19 April, 2007

Iranian arms for the Taliban.

US government officials have finally gone public with one of the least surprising revelations of the week: that Iran is supplying arms to its former enemies in the Taliban. I call it the "least surprising" because it is such an obvious way to attack the west in general and the US and the UK in particular. Iran may have little reason to fear any responses. US policy seems to be increasingly hamstrung by Congress and the UK looks disturbingly irrelevant after the Royal Navy's recent humiliation. Moreover, Iran's recent triumphs through Hizballah in Lebanon will have probably have impressed the Tehran terrorists with the potential benefits of fighting wars by proxy.

The International Herald Tribune reports on the revelatory remarks of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Baltimore Sun also weighs in. Sadly, the British press does not seem to be very interested in a development which could pose a major danger to British troops. I can find coverage only in the Guardian.

18 April, 2007

Problems looming for Iraq from North Waziristan

Last week, following a "turf war" in South Waziristan in which the Taliban killed some 300 al-Qaeda Uzbeks, many Uzbeks were reported to be fleeing to North Waziristan. Now it seems the circumspect amongst the Uzbeks are beginning to leave North Waziristan. The Pakistani Daily Times reports that:

“Around 50 families of foreigners have departed for their respective countries in the last month,” the spokesman, Gohar Ayub, told NNI from North Waziristan. He said he was speaking on behalf of local Taliban spokesmen Abdullah Farhad and Tariq Jamil. President Gen Pervez Musharraf informed army generals from 22 countries on Friday that tribesmen had killed 300 foreigners in South Waziristan and that he expected similar action in North Waziristan. ““The foreigners decided to leave North Waziristan after the tribal operation against the Uzbeks in South Waziristan. The foreigners said they did not want their women and children to become targets,” the Taliban spokesman said. He said that around 50 families, including Chechens, Turks, Tajiks and Arabs, had returned to their countries.

Ayub said that most of the families were returning to their homelands through Afghanistan and Iran. He said the Arabs were planning on returning to Iraq. It is difficult to verify the claim independently, reports NNI. Ayub said it was possible that they were relocating to Afghanistan for “jihad” but he added that this was their decision and had nothing to do with the tribal leaders in North Waziristan.

The spokesman said the foreigners were leaving the area through their own decision because of the fights between tribesmen and foreigners in South Waziristan. He said the tribal elders had not advised them on this matter. He said the foreigners had told their local supporters that they would make future strategy after leaving their women and children behind in their home countries.

Ayub said that the local Taliban were strictly following the September 5 peace agreement with the government. He said that as long as the government didn’t violate it, the local Taliban wouldn’t either. He said that no one entered Afghanistan through North Waziristan and combatants were coming from different parts of Afghanistan.
It could be bad news for coalition forces in Iraq.

Liam Byrne on immigration

It is getting damn crowded on the erstwhile roomy far shores of the right. Where once Ultras could roam in peace, we are now being crowded out by government ministers. The latest arrival is Liam Byrne, the UK immigration minister. The Daily Telegraph and the Times both report that he (and no doubt others in the Labour government) has apparently suddenly realised that large scale, unlimited immigration is damaging to British society. Some of us have been telling the left that for decades, so is this new found concern for the cohesion of society a genuine conversion to sensible thinking or is there some other motive, perhaps an electoral calculation from the the fag end of a wretched government already aware impending electoral disaster?

I think the Daily Mail has got it right in highlighting that:

Mr Byrne acknowledged that mounting public concern over immigration could not be blamed on media scaremongering, and highlighted the "political risks" facing governments which fail to tackle such concerns, citing governments in Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands which "lost power in elections where immigration was a serious issue."
Byrne reveals his new thinking in "Rethinking Immigration and Integration", an article contributing to a study of such issues by the Policy Network think tank, from where it can be downloaded as a pdf file.

Chronicling the Taliban spring offensive 3.

Part Three of Afgha.com's chronicle of the Taliban's spring offensive, covering the period between 28 March and 18 April, is now available. Links to Parts One and Two can be found here.

