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

03-09-2012, 02:52 PM
U.S. reaches agreement to turn over Afghan detention center
From Nick Paton Walsh, CNN March 9, 2012
(CNN) -- A U.S.-run detention center housing 3,000 people will move to Afghan control under a crucial agreement signed Friday that smooths the way toward a larger agreement on the United States' future role in the country.

The agreement, which calls for the gradual transfer of power from U.S. forces to Afghanistan over six months, removes one key sticking point from negotiations over a broader agreement on the role of the United States in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops withdraw in 2014.

Negotiations over the wide-ranging strategic agreement have been going on for more than a year, with little progress. Tensions between the two countries, made worse by the February burning of Qurans by U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base, have complicated the talks.

In November, a loya jirga, or grand assembly of Afghan elders, endorsed the continued presence of U.S. forces after combat operations, but only if the countries could agree on the transfer of prisoners, an end to night raids and eliminating immunity for U.S. troops accused of committing crimes in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Afghan officials have already begun talks on the other major issue gumming up the larger agreement: night raids by U.S. special operations forces, according to U.S. and Afghan officials who jointly briefed reporters.

"The signing of this memorandum is an important step forward in our Strategic Partnership negotiations and very much in keeping with both the Loya Jirga's recommendations and the desires of President (Hamid) Karzai," said U.S. Gen. John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force.

Karzai has repeatedly called for the end of U.S. oversight of detention facilities in the country. On Friday, his spokesman, Aimal Faizi, called the agreement "big progress."

"Things are happening as we wanted," Faizi said.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, demonstrates the United States' commitment to Afghan sovereignty and its partnership with Afghanistan, despite ups and downs in the tense relationship between the two countries.

"We have had our challenges, and there will be challenges ahead as we continue negotiations on the framework for our strategic partnership, but this MOU marks an important step forward," he said.

The agreement calls for the United States to transfer all of the approximately 3,000 Afghan citizens currently held under U.S. guard at the Parwan detention facility near Bagram Air Base to Afghan authorities within six months. The first 500 detainees would be transferred within 45 days, according to the agreement.

Transferred detainees will eventually be moved to new facilities being built in Parwan and Pol-I-Charki, but until then will be moved from the U.S. side of Parwan to the Afghan side of the center.

Although detainees would be held by Afghanistan, U.S. forces would remain at Parwan in a "technical advisory and logistical support" role, the officials who briefed reporters said. Afghan commanders also would not have the authority to release detainees on their own, according to agreement.

Any request to release a prisoner would have to be agreed to by a joint committee headed by the ISAF commander and the Afghan defense minister, according to the agreement.

The deal does not apply to about 50 non-Afghan prisoners being held at Parwan. Their fate was unclear.

The officer currently responsible for prison protection, identified by Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi as Gen. Safiullah, will take over the Parwan facility, which is the successor to one demolished in 2009 after allegations of abuse. That facility, called the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, was the site of abusive interrogation that ended in the deaths of two detainees in 2002, according to Amnesty International, which has described abusive treatment of detainees at the facility as common.

While the new center has not seen that level of scandal, Amnesty International and other groups have continued to challenge conditions of detention at the facility, including seeking access to U.S. courts for those held at Parwan.

The group also complained in 2010 about allegations of abuse, including isolation, sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme temperatures, at a screening facility at Bagram Air Base.

The Bagram base was also the site of the recent Quran burnings that set off a wave of protests and violence targeting NATO troops. The Muslim holy books had been seized from a detainee center and allegedly contained militant annotations. U.S. President Barack Obama apologized for the incident, saying it was inadvertent.

US signs breakthrough deal to hand over Afghan jail
By Lawrence Bartlett | AFP
The United States on Friday signed a deal transferring the controversial Bagram prison to Afghan control, marking a breakthrough in negotiations over a strategic treaty between the two nations.

The handover of the US-run prison -- sometimes called Afghanistan's Guantanamo Bay -- has been a key sticking point in talks between Washington and the Afghan government on concluding a long-term partnership pact.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly demanded in the name of Afghan sovereignty that the prison and its 3,000 inmates be transferred before he signs any deal governing Afghan-US relations after NATO combat troops pull out in 2014.

That treaty would likely cover the legal status of US troops remaining in the country to help Kabul with intelligence, air power and logistics in the fight against Taliban insurgents.

In Iraq, Washington abandoned its pursuit of a strategic partnership deal and pulled out all its troops, leaving no residual force, after failing to get Baghdad to grant its soldiers legal immunity.

"This is an important step in the strategic partnership negotiations," the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said at the signing ceremony on the prison deal.

Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said the accord would see authority transferred gradually over six months.

"With the handover of the Bagram prison, one of the conditions of the Loya Jirga (grand assembly of Afghan elders) will be implemented. We are feeling very proud about this important step," Wardak said.

