Afghan forces will begin taking control of security in some of the country’s provinces by the end of 2010, a key summit on its future has pledged. In a statement at the end of the one-day meeting in London, delegates said the process would be complete within five years. World leaders in London pledged $140 million to encourage Taliban fighters to lay down their arms and give up violence.
The final communique from the London summit said it welcomed Afghanistan’s goal of taking charge of the “majority of operations in the insecure areas of Afghanistan within three years and taking responsibility for physical security within five years.” It said the international community would continue to improve the capabilities of the Afghan security forces, boosting the army to 171,600 and the police to 134,000 personnel by October 2011. The summit said the Afghan government had acknowledged that it had to tackle corruption.
Earlier this week, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan said increased troop levels could bring a negotiated peace with the Taliban. General Stanley McChrystal told the UK’s Financial Times newspaper that there had been “enough fighting”. He said a political solution in all conflicts was “inevitable”. His remarks came as the top UN envoy in Kabul said it was time to talk to the militants.
Afghan and Pakistani leaders are in Turkey to discuss tackling the Taliban-led insurgency in their countries. This is the fourth such meeting initiated by Turkey, which has offered to broker talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, will attend an international conference on Afghanistan in London on Thursday.
Last week, Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked buildings in the heart of the Afghan capital, Kabul, setting off explosions and sparking gun battles. Fighting erupted near the Serena Hotel and the presidential palace, the Taliban said 20 of its fighters had taken part in the attacks. Two civilians and three security personnel have been killed plus 71 others wounded, officials say. Seven attackers had also been killed, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said.
General McChrystal, praised the work of Afghan forces in quelling Monday’s attack. “Afghan National Security Forces effectively dealt with the situation and should be commended. We convey our heartfelt condolences to the innocent victims of this cowardly attack,” he said in a statement issued by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The Taliban fighters were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, the ISAF statement said.
The World’s Matthew Bell on the implications of the brazen Taliban attack in Kabul (Jan 18)
In December, General McChrystal told Congress that the United States will reverse Taliban momentum within a year and accomplish its mission in Afghanistan, but it will be “undeniably difficult” and costly. Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee a week after President Barack Obama announced his new Afghanistan strategy, McChrystal warned the mission would fail without more troops and praised President Obama’s decision to deploy more forces.
The World’s Katy Clark on the congressional hearing:
On December 1st, President Barack Obama announced he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to help battle the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban reacted to the President’s speech by saying they will step up their fight in Afghanistan. A Taliban commander told the BBC that if more US troops came, more would die.
Prior to his speech at West Point, the President said it was his intention to “finish the job” in Afghanistan. Marco Werman talks with Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, Monica Toft at Harvard University, Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation about “finishing the job” in Afghanistan.
Coverage on The World:
Hamid Karzai remains president
On Nov 19, 2009, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghan president for a second elected term, saying he wants Afghan forces in charge of the nation within five years. In his inauguration speech, Mr Karzai announced a conference to tackle corruption and a national gathering to help bring peace to Afghanistan. He also invited his defeated rivals to join him in working for peace.
Kabul’s streets were almost empty as security forces set up numerous roadblocks ahead of the ceremony. The international airport was closed, a holiday was called and people were advised to stay indoors as part of the security lockdown. Dignitaries from about 40 countries were attending the ceremony, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband. The international community – including the US and Nato – congratulated Karzai on his inauguration, but warned that results were needed on tackling corruption and improving security.
Karzai was declared Afghan president after a second round run-off was called off when his sole remaining challenger pulled out, saying the vote could not be free and fair. Widespread fraud in the August 20 first round led to Mr Karzai being stripped of the outright win he appeared to have secured.
American Influence podcast: Tough Choices for US in Afghanistan
June 24, 2009: A BBC investigation into the treatment of former prisoners at a US detention center in Afghanistan uncovered allegations of physical and emotional abuse. Inmates held at the Bagram military base between 2002 and 2008 said they’d been beaten, deprived of sleep, threatened with firearms or dogs and hung from the ceiling.