From the Taliban, it is the largely, by now, familiar pattern of isolated, nonetheless lethal, small scale attacks. The ISAF seems to have continued its precision attacks on Taliban leadership and to have launched its own spring offensive, with a major assaults around Sangin (see, 6-7 and 15-16 April) and Garmsir (13-14 April). It looks like the pattern may be set for the immediate future, possibly for at least as long as the Taliban forces in western Pakistan are tied up consolidating their position there by hammering al-Qaeda's Uzbeks.

Over the coming months, the key places in Helmand to watch will probably continue to be: Sangin, where the prize is control of the economically vital Kajaki hydro-electric Dam; Garmsir, which is the "Taliban gateway to Helmand" from the Taliban's strongholds to the east in Pakistan; and Musa Qala, the importance of which, after last year's controversial British-Taliban truce, is probably as much symbolic as strategic.

17 April, 2007

Cricket in Iraq and Afghanistan

More news that you are unlikely to come across in the msm. In Basra, the British Army has been introducing Iraqi children to the noble game through Kwik Cricket, a flexible form of the sport developed by the England and Wales Cricket Board in consultation with educationalists mainly for use by children from the age of 5 in primary schools. Both the Ministry of Defence and the ECB have reports.

The splendid Major Andrew Banks, who never deploys without his cricket bat, also ran a similar scheme in Afghanistan last year. He told the ECB that the Iraqi children had little concept of bat and ball games and they "... never quite understood the lbw law but they enjoyed themselves and that was what mattered." No problem. I have known umpires who never understood the lbw law either.

Last year the Afghan national team played its first match against the MCC, as result of which two Afghans were invited to join the MCC Young Cricketers and later in 2006 the Afghans toured England, playing at quite a good standard against county 2nd XIs.

British forces at war: as witnessed by an American.

Michael Yon blogs from Basra, Iraq, where he is with 5 Platoon, 2nd Battalion, "The Rifles" Battle Group. It is an article full of insights about the dangers being faced daily by our troops.

One thing that struck me was Yon's observations that the soldiers' missions were being made more dangerous, and their lives threatened, by a lack of helicopter support:

...The ensuing firefights were vigorous. As more enemy joined and the battle progressed, British elements maneuvered and fired, making adjustments to the plan to mold the fight. With no helicopters above to help develop ground awareness or to help shape the combat by engaging targets, British commanders directed their elements by map and ground-feel. Having no helicopters also left rooftops open to the enemy, adding another dimension to the combat.
It seems a depressingly similar story to the long running, scandalous helicopter shortage in Afghanistan.


A pointer to an informative blog on Afghanistan I came across recently. Safrang is well worth bookmarking. The About section says,

Safrang recognizes that there is a dearth of serious English language blogs on Afghanistan reflecting the national perspective and aims to play its small part in filling this void.
That has a familiar ring. A major reason for my starting this blog was the dearth of any serious press coverage in the UK, a void which needed filling. Safrang though, unlike CS, is actually written by an Afghan so it contains a lot of insights not actually available to the outsider. I report the news as best I can, Safrang gets inside it.

Operation Achilles in Helmand.

Operation Achilles, the ISAF's major anti-Taliban offensive in Helmand, Afghanistan has been continuing this week with series of joint Afghan-British strikes targeted against terrorist leaders in the north of the province. According to an ISAF press statement:
... in joint operations with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), ISAF launched a series of attacks and precision strikes against Taliban extremist in the Northern Helmand this week resulting in the elimination of several key extremist leaders from the ongoing insurgency.

