Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 03, 2007


Last summer British troops had been under siege and took fatalities in the small Afghan city of Musa Qala. Musa Qala is also the name of the river next to the city as well as the name of the province (map - pdf).

Taliban did regularly attack the Brits and the city was coming apart. The provincial governor cut a deal with the Talibs and the city elders. The Brits approved as did the Afghan president Karzai.

The elders took over, a local police force was set up and in October the British left the area. Everybody was satisfied except the U.S., which criticized the deal.

Yesterday the Taliban came back.

Under the command of one Mullah Abdul Ghafoor, they rammed a tractor into the local police station, took weapons away and put up their flag. It is currently not clear if they are still there or have left the city. Families have fled in fear of a NATO/ISAF reprisal and ISAF is indeed preparing to go in again.

Mullah Abdul Ghafoor is a renowned local figure. In April 2000 a man was executed for killing him. In August 2003 he was captured north of Kandahar. On May 15 2004 two of his brothers were detained. In August 2006 Afghan police killed him again.

The Taliban say the original deal about Musa Qala was broken when US forces bombed the house and killed the brother of Mullah Abdul Ghafoor near Yatimchay (also transrcibed as Yateemcha), some 6 miles south of the city of Musa Qala and also on the banks of the river Musa Qala.

The US Air Force reported that raid:

In Afghanistan Jan. 25, an Air Force B-1B Lancer conducted a strike on Taliban extremists near Musa Qal'eh. The bomber expended guided bomb unit-38s on enemy targets.

A GBU-38 is a 500lb bomb. They released several.

Other sources confirm the strike:

At least eight Taliban fighters, including the brother of a local commander, were killed in bombing by NATO forces in Helmand. Police chief of the province Nabi Jan Mullahkhel said the militants were killed in an operation in the Yateemcha area of Musa Qala district. Mullahkhel added the dead also included the brother of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghafoor and his other colleagues. They were holding a meeting at a secret place in the Yateemcha area. A NATO statement said the area, where the air strike was carried out, was outside the limits where they were observing a peace deal. The statement said the action was part of efforts to restore peace to the district.

In a comment in The Guardian defense journalist Robert Fox seems not to be happy about such action as "part of efforts to restore peace to the district."

The ISAF commander General Richards, a Brit, is just leaving the job and the successor is U.S. General Dan McNeil. McNeil had been U.S. commander in Afghanistan in 2002 and at that time did get some criticism for aggressive bombing.

It seems obvious that the British supported deal in Musa Qala did hold the peace for a few months but unraveled last week because the U.S. bombed an alleged Taliban (or family?) meeting nearby. Did General Richards agree to that raid?

This may have been intended or it may not have been. The U.S. may have believed that the peace deal did not include the nearby town of Yatimchay. The Musa Qala elders, the Taliban, provincial governor and the Brits may have a different view on that. What did each participant understand to be included with "Musa Qala" when the deal was made?

We do not know. But what this definitly demonstrates is that any kinetic approach in the tribal and deeply conservative Pashtun provinces will result in a kinetic answer.

There is no way to bomb the way to peace. Peace is restored across negotiating tables, not by GBUs.

Posted by b on February 3, 2007 at 20:21 UTC | Permalink


Great Post b, I am thinking we are coming to a defining moment in the US fiasco in Iraq. The Saudis have now supplied the Baath/Sunni with the necessary ammo to shoot US heli's at will. Israeli interests must be intent on loading those F15/16's with arsenals. But Mr Magoo (Olmert) is in charge!

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Feb 3 2007 22:12 utc | 1

sorry wrong thread for second part of my post.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Feb 3 2007 22:13 utc | 2

So it takes several 500 lb bombs to kill a handful of (alleged) bad guys? Sheesh - no wonder it costs several billion a week on our various ill-conceived war efforts. On Monday Bush will be asking Congress for another $275 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted by: Maxcrat | Feb 4 2007 1:24 utc | 3


Reminds me of an old joke, but in this case we have to increase the amount by several orders of magnitude...
A 100 billion here, a 100 billion there, and pretty soon your talking about some serious money!

Posted by: Rick | Feb 4 2007 1:57 utc | 4

Totally amazed at your detailed analysis, and as mentioned earlier, such quality comments will not be found anywhere else. Not much in the media, accurate or inaccurate, about what is happening so I don’t have a clue. Perhaps I am just too concentrated on Iraq right now and not noticing. The news reports in your post cite the typical “to and fro” or should I say “Ring around the Rosie” (or should I say Opium?). This particular incident did not sound like a big deal in the overall scheme of things. Not being familiar with the situation, I don’t know how much support the Taliban has with the general population, even in this ‘tribal area’. And for me, another important question is, “What outside support, from Pakistan or wherever, are the Taliban fighters receiving?”

However, no matter the answers regarding Taliban support, I agree with your conclusion: It is just plain crazy to bomb your way to piece, oops I mean peace, when you will loose desired support of the population.

