Saturday 30 January 2010

A source for stats on Afghanistan

For anyone with a bent for statistics, the Afghanistan Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan, is a great resource. Published by the Brookings Institution, it contains detailed stats on security, governance and rule of law, economic and quality of life indicators and polling and public information.
It also complements similar sets of data for both Iraq and Pakistan.
So if you want to find out the cause of death of US troops in Afghanistan, annual recruitment figures for the Afghan Army, where Afghans choose to take different types of legal case, annual poppy cultivation, Afghanistan's rank in Transparency International's annual corruption perceptions index, annual inflation, the number of telephone users, the results of various public opinion surveys and a lot more besides, this is the place for you.

Negotiating with the Taliban - report

A new publication from the Crisis States Research Centre at the London School of Economics provides a useful summary of the background to the discussion on negotiating with the Taliban.
Negotiating with the Taliban: Toward a solution for the Afghan Conflict, is largely written by Talatbek Masadykov, together with Antonio Giustozzi and James Michael Page.
Masadyakov is currently Chief of the Political Affairs Division of the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA). In order to prepare this paper he took four months research leave in 2008, which he spent as a Visiting Fellow at the Crisis States Research Centre and travelling around the region.
One section of the report stands out and I will quote it at length:
"(The United Nations') List 1267 − expanded after September 11, 2001 and last updated on October 10, 2008 − now features 142 individuals associated with the Taliban,and 243 individuals and 113 entities or other groups and undertakings associated with Al Qaida. Despite reconciliation with the Karzai government by senior listed Taliban such as Mullah Mutawakil, Mullah Zaeef, Mullah Salaam Rocketi, Mullah Khaksar and others, none has been de-listed, largely as a result of differences among permanent UNSC members.
"Up to one third of those Taliban now on the Consolidated List also feature on ISAF and OEF target lists. Several have been killed in combat. Under heavy pressure from the US and the UK,Pakistan has placed a small number of anti-government elements under house arrest in Quetta and elsewhere. This has not prevented them from continuing to exercise authority in their respective organisations.
"The vast majority of insurgent commanders now operating in Afghanistan are not listed: they are too young to have participated in the Taliban regime. Apart from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani themselves, almost no Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin or Haqqani network commanders feature on the Consolidated List."
A very useful and timely publication, particularly in the light of reports that the UN head of mission in Afghanistan, Kai Ede, met with representatives of the Taliban in Dubai earlier this month. Today, the Taliban's Leadership Council denied the reports: " The Leadership Council considers this mere futile and baseless rumours, being a machination against Jihad and Mujahideen who are waging Jihad against the invaders. The Leadership Council once again emphasises continuation of Islamic Jihad against all invaders as a means to frustrate these conspiracies."

Friday 29 January 2010

Splits develop within Pakistan Taliban

Even if a growing number of reports saying that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakimullah Mahsud is dead are not true, problems are growing for the organisation. In Bajaur, near to the Khyber Pass, splits are opening up. Dawn reports that Maulana Faqir Mohammad - deputy chief of the TTP and once a close associate of former TTP leader Baitullah Mahsud - has been replaced as leader of the Bajaur TTP.
The report says he has been replaced by Maulana Mohammad Jamal, aka Maulvi Dadullah. Faqir Mohammad's supporters, who are in the minority, continue to claim he is leading the TTP in the region, but this is strongly denied by Maulvi Dadullah's supporters.
The origin of this split appears to have emerged last summer when Faqir Mohammad told his followers not to resist government troops who were advancing towards the militant stronghold of Varr Mamond. He was opposed by a majority of the local TTP shura.
At the time, other senior commanders, including Qari Ziaur Rehman and Maulana Inayet Rehman, intervened and worked out a compromise.
However, the split has now broken into the open. In the last few days there has been heavy fighting in the area between the Pakistan Army and militants, with the Army claiming to have killed at least 15 of the militants.
If these reports about splits are true it will be a massive setback for the TTP. Maulvi Faqir Mohammad has been a central figure in the organisation for some time. Born in 1970 in the Bajaur Agency, he is a member of the Mohmand tribe. Formerly affiliated with the TNSM led by Sufi Mohammad, he has publicly stated that he has close ties to al-Qaeda's No 2, Dr Ayman Zawahiri.
After Baitullah's death in August last year, Faqir Mohammad first announced that he had assumed temporary command of the TTP, but later declared that Hakimullah had been elected leader by a TTP shura of 42 men. Amongst other things, he is accused of orchestrating the 8 November 2006 suicide attack on an Army training centre at Dargai in NWFP which killed 45 recruits of the Punjab Regiment Centre.
As for Hakimullah, almost nothing has been heard from him since the TTP admitted that he had been injured in a drone strike on 14 January. They issued a tape recording of his voice, but it sounded weak. Now the reports say that he died in the last few days while being looked after at the house of his second wife's father in Mamozai village in Orakzai Agency.

