Thursday, October 05, 2017

Isis savagery horrifies Taliban fighters in Tora Bora

Osama bin Laden’s cave hideout has become the setting for an unlikely alliance

Gunfire still rolls across Tora Bora’s caves, long after peace should have come to this corner of Afghanistan. The conflict continues unabated, but today it is an Islamic State rearguard defending the ridge lines and peaks.

“Bin Laden may have gone but the ideological machinery is still in place,” Brigadier Nasim Sangin, a commander with the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) 201st Corps, said at the site of an al-Qaeda shrine below Tora Bora. He stared up into the peaks as sporadic bursts of machinegun fire echoed back and forth along the valley sides. “Unless you can remove that, and its sanctuary in Pakistan, then there will never be peace here.”

His troops have been fighting Isis in the mountains of Nangarhar province, abutting Pakistan, since the terrorist group arrived here three years ago after defeating the local Taliban fighters in a bloody turf war.

In July Brigadier Sangin’s soldiers succeeded in checking their advance and then driving them back from the lowlands below the Suleiman Khel valley — better known by its Pashto name Tora Bora, meaning “black caves” — and into the valley. Yet the ANA advance ground to a halt, leaving Isis fighters straddling a key supply route over a five-mile stretch of the Tora Bora valley all the way across the mountains into Pakistan.

“I have been stuck here for three months,” Brigadier Sangin growled as dusk fell. “My brigade have been scattered on operations across three different provinces and I haven’t got enough men to take these peaks and caves and drive Isis back over the border.”

Isis has been heavily diminished by US airstrikes, special forces raids and Afghan army operations, as well as by its battles with the Taliban, but it has defied complete defeat in Afghanistan. Its presence has caused a paradigm shift in the allegiances of regional, international and local actors in the war; the latest era of the “Great Game” — the historical confrontation over Afghanistan between Britain and Russia.

The Russians withdrew from the country in 1989 after a failed war, but since Isis’s appearance in Afghanistan they have started financing and equipping the Taliban, allegedly as a check against Isis encroachment into the Muslim population in its own central Asian sphere of interest.

“Russia’s support of the Taliban is materiel and financial,” an American official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times this week. “They are concerned about the migration of Isis and believe that the Taliban can block that, though we think it’s a false narrative and is really part of a dual-track policy to give the Russians an inroad with whichever power is in place pending a peace one day.”

Iran, another historical enemy of the Taliban, has also increased its support, partly to contain the spread of Islamic State westwards toward its border but also to undermine American influence in the country.

The Taliban fighters on the plain below Tora Bora have agreed an informal local armistice with the Afghan army, allowing it to turn its guns on Isis, their common enemy.

“I fought the Russians, I have fought the communists, I have fought the foreigners but believe me, the Daesh [Isis] are the worst enemy of all,” said Mira Khan, a Taliban commander in the village of Nasir Khel, below Tora Bora. He handed himself and seven of his fighters over to Brigadier Sangin’s troops four weeks ago under the terms of an amnesty conditional to his service against Isis. “At least the Taliban just shoot their enemies. The Daesh chopped some of my men and family into quarters and left them scattered along the valley so we could never retrieve them.”

He claimed to have seen an Isis sniper with two prosthetic legs who had been carried to his position on a mule. “He fought and died using just his hands and eyes, with no thought of escape,” he said. “We have never seen such savagery.”

Afghan officers said that the local armistice with the Taliban did not reflect any broader change in their operations in Nangarhar. “The Taliban didn’t have much choice but to let us through their area,” Brigadier Sangin added. “They had already been beaten by Isis and the locals were begging us for help.”

Nevertheless, it was an uneasy feeling driving through the hardcore Taliban zone on the approaches to Tora Bora with a column of Afghan troops. “When things change here, they change fast,” a soldier told me, pointing to a Taliban flag that flew from a roadside tree.

The ANA’s casualties fighting in the region have been heavy. Earlier in the summer the brigadier lost 16 troops in a single Isis night attack on one of his outposts. “I received a panicked radio call from the company commander shouting ‘they are inside the compound and upon us’, and that was it,” he said. “It was all over in ten minutes. The entire post overrun, my men dead and Isis disappeared back into the night.”

The jihadists’ casualties have been far higher than the army’s. ANA intelligence intercepts from conversations between Isis commanders in Afghanistan and a logistics headquarters in Landi Kotal, a town on the western edge of the Khyber Pass in Pakistan, recorded 1,264 deaths in Nangarhar province last year and 760 in the first six months of this year.

US officers in Afghanistan claim to have killed more than half of all Isis fighters in the area since launching their campaign against them, and to have reduced the jihadists’ area of control by two thirds. The dead include each of the first three Isis leaders in the region. American officials say that the group’s latest nomination for the role of emir in Afghanistan has been sent to Syria for approval, where it is under review by Islamic State’s leadership council.

“There is an existing line of communication between Isis in Afghanistan and Isis main in Syria,” a US official involved with the operation against Isis said. “The response time gets longer and longer, reflecting the degradation of Isis in Syria and Iraq.”

