9 Sep 2014

Resurgent Taliban threaten US exit strategy for Afghanistan

In parts of Helmand province, the UK and the US lost more soldiers in the long Afghan war than any other Afghan area. Helmand – where the fighting was long and hard.  Helmand – where so many lost limbs or were otherwise terribly mutilated in a long and now lost war by a Nato now thoroughly preoccupied with matters elsewhere.

But on 6 September the New York Times published an important report with the story Kabuli officials want to cover up and nobody anywhere near Nato would want to tell.

In Helmand across the summer a fierce offensive has been fought, and the Times quotes two Afghan army generals and local police and government officials, all telling an uncomfortable truth.

They are saying more than 200 police officers and Afghan soldiers have been killed there across the summer, and one key town, Musa Qala – over which the British fought – is in danger of falling again to Taliban control.

An Afghan security force takes up position at the site of an attack in Jalalabad

The Times says:

“‘The situation is deteriorating and the Taliban are almost in the bazaar,’ the governor of Musa Qala district, Haji-Mohammad Sharif, said Friday night. ‘If the situation remains the same, the district will soon fall to the hands of the Taliban.'”

Officials say the Musa Qala fighting has been particularly heavy in the past 10 days, but there has also been a sustained offensive in Sangin, where I reported on successive British army units patrolling the poppy fields down the years and claiming to be building firm relations with the local leaders for a transition one day in the future, to Afghan army forces.

That day of handover is well past now, and matters do not look good for the Afghan forces. According to one New York Times source, an army general speaking on condition of anonymity, the Taliban have launched 788 attacks in the past three months in Sangin and in two neighbouring districts, Nowzad and Kajaki – all of these names more than familiar to any British soldier who spent time in Helmand.

The article continues:

“..the general said 71 Afghan National Army soldiers have been killed and 214 wounded since June, while 159 police officers have been killed and 219 wounded in Sangin district. That total of 230 deaths would exceed the number of British and American marines killed in Sangin during the entire war, and both countries lost more military personnel in Sangin than in any other Afghan district.

“‘If our forces do not get enough support and enough weapons and ammunition, the battle will get out of control in Sangin, and once the enemy take control of the district, it will be even harder to get them out,’ said Gen Juma Gul Himat, head of Helmand’s provincial police department.”

The world needs to wake up to what is happening when casualties are being counted in their hundreds. Also, when the Taliban are emerging from the long period of hit-and-run insurgency and IED attacks to frontal assaults involving scores, hundreds of fighters. This is going back to the early years of the war and the way they fought in southern Afghanistan because they could effectively do so without unsustainable losses.

The British and American politicians and military sold their exit from Afghanistan on the basis of the Afghan police and army being up to the job. The important picture emerging from the New York Times in the past few days belies that strategy’s effectiveness.

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