The Taliban in Afghanistan and Iraq

In his commencement address to the graduating cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, President Bush claimed victory over terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Just as an earlier generation of Americans helped change Germany and Japan from conquered adversaries to democratic allies, today a new generation of Americans is helping Iraq and Afghanistan recover from the ruins of tyranny,” he said. “In Afghanistan, the terror camps have been shut down, and Afghans have chosen a new president and a parliament in free elections. In Iraq, last week, Iraqis made history when they inaugurated the leaders of a new government of their choosing. With the formation of this unity government, the world has seen the beginning of something new: a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East.”

Bush spews these talking points in direct contradiction to what news sources are telling us. For example, on the Friday before Bush’s speech, Tom Lassiter, from Knight-Ridder, wrote a devastating article detailing the extent to which Iranian-backed militia have taken control of Southern Iraq.

Southern Iraq, long touted as a peaceful region that’s likely to be among the first areas returned to Iraqi control, is now dominated by Shiite Muslim warlords and militiamen who are laying the groundwork for an Islamic fundamentalist government, say senior British and Iraqi officials in the area.The militias appear to be supported by Iranian intelligence or military units that are shipping weapons to the militias in Iraq and providing training for them in Iran.

American military officials in Baghdad often point to the relatively low number of attacks against British soldiers in southern Iraq as proof that much of the country is stable.Last month, however, at least 200 people were killed in Basra, almost all of them by militia violence, according to an Iraqi Defense Ministry official there.A week with British troops in Maysan and Basra provinces and three additional days of reporting in the city of Basra made it clear that Iraqis here are at the mercy of Shiite militia death squads and Iran-friendly clerics who have imposed an ever-stricter code of de facto Islamic law.The city of Basra has largely come under the control of Shiite clerics, who have banned alcohol sales. A woman without a headscarf is a rare sight. Record shops have been replaced with stores selling Quranic recordings. It’s difficult to purchase chess or backgammon sets; the games are frowned upon by hard-line clerics.

What difference does this make? Again, according to Lassiter:

Iraq’s top Shiites acknowledge that they want to set up a regional government in the south, but they insist that the provinces involved would remain loyal to the central government in Baghdad. But an Iran-friendly Shiite government in the south could have far-reaching effects on Iraq and the Persian Gulf region and on the strategic position of U.S. military forces in the country.U.S. forces are dependent on a fragile re-supply line that runs from Kuwait north to Baghdad through southern Iraq. A regional government allied with Iran could pose a risk to that supply line.Such a government also would further agitate Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities, which could fragment the country, a development that Western analysts fear would destabilize the region.A Shiite regional government might also greatly enhance Iran’s regional influence by giving it a strategic Shiite partner with vast amounts of oil in a Middle East dominated by Sunni-run countries. Neighboring Kuwait’s population is about one-third Shiite, and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province are majority Shiite.

What about Bush’s claim that terror has been shut down in Afghanistan? According to Ahmed Rashid, one of the most insightful experts on the Taliban, this summer sees an unprecedented resurgence of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. In an article for the BBC, he says,

Nearly 400 Afghans have been killed in an unprecedented offensive by the Taleban, in a bid to pre-empt a major deployment by some 6,000 Nato troops this summer in southern Afghanistan.From just a few hundred guerrillas last year, Taleban commander Mullah Dadullah now claims to have 12,000 men under arms and control of 20 districts in the former Taleban heartland in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan. There is also a strong Taleban-al-Qaeda presence in the eastern provinces bordering Pakistan.

He puts the blame directly on the incompetence of the Bush administration.

Washington’s refusal to take state building in Afghanistan seriously after 2001 and instead waging a fruitless war in Iraq, created a major international distraction which the Taleban took advantage of to slowly rebuild their forces.# US-led coalition forces were never deployed in southern Afghanistan in sufficient numbers, even though this was the Taleban heartland and needed to be secured. Apart from a US base for 3,000 troops in Kandahar and a couple of fire bases, for four years there was virtually no military presence in three of the four provinces. US forces failed to secure even the major cities and highways in the south. The growing security vacuum in the south was steadily filled by the Taleban.

Rashid reiterates what many critics of the Bush administration and of the Republican Congress have pointed out, the Taliban resurgence is a direct result of the decision to direct our resources to the war in Iraq.

After being routed in 2001 the Taleban found a safe sanctuary in Balochistan and the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. They have been able to set up a major logistics hub, training camps, carry out fund raising and have been free to recruit fighters from madrassas and refugee camps. The Taleban have received help from Pakistan’s two provincial governments, the MMA, Islamic extremist groups, the drugs mafia and criminal gangs – while the military regime has looked the other way. Al-Qaeda has helped the Taleban reorganise and forge alliances with other Afghan and Central Asian rebel groups.

The main stream media has no interest in accurately reporting what is happening in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their pandering to power allows Bush to make outrageous double speak claims about “victories” and “turning points” and not call him on it.

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