Category Archives: NATO

What is the Camp Bastion attack really about?

The September 14 attack on the heavily fortified Camp Bastion complex that houses more than 20,000 US, British and other coalition troops was repelled with minimal coalition casualties. The “well-coordinated attack” involving 15 “well equipped, trained” insurgents resulted in the deaths of two US Marines.

The Bastion attack would seem like a terrible bargain for the Taliban, who lost 14 of the attackers (the 15th is injured). But like much of the war in Afghanistan, if we focus on the wrong metric, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

From the Taliban perspective, the Camp Bastion attack was not about producing coalition casualties, taking over the base or regaining ground lost in the 2009 Marja offensive. It was, however, about producing maximum hardware damage.

Take, for example, the ISAF press release, which explains the attack thus:

Dressed in U.S. Army uniforms and armed with automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests, the insurgents attacked Coalition fixed and rotary wing aircraft parked on the flight line, aircraft hangars and other buildings. [Emphasis mine]

When they breached the base, they didn’t go for human targets, just straight at the airplanes. What was the result?

Six Coalition AV-8B Harrier jets were destroyed and two were significantly damaged.  Three Coalition refueling stations were also destroyed.  Six soft-skin aircraft hangars were damaged to some degree.

I’m not an aviation hardware expert, but it’s reasonable to conclude the damage was significant if not cripplingly extensive. It is also reasonable to conclude that the damage will significantly affect the activities at Camp Bastion — one of the busiest military airbases in the world — that sustains tens of thousands of coalition troops by transporting soldiers, food, military equipment, medical supplies, etc.

CNN’s Barbara Starr asks an interesting question that helps put into perspective the extent of the Camp Bastion damage:

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Another important aspect of the attack is the 15 insurgents wearing US military uniforms: All previous “insider attacks” have soldiers in Afghan army or police uniforms.  That a group of 15 insurgents used US military uniforms to attack the base will certainly add to the complexity surrounding “insider attacks.” It will also take a psychological toll on coalition soldiers. My friend and US Air Force veteran Fred Wellman of ScoutCommsUSA puts it succinctly:

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Also disturbing is that the insurgents are using tactics that have been used by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistani militants have launched similar attacks on sensitive Pakistani bases on at least two occasions, the latest being this last August. Let’s compare the attacks’ anatomy. First the PNS Mehran attack last year:

On Sunday evening at 2230 (1730 GMT), militants stormed three hangars housing aircraft at the Mehran naval aviation base, according to officials.

However, eyewitnesses say the attackers were dressed as naval officials and were aware of the security protocol at the base and carried themselves like soldiers.

Their first targets were aircraft parked on the tarmac and equipment in nearby hangers, says the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan at the scene.

The militants used rocket-propelled grenades to damage and destroy several warplanes, witnesses said. These included the Pakistan navy’s premier anti-submarine and marine surveillance aircraft – the US-made P-3C Orion.

Now, the attack from August:

One security official was killed and a plane damaged in the pre-dawn assault at PAF Base Minhas.

The Air Force said seven to eight attackers with rocket propelled-grenades and suicide vests attacked the base, home to to the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex that assembles Mirage and JF-17 fighter jets, at 2:00 am (2100 GMT Wednesday).

That gunmen disguised themselves in uniforms and got inside the facility just 60 kilometres (37 miles) northwest of Islamabad will renew questions about security, particularly at a base which has been attacked twice before.

Heavily armed militants dressed in military uniforms attack a base, directly targeting military hardware instead of military personnel — the signature of these three attacks is similar enough to indicate a cross-pollination of ideas between both countries’ militants. The groups are highly adaptable and the osmosis of fighters, literature and propaganda material among them is strong enough to indicate the Afghan insurgents are learning from the TTP’s attacks. But the coordination might be stronger than just Afghan insurgents copying Pakistani militants; it might also involve Pakistanis training Afghans, but we have not direct evidence in this case.

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For the Afghan insurgents, this attack represents a qualitative leap, a significant change in tactics. Like most large coalition bases, Camp Bastion routinely comes under random, haphazard rocket attacks that usually does little to no damage. This is the first highly sophisticated attack of its kind on an airbase that has strategically steered clear of producing casualties, instead focusing on inflicting hardware damage. In a sense, that’s very uncharacteristic of the Afghan Taliban, who have mostly focused on IED attacks and ambushes designed to kill coalition troops.