US officials and Afghan intelligence officers share concerns that, despite the many casualties and setbacks on the battlefield, Isis has reverted to a new campaign of covert recruitment across Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad in 2011.

“We believe the Daesh still has nearly 1,900 men in Nangarhar, though the Americans estimate only 1,000,” an Afghan military intelligence officer said. “Their funding lines appear to remain intact, so they recruit heavily in Pakistan’s tribal areas and send them over here to replace their casualties.”

Standing by a shrine to four of Bin Laden’s fighters — remarkable among the scree-strewn slopes for the tall rock headstones and totem poles adorned by local women with brightly coloured cloths and trinkets — Brigadier Sangin cocked his head to the sound of a new burst of shooting from the shadows of Tora Bora.

“If I just get my scattered battalions back from their other operations,” he murmured ruefully. “If I could just get enough men, then I could get up the valley and annihilate the Daesh all the way to the Pakistan border before the snow comes in six weeks and I can’t move.”



When Life Gives You Paul Ryan, Make Lemonade


It is now clear that Republicans are incapable of giving us a free market in health insurance, so it continues to be illegal in America to buy health plans that don’t cover shrinks, domestic violence counseling and HIV screening, and perhaps always shall be.

But there are still other good things Republicans can do!

First, for fun, Republicans ought to request a Congressional Budget Office score of Obamacare. The GOP’s various replacement bills have been pilloried over their CBO scorings, showing, for example, that if given a choice, up to 20 million Americans would voluntarily choose not to buy health insurance in the year 2026. The horror.

Hey, does anybody remember how the Democrats “scored” Obamacare?

I do! Democrats gamed the numbers given to the CBO by asking it to score the first 10 years of a bill that collected taxes for 10 years, but only started paying out benefits in the last six years.

On the basis of that accounting trick, the Democrats spent months hectoring Republicans who refused to vote for the bill, saying they were against SAVING THE TAXPAYERS MONEY. Yes — we’d be SAVING MONEY by providing health care for all, especially transgenders and illegals.

Now that both parts of Obamacare are in place — the money coming in and the money going out — how about asking the CBO to score the real Obamacare?

Second, where are the hearings? The usual complaint with Republicans is that they’re all talk, no action. But when it comes to Obamacare, it’s the reverse: The GOP is all action, no talk.

I pay attention to politics. Have there been hearings I’ve missed? Republicans seem to think the Tea Party did all their work for them, so why bother losing friends by holding hearings to demonstrate what a catastrophe Obamacare is?

No, that’s not how it works. The public needs to be educated on the destruction Obamacare has wrought. Apparently, so do members of Congress, having exempted themselves from experiencing Obamacare the way the rest of us do.

Millions of Americans have been thrown off their insurance plans. Or they’re getting the exact same plan they had in 2009 — at 10 times the price. Or their so-called health insurance isn’t accepted by any English-speaking doctors.

Republicans need to put faces to Americans being whipsawed by astronomical premiums along with enormous deductibles, all to pay for useless health insurance.

We want to hear from anguished doctors whose patients are only allowed to buy plans that no longer cover anything they actually need, and can’t pay the bill when emergencies force them to seek medical care anyway.

Third and finally, if Trump wants a win, how about medical malpractice reform? That’s a fix that will instantly cut at least 20 percent off the cost of everyone’s health care.

Republicans can say, With zero support from the Democrats, we can’t pass any decent replacement for Obamacare, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying to improve health care for all Americans.

The whole country has been screaming for malpractice reform for decades. Democrats know how repelled the public is by lawyers making millions of dollars from obscene jury awards, but, unfortunately, their party is joined at the hip to trial lawyers.

Shyster lawyers taking 50 percent “contingency fees” off their lottery-style winnings have made health care not only a lot more expensive, but also unbelievably annoying. Patients are forced to take medicine that’s bad for them and sit in doctors’ offices waiting for pointless tests — all because the doctor doesn’t want to get sued.

The GOP should have a gigantic photo of John Edwards on display throughout the hearings. The former North Carolina senator made more than $30 million pushing a theory that we now know was bogus science. It’s as if all Edwards’ legal victories depended on the Earth being flat.

As a result of his since-disproven claim that cerebral palsy was caused by a doctor’s failure to perform a C-section, getting pregnant now is more dangerous, as doctors are forced to perform more of these riskier surgeries or stop delivering babies altogether.

“She speaks to you through me, and I have to tell you right now … I feel her. I feel her presence. She’s inside me, and she’s talking to you.” — Actual quote from attorney John Edwards to a jury of illiterates in 1985.

Let doctors testify about having to go out of business, drop practices and perform needless surgeries and tests — for the sole purpose of avoiding lawsuits.

Lawyers’ PACs will spend gobs of money fighting any limits whatsoever on malpractice suits, but so what? They’ll have a lot less money to spend against Republicans in the future. (And it might distract them from trying to bring terrorists into the country!) Even if Republicans lose, the price of Democrats going to bat for these hilarious ambulance chasers would be worth it.

If decent health insurance is off the table, we should at least demand that Republicans entertain us.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


No comments: