View Full Version : [Afghan News] February 9, 2012

03-03-2012, 04:52 AM
Pakistan nabs two Taliban members over Rabbani murder
Press TV February 9, 2012
Two men connected to the Taliban terrorist group have been arrested in Pakistan over the assassination of former Afghan president and chairman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Afghan officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Mehr News Agency on Thursday that the pair were detained somewhere in Quetta, which is located 700 kilometers (435 miles) southwest of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, in the past days.
The report comes months after Afghan government spokesman Sifatullah Safi said that the main suspect in Rabbani’s killing, Hamidullah Akhund, was arrested somewhere in the Afghan capital Kabul.
Akhund reportedly sent a bomber to kill the leader of Afghanistan’s peace process. The killer posed as a Taliban emissary carrying conciliatory messages. He was escorted into Rabbani’s heavily guarded home on September 20, 2011, and then set off explosives hidden in his turban as he greeted the former Afghan president.
Akhund was a critical interlocutor between the peace council and Taliban leaders in Quetta, Pakistan.
He recorded an audio message from Rabbani to the Taliban, which he promised to deliver, and passed along reports of his progress and conversations with high-ranking Taliban leaders.
Akhund then called with news that Quetta-based Taliban group was ready to talk to the Afghan government.
Akhund said he could not go to Kabul personally, but would send a man he trusted. The emissary turned out to be the bomber.
President Karzai and his government have come under intense pressure from political rivals and the Afghan public to arrest whoever was responsible for the plot to assassinate Rabbani.

Top US envoy 'met Taliban leaders in Qatar'
America’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan has held a meeting with Taliban leaders in Qatar, an Afghan official revealed on Wednesday, in a further tentative step towards formal negotiations with the insurgents. By Barney Henderson, and agencies 08 Feb 2012
Marc Grossman held the talks with Taliban representatives late last month in Qatar, where a team of Taliban diplomats is based ahead of the opening of a political office there to host negotiations between America, the insurgents and the Afghan government.
“I can confirm that Mr Grossman met with the Taliban representatives in Qatar. When the president (Mr Karzai) was in Rome, Grossman came over to his residence and briefed him about his meetings with the Taliban,” said the senior official, who asked to remain anonymous.
Representatives from the former Taliban regime assembled in Qatar last month, with the aim of opening the official office later this year “to come to an understanding with other nations”.
The delegation includes Tayeb Agha, former secretary to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who has acted as go-between with American and German diplomats for more than a year.
Mr Grossman’s meeting, if confirmed, would be the first known contact made between the Taliban and a senior, named member of the Obama administration since the start of the Afghanistan war over ten years ago.
Mr Karzai, rejected by the Taliban as a “puppet”, has said publicly that he supports the plan, but was widely reported to be concerned that he would be sidelined in the Taliban’s talks with the US.
Washington dispatched Mr Grossman to Kabul last month to assure the Afghan president of a leading role once the talks get under way.
“Our stance is unchanged: the president wants the talks to be Afghan-led and Afghan owned,” the official in Kabul said.
Meanwhile, a leading US general said on Wednesday that Afghanistan’s forces will be “good enough” to take over its security by the end of 2014, even though only a small number of them now operate independently from Nato-led troops.
“I can tell you personally from experience and from feedback from others, these soldiers will fight, particularly at the company level. There’s no question about that,” said Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, deputy commander of US forces and the head of the Nato-led force’s joint command.
“And they’re going to be good enough, as we build them, to secure their country and to counter the insurgency that they’re dealing with now.”

Afghans Accuse Authorities Of Passport Scam
February 9, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Frud Bezhan, Zarif Nazar
A shortage of blank passports in Afghanistan has led to a flourishing black market for the little blue books, according to Afghans who say they have had to go underground to obtain them.
Afghanistan's passport agency announced in October that they were running out of passports, and this situation has been causing problems
With no domestic ID system in place, passports are essentially the country's only official form of identification.
Four months later, Afghan citizens are accusing officials of taking advantage of the shortage by selling the much-desired documents to the highest bidder through hired middlemen.
And with more than 1 million Afghans waiting for a passport, many are more than willing to go down that route.
Mohammad, a Kabul resident who did not wish to reveal his full name for fear that the authorities would confiscate his passport, claims he turned to the black market to buy the document after trying unsuccessfully for several weeks to obtain one through the proper channels.
Soaring Passport Prices
Eventually he bought his passport for about $400 from a "middleman," agents Mohammad believes are hired by corrupt passport officials to sell travel documents on their behalf for large sums of money.
"We came here to get passports," he said. "The problem is that these illegal traders are selling them. We can't get passports unless we pay 20,000 or 25,000 afghanis [about $400-$450]."
According to Mohammad, the going price can sometimes run as high $800.
Mohammad maintains that he had to provide adequate documentation to the middleman and that the passport he received is genuine.
General Ayoub Nasiri is head of the Afghan Passport Agency, which is overseen by the Interior Ministry. He claims that a limited number of blank passports were kept available, and are issued under special circumstances, such as when a person has to travel abroad for health reasons.
He denies that any of his staffers are involved in illegal activities, insisting that illegal third parties who seek commissions in return for helping people obtain passports are to blame.
"I ask our people not to take passports from third parties but to go to the offices directly," he said. "They should know the law and their rights; meaning nobody can take money from them. They should know this."
When asked how a third party would be able to obtain a passport when they are only being given out under special circumstances, Nasiri said, "I don't know."
According to Nasiri, the Passport Agency ran out of blank passports last year when it was inundated with applications from Afghans seeking to participate in the Hajj, and from Afghans who had been deported from Iran for not having a passport.
Reforming The System
Dr. Azizullah Ludin, the head of Afghanistan's High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOOAC), a government watchdog, confirmed that some passport officials are issuing passports in return for large amounts of money from citizens.
Ludin believes these examples of wrongdoing highlight the problem with the current passport system, under which the Passport Agency has only one office, in Kabul.
Outside the capital, passports are distributed to provincial leaders and security chiefs who, in turn, issue and sell them through their offices.
In order to minimize the chances of bribery and the processing times for issuing passports, Ludin told RFE/RL that the HOOAC is working with the Interior Ministry to create a passport system that is firmly controlled by government authorities.
"We need to create a passport system in Afghanistan that is national," he said. "Whoever needs a passport shouldn't feel obliged to visit a certain commander or chief, since their primary concern is security. If there were a local passport office anybody could go there and receive the help they need."
In the meantime, Afghans will have to make do with the current system. And it now seems that there is some light at the end of the tunnel -- the Finance Ministry has ordered 1.4 million new blank documents, and 35,000 arrived just this week.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Europe contributed to this report

US Drone Kills Top Militant in NW Pakistan
VOA News February 9, 2012
Pakistani intelligence sources say a U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan has killed a senior militant with links to al-Qaida.
Badar Mansoor was killed in the attack early Thursday morning at a house in Miranshah, the main town in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area.
Officials say Mansoor led a group of Pakistani Taliban fighters in the region and had close ties to al-Qaida.
At least three other militants were also killed in the missile strike.
It was the second such attack in northwest Pakistan in as many days.
Pakistan's northwest border region is home to both Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters.
The Washington-based New America Foundation says drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,700 and 2,700 people in the past eight years.
Pakistan rejects the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty.

Russia to assist NATO troops withdrawing from Afghanistan
MOSCOW, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- Russia would allow NATO to use its territory to withdraw international troops from Afghanistan, the French Ambassador to Moscow said Thursday.
"We have agreed about transit through Russian territory of the troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan," ambassador Jean de Gliniasty told the local Kommersant daily.
This follows a statement Wednesday by Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov that Russia and NATO had discussed additional routes for cargo transport via Russian territory to supply international forces in Afghanistan.
Lavrov said the transit would be conducted by rail and air using an airfield in the city of Ulyanovsk in Central Russia.
"We are guided by the desire to assist the international forces to execute their mandate in full," Lavrov said.
The U.S. Defense Ministry has said it plans to complete combat operations in Afghanistan in 2013 and to start withdrawal in 2014.

U.S. Marines posed with Nazi symbol in Afghanistan
By Julie Watson Associated Press Thursday, February 9, 2012
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. Marine Corps confirmed Thursday that a sniper team in Afghanistan posed for a photograph in front of a flag with a logo resembling that of the notorious Nazi SS.
Use of the SS symbol is not acceptable, and the Marine Corps has addressed the issue, Lt. Col. Stewart Upton said in a statement. He did not specify what action was taken.
Col. Upton said the Marines in the photograph, posted on an Internet blog, are no longer with the unit. The picture was taken in September 2010 in Afghanistan's Sangin province.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation in Washington said it was outraged and wants a full investigation.
Mikey Weinstein with the foundation said he has been flooded with calls from former Marines offended by the photo and from one member of his organization who is an Auschwitz survivor.
"This needs to be fully investigated. This is a complete and total outrage," he said.
Mr. Weinstein said his organization was sending a letter to the head of the Marine Corps and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva, a spokesman at Camp Pendleton in California, said the photo was brought to the attention of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force inspector general in November, and he found there was no intent on the part of the Marines to identify themselves with a racist organization.
Sgt. Oliva said the investigation found that the SS symbol was meant to identify the Marines as scout snipers, not Nazis, but it was nonetheless not acceptable.
This is the second time this year the Marine Corps has had to do damage control for its troops' actions.
The Marine Corps is also investigating a separate group of Marines recorded on video urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters.