The Bastion attack, then, represents the latest step in the Taliban’s tactical evolution — from IED attacks to Afghan ‘infiltrators’ to American ‘infiltrators’ destroying military hardware. Deaths from IED attacks are down, signifying their reduced utility for the Taliban. And just as serious efforts are underway to contain green-on-blue attacks, the Taliban introduce this new tactic.

Ultimately, that’s what it’s about — a highly adaptable insurgency, trying to be a step ahead of ISAF and always keeping the latter on its toes.

LA Times photos: the world is still getting it wrong

For the UN Dispatch, I write about the latest controversy involving US soldiers in Afghanistan: a series of photos published by the Los Angeles Times depicting US (and Afghan) soldiers taking pictures with the dead body of a Taliban bomber.

Here is the gist:

The photos are, more than anything, about the United States, its (rightful) concerns about the troops’ professional conduct and its obsession, as it would appear to Afghans, with trivial moral matters.

The bigger question that no one seems to focus on is the mentoring faux pas of US forces, who started the photo session as Afghan soldiers watched nearby. The Afghan soldiers were later included in the shoot. [Addendum: The US soldiers set a pretty bad example of professional soldierly behavior in a war zone. The only silver lining is that most Afghan troops don't have digital cameras and/or access to the internet.]

An even bigger question is the systemic issues in the US military that continue to allow for humiliating and dehumanizing incidents to occur. Incidents such as the Haditha massacre, the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, theUS soldiers’ Kill Team, the Marine urination video, the Daniel Chen case, the Kandahar massacre of villagers, the Quran burning, etc. point to systemic loose ends. Unfortunately, the US looks into each incident individually and has not yet indicated that it is taking the whole-of-the-system approach to tackle these incidents, which continue to occur at great cost to the the US and the communities where they happen.

I have highlighted this last point a few times before (here and here – audio), but it bears repeating unfotunately. Read the full article here.

Two important things the world is ignoring about the Kandahar massacre

Immediately after the incident in Kandahar involving a US soldier that killed 16 unarmed Afghan civilians, we heard concerns about “Afghan anger” and “backlash.” This approach, emanating from an instinct fear, is precisely the wrong one because it ignores two things:

  • The grief and pain experienced by the Afghans who have lost, among others, 9 children, and;
  • The tremendous restraint exhibited by Afghans in the face of repeated incidents of civilian deaths, including the infamous Kill Team and other occasions of aerial strikes targeting the wrong people.

The fear-of-backlash approach dehumanizes the people who have been affected by this incident and paints them not as victims but as potential aggressors. This approach, coming from the ISAF troops sent in to protect the civilians, is regrettable at the least and prevents effective interaction with the population. Further, it ignores all historical precedent of how civilians have reacted to such incidents, which is with much restraint.

I am going to write more about this for the UN Dispatch, but for a more expanded version of the above, listen to my interview from earlier today on The Kojo Show.

Update (March 13): My post on UN Dispatch dealing with this subject in greater depth.

How best to ensure defeat in Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently made comments suggesting that U.S. combat role would end in Afghanistan by mid-2013. This came as a shocker to many. The U.S. had insisted – in fact, cajoled other NATO members – to contribute troops and resources to the Afghanistan war. Other U.S. officials tried to do damage control, but Panetta set the tone for the May Chicago conference, where  the final timetable of withdrawal will be decided.

These comments came just before the NATO defense ministerial meeting in Brussels, where discussions were supposed to be held on the future size of the Afghan national security forces (ANSF). NATO member countries are going through a tight financial squeeze, so the apatite for sustaining a a 350,000-strong security forces for Afghanistan – the current projection for Oct. 2012 – was not strong. France said it would be happy with a 230,000-strong force, while the U.S. preferred 227,000.

Either way, the cost factor was the most important in those calculations. It was less about how many troops would be necessary to defend Afghanistan against the insurgency, and more about how much money NATO can afford to give to sustain the Afghan forces. The discussion had shifted from a security policy perspective to a predominantly financial austerity perspective. To be sure, policymaking is always a balancing act between scarce resources and optimal policy outcomes, and mostly the outcomes are as important in final analysis as the money. But in this discussion, it was the other way around.

So, as the U.S. is cutting down its troops and further accelerating the drawdown, it is also pushing for a smaller ANSF. At the same time, American diplomats are trying hard to make the ongoing negotiation efforts with the Taliban work. If there is anything that screams “we’re negotiating from a position of weakness,” it would be this. ISAF is leaving Afghanistan and leaving behind a small and less capable force to fight the insurgency. Before they leave, they are attempting to dissuade the Taliban from violence and integrate them into the government — not as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but as a smaller group that shares a fraction of power. That is impossible to do as long as the the Taliban remain more powerful vis-a-vis the ANSF.

