thing in America.

As often, I ask, Why?

In calling my Mom over the holidays to wish her a Merry Christmas, I was taken aback that she too thought it was time to bring our Soldiers home. Her explanations took three tones:

1. So many wounded.

2. Lack of progress

3. We have given them their freedom and all they do is continue to kill.

I addressed each of these issues with her.

1. We have less killed and wounded in seven years than we had on any given day of major battles in WWII. I thought this would have some effect since as a young girl she has vivid memories of WWI, but nothing at all. It just led to the second issue, the lack of progress.

2. I told her there had been substantial progress. Since she does not have a computer, she may just be getting her "lack of progress" from the MSM. I comforted her by stating we are doing to Lord work in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are bringing democracy to people who have not experienced it in their lifetime. She grudgingly accepted that and then went on to number three.

3. Iraqis and Afghanis will never accept freedom.. I told her, freedom is something you do not accept, nor is it something which can be given, it is something which is earned. Iraqis are now earning their freedom. They are doing nothing different than a young United States did in the late 1700s. When she asked what did I mean, I unfortunately had to refer her to "Washington's Gift" which she will never see since she is woefully technologically unsavvy, and she will never see this article that I shared with you all on Christmas Eve.

The reason I am sharing this story is it explains the "Why" earlier. Good, decent, God fearing people know what we are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq is right, but they cannot explain why or understand the complexities of the wars, so they choose to not support it, but will definitely not protest against it.

There is a Christmas story at the birth of this country that very few Americans know. It involves a single act by George Washington -- his refusal to take absolute power -- that affirms our own deepest beliefs about self-government, and still has profound meaning in today's world. To appreciate its significance, however, we must revisit a dark period at the end of America's eight-year struggle for independence.

The story begins with Gen. Washington's arrival in Annapolis, Md., on Dec. 19, 1783. The country was finally at peace -- just a few weeks earlier the last British army on American soil had sailed out of New York harbor. But the previous eight months had been a time of terrible turmoil and anguish for Gen. Washington, outwardly always so composed. His army had been discharged and sent home, unpaid, by a bankrupt Congress -- without a victory parade or even a statement of thanks for their years of sacrifices and sufferings.

Instead, not a few congressmen and their allies in the press had waged a vitriolic smear campaign against the soldiers -- especially the officers, because they supposedly demanded too much money for back pay and pensions. Washington had done his utmost to persuade Congress to pay them, yet failed, in this failure losing the admiration of many of the younger officers. Some sneeringly called him "The Great Illustrissimo" -- a mocking reference to his world-wide fame. When he said farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York early in December, he had wept at the sight of anger and resentment on many faces.

Even Congress, at the birth of our nation, which is supposed to understand complex situations, failed to understand the significance of what had just occurred in the newly found (and formed)United States of Americq eight years after a very long war had started. Today, most Americans (and Canadians) do not understand "The Long War". They are still enjoying economic livelihood and freedom. They are still enjoying the fruits of many dead Soldiers without knowing what these Soldiers have really done for them, be it 1783 or 2008. I personally, believe that most Soldiers also do not understand what their sacrifices bring until they are much older, wiser, and separated from the actions they underwent.

It is simple however. Freedom is something one would not accept, interestingly enough. It is also something that cannot be given. It is something that must be earned by the brave. We gave Afganis their freedom in 2001. We gave Iraqis their freedom in 2003. Neither of these cultures accepted their freedom. In fact, they shunned this gift much like Congress did in 1783. Iraqis have began to accept their freedom now that they are earning their freedom. Afghanis are just beginning to understand this great gift since they are now earning it. Pakistanis will decide their course on 18 February 2008, but will have to battle Al Qaeda to earn their freedom.

Finally, there is another facet of gaining freedom which must be overcome. Rulers have to understand freedom (to step down) to allow a democracy to flourish, despite them. Washington understood this fact. Maliki is beginning to understand this fact. I am certain Musharraf now understands this fact.