The prison, outside the Bagram airbase north of Kabul, holds rebel fighters detained by US-led NATO forces in their 10-year war against the Taliban-led insurgency trying to topple Karzai's government.

Under the agreement, Afghan authorities will need to advise the US of plans to release any prisoners and "consider favourably" objections if the Americans consider such inmates could engage in "terrorist activity".

The US would also maintain a presence at the prison to provide advisory, technical and logistical support for a year.

In turn, the Afghans would give the US and humanitarian bodies access to detainees to monitor their treatment under international humanitarian law.

Human rights campaigners have regularly criticised the prison under US control, saying it fails to comply with international norms as some inmates are detained arbitrarily without trial or knowledge of the charges against them.

The Bagram base was the site of the burning of Korans last month which ignited days of violent anti-US protests in which some 40 people died, plunging relations between foreign forces and their Afghan allies to an all-time low.

The Korans, which were sent to an incinerator pit, had reportedly been seized from prisoners who were suspected of using them to pass secret messages.

A prison was originally built within the sprawling US military base at Bagram after the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the hardline Islamist Taliban regime for sheltering Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The new prison officially called the Parwan Detention Facility was constructed outside the base in 2009, but Afghan authorities usually still use the old name.

One other major condition Karzai has set before signing a treaty on a long-term partnership is an end to night raids by US-led special forces, which target Taliban leaders in their homes.

The United States says they are a vital element in the anti-Taliban campaign, but the Afghan government says they violate the sanctity of families in their own homes and cause civilian casualties.

In an apparent reference to this, Wardak said: "In the next few days we will continue talks with the US side and finalise another important issue which is Afghanisation of special operations."

Afghanistan reassures US over security pact
Financial Times By Matthew Green March 8, 2012
Kabul - Afghanistan has reassured allies it is committed to signing a long-term security pact with the US amid fears that protracted wrangling over the deal will erode western support for the war against the Taliban.

The Obama administration has spent more than a year trying to negotiate an agreement with the Afghan government to guarantee that US forces can stay for another decade after the vast majority of Nato troops leave by the end of 2014.

The US plans to drastically scale back its troop presence – which peaked at about 100,000 – over the next few years but leave behind a substantial component of special forces and advisers to train the Afghan army and maintain pressure on militants.

US officials want to sign the pact before a Nato summit in Chicago in May, hoping the document will form a cornerstone of a broader western commitment not to abandon Afghanistan as most foreign troops withdraw.

War-weary European countries, which are battling economic crises at home, may be reluctant to make long-term pledges of military and civilian aid if Afghanistan cannot strike a deal with the US, its most important ally.

The talks had appeared to be foundering over demands by Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, that the US rapidly hand over control of military prisons and stop night raids by foreign troops on insurgents.

But Aimal Faizi, Mr Karzai’s spokesman, said progress had been made at a series of meetings this week. He said the two sides had been discussing a way to resolve the dispute over the prisons before broaching the issue of night raids.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to sign the document before the Chicago conference,” Mr Faizi said, referring to the security agreement. “We want to sign this document with the US, there is no disagreement, but we have conditions which have to be met.”

The US embassy in Kabul appeared to acknowledged the difficulties facing the talks in a statement issued this week. “We have always said it is more important to get the right agreement than to get an agreement,” said Mark Thornburg, an embassy spokesman.

Mr Karzai had previously set a deadline for the US to hand over control of military prisons this week as one of his conditions for signing the broader pact.

Afghan attitudes over the jails seemed to harden after a wave of violent protests triggered by last month's discovery of burned copies of the Koran at Bagram Airbase north-east of Kabul, where the main US military prison is located.

Mr Faizi raised the possibility of a compromise in which the government would appoint an Afghan official to assume formal command of the prisons within the next few days. In return, Mr Faizi said the US had proposed that full operational control of the jails would be gradually handed over during the next six months.

“Hopefully in the coming one, two or three days we will reach an agreement on the detention centres,” he said.

Mr Faizi also suggested progress might yet be made on the disagreement over night raids, which are central to US effort to weaken the insurgency before Afghan forces assume full responsibility for security.

The strategy has placed the US on a collision course with Mr Karzai, who has used his vocal opposition to the intrusions caused by the raids to shore up support in his ethnic Pashtun base.

In recent weeks, Mr Karzai has emphasised that he wants an end to night raids by foreigners, raising the possibility that he might endorse operations conducted by a cadre of newly-trained Afghan commandos.

U.S. 'Strong Engagement' To Continue In Central Asia After Afghan Withdrawal
March 9, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
In connection with the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, the neighboring countries of Central Asia have moved up in recent years on Washington's list of foreign policy priorities. Now, with the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. troops on the horizon, governments of the region are wondering how that departure will affect them, as well as American interest in Central Asia. RFE/RL Washington correspondent Richard Solash spoke to Robert Blake, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, about this and other issues, ranging from human rights in the region to Russian plans for a "Eurasian Union."