This is a lose-lose proposition on many levels. First, U.S. negotiators will find it harder to argue for things that are not on the top of their national security agenda — important things like women’s rights, girl’s education, minority protection, human rights, etc. Second, the U.S. or its partner countries have not announced or debated any special increase in civilian aid as they have contemplated withdrawal and cutting ANSF funding. A funding shortfall in the face of a growing insurgent threat and a hostile neighborhood will inevitably force Afghanistan to prioritize defense over development. Third, the U.S. and its allies seem to be largely ignoring the concerns of the political opposition, which is growing increasingly paranoid as they see Afghanistan’s future direction being negotiated almost exclusively between the Taliban and the U.S. This does not bode well for any future negotiated settlement where the opposition’s demands are not factored in.

Amid fiscal belt tightening, growing war-weariness and election-year politics, the international community is pursuing the exact policy it should not. It is inevitable that Afghanistan’s security forces will have to be downsized, but that should only happen when the current heightened state of security threats has been addressed. It is also inevitable that the international community will stop funding Afghanistan’s forces, look for a solution other than protracted war and withdraw their own forces. But the current strategy – if it can be called that – doesn’t not constitute an optimal combination of these realities.

If anything, it seems like the best strategy for failure in Afghanistan.

Video: Afghanistan Analysis talks Taliban on Al Jazeera

AJ Stream recently invited me to appear on their show focused on the current attempts by the U.S. and its allies to negotiate with the Taliban. Along side me was Afghan journalist and writer Fariba Nawa, whose new book Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan is one of the best books written by Afghans on Afghanistan in the last decade.

Here’s the show in full.

2012: Things to keep an eye on in Afghanistan

This incomprehensive list is a repository of my initial thoughts and will evolve over the next few days. As this year wraps up, I thought I’d make a note of some of the important news items to look out for in 2012. Two of the first items are part of a larger listicle (list article) on the UN Dispatch.

  • Security transition/international troop withdrawal

More than a dozen members of the 49-country international coalition in Afghanistan are preparing to bring many or all of their soldiers home next year. The foreign military footprint is expected to shrink by around 40,000 troops by the end of 2012. The United States will pull approximately 29,000 troops, reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan from 97,000 to around 68,000. Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Denmark, New Zealand, Slovenia, Hungary, Finland and Italy will collectively withdraw thousands more.

Will the Afghan security forces be prepared to take over when they leave? The signs aren’t encouraging. Attrition, lack of discipline, disrespect for civilian lives and propertyinsurgent infiltration, ethnic and political fractures, corruption, and unsustainable recruitment continue to plague Afghanistan’s police and army.

Also worrisome is the fact that anti-Taliban militias nominally under government control will continue expanding in 2012 with the support of international forces. These groups have gained notoriety among ordinary Afghan civilians and civil society for their fluid loyalties, links to organized crime and involvement in human rights abuses.

The government in Kabul needs competent police and soldiers to survive the departure of foreign forces. If the international community, and especially the United States, fails to seriously address the Afghan security forces’ shortcomings in 2012, doing so in 2013 will be too late.

Una Moore

  • Food insecurity and hunger

Close to three million Afghans are facing starvation as a harsh winter descends upon the country. A drought affecting 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces has rendered many families that engage in subsistence farming incapable of feeding themselves. The affected provinces are mostly in the north and northeast, where the loss of 80% of the staple wheat crop has left many with little to eat – some families are already reportedly limiting their diets to one meal a day. Winters can last up to six months and supply routes become impassable much of that time due to the mountainous terrain and snowfall of up to 13 feet. The international community has so far only pledged about one-third of the $142 million requested by the U.N. That is likely to impede efforts to stockpile food in affected areas before they become inaccessible. Children and pregnant women face chronic malnutrition in some of the poverty-hit areas regardless of drought.

An estimated 80% of Afghanistan’s population is involved in farming and herding. Droughts are not uncommon in Afghanistan, but their effects on crops and livestock are especially severe because irrigation remains poorly developed and water preservation is largely nonexistent. In addition to these structural challenges, the mountainous terrain and the harsh winter, a limited road network makes it difficult to reach many remote villages.

Although this drought does not affect areas with the strongest insurgency presence, serious concern still remains for the millions of people who will be cold and hungry for six months.