Pentagon Counters Dim Assessment of Afghan War
New York Times By SCOTT SHANE and JOHN H. CUSHMAN JR. February 8, 2012
The second-ranking American commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti of the Army, took the occasion of a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday to counter – gently and respectfully – the opinions of an Army officer who has written in Armed Forces Journal that the war in Afghanistan is going badly and that military leaders have not told the truth about it. The Times wrote about the officer, Lt. Col Daniel L. Davis, in Monday’s paper and on the At War blog on Sunday.
Here is today’s exchange:
Q: General, Bob Burns with A.P. General, I’d like to ask you to respond to the article that was published in Armed Forces Journal by Lt. Col. Dan Davis in which he says that I.S.A.F. leaders — presumably, including yourself — have been misleading the public about the degree of progress that’s been made there. He says that, whereas compared to the rosy scenario that he hears that — he says there’s been a lack of — a lack of success — I think he said a lack of success at virtually every level in Afghanistan.
GENERAL SCAPARROTTI: Right. I read the article. I — what I would say is this: It’s one person’s view of this. From my personal point of view, I do a lot of battlefield circulation; I talk to commanders and soldiers; I have assessments from others, like my sergeant major that I put on the battlefield virtually every week to walk with both Afghan and coalition parts. So I take in a lot of — a lot of data from many different places to determine my assessment, to include a very objective, detailed assessment we do every quarter.
So I’m confident that — in my personal view that our outlook is accurate.
I did read the article, and I think that as you read that article, I don’t doubt what he describes in a sense, for instance, his occasion of watching a policeman watch an insurgent depart an area. You know, I think those things happen.
We have an — we have an ANSF that has doubled in size in 18 months, and we’re presently building. So you know, there’s — what I would say to you is that we have to be — try to be very accurate about what we see and what we understand the battlefield to be and not treat it as we want it to be. So I work very hard personally at that, and I also take — I pay attention to what — the folks who perhaps disagree, and I look for people to be around my conference room table that’ll argue with me.
Q: Just one specific follow-up on — one particular thing that he said was that I.S.A.F. and U.S. troops don’t actually respect the Afghan forces, their ability —
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I disagree with that. I think I’ve seen enough of them to know there is — when I talk to soldiers — let’s take an American soldier or a private. At times this private will tell me they’re not that good. But a private is looking at it from the perspective of how he’s trained or the Marines trained, and the standards are very different.
But I can tell you personally from experience and from feedback from others, these soldiers will fight, particularly at the company level. There’s no question about that. And they’re going to be good enough as we build them to secure their country and to counter the insurgency that they’re dealing with now.
Will they be at the standard that we have for our soldiers? No, not, at least, the conventional forces. They do have — their response forces we’re training, their S.O.F. forces, the commandos, are being trained to a very high level; and I think that’s one thing that’s a bright picture here for them, is that their response forces are really coming along very well. And that will be — you know, that will be quite an asset for the country here in the future.
The general then gave his take on the morale of the Taliban and other enemy forces, responding to news reports based on a leaked NATO report, based on the interrogations of prisoners, that discussed their resiliency.
“I think they’ve been hurt, and I’ll try and describe how I view it,” he said. “We know, as I stated before, that they could not generate the tempo that they had in the past. They didn’t reach the tempo they had the year before. It was down about 9 percent over all in a year.
“Their complex attacks are down about 36 percent compared to last year,” he said.
“They have a regenerative capacity,” he warned, “particularly with the Pakistan sanctuary.”
But he said there appeared to be “dissension within the ranks” of the enemy, “because their senior commanders stay in Pakistan and security and continue to expect their midlevel leaders to increase the fight — and I think without full knowledge of just how tough that fight is for the Taliban on the other side.”
Three members of Congress members who had met with Colonel Davis to talk about the war took to the House floor today to praise him for speaking out and to call for an end to the war. Representative John Garamendi, Democrat of California, Representative Walter Jones, Republican of North Carolina, and Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, have all been skeptical about the war in the past, but they have seized upon Colonel Davis’ views as those of a credible officer with experience on the ground.
Representative Garamendi read passages from Colonel Davis’ article and declared that his “candid testimony reinforced my conviction that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, only the prospect of continued shedding of American blood in a war that is not ours to fight. Only through a negotiated political settlement amongst the Afghan factions, not through an open ended US military presence, could Afghanistan become a stable, developing country.”

Afghan forces in lead, but not in control
CNN By Larry Shaughnessy February 8th, 2012
The Obama administration plan for Afghanistan is this: The United States and NATO are training a growing Afghan security force to take over security of their own country, allowing American and other international troops to leave in two years time.
But the second-highest-ranking officer in Afghanistan said Wednesday that so far, almost no Afghan units are capable of operating without American or NATO assistance.
When asked during a briefing at the Pentagon about how many Afghan Security units can operate independently, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, replied "probably one percent ... to be honest with you ... It's a very low number."
That means while the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has turned control of about half of Afghanistan over to Afghans, almost everywhere that has happened the security forces working in those areas are still doing so with help from American and other international forces.
Even those units that operate independently still have American or NATO military advisers with them. The next-highest-rated category of Afghan units are those that are "effective with advisers." According to Scaparrotti, 42% of Afghan units fall into that category.
"That has been growing throughout. And that's really what we're trying to do. That's ... half your force ... effective with advisers. So they can operate," Scaparrotti said, adding, "They need our enablers. They need some advisory to help them. And that's where we're at today."
Scaparotti's briefing came just one day after CNN spoke exclusively with Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who, after his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, said American troops believe Afghan Security Force partners "are almost completely incapable, if they even do their job. In some cases they are colluding with the Taliban."
Davis published his opinion in a military journal this week.
Scaparrotti said Davis's criticisms are one man's opinion of the war.
"I disagree with that," Scaparrotti said. "But I can tell you personally from experience and from feedback from others, these (Afghan) soldiers will fight, particularly at the company level. There's no question about that. And they're going to be good enough, as we build them, to secure their country and to counter the insurgency that they're dealing with now."
But Daniel's criticism aside, Scaparrotti conceded the next two years will be difficult for the United States and its allies.
"I'm a realist in how tough this is going to be," he said."This is going to be a tough fight. But I'm confident that it can be done."