Our Soldiers who are dying and being wounded on the on the battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan are doing nothing less pious than our first President did at 1200, 23 December 1783.

To understand why we are doing to Lord's work in Iraq and Afghanistan, click here to understand the the full extent of not only Washington's gift upon America, but the Continental Army's gift to America and the military's gift to subsequent nations more than 200 years later.

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Freedom and Democracy

MEMRI has translated excerpts from Syrian sheikh 'Abd Al-Mun'im Mustafa Halima, who is also known as Abu Baseer Al-Tartousi, from his article, "On the Jihad in Iraq" posted on his website on 23 NOvember 2007.

In the article, he condemned the ease with which Sunni jihad groups accuse one another of heresy and collaboration with the enemy, and he wrote that these groups ultimately reach the point of killing one another, thus violating the strict prohibition in Islam against spilling Muslim blood. Al-Tartousi called on the jihad groups in Iraq to join ranks and to base their activity on the principle of shura (consultation) - thus implicitly criticizing Al-Qaeda's attempts to impose its control on other jihad movements. At the same time, he unequivocally condemned those collaborating with the Americans, stating that nothing could justify such an act. Finally, he warned against the phenomenon of blind admiration for certain contemporary jihad leaders, which has spread in certain circles. This admiration, he said, causes them to direct "ideological and psychological terrorism" at any cleric or preacher who gives them advice that they dislike or that they deem offensive to the object of their admiration. (emphasis added)

Al-Tartousi discusses three points (highlighted above) which has caused the jihad in Iraq to suffer.

1. Exaggerate the Sins of Rival Groups

"The worst and most dangerous [mistake] is to accuse other [Muslims] of heresy on the basis of conjecture, suspicions, probabilities, and unfounded notions [based on one's] interpretation [of the facts]."

2. Use of force to settle disagreement among Jihad Groups

"If one group disdains the principle of shura and imposes itself and its decisions on another, the result is inevitably mutual strife, war, division and the unlawful spilling of blood. This is happening today, and it is [precisely] what the enemy wants..."

3. Blindly following extremists

Lately, we have [indeed] observed in a number of people the phenomenon of zealously following certain contemporary jihadi [figures], to the extent that they reject any criticism or advice [regarding these figures], or any claim that [their mentors] are making a mistake. Anyone who offers such advice... is immediately considered suspect and accused of treason... even if he has an [impeccable] reputation for expertise, knowledge and jihad...

These mistakes are exactly the mistakes made by Al Qaeda in Iraq. They continue to be made as Al Qaeda in Iraq targets awakening members, most notable, Sheikh Risha in Al Anbar who started the Anbar Awakening. Al Qaeda is continuing to target CLC and Awakening leaders which will further alienate them from the population.

The two things I find interesting about this article are:

1. It contradictory nature. Al-Tartousi, and Bin Laden before him are eseentially telling a lion to quit being a lion. Do not exaggerate the sins of rival groups. Do not use force against rival individuals or groups. Do not blindly follow extremists. However, this is what Bin Laden preaches for Al Qaeda preaches and what Al Qaeda in Iraq executes on a daily basis. It is precisely why they have alienated the population of Iraq and are why they have lost the active and tacit support of the populous in Iraq, which is essential for a successful insurgency.

Side Note: What is interesting about any government, leader, or ruler, whether elected or not, is they need at least the tacit approval of the population. This tacit support can be gained by military force to prevent tacit approval from becoming active disapproval. Otherwise, they would be overthrown. This fact is as true now as it was in feudal societies in the ancient world.

2.The fixes suggested are being done by Awakening groups, but they are denounced in this article as heresy. The fix for exaggerating the sins of rival groups is to "sit down with the enemy and negotiate with him, or even [sign] a hudna or reconciliation agreement" This is precisely what Awakening groups in Iraq are doing with the Iraqi government. Instead of using force against rival groups, jihad forces must unify and execute a shura. The unity government that is being established in Iraq is an example of this principle as is the recently passed reconciliation law. I presume the problem with this shura or consultation which is happening is that it is based on a popularly elected democracy. Instead of blindly following extremists, one should seek spiritual leadership. Rival groups are seeking spiritual advice, most notably from Sistani who has been visited by both Sunnis and Shiites leaders alike for his guidance in Iraqi matters.