  • Negotiations and reconciliation

President Karzai has agreed at last to accept an office for the Taliban in Qatar, provided Afghanistan plays a lead role in the negotiations. The US has been conducting secret preliminary talks with the Taliban as it looks for an “honorable” exit from Afghanistan. But there are a number of other variables that make negotiations a tough task, not the least of which is the Taliban’s strong public refusal, thus far, of any talks. Other variables are Pakistan, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and even China, whose stakes in Afghanistan are growing in tandem with their investment in the natural resource extraction sector.  Domestic Afghan opposition to reconciliation and the question of justice — what to do with the Taliban leaders who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity — are some of the other important dimensions to the reconciliation process. Then there is the all-important question of what to do if the reconciliation process fails, or if any potential peace deal resulting from this process falls apart, after the world has moved on from Afghanistan.

  • Afghan security forces and irregular militias

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have been rapidly growing in numbers, although desertion, the quality of recruits and infiltration by the Taliban remain as serious challenges. But ANSF is taking over the security of more areas in Afghanistan. A parliamentary committee recently evaluated their performance in the “phase 1″ of the transition as unsatisfactory. The transition is a good early indicator of the quality and development of the ANSF as a fighting force, although they are expected to remain dependent on ISAF for air support, medevacs, intelligence/communication, operational help — and operating budget. On the other hand, the Afghans and Americans are arming ALP and a slew of other militia groups that have little formal accountability. The Afghan-initiated disbandment of CIP is also an important factor to watch.

  • The political process

The international community is preparing to leave Afghanistan but the Afghan political elite are reaching out to each other — instead of their guns — as political battle lines are drawn and the stakes increase. The formation of three major political parties in the past three months is a strong indicator that the Afghan elite are not giving up — yet — on democracy and politicking as a means to carve out a future for themselves in Afghanistan. They still believe that by being part of the system, they can gain more than they are expected to give — which is relinquishing violence and factional and inter-ethnic war. It’d be interesting to see how long they can hold their collective breath before they reach out for their guns, now that the US is withdrawing, the Taliban are increasingly assertive and Karzai is preparing his moves for his political future.

To be continued…

Do the Republican presidential candidates care more about Iraq than Afghanistan?

President Obama just announced that US troops will completely withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011. Although this timetable was set by President Bush, Republican candidates of all sorts and stripes lambasted Obama for what they say is too hasty a withdrawal, and that Iraq might not be in a position to hold itself together, particularly given Iran’s presence next door.

But their attitudes toward Afghanistan — another Iran neighbor — are very different. Here’s a sampling of the Republican candidates’ comments about both countries.

Romney on Obama’s Iraq decision:

President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women.

But on Afghanistan, he wants a faster withdrawal than the 2014 deadline set by Obama:

Again, I would listen to the generals, and if that continues to be the view of the – of the commanders in the field as they assess the capabilities of the Afghan military, then of course I would pursue that course. But…I hope we can perhaps move even faster than that [2014].

Here’s Rep. Michelle Bachmann on the Iraq withdrawal:

Today’s announcement that we will remove all of our forces from Iraq is a political decision and not a military one; it represents the complete failure of President Obama to secure an agreement with Iraq for our troops to remain there to preserve the peace….

Although she has moderated her position now, this is what she said to CNN in May:

I think we need to get out. I think Afghanistan is — on many, many levels, it doesn’t seem we’re gaining any ground. I want to reduce U.S. exposure in Afghanistan. So, let’s get them out as quickly as we can.

Here’s Rick Perry on Iraq:

President Obama is putting political expediency ahead of sound military and security judgment by announcing an end to troop level negotiations and a withdrawal from Iraq by year’s end.

Here’s a Perry advisor, who was “clarifying” his earlier comments about a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan:

He would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending.

[snip]

But Gov. Perry is not confident in the Obama policy, which seems to be driven largely by politics, and he’s not confident in the 100,000 troops number. He’d like to know if it’s possible at 40,000.

While Jon Huntsman attacked Obama over Iraq, he wants a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan,” he said in a major foreign policy speech of his campaign earlier this month.

Holding these views puts these candidates somewhat out of synch with the American public, the veterans, the facts and the Republican establishment. Consider this:

Iraq has been far deadlier and more expensive than Afghanistan. Roughly around 4,500 US troops have died in the 8-year Iraq war, while about 1,700 have lost their lives in the 12-year Afghan war. Iraq has cost more than $700 billion (by some accounts, it’s more than $3 trillion), while Afghanistan has cost about $443 billion.

