Soft Targets

Haji Agha Lalai (left, Director of Kandahar Strengthening Peace) and Mullah Ibrahim (right). Click image to view.

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan: As Coalition and Afghan forces press on with Operation Mountain Thrust in southeastern Afghanistan, the fighting in the Zari and Panjwai has abated. Lieutenant Colonel Ian Hope, the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, has stated the offensive operations have now shifted towards joint security patrols between Canadian and Afghan police and army units. “We know from our report that any large Taliban groups have withdrawn… there must be a permanent presence, particularly by Afghan National Authorities, particularly ANP and ANA, supported by Coalition soldiers. Coalition soldiers will remain present in those two district (Zari and Panjwai) for some time. They are there now and they will stay,” said Lt.Col. Hope.

The Taliban hit back at a soft target in Kandahar City on Thursday morning. Ten were murdered and seventeen wounded after the Taliban detonated a bomb on a civilian bus. On the bus were Afghan nationals working for the Coalition at Kandahar Airfield. Five interpreters, one driver and one cook were killed in the terror bombing.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a press release issued to the Afghan Islamic News, and claim they can strike at targets at will. “It is our success. It shows we can… gain access to highly guarded government places… and do what we want,” according th the Taliban press release. But the timing of the attack and the security measures at Kandahar Airfield tell a different story. The Taliban chose to detonate the bomb on the bus while in the city, as outside buses are prevented from entering the airbase. Passengers are dropped off at the main gate and driven into the airfield by different vehicles to prevent such a situation.

The choice of striking at soft, civilian targets is both an admission of military weakness and a standard tactic insurgencies use to sow fear in civilian populations. “The Taliban is not capable of facing the Coalition on the battlefield. They know that. Every time they face us on the battlefield, they lose and they lose big,” said Major Quentin Innis, a spokesman for Combined Task Force Aegis.

The Taliban are attempting to intimidate local Afghanis to prevent them from cooperating with Afghan government and Coalition forces. Interpreters are particularly a desired target of the Taliban as they provide the vital link between Coalition forces and the local Afghan peoples. Five of the Coalition’s estimated fifty interpreters in the Kandahar region have been murdered, and the impact on current operations and future recruiting are unknown.

In the past, suicide bombings and other mass attacks on civilians in Kandahar has produced a backlash against the Taliban. Attacks against civilians in Kandahar City and Spin Boldak earlier this year have produced rare public protests against the Taliban. “Death to Pakistan, death to al Qaeda and death to the Taliban,” chanted the protester in Spin Boldak after the Taliban suicide attack during a celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid .

The Afghan government is attempting to counter Taliban influence by turning members of the Taliban against the movement through the Tahkim-e-Solh program (Strengthening Peace). Established in May of 2005, Tahkim-e-Solh is aimed at giving Taliban and other anti-government forces not guilty of criminal activity a way to opt out of the fighting and return to society. As of May 2006, 1,569 low and mid-level Taliban have entered the program.

On Friday, Mullah Ibrahim, described as a senior Taliban commander with great influence in the Panjwai and Zari districts, has publicly joined the Strengthening Peace program, and renounced the use of violence against civilians and the government. Mullah Ibrahim has fought with the Mujahideen and the Taliban for several decades, and boasts of his fighting prowess. “If I come to fight, no one would have have defeated me, just as I have not been defeated in the past,” said Ibrahim, “I want all Afghans to abandon fighting and unite.” His involvement with the Taliban since 2001 was sidestepped, but he indicated the Taliban has “coerced” Afghans to fight in their cause while in foreign countries, including Pakistan. As in all problems in Afghanistan, the origin invariably leads to Pakistan.

Additional Multimedia:

A transcript from my Wednesday evening appearance on the Hugh Hewitt show is available at Radioblogger.

A recording from Thursday’s press conference with Major Quentin Innis on the bombing in Kandahar. (File size is 5 Megabytes, in .wav format)

A recording from Friday’s press conference with Mullah Ibrahim. This includes translation to Pashtu. (File size is 37 Megabytes, in MP3 format)

A recording from Friday’s press conference with Lieutenant Colonel Ian Hope on Operation Mountain Thrust. This includes translation to Pashtu. (File size is 22 Megabytes, in MP3 format)

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


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