Springtime For Taliban

Here we go again.

Taliban declares ‘spring offensive’

The Taliban has announced the launch of a spring offensive against foreign troops in Afghanistan as well as Afghan security forces and government officials.

Saturday’s declaration comes a day after high-ranking US military officers predicted such a move from the group.

Dubbed the “Badar” offensive, the fresh onslaught “will target foreign forces, high-ranking officials of President Hamid Karzai’s government, members of the cabinet and lawmakers, as well as the heads of foreign and local companies working for the NATO-led coalition,” the Taliban said in a statement.

See also:
Taliban warns of spring offensive
Afghanistan: Taliban announce spring offensive
Taliban declares start to spring offensive in Afghanistan
Afghan Taliban: Surge to Begin Sunday
Taliban militants declare new offensive
Taliban announce spring offensive in Afghanistan
Taliban announce beginning of its ‘spring offensive’
NATO dismisses Taliban offensive as propaganda
Afghan Taliban declare start to spring offensive
Taliban declare start of spring offensive
Taliban announce beginning of spring offensive; NATO downplays it

Let’s hope that our troops have rules of engagement that allow them to actually engage and kill the enemy or at least be allowed to carry loaded weapons to defend themselves.

/what a hellhole, is it still even worth being there?

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Lebanon Circling The Drain

About to be blamed by a U.N.-backed tribunal for the 2005 assasination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Hezbollah makes its move.

Lebanon Govt Collapses As 11 Ministers Quit

Lebanon’s Government has collapsed after Hezbollah ministers and their allies resigned from the Coalition.

Adnan Sayyed Hussein’s departure followed the resignation of 10 other ministers, a move which has effectively ended the government’s power-sharing agreement.

Without a stable government in place, fears are growing that the country could fall into a prolonged political crisis and could heighten sectarian tension in the region.

Dominc Waghorn, Sky News Middle East Correspondent, said the dispute was “complicated”, but stemmed from the killing of the country’s former Prime Minister in a car bomb explosion in 2005

See also:
Lebanon government fails as Hezbollah allies quit
Hezbollah exit from Lebanon government carefully planned
U.S. Ally Faces Fight in Lebanon
Eleventh minister resigns, toppling Lebanon government
Arab League ‘disturbed’ by Lebanon govt collapse
Israel Warns Hezbollah Against Any Spillover of Violence from Lebanese Crisis
US Government “closely monitoring” situation in Lebanon
Collapse of Lebanese Government Creates Worries of Deepening Crisis
Israeli troops go on alert amid Lebanon’s political turmoil
Israel troops on alert after Lebanon govt falls
Political crisis shakes Lebanon
Talks on new govt in Lebanon to start Monday

So, what will happen next, will Lebanon descend into sectarian violence or civil war? Hezbollah obviously planned this, no doubt with the blessing of or at the urging of Iran and Syria, what’s their endgame, I mean besides wiping Israel off the map?

/whatever happens, chances are that the outcome won’t be particularly pleasant

So, How’s That Surge Working Out?

It seems that it’s not going particularly well, according to the U.N..

Afghan Security Deteriorates

Internal United Nations maps show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season, countering the Obama administration’s optimistic assessments of military progress since the surge of additional American forces began a year ago.

The Wall Street Journal was able to view two confidential “residual risk accessibility” maps, one compiled by the U.N. at the annual fighting season’s start in March 2010 and another at its tail end in October. The maps, used by U.N. personnel to gauge the dangers of travel and running programs, divide the country’s districts into four categories: very high risk, high risk, medium risk and low risk.

In the October map, just as in March’s, nearly all of southern Afghanistan—the focus of the coalition’s military offensives—remained painted the red of “very high risk,” with no noted improvements. At the same time, the green belt of “low risk” districts in northern, central and western Afghanistan shriveled.

The U.N.’s October map upgraded to “high risk” 16 previously more secure districts in Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Balkh, Parwan, Baghlan, Samangan, Faryab, Laghman and Takhar provinces; only two previously “high risk” districts, one in Kunduz and one in Herat province, received a safer rating.