Thursday 28 January 2010

London conference goes according to plan

The press tent at the London conference

The London conference on Afghanistan finished today with the expected communique, which you can read here. All the main points had been well leaked in advance - the reintegration plan aimed at the Taliban and supported with a $140 million Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund provided by Britain and Japan; the decision to expand the Afghan National Army and police to reach reach 171,600 and 134,000 personnel respectively by October 2011; the plan to hand over power to the Afghans on a district-by-district basis; the decision to call a loya jirga before the next conference, which will be held in Kabul later this year.
The Afghan government also agreed to train 12,000 civil servants by the end of next year, to show greater respect for human rights and make Afghanistan "a place where men and women enjoy security, equal rights, and equal opportunities in all spheres of life".
On the question of corruption, which is rampant in Afghanistan, the Karzai government agreed within the next month to empower an independent High Office of Oversight to investigate and sanction corrupt officials, and during 2010 to establish a statutory basis for related anti-corruption bodies, including the Major Crimes Task Force and the Anti-Corruption Tribunal.
There were no complaints about the decision to postpone elections in Afghanistan, which must have received US backing before it was announced.
On women's rights, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been insistent upon, the conference welcomed the Afghan government's "commitment to strengthen the participation of women in all Afghan governance institutions, including elected and appointed bodies and the civil service". It is a pity then that there were no women amongst the official Afghan delegation to the conference.
Afghan women who travelled to the conference under their own steam issued a statement saying they were concerned about the absence of women's perspectives on proposals being discussed in London and produced a series of recommendations that were handed out to journalists attending the event.
So what was it all about in the end? It's not that the conference itself was unique in any way - there have been several such conferences in the past. Nor was there any major statement from the Americans, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to cheer up the 1100 journalists (including yours truly) who attended and who had very little to excite them.
Probably the best way to understand the event is as a public statement of support for the Karzai government, but also a warning that it had better clean up its act and begin to create a government that can work.
A lot of politics in the West is riding on success in Afghanistan, not just in Britain, but also in America and Germany, where Mrs Merkel has announced an extra 500 troops in a move that will not be popular with German voters.
Over the last few days President Karzai has been paraded through London's newsrooms alongside the prime minister, as if to emphasise the importance of success in Afghanistan and to make it clear, in public, that Mr Brown expects him to keep his end of the bargain.
And with an election in the offing in the UK, there was no harm at all in Mr Brown appearing statesman-like on the world stage.
You can find the Afghan Taliban response to the conference here.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Sedwill explains his new role in NATO

It was a sell-out last night and the packed audience who turned up at the Frontline Club to see the UK's ambassador to Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, were in for a surprise. Sedwill came straight from Brussels, where that afternoon he had been appointed as NATO's senior representative in Afghanistan. You can listen to a podcast of my interview with Mark Sedwill - and the many questions from the audience - here.
He explained to the audience at the Frontline Club that he would be relinquishing his ambassadorship and that hs replacement, yet to be named, would arrived within the next couple of months. The rumours had been circulating for several days that Sedwill would get the job, even though he has only been the UK's ambassador to Afghanistan for less than a year.
His job will be to ensure that aid from NATO's 44 member states reaches those parts of Afghanistan in which it is most needed. And because this is a NATO job, that also means tying aid into the military context. He will work closely with NATO military commander, General Stanley McChrystal.
Sedwill also talked about the importance of the London Conference on Afghanistan, to be held tomorrow.
Interesting to note that while the Frontline put the whole event live onto Livestream, the Foreign Office tweeted it. Here are their three tweets:
"I think we'll have a Nato presence for the next 10 - 12 years" new Nato rep Mark Sedwill ahead of #afghanconf
Mark Sedwill: "focus on delivering immediate needs. Security and justice are vital." #afghanconf
Mark Sedwill: my priority over the next 18 months is stabilisation. We need to tackle poverty.
#afghanconf #afghanistan

Incidentally, #afghanconf is the hashtag for the conference.

Monday 25 January 2010

An evening with the UK ambassador to Afghanistan

Tomorrow night at 7pm I will be at the Frontline Club in London, chairing a session with the UK's Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, in advance of the international conference on Afghanistan, taking place in London on Thursday. Details of the event can be found on the Frontline's website. But you better hurry as most of the tickets have already sold.

UN list provides clues to Taliban leadership

It had not occurred to me before, but for anyone interested in the leadership of the Taliban in Afghanistan - and that includes the Haqqani faction as well as the Quetta Shura - then the list of banned individuals posted by the United Nations is a good starting point. While the actual composition of the Quetta Shura of the Taliban (QST) appears to be unknown, most of them are likely to appear on this list.
Amongst those on the list of 144 Taliban leaders are, for example, Ubaidullah Akhund, formerly the Taliban minister of defence, who is described as "one of the deputies of Mullah Omar, and a member of the Taliban's leadership, in charge of military operations". Sayed Esmatullah Asem is named as a member of the Taliban's leadership as of May 2007, and a member of the Taliban council of Peshawar. Abdul Ghani, aka Mullah Barodar, the Taliban's former deputy defence minister, is described thus: "Belongs to Popalzai tribe. Senior Taliban military commander and member of Taliban "Quetta Council" as of May 2007. Believed to be in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area."
The list itself is clearly important to the QST. They have made it clear that they want to see it lifted as a precondition for negotiations with the Karzai government and the United States. At the moment, QST members who want to travel out of Afghanistan or Pakistan do so on Pakistani passports issued through the ISI. This is what happened, for example, when representatives of the QST travelled to Saudi Arabia for talks last year.
Earlier today, Kai Eide, the outgoing UN representative in Afghanistan, told the New York Times that some of the Afghans should be removed from the UN list. "If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority," Eide said. "The time has come to do it," he said, adding that the US should also carry out a review of the detainees held at the Bagram American military prison to see if any of them could be released.
The UN list itself can be found here. Only one person, General Rahmatullah Safi, the Taliban's former representative in Europe, has ever been removed from the list, in 2005. He died the following year.
Last week, according to the NYT, US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said “Some of the people on the list are dead, some shouldn’t be on the list and some are among the most dangerous people in the world. I would be all in favor of looking at the list on a case-by-case basis to see if there are people on the list who are on the list by mistake and should be removed, or in fact are dead”.
All UN member states are required to a) freeze funds and any other financial assets of anyone on the list; b) Prevent the entry into or the transit through their territories; c) Prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of arms and related material, to the individuals, groups, undertakings and entities placed on the Consolidated List.
Update: On Wednesday, the day before the London Conference, the UN lifted sanctions on five former Taliban officials, including former foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil. The four others were the Taliban's deputy commerce minister, Faizl Mohammed Faizan; Abdul Hakim Monib, the deputy minister of frontier affairs who later renounced the Taliban and became a provincial governor; Mohammad Musa Hottak, the deputy planning minister who was later elected to parliament; and a former press officer, Shams-ul Safa Aminzai.

