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Australia stuck in Afghanistan

By Revelly Robinson - posted Friday, 22 July 2011

Violence has again shaken the Afghan capital as two prominent political figures were killed in a siege on Sunday. The former governor of Uruzgan province, Jan Mohammad Khan and a member of parliament from Uruzgan, Mohammad Hashem Watanwal were both assassinated in Jan Mohammad Khan's home in the Karte Char district of Kabul in a night-time raid.

At least two armed assailants invaded the home of the powerful figure and close ally to President Hamid Karzai at around 8.00pm and battled with police for more than two hours before unconfirmed reports that one attacker was killed and another committed suicide. One of Jan Mohammad Khan's sons was also killed in the attack and several family members were held hostage. The siege shut down almost the entire city with police blocking off all roads leading to the area.

The brazen attack is the second in less than a week on high profile figures connected with Hamid Karzai. On 12 July the half brother of the President, Ahmed Wali Karzai was killed by his bodyguard in Kandahar. The actual motive behind the murder remains uncertain, although the Taliban have claimed responsibility for Wali Karzai's death.


The Taliban have already claimed responsibility for the deaths of Jan Mohammad Khan and Mohammad Hashem Watanwal.

The attack comes on the day that international security forces begin their phased transition to their Afghan counterparts. The comparatively peaceful Hazara province of Bamiyan was today handed over to the Afghan National Army.

The recent attack on the Intercontinental Hotel on 1 July and now this one comes at a time when international forces are starting to withdraw troops from the country. 10,000 of America's 100,000 strong military contingent are to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year. Canada will withdraw the bulk of their 3,000 troops from Kandahar in July 2011 as part of a parliamentary pledge made in 2008 and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's belief that with the death of Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan is no longer a global source of terrorism.

Despite the international push to reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made no such commitment on withdrawing any of Australia's 1,500 military personnel from the southern Uruzgan province. Australian soldiers have been in Uruzgan since 2002 helping to build the capacity of the Afghan National Army and Police and being involved in the Provincial Reconstruction Taskforce (PRT).

With this latest attack against key officials connected to Uruzgan, one wonders whether this poorly developed province will gain increasing importance in the fight against the Taliban. The heart of the Taliban insurgency has always been thought of as Kandahar in the country's south. The neighbouring province of Helmand has also been a location of frequent attacks.

The pattern of targeted attacks against key officials of the Karzai clan points to a deliberate move by the Taliban to threaten the President's inner circle. Jan Mohammad Khan was also a member of Karzai's Popalzai tribe from Kandahar. Although Karzai was born in Kandahar and then moved to India and Quetta in Pakistan during the Taliban reign, Uruzgan is regarded as the place where he began his ascendancy to power. It was here that Karzai formed the close political and tribal associations that would eventually secure his role as the controversially elected leader of Afghanistan. This has been documented by Dutch journalist Bette Dam in her book Expedition Uruzgan.


Australia is contributing AU$1.2 billion of defence spending on the country to counter insurgency movements in Uruzgan and an additional AU$106 million on development aid. Australian efforts in Uruzgan may have increasing importance in countering the volatility coming from the south of Afghanistan.

Although widely regarded as a corrupt man,Wali Karzai was credited with maintaining the balance of power in Kandahar. He was consulted often by NATO officials due to his connections with warlords, Government figures and key representatives in Kandahar. His death represents a major blow to security attempts in the region. With Uruzgan bordering Kandahar province, it's location will now be strategic in cordoning the perceived chaos that will arise, triggered by the death of such a powerful figure.

There is no doubt that after decades of war Afghanistan still remains a tribal society. The Taliban's latest attacks are a concerted attempt to infiltrate Karzai's 'tribe'. Many of Karzai's connections are related to Uruzgan. The proximity of this province to Kandahar and the growing hostility in the south mean that insurgency attempts in Uruzgan will continue for many years to come.

The Prime Minister has not unequivocally committed to a complete troop withdrawal to Afghanistan increasing by 50% from 2010-2011, it is clear that Australia is going to be in Afghanistan for the long run…perhaps for longer than any other country intends to stay.

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About the Author

Revelly Robinson is an independent writer and consultant based in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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