See also:
Revealed: The classified maps that show Afghanistan is becoming more dangerous… with number of high risk areas spreading
Reports Offer Conflicting Takes on Afghan Security
UN charts escalation of violence in Afghanistan
U.N. maps indicate that security in Afghanistan has eroded since troop surge
Violence in Afghanistan rising not falling
UN maps show security worsening in Afghanistan: report
U.N. maps belie claims of Afghan progress
UN map reveals ‘no noted improvements’ in Afghan security

Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future,” Mr. Obama told American troops during a visit to the Bagram Air Field northeast of Kabul earlier this month.

Well, it’s obvious that someone is lying here. The Taliban can’t control more and less territory at the same time.

/but, between Obama and the U.N., I’m not sure who to believe

A Glimpse Into The Future Of Afghanistan?

If this is an example of what’s going to happen when the NATO coalition starts to withdraw, we may as well give up and leave now, because the Afghan government is apparently no match for the Taliban.

Taliban seize border town as Afghan forces retreat

Taliban forces spearheading a spring offensive seized a remote town near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan Saturday as Afghan government forces retreated, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

After a week of intense fighting, hundreds of Taliban fighters overwhelmed local government forces, who said they were making a “tactical retreat” from Barg-e-Matal to spare civilians from getting caught in the crossfire.

Taliban fighters seized control of Barg-e-Matal nearly a year after they briefly seized the isolated Nuristan district center last summer but were driven out by U.S. and Afghan forces.

This time, hundreds of Afghan fighters defending the town fled early Saturday morning when they began to run out of ammunition and supplies. The U.S.-led coalition provided limited air support and ran a few supply runs for the Afghan government forces, but didn’t offer significant aid, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

“We could not resist,” said Haji Mohammed Ismaile, a former Barg-e-Matal district governor, in a telephone interview with McClatchy as he joined hundreds of fleeing Afghan fighters. “There was no support from the government or the (international military) coalition.”

“We could hear them on the radio calling us to surrender and telling us that if we lay down our weapons they would not kill us,” said Ismaile. “But we did not surrender because they would slaughter us.”

The Taliban assault is the latest in the militants’ expanding spring offensive on a number of fronts, while U.S.-led forces are trying to train Afghan forces and mounting an offensive in southern Afghanistan that some officials say lacks sufficient troops.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, a prominent member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said that the fall of Barg-e-Matal to the Taliban should be a cautionary lesson for Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top allied military commander in Afghanistan, about relying on shaky Afghan forces to defend the country without outside help.

“Things are very fragile, and our fear is that if you withdraw from those places without building up a force that is responsible to the central government, then you can’t hold those districts,” said Nadery.

See also:
Afghan police vacate district in E Afghanistan
Taliban Fighters Seize District in Eastern Afghanistan
Taliban take control of district in Nuristan
Taliban capture Afghan district on Pakistani border
Taliban capture Afghan district on Pakistan border
Taliban Push Afghan Police Out of Valley
Taliban seize town in east Afghanistan
Taliban claim capturing Nuristan’s Barg-e-Mattal district

And Obama plans on starting to withdraw from Afghanistan next year? We’ve had nine years to stand up and train Afghan military and police forces and they still can’t defend or supply themselves. What miracle in the next twelve months is going to magically enable the Afghan government to fend for itself?

/or are we getting ready to throw Afghanistan under the Taliban bus?

When Taliban Attack

Apparently not content to sit and wait around for the much promised and thoroughly foreshadowed major NATO Coalition assault on Kandahar, the Taliban have decided to launch an offensive of their own. And they call it al Fateh, or victory.

Afghan Insurgents Attack U.S. Base in Kandahar

Insurgents late Saturday launched coordinated ground and rocket attacks on Kandahar Air Field, the main coalition base in southern Afghanistan.

Stray rocket and mortar attacks on the Kandahar base have been common in recent years, but before Saturday, insurgents hadn’t mounted any coordinated assaults there.

Sounds of gunfire and explosions rattled through the base for about two hours, witnesses said. A spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition said a “small number” of military and civilian personnel were injured. There was no immediate information about any fatalities, she said.

