Afghan insurgents post propaganda videos on latest attacks

McClatchy NewspapersApril 19, 2012 

— Videos and pictures that the Taliban have posted online purportedly show the insurgents who staged this week’s attacks in Kabul and three provinces, with two fighters declaring that the suicide missions were to avenge the inadvertent burning of Qurans and the alleged massacre of villagers by U.S. troops. The material is highly stylized, perhaps indicating that the operations were more for propaganda purposes than military gain.

“We will take revenge for the holy Quran from non-Muslims. They have burned our holy Quran. We will take revenge for the same holy Quran, and also we will take revenge for those children and women that they killed in Kandahar a few days ago,” a teenage fighter dressed in a white Islamic burial outfit said in poor English on one video.

Insurgents entered supposedly tightly guarded Kabul and three provincial centers undetected Sunday and fired from buildings on government and foreign installations, including the U.S. Embassy, sparking gun battles with Afghan security forces. Two of the clashes lasted about 18 hours.

The posting of the videos and pictures on the Taliban’s official website and on YouTube late Wednesday supported the view that there were cooperation and coordination between the group and the Haqqani network, the Pakistan-based extremist organization that U.S. and Afghan officials have accused of staging the strikes.

“The Haqqani network operates independently, but works under the umbrella of the Taliban,” said Wahid Muzhda, a former Taliban official and a political analyst. Muzhda said the attacks were part of a Taliban propaganda effort to gain recruits after suffering significant setbacks in southern Afghanistan.

The photographs and videos apparently were made while the insurgents were in training, showing them standing in military-style parades and marching in formation against a background of rugged mountains. The material’s authenticity couldn’t be verified.

Five pictures show them in white, black and camouflage shalwar-kameez, the baggy pants and knee-length shirts that Afghans and Pakistanis traditionally wear. Some of the insurgents wear black masks.

A statement said “30 champion sacrificers” hit “foreign invading forces” and their “puppet military and security headquarters” in Kabul and in Paktia, Logar and Nangarhar provinces. Afghan and U.S. officials say that 35 insurgents were killed and one was captured.

Two highly choreographed videos purportedly show insurgents in white funeral outfits kneeling in a row, clutching red Qurans to their chests with their right hands and wearing black headbands. Some cradle AK-47s in their left arms.

The videos feature the English-speaking fighter and a second insurgent reciting a verse from the Quran in Arabic and then speaking in Pashto, the language of the Pashtuns, the ethnic group that dominates the Taliban-led insurgency.

Both say the attacks are to avenge U.S. troops’ inadvertent burning of Qurans on Feb. 21 at the main U.S. base in Bagram, and the killings March 11 of 17 villagers in the Panjway district of southern Kandahar province. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is facing a military trial on charges of premeditated murder in the incident.

“We take revenge with the cost of our blood, bones and heads,” the Pashto-speaking insurgent said.

The Haqqani network is based in Miram Shah, in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region, and it operates in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. officials charge that it’s supported by Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which Islamabad denies.

“There is no question in our mind that the Haqqanis are responsible for these attacks. We know where their leadership lives and we know where their plans are made,” U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker told Afghan journalists Thursday, according to a transcript the Associated Press provided. “They’re made in Miram Shah, which is in North Waziristan, which is in Pakistan.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told her Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, after the attacks that “action has to be taken against these groups and against the safe havens they currently enjoy,” Crocker said.

But the Obama administration has been pressing the Pakistani army for years to move against the Haqqani network and the Taliban leadership in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta, to no avail. Pakistani officials say they’ve lost hundreds of men fighting their own Islamic insurgency sparked by the 2001 U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan, and can’t risk taking on the Afghan groups.

Crocker confirmed that the United States “did not have any advance information about these attacks” in Afghanistan earlier this week.

He praised the responses by Afghan security forces, saying that “no one who crossed that border (from Pakistan) got to cross it in the other direction. That is not a victory. It is a victory for the Afghan government and for the Afghan security forces.”

Experts said the insurgents were on suicide missions intended to gain maximum news-media attention, and in that they succeeded. They embarrassed the Afghan government and its foreign backers, and fueled uncertainty among ordinary Afghans as U.S. combat forces prepare for the second phase of a withdrawal that’s due to be completed by December 2014.

The Taliban “showed that they can get into areas where there is a lot of security. This was a message to the government and to the Taliban’s followers that they are still powerful and can conduct operations anywhere they want, and this is also a way to recruit more fighters,” Muzhda said.

Four civilians and 11 Afghan security force members were killed, and 32 civilians and 42 Afghan police and troops were wounded in the attacks.

email: jlanday@mcclatchydc.com

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