Friday 22 January 2010

Mahsud tribe surrender claim refuted

Reports yesterday that the Mahsud tribal elders had agreed to hand over Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Hakimullah Mahsud and 378 other wanted men (see below) appear to have been exaggerated. Today the same papers that reported the jirga decision were rapidly backtracking.
"How can we surrender Hakimullah and his dreaded men to the government? It is not possible even if we want to do so," a prominent Mahsud tribal elder who attended the traditional Jirga in Tank on Wednesday told The News.
The News continued: "Like other members of the Jirga comprising Dre Mahsud (the three main divisions of the Mahsud tribe) - Balolzai, Shaman Khel and Manzai - South Waziristan chieftain Malik Mahsud Ahmad Abdullay was also surprised by the banner headlines in national dailies about their claim."
One Mahsud elder claimed that the local political agent had told the tribesmen to make a promise about handing over Hakimullah Mahsud and his men. He added that the jirga had told him it was not the proper time for such a "silly demand".
What seems to be behind this spat is the future of the almost 300,000 displaced Mahsud tribespeople, who are now wondering when they will be able to return to their summer homes in the interior of South Waziristan. Traditionally, they would be returning in April, after the worst of the winter was over.
However, over recent weeks the TTP has been attempting to prevent the return, telling members of the tribe that this would limit their ability to fight against the Army. At the same time, government political agents have been putting pressure on the IDPs to return.
At Wednesday's meeting - which was well attended, despite TTP threats - the political agent tried to extract some kind of concession from the tribal elders in exchange for helping them return and rebuild their destroyed towns and villages. He may have believed he had got an agreement, but events since show that he had over-estimated the willingness - and the ability - of the tribe to deliver.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Mahsud tribe on the verge of surrender?

Several Pakistani newspapers are reporting that the Mahsud tribe held a jirga yesterday at which its elders agreed to hand over Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakimullah Mahsud and 378 other wanted men to the government.
The jirga, meeting at the Political Compound in Tank in South Waziristan and consisting of around 300 senior members of the tribe, also agreed to meet all seven conditions put forward by the Pakistani government as a precondition for halting the military offensive into the Mahsud tribal lands. The government had said that yesterday was a deadline for agreement on the seven conditions.
According to The News, "The government conditions included surrender of 378 wanted persons, a ban on display of arms, acceptance of Collective Responsibility Clause of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and abstaining from giving shelter to foreign militants. The jirga announced to accept all the conditions and pledged to extend all possible help to the authorities in purging the area of militants."
Several Mahsud elders told the jirga that their tribesmen had no intention of fighting against the Pakistani Army and that they wanted the restoration of peace in South Wazirstan. They said Pakistan was their own country for which their ancestors had given numerous sacrifices. They added that they were patriotic citizens and wanted to see progress in South Wazirstan. They said they hoped that the government would help to rebuild the area and to compensate internally displaced persons (IDPs), who had to leave their homes in the region.
It was also agreed that another jirga should be held on 10 February. Addressing the jirga, South Waziristan Political Agent Syed Shahab Ali Shah said the government would provide all-out support to the tribal people affected by the operation. He lauded the cooperation of the jirga elders. Senator Maulana Salih Shah also attended.
If this story is accurate, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. Does it mean that Hakimullah, Waliur Rahman, Qari Hussein and the other wanted men will surrender to the jirga? If not, will the jirga take up arms against them? Either way it could be a major disaster for the TTP, which is largely made up of Mahsud tribesmen.
Inevitably, there will be speculation that the wave of ten or more US drone strikes aimed at the TTP leadership since the suicide bombing of the CIA base at FOB Chapman in Khost on 30 December is behind the jirga decision. The strikes have been remarkably successful in killing senior leaders of the TTP - as well as foreign militants - and even injuring Hakimullah himself. The missiles appear to have broken the back of the Mahsud resistance.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Afghanistan drowning in corruption

