Afghanistan: The Broadening Border War

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April 28, 2006: Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Osmani, a close aide to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, has been cited by Afghan President Karzai as one of the four most dangerous Taliban leaders still in the country. He is apparently in command of Taliban forces in Kandahar (Qandahār) province. The province, which has 880,000 people, is a rugged area in the southern part of Afghanistan, against the Pakistani border. The Taliban has remained relatively stronger in Kandahar than in many other areas as a result of infiltration across the mountains from Pakistan, and tribal connections among the largely Pushtun inhabitants.

Kandahar has been the site of a rather large proportion of the approximately three dozen suicide attack in Afghanistan so far this year. Comparatively speaking, most suicide attacks in Kandahar seem to have been more effective than those in other parts of the country. This relatively high degree of effectiveness is attributed to Akhtar's focus on training his personnel. His focus on training is not limited to suicide attackers, as Taliban operations in Kandahar in general are better organized and more effective. The roadside bomb that killed several Canadian troops on April 22nd occurred in the northern part of the province, and violent incidents in the area are generally more frequent.

The increased Taliban activity in southern provinces like Kandahar has been met by more numerous army and police activity. For example, when Taliban raided a road construction company recently, and destroyed vehicles and equipment, police and troops quickly responded and caught several of the raiders. More numerous and aggressive police and army patrols result in almost daily arrests of suspected Taliban. The increased Taliban activity is caused largely by more money being given to Taliban leaders. Some of the cash is from the Middle East, but some is from drug gangs, looking to some additional security. This is very similar to Colombia and Burma, two countries where rebel groups created a symbiotic relationship with drug producers and smugglers. The rebel guns are hired by the drug money to keep the government away from rebel and drug gang activity.

The heart of the Taliban strength is not in Afghanistan, but across the border in Pakistan. Groups of up to several hundred Taliban cross the border, carry out raids and terrorism (to frighten tribesmen into supporting the Taliban) before being spotted by American or Afghan forces. Then the Taliban scatter and head for the border. Increasingly, however, there are Pakistani forces waiting at the border to kill or arrest the Taliban. In these cases, the Taliban will ditch their weapons in one of the many caves, and try to pass as a few tribesmen traveling across the border. The 6,000 NATO troops moving into southern Afghanistan are going to have to deal with this sort of thing.

Because of Taliban initiative and sometimes vigorous activity, NATO peacekeeping forces moving into southern Afghanistan, are finding that the best defense is a good offence. Thus, additional British troops being sent to Afghanistan, resulting in a 3,300 troop British force, have been told to act, not react, to Taliban activity. That will be aggressive patrolling and attacks on any Taliban forces discovered.

The Afghan Air Force has flown its first combat support missions, using its Russian Mi-17 helicopters. Next month, Afghan and American helicopters will be used in the first Afghan-Pakistani training exercise along the border. The two nations will practice coordinating the movement of troops by ground, and air, to deal with raiders found along the border. Last year, a similar exercise was held with U.S. and Pakistani troops.

 

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