Posted by: Rick | Feb 4 2007 3:00 utc | 5


as b makes clear this 'british' strategy was extremely important because in part it was an aknowledgement of their defeat. the pact the british made was the devil making a deal with the devil. it depended uniquely on a lack of agression of the taliban. it is clear for all the blairtalk - this war they have also lost - they were never interested in democracy & afghanistan will return to a country of warlords

the u s will in their normally stupid way will bring disproportionate force to helmand & of course will concretise all the forces of the taliban & offer them more support

their handling of strategy & tactics is so transcedentally imbecilic - it is difficult to not believe - this disorder & chaos - wasn't deliberately conceived

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 4 2007 3:24 utc | 6


I understand, (I think).. What I meant in saying ‘wasn’t a big deal’ was not the British capitulation in autumn of 2006 [I have not seen a detail of such agreement(s)], but this most recent incident in this town.

Is there more to the story, besides the American forces screwing things up by bombing?

I probably am missing something here. And I have no idea whether the bombing was to intentionally ruin prior agreements. My guess is probably the American leadership in Afghanistan couldn’t give a crap.

Posted by: Rick | Feb 4 2007 4:31 utc | 7

British fear gung-ho Americans

SENIOR defence sources have voiced fears that an imminent push by the United States in Afghanistan will force British soldiers to adopt an overly aggressive approach that will damage relations with ordinary Afghans and play into the hands of the Taliban.

The extent of “frictions” between US and British commanders are revealed in the latest edition of Pegasus, the journal of the Parachute Regiment, in which an unnamed senior officer accuses the Americans of undermining British strategy during last year’s handover.
“The UK taskforce arrived in theatre immediately prior to Operation Mountain Thrust, an offensive operation being planned by the US commander to destroy and defeat the Taliban,” Pegasus says. “Despite our ‘ownership’ of Helmand and our request to conduct ops in ‘the British way’ we were unable to prevent Mountain Thrust occurring. As a result of the threat of unilateral action and in order to ensure our own force protection, UK taskforce’s involvement was forced.”
“Consequently the operation created a dent in the UK taskforce’s reputation with the local population and meant an indifferent start to the mission.”

As US Army General Dan McNeil takes over command of Nato forces today, British defence sources fear that the switch will herald tougher tactics. While a number of prominent US commanders have commended “the British approach” to counter-insurgency, the bulk of the US military has tended in both Iraq and Afghanistan to be more aggressive.

“There has been a lot of talk with a new counter-insurgency manual they have just issued of a change in the US position, but the truth is they just don’t get it,” a senior British source said.

“You have at all costs to keep the local population on your side or you have no chance of winning.”

Posted by: b | Feb 4 2007 7:32 utc | 8

Guardian/Observer: Taliban town seizure throws Afghan policy into disarray

General McNeill, nicknamed 'Bomber' because of his taste for air power, is known to be 'far from a fan'. American diplomats said drily last week that they did not see the deal as 'a model in any way'. British officers last week described American and UK relations as 'at an all-time low'.

The truth is that the Musa Qala agreement went right to the heart of doctrinal differences among Nato allies. The Americans favour a 'kinetic approach' that is, in the words of one British senior soldier, 'a lot less carrot, a lot more stick and considerably more projectiles'.

The Musa Qala agreement began to unravel, after three months of relative peace, last week. Encouraged by the new provincial governor indicating that he was planning to be harder on the Taliban than before, local elders in Musa Qala, possibly armed by the Afghan government, disarmed Mullah Ghaffour, the key local Taliban commander, and forced him to leave the town. Then came a Nato bombing raid by an American B-1B stealth jet just outside the five-kilometre exclusion zone around the town which narrowly missed Ghaffour but killed his brother and 20 followers. Incensed, suspecting that the elders had given away his hiding place, the militant set about gathering his forces. On an individual level, in local Pashtun society, a man's honour depends on exacting revenge. And Ghaffour had allies.

Posted by: b | Feb 4 2007 7:48 utc | 9

Just in: Taliban Leader Killed in NATO Airstrike

NATO-led troops killed a senior Taliban leader with a precision airstrike near a southern Afghan town overrun by militants, a spokesman for the alliance said Sunday.

Col. Tom Collins said the airstrike near Musa Qala on Sunday morning killed a senior Taliban leader riding in a car.
Collins didn't immediately name the person killed in the strike, but Mohammad Wali, a Musa Qala resident, said the airstrike killed a Taliban leader named Mullah Abdul Gafoor and some of his associates while they were riding in a truck through a small village just outside Musa Qala.

Hmm - I would not bet that they really hit him. That tomcat has several lives ...

Posted by: b | Feb 4 2007 8:19 utc | 10

For those of you who have military experience/knowledge, can it truly be said that a 500 lb bomb dropped from a plane is a "precision strike"?

