August 11, 2009

Is Kandahar Falling?

My friend Erica Gaston -- the pride of St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana -- is a lawyer and human rights researcher based in Kabul who has done some excellent work on civilian casualties. Here, in the Huffington Post, she gives me a nice shout-out before asking the kind of question that keeps me up at night:

Has Kandahar already fallen?

• Taliban intimidation has virtually curtailed any sense of normal life in Kandahar. Open support for the government, much less international forces, is an invitation for a night letter or worse. Government officials, teachers, and aid workers (those left) are regularly killed, assaulted, or otherwise harassed. Many of the pro-government clergy in Kandahar have already been assassinated or forced to go into hiding because of threats in the last few years. Girls cannot go to school without fear of attacks, the most notable being an acid attack on 15 girls going to school.

• After years of extreme security threats, frequent incidents of air strikes and nighttime raids, high government corruption and graft, and a dearth of government protection or services, the majority of the population, if not ideologically pro-Taliban, are against the international military presence and the Afghan government (at least in its current iteration).

• The Afghan government and the international community have virtually ceased to operate in any meaningful capacity in Kandahar due to extreme security threats. Afghan government officials do not move at all, except under tight security and in a limited security corridor. Attacks on Afghan National Police are routine - a friend who had just returned from Kandahar recently showed me a picture of an ANP officer with an ax to the back of the head.

• Most humanitarian workers and journalists have simply pulled out of Kandahar because they cannot operate under the intense security restrictions. Those who remain are prisoners to their compounds. The incidents that have happened when they do leave their compounds are chilling. A brave researcher, Paula Loyd, was doused in cooking oil and set on fire when she ventured out of her compound last year.