US Defends Progress in Afghanistan
VOA News February 8, 2012 Luis Ramirez
Pentagon - One of the top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan is defending the progress coalition troops are making in Afghanistan, after a U.S. Lieutenant Colonel publicly countered U.S. assertions the allied campaign is succeeding against Taliban insurgents.
The criticism has come from U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis in an essay he wrote called Truth, Lies and Afghanistan: How Military Leaders Have Let Us Down, which appeared in the Armed Forces Journal - an independent publication on military affairs.
In it, Davis says his experiences in Afghanistan bore - in his words, "no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground." He said he witnessed the absence of success at every level.
U.S. officials say they have made significant progress against Taliban insurgents during the past year, and that well more than half of Afghanistan’s territory is under the control of Afghan security forces.
At a Pentagon briefing Wednesday, the U.S. military’s number-two commander in Afghanistan Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti answered Davis’ criticism, saying it was only one person’s opinion of the general situation.
“I am confident, in my personal view, that our outlook is accurate,” he said.
Scaparrotti says he does not doubt some of what Davis wrote, and he believes U.S. forces have work to do in training Afghan forces.
“These soldiers will fight, particularly at the company level," he said. "There is no question about that. They are going to be good enough as we build them to secure their country and to counter the insurgency that they are dealing with now. Will they be at the standard that we have for our soldiers? No. Not at least the conventional forces.”
Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said U.S. forces would transition next year from a combat role to training Afghan soldiers and police. His remarks triggered criticism from some U.S. lawmakers who question whether Afghanistan is secure enough to begin that transition.
U.S. officials say Panetta’s statements did not deviate from previously set plans for a drawdown. They have faced further questions after the United nations reported last week that the number of civilian deaths in 2011 was the highest on record in the decade-long conflict, with 3,021 Afghan civilians killed as insurgents stepped up suicide and roadside bomb attacks.
In his remarks, Lieutenant General Scaparrotti said the U.S. military will start sending advisory teams this year to help Afghan forces take the lead in the fight against insurgents. He said the aim is to give the Afghans enough to time to get trained before U.S. forces depart in 2014.

Afghanistan set for next chapter in remarkable rise
Feb 8, 10:10 am EST By Brian Murgatroyd
DUBAI, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Less than four years after playing their first tournament against teams including Japan and Norway, Afghanistan will write a new chapter in their remarkable rise with a one-day international against Pakistan on Friday.
Afghanistan, unable to host matches during a decade of war between NATO forces and the Taliban, won their initial tournament in Jersey in May 2008.
They qualified for the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean two years later and then came within touching distance of a place at last year’s 50 overs World Cup in the Asian sub-continent.
The players’ consolation was to secure one-day international status and Friday’s match in their adopted cricketing home of Sharjah is a chance to test themselves against a Pakistan side who whitewashed England in the recent three-match test series.
Pakistan, who are also forced to play abroad because of security problems, was the country where some of the Afghanistan players were born and where they learned the game in refugee camps.
“I can assure you that millions of Afghanistan cricket supporters across the globe have been waiting for this day which comes after years of hard work, sacrifice and commitment,” Nasimullah Danish, the chief executive officer of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, told Reuters.
“Afghanistan cricket has been taking small but solid steps while making upward movement and it would be fair to say that our next target is to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.”
Those steps include the inauguration of the rebuilt Kabul Cricket Stadium last December when 8,000 spectators came to watch the national senior team take on an under-19 side.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) contributes approximately $700,000 a year to aid Afghanistan’s development and it is keen that Friday’s match encourages other top teams to follow Pakistan’s lead.
“In order for cricket to remain competitive within the international sporting marketplace, it is important that more countries are capable of performing well at the highest international level,” Tim Anderson, the ICC’s global development manager, told Reuters.
“For sides to reach that level they need to play more against higher standard opposition, so Pakistan playing Afghanistan is a terrific initiative that we are very excited about and something we would like to see more of in the future.”
Afghanistan have played in the Pakistan domestic competition and against Pakistan A sides, while two of the country’s past coaches Kabir Khan and Rashid Latif, are Pakistani.
Three Afghanistan players, wicketkeeper Mohammad Shazad, spin bowler Mohammad Nabi and fast bowler Hamid Hassan, were chosen for an ICC side who faced England before their test series against Pakistan.
Hassan was injured and unable to complete the match after taking the first two wickets in the England first innings while Nabi took five wickets and Shazad scored 51 and 74, as well as taking five catches.
“I played against them in our domestic Twenty20 tournament for Faisalabad and they have some really good, talented players,” Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq told Reuters.
“They are eager to play international cricket and for us it is good preparation going into a tough (one-day) series against England.”
A sellout crowd is expected on Friday, with the match taking place on a day when almost all workers in the UAE are able to take as a holiday.
(Editing by John Mehaffey;