If I was a jihad fighter, I would be thoroughly confused by the contradictions being espoused by Al-Tartousi and in the earlier speech by Bin Laden. I presume this is precisely why fighters for Al Qaeda in Iraq are becoming disenchanted and disillusioned. It is also presumably why Iraqis are flocking to Awakening groups and CLCs and seeking reconciliation with the Iraqi government. Moving to these groups is perfectly in line with what is being stated by both of these individuals.

The problem both of these individuals have is the freely elected democracy in Iraq, the fact that this freely elected democracy has a Shiite majority, and possibly the most important, is this freely elected democracy was created by an infidel, the United States. The reason this freely elected democracy will prevail over Al Qaeda is precisely that it upholds the Muslim principles of shura (consultation) and hudna (reconciliation) and is enforcing the sharia (higher religious law) regardless of how Al-Tartousi attempts to twist the facts.

The problem is Iraq is not extreme enough which brings us to the third contradiction expoused by Al-Tartousi. Without stating it himself, Al-Tartousi's major issue is expressed several times above. He and Bin Laden do not like the freely elected democracy being established in Iraq.

Freedom and democracy is what they fear most. Freedom and democracy is what Bin Laden attacked and attempted to destroy on 9/11. Freedom and democracy is why they made Iraq their central front of terror. Freedom and democracy is why Al Qaeda went to Lebanon immediately after Hamas was elected. Freedom and democracy is why he and the Taliban assassinated Bhutto. Freedom and democracy is why he and the Taliban have brought the battle back to Pakistan.

An individual's desire for freedom and democracy is why evil groups, such as Al Qaeda, will ultimately fail. Freedom and democracy is why they haved failed in Iraq. Freedom and democracy is why they are failing in Afghanistan. Freedom and democracy is why they will ultimately fail in Pakistan.

Freedom and democracy will solve the Israel-Palestinian crisis as soon as the Palestinians realize three things.

1. Do not exaggerate the sins of rival groups.

2. Do not use force against rival individuals or groups.

3. Do not blindly follow extremists.

Thank you Al-Tartousi. You have put all these issues completely in perspective.

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Hekmatyar parts ways with Taliban

From The News in Pakistan.

Fugitive Afghan leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar told The Associated Press his forces have ended cooperation with the Taliban and suggested that he was open to talks with President Hamid Karzai.

In a video response to questions submitted by AP, Hekmatyar also recounted how US forces nearly caught him on two occasions but he got away. Hekmatyar, speaking in front of a plain white wall at an undisclosed location, indicated that his group contacted Taliban leaders some time in 2003 and agreed to wage a joint Jihad against American troops. “The Jihad went into high gear but later it gradually went down as certain elements among the Taliban rejected the idea of a joint struggle against the aggressor,” he said.

Hekmatyar was the former Prime Minister of Afghanistan prior to being overthrown by the Taliban. Since 9/11, he was expelled from Iran, backed Taliban fighters against the Coaliton, attempted to join Al Qaeda, and is said to be behind an assassination attempt of Karzai.

In every respect this guy is a true bad guy. It will be interesting to watch events as they unfold.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban commander killed in clash in South Waziristan

From Bill Roggio writing for The Long War Journal.

The Pakistani military has killed a senior Afghan Taliban commander during a clash in the tribal agency of South Waziristan. Saifur Rahman Mansour, the Taliban commander at the first battle of Tora Bora in 2002, was killed in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency, Iranian Press TV reported.

