December 30, 2009

The Taliban's Record Crop

As President Obama wanders into the Yemen desert, one can’t forget the totality of America’s global war against Islamic militants. Keeping a top view is essential. As al-Qaeda uses Yemen to distract from Afghanistan, so too does Obama.

Maybe this is part of al-Qaeda’s plan - to draw attention elsewhere and let the Taliban go to work. Yesterday foreign forces felt the full potency of their insurgency. Four Canadian soldiers suffered the effects, along with one journalist, when their convey struck an IED.

But a larger shock-wave blew out Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province, near Pakistan’s border.

Reporters sniffed from the beginning that something was amiss. First-wave accounts claimed US soldiers had been killed, soon revised to undetermined by US officials, then to eight civilians. Reporters started to ask whether they were contractors, government officials, or something else. A later revision revealed eight “CIA employees” were killed. Clearly the truth was being hidden.

A challenge though when the base had been described as "not regular," implying it was a center of CIA operations in Khost province, according to the BBC's Peter Greste in Kabul. A anonymous US official said the CIA had a major presence at the base. Apparently the agency was deploying spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives (JSOC) in a buildup ranked among the largest in CIA history.

Finally, unnamed US officials were quoted as saying most, if not all of the dead Americans were CIA agents. One former intelligence official knowledgeable about the bombing leaked, "They were all career CIA officials."

The official could hardly believe the attack took place, saying, "It's a forward operating base in a dicey area, but to get a suicide bomber inside the wires - it's hard to understand how that could happen.”

Simple. A sleeper cell in the Afghan army.

"This deadly attack was carried out by a valorous Afghan army member when the officials [Americans] were busy gaining information about the mujahideen," Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, posted on a main jihad website.

al-Qaeda spreading its virus outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan, leading America on a chase throughout the world’s hotspots, is a central threat to Obama’s strategy. However, an equal threat is infiltration into the Afghan army and police force. America is putting all its money on Afghan security forces and the Taliban is going to respond.

The eight deaths at FOB Chapman exceed the four CIA agents killed in the last nine years of war in Afghanistan. More internal explosions will follow.

With the Taliban already in high spirits tonight, they picked up a bonus round after NATO took the fall for the Kunar operation that allegedly killed 10 children and decided to argue Afghan civilian casualties. A statement concluded, "No direct evidence to substantiate this claim.”

According to NATO’s version, "On 26 December, a joint coalition and Afghan security force entered the village of Ghazi Khan in the Narang district of Kunar province, in order to locate a known insurgent group responsible for a series of violent attacks in the area. As the joint assault force entered the village, they came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals. Several assault rifles, ammunition and ammonium nitrate used in bomb-making were discovered.”

Yet several US soldiers said only militants had been killed, implying they were involved in the operation. "They were shot at, and they shot back. It was self-defense, there was a shoot-out," he told AFP, speaking on condition that he wouldn't be identified.

Captian Joe Sanfilippo said from Asadabad, Kunar's capital, that none of the dead were "innocents," but were insurgents that began shooting as the ISAF and Afghan forces approached the small village.

"These people were shooting back at us and we had to shoot back otherwise... we would have been injured," he told reporters.

As the matter stands, local and national Afghan officials claim 10 children were killed; US and NATO officials say nine insurgents were killed. Something, somewhere has to give. The Taliban purportedly provided false intelligence, but it could have also triggered a fire-fight onto the children. The balance would then reverse against them again.

At the same time, the West stills has a problem if the dead are children because protocol was broken. America and NATO must assume some responsibility for intelligence failures; Afghan operatives weren't leading the assault either like they should be. Most importantly, as General McChrustal still isn't getting across, get the militants the next day. Dead children aren't coming back.

And if the end story is more towards the Afghan side, America and NATO are going to look extremely foolish for making up their version.

Why argue with Afghans during a civilian casualty investigation? Why make an even bigger deal? Why draw attention? Why not resolve the matter as quickly as possible? The West possessed the advantage but is giving it back to the Taliban. This could become a military and political failure, exactly what Omar was hoping for.

Looks like a 3 for 3 day. No matter how deep President Obama steps outside Afghanistan, he can never distract from inside Afghanistan.

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