[R-G] Taliban Breached NATO Base in Deadly Clash + Pakistan Marble Helps Taliban Stay in Business

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Mon Jul 14 23:31:02 MDT 2008

Russian Westernizers are aggrieved that they are not included in
"Europe."  But other Russians ought to be glad that they are excluded.
 If Russia were allowed to join the NATO, its troops could get
boondoggled into going back into Afghanistan, this time not as forces
of enlightened despotism but as foot soldiers of a bankrupt empire,
against a formidable foe.  Say what you will, the Taliban men know how
to fight a guerrilla war, and they are getting better at it every day.
 Born in India or Nepal and given proper political education, these
men probably would have made very good Maoists.  -- Yoshie

July 15, 2008
Taliban Breached NATO Base in Deadly Clash

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban insurgents who attacked a remote
American-run outpost near the Pakistan border on Sunday numbered
nearly 200 fighters, almost three times the size of the allied force,
and some breached the NATO compound in a coordinated assault that took
the defenders by surprise, Western officials said Monday.

The attackers were driven back in a pitched four-hour battle, and they
appeared to suffer scores of dead and wounded of their own, but the
toll they inflicted was sobering. The base and a nearby observation
post were held by just 45 American troops and 25 Afghan soldiers, two
senior allied officials said, asking for anonymity while an
investigation was under way.

With nine Americans dead and at least 15 injured, that means that one
in five of the American defenders was killed and nearly half the
remainder were wounded. Four Afghan soldiers were also wounded.

American and Afghan forces started building the makeshift base just
last week, and its defenses were not fully in place, one of the senior
allied officials said. In some places, troops were using their
vehicles as barriers against insurgents.

The militants apparently detected the vulnerability and moved quickly
to exploit it in a predawn assault in which they attacked from two
directions, American officials said.

It was the first time insurgents had partly breached any of the three
dozen outposts that American and Afghan forces operate jointly across
the country, according to a Western official who insisted on anonymity
in providing details of the operation.

The surprise attack underscored the vulnerability of American forces
in Afghanistan, which are increasingly stretched thin as they are
dispatched to far-flung and often isolated mountainous outposts with
their Afghan allies. The United States now has about 32,000 troops in
Afghanistan, about one-fifth the number in Iraq, even though
Afghanistan is half-again as large as Iraq.

American commanders and NATO military officials said the assault had
also reflected boldness among insurgents who had benefited from new
bases in neighboring Pakistan.

It underscored the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, where the
number of war casualties has jumped this year and where American
commanders have said repeatedly that their force is too small.

The fact that the base, on the western side of Kunar Province, was
staffed by just 70 soldiers was first reported Monday by The Los
Angeles Times. The death toll amounted to the worst single loss for
the American military in Afghanistan since June 2005 and was one of
the worst since the Taliban and their Qaeda associates were routed in
late 2001.

American and Afghan soldiers inside the base were hit by flying
fragments from bullets, grenades and mortar shells that insurgents
fired from houses, shops and a mosque in a village within a few
hundred yards of the base, several officials said.

At the lightly fortified observation post nearby, American soldiers
came under heavy fire from militants streaming through farmland under
cover of darkness. Most of the American casualties took place there, a
senior American military official said.

American warplanes, attack helicopters and long-range artillery were
urgently summoned to help repel the militants.

But the insurgents made it so far that a few of their corpses were
found inside the base's earthen barriers, and others were lying around
it, Tamim Nuristani, a former governor in the region, said after
talking to officials in the district.

The attack was unusually bold. Taliban and other militants in
Afghanistan rarely attack better-armed allied forces head on,
preferring suicide bombs and hit-and-run ambushes against foot patrols
and convoys. But they have made occasional attempts to overrun lightly
staffed or otherwise vulnerable outposts.

"Quite clearly they wanted to overrun the outpost," the Western
official said of the insurgents. "It was a well-planned surprise

The United States and Afghanistan have been establishing dozens of
military outposts, often in remote areas controlled by the Taliban or
their allies. "We're looking at places to stop the flow of insurgents
and establish relations with the local tribes," a senior American
military official said.

