A failed plot to oust the Bangladesh government, on January 19, 2012 by what the army described as “religiously fanatic” officers, likened with Hizb-ut-Tahrir has raised questions over the level of Islamist penetration in the military. Security forces arrested five members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir but the alleged coup leader, a major, remains at large.
The army, a relatively secular institution in Bangladesh, said about 16 current and former officers were involved from Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a very radical Islamist group outlawed in Bangladesh but operating freely in many Western countries.
Intelligence officials said hundreds of pro-Islamist officers and soldiers had been drafted into the army in recent years and some had now reached the middle ranks. The crackdown on these elements within the country by the Sheikh Hasina government hasn’t gone down well with Islamist political groups. These include the Jamaat-e-Islami political party and others whose leaders are now behind bars.
Army intelligence discovered that the conspirators were operating through Facebook and by cell phone to recruit others. In February 2009, a similar two-day revolt starting in the capital, Dhaka, and spreading to a dozen other cities ended with the death of 70 people, including 51 army officers.
Bangladesh has had a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups since gaining independence in 1971. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s first president and father of the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, was assassinated during his overthrow by the army in 1975. Rahman’s overthrow came partly due to Islamist complaints about his relative secularism and alliance with Hindu India.
Bangladesh was run by a military dictator again from 1982 to 1990. Democracy was restored in 1991, but street battles between supporters of Prime Minister Hasina and her political rival, Khaleda Zia, prompted the army to step in again in January 2007.
The fact that the country’s prime minister is a woman further infuriates the Islamists. In recent years Hizb-ut-Tahrir has changed its tactics from covert to overt, organizing seminars and demonstrations despite being outlawed by the government. Bangladeshi Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s leaders has written many books claiming that a Judeo-Christian plot caused the caliphate’s demise and criticized the form of moderate Islam in Bangladesh as “This Islam is not at all Islam.”
Next year, elections are scheduled for Bangladesh and Islamist parties are believed to have good chances for winning the election or at least doing well enough to become partners in a government coalition.
The crash of an American helicopter on August 7 with the loss of 30 men, many of whom were elite Navy SEALs, brought the highest casualties of any event in the decade-long U.S. war in Afghanistan. How did it happen and what does it tell us about the situation in Afghanistan?
This event took place took place in the Tangi valley of Maidan Wardak province in the eastern part of the country. It is known as a Taliban-controlled area. Frequent U.S.-led night raids have apparently won the insurgents more popular support among generally xenophobic Afghans. Night raids have been one of the most successful tactics used by foreign troops hunting insurgents who hide among Afghan civilians but are also quite risky, especially in unfriendly territory like the Tangi valley.
Most of those killed were members of SEAL Team 6, part of the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). Those units spearheaded the raid in Pakistan that killed Usama bin Ladin. Was this attack, then, revenge for bin Ladin’s death? If it is seen that way in Afghanistan and Pakistan that would constitute a considerable defeat for the United States as its enemies would then exaggerate their ability to retaliate and be incited to fight harder.
While more intelligence has to be collected to confirm whether this might be the case, the operation itself was certainly a deliberate, planned effort on the Taliban’s part. As the special operation team moved through the valley, it soon saw insurgents armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket- propelled grenade launchers, the most common weapons used by insurgent foot soldiers.
A senior Afghan government official explained that Taliban commander Qari Tahir lured U.S. forces into an ambush by feeding them false information about an important meeting of insurgent leaders taking place there. He also said that four Pakistanis helped Tahir carry out the operation.
American retaliation was militarily successful to some extent though not necessarily politically so. A group of 15 militants fled the valley immediately after the clash and took refuge in the safe house in the neighboring Chak District.
Shortly after midnight, International Security Assistance Forces hit the safe house and killed 13 Taliban soldiers, while two escaped, according to Afghan government sources and villagers. The Taliban forces were part of the Mullah Muhibullah network that operated in the valley, deploying both military forces and suicide bombers. Muhibullah and one of his chief lieutenants were among those killed.The U.S. forces thus showed their ability to locate insurgents and go after them effectively. But the Taliban also showed their skill at infiltrating the Afghan government and feeding false information to mislead NATO forces. The Taliban’s growing strength was also indicated by its ability to kill several high-ranking government officials despite their tight security, including the powerful half-brother of Afghan president Ahmed Wali Karzai, a leading figure in Kandahar.
The Taliban will likely attack more often as the timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops is implemented. The question is how and whether the NATO forces and the Afghan government can counter this trend. Heavy U.S. casualties might persuade the American government to pull out faster and can certainly persuade Afghans that the Taliban might well be the winning side in the aftermath.