Posted by: Maxcrat | Feb 4 2007 14:05 utc | 11

it is difficult to not believe - this disorder & chaos - wasn't deliberately conceived

hear ye

Posted by: annie | Feb 4 2007 15:30 utc | 12


it can be, with today's technology you can truly put a bomb in a pickle barrel from high altitude and at high speed. with a time delay fuze, the bomb can penetrate several floors before exploding and if done correctly destroy only the house that was the intended target and leave surrounding houses relatively undamaged.

this is much easier to do than to lay siege to the house as you would have to do if you had no air force. it probably does less damage too if you consider that rockets and such would probably be fired at the house even if it were put under siege in the classic sense.

another thing to keep in mind, though they are referred to as 500 lb bombs, the amount of explosive is about 192 lbs with rest of the weight made up of the cast iron casing.

Posted by: dan of steele | Feb 4 2007 15:31 utc | 13

ya fellows are amazing!
the MoA is truly a enlightening place in such dark times
thanks to all of you "Moon Team" for such great infos and analisis

Posted by: | Feb 4 2007 18:41 utc | 14

What has happened in Afgh as far as I can tell from reading only is that bit by bit the Taliban, who are at heart anti-Gvmt. down home 'root' forces, with multiple local ties and often a friendly manner, have been gradually re-accepted but the Afhghanis, due to the murderous and disgusting performance of the Coalition/Nato/ Afgh. Gvmnt.

Locals, just as previous, prefer anyone who talks and can keep order, to bombs from the skies and foreign devils. This is kind of re-play of history when the Taliban swept into Kabul and took control, entering a vacuum left by others, with their trucks and sawed off shotguns and beards. Kicking up the dust in memory of Mullah Omar (who is going strong btw last I heard.)

The nominal power holders (Coalition and puppet Gvmt in the shape of fashion plate Karzai) have been in stand-offs and negotiations and mutual posturings vis. the Taleb, war-lords, poppy growers, powerful farmers, and even weird entities like NGOs into women’s lib ... the potshots and chases across the fields, the meets to ‘discuss’ (nothing is agreed, tea is drunk), those stand offs going on and on, punctuated by dead goats, destroyed houses, sat TV for the rich, very sick children... a stasis is reached, a void, an abandonment, a giving up.

The Taliban will take Kandahar in the spring.

Err, so what is that the US or the Coalition (Usuk), or the NATO (dribs and drabs of contributing countries), or the UN want to accomplish there? I forget.

Posted by: Noirette | Feb 4 2007 19:33 utc | 15

U.S. in Afghanistan may mean harder line

military officials said privately they expect McNeill to take a harder line with militants than his predecessor, Gen. David Richards.

Richards backed a peace deal in the southern town of Musa Qala that crumbled in his last days in command when an estimated 200 Taliban fighters overran the town on Thursday. NATO said a targeted airstrike Sunday killed a key Taliban leader causing the upheaval.

One American military officer who labeled McNeill a "warfighter to the bone" said his arrival likely signals the end of such deals, saying they would go under "much greater scrutiny." The official asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A senior Afghan military official, meanwhile, said the Defense Ministry expected McNeill to implement a policy of "strong military action." Other American officials said they expected a stronger approach under McNeill without specifying what that would be.

Posted by: b | Feb 4 2007 20:48 utc | 16

Maybe it has been mentioned in an open thread, anyway I do not have a link but I read the other day that the Nato troops from the Netherlands refused to burn poppy fields. This was news of the "Dutch loves drugs, know what I mean? Know what I mean?"-type, but from the content it was clear that the dutch troops had decided that they were not going to burn any poopy fields in their sector as it enraged the local population.

Coherence within the Nato/coalition/US and lackeys troops seams low.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Feb 4 2007 23:49 utc | 17

jesus, the french have not forgiven the us and its pals for bombing the shit out of caen yet

the pashtuns are less forgiving than the french

Posted by: Dismal Science | Feb 5 2007 0:44 utc | 18

jesus, the french have not forgiven the us and its pals for bombing the shit out of caen yet

the pashtuns are less forgiving than the french

Posted by: Dismal Science | Feb 5 2007 1:10 utc | 19

Thanks, Dan @13.

Posted by: Maxcrat | Feb 5 2007 9:38 utc | 20

thanks for the biography on Mullah Abdul Ghafoor. Quite enlightening.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Feb 5 2007 12:07 utc | 21

Afaik, much of the poppy burning in the past few years are ‘photo ops’ for Westerners. You can tell by looking at the pictures - staged ain’t it. In any case the doubling or tripling of the trade - eg:

..VIENNA, 18 November 2004 (UN Information Service) -- This year, opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 64 per cent compared to 2003, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004, released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)..

shows that repression was never implemented. The latest press release (7.1.07) from the UN only mentions alternative projects, underlines that farmers, poor peasants, and migrant workers, as well as small middlemen and women will starve (that word is not used) without the poppy.>UNdoc

It is their only cash crop; the only crop for which one can borrow; only crop one can be certain to sell, etc.

My suggestion would be to let Afgh. become the world’s producer of of opium and its derivatives, in a controlled trade way, with the drugs legalized world-wide (on the model of alcohol, with stricter and different controls for medical use, which is tremendous.)

That isn’t acceptable, as the money made from illegal trade is stupendous, beyond belief.

Posted by: Noirette | Feb 5 2007 12:36 utc | 22

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