"Mansour was a big time Taliban commander in 2001-2002 and led the battle at Tora Bora," said Matt Dupee, a contributor to The Long War Journal and Afgha.com. "He was allegedly paid not to interfere with the voting process in 2004 (his base is in the east, Paktia (Zurmat district) and ceased his activities in 2005. The Taliban subsequently removed him from the Rahbari Shura following rumors of his split. In 2006 he restarted his militant activities and became a part of the Peshawar Shura (really based out of Waziristan) once again and launched an offensive in the eastern areas alongside the Haqqani network. His main skill was commanding men on the battlefield and his in-depth knowledge of military tactics and guerilla warfare."

For a full read, click here.

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Why Al-Qaeda Is Losing

From Gary Anderson at the Washington Post.

The conventional wisdom is that al-Qaeda is making a comeback from its rout in Afghanistan. Many point to its success in killing Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and to its support of Islamic insurgents there as evidence. Not so. Al-Qaeda is waning. Its decline has less to do with our success than with the institutional limitations of the al-Qaeda organization. Simply stated, to know al-Qaeda closely is not to love it.

Everyplace where al-Qaeda has gained some measure of control over a civilian population, it has quickly worn out its welcome. This happened in Kabul and in Anbar province in western Iraq. It may well happen in Pakistan as a reaction to the killing of Bhutto.

No one likes to be brutalized and dominated by foreigners. The weakness of al-Qaeda is that everywhere it goes its people are strangers. This is no way to build a worldwide caliphate.

While I agree with Mr. Anderson's tenets regarding Al Qaeda up to this point, I do not agree with his premise that individual groups can overcome Al Qaeda. Mr. Anderson states the civilian population kicked Al Qaeda out of Kabul and the Anbar province. I believe this is a completely inaccurate statement.

While Al Qaeda definitely came to be despised in Kabul and Anbar, it was only with assistance of the US Military that these people were able to defeat Al Qaeda. It will only be with Pakistani Military assistance that tribemen in Pakistan will be able to defeat Al Qaeda. It is only with US Military assistance that Shiiites, who for three decades were under tyrannical rule, were able to defeat Saddam.

While I concur that Al Qaeda is winning the global information war, US Military presence in Afghanistan and Kabul wins the local information war precisely because we follow the rule of law. Over time, citizens in these countries have come to know the United States, through its military, not as the "decadent at best and downright threatening at worst" that is seen on the MSM, but as decent, just, fair, god fearing people, not unlike themselves.

It is this new perception of Americans, through our military forces, that gave Anbaris the strength to rise up against Al Qaeda. It was George Bush's strength and courage to stand up to Congress and the vast majority of the American people (if you can believe the polls) when they were calling for withdraw, which was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's (Al Qaeda's) back in Anbar.

It will not be money spent on advertisements showing how evil Al Qaeda is. These newly freed people know exactly how bad Al Qaeda is, their husbands, wives, sons, and daugthers have been killed by Al Qaeda. They have witnessed its evils ways firsthand. The reason they did not rise up the first time Al Qaeda brutally murdered one of their family is precisely because they did not have the strength and courage to do so.

Our presence gives them this strength and courage. It is not only the presence of our overwhelming firepower represented by our military that gives them strength and courage, but more so the presence of a decent, just, fair, and god fearing Soldier that is at the tip of that spear.

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The mysterious Afghan warlord trusted to spread peace in a divided province

From Times Online.

Mullah Abdul Salaam, 45-year-old former Mujahidin guerrilla who recently switched sides and is now in charge of the key district of Musa Qala had this to say when talking with former Taliban soldiers.

“It is enough now,” he urged the 30 men huddled around him. “Our dead have been eaten by the dogs.” He gestured at a small group of British and American officers. “You can see around you these people from noble nations have come to build you streets and schools. If they should ask you to leave your religion then you have a right to fight them, but not because they come to bring you streets and schools.”

The village was in an area roamed by Taleban led by Mullah Abdul Bari, who remains at large. Mullah Salaam wasted little time in using his own past connection with the militant commander in his address.