The attack on Kandahar Air Field comes just a few days after a similar insurgent strike on Bagram Air Field, the main coalition base in eastern Afghanistan. Those insurgents, some disguised as U.S. forces, killed one contractor and injured several U.S. service members in the Bagram attack.

The Taliban declared this month that it was launching an offensive, dubbed al Fateh, or victory, aiming to besiege and take over coalition bases. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed a van packed with explosives into a lightly armed convoy of coalition vehicles, killing killing 18 people including five Americans and a Canadian.

Coalition spokesman Brig. Gen Josef Blotz said the attack on the Kandahar base began at about 8 p.m. with a rocket and mortar barrage.

At least one rocket landed near a central hub of activity in the airfield, a collection of coffee shops and merchant booths surrounding a field where personnel often play soccer and volleyball.

Insurgents then launched a ground attack on the north side of the base, “but they did not pierce the perimeter,” Gen. Blotz said. Coalition gunships were strafing fields around the base hours after the attack, searching for insurgents who were repelled in the assault, said Gen. Blotz, who was on the base during the attack.

See also:
Afghan Guerrillas Attack U.S. Base In Kandahar
Insurgents attack Afghanistan base
Afghan Nato base comes under attack
Insurgents attack NATO’s southern Afghan base
Rebels Attack Base in Afghanistan
Kandahar Attack – Nato Kandahar Air Base Attacked in Afghanistan
U.S. contractor killed, 9 soldiers wounded in Taliban attack on Bagram air base
Taliban Attack American Base Outside Kabul
U.S. troops, Afghan police sweep through Taliban stronghold
Into Kandahar, Yesterday and Tomorrow
Results of Kandahar offensive may affect future U.S. moves
The chaos awaiting Kandahar
Taliban win £1,600 bounty for each Nato soldier killed

Needless to say, it’s not a welcome development that the Taliban are able to blow up our convoys and mortar and rocket our main air bases seemingly at will. It’s going to be a long, hot summer in Afghanistan, let’s hope we can retake the initiative and drive the Taliban onto the defensive and into retreat.

/God bless our troops, keep them safe, and grant them victory over our enemies

It’s Allawi By A Nose

Allawi wins thin plurality in Iraq election

A secular Shiite, Ayad Allawi, has won a narrow plurality in Iraq’s national election, but it is a religious Shia party that will likely determine if he’ll form a government.

Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya party took 91 of the 325 seats in Iraq’s Council of Representatives, electoral officials declared yesterday, 19 days after 12 million Iraqis went to the polls.

The current Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose party won 89 seats, immediately announced he would not accept the results and called for a recount.

But it is the third-place Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a coalition dominated by two religious Shia parties, that is in the driver’s seat.

With 163 members needed to form a majority, the result means that unless Mr. Allawi and Mr. Maliki join forces – which is highly unlikely, since they despise one other – the only way either man can likely form a government is with the support of the INA. Any coalition formed without it would be too fragmented and give undue clout to smaller parties.

Mr. Maliki, leader of the Shia religious Dawa party, would seem a natural partner for the INA, the product of a union between the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Ammar al-Hakim, and the Sadrist followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. All three parties are pro-Iranian.

But two things stand in the way of such a coalition. The Sadrists want no part of a government led by Mr. Maliki, the man who crushed the Sadrist militia in Basra and Baghdad, while Mr. Hakim professes to have learned his lesson in last year’s provincial election that it is more important to emphasize broad national interests than narrow sectarian ones.

Indeed, it was the 2005 coalition government of these three elements, along with major Kurdish parties, that contributed to the country’s bloody sectarian conflict and the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Nevertheless, many Iraq watchers believe that Iran would still prefer to see these three Shia parties hook up again. That was reportedly Tehran’s view last summer when the three considered a union, but it was Mr. Maliki who turned his back on the idea, preferring to go it alone with his State of Law bloc. Now it’s Mr. Maliki who needs allies.

