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Afghan Alarm at Talk of More Bloodshed
A British soldier from the ISAF contingent on patrol in Kabul. Picture taken in 2008. (Photo: ISAF/US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Laura K. Smith)
Observers in Afghanistan are warning that predictions of an upsurge in violence this year have damaged morale at a time when the national army should be preparing to take over responsibility for security.
General David Petraeus, the top United States commander in Afghanistan, said this week that NATO forces expected the Taleban to try to carry out spectacular attacks during the spring and summer, in a bid to recapture territory they had been pushed out of.
“We have said that the insurgent campaign focus for this year is to retake the areas that they have lost,” he said.
Admiral Mike Mullen, who as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is the US military’s highest-ranking officer, recently told an interviewer that “this year’s going to be a very, very difficult year” in Afghanistan. President Hamed Karzai has also expressed concerns that 2011 will be particularly bloody.
The killing of al-Qaeda head Osama Bin Laden has created additional fears that the insurgents will feel impelled to carry out more extravagant attacks.
For their part, the Taleban have declared their plans to begin a new offensive. Their recent actions include an April 25 prison break-out in Kandahar in which more than 500 inmates escaped, a massed attack on police outposts in the eastern Nuristan province, and a raid on a village in Jowzjan in the north where residents had joined a local policing initiative.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, is also on the offensive. ISAF spokesman Brigadier-General Josef Blotz said troops were already in action against insurgent strongholds and were attacking Taleban supply routes in southern Helmand and Kandahar.
Hakim Ashur, head of the government’s media office, said he believed recent talk of the US maintaining some kind of long-term military presence beyond the expected pullout of combat troops in 2014 had “encouraged the insurgents to intensify their attacks”.
But he said the main reason the insurgents were upping their attacks was to derail government efforts to move towards reconciliation.
“The rising tensions are due to the Taleban’s intention to halt the peace process,” he said.
Residents of the capital Kabul say that they fear the violence will soon reach their city.
Mohammad Faruq, owner of the Capital Inn in Kabul’s Shahr-e Naw district, said he had rented out his premises to another hotelier for fear of attacks, and had sent his son abroad.
Faruq said he had witnessed several attacks near his hotel in 2010, which had not even been highlighted as a particular dangerous year.
“God knows how bad this year will be for people, if they are already announcing it,” he said.
A woman called Shahla said her 21-year-old son Khosraw decided to leave Afghanistan as soon as he heard talk of more violence.
“Ever since the day my son heard news of a bloody year ahead, full of casualties, he was very worried,” she said. “He decided to leave the country through illegal channels.”
Cradling her son’s five-month-old child in her arms, Shahla said, “He said that he will go abroad to pave the way for us to join him there.” But now she does not know where he is.
Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the economy has also been affected by fears of fresh fighting.
Khan Jan Alokozay, deputy chairman of the chamber, said business leaders had started shifting their capital to countries like the United Arab Emirates, Russia, China, Pakistan and the Central Asian states.
“If the situation continues like this and we continue hearing warnings of a bloody year with many casualties, some 50 per cent of investors may transfer their business abroad,” he warned.
Some experts say warnings that the security situation is about to get worse are counterproductive, as they could weaken the resolve of the Afghan armed forces just when they are supposed to be gearing up to take over from NATO troops ahead of an international withdrawal.
General Nurulhaq Olumi, a defence expert and former parliamentarian, said public statements of the kind made by Petraeus, Mullen and others only served to strengthen the insurgents while harming morale in theAfghan army.
“The morale of the Afghan security forces has been weakened,” he said. “They are scared of the bloody year which officials are talking about.”
Others suggested that the warnings issued by US military leaders were a signal that Washington did not intend to fully withdraw its forces by the predicted date of 2014.
Analyst Dad Nurani described the security warnings as “propaganda” designed to “prepare public opinion to accept permanent US military bases”.
Kabul university student Jamshid said that he found it hard to believe that 300,000 Afghan and more than 150,000 foreign troops had been unable to defeat the insurgency in almost ten years of fighting.
He said he had come to the conclusion that the US did not want to leave Afghanistan, “The Americans want to make this year bloody and tense themselves.”
Khan Mohammad Danishju is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul.
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