Allied and American officials said the attack began at 4:30 a.m.
Sunday. Fighters who had infiltrated the hamlet of Wanat overnight and
ordered the villagers to leave opened fire on the outpost from the
west and southwest.

At roughly the same time, American officials said, another group began
the second prong of attack, firing on the observation post from the
east. Some fought through to the main outpost a few hundred yards

American ground commanders immediately called in artillery and
airstrikes from a B-1 bomber, as well as A-10 and F-15E attack planes.
Apache helicopter gunships and a remotely piloted Predator aircraft
fired Hellfire missiles at the insurgents, military officials said.

Many of the village houses were damaged in the strikes, but there were
no civilian casualties because the villagers had left, Mr. Nuristani

Insurgents have been present in the area for months, including
Pakistani militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group that was
originally formed to fight in Kashmir, he said.

The American and Afghan army soldiers had moved into the base at Wanat
just days before, after abandoning another base higher up a side
valley where they had come under repeated attack from insurgents.

"But this even surprised me that so many Taliban were gathered in one
place," Mr. Nuristani said.

He said some local people might have joined the militants since a
group of civilians were killed in American airstrikes on July 4 in the
same area. "This made the people angry," he said. "It was the same
area. The airstrikes happened maybe one kilometer away from the base."

Mr. Nuristani strongly criticized those airstrikes, saying that 22
civilians had been killed. The provincial police chief confirmed that
at least 17 civilians had been killed. The American military said
planes had struck vehicles of insurgents but it has announced an
investigation. Days after his comments, Mr. Nuristani was removed from
his post.

He said that the security in the region of Nuristan and northern Kunar
Provinces was precarious and that insurgents had freedom of movement
from the border with Pakistan through 60 miles of Nuristan to the base
at Wanat. "They can bring men, weapons and cars," he said.

Local people and police have also battled insurgents in Barg-e-Matal,
in another part of Nuristan, and complained that they were not getting
enough help from the central government.

NATO officials gave little further detail of the attack on Monday. "It
has been quiet overnight," said Capt. Mike Finney, a spokesman for the
NATO force in Kabul. "The insurgents had been pushed away."

Carlotta Gall reported from Kabul, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting from Kabul.

July 14, 2008
Pakistan Marble Helps Taliban Stay in Business

ZIARAT, Pakistan — The mountain of white marble shines with such
brilliance in the sun it looks like snow. For four years, the quarry
beneath it lay dormant, its riches captive to tribal squabbles and
government ineptitude in this corner of Pakistan's tribal areas.

But in April, the Taliban appeared and imposed a firm hand. They
settled the feud between the tribes, demanded a fat fee up front and a
tax on every truck that ferried the treasure from the quarry. Since
then, Mir Zaman, a contractor from the Masaud subtribe, which was
picked by the Taliban to run the quarry, has watched contentedly as
his trucks roll out of the quarry with colossal boulders bound for
refining in nearby towns.

"With the Taliban it is not a question of a request to us, but a
question of force," said Mr. Zaman, a bearded, middle-aged tribal
leader who seemed philosophical about the reality of Taliban authority
here. At least the quarry was now operating, he said.

The takeover of the Ziarat marble quarry, a coveted national asset, is
one of the boldest examples of how the Taliban have made Pakistan's
tribal areas far more than a base for training camps or a launching
pad for sending fighters into Afghanistan.

A rare, unescorted visit to the region this month, during which the
Taliban detained for two days a freelance reporter and a photographer
working for The New York Times, revealed how the Taliban were taking
over territory, using the income they exact to strengthen their hold
and turn themselves into a self-sustaining fighting force. The quarry
alone has already brought the Taliban tens of thousands of dollars,
Mr. Zaman said.

The seizure of the quarry is a measure of how in recent months, as the
Pakistani military has pulled back under a series of peace deals, the
Pakistani Taliban have extended their reach through more of the rugged
territory in northern Pakistan known as the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas, or FATA.