The Pentagon has denied the charges and insisted that all inmates in the facility are treated humanely.
The Taliban in Pakistan
Throughout 2009 Pakistan has been hit by a string of attacks blamed on the country’s Taliban movement. The wave of attacks has left hundreds of people dead or injured:
Dec 15: At least 22 people have been killed in a bomb attack in a market in central Pakistan, officials say. About 50 others were wounded in the blast in Dera Ghazi Khan, which badly damaged a number of buildings.
Dec 7: Two bomb blasts ripped through a busy market in the center of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, killing at least 30 people, police and medics say. The attack, which injured some 100 people, sparked a huge blaze at the city’s Moon Market. The blasts came just hours after a suicide bomber on a rickshaw killed at least 10 people in Peshawar when he blew himself up near the courthouse.
Dec 4: Militants are said to have killed at least 35 people, including 17 children, at a mosque near the Pakistani army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi. At least four attackers opened fire on worshippers during Friday prayers attended by many military staff in the garrison city. Security forces fought back in an hour-long gun battle before three attackers blew themselves up, reports say. The Pakistan Taliban later said they had carried out the strike.
Oct 28th: More than 90 people were killed after a huge car bomb ripped through a busy market in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attack, which injured at least 200 others, was the deadliest to hit Pakistan this year. Similar attacks killed more than 200 people in previous weeks, as the army carried out operations against Taliban militants in South Waziristan. The attack in October came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a visit to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Mrs Clinton told a news conference the US was “standing shoulder to shoulder” with Pakistan in its fight against “brutal extremist groups”.
Oct 15th: A series of attacks on security forces in Pakistan killed at least 38 people. The violence began in Lahore – Pakistan’s second-largest city. It was long spared the brunt of Pakistan’s unrest but has seen a number of attacks since the start of the year. Militants attacked offices of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), as well as two police training centers.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is under pressure to flush out militants as President Barack Obama is sending more troops to neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani government forces launched an offensive earlier this year to crush a Taliban-led uprising in the Swat valley aimed at enforcing Sharia law. Taliban leaders promised to launch revenge attacks on major Pakistani cities.
Taliban in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has been declared the primary focus of American military operations. On May 6th, 2009 President Barack Obama vowed to “defeat al-Qaeda” and its allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghan police and soldiers, as well as American and other foreign troops belonging to the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), are frequent targets of Taliban attacks. Southern Afghanistan is the main battlefront between the insurgents and Afghan and foreign forces, but there have been attacks elsewhere in the country, notably in eastern areas and also in the capital, Kabul. In April, President Barack Obama urged better use of NATO resources in Afghanistan, saying al-Qaeda is a greater threat to Europe than to the U.S. Speaking before a NATO summit co-hosted by France and Germany, he said the U.S. wanted to see a stronger Europe. However, NATO’s secretary general said members would be reluctant to send more troops if Afghanistan adopted a new law seen as violating the rights of women. In March President Obama confirmed a fundamental rethink of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan to combat an “increasingly perilous” situation. He said growing radical forces in the area posed the greatest threat to the American people and the world. He said an extra 4,000 U.S. personnel would train and bolster the Afghan army and police, and he would also provide support for civilian development. Pakistan would also be a focus, with a $7.5 billion program of “direct support”. But he said this support would not come as a “blank check”, and Pakistan would have to demonstrate its own commitment to rooting out al-Qaeda and associated forces. President Obama said his “comprehensive new strategy” was an outcome of a “careful policy review” which had consulted military commanders and diplomats, regional governments, partners, NATO allies, NGOs and aid organizations. The President painted a bleak picture of the situation, with insurgents increasing their control of territory in the region and attacks rising. He said American strategy must relate directly to the threat posed to the Americans by al-Qaeda and its allies – who, he reminded his listeners, were behind the 9/11 attacks on American soil eight years ago.