RFE/RL: Some critics have said that Central Asia's new strategic importance has trumped U.S. concern over its troubling human rights standards. Speaking at Johns Hopkins University on January 25, you responded, "We do not see our engagement with Central Asia as an either-or choice between developing security relationships at the expense of core values like human rights. Progress on one issue can help reinforce, or create incentives for, progress on other issues.” Has increased security cooperation led to human rights progress?

Robert Blake: I would say that our increased cooperation with Central Asia across the board -- not just on security measures and on the Northern Distribution Network -- has really helped to increase the level of trust and confidence between the United States and all of the Central Asian countries. In some cases, there has been some limited human rights progress, but I don't want to overstate that. I think all of the Central Asian states, to a varying degree, are concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and very much have their eye on whether there are levels of growing Islamic influence in their region -- and for those reasons, they're not really moving very quickly to open up their systems as fast as we hope they would.

But nonetheless, the fact that we have this intensified engagement now with all the Central Asian governments has led to much better dialogue on these issues, where we talk very, very openly, and frankly, speak openly with our partners about why we think it's in their interest to, for example, allow greater religious freedom or to allow greater press freedom, and how we think that it's actually detrimental to their stability to now allow more of these human liberties.

One of the things we've been working really hard on is trafficking in persons. There has been quite a lot of progress in places like Tajikistan, where we actually moved them off of what [the U.S. State Department] calls the Tier 2 watch list onto the Tier 2 of cooperating countries. We've been engaging with all of the countries of Central Asia a lot on that particular issue. I think there's been some release of dissidents in places like Uzbekistan. These are people that we've talked quietly to the government about.

So there have been some examples like that. But I don't want to overstate this. There hasn't been huge progress on human rights. On the contrary, there has been in many cases a deterioration of rights. So this remains a very important part of our agenda with all of these countries.

RFE/RL: Many in Central Asia now are wondering how U.S. involvement in the region will change after Washington withdraws its troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Can you look into the future a bit to address that question?

Blake: It's always a little bit hazardous to talk about relations two years hence, but I think it's safe to say that the United States will continue to attach great importance to our relations with Central Asia, well beyond 2014, just as we will attach great importance to our relations with Afghanistan.

There's a misimpression in many parts of the region that, just because most of the American troops in Afghanistan will be pulling out as a result of the transition at the end of 2014, that somehow the United States is going to abandon Afghanistan. Nothing could be further from the truth. The United States is going to have a long-term partnership with Afghanistan, particularly on the economic side. We will continue to have some residual military presence there as well, at least to provide training [and] to engage in counterterrorism efforts. The exact nature of that is under negotiation with the Afghan government.

Likewise, we will continue to have a very strong engagement with all of the Central Asian countries, because it's very, very important to us that this be a region of stability and that this be a region of economic opportunity and that this region help to really lead the process of regional integration. And we think that there's a really important opportunity now, and we're really just starting on that process. That's going to continue well beyond 2014.

RFE/RL: What will be the biggest threat facing Central Asia after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan? Are the region's countries prepared to deal with that threat?

Blake: Again, I don't want to get into trying to predict what the situation's going to be like after 2014. We don't know. But we're certainly making every effort we can now to, again, support this very important security transition that's taking place in Afghanistan, but then equally important, to build up the private sector in Afghanistan by establishing these regional linkages that I talked about earlier -- and then working closely with our friends in Central Asia, who believe strongly in this regional vision and want to contribute to the stability of Afghanistan."

RFE/RL: Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has said that there should be no foreign troop presence at the country's Manas air base by mid-2014, when the current U.S. lease expires. Is that your understanding? Will that complicate withdrawal plans and future shipments of supplies to Afghanistan?

Blake: Well, first of all, let me express our appreciation to the government of Kyrgyzstan for their continued hosting of the Manas transit center. This remains a very important part of the overall effort in Afghanistan because it's a vital logistics hub. It's the center through which all of our troops pass before they go into Afghanistan. So we very much appreciate the hosting of this by the government of Kyrgyzstan.

We're just really beginning the conversation now with the government about what the future of the Manas transit center is going to be. As you know, we've had some initial conversations with [Atambaev] and with members of his team. I think we've going to have more technical-level discussions at some point about the future of that and I don't want to try to anticipate what those are going to be like. Again, we see this as something that's very much in our interest but also in the interests of Kyrgyzstan, and we very much want to listen to the ideas that President Atambaev and his team have about the future. We'll do our best to work in a very cooperative fashion to find a way forward that's going to be to the satisfaction of us and to Kyrgyzstan and not be of any concern to important allies like Russia.

