As the presidential and provincial council elections get nearer, insurgent attacks in the northern province of Kunduz in Afghanistan are increasing. Many NATO soldiers and Taliban militants have been killed in the recent operations and last week Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the running mate of President Karzai, narrowly escaped an attempt on his life in the province. Earlier, an official of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan was shot dead in Kunduz.
The northern part of Afghanistan is considered relatively peaceful compared to other militancy-hit strongholds of the Taliban in southern and southeastern parts of the country. When the Taliban controlled the country before 2001, Kunduz was the centre of their military command in Northern Afghanistan. The recent consecutive attacks in the province have encouraged speculation that the fighters of Tahir Yaldosh's Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have arrived in Kunduz in large numbers. The Taliban regime provided a safe haven for them prior to 2001. After NATO forces ousted them, terrorists of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan with close links to Al-Qaeda escaped to the tribal areas of Pakistan. During the recent military operation by the Pakistani army some foreigners were reportedly arrested. According to media reports, there have been many Uzbek and Chechen fighters in Waziristan and other parts of Pakistan's Tribal Areas. Most of these Uzbek fighters are Tahir Yaldosh's men.
According to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, these men have moved to the northern parts of Afghanistan after the recent military operation by the Pakistani Army. Spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, General Zahir Azimi, gave a press conference on July 22, 2009 with the spokesman of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The General pointed out that the reason behind the increasing militant attack in Kunduz is because of the agreement in Moscow allowing US military supplies through Russian territory across Northern Afghanistan. He confirmed that the arrival of Tahir Yaldosh's men in the north have disrupted the electoral process. Prior to this operation, the Ministry of Defense had confirmed the arrest of some foreign nationals from Kunduz.
The biggest military offensive by German troops started last week in the area. Germany has the third-largest contingent with about 3,380 troops in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan. In the final week of the previous month, three German troops were killed in Kunduz alone. This was followed by another attack that killed four US trainers in this province. This most recent NATO operation is aimed at laying the foundations for peaceful Afghan elections to take place, free of Taliban disruption.
Tahir Yaldosh is said to have direct links with Al-Qaeda. Several media outlets have reported the arrest or killing of Tahir Yaldosh, but none of these reports have ever been confirmed. Yaldosh's men are said to have been present in the Uzbek areas of the north since last year and according to local sources, the militants are not only continuing operations in these areas but they have also set up small training camps from where fighters are spreading to other provinces.
Even militants are said to be controlling some areas in Kunduz whilst collecting religious tax from people. About 10 schools have been shut down due to insurgent attacks during the last couple of months alone. As the Afghan Ministry of Defense has pointed out, if NATO supplies go through Tajikistan, Kunduz will continue to be a major strategic location for insurgents to disrupt the transportation and the NATO mission.
Nobody knows if Yaldosh himself is leading the underground movement in the north or not. Currently there are near 700 German troops in Kunduz and the NATO-led ISAF strategists should pay more attention to Kunduz and deploy more ISAF troops there. The numbers of forces in Kunduz are not enough to meet the severe threat of an emerging insurgency led by forces linked to Al-Qaeda. Before the situation gets too grim military strategists should take all possible steps to hunt down the increasing Al-Qaeda fighters in the northern province. The focus of attention given to the insurgency in the south and southeast by the NATO forces will only serve to bring the peaceful north of the country under the control of militants.
Abbas Daiyar is a Kabul-based journalist writing for Daily Outlook Afghanistan, where he is an editorial board member.
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