Afghan jihad said to attract fewer foreign fighters
AFP By Michel Moutot 09/02/2012
The Afghan-Pakistan jihad is attracting fewer foreign fighters following the death of Osama bin Laden, the growing threat posed by US drones, and lack of funds, Western security officials say.
While no precise figure is available, it would appear that the number of would-be jihadists from abroad has been drying up, according to one security official who declined to be named.
However, more Pakistanis are willing to take up the fight and make up the numbers, he also warned.
"Over the past six months, young Frenchmen there have nearly all left Pakistan. There were 20 to 30 of them, who had either converted (to Islam) or had links to the Maghreb; today there are hardly any left," he said.
"Other European countries whose nationals used to go to Pakistan to join the jihad have drawn the same conclusion -- a drastic reduction over recent months," he added.
The "Arab Spring" revolts also acted as a magnet, with a number of jihadists moving to Libya to join the fight to remove Moamer Kadhafi from power, he said.
"Fighting in Afghanistan is also less attractive because of the idea that the Afghan Taliban want to concentrate more on home fighting and that world jihad is less and less their cup of tea," he added.
For Frank Cilluffo, who co-authored "Foreign Fighters" for the Homeland Security Policy Institute, "first and foremost, military actions, including the use of drones, has made the environment less hospitable to foreign fighters traveling to the region, by disrupting Al-Qaeda's (and associated entities') training camps and pipelines."
Direct and indirect accounts by jihadists also speak of disarray within Al-Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan where activists avoid coming together for fear of being attacked and whose weapons training now takes place indoors because of aerial and satellite surveillance.
In a report, entitled "Militant Pipeline" describing the links between the northwestern Pakistani frontier and the West, researcher Paul Cruickshank quotes one Ustadh Ahmad Faruq, described as a Pakistan-based Al-Qaeda spokesman who recently acknowledged his network's difficulties.
"The freedom we enjoyed in a number of regions has been lost. We are losing people and lack resources. Our land is being squeezed and drones fly over us," he reportedly said in an audio cassette.
"It's difficult to have reliable figures," on the number of foreign fighters, according to Cruickshank, who is a fellow at New York University's Center on Law and Security.
"I think the drone strikes have been a major issue for the militants, the death of bin Laden is going to be a very big challenge as well. He was so important for a lot of these militants -- he was the Al-Qaeda brand.
"By going over there they were joining his cause. The fact that he has been removed from the scene is likely to be a great recruiting challenge for Al-Qaeda," he said.
"But the conflict is still going on in Afghanistan and in the radical circles it is still viewed as a very legitimate jihad. So it's likely that the number of volunteers is going to be diminished, but as long as there are US soldiers to fight, I don't think it's going to dry up entirely," he added.
Hafiz Hanif, a 17-year-old Afghan who trained in northwest Pakistan, recently told Newsweek magazine the number of foreign fighters there was dwindling.
"When new people came they brought new blood, enthusiasm and money. All that has been lost. Now leaders seem to spend all their time moving from one place to another for their safety," he said.

