Kandahar Operations Some Progress
In the ongoing main NATO operations in the South, ISAF and Afghan forces claimed to have caused heavy casualties on the Taliban in southern Afghanistan making "deliberate progress" and seized the initiative from the insurgents. A series of operations has also seen some major casualties to the Taliban in October, in one strike over 80 terrorists were killed. According to the Afghan defence ministry's figures, there were 732 insurgents arrested in other operations last (Afghan) month , 162 IEDs were detected and defused, 119 caches of explosive materials found, and 5 suicide vests recovered.
"We now have the initiative. We have created momentum," said Major General Nick Carter, the British commander of the NATO coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, who has overseen the Kandahar operation for the last year. He added: "It is everything put together in terms of the effort that has gone in over the last 18 months and it is undoubtedly having an impact." Insurgent attacks have dropped from 50 a week in August to 15 in October.
Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, commanding Task Force 1-66 in Arghandab, said, “A lot are getting killed. They are not receiving support from the local population, they are complaining that the local people are not burying their dead, and they are saying: 'We are losing so many we want to go back home.' “The Taliban, however, have refuted these claims and described their pullback as a tactical retreat.
The Kandahar operation has thus succeeded in breaking the Taliban hold over some of the key areas and with Panjwayi ring fenced by the coalition troops there would be more success in eviction of the Taliban. This would enable establishment of a security structure followed by governance, though all these measures may take time to be effective and this battle is still a long way from being declared successful. The symbolism of the battle in Kandahar should not be lost for once coalition forces are perceived as, ‘victors,’ locals and some Taliban are likely to switch sides.
The Taliban strategy is to divert attention from ongoing NATO operations in Afghanistan. They are thus carrying out strikes in the North and Central regions. Operations in Ghazni which is sandwiched between Uruzgan in the West and Paktika in the East as well as Zabol in the South have been taken up so is Kunduz in the North going from bad to worse which has led to almost 50,000 troops now deployed there. On 8 October a governor and at least 18 other people were killed in a massive explosion as they prayed in a crowded mosque in the area. The Taliban have added assassination of pro western governors and officials as a part of the strategy over the past year or so. This was more than evident in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand where major NATO operations are ongoing; deteriorating situation in Kunduz had possibly contributed to the same there as well.
To what extent this has reduced pressure on the Taliban in the East and the South is however not clear. NATO forces would have to thus consider possible counter measures that the Taliban would take before planning major operations and possibly upstage the same by inducting forces or taking proactive actions in such areas.
The Afghan President’s plan for denotification of foreign security agencies is continuing to face resistance and he is now planning to appoint a committee to examine the whole issue. The President has provided a number of arguments for winding up the foreign security agencies; President Karzai said that civilian casualties have risen in the country. Though the government has given some relaxation recently allowing embassies and official agencies to keep their contractors, there is likely to be a problem in as much as large number of NGOs and private organisations working in the country are concerned in virtually all sectors such as infrastructure, power, road building and telecommunications.
There is general consensus that pull out of NATO forces will be completed by end of 2014. For this purpose it would be necessary to ensure that the current geographical scope of operations is expanded in terms of engaging the Taliban in not just critical districts which is the apparent strategy of US commanders in Afghanistan but also in those areas where they have some influence For then alone there can be improvement in security and presence of the government established firmly thereby ensuring that writ expands and in a graduated manner these districts can be handed over. Announcing a firm date of pull out without improvement in the ground situation is also a major drawback but that is politically expedient and therefore NATO forces would have to work in this constrained environment.