Afghanistan : Back to the Future
The sad death of two Indian road engineers in Nimroz province of Afghanistan near the Iran border was once again a reminder of the perilous state of the country's security. The United Nations report on Afghanistan in March 2008 indicated that 36 out of the country's 376 districts were inaccessible to Afghan government. There were 160 suicide attacks and 68 thwarted attempts in 2007, compared to 123 suicide attacks and 17 failed attempts in 2006, it said. Afghanistan had more than 8,000 conflict-related deaths last year, including 1,500 civilian deaths. This trend is likely to continue in the year ahead as indicated by violence during the month of March which mainly included suicide attacks by car borne terrorists, road side IEDs and stray ambushes of patrols. Khost and Kandahar remained the most violent provinces.
In some of the major strikes a suicide car bomb attack on a convoy of US troops killed six Afghan civilians in Kabul on 13 March, four US troops also suffered minor injuries and 33 Afghans were wounded. Afghan and NATO troops clashed with Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan on 14 March, leaving three suspected militants dead and two wounded, while three militants were killed on 15 March in Musa Qala in Helmand. On 17 March an attack by a suicide bomber killed seven people, including three civilians and three NATO soldiers, as a car bomb struck a NATO convoy moving from Kandahar to Herat. Two NATO troops were killed on 22 March in an IED blast while three Taliban commanders were also killed and satellite phones and weapons were recovered in another encounter the same day. A dozen Taliban were killed in a joint US-Afghan operation in Uruzgan on 24 March. 14 people, mostly civilians, were killed in a single day on 26 March in southern Gereshk district in an IED incident. While in one of the few attacks in the north, a German patrol near Kunduz was attacked by a roadside bomb detonated near one of the armored vehicles on 27 March. A Danish soldier was killed in Helmand province, the same day.
Nearly a dozen towers of mobile phone companies were attacked and damaged by Taliban insurgents after issuing warning to the companies in February to stop operations from dusk to dawn in its operational areas. Most of these towers were in remote areas which were not well protected. With the focus on the mobile communications, the Taliban is likely to create another pressure point for the Afghan Army and police as well as NATO since most locations of towers are isolated and guarding these will be extremely difficult.
The Taliban is getting ready for the spring offensive. "The winter season is about to end, and here spring looms on the horison, and in order for the continuity of doing the holy jihad (war), the Islamic Emirate begins a new series of operations," said a statement attributed to Taliban's deputy leader, Mullah Bradar Muhammad. "Our aim in these operations is to give the enemy an admonishing lesson through conclusive and painful strikes he does not anticipate" said the English translation of the proclamation provided by web portal SITE. "We would launch Abrat operation in this spring and force the foreign troops leave Afghanistan," it said.
Infra structure is likely to be the target of the Taliban in 2008. Targeting of mobile towers and power plant are indicative of this trend. As in the initial years, the Taliban targeted schools; now that they find infra structure targets are available in large numbers in Afghanistan these are more lucrative. The aim is to ensure that there is limited connectivity between the government and the people and prevent development from taking roots, thereby facilitating their sway over the population.
The 2008 Bucharest - 20th NATO Summit from 2'4 April 2008 is a defining moment for the Coalition during the year as the strategy spelt out will indicate how the forces will fare in Afghanistan. A possible five pronged approach will have to be evolved with increase in number of NATO troops, redeployment of troops to the south, increase in effectiveness and efficiency as well as numbers of the Afghan National Army and Police, encouraging tribal leaders presently neutral to support the government and finally reinforcing and extending the security grid to facilitate development. As far as attempting to influence the Taliban, this should have lower priority as the success rate is likely to be low and the shift by tribal leaders may induce even the Taliban to seek an alliance with the government gradually.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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