“Abdul Bari is our brother,” he said. “He can come and sit among us . . . He is from this land. Speak with him. But don’t let him be stupid. If he is not on the right path then don’t let yourself be sacrificed for him. Tell him to take his jihad somewhere else.” (emphasis added)

While he will need to be watch closely, Mullah Salaam's switch may lead to more reconciliation with other Taliban commanders.

Two things are significant in this article.

1. Winning hearts and minds is important. Several Taliban are starting to see Coalition forces are not there to occupy Afghanistan and suppress its people. We are there to bring the nation out of poverty which provides Al Qaeda with its fighters.

2. He is telling his forces to go out and talk to other Taliban to win them over.

For a full read, click here.

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NATO airstrike targets 'senior Taliban commander' in Afghanistan

From Earth Times.

A NATO-led airstrike targeted a senior Taliban commander in north-eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, the military said. The death and name of the targeted commander is yet to be confirmed. The raid by NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) took place in a compound in Qari village in Tagab district of Kapisa province after intelligence reports indicated that a group of Taliban leaders were meeting in the area, ISAF said in a statement.

The commander is a key figure for providing materials for making roadside bombs in the valley and is also responsible for organizing attacks against Afghan and international forces, it said.

"The commander was wanted for attacks in Kapisa, Parwan and Kabul Provinces," the statement.

ISAF personnel ensured the site was clear of civilians before conducting the strike, the statement adding that the joint Afghan and ISAF forces have been conducting an assessment of the site.

"The name of the commander will be released upon confirmation of his death," the statement added.

Another one gone, another one bites the dust.

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Who's War? Separating Fact from Fiction in 'Charlie Wilson's War'

Paul Kengor at the American Thinker asks the question of who was the impetus behind our covert support of the rebels in the Soviet-Afghanistan war. His first quote answers the question.

"Reagan specifically urged the supplying of U.S. shoulder-launched, heat-seeking missiles that can shoot down Soviet helicopter gunships."
-Martin Schram, Washington Post, January 10, 1980

Going back in history, the Soviet War in Afghanistan started on 25 December 1979. One will also note that Reagan was elected in November 1980. The quote about him above therefore came two weeks after the start of the war and a full year prior to him becoming President. Mr. Kengor explains the situation of the movie.

The movie, and the book, is about a moderate-to-conservative Democratic Congressman, a profane, hard-drinking, womanizing, anti-communist politician who was indeed -- as the movie makes abundantly clear-- very important to providing a huge amount of covert financial and military support to the Mujahedin rebels who resisted the Soviet Union after the Red Army invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The USSR brutalized the nation and its innocent people. Charlie Wilson's goal was to give the Afghan "freedom fighters" the supplies they needed to defeat the Soviets.

However, he notes.

While all of this is true, this is (at best) half the story -- maybe even a quarter of the story. It helps explain what happened in the Democrat-controlled Congress, where the likes of Charlie Wilson were a godsend to counter the San Francisco Democrats and Massachusetts liberals who would have let Central America become a Soviet-Cuban outpost.

But the rest of the story, which receives no mention, is that it was the Reagan administration, and specifically CIA director Bill Casey, National Security Adviser Bill Clark, Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger, and Ronald Reagan himself -- plus numerous aides -- who were the driving force behind supplying the Mujahedin. This movie could have been made 10 years ago about Bill Casey, whose actions were even more dramatic than Charlie Wilson's -- albeit not as obscene -- or about Bill Clark.

For a concise primer regarding the influence of National Security Decision Directives (NSDD) signed by the Reagan administration and Reagan himself, read the whole article.

One thing I am certain of that this article does not mention, if Reagan had not been elected and President Carter won a second term, there would not have been a "Charlie Wilson's War" much less a movie to critique. While President Carter expressed displeasure with the Soviets and stated,

"the most serious threat to peace since the Second World War."

