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Toward the end, a hideous accident:

At least 40 civilians attending a wedding party were killed in a raid conducted by Afghan government forces and supported by US airstrikes on a Taliban hideout in southern Helmand province, Afghan officials said Monday.

Abdul Majed Akhund, deputy provincial councilman, said that the majority of the dead were women and children. Twelve civilians were also injured. 

DW. “Dozens killed as US-backed strike hits Afghan wedding.” September 25, 2019.

The Modern West has had little issue investigating and owning up to its own woeful atrocities, including the accidents it may sanitize with the term “collateral damage”.

In fact, it or the liberal democratic populations represented by EU/NATO and assorted coalitions of the willing, may be too good at wearing the mea culpa shawl of self-shaming, but that’s another matter.

For Afghanistan, and for the most part, the damage done has been much less accomplished by the “collateral damage” of the west than by the deliberate design, decision, and application of violence by the Taliban and similar actors bent on the absolute and comprehensive political and social control of targeted states and their resources.

Using Russian-supplied arms and material, Afghanistan’s Taliban have continued a program of bombings and related attacks designed to destroy Afghani civilians without discrimination, forestall peace, discourage and impede elections, and bring general ruin to local economies and lives while proving themselves handsome, protective, strong, and wise.

. . . .

True: a malign narcissism has a great deal to do with the absolute political and social control sought by the Taliban and so many others who at times conflate themselves with God and the work of God’s will on earth.

As has taken place as part of doctrine in Syria — impossible to denynot even hospitals are sacred as sanctuaries of the ill and injured.

The Taliban’s demonstrated and backfiring track record in lunacy — and that of other extremist organizations operating in Afghanistan — may finally be reaching them through the mirroring World Wide Web where high-integrity reportage faithfully conveys the character of consistently cruel, crude, and very nearly mindless violence that will in the end have changed nothing but perhaps themselves.

Most who have followed the Afghanistan story in its greater context will recall the story in which Mullah Omar took revenge on a Russian tank crew and its commander — hung from his own tank barrel — for the rape of local village girls. Omar would flee that heroic ending to raise an army to battle back the Soviet invasion of the state — and America’s CIA would step in with the delivery of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles to the Mujaheddin for the comparatively cheap killing of the Soviet’s brutal and expensive helicopter gunships.

The Red Army — as has the Russian Army elsewhere and more recently — brutalized Afghanistan.

In cinema (and released before the Soviet was finished) —

As Soviet Russia’s army retreated from Afghanistan, America’s intervention may have been drawn back as well. Afghanistan had been returned to native power.

Ah, but there was that other theme: Islam.

Arab culture, fortune, and power — and two Sunni extremists.

Ayman al-Zawahiri may be read about here:

Schindler, John. “Exploring Al Qaeda’s Murky Connection to Russian Intelligence.” Business Insider, June 10, 2014.

Osama bin Laden — here:

Swinford, Steven. “Osama bin Laden: the tale of a Saudi-born heir to a construction company who founded al-Qaeda.” The Telegraph, May 2, 2011.

One may tire — and perhaps should — of the medieval contests between too many “kingdoms of heaven” and the repeated conflations — Christian, Jewish, or Muslim — of men with God (although Judaism has been always adamant about the separation of the Divine from the mortal).

In any case, among my acquaintance, one stands out as expert on “civilizational narcissism” — his term — and the Taliban. Here is his book from 2010 —

Haider, Mobarak. Taliban: the Tip of a Holy Iceberg. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010. (BackChannels commented on it in 2012).

It may be said that all were warned but with one element missing: Soviet / post-Soviet Moscow / Moscow-Tehran.

The Soviet / post-Soviet Arc of Tears (Crimea, Syria, Yemen, for a start) hews to and encourages the despotism (“political absolutism”) so far expressed by the Taliban in Afghanistan but also well on display elsewhere in the world where the deepest and most criminal representatives of civilizational and political narcissism have either set themselves or prevailed.

BackChannels suggests the Taliban may have been taken in — duped — by Russia via al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden in the shadow of the Cold War and reshaped for revenge on the west with the intent of sustaining a blind and madding authoritarianism in the world, all the better to plunder it.

Related Online

Anna, Cara and Ahmad Seir. “Afghans fear Trump’s Taliban move means more civilians die.” AP, September 11, 2019:

President Donald Trump says the U.S.-Taliban talks on ending the fighting in Afghanistan are “dead,” deeply unfortunate wording for the Afghan civilians who have been killed by the tens of thousands over almost 18 years. Many fear his cancellation of negotiations will bring more carnage as the U.S. and Taliban, as well as Afghan forces, step up their offensives and everyday people die in the crossfire.

Arsali, Mohammed Harun. “For Afghanistan’s internally displaced people, going home is a risk long after the war ends.” Medium, September 22, 2019.

