A Taliban Victory in One of Three War Arenas Will Cut Kabul off

The Taliban ambush which left ten members of an International Assistance Mission medical aid team dead on Aug. 5, aside from the human tragedy, was integral to the latest twist in the Afghanistan war.
Taliban insurgents set upon the group on its way back from a three-week mission to provide eye care to villagers in a Nuristan valley isolated by towering peaks. Certain they were not just medics but agents of US, German and British intelligence, the insurgents stalked them from the moment they entered this remote part of northeastern Afghanistan where bitter battles for control have been raging for some months.
Seen in terms of the undercover war, DEBKA-Net-Weekly cites Western intelligence circles in Kabul as likening this Taliban intelligence "feat" to its success eight months ago in planting the Jordanian physician Humam Khalil Abu-Mulai al-Balawi at a CIA facility as a double agent, who killed seven US agents by blowing himself up among them.
No one confirms whether or not the American, German and British doctors also engaged in intelligence-gathering. But sending them without a security escort to a region where US Special Forces and Afghan commandos are battling insurgents would have suggested this to the insurgents.

Fighting in the northeast begins to shape war

The Afghanistan war has resolved itself into three overlapping battle arenas, focusing around the southwestern province of Helmand, Wardak province in the central east region southeast of Kabul and the Kunar and Nuristan provinces to the northeast of the capital.
The state of play in the Southwest is best described as a fragile draw, with the Taliban holding a slender edge against the combined US-British-Afghan forces. Any shift in this uneasy balance would permit the Taliban to surge into Kandahar, take control of the town and so unlock the Afghan-Pakistan frontiers to the unrestrained influx into Afghanistan of Taliban fighters from Waziristan, North and South. US-led forces would be trapped in an enemy encirclement and the Kandahar-Kabul highway laid open for the Taliban to march on the capital.
The fighting in Wardak focuses on the struggle to control the provincial capital of Maidan Shahr (pop. 60,000). Neither side holds all parts of the town. If Taliban pushes the Americans out, it will be in a position to advance in two columns – one making north for Kabul and throwing it to siege, the second heading for the Kabul-Kandahar highway section running through the capital and following it east, the while collecting scattered Taliban groups on the way and blocking the route from time to time.
The change of US commanders in Afghanistan and the decision to halt preparations for an autumn offensive in Kandahar have turned the Maidan Shahr front into the most decisive of the war. An American defeat there would cut US forces in Central Afghanistan off from their units in the south.

Fighting in northeast crucial for situation on two other fronts

Shaykh Nur ul-Haqq Mujahid bin Mohamed, the commander of Taliban forces defined the importance of the Maydan Shar Corridor as follows: "The battles between the mujahideen and the Crusaders occur to control the corridor and the two sides will swap control of it during the day, but at night, the mujahideen will take complete control of it and all the roads leading to the district."
Ul-Haqq insisted that the growing number of US troops in Afghanistan is less important than their morale, which he claims is falling. "This ailment cannot be evaded by increasing the number of troops," he said.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military experts note that, given the precarious state of the war on the first two fronts, the situation in the conjoined Kunar and Nuristan provinces of the northeast has become crucial.
In the last few weeks, combat had focused on the Barg-e-Mattal district of the eastern province of Nuristan, which has switched hands three times this year between coalition-Afghan government and insurgent forces.
Both the Afghan government and the Taliban confirmed that after a siege of nearly two weeks, the district fell to the Taliban in last week of July, whereupon, on Aug. 2, US officers led Afghan commandos in a counter-offensive to regain control of the key Barg-e-Mattal district.
The medical team was ambushed three days later as the fighting there continued.

Fighting over Barq-e-Matal – key insurgent transit hub to Pakistan

The importance of the Barq-e-Matal northeast of Kabul to the fortunes of the war is incalculable.
It is a transit area to and from the strategic northern Pakistan district of Chitral nextdoor, which lies north of Waziristan near the federally-controlled Northern Aras of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Barq-e-Matal is also the stamping ground of large numbers of former Hezb-i-Islami fighters associated with the renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his top battlefield commander Kashmir Khan.
A former prime minister, Hekmatyar is one of the most controversial and brutal figures in Afghanistan with a long history of innumerable changes of loyalty. A deadly enemy of America, he has variously allied himself with Iran, Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Today he is a volatile partner of Mullah Omar in the Taliban insurgency and a friend of al Qaeda.
This warlord's main power base is in eastern Afghanistan, mainly in the Kunar and Nagahar provinces.
Some circles in Washington believe Hekmatyar, with his wandering allegiances, could be used as America's passport out of Afghanistan. If he were persuaded to join talks with the US, the Taliban would be hard put to stand aside. However, this notorious warlord would first insist on the exit of every last foreign troop from the country before accepting any deals.

One Afghan spared to relate how the doctors died

The US-led counter-offensive for recovering Barq-e-Mattai is vital for arresting Taliban war gains.
Once the Taliban is in control, it would have the key for opening the door for its fighters to stream from Helmand in the south, Wardak in the souotheast and the northern provinces and all converge at a point on the road to Kabul with hope, for the first time in the nine-year war, of decisively beating US-led coalition forces.
There was only one survivor from the Taliban attack on the medical team in this embattled region.
Saifullah, the Afghan who had worked for the International Assistance Mission for four years, told the Afghan authorities that he had been spared after pleading for his life and reciting verses from the Quran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources believe it more likely he was left alive to tell the tale of the deadly ambush.
He reported that the attackers, all of whom spoke Pashto, the language of most Taliban fighters, telephoned someone in Kabul and told him they had killed the entire team excepting Saifullah.
"You should not have killed any of the Afghans," said the person in Kabul.
"Are you going to kill me? Saifullah then asked. "If so, let me pray first."
Instead, the gunmen left him behind and marched in the direction of the fighting in Barq-e-Matal.

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