Parwan assault latest in Taliban ‘hit campaign’ against hardened rivals

Parwan Attack.jpg

The destroyed vehicle of Parwan governor Baseer Salangi following an IED attack on June 21, 2011, sits at a government compound. Source: Pajhwok News.

Shortly before lunchtime on June 21, a young man wearing jeans and a T-shirt came within a few meters of the Parwan provincial governor’s convoy and detonated himself, killing the driver of the convoy and a young girl passing by. The blast injured at least two Afghan policemen guarding the convoy as well.

At the time, the attack against Governor Abdul Baseer Salangi received scant attention. Abdul Baseer Salangi is a former commander from the anti-Taliban movement known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (1996-2001) and previously served as the chief of police for Kabul and later for Wardak province. He is now the current governor of Parwan province, which lies north of Kabul province and is home to Bagram airbase, the sprawling logistics hub for Coalition forces in Afghanistan.

“Why are the Taliban continually trying to kill Abdul Baseer,” a resident of Parwan contacted by The Long War Journal asked rhetorically. “They are trying to kill him repeatedly, is he really that staunch of an anti-Taliban commander, or is it because he is just a supporter of Karzai?”

The answer lies somewhere in between, and likely includes strategic posturing by elements of the Pakistani intelligence services who seek to marginalize anti-Taliban elements within the Kabul regime when it comes to the ongoing effort to engage in political negotiations with various factions of the Afghan Taliban. The seriousness with which the Taliban, and possibly their external supporters, view existing anti-Taliban entities within the Kabul regime has become increasingly clear since May 2010, when the Taliban commenced the launch of an escalating number of military offensives. Since last year, scores of high-level anti-Taliban commanders have been killed across northern and southern Afghanistan.

On Aug. 14, the Taliban again tried to kill Governor Salangi by conducting a complex assault using up to six suicide bombers to breach the perimeter of the governor’s compound in Charikar, the provincial capital of Parwan – an attack that decimated the compound and killed upwards of 22 government personnel. Governor Salangi and his top security officers were inside holding a meeting at the time of the attack, which suggests that the Taliban had received actionable intelligence prior to the meeting to enhance their chances of eliminating most of the predominant security chiefs for the strategic province. Salangi himself reportedly returned fire against his would-be assassins, killing the last remaining suicide bomber before the situation was brought under control.

Most media reports focused on the Taliban’s “success” in being able to launch an attack against the provincial capital of Parwan, and in so doing, failed to properly contextualize the ongoing decline in Parwan’s security – a trend evident since at least 2009.*

Earlier this year, the US helped facilitate the creation of the Afghan National Army’s 6th Battalion headquarters in the Posht-e Sorkh area of Parwan. The 6th Battalion, which on paper could field 800 army personnel (projected), is expected to enhance the security around Parwan, Kapisa, Panjshir, and Bamyan provinces while helping to improve the coordination between the ANA, Afghan National Police, and National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces as well as Coalition forces.

Although the media latched onto the Aug. 14 attack because of its resemblance to other complex assaults aimed at highly visible government targets since the launch of the Taliban’s Operation Badr this spring, this attack is actually the latest in a longstanding attempt by the Taliban to erode the former structure of the anti-Taliban tazim (faction) the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, or its contemporary manifestation, the United National Front, better known as its derogatory label given by Pakistan, “the Northern Alliance.”**

On May 28, a clandestinely-placed IED killed two pro-government security commanders for northern Afghanistan during a high-level security meeting in Takhar province. General Daud Daud, a former Shura-e-Nurzar commander and head of the 303 Pamir Zone Afghan National Police Command, and his former Shura-e-Nazar deputy Shah Jahan Noori, the Takhar provincial police chief, were both killed in the attack. Two German soldiers were also killed, and Major General Markus Kneip, Regional Commander North for the International Security Assistance Force, was wounded in the attack, as was the governor of Takhar province.

Previously, Sayed Omarkhaili, the provincial police chief for Kunduz (and another former Shura-e-Nazar commander), was killed by a suicide bomber as he made his way home from Kunduz City, on March 10. Scores of similar attacks have killed numerous district and local level security and intelligence officers throughout northern Afghanistan since last year.

The recent complex assault against Governor Salangi (during the holy month of Ramadan, no less) represents the Taliban’s greater strategic objective of marginalizing the former anti-Taliban political and military bloc led by the United Front, possibly eroding enough powerful figures to help cushion the international community’s push for negotiations with the Taliban, a contentious proposition that has raised the ire of many former United Front commanders and political blocs. Although Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan President and leader of the United Front, is in charge of the Afghan High Peace Council, the Afghan committee tasked with “bringing in the Taliban from the cold,” many insiders have accused him of deliberately sabotaging overtures to the Taliban.

While these rumors remain unconfirmed, other high-level opposition leaders, such as the former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh, continually warn the West and the Afghan government against engaging in talks with the Taliban and their Pakistani supporters. This sharp political divide runs the risk of leading to a civil war, warned Saleh in a recent interview with CNN. Saleh indicated that if the Taliban are permitted to return as a “Hezbollah-like entity” — then he and his anti-Taliban constituency must “rise up” against them.

* The author traveled extensively through Parwan province in 2009. During this time, the US Provincial Reconstruction Team Commander for Panjshir province (Senior Airman Ashton L.M. Goodman) and Army 1st Sergeant Blue C. Rowe were killed when an IED blast tore through their convoy in Parwan province, and an accurate artillery barrage killed five US military personnel at Bagram airbase, the first of its kind since 2006. The following year, on May 19, 2010, a Taliban assault team attempted to storm the US airbase at Bagram, but was beaten back by US forces defending the base.

** Pakistan helped exacerbate regional and ethnic divisions during the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s by referring to the United Front as the “Northern Alliance,” thus painting the United Front as an anti-Pashtun entity and conjuring up notions of a holistically non-Pashtun political movement. In fact, both the Taliban movement and the United Front movement comprised many ethnic groups, with Uzbeks and Tajiks being represented within the Taliban movement and Pashtuns incorporated into the United Front. It should be noted that a key Afghan commander from southern Kandahar province, the legendary Mullah Naqibullah, an Alokozai tribal leader from the Arghandab district, fought for Jammiat-e-Islami (Islamic Society), the Tajik-led tazim headed by former Afghan President Burhunaddin Rabbani.

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  • NavyOne says:

    “Why are the Taliban continually trying to kill Abdul Baseer,” a resident of Parwan contacted by The Long War Journal asked rhetorically. “They are trying to kill him repeatedly, is he really that staunch of an anti-Taliban commander, or is it because he is just a supporter of Karzai?”
    They are trying to kill him because (in their eyes) the other targets are too hardened and he is the highest value target they can access. . .

  • Neonmeat says:

    I have often thought that if Ahmad Shah Massoud (the former now deceased leader of the Northern Alliance) was still alive the war would have gone alot differently, it has always seemed to me he was a man the afghan people could trust and who was not seen as being as corrupt as Karzai and his ilk.
    He was a real hardened rival of the Taliban, I know he hated them for what they did to the country and its people but I guess they knew that as well.
    I have seen video of Afghan cities where even now his image is displayed on massive Billboards alongside Karzai et al.


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