Questions Raised in Afghan Detainee’s Case
New York Times By CHARLIE SAVAGE February 8, 2012
WASHINGTON - On the night of July 20, 2002, about two dozen American Special Forces soldiers raided a house in a village near Khost, Afghanistan. The unit was acting on a tip from an informant who said someone living there was hiding antitank mines for an insurgents’ cell.
They found a cache of mines buried in a field. They also found a young man named Obaydullah, who was carrying a notebook with several pages of diagrams for wiring improvised explosive devices. Of 220 Afghans sent to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he is among the 18 who remain.
Mr. Obaydullah is not, however, among the five senior Taliban prisoners who might be transferred to house arrest in Qatar if an agreement can be reached in connection with talks to end the war. Like some of the other Afghans at Guantámano, he is not an important enough figure to be a bargaining chip.
His case, though, drew new attention after a military defense team began investigating it last year. They talked to village elders, neighbors and family members who corroborated crucial aspects of the benign explanations offered by Mr. Obaydullah, and they concluded that certain intelligence about him had been “mischaracterized.” Civilian lawyers representing Mr. Obaydullah in a habeas corpus lawsuit filed a declaration summarizing those findings in court on Wednesday.
“With new evidence that brings into question the allegations against him, we hope we will be able to obtain a fair hearing, or that he will be sent home,” said Maj. Derek A. Poteet of the Marines, a military lawyer representing Mr. Obaydullah.
It is an accident of timing that Mr. Obaydullah is at Guantánamo. One American official who was formerly involved in decisions about Afghanistan detainees said that such a “run of the mill” suspect would not have been moved to Cuba had he been captured a few years later; he probably would have been turned over to the Afghan justice system, or released if village elders took responsibility for him.
Still, the American government has had little doubt that Mr. Obaydullah participated in the insurgency. A Justice Department brief filed last month states that he “was plainly a member of an Al Qaeda bomb cell.” In 2010, a federal judge, Richard J. Leon, denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, writing that the evidence “unmistakably supports the conclusion that it is more likely than not” that he was an insurgent.
During and after his arrest, Mr. Obaydullah’s accounts about the notebook and the land mines changed, and he is said to have confessed at a prison in Afghanistan that he had been part of a cell. But after arriving in Cuba, Mr. Obaydullah recanted, saying he had falsely confessed under abusive interrogation.
He insisted that the mines had been buried years earlier and were left behind by a Communist commander who lived in his family’s house during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. He said he had copied the diagrams in August 2001 when the Taliban conscripted him to attend a military school, but that he ran away after a few days and was using the blank pages for other purposes.
Although intelligence analysts and Judge Leon concluded that Mr. Obaydullah had made up that explanation after arriving in Cuba, family members and others from his village corroborated his explanation, the defense team said. Moreover, the defense said, an American witness backed up his account of rough treatment in custody, including that he was struck in the head with a rifle.
Judge Leon’s ruling emphasized that a soldier in the raid said the Americans had also found a car with Taliban propaganda and dried blood in the back seat. The soldier reported that Mr. Obaydullah and a business partner — another Guantánamo detainee — had been seen taking insurgents to the hospital after an accidental explosion.
But the Afghan witnesses said that two nights before the raid, Mr. Obaydullah’s wife had given birth in the car while on the way to the hospital. He had not volunteered that explanation about the blood, the defense team said, because of a cultural taboo about discussing childbirth.
Moreover, the defense team examined classified files and said the intelligence had been “unintentionally mischaracterized” to the court; no specific person had been visually identified in the original report about injured people’s being carried in a car.
There may never be certainty about Mr. Obaydullah’s history. His lawyers acknowledged that he gave inconsistent statements. The mines were destroyed. The car disappeared. The tip that shaped the interpretation of events is murky: villagers said they thought it came from two men who were “rumored to have sold false information to the Americans” and later vanished.
Mr. Obaydullah was charged before a tribunal in September 2008 with providing material support to terrorism. Those charges were withdrawn last July for technical reasons and have not been reintroduced.
The Justice Department has informed Mr. Obaydullah’s lawyers that it will oppose their request that Judge Leon reverse his ruling against the detainee, said Anne Richardson, one of the lawyers.
Matthew Rosenberg contributed reporting.

In Grip of Cold, Afghan Family Buries 8th Child
New York Times By ROD NORDLAND February 8, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - The war refugee Sayid Mohammad lost his last son on Wednesday, 3-month-old Khan, who became the 24th child to die of exposure in camps here in the past month.
“After we had dinner he was crying all night of the cold,” Mr. Mohammad said. The family had no wood and was husbanding a small portion of paper and plastic that his daughter had scavenged that day. He said the boy had seemed healthy and was breast-feeding normally, though the family’s dinner consisted only of tea and bread. But he kept crying. “Finally we started a fire, but it wasn’t enough,” Mr. Mohammad said. By 1 a.m. the boy was stiff and lifeless, he said.
Even by the standards of destitution in these camps, Mr. Mohammad’s story is a hard-luck one; Khan was the eighth of his nine children to die. Back home in the Gereshk district of Helmand Province, six died of disease, he said. Three years ago they fled the fighting in that area for the Nasaji Bagrami Camp here, where a 3-year-old son froze to death last winter, he said. Like most of Kabul’s 35,000 internal refugees, he fled the country’s war zones only to find a life of squalor sometimes as deadly, even in the capital of a country that has received more than $60 billion in nonmilitary aid over 10 years.
Later Wednesday morning, Mr. Mohammad’s sole surviving child, his daughter, Feroza, 10, stared saucer-eyed at her brother’s tiny body as it lay in the middle of the family’s hybrid dwelling, part mud hut, part tent, with United Nations-branded canvas for a roof.
Leaders of this camp say that 16 children aged 5 or younger have died here in the unseasonably cold weather and heavy snow that set in about a month ago, keeping nighttime temperatures in the mid-teens. Eight other children have died similarly in another Kabul camp, Charahi Qambar, according to camp representatives, religious leaders and families.
Government officials have expressed skepticism that the children could all have died of cold, saying the deaths were unregistered and not reviewed by medical personnel, while at the same time blaming the international aid providers for not sending more supplies.
Private Afghan companies and businessmen and some charitable groups have begun to distribute food, fuel, winter clothing, blankets, tents and cash support in the camps, but so far the effort has been sporadic and incomplete.
Other relief groups and Afghan government ministries are still in the process of surveying needs in the camp. As one relief worker said, “Starting an aid program even in a month would be fast work, and by then winter will be mostly over.”
The Nasaji Bagrami camp counts 315 families who fled from war-torn southern provinces like Kandahar and Helmand. Some of their rough shelters had wood to burn in stoves, while others, like Mr. Mohammad’s, had no substantial heat sources at all.
Mohammad Ibrahim, chosen by camp residents as their representative, held up his hand in a visual parable of the realities of inequitable resources. “See my fingers?” he said. “They are five, but none are equal.”
The Mohammad family had two large blankets to share, plus the baby boy’s blanket, a velveteen comforter with designs of teddy bears and bunny rabbits on it. “We didn’t even have enough wood to make breakfast today,” Mr. Mohammad said. A neighbor gave a small packet of potato chips to Feroza, whose name means turquoise, the gemstone.
In the bitter cold, relatives and friends gathered and meticulously followed the prescribed rituals for the dead. Hot water was brought in pitchers from neighbors’ huts. The boy’s body was laid on a plank in the hut’s mud-walled yard, and washed five times with the hot water and soap, a pink bar of Safeguard. A ditch was dug so that the wash water would drain away and no one would step in it accidentally, which they viewed as potential sacrilege. Khan was so small that the hand of the man who washed him covered half of his body.
His mother, Lailuma, peeked from the door of the hut to watch, but otherwise the women stayed inside and apart. But Feroza, in a purple head scarf, slipped unnoticed past the men close to Khan’s washing place, pressed into a crevice in the wall and watched wordlessly.
A clean white cotton sheet served as his burial shroud. The available scissors were too dull to cut it, so the men ripped it into pieces with their gloveless hands. After tying the sheet around Khan, they sprayed his shrouded form with perfume, and then they wrapped him again in his teddy and bunny blanket.
For prayers, performed on mats outside, the men removed their shoes; many had no socks. Then they carried Khan, bundled in one man’s arms, in a silent procession to a graveyard.
The camp mullah, Walid Khan, pronounced the final prayers. Khan was laid in the grave with his face toward Mecca, and each of the mourners dropped in three handfuls of the hard earth.
Mr. Mohammad had not slept. His eyes were bloodshot. The septum of his nose had cracked from the cold, bleeding a little, and leaving a small red icicle. Feroza stood just to his side and behind him a little, clutching his coat. She coughed deeply and her father started. “Now she is sick, too,” he said.