Most of the fighting in the volatile southern provinces is being done by troops from the U.S., UK, Canada and the Netherlands. Many U.S. allies, including Germany, France, Spain, Turkey and Italy, have refused to send significant numbers of combat forces there. The United States has more troops in Afghanistan than the other NATO nations combined. But not all of the U.S. forces are part of the 64,500-strong NATO-led ISAF command (see map below) – a large number of U.S. troops are on separate missions to hunt down al-Qaeda fighters as part of Operation “Enduring Freedom.” Most of the casualties suffered by troops serving with NATO troops have involved just four countries: the United States, Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands. Germany, Spain, and Italy all have troops in Afghanistan but due to “national caveats” – or restrictions – they are confined to more peaceful areas.
The Taliban emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. A predominantly Pashtun movement, the Taliban came to prominence in Afghanistan in the autumn of 1994. It is commonly believed that they first appeared in religious seminaries – mostly paid for by money from Saudi Arabia – which preached a hard line form of Sunni Islam. The Taliban’s promise – in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan – was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power. In both countries they introduced or supported Islamic punishments – such as public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers and amputations of those found guilty of theft. Men were required to grow beards and women had to wear the all-covering burka. The Taliban showed a similar disdain for television, music and cinema and disapproved of girls aged 10 and over from going to school. Pakistan has repeatedly denied that it is the architect of the Taliban enterprise. But there is little doubt that many Afghans who initially joined the movement were educated in madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan. Pakistan was also one of only three countries, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which recognized the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until 2001. It was also the last country to break diplomatic ties with the Taliban. The attention of the world was drawn to the Taliban in Afghanistan following the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001. The Taliban in Afghanistan was accused of providing a sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda movement who were blamed for the attacks. Soon after 9/11 the Taliban were driven from power in Afghanistan by a US-led coalition, although their leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was not captured, neither was Osama Bin Laden. In recent years the Taliban has re-emerged in Afghanistan and grown far stronger in Pakistan, where observers say there is loose co-ordination between different Taliban factions and militant groups. The main Pakistani faction is led by Baitullah Mehsud, whose Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is blamed for dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks. Observers warn against over-stating the existence of one unified insurgency against the Pakistani state, however. The Taliban in Afghanistan are still believed to be led by Mullah Omar, a village clergyman who lost his right eye fighting the occupying forces of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Afghans, weary of the mujahideen’s excesses and infighting after the Soviets were driven out, generally welcomed the Taliban when they first appeared on the scene. Their early popularity was largely due to their success in stamping out corruption, curbing lawlessness and making the roads and the areas under their control safe for commerce to flourish. From south-western Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly extended their influence. They captured the province of Herat, bordering Iran, in September 1995. Exactly one year later, they captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, after overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani and his defense minister, Ahmed Shah Masood. By 1998, they were in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan. They were soon accused of various human rights and cultural abuses. One example was in 2001, when the Taliban went ahead with the destruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues, despite international outrage.
On October 7, 2001, a US-led military coalition invaded Afghanistan and by the first week of December the Taliban regime had collapsed. However, Mullah Omar and most of the other senior Taliban leaders, along with Bin Laden and some of his senior al-Qaeda associates, survived the American onslaught. Mullah Omar and most of his comrades have evaded capture despite one of the largest manhunts in the world and are believed to be guiding the resurgent Taliban. Since then they have re-grouped in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, but are now under pressure in both countries, from the Pakistani army and NATO respectively. But Mullah Omar and most of his comrades have evaded capture despite one of the largest manhunts in the world and violence in Afghanistan has returned to levels not seen since 2001. Despite ever higher numbers of foreign troops, the Taliban have steadily extended their influence, rendering vast tracts of Afghanistan insecure. Their retreat earlier this decade enabled them to limit their human and material losses and return with a vengeance.