While he attacked the Soviet War in Afghanistan with threatened boycotts of the 1980 Olympics, trade embargos, and $20 million in support for the Afghanistan rebels, significant pressure against the Soviet Union and support for the Afghanistani rebels did not occur until after President Reagan was sworn into office.

Another forgotten peace which prevented further U.S. involvement is that President Carter was stymied by the Iran Hostage Crisis and the botched rescue attempt. Notable, the Iran Hostage Crisis was ended within minutes of Reagan being sworn in as President as he had effectively ran on a platform which suggested direct enagagement with Iran and containing and reversing Soviet influence and expansion.

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Afghanistan: Army discovers Iranian mines on road from Kabul

From Adnkronos International.

Mines produced in Iran have been discovered and seized by Afghani armed forces along the road between the capital, Kabul, and the eastern city of Jalalabad."

These mines are the latest technology and considered very dangerous," said a spokesman from the organisation for Afghani national security.

It is not the first time that Iran has been accused of sending arms to Taliban guerillas who are fighting the government of Hamed Karzai.

Recently the head of the Canadian troops stationed in Afghanistan accused Tehran of collaborating with militants linked to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.

Before him, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, spoke of Tehran's involvement in Afghanistan.

Now, direct proof they are meddling in Afghanistan. Many problems in the Middle East eventually come back to Iran. It is time to deal with this issue directly.

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Tribesmen raising anti-Al Qaeda Lashkar

Dawn is reporting of major rift between Al Qaeda in tribes in South Waziristan.

Thousands of armed tribesmen of South Waziristan met here on Wednesday, vowing to organise a Lashkar to hunt down Al Qaeda-linked militants blamed for killing nine of their kinsmen.

The tribal jirga in Wana came three days after militants stormed two offices and killed nine tribal elders of a government-sponsored peace committee.

The jirga ordered tribesmen from every household belonging to the Wazir tribe to come to Wana with arms to prepare for action, a local official said.

"One man from each house should come to Wana with a gun at 10am on Thursday to plan our defence and act against those who are responsible for disorder," tribal chief Malik Ghaffar told the gathering.

Wazir tribe chief Maulvi Nazir, who earned fame after he drove out hundreds of Uzbeks from the region last year in bloody clashes, is expected to address the Lashkar on Thursday.

He did not turn up at Wednesday’s meeting but had earlier blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a local Al Qaeda commander and leader of the rival Mehsud tribe, for the killing of the peace committee members.

Residents have reported that announcements have been made on a public address system asking Mehsud tribesmen to "leave Wana to avoid losses".

Baitullah Mehsud is accused by the government of masterminding a spate of suicide attacks in the country, including the December 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi. Mehsud has denied any involvement in the killing.

Local sources told AFP his tribe was preparing a jirga to negotiate with the Wazir tribe to avoid a confrontation

A couple of significant notes here:

1. This is the beginning of the end for Al Qaeda. This is their sole remaining base of operations. Now locals have not only stopped supporting them, but if this report is to be believed, a jirga is being convened to actively go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

2. It notes that Baitullah Mehsud is a local Al Qaeda commander. Stories have been coming out stating he was a leader of the united Taliban in Pakistan, but here he is stated to be a local leader of Al Qaeda. Note again, the symbolic shift against Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Take these two facts together with an earlier reports that Al Qaeda is attempting to execute a forceful take over of the Taliban, an Afghani Taliban leader switching sides, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah defiance of dismissal by Mullah Omar, and reports of Islamic parties are losing support in Pakistan and we see mounting evidence of a significant fracture between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and between the Taliban themselves.

I reported earlier that Al Qaeda made a grave mistake in assassinating Bhutto. While initially claiming credit for Bhutto's assassination, it was never officially taken credit for due to the uprising of support for Bhutto.

Musharraf used emergency rule to reposition tens of thousand forces from Kashmir to the FATA region. With all this military supporting them, tribal leaders will feel safe confronting Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda took a great risk assassinating Bhutto and bringing its war directly to its base of operations. It saw that it could have possibly gained nuclear weapons to use against the infidel. It now will soon be battling in its sole remaining safe haven.

