Marie Colvin in Kandahar for the Sunday Times

There's an interesting piece in today's Sunday Times by Marie Colvin on Kandahar. It's stuck behind a paywall, I'm afraid, so you'll have to get it via LexisNexis or do a google search in a couple of days to see if someone copies it out elsewhere.

It's an interesting story for the detail it brings out from Kandahar city. Colvin presents a picture of an increased Taliban focus on the city as a result of pressure from the outer districts where American/ISAF forces have been carrying out operations in recent weeks. One of the problems with this article, though, is that she gets the timing the wrong way round. A photo caption, for example, states that "the Taliban have begun assassinating government officials after infiltrating the city." The Taliban's assassination campaign has been up and running for several years now. There is nothing new, either, in the claim that the Taliban have decided to focus on the city as a special priority.

Already back in November/December 2009 a decision was taken to flood the city with Taliban supporters or sympathisers (and to reach out to those already living there). Much has been written on the areas that the Taliban gravitated to -- for a mixture of tribal/qawmi and geographical-kinship reasons -- but this piece suggests what's going on is a new development. One interesting data point, though, is the extent of the violence. She visits Mirwais hospital to get a sense of the numbers:

"The hospital's reception desk keeps three separate books to record the bloodshed. One is for Taliban shotings, the second for IEDs and vehicle bombs and the third for "innocent deaths" -- from road accidents and natural causes. The receptionist said that 14 or 15 injured victims of Taliban attacks, mostly men, were being brought in every day."

Not all of these are assassination attempts, of course. But certainly the numbers being targeted nowadays is high. Even back in late summer this year there it wasn't unusual for 4 or 5 people to be killed in a single day.

A key point left out of this article is the fact that assassinations are not exclusively carried out by the Taliban. A long-standing rumour in the city even holds that the early assassination campaign reinvigorated around 2006-7 was spearheaded by old Kandahari Hezb-e Islami affiliates/supporters from the older mujahedeen generation. A larger number still are completely unrelated and carried out independently of the Taliban's assassination commission (yes, there's an official ruling body to assess who gets targeted and who doesn't), the result of an environment where anything goes, where the rule of law is absent and where there is simply too much violence happening to make everything a priority.


Apologies for the absence. Have been taking some time together with Felix Kuehn to finish off a book-length study of the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda (and their affiliates) 1970-2010, commissioned and part-funded by New York University's Center on International Cooperation and the Norwegian government. More on that to follow.