It may be one of the world's poorest countries, but Afghans had to pay out $2.5 billion in bribes over the past 12 months – equivalent to almost a quarter (23 per cent) of Afghanistan’s GDP.
When added to the revenue generated by the opium trade in 2009 - estimated at $2.8 billion - this adds up to about half the country’s GDP.
The figures come from Corruption in Afghanistan: Bribery as reported by the Victims, published this week by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
To make things worse, in Afghanistan those entrusted with upholding the integrity of the law are most guilty of violating it.
Between 10-20 per cent had to pay bribes to judges, prosecutors, doctors and members of the government. A kickback is so commonly sought (and paid) to speed up administrative procedures, that more than a third of the population (38 per cent) thinks that this is the norm.
Just over half (52 per cent) of adult Afghans had to pay at least one bribe to a public official during the last 12 months. On average, victims of bribery reported they had to pay around five kickbacks per year. In three-quarters of cases bribes are paid in cash and the average amount paid was US$158 - in a country where average annual income is less than $500.
According to the UNODC, the sectors most affected by bribery are the police, courts and customs. When such officers are contacted by citizens they request a bribe in around half of all cases. Demands for bribes were slightly less frequent from municipal and provincial officers, members of the Government and land officers.
The amounts paid in bribes differ between categories of public officials: at the lower end (less than US$100 per bribe) are teachers, doctors and nurses. On average, officials from the police, local authorities, tax/revenue agency and land agencies requested bribes between $100-200. Judges, prosecutors, members of the Government and customs officers are at the higher end of the scale, with average bribes higher than US$200.
Public officials usually request bribes to speed up administrative procedures or to make their finalization possible.
The pervasiveness of such practices makes many citizens deeply worried: when asked to select the most prominent problem for the country, 59 per cent of those questioned mentioned corruption, followed by insecurity (54 per cent) and unemployment (52 per cent).
Corruption is perceived to be on the rise by many citizens, especially in rural areas: 80 per cent of rural dwellers reported that in their eyes corruption had significantly increased over the last five years.
The information for the UNODC report was gathered though interviews with 7,600 people in 12 provincial capitals and more than 1,600 villages around Afghanistan and is therefore statistically significant. The report includes a number of actual cases of bribery from interviewed citizens which provide a vivid portrait of the many forms of corruption common in Afghanistan:
"We sell different goods on the streets here. The head of the police for this area has appointed a person who is responsible for collecting money from us and give it to him."
"[The] permit office for the municipality is another corrupt department. Officials want about $18,000 from traders when they want to start a new business."
"Police heads are taking a percentage from each payroll of their subordinates."
"The mayor has distributed plots to his family members and he has taken a number of shops in the commercial markets for approving the construction of the building."
‘There are people known as Employed on Commission in front of each government building…They approach people saying that they can solve any kind of issue in a short time and then they quote the price. For example, if you need a passport or the driving licence or paying taxes and customs duties they can give you the final receipt which has been processed through all official channels in matter of days which takes usually weeks. Then he takes money and of course he will distribute it with those who are sitting inside offices."
"Officials from the Education Department are looting money for books and stationery that are supposed to be given to schools on provincial and districts levels."
Corruption is now high on the agenda of many donor countries and indeed President Karzai has said recently that his own government will fight all kinds of corruption. The signs so far are not good, with several of his nominees for Cabinet posts having reputations for bribe-taking.

Monday 18 January 2010

Near-exact locations of US drone strikes in Pakistan

If you want to see where US drone missiles have been landing in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas on Google Maps, then look here. Very impressive and hat's off to Ben.

Saturday 16 January 2010

US Defense Dept releases list of Bagram detainees

The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained a list of 645 detainees held at Bagram Air Base Prison in Afghanistan. The list can be viewed here.
The list was issued by the US Department of Defense in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, and is current at September 2009. It has been redacted so that vital information including their citizenship, how long they have been held, in what country they were captured and the circumstances of their capture, etc, cannot be seen.
The ACLU lawsuit was filed in September 2009, seeking the disclosure of documents related to the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram. In addition to a list of vital information about detainees being held there, the lawsuit seeks records relating to the rules and agreements that govern the facility and documents pertaining to the conditions of confinement and status review process afforded prisoners.
Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said:
“Releasing the names of those held at Bagram is an important step toward transparency and accountability at the secretive Bagram prison, but it is just a first step. Hundreds of people have languished at Bagram for years in horrid and abusive conditions, without even being told why they’re detained or given a fair chance to argue for release. The information the government continues to withhold, however, is just as vital as the names of prisoners. Full transparency and accountability about Bagram requires disclosing how long these people have been imprisoned, where they are from and whether they were captured far from any battlefield or in other countries far from Afghanistan.
“The public has long been kept in the dark about what goes on at Bagram. It is time to shine a bright light on the secretive prison.”

Slow progress on on Afghan power supply

Providing electricity to the scattered towns and villages of Afghanistan is probably one of the best ways of undermining the Taliban insurgency. Nothing can change the lives of most Afghans more than access to cheap, reliable power. So it is with a somewhat heavy heart that one reads the latest report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGIR).
With the snappy title, Afghanistan Energy Supply Has Increased but An Updated Master Plan Is Needed and Delays and Sustainability Concerns Remain the report doesn't exactly build high hopes of progress.
True, Afghanistan’s installed electrical capacity has increased in the last eight years by an estimated 139 percent, up from 430 megawatts (MW) in 2001 compared to 1,028.5MW in September 2009.
But that modest increase hides many problems. Afghanistan’s operational capacity (621.4 MW) - the amount of electricity that is actually used - is only 60 percent of its installed capacity. This is much less even than the amount of power used in the Washington DC area alone.
The reasons for this shortfall are many and varied. For example, the Afghanistan government lacks the capability to collect the revenue needed to fund current and expected fuel costs and operating and maintenance expenses. According to the Afghan Energy Sector Strategy, the energy sector lost $128.5m in revenue in 2005 due to poor commercial operations. USAID estimates that the Kabul Electricity Directorate alone lost approximately 60 percent or $125m in revenues in 2008 and without changes this loss could rise to $275m annually by 2015.
Then there is corruption. Corruption examples include extra fees for connections, bribes to meter readers, bypassing of meters, and incomplete revenue returns to Central Ministry of Energy and Water. The Asian Development Bank, in its May 2009 report on Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan cited examples of patronage for ministry jobs, consumer expectations of bribes to pay for utility services, and investor expectations of demands and bribes. For example, as many as 25 signatures are required ito secure an electricity connection in Kabul through the official procedures. But no signatures are required if you pay a bribe.
Other problems include an aging labour force and a shortage of young people entering the skilled labour, technical, and professional ranks.
Contractors have not performed well either, particularly the major US contractors, the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch. In fiscal year 2009, USAID had six active energy infrastructure projects underway, valued at an estimated $422.6m. All but one of these did not meet scheduled completion dates. Reasons for delays include poor contractor performance, poor contract oversight, and security concerns.
Security costs in particular have risen dramatically, from around 10 per cent of contract costs to around 30 per cent. Casualties have also been high, with the Louis Berger Group reporting, for example, 195 killed, 286 wounded, and 28 kidnapped over the last nine years in Afghanistan.
There are some small signs of hope, with the possibility of importing more energy from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but the chances of lights going on all over Afghanistan are not great. As of September 2009, the Afghan Energy Information Center estimates that approximately 15 percent of households in urban centers had access to electric power, whereas only six percent of rural households had access to electricity. Afghans mostly rely on electricity produced by costly diesel generators as opposed to lower cost options such as imported power or natural gas, hydro, solar, and wind energy.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Careless Hakimullah targetted by drones