General says US military will begin sending special advisory teams to Afghanistan this year
By ROBERT BURNS AP National Security Writer February 8, 2012
WASHINGTON - The No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that U.S. military advisory teams will start deploying to Afghanistan this year to help Afghan combat forces as they take a more prominent role in fighting the Taliban.
The plan described by Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti envisions U.S. and other international troops beginning to step back from their leading role, so that responsibility for the war is fully in Afghan hands by the end of 2014. Scaparrotti, who is charge of day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan as commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, said he is pushing to get more Afghan forces into the lead before the U.S.-led coalition shrinks.
"I'm pressing commanders to put them into the lead as soon as they can," Scaparrotti told reporters at the Pentagon. "The earlier we get them into the lead, the better we have a metric of just how well they're doing and we also know better how to improve them."Scaparrotti said he is in the early stages of shifting from NATO-led to Afghan-led military operations. He estimated that just 1 percent of Afghan army battalions are able to operate "independently" with help from NATO advisers.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week that 2013 will be a decisive year in the transition to Afghan responsibility for the war. He said he hopes that as early as mid-2013, U.S. forces will shift from lead combat role to a support role, while remaining prepared to engage in combat if necessary through 2014.
Asked about Panetta's remarks, Scaparrotti said he expects that the process of getting the Afghans into the lead combat role will be "pretty far along" by 2013 but "exactly how that will roll" depends on conditions on the ground.
Scaparrotti said further developing the Afghan security forces is his second-highest priority. He said his top priority is to "maintain the momentum" on the battlefield by continuing to pursue the Taliban, especially in what he called the decisive terrain of southern Afghanistan that has been the Taliban's power base.
"I believe we have the right plan," he said. "We certainly have the momentum, and we've got the resolve to succeed."
His remarks stand in marked contrast to an assessment published in the private Armed Forces Journal, titled "Truth, Lies and Afghanistan," in which Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis accused U.S. military leaders of misleading the public by overstating the degree of progress toward stabilizing Afghanistan.
Davis, who said he spent 12 months in Afghanistan as part of a team assessing troops' needs and circumstances, wrote that he "witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level." He said that every place he visited, "the tactical situation was bad to abysmal."
Asked about Davis' article, Scaparrotti said, "It's one person's view of this," adding that he remains confident that his own cautiously optimistic view is based on a solid foundation of information and analysis.
He acknowledged that some Afghan weaknesses described by Davis are real. He specifically noted Davis's first-hand account of an incident in which two Taliban insurgents who had participated in an attack on a U.S. checkpoint in Kandahar province last June were allowed by Afghan policemen to escape the scene. Davis said this is the kind of problem that feeds U.S. troops' contempt for their Afghan partners.
"I think those things happen," Scaparrotti said, in part because of the fast pace at which the Afghan army has expanded its ranks.
Despite their weaknesses, the general said, the Afghan forces will prove to be "good enough" to secure their country.

