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Thread: Taliban successes in the North

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Rise in Violence in North Shows Afghanistan’s Fragility

    29 May NY Times - Rise in Violence in North Shows Afghanistan’s Fragility by Abdul Waheed Wafa and Carlotta Gall.

    Angry supporters of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the ethnic Uzbek strongman, clashed with the police in the northern town of Shiberghan on Monday, leaving at least seven people dead and 34 wounded, officials said. The government sent army units to the area, anticipating further unrest.

    Also in the north, a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of foreign security contractors, killing himself and two Afghan civilians. It was the fourth such attack in the north in the past two weeks.

    The bombings in the relatively peaceful north indicated a rise in insurgent activity, and the violence in Shiberghan was a reminder of how tenuous Afghanistan’s internal stability remains, with former militia leaders like General Dostum still capable of rallying armed supporters to settle local power struggles..

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    Another good reminder that we need to watch Afghanistan and stay engaged there.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Default Afghan police

    It is surprising that the police are not Dotsram's people. That seems to be the hiring model used in Anbar where the Sheik or in Dostram's case the war lords provides the bodies for the police recruits and the central government pays for their training and service.

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Good rundown in Afghanistanica and Asia Times. Uzbeks, led by Dostum, are basically protesting the policies of a a northern Pashtun warlord appointed by Hamid Karzai to run Jowzjan province, which is predominantly Uzbek. The deaths look to have occurred during attempted storming/protest of the governor's residence --- undoubtedly he has his own forces there (in police unis, of course) to protect him.

    Note that the Iraqi tribes in Anbar (the Uzbeks are not tribal, but the center-province clash is similar) are also feuding with the Baghdad-appointed governor of Anbar.

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    Default Taliban successes in the North

    Someone fallen asleep at the wheel?

    Taliban takes hold in once-peaceful northern Afghanistan

    In squads of roaring dirt bikes and armed to the teeth, Taliban fighters are spreading like a brush fire into remote and defenseless villages across northern Afghanistan. The fighters swarm into town, assemble the villagers and announce Taliban control, often at night and without any resistance.
    Maybe its time to again ask the very inconvenient question as to what the ANA/ANP are doing and are actually capable of?

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    Default Someone fallen asleep at the wheel?

    JMA,

    No, I doubt it. The development of a Taliban presence has been well documented in open sources and several posts have referred to it. What is puzzling and worrying IMHO is that we have associated these areas with the former, now demobilised Northern Alliance and assumed the locals would neither welcome the Taliban or tolerate them.
    davidbfpo

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    The trouble in the RC North sector is afaik concentrated on Pashtu minority regions.

    You can have all the hearts and minds of most settlements, but meanwhile there are a few Pashtu settlements in between whose inhabitants feel suppressed by a corrupt non-Pashtu governor. The Taliban arrived and slowly gained footholds over the years.
    Meanwhile, ANA and ANP units that prove to be useful in the North are sent as auxiliary troops to hot spots in the South. This guarantees that no matter what the Western foreigners do in the North and no matter how ready the mayor of Kabul and his clique are to take over security responsibilities in the north - the assistance mission cannot end before the hot spot fires elsewhere are extinguished.

    The North could be more quiet, but no matter whether it's quiet or not, it's simply not decisive. It's a sideshow.

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    Default The primary problem is still in Pashtun areas

    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    The trouble in the RC North sector is afaik concentrated on Pashtu minority regions.

    You can have all the hearts and minds of most settlements, but meanwhile there are a few Pashtu settlements in between whose inhabitants feel suppressed by a corrupt non-Pashtu governor. The Taliban arrived and slowly gained footholds over the years.
    Agreed, and this article makes it sound like Taliban there are a recent problem while Wikipedia cites problems with Pashtuns there dating back to 2007...even all the way back to our invasion of 2001 when Northern alliance troops took back control from the Taliban Pashtun. There are mostly non-Pashtuns in these northern provinces and land swaps could be arranged if the government desired to consolidate into two largely autonomous states and keep Pashtuns together in their own area.

    It is interesting to note that Gormach district is mentioned in this new article, and Wikipedia says it is 97% Pashtun. Wikipedia of "Gormach district" also said it was part of Badghis province which is 62% Tajik and only 28% Pashtun as a whole. But wait, another Wikipedia says Gormach is NOW (as of Dec 2008) part of adjacent Faryab province...which is 53.5% Uzbek, 27% Tajik, and just 13% Pashtun. See the problem? A small Pashtun district that the Taliban is "invading" is surrounded by non-Pashtuns.

