The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 74/No. 46      December 6, 2010

Washington deploys
tanks to Afghan war
(front page)
November 19—U.S.-led forces are intensifying offensive operations in southern Afghanistan in an effort to deal lasting blows to the Taliban ahead of the usual winter ebb in combat activity. The use of more heavy-handed tactics, particularly in Kandahar Province, is resented by many Afghans and has sparked public criticism from Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

For the first time, the U.S. military is employing M1 Abrams tanks, starting with 16 in northern Helmand Province. The tanks are equipped with 120-mm guns capable of demolishing houses more than a mile away.

The main offensive is centered in the districts surrounding Kandahar, the birthplace and heartland of the Taliban. In two districts north and west of Kandahar, nearly 1,000 families have fled in the last month alone. As U.S.-led forces advanced and pushed Taliban combatants from new areas, booby-trapped homes awaited their arrival. U.S. troops have responded by extensive leveling of homes and other buildings, with rough estimates ranging anywhere from hundreds to thousands, according to the New York Times.

Aerial bombings are up markedly and detested nighttime commando raids on Afghan residences have accelerated since President Barack Obama replaced Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus as top commander. Special forces have conducted nearly 1,600 such raids in the last three months—roughly 200 percent more than the period just prior to Petraeus’s appointment, and six times higher than last year.

The night raids and other tactics are cornerstones of Petraeus’s “counterinsurgency” strategy aimed at displacing the Taliban’s influence with U.S.-backed local and national power structures. One benefit of the home demolition, a senior officer told the Times, is that it forces residents to file complaints with the district governor. “In effect you’re connecting the government to the people,” he said.

Feeling the heat from many corners, Karzai called on Washington to reduce its military operations, begin troop reductions next year, and cease night raids. “If there is any raid, it has to be done by the Afghan government,” he said in a November 13 interview with the Washington Post.

Karzai also talked about preliminary discussions he said he had with Taliban representatives several months ago. “They feel that same way as we do here. That too many people are suffering for no reason. Their own families are suffering.” Mullah Mohammad Omar, former head of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, called reports on the talks “misleading rumors.”

Petraeus rebuked Karzai’s comments as undermining recent progress against the Taliban and skipped a scheduled meeting with the president.

Afghan foreign minister Zalmay Rasoul also criticized Washington’s military strategy at a recent meeting with the Iranian foreign minister in Tehran that showcased increasing ties between the two countries, reported News Network International of Pakistan.

Washington and Kabul maintain agreement on many fronts. One of these is increased support to various local rulers and their armies, a key aspect of the developing U.S. counterinsurgency strategy. In a number of cases, local despots and their henchmen have proved to be more reliable and effective allies against Taliban forces than government troops.

One of these figures is Col. Abdul Razzik, who U.S. officials used to refer to as a “malignant actor,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Operating from Spin Boldak, a district on the Pakistani border in Kandahar Province, Razzik is widely resented by the population for his reputation for drug trafficking, extortion, and general banditry. But his army of 250 men is so feared by the people and Taliban alike that both fled as his forces entered Panjway, west of Kandahar City. Local residents say Razzik is known to force civilians to walk ahead of his troops to clear the way of mines. He has political connections to Karzai’s brother, a powerful politician in Kandahar widely considered to be a major heroin trafficker with ties to the CIA.

In another example, several private soldiers under the command of Matiullah Khan, regional warlord of neighboring Uruzgan Province, were flown last month to Australia to receive training from elite commandos there, according to the Brisbane Times. Dutch military forces, who had responsibility for the province before they pulled out in August, had earlier worked to marginalize Matiullah for fear that his association with the government would boost support for the Taliban because of his reputation for brutality. Matiullah, whose nearly 1,000-strong mercenary army is considered the most formidable force in Uruzgan Province, is also a Karzai ally.
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