FORMER TALIBAN COMMANDER ALLEGES UK SUPPORTS TALIBAN, REGRETS JOINING GOVERNMENT
A former Taliban commander who, after his defection, was appointed Governor of the Musa Qala district of Helmand Province told an independent Afghan TV station that he now regrets his choice and foresees at least another five years of warfare in Afghanistan (Tolo TV, June 22). Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi, a chieftain in the Alizai tribe, has been speaking openly lately of his distaste for the Karzai government and his conviction that the UK is behind all the problems experienced by the people of Helmand Province. Since his defection to the government, Mullah Abdul Salam has survived several assassination attempts, including a concentrated attack on his house and a rocket fired at a British Chinook helicopter in which he was flying (The Nation [Islamabad], May 18, 2006).
Last March, Abdul Salam complained that UK troops had urged Afghan police to abandon their post in the Mullah’s nearby hometown of Shah Karez during a battle with the Taliban rather than come to their aid (Afghan Islamic Press, March 17; Geo TV, March 17). The 50 officers, mostly drawn from the Mullah’s private militia, were eventually forced to withdraw from their post with losses (The Scotsman, March 24, 2010). In his latest interview, the Mullah now claims that British forces landed helicopters with Taliban troops and provided military support to the Taliban during the battle.
Mullah Abdul Salam cites several reasons for “British duplicity” in Helmand Province:
• The British are seeking revenge for their defeat at the 1880 Battle of Maiwand during the Second Afghan War. The 66th Berkshire Regiment and a number of Indian native regiments were virtually destroyed in a Pashtun victory that also cost thousands of Afghan lives.
• The British are “probably involved” in opium production, based on what the Mullah describes as UK opposition to his attempts to eradicate the drug trade and insistence that drug producers be released after having been arrested by the Mullah. He says he has heard that opium is being flown out of the military airport.
• The British are also interested in possessing potential mineral riches in the province.
The Mullah’s relations with Britain appear to have declined rapidly during the posting of the 5th Battalion (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in Musa Qala. He was gravely offended by the arrest of his 15-year-old son (one of 27 children by five wives) by a Scottish officer in July 2008 and also complained loudly that the British had failed to fill his “war chest,” intended, he says, to be used for bribing Taliban commanders. In turn, British forces have accused the Mullah of taxing opium producers and permitting his militia to be engaged in criminal activities (Sunday Times, July 9, 2008; Independent, November 12, 2008).
Mullah Abdul Salam mocked ISAF efforts to take control of the Marjah district of Helmand in a large offensive involving 15,000 troops last February, saying that the Afghan troops left there were surrounded in the bazaar (see Terrorism Monitor, June 17). “If they give me 600 policemen today, I will capture Kajaki District in Helmand and ensure security there immediately."
The Mullah also had harsh words for Pakistani authorities, claiming they are the Taliban’s “main support” in what he alleges is a larger plan to “kill Pashtuns.” The Mullah says that all insurgent operations in Afghanistan are organized and authorized by the movement’s Quetta-based leadership, adding that Pakistani intelligence devises the plans and implements them through Mullah Omar in Quetta. He describes Mullah Omar as being like a “prisoner of the intelligence networks in Pakistan.” Since Islamabad believes Afghan president Hamid Karzai is close to India, Mullah Abdul Salam predicts at least another five years of warfare.
At almost the same time as the Mullah made his statement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said they have observed British security services cooperating with terrorist groups in Afghanistan (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, June 22). Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmad also suggested that the heroism of British troops in Afghanistan has not benefitted their country and that the UK should expect more casualties as it marks the death of 300 troops in Afghanistan (Afghan Islamic Press, June 21).
ALGERIA INTRODUCES NEW COUNTERTERRORISM MEASURES IN OPERATION ENNASR
At a meeting in Oran attended by the Algerian military’s top commanders and leaders of Algeria’s National Gendarmerie, Armed Forces chief-of-staff Major-General Ahmad Gaid Salah explained the next phase of Operation Ennasr (“Victory”), a nation-wide counterterrorist offensive (see Terrorism Monitor, April 23).
Commanders of various military sectors were ordered to pursue terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) directly into their well-concealed camps. Saying, “We are determined to put an end to the terrorist groups via the mobilization of all legal means,” the General demanded greater cooperation between the various geographically-based military commands of Algeria’s Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP) and improved coordination with national intelligence services (La Liberté [Algiers], June 24). Since Operation Ennasr began, a large number of AQIM commanders have been captured or surrendered, with Algerian intelligence already benefitting from information gleaned from interrogations (see Terrorism Monitor, June 24).
Though AQIM has experienced difficulty recruiting suicide bombers, Algeria’s security forces are determined to prevent a repeat of the devastating suicide bombings that struck Algiers in 2007. One of the AQIM commanders seized in Boumerdès revealed the existence of a plot to carry out a suicide bombing in Algiers on June 17 or 18, but was unable to name the would-be bomber or the exact site of the bombing – under AQIM protocol, these details would be known only to the bomber and his handler. Drivers entering Algiers were subjected to extensive searches and examinations of papers at two separate roadblocks on roads entering the city – the first run by the Gendarmerie and the second run by the local police. Surveillance cameras, sniffer dogs and explosives detectors were all deployed at the checkpoints, which subjected commuters to hours-long traffic jams (El Watan [Algiers], June 21).
The Ministry of Defense has also announced a significant expansion of the National Gendarmerie (al-Dark al-Watani), which plays an important role in finding and eliminating terrorist cells in rural areas. Before the end of the year, 9,000 new gendarmes of various ranks and academic backgrounds will be added to the present 60,000 man paramilitary. A new security communications network called Ronital is being introduced to Algiers, Blida Province and the Tizi Ouzou region of the Kabyle Mountains, areas where counterterrorism efforts are most active. The unified network will ensure effective transfers of sound, images and electronic messages with the central command even in difficult conditions and terrain (El-Khabar [Algiers], June 24).