31 August 2012

Afghan War Takes Horrific Turn

KABUL, Aug. 31, 2012 (Reuters) . . . A 12-year-old boy was kidnapped and killed in southern Kandahar province on Wednesday, his severed head placed near his body to send a warning to police, said provincial governor spokesman Jawid Faisal.

The brother of the boy, neither of whom were named by officials, was a member of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a U.S.-trained militia charged with making Afghans in Taliban strongholds, like Kandahar, feel more secure, Faisal said.

"It's a Taliban warning to the ALP and to others who support the government," Faisal said of the killing, which happened in Kandahar's Panjwai district.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf denied the group was involved.

Separately, a 6-year-old girl was beheaded in eastern Kapisa province on Thursday, said provincial police chief Abdul Hamed.

"We are not sure if she was beheaded by her family or the Taliban, but we know the Taliban control the area," Hamed said of the killing in Jalukhil village. He added that he could not send investigators to the area out of fears for their safety.

The murders follow the shooting or beheading of 17 young revelers attending a party in southern Helmand province this week, which officials said was the work of the Taliban, a charge the group also denied. . . .

In Kandahar's Zhari district, officials also said on Friday that a 16-year-old boy accused by the Taliban of spying for the government was beheaded and skinned in late July.

Such incidents highlight the difficulty that Taliban leaders have in enforcing discipline across an estimated 20,000 fighters spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

The central Taliban leadership is trying to improve the group's image in case it wants to push forward tentative reconciliation steps and perhaps even enter mainstream politics. But some militant units are hard to control, roaming the countryside and attacking those deemed immoral.

From here.

The only other places in the world that I can recall with recent cases where this level of brutality has been used as a political tactic are Mexico, as a part of their drug war, and a number of places in Africa, where interethnic conflicts seem to be at the root of the wars in question.

History and Context

The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan's civil war started shortly after 9/11 in 2001 and after more than a decade of U.S. military involvement is the longest U.S. military conflict in history other than the "Indian Wars", although certainly not the largest in terms of the number of troops involved or the number of U.S. casualties inflicted. But, Afghanistan has endured civil wars more or less continuously, with only brief respites, for more than three decades. Afghanistan is the most wretched non-African country in the world as measured by a wide variety of public health and economic measures. Yet, in the 1970s, before everything fell apart, it has seemed as if it was on track to become a fairly Westernized, modern, central Asian nation.

During the Reagan administration, the U.S. secretly supported Afghan insurgents against Soviet power brokers who eventually abandoned Afghanistan. The Taliban was a Saudi Arabian funded initiative that had almost achieved the goal of impose an orderly strict fundamentalist Islamic theocracy on Afghanistan and controlling almost the entire territory of Afghanistan against which a handful of warlords had been holding out when the U.S. took their side when the Taliban failed to hand over Osma bin Laden and shut down his terrorist organization's demands.

At first, the U.S. involvement (mostly consisting of CIA agents and U.S. Special Forces) and a newly created civilian democratic government put in place with a light U.S. diplomatic touch had seemed to have definitively vanquished the Taliban. But, this turned out to be an illusion. The organization had relocated to Northwestern Pakistan's frontier provinces where an entirely different insurgency against the Pakistani government was underway, and in a few years, insurgent activity in Afghanistan had surged and so had U.S. troop levels together with a few coalition partners such as the United Kingdom. The violent conflict is mostly concentrated in a handful of the country's provinces, while most of its provinces remain almost violence free, a pattern that to some extent reflects the ethnic coalition that has backed the Taliban in this multilingual and multiethnic patchwork of an "in between" country whose boundaries are to some extent arbitrary colonial era relics that are part of the large narrative of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that culminated in its total collapse after World War I.

President Obama has pledged to leave the country (which the U.S. also uses to hold detainees in an wide ranging covert international war on terrorism) by the end of 2014. So far, there has been little organized and well articulated opposition to this time frame for U.S. withdrawal.

U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has led to major advances in tactics, military personnel skill sets, military equipment, and weapons systems relevant to fighting asymmetric counterinsurgency operations more effectively and efficiently, notwithstanding Defense Department distaste for devoting resources to and developing capabilities pertinent to these kinds of conflicts. Senior military officials have long perferred to focus on large scale conventional military conflicts with "near peers" like Russia and China with its most powerful weapons system - warships, nuclear attack submarines, fighter jets and heavy tanks. But, recent Defense Department cuts that reduce Army and Marine active duty force levels more deeply than the expensive weapon system oriented Air Force and Navy, threaten to deprive the U.S. military of the "soft" counterinsurgency skills that have recently been developed by veterans of U.S. involvements in conflicts including Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. military involvement in the region has produced regime change and eliminated a capacity to engage in international warfare in both Iraq and Afghanistan, two of Iran's most threatening neighbors. The region has also recently seen regime change in Tunisian, Libya (a transition in which the U.S. military played a role), Egypt, South Sudan, Kosovo (with U.S. military involvement), Bosnia (with U.S. military involvement) and Yemen. The U.S. is also playing a low key military and/or CIA role in the current insurgency in Syria. Israeli agents are widely believed to have been involved in recent instances of apparent sabatogue of Iran's nuclear program.

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