“We just want to go back to our homes. We don’t ask for much, but this war has made our lives impossible and has torn apart our community.” he says. “We cant go home due to the risk of drones, but after so many years of war, our community is now at war with itself – there doesn’t seem to be any end to bloodshed.”

Bapat, Navin and Rebecca Best. “Here’s why the Taliban might still want to negotiate with the U.S.” The Washington Post, September 12, 2019.

One could argue that the Taliban is increasingly in a position to outlast the United States and claim a decisive military victory. If today’s Taliban were as cohesive as the Taliban that managed to control Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, that might well be true. But it’s not.

Today’s Taliban includes a variety of factions, such as the prominent Quetta Shura and Pakistani-supported Haqqani network. Beyond these internal divisions lie further divisions among the broader Afghan insurgency, which includes the emerging Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K). Our research in the Journal of Global Security Studies argues that powerful insurgent factions may seek peace to forestall their own decline when rival insurgent factions are increasing in power.

BBC News. “Afghanistan war: Deadly Taliban attack ‘destroys’ hospital.” September 19, 2019.

Burr, Elise and Andrew Shaver. “Afghanistan’s election on Saturday could be bloodier than expected. This explains why.” The Washington Post, September 25, 2019.

This weekend, Afghanistan will hold its fourth presidential election since the Taliban government’s fall in 2001. Since the U.S. and Taliban’s recent breakdown in negotiations, the Taliban have killed more Afghan civilians than at almost any other point since the beginning of 2018, as you can see in the figure below. The Taliban has killed at least 58 civilians in the last eight days alone.

And that may be about to get worse. In earlier presidential elections, the Taliban has tried not to kill civilians when they go to vote. That may change this weekend.

CBS This Morning. “U.S. envoy unexpectedly resumes talks with Taliban after bomb kills American troop.” September 6, 2019:

The U.S. envoy’s team would not elaborate Friday on the nature of the resumed discussions in Doha, but they come after a series of deadly Taliban attacks across Afghanistan. As CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports, while the Taliban may be talking peace with the U.S., they’re still waging a brutal war on Afghan soil.

A security camera captured dramatic video of a car bomb attack in Kabul on Thursday. The blast near the U.S. Embassy killed one American service member and another NATO soldier, as well as at least 10 civilians.

Cunningham, Erin. “While the U.S. wasn’t looking, Russia and Iran began carving out a bigger role in Afghanistan.” The Washington Post, April 13, 2017.

KABUL — Iran and Russia have stepped up challenges to U.S. power in Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials say, seizing on the uncertainty of future U.S. policy to expand ties with the Taliban and weaken the country’s Western-backed government.

The moves come as tensions have flared between the United States, Iran and Russia over the conflict in Syria, and officials worry that the fallout could hurt Afghanistan’s chances for peace. For years, Iran and Russia have pushed for a U.S. withdrawal.

Dawisha, Karen.  Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

DW. “Dozens killed as US-backed strike hits Afghan wedding.” September 25, 2019.

Faiez, Rahim. “Amid Peace Talks, Taliban Launch “Massive Attack’ on Afghan City of Kunduz.” Time, August 31, 2019.

Faizi, Fatima and Mujib Mashal. “For Afghans Scarred by War, ‘Peace Can’t Bring My Love Back’.” The New York Times, September 16, 2019.

I am tired of the people, the area, the district and the province. When I go to Wardak, I feel so tired. But what to do? I have to go there and visit their graves. It is not only one person — it is 12 family members. My four daughters, three sons, my wife, and four cousins. I lost all in one day when my house was bombed by the Americans.

I can never forgive the Taliban, but if the peace deal can stop the bloodshed, I can accept them to the country. I don’t want other families to go through what I have.

Gaouette, Nicole. “US and Taliban reach agreement ‘in principle’ on Afghanistan, envoy says.” CNN, September 9, 2019.

“Yes, we have reached an agreement in principle,” Khalilzad said, according to TOLOnews. “Of course, it is not final until the US president (Donald Trump) agrees on it. So, at the moment, we are at that stage.”

News of the agreement comes as violence has spiked in Afghanistan, with the latest attack occurring just hours after Khalilzad’s interview. A car bomb targeted an Afghan police station in the capital Kabul on Monday, in an area close to the heavily fortified compound where many foreign embassies and international organizations are based,

Gibbons-Neff, Thomas. “Russia is sending weapons to Taliban, top U.S. general confirms.” The Washington Post, April 24, 2017.

Kelemen, Michele. “Zalmay Khalilzad Appointed to U.S. Special Adviser to Afghanistan.” NPR, September 5, 2018.

“He became known for his ability to weave through warring tribal factions and his ability to quickly get senior Afghan officials on the phone or to summon them to his office, including President Hamid Karzai,” The New York Times reported during Khalilzad’s stint as ambassador to Afghanistan — the country of his birth — from 2003 to 2005.