Not only is Al Qaeda in Iraq defeated, but so is Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and therefore, Al Qaeda in general.

2008 is quickly shaping up to be a great year for people who love freedom. With Pakistani elections on 18 February 2008, it may very well also be a great year for people who love democracy.

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Afghanistan: A First Step Toward 'Turning' Moderate Taliban?

Radio Free Europe is reporting Mullah Abdul Salaam, a former Taliban commander who switched sides before a battle last month to secure Musa Qala, a Taliban-held southern town, had been named the government's top official there. Mullah Abdul Salaam commented.

"There were many problems before. There was no trust before. There was no one you could trust," he said. "People didn't know whom to contact. Now they are talking with me. They give me assurance and I give them assurances. There were many problems before. There was no trust before."

Afghan presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada stated,

"The president has said before that all those former Taliban who come and accept the constitution and who want to participate in the political process through non-violent means, they are all welcome. And Musa Qala is one example,"

Bringing Taliban over to the side of the democratic government is the first step towards peace in Afghanistan. It is signficant militarily in that it brings over 300 forces to help police this region of Afghanistan. Even more important, Christopher Langton, who studies Afghanistan at London's International Institute For Strategic Studies, noted,

"If it is stabilized, all sorts of follow-on could occur in other parts of the country when people see a successful outcome [in Helmand Province]," Langton says.

Langton says the stabilization of Musa Qala and the fertile farmland of the nearby Sangin Valley would allow repairs and upgrades to the nearby Kajaki hydroelectric dam. That, in turn, would allow the government to provide more irrigation, water, and electricity to as many as 2 million people in southern Afghanistan.

That would signal to Afghans elsewhere that their living conditions can be improved if they cooperate with the Afghan government. Langton says it also would allow the international community to be seen as an agent of positive change in Afghanistan rather than as an invader and occupier.

One can only hope this reconciliation with Mullah Abdul Salaam is successful and brings more Taliban forces over to the side of democracy and freedom.

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Al Qaeda’s Newest Triggerman, Baitullah Mehsud

Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau write an informative article for Newsweek about Al Qaeda’s wewest triggerman, Baitullah Mehsud, who was also recently was appointed the head of the newly formed Taliban Movement in Pakistan, a loose alliance of jihadist organizations in the tribal agencies by a council of militant leaders from the tribal agencies and neighboring areas. If Mullah Omar is the head of the Afghanistani Taliban, then Baitullah Mehsud is his equivalent in Paksistan. Recently, Baitullah Mehsud is being blamed for most of the suicide bombings in Pakistan, including Benazir Bhutto's assassination. This Newsweek article examines his rise and the possibility of his forces killing Bhutto.

Musharraf told a press conference last Friday that the tribal leader was behind most if not all of the 19 suicide bombings in Pakistan, including the two aimed at Bhutto, in the past three months. "He is the only one who had the capacity," says one Afghan Taliban with close connections to Mehsud, Al Qaeda and Pakistani militants.... Pakistani and U.S. authorities now fear that Baitullah, encouraged by the chaos that followed Bhutto's assassination, will try to wreak more havoc before the rescheduled Feb. 18 national elections.

The article goes on to detail how was he able to assassinate Bhutto.

Baitullah and his Qaeda allies had laid out remarkably intricate plans for killing Bhutto, who was a champion of secular democracy and a declared enemy of the jihadists. He says Baitullah and Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri—along with Zawahiri's deputy, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Al Qaeda's new commander of military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan—had dispatched suicide-bomber squads to five cities: Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where she was killed.

His forces are able to move freely in Pakistan due to their tradecraft.

With a long tradition as smugglers, the tribals (most of whom, like Baitullah, take Mehsud as their surname) run an extensive nationwide trucking and transport network that reaches from the borderlands into teeming cities like Karachi, allowing Baitullah to easily move men and weapons throughout Pakistan.

