Operation Dragon Strike and Kandahar

22 October 2010, 0400 EDT

The New York Times is reporting that ISAF troops are making progress in Kandahar.  Credit for progress is given equally to the surge in troops and a new mobile rocket which has “pinpoint accuracy — like a small cruise missile.”  While military commanders are cautious, Western and Afghan civilians are saying that Taliban losses have “sapped the momentum the insurgency had in the area.”

As I am skeptical of some of the spin and zombie reporting which has been generated by the American media in recent months, I thought I would check and see what Afghan news sources are reporting from the areas of fighting: Mehlajat, Arghandab, and Zhare District.

There is little news coverage of the actual offensive aside from short press releases by the government or the Afghan army and occasional editorials which express pessimism about the likely outcome of the operation.  What is more interesting for those trying to understand the conflict from afar is what is being reported and discussed in the local media… Below is a quick summary of some of the more interesting news articles I came across.

1. “Death Threats, Low Salaries Leave Kandahar Government Understaffed” by Bashir Ahmad Nadeem (10/17/2010) Pajhwok Afghan News.  This article describes the nearly 600 positions in the provincial capital and various districts which are going unfilled mainly due to death threats by the Taliban.  As the salaries on offer are also quite low by national standards, there have been very few applicants for the open positions.  The applicants who have come for interviews are apparently unqualified.  College graduates prefer to work in neighboring provinces.  The absence of administrative officials (including judges and attorneys) in the districts also means that citizens are more prone to turn to the Taliban to resolve disputes.  Morale among those who continue to work for the government is naturally quite low.

2. “Afghan President Orders Probe into Prisoner’s Death,” National Afghanistan TV (10/19/2010).  The major story in Arghandab District is the death of Mullah Muhibullah.  The Mullah was either being held at a government-run prison or an ISAF detention center (different news accounts vary widely) when coalition forces shot him; the mullah was found dead the next day.  Pajhwok News Agency is reporting that an American soldier has been arrested and is being interrogated.  ISAF has released a statement saying the Mullah committed suicide in his cell.  Some news outlets have also implied that the Mullah may have been tortured before his death as the prison had a poor human rights record.  (On a related topic, it is worth noting that 50 members of the provincial ‘ulema council have been assassinated in the last nine months by unknown gunmen.  A few have been killed while praying in mosques.)

3. “North is Being Lost Due to Optimism of Officials” an editorial in a Dari language Kabul newspaper, Arman-e Melli (10/17/2010).  The editorial notes that while General Petraeus has been talking about success against the Taliban in the southern province of Kandahar, the insurgents appear to be gaining ground in the northern provinces of Afghanistan.

4. “ISAF Vows Improved Coordination with Afghan Forces,” by Khwaja Baseer Ahmad (10/19/2010) by Pajhwok Afghan News.  The article cites the Wolesi Jirga representative from Southern Kandahar complaining that there is no coordination between Afghan and international forces which are resulting in civilian casualties.  In this regard it is worth noting that the ICRC has issued a statement that the Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar received nearly 1,000 war wounded patients in August and September  – record high numbers and double the figure from the previous year (see “War Casualties Soar: Red Cross,” Pajhwok Afghan News 10/12/2010).

[Cross-posted from my Afghan Notebook]