New life was breathed into the idea of a reunion of the pro-Iranian groups by a Supreme Court decision handed down this week. The court held that the stipulation in the constitution that the bloc with the largest number of seats gets the first chance to form a government is not limited to a bloc that ran in the election. It also could mean a group of parties formed after the vote. In other words, a quickly formed coalition of the three Shia religious parties could claim the right to try to form the next government.

For his part, Mr. Allawi, who served as the first, provisional prime minister in 2004, can argue that such a coalition will only stoke the fires of sectarianism, something that most Iraqis want to avoid.

Indeed, Mr. Allawi’s success is testament to that. A secular Shiite, he ran in partnership with several Sunni political figures determined to get a share of power. Mr. Allawi polled well in Sunni districts but, as Iraq-watcher Reidar Visser observed last night, his victory was more than just about his appeal across the sectarian divide.

“By winning more seats than expected south of Baghdad [where Shiites predominate], and almost as many seats as Maliki in [religiously mixed] Baghdad, Allawi has proved that he is more than ‘the candidate of the Sunnis’,” Mr. Visser wrote on his highly regarded historiae.org website.

With the support of the INA’s 70 members, plus a handful of others, Mr. Allawi could form a government. While some analysts, such as Mr. Visser, caution that uniting Iraqiya with the INA could “mean another oversized, ineffective government populated by parties with little in common,” not everyone agrees. Sheik Jalal Eddin al-Saghir, the INA’s most senior council member, says he has tried to get Mr. Allawi to join their alliance in the past.

“We can work with him,” said Sheik al-Saghir, imam of Baghdad’s most important Shia mosque.

Some of Mr. Allawi’s Sunni partners may have trouble working with the INA, however.

It was the INA that launched an anti-Baathist campaign that prevented several Sunni politicians from running in the election. Many of those blocked from running hailed from Iraqiya. They argue that they hold no brief for the memory of Saddam Hussein and left the Baath party long ago. Their history, they say, should not bar them from political office.

These same Iraqiya politicians may also have a difficult time teaming up with some of Iraq’s Kurdish political leaders. Prominent in Mr. Allawi’s party is a group of arch-nationalists who are determined to prevent the Kurds from claiming territory in and around the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk that lie between the Kurds’ northern heartland and Sunni Arab population centres.

Indeed, the first move in the game of coalition-building may well be an attempt by the major Kurdish leaders to team up themselves with the INA. Both groups share a preference for Canadian-style decentralized federalism and together could parley their combined force into concessions from either Mr. Allawi or Mr. Maliki.

See also:
Alliance led by ex-Iraqi PM wins election narrowly
Reports: Former Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi wins most seats in Iraqi parliament
Allawi wins narrow victory in Iraqi vote
Secular bloc wins most seats in Iraq
Preliminary results show Allawi wins most seats in Iraq election
Iraq Election Results Give Allawi Group Largest Bloc (Update3)
Secular challenger hails Iraq election victory
Secularist former leader Allawi wins Iraq vote
Allawi wins Iraqi election; al-Maliki rejects results
Maliki seeks recount in Iraq elections
Poll body rejects Iraq recount call
Iraq’s Allawi ‘open to talks’ over new government
Allawi pledges to work with rivals as Iraq election result declared
Iraq’s Allawi extends hand to rival
Iraq’s Allawi says open to all in coalition talks
Iraq election front-runners court possible allies
After Win, Will Former U.S. Front Man Rule in Iraq?
Ayad Allawi, once seen as a U.S. puppet, returns to the center of Iraqi politics
Allawi Wins and the Media Misses the Significance
Analysis: Allawi win could curb Iran’s influence
In Iraq’s election, a defeat for Iran

Although the margin is razor thin and the election dust is far from settled, this is arguably a victory for the United States and a defeat for Iran, since Allawi is a pro-West secular candidate, whereas al-Maliki is a pro-Iran religious candidate. Hell, the fact that this election unfolded as smoothly as it did is, in and of itself, a victory for the United States. Iraq sure has come a long way since 2003.

/now, let the coalition wrangling begin!

