Yesterday was the 18th anniversary of the Mujahedin expulsion of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and was marked by a military parade in Kabul.
Vice president, Marshal Fahim in his inaugural speech emphasized on the fight against government corruption and reinforcement of the Afghan Army.
He also suggested from the anti-government groups to return to mainstream and peaceful life.
“The negotiation doors are open for those who are interested in peace and participation of normal life processes,” said Fahim.
The Afghan Defense Minister in his speech criticized the international community and said they haven’t helped Afghanistan in a way they should have.
“The threats in our region and country have been evaluated slight by our international partners, as a result, their aids haven’t been able to meet our needs,” said Afghan Defense Minister.
Well there you go. I live here, so I’m with the Marshal and I understand that Marshal Fahim is a good man. Without question, Afghanistan would benefit from many more like him.
However, Kabul is, for the moment, irrelevant. The center of gravity for the Taliban and their various affiliates is Kandahar. If ISAF and the Afghan Army can clear and hold Kandahar and the surrounding communities,it will be a game changer. Here is a great quote from Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress:
“When I think of the battle of Kandahar, I think of it as a cross between The Wire and The Sopranos. They’re trying to deal with drugs and government and the Taleban. Nobody knows who the good cops are and who the crooks are.”
As I pointed out before, that is exactly the problem – we don’t know who the power brokers are in Kandahar. We have shaped the entire Afghan campaign at the strategic level to be the center of gravity, but on the tactical level we go in blind (in certain important areas) and that is no damn good. We lack the depth of intelligence to determine where to apply pressure with the local power structure. It is not like we don’t have hundreds of really smart people working the issue. The problem is we have wasted time using surrogates when our operatives should have been out and about finding things out first hand. There are not too many internationals out and about in Kandahar City now. Here is a report from Team Canada:
Things are really tense here right now, spending half the day and night at stand-to or on over-watch shift. Bunch of IEDs and direct-fire attacks this AM. One of our CFW workers got killed and three injured by an IED targeting ANP today, wrong place wrong time. Not sure how long we are going to be able to keep operating, but we will be the last to leave if at all, I guarantee that. XXX, XXXXXXX, and XXX are all gone or holed up on KAF – battle ineffective. We are the only show in town right now.
The reason Team Canada (comprised of both former Canadian and American military guys) is still operating is because they were raised in a culture of mission accomplishment. Gen McChrystal went on record earlier in the month saying that he has too many contractors in theater, which is probably true. But there are all sorts of different contractors out here and the ones operating outside the wire effectively should be receiving all sorts of encouragement. Again, I digress; the topic is Kandahar so let me get back on track. Indirectly.
Two nights ago Jalalabad was hit (again) with a small ineffective IED downtown and 2 rockets impacting near the Governor’s compound. As I said before, the city has received more IED’s and rockets in the last four weeks than we have had in the last four years. What’s going on? I’ll give you an educated guess. The Governor of Nangarhar Province is Gul Agha Sherzai, who is from Kandahar City and was one of the warlords who fought on our side in 2001 to rid the place of Taliban. I suspect that if we had the ability to do so, we would move Karzai’s brother out of Kandahar and bring Governor Sherzai back in as the Provincial Governor. How much do you want to bet that the sudden dramatic increase in IED and rocket attacks affecting Jalalabad City has more to do with Kandahar Province than Nangarhar?
The battle for Kandahar has already started. The varsity SF guys are working down the JPEL, taking out senior bad guys, which seems to have become a full time mission. The SF raid phase is what the military calls “shaping the battle space.” The villains are doing some shaping too. This week they assassinated two Agrhandab district shura members – both elders of the Alikozai tribe ,as well as the deputy mayor of Kandahar. The Alikozai tribe is pretty damn big and knocking off deputy mayors while they pray at the local mosque is supposed to be bad form. The villains could be alienating the very people they need in order to survive the coming onslaught like Al Qadea did with the tribes in Al Anbar, Iraq. Then again maybe they aren’t, who knows? Clearly we don’t.
I hope the targeted strikes in Kandhahar are going better than they are in Jalalabad. Last night we heard what was clearly a varsity SF raid very close to the Taj. AC 130’s, fast movers, lots of transport rotary wing. Apparently, the boys hit a compound belonging to a female member of parliament searching for a “Taliban Facilitator.” During the raid a neighbor responded to the raid with his AK 47 and was shot and killed. This morning we were treated to a pretty impressive (by local standards) demonstration a few hundred meters west of the Taj where local villagers had brought the body of the dead man and were chanting “Death to America.”
The ANP did a good job of controlling this protest. They rerouted all the trucks and traffic through the gas station, which is just to the right out of frame in the picture above. About an hour into the protest the crowd surged forward and pelted the police with rocks. The ANP retreated and fired a few volleys of AK47 rounds into the air. They ran forward and threw a few CS grenades, but the wind was wrong and the CS blew back on them (and us at the Taj) so they retreated a bit again. An hour after that, the crowd had dispersed, traffic was moving again, and we could relax a bit.
These varsity SF raids are really cool, but last night’s efforts came up dry. There are many better ways to go about getting a “Taliban Facilitator” who is located inside the compound of an Afghan MP, astride the main Jalalabad to Kabul road. A few truck loads of ANP with a fireteam of American Military Police is more than adequate. Afghan compounds are, from a tactical perspective, easy to isolate and one can always start a raid by knocking on the door and asking the suspect to come along for a chat. What is he going to do? Start a siege in a Member of Parliament’s compound?
Regardless, last night’s raid was a dry hole which, given the status of the compound owner, is a huge screw up. How did that compound end up on a JPEL target list? What were the motivations of the people who nominated it? Who was that shot across the bow directed at? I bet we don’t know, but if I had to guess, I would say that all of this – the attacks in Jalalabad, last night’s disaster of a raid, all of it, is connected to Kandahar. And I do not see how they can methodically clear and hold the Kandahar City and the surrounding districts without pulling the Marines into the fight from their current area of operations. If they plan to mimic the tactics used in Iraq it is going to take a lot of infantry. More on this in the next post. For now my forecast is that it is going to be a very interesting fighting season and the battle for Kandahar remains the most important battle since Tora Bora.