Interesting to note that the drone missile attack today aimed at Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakimullah Mahsud took place in a village in Shaktoi, close to the border between North and South Waziristan. This is exactly the spot where, on 21 December (as reported on this blog a couple of days later) Hakimullah's deputy, Waliur Rahman, gave an interview to AP in which he bragged about the group's success in evading the Pakistan Army's offensive in South Waziristan.
Although the AP reporter did not reveal the exact location of the interview, he said it was in a "large, mudbrick compound". Sounds very much like the former seminary targeted in today's drone strike in which at least a dozen militants were killed, including several foreigners. Both the TTP and local ISI officials admitted that Hakimullah had been in the compound before it was almost completely destroyed by two missiles. They say he escaped, but that has yet to be confirmed. If he continues to be so careless in his movements it won't be long before he goes the way of his predecessor (and cousin) Baitullah Mahsud, killed in a drone missile attack last August.
Here's Pakistan's Top Twenty list of TTP leaders, for whom they have offered substantial rewards. One at least, no17, Abdullah Shah Mahsud, has already been captured. The rest remain at large, despite the Pakistan Army's recent offensive into South Waziristan.

Rewards of $600,000:
Hakimullah Mahsud: Overall leader of TTP. Formerly he led TTP forces in Arakzai, Kurram, and in Khyber and Peshawar before assuming the top job after his cousin Baitullah Mahsud was killed in a US Predator strike on 5 August.
2. Waliur Rahman Mahsud: Overall commander of the TTP in South Waziristan. Waliur was competing with Hakimullah for the leadership of the TTP following Baitullah's death.
3. Qari Hussain Mahsud: The notorious trainer of child suicide bombers and an effective military commander. Credited with masterminding some of the most deadly suicide strikes in Pakistan as well as the attack on the CIA at FOB Chapman.

Rewards of $300,000:
4. Azam Tariq: Official TTP spokesman. His real name is Mohammad Raees Khan Mahsud.
5. Maulvi Azmatullah Mahsud: Military commander of TTP forces in the Barvand region. Formerly a close aide to Baitullah.
6. Mufti Noor Wali Mahsud: Commander of a TTP training camp in the Gargaray region.
7. Mufti Noor Saeed: Military commander in South Waziristan.
8. Maulvi Shameem Mahsud: Military commander in South Waziristan.
9. Amirullah Mahsud: Military commander in South Waziristan.
10. Nasiruddin Mahsud: Military commander in South Waziristan.
11. Shah Faisal Mahsud: Military commander in South Waziristan.
12. Sher Azeem Mahsud: Military commander in South Waziristan.
13. Jaleel Mahsud: Military commander in South Waziristan.
14. Mohammad Ismael Mahsud: Military commander in South Waziristan.

Rewards of $120,000:
15. Asmatullah Bhittani: Military commander in the towns of Jandola and Tank. Also known as Shaheen.
16. Arfeshaheen: Military commander in South Waziristan.
17. Abdullah Shah Mahsud: Military commander in Shaktoi region in South Waziristan. Captured.
18. Mohammad Anwar Kandapur: Military commander in the district of Dera Ismail Khan.
19. Maulvi Abdul Wali: Military commander in South Waziristan.
20: Khan Saeed Mahsud: Military commander in South Waziristan.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

A deadly year of terrorism for Pakistan

Latest figures from the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) confirm that 2009 was a dreadful year for Pakistan. Their usually reliable figures show that a total of 2,586 terrorist, insurgent and sectarian related incidents of terrorism were reported across the country, killing 3,021 people and injuring 7,334.
This makes Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world for terrorism, with more people being killed here than in Afghanistan, Iraq or any other place.
The highest number of attacks was reported from the North West Frontier Province (1,137), followed by Balochistan (792) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) (559). As many as 46 attacks took place in Punjab, 30 in Sindh, 12 in Islamabad and five each in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir.
The 87 suicide attacks in 2009 were 32 percent higher than the previous year. These attacks claimed the lives of 1,299 persons and injured 3,633, says PIPS.
When you add in casualties in terrorist attacks, operational attacks by the security forces and their clashes with the militants, intertribal clashes and the cross-border attacks of the US and NATO forces in FATA are counted, overall casualties total 12,632 people dead and 12,815 injured. These figures are much higher than those published two weeks ago by Dawn newspaper (see my report of 31 Dec below).
PIPS says that government forces were able to inflict heavy damage on the terrorists’ networks and infrastructure in FATA and adjacent areas. However, some caution should be applied when dealing with official figures on terrorists killed during operations. Many journalists have reported that there is often no sign of dead bodies following some military actions.
That said, the military says 596 operational attacks were launched in 2009, compared to 313 operational attacks in the previous year. During the year, 12,866 militants were arrested, including 75 al-Qaeda and 9,739 TTP supporters and militants belonging to other banned groups and Baloch insurgents.
Compare these figures to Afghanistan. According to a report from the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan published yesterday, the number of Afghan civilians killed in violence in 2009 was 2,412, compared with 2,118 in 2008. This figure was higher than in any year since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 and was a rise of 14 per cent on the previous year, but still substantially below the casualty figures for neighbouring Pakistan.
Seventy per cent of last year's civilian deaths - representing about 1,681 people - had been caused by insurgent attacks, while pro-government forces including NATO and US troops, had been responsible for a quarter of civilian deaths (596 people).
According to the report: "Suicide and other attacks involving IEDs continued to claim the most civilian lives in 2009 with an overall toll of 1,054 killed. 225 civilians were killed as a result of targeted assassinations and executions. Together, these tactics accounted for over 78 per cent of the civilian deaths attributed to 'anti-goverment element' actions."
In an email statement the Taliban challenged the credibility of UNAMA’s report and accused the organization of disseminating incorrect and biased information. “Partial judgment, and blind support of one side and condemnation of the other, only irreparably harms your credibility,” said the statement addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
UNAMA rejected the Taliban accusations and said it has a mandate to impartially report civilian casualties of war based on reliable facts and the testimonies of victims.