Today the Taliban not only settle disputes in their consolidated
domain but they also levy taxes, smuggle drugs and other contraband,
and impose their own brand of rough justice, complete with courts and

>From the security of this border region, they deploy their fighters
and suicide bombers in two directions: against NATO and American
forces over the border in southern Afghanistan, and against Pakistani
forces — police, army and intelligence officials — in major Pakistani

The quarry operation here in the Mohmand tribal district,
strategically situated between the city of Peshawar and the Afghan
border, is a new effort by the Taliban to harness the abundant natural
resources of a region where there are plenty of other mining
operations for coal, gold, copper and chromate.

Of all the minerals in the tribal areas, the marble from Ziarat is one
of the most highly prized for use in expensive floors and walls in
Pakistan, and in limited quantities abroad.

A government body, the FATA Development Authority, failed over the
last several years to mediate a dispute between the Masaud and Gurbaz
subtribes over how the mining rights to the marble should be
allocated, according to Pakistani government officials familiar with
the quarry who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the
effort's failure.

A new government mining corporation, Pakistan Stone Development
Company, offered last year to invest in modern mining machinery, but
even with the lure of added value, the development authority could not
sort out the feud.

The arguments were fierce because the tribes knew that the Ziarat
marble was of particularly fine texture and purity, comparable to
Italian Carrara marble, according to an assessment done for the FATA
Development Authority.

The Taliban came eager for a share of the business. Their reputation
for brutality and the weakness of the local government authorities
allowed the Taliban to settle the dispute in short order.

The Taliban decided that one mountain in the Ziarat area belonged to
the Masaud division of the main Safi tribe, and said that the Gurbaz
subtribe would be rewarded with another mountain, Mr. Zaman, the
contractor, said.

The mountain assigned to the Masauds was divided into 30 portions, he
said, and each of six villages in the area was assigned five of the 30
portions. Mr. Zaman said the Taliban demanded about $1,500 commission
upfront for each portions, giving the insurgents a quick $45,000.

The Taliban also demanded a tax of about $7 on each truckload of
marble, he said. With a constant flow of trucks out of the quarry, the
Taliban are now collecting up to $500 a day, Mr. Zaman said.

A senior Pakistani official and a Pakistani businessman who works in
the marble industry, neither of whom wanted to be identified for fear
of retaliation from the Taliban, confirmed the account.

Today the quarry runs as a relatively rudimentary affair using
dynamite, which harms the marble and renders production extremely
inefficient. Antiquated trucks grind their way up the steep, tiered
roadways carved in the mountainside to ferry the rock away. But the
quarry's reopening has given something to everyone.

The local tribes are profiting along with the Taliban. Once the trucks
reach the processing plants, the government, too, collects a hefty
tax, nearly double that of the Taliban, Mr. Zaman said, though there
was no way to verify the claim. The Taliban appeared to have no
problem with the government taking a share, he said.

So far, he said, the Taliban were overseeing the operation with a
light hand: a single armed Taliban fighter sat at a checkpoint not far
from Mr. Zaman's hut to ensure that the tax was paid.

The Taliban are today a loose organization of mostly ethnic Pashtuns
divided in two wings, one on each side of the border. Their leader in
Mohmand goes by the name Abdul Wali, a guerrilla fighter in his 30s
who rose to prominence last year when his group occupied a famous
shrine in the village of Ghazi Abad in Mohmand.

He is affiliated with the overall leader of the Pakistani Taliban,
Baitullah Mehsud, a powerful ally of Al Qaeda who keeps his base in
South Waziristan, another part of the tribal areas.

Working with Al Qaeda, the Taliban have steadily tightened their grip
over much of the tribal areas in the last several years by cowing or
killing hundreds of local tribal chiefs who were the area's
traditional authorities.

In Mohmand, the Taliban have speedily consolidated control in the last
year. They have filled a vacuum left by a vacillating government,
unable and unwilling to assert its authority, said Munir Orekzei, a
member of Parliament from Kurram, southwest of Mohmand, one of the
seven districts, or agencies, in the tribal areas.

