Remember the battle for Panjwaii, the relatively bloody Canadian success story of September 2006? The New York Times is reporting that the Taliban are back in Panjwaii and Zhari Districts.
Carrying out guerrilla attacks after NATO troops partly withdrew in July, they overran isolated police posts and are now operating in areas where they can mount attacks on Kandahar, the south’s largest city.
The setback is part of a bloody stalemate that has occurred between NATO troops and Taliban fighters across southern Afghanistan this summer. NATO and Afghan Army soldiers can push the Taliban out of rural areas, but the Afghan police are too weak to hold the territory after they withdraw. At the same time, the Taliban are unable to take large towns and have generally mounted fewer suicide bomb attacks in southern cities than they did last summer.
The Panjwai and Zhare districts, in particular, highlight the changing nature of the fight in the south. The military operation there in September 2006 was the largest conventional battle in the country since 2002. But this year, the Taliban are avoiding set battles with NATO and instead are attacking the police and stepping up their use of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices or I.E.D.’s.
“It’s very seldom that we have direct engagement with the Taliban,” said Brig. Gen. Guy Laroche, the commander of Canadian forces leading the NATO effort in Kandahar. “What they’re going to use is I.E.D.’s.”
The Taliban also wage intimidation campaigns against the population. Local officials report that one of the things that the insurgents do when they enter an area is to hang several local farmers, declaring them spies.
“The first thing they do is show people how brutal they are,” said Hajji Agha Lalai, the leader of the Panjwai district council. “They were hanged from the trees. For several days, they hung there.”
NATO and American military officials have declined to release exact Taliban attack statistics, and collecting accurate information is difficult, particularly in rural Afghanistan. According to an internal United Nations tally, insurgents set off 516 improvised explosive devices in 2007. Another 402 improvised explosive devices were discovered before detonation.
Reported security incidents, a broad category that includes bombings, firefights and intimidation, are up from roughly 500 a month last year to 600 a month this year, a 20 percent increase, according to the United Nations.