The UNAMA report noted that deaths attributed to allied forces dropped by nearly 30 per cent in 2009.
The UNAMA report also noted that there were 520 international Coalition troop deaths throughout the year, up from 295 for 2008.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Afghan Taliban: more information please

Jeffrey Dressler and Carl Forsberg of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War have had another go at trying to explain the functioning of the Quetta Shura of the Taliban (QST) in a new report called The Quetta Shura in Southern Afghanistan: Organization, Operations and Shadow Governance.
Dressler's competent last effort, Securing Helmand, was not specifically about the Quetta Shura, but it covered many of the issues contained in this latest report.
But it has to be said that both reports are frustrating. There is plenty of detail about attacks carried out by the Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, but little if any new information about how the organisation operates and how it is evolving. We still know almost nothing about the leadership. Who is in the Quetta Shura? Where do they come from? What is their background? None of these points are answered. Only four or five members of the QST are mentioned by name.
Then there is the question of the relationship between the QST and both al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Following the suicide attack on the CIA base at FOB Chapman in Khost on 30 December all three organisations claimed responsibility. Are they really that close? If so, why did the QST issue a statement in the summer distancing itself from the TTP and saying that it no longer wanted to be known as the Taliban? Why indeed did Mullah Omar issue a new rulebook for the organisation last year stressing the need for ethical behaviour by its fighters?
And on foreign fighters, what is the situation? Dressler makes a strong case to support the argument that there is a large presence of foreign fighters in southern Afghanistan under the command of the Taliban. Others suggest that there may be only a hundred or two. If anything, it would appear that most foreigners are travelling to Pakistan to fight with the TTP. Indeed, another Jordanian was killed there this week, this one allegedly a bodyguard of al-Qaeda's No 3, Mustapha Abul Yazid . There is little evidence - certainly in terms of jihadist obituaries - of large numbers of foreigners dying in Helmand.
More light will be shed on the Taliban with the publication of their former Ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Zaeef's, autobiography, My life with the Taliban, next month. More on that soon. For those of you in London, Alex Strick Van Linschoten, who edited it, will be talking about the book at SOAS on 21 January and at several other venues subsequently. For some reason the Mullah himself cannot make it. The UK official launch will be held at the Frontline Club on 9 February.

Sunday 10 January 2010

UK Defence Ministry publishes journalist briefings

Good to see that the UK's Ministry of Defence is now posting online its briefings to journalists. On Thursday Fleet Street's finest heard via a video link-up from Major General Nick Carter, commander of NATO's Regional Command South. Speaking from Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan, Carter explained that he commanded around 45,000 NATO troops in an area the size of England and Wales put together.
He said that the McChrystal strategy had meant a change in mission statement. Until last July he had been talking about defeating the insurgency; now he is talking about protecting a population.
There are many fascinating elements to the briefing, which gives a clear insight into NATO strategy in the region. One example will suffice. Major-General Carter explained that British forces in Sangin have had a very tough time over the past 18 months, but not simply because of the Taliban. In fact they have been in the middle of a complicated tribal dispute.
Carter explained it as follows: "When Sher Mohammed Akindzada was removed from the governorate of Helmand at the end of 2005, the delicate balance of power that existed between his Alizai tribe and that of Dan Mohammed Khan up in Sangin, who are Allakozai, was disrupted. The upshot of that was that the Ishaqzai tribe, which had been reasonably downtrodden for several years, saw an opportunity to rise up and have a go at the Allakozai tribe. And Dan Mohammed Khan, the leader of the Allakozai tribe, found himself under significant pressure."
This meant that British forces in Sangin tasked with providing security and stability in that area in partnership with Afghans, have been labelled as supporters of the Allakozai tribe. The result is that Alizai and the Ishaqzai who want to make trouble for the Allakozai have made life difficult for the British battle groups.
Carter referred to Major-General Flynn's report on intelligence (published last week - see below), saying that he agreed with the critique it offered of traditional intelligence gathering and that it was necessary to appreciate what was happening in a particular area, rather than simply looking at insurgent groups, the economy, etc as separate entities.
As he said in answer to a question about Flynn's report: "What we're dealing with in Afghanistan is not just purely enemy matters. It's what's often called the white picture; it's understanding the politics, the governance dynamics, the tribal dynamics, the anthropological issues. It's those issues which don't strictly come under the definition of intelligence but are none the less the information environment, which if you don't understand it and you don't work out how to corral it you simply won't make the sort of progress we were describing."