Veterans’ attitudes are also a little more positive toward Afghanistan than Iraq. A recent Pew survey showed that while only one-thirds of veterans thought both wars had been worth fighting, 50% say so about Afghanistan, while only 44% say so about Iraq.

The American people as a whole also have a less negative opinion of Afghanistan compared to Iraq. In a January poll by CNN, 66% opposed the war in Iraq, while 58% said so about Afghanistan; favorability was 33% and 40% respectively.

And consider these two giants in the Republican establishment who, contrary to the candidates, are treating both wars similarly:

Senate Armed Service Committee member Sen. Lindsay Graham criticized Obama over Iraq and wants “a couple of air bases” in Afghanistan “in perpetuity.” Likewise, Sen. John McCain scolded Obama for setting an Afghan withdrawal date and criticized him for bringing all the troops home from Iraq.

So, why do the candidates have two opinions for the two wars? And why, ceteris paribus, are they out of synch with the public, the veterans, the facts and the Republican establishment? A conspiracy-theoretic — and, I concede, lazy — answer would be “the oil.” But a more plausible answer is simply that the candidates want to take every opportunity to criticize Obama in order to draw a sharp contrast between themselves and the incumbent president. It helps them to be not-Obama, just as it had helped Obama being not-Bush.

Another reason could be that Obama failed to strike an agreement with Iraq for permanent US presence, while there is still hope for such a deal for Afghanistan.

Are there other reasons that I am not missing?

Karza ditches the Taliban, wants to talk to Pakistan – initial thoughts

In an incredible moment of lucidity, Karzai seems to have finally realized two things that much of the rest of the world — and his Afghan opposition — has been telling him for a pretty long time. In a meeting with a group of religious leaders, Karzai said the following:

Where is [Mullah Omar]? We cannot find the Taliban Council. Where is it? A messenger comes disguised as a Taliban Council member and kills, and they neither confirm nor reject it.

And this:

Who is the other side in the peace process? I do not have any other answer but to say Pakistan is the other side in the peace talks with us.

Karzai

Photo source: BBC Persian website.

His favorite expression for the Taliban had always been “angry brothers,” with whom he had insisted that Afghanistan should reconcile. He had held his ground in the face of stiffest criticism from his political opposition and the barrage of assassination of high-level government officials, senior security officials, his own brother and, most recently, his chief peace negotiator. That he has now turned against his “angry brothers” is a huge change from him.

This step from Karzai will radically alter the equation for everyone — Pakistan, the Taliban, the Afghan opposition, the United States, Iran, KSA, India and the Afghan people. But what does it exactly mean for the various actors involved in the picture? As of this writing, there hasn’t been any official reaction from any of these parties; that said, here’s a preliminary attempt at making sense of it all.

The “Northern Alliance”:

Karzai’s political opposition, which had doggedly opposed any talks with the Taliban, has scored a huge victory by having one of their longstanding demands recognized. But not only that, Karzai’s recognition of Pakistan as the real party to any settlement has affirmed their perennial suspicion toward Pakistan and its security institutions. So their victory is both political and moral.

Bolstered, they will likely amp up their opposition toward Pakistan, which they have always seen as interfering in Afghanistan’s internal matters and always backing anyone but them.

Taliban:

The Taliban have been behaving like the spoiled child that gets the candy but still maintains the nagging, unreasonable behavior. The UN Security Council removed about a dozen Taliban members from its blacklist, and Karzai had maintained an open embrace with a bag of goodies at the end of one arm in exchange for the Taliban dropping their weapons. This despite the carnage they wreaked in the country in the last few years. So the Taliban have been scoring international points and making domestic inroads by assassinating key leaders and expanding their presence across Afghanistan.

But by refusing to treat them as a legitimate party to negotiations, Karzai has ostensibly withdrawn the golden handshake. The terms of the previous offer are no longer valid — Taliban leaders won’t get (what amounts to) amnesty in exchange for peace and they likely won’t get to participate in the political process. (Those were huge concessions that Karzai had made even before getting to the negotiating table!)

The Taliban will now have to do their bidding through Pakistan, with whom they have always had a love-hate relationship — they have continued to receive needed help and support, but have always resented Pakistan.