Newsweek goes on to explain one of his recent attacks.

One of Baitullah's biggest successes came in August, when his men captured more than 250 Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary troops, who surrendered without firing a shot. Mehsud demanded the release of 30 jailed militants and the end of Pakistani military operations in the Mehsud tribal area as the price for the men's release. To show he meant business, he ordered the beheading of three of his hostages. Once again, Musharraf gave in.

The article ends with Baitullah's goals for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In his few statements to the press, Baitullah has made his agenda frighteningly clear. He vowed, in a January 2007 interview, to continue waging a jihad against "the infidel forces of American and Britain," and to "continue our struggle until foreign troops are thrown out" of neighboring Afghanistan.

One point that Newsweek misses in this article even though they touch on it is the fact that Musharraf signed a peace deal with Baitullah in 2005 (which the article notes). However, what the article does not note is this is the reason we (and other governments) cannot negotiate with terrorists. These terrorists are no different than plane hijackers. They will always negotiate when their back is against the wall, but will later come back to reap havoc. If we allow them to persist or exist, they will continue to grow stronger and their actions will grow to a level of strategic or political importance, like the assassination of Bhutto.

Baitullah is waging war in Pakistan as part of Al Qaeda's overarching goal to create a Salafist Caliphate. This goal has not changed. What has changed is the location, which is now Pakistan and hopefully to include Afghanistan in the future since Iraq is now lost to Al Qaeda.

It appears we have won one battle, Iraq, in the Global War on Terror. We have prevented the re-establishment of another Caliphate in Afghanistan which shows Al Qaeda' inability to project their war over long lines of communication for prolonged periods of time. However, now they have internal lines of communication inside Pakistan that must be dealt with.

Musharraf is being put in a difficult position. He needs US help to close these lines of communication to save Pakistan; however, getting US assistance inside Pakistan further weakens his authority. As power hungry as Musharraf is, I believe he will default to the greater good of Pakistan even if it results in his downfall. He proved this clearly in the past when he overthrew Sharif in a coup. He proved it again when he assisted US forces in Afghanistan. He proved it by stepping down as the Army Chief and naming a pro-Western successor. He proved it again recently by allowing Bhutto to come back to Pakistan to seek re-election a third time to ensure a popular democracy would prevail in Pakistan.

While Baitullah was able to silence Bhutto, he will be unable to silence the growing democratic movement in Pakistan which is why his next major target of terror is the elections. Like Al Qaeda in Iraq, whose brutal tactics caused the people to turn on it, Baituallah's tactics will fail to the principles of freedom and democracy.

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Inside the Taliban’s fallen town of fear

Stephen Grey, reports from Musa Qala, Afganistan. His reporting shows that while Coalition forces now control this town, that much more work needs to be done to save the town and its people. Some residents despise the Taliban.

Some said the Taliban had extorted money to fund their jihad against the Afghan government and Nato forces.

Some residents despise Americans.

“No one sent their kids to the school because they were afraid the Americans would drop bombs and everyone would be killed,”

Most residents are involved in opium production.

"If the British and Americans destroy the poppy, everyone will leave and join the Taliban.”

While the town of Musa Qala is now under the control of Coalition forces, much work needs to be done to eliminate the Taliban and its influence.

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A lot of meetings in Pakistan this week.

An interesting series of meetings are happening this week in Pakistan.

First, Musarraf is meeting with the ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Indonesia beginning this last Sunday. These meetings will continue throughout the week. The purpose of these meetings is to lay the groundwork to come up with a solution to the middle east crisis in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. From here ministers will head to a summit of their leaders to be hosted in Saudi Arabia by King Abdullah at a later date.

Vice President Cheney made a surprise visit to Pakistan today to discuss these same issues with Musarraf.

The British foreign secretary also is meeting with Musharraf this week to discuss the same issues.

Notably absent from all these meetings is Iran, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority.

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