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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Fighting in Afghanistan

Guardian Unlimited:

Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces surrounded a rebel hide-out in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, and the number of insurgents killed from three days of fighting rose to 102, the defense ministry said. The battle was one of the deadliest since the Taliban's ouster more than three years ago and was sure to add to growing anxiety that an Iraq-style conflict is developing here. ``A total of 102 Taliban have been killed since the fighting started on Tuesday,'' Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Marad said, 26 more than were reported on Wednesday evening. ``These deaths will have a huge impact on the rebels. Many are trying to flee. But we have them surrounded.'' The U.S. military Wednesday put the rebel death toll at 49. Lt. Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for the force, said there had been no update since then and referred questions to the Afghan government. Gen. Salim Khan, commander of 400 Afghan policemen who took part in the fighting, said the insurgents had been hit hard.
There are a couple of things that strike me as significant about this. First off, it seems to be a fairly clear victory which is certainly a good thing. Second, and most important, is that while the Afghan forces certainly recieved U.S. help, they were at the center of the fighting. The Karzai government has mostly been ruling Kabul, and their control over the rest of Afghanistan has been nominal. It appears to me that they now feel they have the strength to begin extending de facto control to the rest of the country. This is tremendously important. There is another clue in the article that signify that this might in fact be what is happening:
Gen. Ayub Salangi, the police chief for Kandahar province where much of the fighting has occurred, said the massive assault on the rebels was in response to a Taliban ambush of a government convoy last week that left a local police commander and six of his men dead. The local government chief was believed kidnapped in that assault, but Salangi said investigators have determined that he was actually a member of the Taliban and may have orchestrated the ambush.
We can speculate that as long as this local warlord felt comfortable in his local hegemony he would not have felt a need to act. Presumably, increased pressure on his activities prompted him to move from tacit support of the Karzai government to direct opposition. A gamble that appears to have not paid off for him. Of course, these promising signs are not good enough for some people:
The bloodshed has raised concerns that the war is widening, rather than winding down. U.S. and Afghan officials have warned that violence could get even worse before parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
It is fairly rare that a military conflict 'winds down.' Typically, the violence is most intense when one side or the other is on it's last legs. Certainly this doesn't mean that after this battle everything will now be wonderful and happy in Afghanistan. Expanding the central governments control to the provinces and building the infrastructure needed for a successful democracy will take time. Violence will continue. Treating progess as defeat though is a not the way to win wars.


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