The Afghan people:

The biggest losers of the whole reintegration/peace/reconciliation/negotiation saga, the Afghan people, will be watching President Karzai intently for his next moves. The previous peace process was not inclusive – Karzai had convened a rubber-stamp loya jirga to give himself the green light on negotiations. Three-day jirgas are hardly any substitute to serious, inclusive national debates about such issues of immense importance. In true democracies, hand-picked jirgas can’t make effective foreign policy or decide matters relating to serious national crimes and injustices.

Karzai had not consulted the broader Afghan public about reconciliation and, perhaps purposefully, not set out any clear and definite parameters for reconciliation, expected outcomes and the extent of concessions.

Pakistan et. al.:

Karzai handed Pakistan a victory by accepting unconditionally and decisively their longstanding demand that they be recognized as the principal party to any future settlement in Afghanistan. It is unclear who Karzai will get to negotiate with in Pakistan — the ISI-military side or the civilian government. And it is unclear how sincerely, if at all, Pakistan will engage in any talks. However, although the Afghan recognition of their role is important, the Pakistanis really covet the same acceptance from the United States.

And they will view Karzai’s concession as an important step to that end. Regardless, Pakistanis area already feeling better in their strategic calculus vis-a-vis India, which will be watching everything warily.

Iran, which had just started to cultivate ties with the Taliban, will also need to reassess its policy. They have historically been close to the Hazara/Shia and the Tajik camps and will likely continue to press their side. KSA — whose diplomats left Kabul last week and whose proxy now has the rug snatched from under its feet — has lost much of its status as the arbiter that could bring the Taliban to the table and broker a deal.

Moving ahead…

Naturally, talks with Pakistan are radically different from negotiations with the Taliban. If Pakistan chooses to oblige and negotiate a settlement, they will have obligations under international law. Whether Pakistan will choose to honor any final settlement and what the world can do to enforce those obligations in case of noncompliance is a different matter.

Because of the different nature of this ‘peace process,’ the Afghans will need to do new soul-searching. A broad national consultation will need to take place to determine what the nation is ready to give in exchange for peace, and what they hope to realistically gain from negotiations. Perhaps a little less urgently, the Afghans will need to decide whether they will continue to fight the insurgency indefinitely and how to handle justice issues related to Taliban’s crimes during and before the insurgency.

And Karzai’s success won’t just be determined by the domestic support of his policies. He will also need to have serious international backing. But that’s not guaranteed, given that he just left the United States high and dry by abandoning the trilateral peace process.

Twitter wars: NATO and Taliban clash through tweets

We know that politicians and journalists have tweeted their way to their own demise, and we know that others also have gotten themselves in real trouble on Twitter.

But apparently, ISAF and the Taliban are also taking their war to the cutting edge — by fighting in cyberspace, on social media.  (Before I get into the details, a few credits: Kudos to @Transitionland for spotting the encounter. And admittedly, the best home for something like this is BoomTweet, but I just can’t resist posting it here.)

It all began with ISAF tweeting the following about the horrific Kabul attacks that lasted more than 20 hours:

Re: Taliban spox on #Kabul attack: the outcome is inevitable. Question is how much longer will terrorist put innocent Afghans in harm’s way?Wed Sep 14 04:18:29 via HootSuite


To which @ABalkhi, thought to be a Taliban spokesperson, slapped back a response within minutes:

@ISAFmedia i dnt knw.u hve bn pttng thm n ‘harm’s way’ fr da pst 10 yrs.Razd whole vllgs n mrkts.n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout ‘harm’s way’Wed Sep 14 05:06:21 via web


To which @ISAFmedia retorted by citing UN statistics about civilian casualties to prove that the Taliban are, indeed, the bad guys:

Really, @abalkhi? UNAMA reported 80% of civilians causalities are caused by insurgent (your) activities http://t.co/3LiZWa5Wed Sep 14 05:15:56 via HootSuite

 

The sarcasm of the question isn’t lost on @ABalkhi, who replies with his own interrogative — and it’s not supposed to be a trick question:

@ISAFmedia UNAMA is an entity of whom? mine or yours?Wed Sep 14 05:22:00 via web

 

Update (11:38 a.m. EST): But later, @ISAFmedia came back taunting @alemarahweb — thought to be another one of the several Taliban Twitter accounts — by posting a video of Gen. John Allen visiting his soldiers after the attack.

 

This parallels — and dare I say, surpasses — the drama of the Tea Party Republican debates that occupy my TV screen nowadays. But beyond the entertainment value, the added advantage is that no-one has to lose their life in this battle. It’s like two elephants fighting and the grass remaining unharmed.

PS: Unlike previous encounters, these two elephants are fairly evenly matched.