    The result? This is one of the few areas where the Ring Road around Afghanistan is not fully finished. Check out this article about the contractor who was repeatedly kidnapped and threatened for trying to finish that section of road:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ...672735403.html

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    Well, I agree on that someone has been sleeping at the wheel. Ignoring the reports from the ground outlining what is happening in the NW for years. (Just run through the wikileaks-files)

    Some points:
    1. Allthough granted the Pashtun areas are the places where the TB is gaining the most ground in the North, they have been picking up speed outside the Pashtun areas. Probably driven by non-pashtun affiliated organizations/movements. The article is about Qeysar, and Uzbek dominated district and a previous Junbesh stronghold. That the TB is able to push through this district without much local opposition is a very bad sign.

    2. I disagree on that the North is not decisive. It may not be where we win this war, but can clearly be where we lose it. As fighting an insurgency is about perceptions, the sense of TB gains into "the safe north" may be quite significant for the Afghans sitting on the fence in the East, West and Kabul. (The south is allready gone, so there it hardly will matter)

    Instead of turning the TB expansion that has been ongoing in the NW since 2007, we have instead chosen to reinforce failure. Currently 30k coalition troops and everything that can be scraped together of ANSF are trying to hold Helmand together, with a total population of 800.000 people, while one US field artillery bn, 1800 untrained ANP and one and a half ANA bn is trying to stem a TB expansion into Faryab, with a population of 1,2 million where about 300.000 of them are Pashtuns.

    In the North, wishful thinking has replaced common sense for several years, now the door is hitting us in the face...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cole View Post
    It is interesting to note that Gormach district is mentioned in this new article, and Wikipedia says it is 97% Pashtun. Wikipedia of "Gormach district" also said it was part of Badghis province which is 62% Tajik and only 28% Pashtun as a whole. But wait, another Wikipedia says Gormach is NOW (as of Dec 2008) part of adjacent Faryab province...which is 53.5% Uzbek, 27% Tajik, and just 13% Pashtun. See the problem? A small Pashtun district that the Taliban is "invading" is surrounded by non-Pashtuns.
    First of all. Afghan population data is notouriosly unreliable. That said, the article is about Qeysar, not Gormach. The TB allready controls Gormach, this story is about how they are effectively advancing into Uzbek dominated Qeysar and taking control over Uzbek villages unchecked.

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    Default Yes and no

    Quote Originally Posted by FieldMarshal View Post
    First of all. Afghan population data is notoriosly unreliable. That said, the article is about Qeysar, not Gormach. The TB allready controls Gormach, this story is about how they are effectively advancing into Uzbek dominated Qeysar and taking control over Uzbek villages unchecked.
    They specifically mention Gormach and other northern districts and provinces that are admittedly much different circumstances in some cases (Kunduz, Baghlan). However look at the acknowedged simplistic ethnic breakdown in this article. For folks looking at the chart unfamiliar with province locations, look at the small brown L-shaped area along the northern border with green Tajiks to the south and red Uzbeks to the east:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-...ic-fault-lines

    And Qeysar is next to Gormach and part of a small Taliban stronghold surrounded by Tajiks and Uzbeks.

    Sure, the census may not be all that exact, but if 13% of a 833K-1 miilion Faryab citizens are Pashtun, how are you getting 300,000 Pashtuns? Are you counting 100,000 Kuchis...which still leaves a bit over 200,000.
    Last edited by Cole; 08-15-2010 at 08:31 PM. Reason: Clarified where to look on ethnic map

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    Four things struck me about this article.

    The first is that it describes an invasion and occupation of an area by an outside force that then ruled mostly by terror. The villagers had no real choice in the matter though some perceived service is provided; and the occupiers aren't locals. The scene is reminiscent of the the opening scenes in the Magnificent Seven, bandits move in and take the place over.

    The second thing is that the American force briefly fought the Taliban and then withdrew, according to the article, because of concern about property damage and disrupting the observation of Ramadan! If the article is correct, a big if, whoever was in charge of that unit handed the Taliban a victory for rather poor reasons.

