Two separate attacks in Afghanistan Wednesday that killed seven CIA agents and five Canadians – including the first Canadian journalist killed in the war – offer crucial clues about the geography of the conflict that the US and its allies are fighting.
The location of the two attacks is a guideline for where the fighting could be the toughest during the remaining 18 months of the Afghan surge. Khost and Kandahar – along with the opium capital of Helmand – promise to be perhaps the most difficult areas to pacify.
As the homelands for Afghanistan’s two most capable insurgent groups – the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura – Khost and Kandahar are, in many ways, the cardinal points from which the will of the Afghan insurgency radiates.
The seven CIA agents were killed in US outpost near Khost, an eastern border town. Khost is linked to perhaps the single most capable militant pitted against the US: Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The Haqqani network established by Jalaluddin and now run by his son, Sirajuddin, is allied with the Afghan Taliban as well as Al Qaeda and has been responsible for some of the more daring attacks against the Afghan government and foreigners. Its operatives are alleged to have bombed the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008, attempted to assassinate President Hamid Karzai at a military parade in April of that year, and stormed the five-star Serena Hotel three months earlier.
In its way, the Wednesday attack in Khost was similarly daring. Somehow, the bomber managed to enter Forward Operating Base Chapman before detonating his bomb. The incident represents that worst one-day loss of life for the CIA since eight agents died in the Beirut Embassy bombing in 1983, The Washington Post reports.
Until Wednesday, only 90 CIA officers had been killed in the line of duty since the agency was founded in 1947, The New York Times adds.
The secrecy surrounding the CIA means that details on the attack are scarce, and no explanation has yet been offered as to how a suicide bomber was able to enter a heavily armed compound without detection.
But Khost is in the Haqqani network’s backyard. The terrorist group is known to operate out of North Waziristan, which is directly across the border in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. If the US surge makes advances in the Afghan east, the strongest resistance is likely to center around Khost and its two neighboring provinces, Paktia and Paktika.
The same holds true in the south, where Kandahar is the Taliban heartland and the former home of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. Intelligence suggests that Omar is perched across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, and his Quetta Shura (council) is the single greatest threat to US forces in Afghanistan, according to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan.
The Quetta Shura’s goal is to liberate Kandahar, he said in his battlefield assessment.
It is in Kandahar that the four Canadian soldiers and one journalist were killed Wednesday.
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