Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 124

In the biggest operation since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, last week the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces backed by U.S. helicopters and British jet fighters killed more than 170 insurgents and arrested another 56 men, some of whom wounded. Afghan and U.S. troops attacked suspected Taliban safe havens in southern Afghanistan beginning June 20; several Afghan policemen and seven soldiers died, while five U.S. soldiers were wounded. The operation was carried out in the mountainous part of the country between the southern provinces of Kandahar and Zabul. Kandahar Deputy Police Chief General Salim Khan, who was involved in the operation, called it, “The heaviest bombing and fighting I have seen since the fall of the Taliban.”

U.S. military spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore reported that two U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopters were also damaged by small-arms fire that forced one to make an emergency landing. There were no casualties and both helicopters returned to base.

Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said seven insurgents had been killed, including senior commander, Mullah Mohammad Easa. He said no Taliban fighters had been captured. After U.S. jets and attack helicopters pounded insurgent positions on Wednesday, June 22, the guerrillas fled through the mountains into Zabul province. (Pajhwok, June 25).

During the past four weeks, there has been a steady increase in the fighting in southern Afghanistan, with most of the attacks taking place in Kandahar province, the former Taliban stronghold. First, there was the May 29 assassination of Mawlawi Abdullah Fayez, a prominent pro-government cleric. Then on June 1, an alleged suicide bomber killed more than 20 people at a mosque, including a former resistance commander and, General Akram Khakrizwal, the Kabul police chief. Since June 20, the most intense fighting has taken place along the border between two volatile southern provinces, Kandahar and Uruzgan (Pajhwok, June 15).

The escalation of violence, especially on the border with Pakistan, has steadily increased tension between the two countries. Pakistan Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad recently denied that his government was in any way involved in the Afghan unrest, saying: “Pakistan as a state is not involved in any unlawful activity on Afghan soil… No Taliban leaders are hiding here” (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, June 25).

Kabul takes a different view. In the Afghan capital there are increasing accusations that Pakistan is not doing enough to stem the flow of arms and insurgents from its territory. Three months of bloodshed across the south and east have left hundreds dead and sparked fears that the Afghan war is widening, rather than winding down.

U.S. and Afghan officials warn that things could get worse ahead of the landmark parliamentary elections scheduled for September. Javed Ludin, spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday, June 21, “Our people are dying, our schools are getting burned, our mosques are getting blown up, and our clergy are being assassinated.” Ludin also pointed out that the insurgency’s activities are concentrated in areas close to Pakistan, and he disclosed that Kabul had asked Islamabad to crack down on militants hiding in its territory. “Some senior members of the Taliban, including some who are involved in killings and are considered terrorists, are in Pakistan,” he declared (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, June 22). The request came one day after it was revealed that Afghan intelligence agents had foiled a plot by three Pakistanis to assassinate former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.

According to Afghan officials, three men armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles were captured on June 19 in northeastern Laghman province, near the Pakistani border, just 150 feet from where Khalilzad had planned to inaugurate a road with Afghanistan’s interior minister. The three suspects are said to have confessed that they were waiting for a “special vest” to arrive from Pakistan for use in a suicide attack (Afghan TV, June 21). News of the arrest has sharpened criticism of Pakistan in the Afghan press. According to Afghan media, Islamabad is trying to frustrate efforts to achieve security and stability in a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The daily newspaper Anis puts the blame squarely on Pakistan, writing, “Our people have now realized that the Pakistani intelligence agency [ISI] is behind all the security problems in Afghanistan.” Furthermore, “This recent arrest,” it continues, “suggests that Pakistani intelligence is involved in undermining security and stability in Afghanistan.” According to the newspaper, the suspects admitted to “the role of the ISI and Pakistani extremist groups in terrorist activities in Afghanistan” (Anis, June 21).

Another newspaper, Erada, also blames Pakistan for many of the ills that have befallen Afghanistan in recent weeks. “The reason behind the recent upsurge in fighting… is that Pakistan is interfering in our domestic affairs and is striving to undermine security and stability in order to disrupt reconstruction.” According to the newspaper, “To achieve this vicious end, Pakistan has been following a policy of double standards…and is harboring terrorist leaders on its territory”(Erada, June 21).

As the news of the latest operations comes in, there is a familiar tone echoed by the other sources as well. “The bombings have grown more frequent. The battlefield clashes have intensified. Three months of unprecedented bloodshed have shaken confidence in Afghanistan’s future, and senior officials are pointing fingers at a familiar foe — Pakistan” (AP, June 22).