“Striking at the heart of the problem and removing these key leaders has paid off,” stated Major General Ton van Loon, Commander of Regional Command South. “We fully realize the influence these Taliban extremist leaders have on the population of Southern Afghanistan who have clearly told us they felt like they where hostages in their own communities. Removing these extremist leaders from the equation allows freedom of choice to young men who are otherwise intimidated and coerced to join the Taliban extremists in the South,” he added.
Afgha.com summarises the latest state of play in the province with useful links to contextual material. Basically, a mixed picture emerges with ISAF success in retaking control of Sanguin being offset by continuing Taliban dominance of the Musa Qala, Now (New) Zad and Bagrhan districts. Afgha.com concludes that,
The recent offensive launched by NATO against the Taliban militants holed up in Helmand [Operation Achilles] is likely the beginning of a summer long campaign aimed at securing the Kajaki dam complex in northern Helmand and securing the ring highway (highway 1) that cuts through Afghanistan’s southern underbelly, stretching from Herat to Kabul.
The BBC has a few earlier pictures from Operation Achilles.

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16 April, 2007

Hilary Benn in New York

Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, is taking his campaign to be deputy leader of the Labour Party to New York, where he will address the lefty think tank, the Centre for International Co-operation. According to the Daily Telegraph, Benn will say that the British government will no longer use the term "war on terror" because it helps to reinforce extremist groups. Benn's logic seems to be that the term "War on Terror" benefits terrorists, whereas the UK government's craven surrender to the Iranian government terrorists does not. The Guardian also has a report.

No doubt a bit of good ol' fashioned Bush-bashing will play well with the Labour left, even more so if it is actually done in America. What a way to run a government. Whatever it is called, the fight against terror has nothing to do with Benn's department, whose policy remit is to abolish poverty by dispensing aid to the Third World, so that dictators can continue to enjoy a life of luxury. Dealing with foreign countries is traditionally the sphere of the Foreign Office. However, as this government descends further and further into chaos, ministers increasingly trample over each other's policy areas in pursuit of the deputy leadership.

Anyway, I have never thought much of the term, "war on terror". As Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, pointed out last October, the war against Islamic terrorists is in fact a war to defend western values against Islam. So let us do away with mealy-mouthed euphemisms such "war on terror" and call the defence of Christendom against the infidels what it really is: a Crusade.

Ranting Stan has a very good piece on the affair, asking if politicians ever listen to themselves. I am not sure but they do not seem to listen to anybody else.

Private Chris Gray. (Updated)

The Ministry of Defence has announced the 53rd British fatality in Afghanistan: Private Chris Gray, 19, of the Royal Anglian Regiment, has been killed in a Taliban ambush at Now Zad, Helmand, Afghanistan.

Private Gray's routine patrol,

...was attacked by the Taliban; employing small arms, heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, mortars and rockets.

As lead elements of the patrol were pinned down by enemy fire, Private Gray’s Platoon manoeuvred to support their comrades and out-flank the enemy. Private Gray was the point man in his Platoon – selected for this position as a result of his outstanding soldiering skills.

As they manoeuvred, Private Gray’s section observed a group of armed Taliban fighters at close range, whom they immediately engaged. A fierce firefight ensued at a range of just 15 metres, during which a small number of Taliban were killed.

Tragically, during the battle Private Gray was shot and despite the best efforts of his colleagues and medical staff was pronounced dead on arrival at the British Hospital at Camp Bastion.
The MOD obituary says that,
...Private Gray joined the British Army in March 2006 and, having completed training as an infantry soldier at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, he joined the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment in September 2006.

He was born in Leicester and attended the Holmfirth School in Huddersfield. Among his many interests he had a love of outdoor life and was a keen snowboarder.

Private Gray has two younger brothers and a younger sister. He was a former pupil of Ratby Primary and Brookvale High Schools, and later attended Groby Community College, Leicestershire.
More from the BBC and the local press in Huddersfield and in Leicester.

Update: Life and Death on the M*A*S*H Shift: the Guardian has a moving account from Helmand of Private Gray's death in the context of the army medics who treated him.

A Tale of the Raj from Waziristan

The Hindustan Times has an entertaining, story from an Indian British Army officer. Little seems to have changed since the days of the Raj, when Waziristan was part of India and of the British Empire. I wonder if the women behave the same.