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Dec 28th, 2008

Taliban’s Power Growing on Kabul’s Doorstep

Seven years after fall, militia attempts to re-establish rule

Image: Afghans holding weapons
This image taken from television footage June 26, 2008, reportedly shows Afghan militants holding weapons next to the burning wreckage of a vehicle in Wardak province, Afghanistan. (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Dec. 27, 2008

WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Two months ago, Mohammad Anwar recalls, the Taliban paraded accused thieves through his village, tarred their faces with oil and threw them in jail.

The public punishment was a clear sign to villagers that the Taliban are now in charge. And the province they took over lies just 30 miles from the Afghan capital of Kabul, right on the main highway.

The Taliban has long operated its own shadow government in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, but its power is now spreading north to the doorstep of Kabul, according to Associated Press interviews with a dozen government officials, analysts, Taliban commanders and Afghan villagers. More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, the Islamic militia is attempting — at least in name — to reconstitute the government by which it ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

Over the past year in Wardak province alone, Taliban fighters have taken over district centers, set up checkpoints on rural highways and captured Afghan soldiers. The Taliban in Wardak has its own governor and military chief, its own pseudo-court system and its own religious leaders who act as judges. Bands of armed militants in beat-up trucks cruise the countryside, dispensing their own justice against accused spies and thieves. …

‘Talibanization’ of countryside

In a growing number of regions, insurgents have put in place:

  • Militant commanders who serve as self-described governors and police or military chiefs of provinces.
  • A 10 percent “tax” — a forced payment at gunpoint, Western officials say — on rich families, or donations by poorer families of food and shelter for fighters.
  • A military draft that forces fighting-age males to join the Taliban for months-long rotations.
  • A parallel judicial system run by religious scholars who impose such punishments as tarring, public humiliation and chopping off hands.
  • The closing of Afghan schools or the forcing of schools to replace science with more religious study.
  • Manned Taliban or militant checkpoints to demand highway taxes and search vehicles for government employees or foreigners.

The increasing “Talibanization” is taking place in wide areas of countryside where the U.S., NATO and government of Hamid Karzai don’t have enough troops for a permanent presence. Recognizing this, the U.S. plans to send its newest influx of troops in January into Wardak and Logar, right next to Kabul. Between 20,000 and 30,000 new American forces are scheduled to arrive by the summer. …

A shadow government

It’s not clear just how far the shadow government goes. Taliban officials and analysts boast that there are now Taliban shadow governors in almost every Afghan province.

“Three years ago the Taliban had no control in Afghanistan. They were spread too thin. Now they have power. They have soldiers. They have governors, district chiefs and judges. It is a very big difference from what you saw in 2003 or even 2005,” said Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan. …

In 2007 militants attacked foreign troops only in small formations, worried that bombing runs by fighter aircraft would result in huge battlefield losses. But over the last year, that has changed.

Recently, some 300 militants massed for an attack in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province. About 250 insurgents took part in an attack on a government center in Paktika province in late November. And earlier this year some 200 militants attacked a small U.S. outpost in the east and killed nine soldiers. …


Late update

14 Children Die in Bombing Near Afghan School

Another 58 wounded as suicide bomber tries to attack meeting of elders

Image: School textbooks and shoes are seen on the ground after a suicide attack
School textbooks and shoes are seen on the ground after a suicide attack Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008 in Khost province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Nashanuddin Khan / AP)

Dec. 28, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber tried to attack a meeting of tribal elders and blew himself up near an Afghan primary school on Sunday, killing 14 children and wounding 58 people, the U.S. military said.

The suicide blast went off near the entrance to a police and army post, said Yacoub Khan, the deputy police chief of the eastern province of Khost. U.S. troops are also stationed inside the outpost, but no troops were wounded or killed in the attack. …

Dr. Abdul Rahman, a doctor at a hospital near the blast, said the children were aged 8 to 10.

U.S. blames militant network

Photos of the bombing’s aftermath showed bloodied text books lying on the ground beside small pairs of shoes. The U.S. military also released images of the blast caught on a security camera.

U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said he believes the militant network run by warlord Siraj Haqqani was responsible for the attack. …

The blast in Khost province came only hours after a late-night rocket attack in Kabul on Saturday killed three teenage sisters. …

2008 deadliest year for NATO soldiers

The year has also been the deadliest for NATO soldiers since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban.

In the south, a roadside bomb killed two Canadian soldiers and two Afghans working alongside them in a dangerous region of southern Afghanistan, Canada’s military said Sunday.

In addition to those killed in Saturday’s roadside bomb attack, four Canadian soldiers and one Afghan interpreter were wounded, the military said. …

NATO officials have said that Canadian troops have suffered more deaths per capita than any other foreign military in the country. More than 100 Canadians have been killed. …


Iraq update

22 Killed in Baghdad Car Bomb

Iraqis stand at the site of a car bombing in the northern Baghdad Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah on Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008. At least 18 people were killed and 25 were wounded in the blast, the U.S. military said. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim / AP)

Dec. 27, 2008

BAGHDAD — At least 22 people were killed after a bomb tore through a busy square in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad on Saturday, Iraqi army officials said. More than 50 others were wounded in the attack.

An Iraqi soldier and two other people were killed in a separate bombing south of the capital, police said. …

U.S. allies killed

Also Saturday, an Iraqi soldier and two other people were killed when a car bomb exploded as they were trying to defuse it in Musayyib, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, according to local police.

The two nonmilitary victims were members of the local awakening council, also known as Sons of Iraq, one of several names used to refer to the Sunni insurgents and tribesmen who have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq, joining the U.S. military in the fight against the terror group, a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

He said 10 other people were wounded in the blast. …

The last major bombing was on Dec. 17; on that day, 18 people were killed and 52 others wounded when a car bomb exploded in eastern Baghdad followed by a roadside bomb minutes later as police rushed to the scene, according to police and hospital officials. The U.S. military reported nine killed and 43 wounded.

On Dec. 11, a suicide bomber killed 55 people in a packed restaurant near the northern city of Kirkuk where Kurdish officials and Arab tribal leaders were trying to reconcile their differences over control of the oil-rich region.


Security Developments in Iraq

Following are security developments in Iraq on Dec. 26, 2008, as reported by Reuters.

RAMADI – Three senior Islamist militants escaped from their cells in clashes overnight at a police station in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. The clashes killed seven police and seven militants, officials said.

BALAD RUZ – A roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed three soldiers and wounded four in Balad Ruz, 55 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD – A bomb blast on an Iraqi home killed a man and wounded his two sons in Baghdad’s southern Dora district, police said.

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded four policemen and two civilians in the Zaafaraniya district of southeastern Baghdad, police said.

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