Minimal Interference From Confused And Disoriented Taliban

Coalition troops find ‘minimal interference’ in assault on Taliban

The major coalition assault against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan claimed the lives of two coalition troops, but military officials regard the hours-old push in war-ravaged Helmand province as very promising.

“So far, so good,” said British military spokesman Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger, who told reporters in London that commanders are “very pleased” with the siege in the Marjah region, a Taliban-dominated agricultural area dotted with villages.

He said key objectives such as securing key bridges and roads were being reached with “minimal interference” by Taliban militants unable to put up a “coherent response.”

“The Taliban appear confused and disoriented,” Messenger said, but tempered his optimism with the reminder that the operation is not yet done.

A U.S. military official confirmed one U.S. Marine was killed in small arms fire, and a British soldier was killed in an explosion.

Taliban leaders flee as marines hit stronghold

American marines landed by helicopter in a pre-dawn assault on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, seizing two central shopping bazaars and firing rockets at Taliban fighters who attacked from mud-walled compounds.

As the marines secured their first objective, a jumble of buildings at the centre of the farming town, thousands of soldiers moved in on foot.

Harrier jets called in by the marines fired heavy-calibre machineguns at the Taliban. Fighting continued for hours, according to an embedded correspondent. Cobra gunships unleashed Hellfire missiles into bunkers and tunnels.

By nightfall, marines appeared to be in control of the centre of Marjah, home to about 75,000 people. “The Americans are walking by on the street outside my house,” a bazaar resident said. “They’re carrying large bags and guns but they’re not fighting any more.” Asked what he thought of their presence, he said: “I have hope for the future.”

The offensive was aimed at overwhelming the insurgency’s last haven in Helmand province and restoring government control.

Aircraft bombed compounds in southern districts of the town. US marines and Afghan troops swarmed in, searching for foreign fighters after intelligence reports said they had holed up there.

In the north of the city, helicopters landed several hundred marines in narrow alleys amid farm compounds.

At least 20 insurgents were reported killed and 11 were captured. The invading troops confiscated caches of Kalashnikov automatic rifles, heavy machineguns and grenades.

The greatest threat came from the extensive network of mines and booby traps. Assault troops ran into a huge number of improvised explosive devices — homemade bombs — as they tried to cross a canal into the town’s northern entrance. Explosions ripped through the air as marines safely detonated bombs.

Marines used portable aluminium bridges to span the irrigation channels. The bridge over the main canal into Marjah from the north was elaborately rigged with explosives so they unfolded larger bridges from heavy-tracked vehicles to allow armoured troop carriers to cross.

Marine engineers, driving special mine-clearing vehicles called breachers, ploughed a path through fields on the town’s outskirts. To clear a minefield, they launched rockets and deployed cables of plastic explosives designed to ignite roadside bombs.

Civilians said the Afghan troops were searching homes, a concession to conservative tribal sensitivities. Searches by foreign troops, particularly of homes with women, have infuriated traditional Pashtun residents.

“The troops are going house to house in my street,” said Haji Abdul Mukadasa, a 48-year-old father of 13. He said the Afghan troops asked that all the women be put in one room, then searched the house while the “foreigners” waited outside.

He said he knew a young man who had been fighting with the Taliban but went home and took off his black turban when the offensive began. “They searched his house, and he said, ‘No, I am not Taliban, this is my wife, this is my father’.” Residents said most senior Taliban had fled the city.

See also:
Vertical envelopment – leapfrogging into Marjah
Surprise tactic in Afghanistan offensive befuddles Taliban
First stage of operation Moshtarak declared a success
Marines Drive Into Afghan Stronghold
British spearhead allied offensive in Afghanistan
British soldier dies as Operation Moshtarak blitzes enemy insurgents
Two Nato troops and British soldier killed in Operation Moshtarak
Operation Moshtarak Update
Marja offensive a test for NATO’s ability in uprooting Taliban
A Test for the Meaning of Victory in Afghanistan
IEDs: The Big Marjah Challenge
Bombs, booby-traps slow US advance in Afghan town
Operation Moshtarak: U.S. leads 15,000 troops against 1,000 Taliban
Operation Moshtarak

Marjah, now open under new management.

/looks like a rout