Text of Jordanian suicide bomber's video

In yet another media coup for Islamist militants, the Jordanian doctor who blew himself up on 30 December at FOB Chapman in eastern Afghanistan has appeared in a video alongside the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Hakimullah Mahsud.
The video, recorded in both English and Arabic, shows Dr Hummam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi reading a short statement explaining his decision to carry out the deadly attack which killed seven CIA officers and his Jordanian handler. The English statement, in which he uses his kunyah (lit. a 'hidden' name but often used by followers of al-Qaeda. Abu Dujannah was a Companion of the Prophet, famous for wearing a red headband) and which differs slightly from the Arabic version, reads as follows:
"I am Dr Abu Dujannah al-Khorasani, a Jordanian. I left my family, I left my clinic, I left my car to join the mujahidin in the land of Khorasan. The Jordanians and the American intelligence services offered me millions of dollars to work with them and to spy on mujahidin here, but alhamdillah, I came to the mujahidin and told them everything and we arranged together this attack to let the Americans understand that the belief of Allah, the iman we hold, the taqwa we stand for, cannot be exchanged for all the wealth in the world.
This attack will be the first of the revenge operations against the Americans and their drone teams outside the Pakistani borders.
After they killed the Amir of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mahsud - may God have mercy on his soul - this is a message to all kaffirin that we as Moslems, and muhajiroun and ansar, we never forget our martyrs. We never forget our prisoners and we will never forget Afia Siddiqui and Sajida Rishawi and our jihad, inshallah, will continue, until we free our prisoners and until the word of Allah prevails."
The two people he refers to are Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman arrested in Afghanistan and now on trial in New York and Sajida Rishawi, a Jordanian woman who tried to blow up a hotel in Amman in 2005 and was subsequently captured and sentenced to death.
The fact that Hakimullah Mahsud appears in the video shows that the TTP had a strong hand in the operation. It is likely, therefore, that Qari Hussein, who runs the training camps for TTP suicide bombers and who made the first claim of responsibility for the attack, was the person who prepared Dr al-Balawi for his mission.
The video also suggests that al-Balawi was very confident of the success of the mission, even though he had never been to FOB Chapman before. Why was he so confident that he would evade security checks? How did he know he was going to meet members of the CIA drone teams? Someone has a lot of explaining to do.

Friday 8 January 2010

Taliban's Mullah Barodar speaks out

Interesting interview with Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan No2, Mullah Barodar Akhund (aka Abdul Ghani). The interview was published in Pashto by the Peshawar Afghan Islamic Press and translated by the US government's Open Source Center. It was published by Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog.
The interview was carried out by email and first published on 31 December. Mullah Barodar points out that 2009 was a very successful year for the mojahedin: "The casualties and financial and losses they inflicted on the invaders could be found in reports, speeches and announcements of the Pentagon and other Western sources, who said the casualties of the past
seven years has been equal to the losses and casualties of the current year. That means the current year has been the bloodiest year full of calamities and fears for them in the past eight years which is a great achievement of the mojahedin."
In answer to a question about Western attempts to differentiate between the Islamic Emirate and al-Qaeda, Barodar is cagey, emphasising that the current jihad is led by Mullah Omar and that "what the international community says about separating the Taliban an al-Qaeda is meaningless, it is just a pretext."
He denies that either the Taliban or al-Qaeda leadership are in Pakistan. And he also denies that any Taliban leaders have been talking to the Afghan government. When the interviewer
specifically asks him about the activities of Abdullah Anas - an Algerian former mojahedin who is known to have been involved in talks with elements of the Taliban - Barodar denies it explicitly. "We have neither permitted anyone to negotiate nor do we have any representative by the name of Abdullah Anas."
He sticks to the usual Taliban line, which is to say that negotiations can only take place once foreign forces have left the country. Asked how under a Taliban government he will guarantee that no-one will use Afghanistan to prepare attacks on another country, he gives the less-than-reassuring answer: "We had given the world such an assurance also during the Islamic Emirate's previous era. We have and will have the same stance in the future as well."

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Another Jordanian Royal connection

Readers of this blog may recall a piece I wrote in October about a group of Jordanian women in Pakistan who were seeking repatriation, claiming that their menfolk had been killed fighting Coalition forces in Afghanistan during the summer. The women claimed they were members of the Jordanian Royal family and that the deceased husband of one was a Royal prince.
It was thus interesting to note the Royal connections of Sharif Ali bin Zeid, the Jordanian intelligence officer who was handling Dr Hummam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the suicide bomber who penetrated FOB Chapman in Khost, killing seven CIA officers and injuring six others. bin Zeid who was also killed in the explosion, was certainly a member of the Jordanian Royal family and his funeral in Jordan was attended by King Abdullah and other Royal relatives.
Is there a possible connection? Were the afore-mentioned Jordanian fighters killed as a result of information supplied by al-Balawi? Probably not, although you never know. At the time the Jordanian Embassy in Pakistan denied the women were members of the Royal family, but it did agree to repatriate them.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