"In every agency the most powerful man is the Taliban," Mr. Orekzei
said. "Because if someone says, 'I'm in favor of the government,' he
will be killed."

At the same time, people in the tribal areas believe some branches of
the Pakistani government are encouraging the Taliban in their route to
power, he said.

Mr. Orekzei said he recently attended a meeting with Rehman Malik, the
Pakistani interior minister, and tribal leaders in Peshawar, capital
of the nearby North-West Frontier Province.

"Rehman Malik asked why the people in the tribal areas were not
fighting back against the Taliban," Mr. Orekzei said. "I told him the
people believe the government is behind the Taliban. I said, you tell
the public what you are doing, and if they believe the government is
not behind the Taliban, they will fight."

The Taliban's authority had become so firm in the last two months, it
was too dangerous for legislators from the tribal areas to return to
their constituencies, Mr. Orekzei said.

Only the capital of Mohmand, the small town of Ghalanai, remains
unequivocally in government hands. There, the political agent, the
representative of the governor of North-West Frontier Province, keeps
a house and offices. But his power barely extends beyond the town's
limits, and he is unable to offer government services to ease the
region's poverty, local people say.

Next door to his compound, a public hospital remains underused because
doctors, put off by poor salaries and insecurity, refuse to work
there. Health conditions are appalling.

The weakness of the government has left people helpless before the
Taliban threat, Mr. Orekzei and other local officials said. Most
families had given a man to the Taliban cause, often as a measure of
protection against the militants.

The territory has become a magnet for other militants from farther
afield as well. More and more of them are coming from abroad, American
officials say. But Taliban fighters encountered in Mohmand said they
had come from all over Pakistan, revealing the Taliban's reach into
the heart of the country.

Some Taliban fighters said that they had come for the summer from
cities like Karachi and Rawalpindi, where they run food stalls or work
in hotels, and that they would return home at the start of winter when
freezing weather envelops the mountains.

The government security force, a paramilitary group called the
Frontier Corps, which serves under the command of the Pakistani Army,
does little to challenge the Taliban in the tribal areas, despite
occasional skirmishes. On the road north of Ghalanai, there were no
Frontier Corps patrols, and 25 miles from Ghalanai the Taliban were in
firm control.

With the government so weak, the Taliban are accepted as the ruling
power in many places in the tribal areas, local officials say. They
wield an unflinching hand, to the point of conducting public
executions, against the lawlessness that prevails in the region.

In Mohmand, they have imposed extra restrictions on women in the
already conservative society, forbidding them to venture into fields
and ordering their heads shaved if they flout the edict, according to
the handful of legislators who represent the tribal areas in

In a place called Chinarai, a two-hour drive from the Afghan border,
the Taliban maintain a prison, where the reporter and photographer
were held. On a recent day, there were about a dozen people in the
compound, all of them manacled and kept in dark small rooms.

In a sign that the internal workings of the Taliban were not entirely
smooth, several of the detainees were Taliban, and one of the
prisoners was a relative of top Taliban commanders.

Life for the prisoners was spare at best. They were denied cellphones,
the most valued possession among the Taliban. Prison food consisted of
poorly cooked rice and vegetables. Soap appeared to be used only for
body washing, not for cleaning of cooking pots and utensils.

Taliban officials reviewing the prisoners' cases spent much time
debating how they should be punished under the Shariah, or Islamic
law, imposed by the Taliban. One of the prisoners was suspected of
working with the Afghan Army; another was accused of tearing down a
Taliban notice.

One man accused of kidnapping was taken out of the prison and beaten
into confessing.

Recently, Mohmand has become a center of kidnapping for ransom, a new
activity that appears to be another important source of revenue for
the Taliban. But the Ziarat quarry will be far more profitable, many
people here say.

Even in its current rough condition, the quarry is such a good deal
for the Taliban that one tribesman, known as Bahadar, who works there,
predicted, "If this continues for two more years, they will take on
America itself."

Pir Zubair Shar reported from Ziarat, and Jane Perlez from Peshawar.

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