    Thirdly, the Taliban have a huge mobility advantage. They are described as using the desert and motorcycles almost as the Vikings used the sea. They drive around and strike from the desert at will. The Faryab governor implies we are not doing much about it.

    The fourth thing is, surprise surprise, the threat is coming from Pakistan.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    I wanted to edit my previous post to include the following but I forgot how.

    If the story reflects the actual situation, this may not be a hearts and minds, good governance type of thing, this is just a matter of killing bandits. That may be a simpler matter of arranging village self defense forces with reliable back up, simpler but still not so easy.

    If it is more a matter of killing bandits, maybe the reasons given for the US unit pulling back reflect somebody overthinking the matter and considering things that don't matter so much if you are simply going after criminal gangs. This is total speculation on my part.

    It is hard to effectively kill bandits if you can't pursue them effectively. MRAPs and Humvees don't have the mobility to catch dirt bikes. Helos are great but there aren't very many. Does a way have to be found to match the mobility dirt bike riding Taliban? I read long ago that in the 19th century the Argentine Army could not handle the Indians of the Pampas because they couldn't catch them. They couldn't catch them because the Indians always rode with strings of horses so they could continuously change mounts. When the Army began operating with strings of horses they could handle them. Are we in a similar situation?
    Last edited by carl; 08-17-2010 at 06:24 PM. Reason: tyos
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    The real key take-away from the article is not that it is bandits taking over, but rather that the insurgency in the North-West of a different flavour than in the south or the east.

    The over-simplification that the insurgency in Afghanistan is a Pashtun endeavour and that "the others" are on "our side" is simply not accurate. It ignores the fact that there are several significant Uzbek terrorist groups and insurgent networks that have been operating throughout Afghanistan and Central Asia for a long time. It also ignores the fact that among the common Uzbek there is little love for the Afghan government, who is widely regarded as a tool for a corrupt, Pashtun elite from Kabul who has done little to nothing for the Uzbeks in the North. It also ignores that the Taliban at the height of their power was able to recruit a significant amount of both Uzbeks and to a certain extent Tajiks.

    This is the context this article needs to be read in. When now the Uzbek villages of Qeysar are facing an "invasion" of Taliban insurgents operating out of the Taliban controlled areas of Northern Badghis, they are faced with a simple choice. The government, that they generally have little love for, and the CF in Faryab, a province of about 1.2 million inhabitants, are less numerous than the current ANSF/CF force maintaining control over the town of Marja in Helmand. They may not have a natural inclination towards the Taliban, but the situation right now dictates that they follow the basic rule of Afghan village life developed over the last 30 years: accept the strongest party in your neighbourhood.

    What then about Dostum and his structure you might ask? Well. The trend is clear. His structure is crumbling at a very fast pace at the moment. Just over the last two months several of his old commanders has been assassinated as well as the kidnapping of one of the Junbesh parliamentary candidates by insurgents. His response? A couple of rants on Aina TV and little else.

    Just to give you an indication. The total number of security forces in Faryab is one ANA kandak, 1300 ANP and one field artillery battalion for a popualtion of about 1.2 million. Do the math, and you'll see that there is little to prevent the insurgents from dominating the villages in the countryside.

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    Default Spring up north

    All too often the focus is in the South and East, not the North:
    Some of them quiver in diffraction only a few miles away from Mazar-e-Sharif, the provincial capital.

    Four weeks after the Taliban announced the beginning of their annual spring offensive, the insurgents have quietly taken over most of Balkh.

    (Later) Or maybe because they realize that they are trapped, as Afghans have been forever, between armed men in different uniforms contesting their wretched land. Maybe they are simply hoping to get through the latest torment.
    Link:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article...lages?page=0,1

    Note the author is not an 'embedded' journalist.
    davidbfpo

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    Default Northern Afghanistan: a guide and looking forward

    Hamid Hussain, our irregular contributor on the Pakistani Army and other factors, has provided a commentary on the situation today, which also looks to what may happen. See attachment.

    An assumption challenged:
    Everyone is assuming that a friendly northern Afghanistan will be happy to host U.S. bases but things are changing quite rapidly. There is slow and steady rise of resentment even in the north against the presence of U.S. troops due to suspicion, war weariness and fear that these installations will invite attacks. There will be debate and significant opposition from various segments of Afghan population against a long term U.S. presence.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    davidbfpo

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    This is complicated. All is not happy and content in the Northern Alliance-based government that the US elevated into control of Afghanistan. Not only are they not happy with how we choose to protect and preserve them, but internal frictions between the various ethnic groups, tribes, families, etc that make up the Northern Alliance are increasing as well.