US Intel officers told to work more like journalists

In what is arguably one of the most radical reorganisations of intelligence operations ever attempted in the middle of a conflict, US Army intelligence officers operating in Afghanistan are to be trained to operate like journalists, to collect and gather information from the front line in the hope of avoiding the narrow, sterile, issue-based intelligence-gathering that appears to be failing so comprehensively at present.
The outline for this new method of working is set out in a publication from the Center for a New American Security called Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for making intelligence relevant in Afghanistan by Major General Michael T Flynn, Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence, for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan since June 2009.
As he says in the document's introduction: "Just as the old rules of warfare may no longer apply, a new way of leveraging and applying the information spectrum requires substantive improvements."
In fact his assessment makes it clear that the US reliance on covert intelligence gathering and all the other paraphernalia of modern intel operations has led to a situation in Afghanistan where commanders can no longer see the wood for the trees.
Flynn begins his report with a damning critique of eight years of intelligence gathering in Afghanistan: "Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.
"Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency."
At the battalion level, he says, intelligence officers read human intelligence (HUMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT) and signficant activity (SIGACT) reports to try to get an idea of the battlefield.
But these officers rarely gather or process information from patrol debriefs, minutes from local shuras with farmers and tribal leaders, translated summaries of radio broadcasts or field observations from a wide range of personnel.
This leads to an over-emphasis of information about the enemy at the expense of political, economic and cultural information - most of it unclassified - that provides ways of marginalising the insurgency. Battalion commanders have begun to realise that they learn more about their own battlefield from reading newspaper reports than they ever would from reading material collated by their own intelligence officers. The newspaper reports discuss more than the enemy and IEDs.
He quotes one battalion operations officer: "“I don’t want to say we’re clueless, but we are. We’re no more than fingernail deep in our understanding of the environment.”
Flynn proposes that in future intelligence analysts should integrate information collected by a wide range of agencies, including civil affairs officers, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, NGOs, UN officials, psyops teams, human terrain teams and others, dividing their work geographically, instead of along functional lines. Their reports will attempt to describe what is happening in a particular district from all standpoints, instead of having separate reports on governance, narco-traficking, insurgent networks, etc - an approach that Flynn recognises is not working.
Flynn says the analysts who have gathered this information will provide it to 'information brokers' who will organise all the reports and distribute them. Both analysts and brokers will be part of what Flynn calls Stability Operations Information Centers, together with State Department officials.
Flynn says "Leaders must put time and energy into selecting the best, most extroverted and hungriest analysts to serve in the Stability Operations Information Centers. These will be among the most challenging and rewarding jobs an analyst could tackle.
The highly complex environment in Afghanistan requires an adaptive way of thinking and operating."
Indeed the very format of this report is unique. Its author says it should be regarded as a directive (ie an order). Why did they choose to publish it in an open format, instead of as a memo to the general staff? "We chose to embody it in this unconventional report, and are taking the steps to have it published by a respected think tank, in order to broaden its reach to commanders, intelligence professionals and schoolhouse instructors outside, as well as inside, Afghanistan. Some of what is presented here reinforces existing top-level orders that are being acted on too slowly. Other initiatives in this paper are new, requiring a shift in emphasis and a departure from the comfort zone of many in the intelligence community."
Flynn's approach is exactly the same as that adopted by the British more than 100 years ago when fighting against the Afghan tribes. British officers immersed themselves in the culture and language of the Pashtuns, even translating their poetry and epic literature and compiling enormously detailed reports on tribes and areas. Colonel H C Wylly's From the Black Mountain to Waziristan, Lieutenant Charles Gray Robertston's Kurum, Kabul and Kandahar, the anonymous Report on Waziristan and its Tribes - these and dozens of other books published in the late nineteenth century are still the best sources on many of the tribes and their histories.
Then again, there are those who have spent a lifetime studying the Afghans who would claim they still don't really understand much at all....

Friday 1 January 2010

Attacks on Haqqanis prompted CIA killings

Jordanian doctor al-Balawi, who carried out the bombing at FOB Chapman

The suicide bomb attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday that killed seven CIA officers (including the female station chief), a Jordanian intelligence officer, and wounded six others was an eloquent and bloody response by Islamist militants based in Pakistan to recent drone attacks in North Waziristan.
The attacker managed to get into the base's gym where a meeting was in progress. One report from AP says a senior CIA debriefer attended the meeting, specifically to meet an agent. The CIA officers based in the camp were part of a unit that collated information and tasked drones used to kill al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters in Pakistan.
The AP report said that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Qari Hussein, known as a trainer of suicide bombers, claimed in interview on Friday to the agency that his organisation had been approached by a CIA-trained turncoat who said he was willing to attack his erstwhile colleagues:
"Thank God that we then trained him and sent him to the Khost air base. The one who was their own man, he succeeded in getting his target," Hussain told an AP reporter who travelled to see him in South Waziristan.
Yesterday US President Obama wrote to the CIA to offer his condolences: "In recent years", he said, "the CIA has been tested as never before. Since our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, you have served on the frontlines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century. Because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our Allies and partners have been more secure. Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated. Indeed, I know firsthand the excellent quality of your work because I rely on it every day."
It was the worst loss of life for the CIA since eight of its officers were killed in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983. Four others have been killed in Afghanistan since 9/11.
The attack on FOB Chapman is most likely connected with three recent CIA drone attacks launched on targets associated with Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose forces control territory almost directly over the border in North Waziristan. The first strike took place on Thursday 17 December and killed two insurgents as they travelled in a vehicle in the village of Dosali.
A second attack on the same day saw five drones fire as many as ten missiles into a compound in the village of Degan, killing at least 15 people including a senior al-Qaeda figure and seven foreigners. The large number of drones and missiles suggest that the CIA, which operates the drones, believed there was a very senior figure present.
The third attack, on 18 Dec, killed at least three militants and injured others.
The significance of these attacks is that they were against the Haqqanis, who are regarded by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, as an asset. The Haqqanis receive both arms and finance from the ISI. Pakistan has refused to extend its present military campaign against Islamist militants in South Waziristan into North Waziristan because the relationship with the Haqqani network is regarded as being of strategic importance.
However, this relationship is becoming increasingly problematic for the Americans and the attack on FOB Chapman will undoubtedly have major consequences.
If Qari Hussein's claim is true, it is possible it was carried out on behalf of the Haqqani network. The Haqqanis are acting as hosts to many TTP militants who have been driven out of South Waziristan by the Pakistan Army offensive and this may have been a way of repaying their hospitality.
Update: Various sources are now reporting that the bomber was a Jordanian doctor and double agent, recruited a year ago in Jordan to provide information on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda No2, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Named as Hummam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, it appears he turned on his handlers, who included a Jordanian intelligence officer, Ali bin Zaid, who was the eighth person killed in the explosion - and also a member of the Jordanian Royal family. Qari Hussein's claim may still be true, even though the Afghan Taliban have also claimed responsibility for the operation.