Taliban election strategy: kill the candidates
As Obama acknowledges the ‘huge price’ paid in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan takes another ugly turn
The war in Afghanistan has taking another deadly turn as the country heads for parliamentary elections on September 18. The headlines over the holiday weekend concentrated on the attacks on American troops – seven were killed in two incidents, bringing the monthly total to 69 - but there are unmistakable signs that the Taliban have begun attacking parliamentary candidates and their helpers with renewed ferocity.
Ten workers for Fawzya Galani, a national assembly member seeking re-election, were kidnapped last week near Herat. Police say they have recovered the bodies of five of them, all shot at close range.
Another candidate in Herat, Abdul Manan, was shot dead on Saturday by assassins who rode up to him on a motorbike.
In Jalalabad, a district governor, Said Ahmad Patwa, was killed by a car bomb as he drove past the the provincial government offices.
The Afghan parliamentary elections, like the chaotic presidential elections last year, are supposed to be an all-Afghan affair, run by Afghans for Afghans. But because the elections now seem to be the focus of a new Taliban offensive, the 150,000 international troops of ISAF are sure to become increasingly involved.
Under General David Petraeus, these troops have clearly been given new orders as he subtly shifts aims and tactics. There is much less talk of counter-insurgency (COIN) and of winning hearts and minds of the local population. Now there appears to be an all-out counter-terrorism (CT) war, as Vice President Biden predicted last year. And it looks as if the counter-terrorism campaign will continue for several years - and on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Some damage appears to have been inflicted on the Taliban war machine. Nato sources say that some 120 low- level Taliban guerrilla 'commanders' have been killed this year, and the Taliban have had trouble in finding replacements.
However, there seems no shortage of young fighters, cannon-fodder recruited from the madrassas of northern Pakistan and the bazaars and villages of southern Afghanistan. There is no shortage either of basic weaponry - Kalashnikovs, machine pistols, and low-grade explosives, timers and batteries to make roadside bombs.
The watchword among US and UK commanders now is consolidation – hang on to what you have got and work out from that. The British will concentrate on the lozenge round the three key southern Helmand towns of Gereshkt, Lashkar Gah and Garmsir.
No one is talking about 'offensives' on Kandahar, the main southern capital and spiritual home of the Taliban which, readers may recall, was one the main objective in General Stanley McChrystal's strategy last year.
Both President Obama and David Cameron want a swift withdrawal of their forces, starting by this time next year, and yesterday Petraeus duly announced his concept of a steady 'thinning out' of international forces from next July onwards.
But even the most modest 'thinning out' is easier said than done, given the slow progress of preparing credible Afghan security forces, and President Karzai's recurrent allergy to tackling endemic government corruption.
Last night, President Obama spoke from the Oval Office to mark the end of US combat involvement in Iraq, saying Americans had paid "a huge price" to "put Iraq's future in its peoples' hands".
Addressing the Iraqi nation, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his security forces were ready to assume full responsibility for keeping the country and its citizens safe.
Of course, Iraq's immediate future still looks uncertain and difficult. But the combination of risk and threats posed by the unfinished business of Iraq pale beside the prospects for Afghanistan as it heads into another black September. ·
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