    The one thing they can agree on, however, is that they do not want to return to a Pashtun dominated Afghanistan; and for that they will always resist seriously taking on the task of reconciliation that ISAF has left to them; or the task of conducting a Constitutional Loya Jirga that allows participation by all Afghan equity holders in both the design and benefits of said document.

    This is a marriage of convenience, there is little wonder that it shows signs of strain.
    Robert C. Jones
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    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Default Bala Morghab district, Badghis Province in 2008–09

    SWC missed this PRISM in December 2011 article 'War comes to Bala Morghab: a tragedy of policy and action in three parts’ and I think this is the best place for it:http://www.ndu.edu/press/lib/pdf/pri...36_bessler.pdf

    Noted by a non-SWC member:
    Bala Morghab is a remote district within one of Afghanistan’s poorest provinces, on the border of Turkmenistan. It describes how inappropriate efforts to provide reconstruction and reform succeeded only in bringing war to the area.

    The story of the Bala Morghab district of Badghis Province in 2008–2009 reveals lessons derived from the difficulties posed by the friction of coalition warfare at the tactical and operational levels, the gaps between policy and operations, the contradictions of winning hearts and minds, and the challenges of day-to-day survival. Not to engage with local leaders well in advance of policy implementation is a recipe for failure. Building trust among the local population in legitimate leaders will itself build capacity and minimize the influence of insurgents. Finally, half-measures of the whole-of-government approach in the absence of unity of purpose will fail.
    davidbfpo

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    Default Taliban surge in the northern gateway

    Hat tip to a "lurker" for this AAN article, which opens with:
    It took little more than seven months to turn Faryab from a province with a worrisome security situation into a province under constant attack. Since the Norwegian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Faryab closed in September 2012, the security situation has quickly deteriorated. These days, Faryab is one of the main targets of the Taleban’s spring offensive. On the very first day of the offensive, the insurgents launched their biggest attack so far in the country, with several hundred fighters sweeping the Afghan Local Police (ALP) out of important positions in two districts. Clashes between national security forces and insurgents are continuing on a daily basis and the regular Afghan forces seem unable to make a lasting impact. AAN’s Obaid Ali updates an earlier report on a province perceived as a gateway to the north of the country and how the Taleban are targeting strategically valuable locations.
    Link:http://www.aan-afghanistan.com/index.asp?id=3401

    The departure of the Norwegian PRT I am sure was not the critical factor.
    davidbfpo

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Hat tip to a "lurker" for this AAN article, which opens with:

    Link:http://www.aan-afghanistan.com/index.asp?id=3401

    The departure of the Norwegian PRT I am sure was not the critical factor.
    The introduction paragraph in bold is misleading, but the article itself is well worth the read. It clearly states the Taliban have been increasing their presence and activities in the North for the past four or so years. At the link below one can see that attacks in the North surged over 100% in most locations in 2010.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...046367482.html

    I think what we're seeing reported in Northern Afghanistan is prologue for the post 2014 time frame. ALP outposts will be targeted and in many cases over run forcing security forces to become part of the Taliban or withdraw to defendable areas allowing the opposition freedom of movement throughout the country side (the Taliban will have the initiative)

    The North is strategic for a lot of reasons so it shouldn't be a surprise that the Taliban want to control it. I suspect other factors driving an increase of activity in the region is increased Chinese investment (oil, minerals, etc.), and the likelihood they're paying considerable funds in protection money (Taliban tax system), which would make it a lucrative place to conduct operations.

    One of the better quotes in the article in bold below that we all should heed. Bold highlights are mine.

    He also drew attention to another facet of the story: to the relations between the Taleban and those who are supposed to fight them. One of his stories demonstrates the shakiness of allegiances in an environment like this and the truth of the phrase: ‘you can’t buy a commander, you can only rent him’. He told AAN about the former Taleb Mulla Maluk who joined the peace process four months ago and in return, was made ALP commander in the village of Khwaja Musa. Yet when the Taleban attacked this village during their surge in Pashtun Kot district, commander Maluk with his ten armed men surrendered his post and became Mulla Maluk once again.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 05-19-2013 at 05:50 PM.

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