Robin Raphel, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asia, says Khalilzad’s appointment is a sign that the Trump administration is getting serious about a political solution to America’s longest war.

Lawrence, J. P. “Soldier killed in Afghanistan was compassionate leader, say those who knew him.” Stars and Stripes, September 7, 2019.

The U.S. soldier who died Thursday in Afghanistan from wounds in a bomb blast was a compassionate leader whose troops say he always encouraged people who are struggling to ask for help.

Now those soldiers are grappling with the loss of Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico, who left behind a wife, two sons and a daughter.

Lynch, Colum, Lara Seligman, Robbie Gramer. “Khalilzad Edges Closer to Pact with Taliban.” Foreign Policy, August 28, 2019.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghan reconciliation, is on the verge of an agreement with the Taliban that would pave the way for the withdrawal of some 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan in exchange for guarantees that the war-wracked nation would not be used as a haven for international terrorism, according to diplomatic sources.

Mashal, Mujib. “A Young Life Ends After 4 Steps on video, and Afghans Can’t Stop Watching.” The New York Times, September 21, 2019.

KABUL, Afghanistan — At first, the man was just walking across the street. Then he was running for his life. He managed four steps before the blast from the car bomb caught him.

Since then, the last few seconds of Akbar Fazelyar’s life, captured on video during a Taliban attack on Sept. 5, have become one of the most scrutinized moments in Afghanistan, slowed down and watched frame by frame on countless mobile phones and computer screens.

Politkovskaya, Anna. A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Qazi, Shereena. “Afghanistan’s presidential election: All you need to know.” Al Jazeera, September 25, 2019.

The vote, the fourth since the Taliban’s removal from power by a United States-led coalition in 2001, comes as heavy fighting between the armed group and government forces has led to a spike in the number of civilians killed.

The Taliban has already threatened to target election rallies and polling stations, while in recent weeks the US-backed Afghan forces have stepped up air and ground attacks, raising fears of further casualties. 

Last week alone, more than 150 people were killed, according to Al Jazeera tally, in Taliban attacks, US drone strikes and raids by Afghan government forces.

RFE/RL. “At Least 50 People Killed in Air Strike, Car Bombing in Afghanistan.” September 19, 2019.

The air strike was aimed at destroying a hideout used by Islamic State militants, but it accidentally targeted farmers near a field, Afghan officials were quoted as saying.

“On yet another deadly day in Afghanistan, once again it is civilians who bear the brunt of the violence involving armed groups, the Afghan government, and their backers in the U.S. military,” Amnesty International said in statement.

Ricks, Thomas E. “Khalilzad: Here’s what I think went wrong in Afghanistan after I left there.” Foreign Policy, March 24, 2016.

Our principal failure, in my view, was our refusal to deal with Pakistan’s double game. Even the accelerated drone attacks in western Pakistan under the Obama administration, which were somewhat effective in the fight against al Qaeda, failed to a large extent to target the Taliban, the Haqqani Group, or Hezbe Islami.

The United States also signaled a lack of military resolve. The Pentagon made incautious public statements about the reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. At one point, the combat power of the United States dropped to a single brigade, even as the insurgent threat was rising. The evident lack of U.S. commitment gave Pakistan a green light to step up the Taliban and insurgent offensive in late 2005 and early 2006.

Stecklow, Steve, Babak Dehghampisheh, and Yeganeh Torbati. “Assets of the Ayatollah: The economic empire behind Iran’s supreme leaders (“Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures”). Reuters Investigates, November 11, 2013.

Yusufzai, Mushtaq and Linda Givetash. “Taliban forces attack Afghan city amid peace talks with U.S.” NBC News, August 31, 2019.

The militants had taken hospital patients as hostages, officials said, while electricity and most telephone services were cut and residents were sheltering in their houses.

The “large scale” attack was “progressing smoothly,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed in a series of posts on Twitter.

Wikipedia. “2 and 5 September 2019 Kabul bombings”.

Wikipedia. “17 September 2019 Afghanistan bombings”.

On 17 September 2019, two suicide bombings killed over 48 people in Charikar and Kabul, Afghanistan. The first attack occurred at a rally for presidentAshraf Ghani which killed over 26 and wounded over 42.[1] Ghani was unharmed in the incident.[2] The second bombing occurred in Kabul near the US embassy. In this incident 22 were killed and another 38 were injured in the explosion.[3] Children and women are among the dead and wounded in both attacks, also multiple soldiers were killed.[4] The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, and said they will commit more attacks to discourage people from voting in the upcoming presidential elections.[5][6]

Wikipedia. “Track II Diplomacy”.

Wikipedia. “Zalmay Khalilzad” (U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation).

CBS News, Posted to YouTube August 23, 2019.