Afghan junior musicians bring joy to people
by Abdul Haleem, Yangzte Yan
KABUL, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- A long queue of people from all walks of life including children and women, waiting in the freezing weather on the pathway of a school in downtown Kabul, attracted the attention of passersby late Wednesday evening.
The gathering was not to rescue victims from a suicide attack, rather a music feast to bring happiness to war-weary Kabulis.
People waiting in the cold spell were all music lovers. They were eager to enjoy a live concert staged by junior musicians to celebrate the winter music festival.
"It is my earnest desire to attend the concert, enjoy the life and forget my past hardships," said Azam Khan who was taking the hands of his kid and wife to enter the concert hall in the Istiqlal High School.
This is unthinkable a decade ago when Taliban outfit was in power. Taliban militants, whose regime was collapsed by the U.S.- led coalition military campaign in late 2001, had outlawed all entertainment including music and confined women to houses.
During the Taliban reign, only turban-wearing boys could attend the Istiqlal High School and had been taught religious subjects.
Packed with some 400 music fans, the concern hall was not big enough to accommodate the entertainers as some of them were standing at the corners, waiting to see the live music presented by the junior musicians from the National Music Institute of Afghanistan, managed by the Afghan Education Ministry.
The ensemble, composed of some 40 teenagers including girls, had been encouraged by clapping of the audience after each performance on the stage.
"My sole dream in my life is to see happiness in the faces of my countrymen and my sole wish is to materialize this dream through music," a 12-year-old band member Farhad told Xinhua.
Like other national institutions in Afghanistan, the National Music Institute of Afghanistan had been badly damaged due to over three decades of war and civil strife.
It is the first-ever music body in the post-Taliban Afghanistan formally promoting Afghan and western music.
In addition to other subjects, music and arts are regularly taught to students including boys and girls at the institute.
Encouraging music, arts and the junior musicians, Afghan Education Minister Farooq Wardak, in his remarks hailed the artists.
"Today is the turning point in the last three decades of history of Afghanistan, there were times that the musicians should be punished or at least victimized for his or her skills of music. There were times that the music institution have been destroyed," Wardak told the audience in his short speech.
"Today music is a way for love, livelihood, peace, stability and co-existence. Today music is seen as a skill. Today music is seen as knowledge. Today music is placed very highly in the strategic priority of education in the Ministry of Education," Wardak said.
The harsh policy, adopted by Taliban outfit during its rule in Afghanistan, had forced many musicians, actors and actresses to leave the country.
"Musicians are the assets of society and should not be punished again. I along with my colleagues and other musicians would do our best to promote music and even play our role to bring about peace in society through music," the ambitious musician Farhad told Xinhua in a brief chat.

'Top Gun' Prince Harry set for Afghanistan return
By Danny Kemp | AFP
Britain's Prince Harry could return to Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said Thursday, after he qualified as an Apache attack helicopter pilot with a special award for his gunnery skills.
The 27-year-old -- the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and third in line to the throne -- has completed 18 months of "intensive" training including a stint in the United States.
Harry received a prize for being the best co-pilot gunner at a dinner on Wednesday to celebrate the completion of training by around 20 pilots, St James's Palace said in a statement.
He was given a polished 30-millimetre round from an Apache cannon, mounted on a stand, at the dinner at Wattisham Air Station in Suffolk, eastern England, where he has been training.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed that Harry could serve in Afghanistan but said that the young royal first had to gain further operational experience.
"We do not comment on individual states of deployment. But in the normal run of things we would expect that he would be deployed in eight to 12 months," the spokesman told AFP.
Harry's father, heir to the throne Prince Charles, was "very proud" of his son's achievement, the Prince of Wales's office said.
Harry, a captain with the Army Air Corps, is keen to return to combat in Afghanistan after he was hastily withdrawn from his first tour of duty in 2008 when a media blackout was broken.
His elder brother Prince William is currently on a six-week tour in the Falkland Islands as a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot -- a deployment that Argentina, which claims the British-ruled archipelago as its own, has slammed as "a provocation".
Britain has around 9,500 service personnel fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, the second largest contingent after the United States.
Britain has used the two-man Apache helicopters in Afghanistan to hunt Taliban fighters, gather intelligence and provide cover for larger Chinook transport helicopters.
As co-pilot gunner, Harry sits in the front seat of the Apache and is responsible for commanding the mission, firing weapons and liaising with forces on the ground, with some flying duties.
He is known as Captain Wales within the Army Air Corps.
Harry's course included two months of training in the United States last year at bases in California and Arizona.
Colonel Neale Moss, the commander of the attack helicopter force at Wattisham, paid tribute to the graduates for passing an "extremely challenging" course.
"This requires composure, dedication and hard work and I congratulate all of the students as they go forward to join an operational squadron and continue to learn more in their aviation careers," he said.
British Apaches also served over Libya last year as part of a UN-backed, NATO-led mission to protect civilian protesters from the forces of late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
Britain's royals have a tradition of serving in the armed forces, sometimes during conflict.
Harry's grandfather Prince Philip, the queen's husband, served on several Royal Navy warships during World War II and his uncle Prince Andrew served as a Sea King helicopter co-pilot in the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina.
Charles also served in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. (