Insurgency has intensified in Afghanistan, giving rise to speculation as to whether it is a Taliban resurgence or broader Pashtun rebellion against non-Pashtun Kabul government. US-led coalition forces are girding for more difficult battles ahead. Suspected Taliban attacks against US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan are intensifying and becoming deadlier. On May 29, four US Special Forces (SOF) soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit an explosive device in the mountains of southeastern Zabul province bordering Pakistan. (Jihadunspun.com, May 31, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mashad, in Dari, 30 May).
An Associated Press (AP) report from Maynard, Massachusetts on May 31 revealed that Navy Seal Brian Ouellette from that town, just west of Boston, was among the four SOF soldiers killed. An Afghan government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the AP on May 30 that the four soldiers were killed when their Humvee hit a mine in the mountainous Sorie district of Zabul province. The official also said that three more Americans were wounded in the blast, and that US and Afghan troops had cordoned off the area. This loss of four US soldiers in military combat is among the highest toll on any given day since those forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to oust the Taliban regime. So far, 90 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, including 56 killed in action. On May 27, two US soldiers were wounded in a clash with militants near Shkin in southeastern Paktika province across from Pakistan’s volatile South Waziristan tribal agency. In the meantime, the US military has played down the scale of a May 25 battle in the eastern district of Arghistan, in southern Kandahar province (see EDM of May 28). US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tucker Mansager said that he knew of only two dead suspected Taliban militants, and that there was no information to suggest that any Taliban commanders were killed. (AP, Kabul, May 29).
However, on May 29 — the same day that the four Special Forces soldiers were killed in Zabul province — suspected Taliban guerrillas riding in a fleet of vehicles attacked government offices in Musa Qala, a market town in southern Helmand province. General Dad Mohammad Khan, head of the National Security Command of Helmand, told the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) — a Pashtu language news agency based in Peshawar, Pakistan — that the Taliban attack at night killed four government soldiers and wounded 20 others, including the security commander for the town and another commander. Khan said that at least one Taliban fighter was killed and four others were captured. He elaborated that 40 Taliban fighters took part in the attack, and that at least 15 of them had come from Pakistan, according to confessions by the captured Taliban.
Lieutenant-General David Barno, commander of US troops in Afghanistan, in a news briefing on June 1 in Kabul, said: “As the September elections approach, we can expect to see additional attempts by remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to disrupt and undermine Afghanistan’s democratic process.” Barno said some of the worst affected areas of Afghanistan were Zabul and the neighboring province of Uruzgan. About 2,000 US Marines have been deployed “temporarily” to fight the insurgents in Uruzgan, and civil-military teams have been set up in Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan, and Qalat, the capital of Zabul. (Reuters, Kabul, June 1).
However, the insurgency seems to have spread to other provinces in Afghanistan. Haji Ajab Shah, police chief of the eastern city of Jalalabad, was killed on June 1 when a bomb attached to his office chair exploded. Jalalabad is the capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar, from which a main highway from Kabul, 81 miles to the east, leads directly to Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), some 90 miles away. Jalalabad, one of Afghanistan’s five main cities, has been hit by a series of bomb blasts targeting government offices and Western aid agencies. But few of them have resulted in serious casualties. (Reuters, Jalalabad, June 1). (Afghan Islamic Press, Kabul, in Pashtu, June 1).
Later, Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told the BBC on June 2 that the Taliban had infiltrated Shah’s security apparatus and used his policemen to plant the bomb. Shah was an ally of Northern Alliance commander Hazrat Ali, who is the leading warlord in the region. Militants, who are loosely described as pro-Taliban or al-Qaeda sympathizers by Kabul government officials and the US military in Afghanistan, have called for a jihad or holy war on foreign and Afghan troops and Western aid groups. They have also vowed to disrupt the upcoming elections in September, which they have dismissed as a “drama” staged by the Americans to legitimize the Kabul regime they already support. Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said via satellite phone on May 31 that Afghan presidential candidates would be prime targets of attacks in coming months. “The Taliban have carried out extensive planning to destroy this election drama. Our prime targets will be candidates participating in the next presidential elections, and (President) Hamid Karzai will be the first target,” Hakimi proclaimed. (Reuters, Jalalabad, June 1).
Over 700 people have been killed since the violence began in earnest in August 2003, with over 360 killed in 2004 so far – the vast majority being Afghan soldiers and civilians. Some of the violence is blamed on drug smugglers and feuding warlords, who still control much of the country. The rest of the violence is caused by Pashtun militants, who are seen as Taliban sympathizers because Pashtuns dominated the ousted Taliban regime, and the present Kabul government is dominated by non-Pashtuns, principally from the Tajik minority centered in the Panjshir Valley. Panjshir has recently been declared a province – a development that has reportedly angered many Pashtuns whose provinces are many times larger than the Panjshir Valley.