RFE/RL: So it still remains to be seen whether the U.S. presence at Manas will continue post-2014, correct?

Blake: That's right. All of that is going to be under discussion.

RFE/RL: To continue on Kyrgyzstan, in a few months we will be at the two-year anniversary of citizens' approving a new constitution, which paved the way for the creation of Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy. Reflecting on what has happened since then, how do you assess the speed and quality of progress?

Blake: Kyrgyzstan has gone through an enormous transition over the last two years. I think that they've faced challenges that would have been much more difficult for many other countries that didn't have the kind of democratic system that they've had. I think it's a real tribute, both to the democratic system that they're developing, but also to the leadership of [former] President [Roza] Otunbaeva and now President Atambaev, that they've been able to overcome many of the difficulties that they've faced.

At the same time, I think President Atambaev would be the first to say that his country still faces many challenges. As you know, during his inaugural address, he talked very openly about how they need to do more on things like reconciliation [and] things like corruption. And that's a good thing; that shows that he's listening to the concerns of his people and that those are very much at the forefront of his agenda. That's the value of a democratic system: It provides feedback to the leaders and the leaders can then act on those very important issues. So I think that they are taking steps, but there's quite a lot to be done, particularly on the reconciliation side. I think tensions remain high in southern Kyrgyzstan, so it's very, very important for Kyrgyzstan to address those, to try to bring the communities together, to provide economic opportunity for everyone in that important region, and to work closely with countries like Uzbekistan as well, that can help provide some of that economic opportunity by opening up the borders and trade routes.

RFE/RL: There has been talk in the Russian press, and some conflicting reports, about Central Asia providing an exit route for U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan. Will troops and cargo leave the region through Uzbekistan, as some reports say? The related possibility being mentioned is that the U.S. will leave some of its weaponry in Uzbekistan. Some consider that an alarming prospect, given the repressive nature of the government. Is that true?

Blake: I don't want to comment on any specific routes or the specific logistics patterns, for obvious security reasons. But let me say that as American units begin to rotate out of Afghanistan, or continue to rotate out of Afghanistan, they also take their equipment, and that's standard operating procedure everywhere. Some equipment will be left in Afghanistan, but obviously Afghanistan doesn't need all of the equipment that is now there. So some of that equipment will be rotated out [and] some of that will rotate out through the Northern Distribution Network. It is possible that some of that might be made available through what's called 'excess defense articles,' but that's a very detailed process that goes on between the Pentagon and these countries. Those would be subject to the same restrictions that we have that govern normal arms transfers to Uzbekistan or any other country.

I don't want your listeners or anybody to think that there will be some sort of exceptional process here governing excess defense articles. Those will be done in the normal way, and thus far, we have not been willing to transfer any kind of lethal weapons to Uzbekistan. The majority of the assistance that we've been providing as a result of the waver has been protective equipment and non-lethal assistance to help them to defend themselves against potential retribution for the support that they're providing to the United States.

RFE/RL: On Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was reelected in February with 97 percent of the vote. The OSCE decided not to monitor it, saying in a statement that "the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, would add value at this point in time." What is the U.S. reaction to the election and do you see any chance for political plurality in Turkmenistan in the future?

Blake: Well, I think it was good that at least there were some other candidates that did run, but I don't think that there was any adversarial effort. Almost all the candidates, to my knowledge, endorsed the president himself, so I don't consider that that was a serious, democratic effort. But we are encouraging Turkmenistan and all of the other countries in Central Asia to move toward more competitive, democratic practices, including in their presidential elections. We saw a little bit of that in Kazakhstan where, for example, now they have some new parties that are represented in the Kazakh parliament, and that's certainly welcome. But even in Kazakhstan there were a lot of questions that the OSCE raised about the parliamentary elections as well.

This is going to be a gradual process, but we think it's very, very important to show progress and for the governments to show their own people that there's going to be progress. But [for Turkmenistan], I can't say that this [election] marked significant new progress, no.

RFE/RL: Finally, a question about newly reelected Russian President Vladimir Putin's vision of creating a "Eurasian Union." In the newspaper "Izvestiya," he wrote that, not unlike the Soviet Union, it should have "a developed system of regional production specialization and a common space of language, science and culture." Many are reading this plan as a move to consolidate Russian influence. Your thoughts?

Blake: First of all, we haven't seen much practical progress towards this Eurasian Union, so it's very difficult to assess how seriously Russia is pursuing this. Our main interest is in ensuring that whatever is intended, they don't try to establish a zone of exclusion. We think that, on the contrary, what is needed is to encourage economic integration and regional economic integration in particular, and that therefore, what's needed is to open up the trade routes, to open up greater opportunities for trade, both within Central Asia but also between Central Asia and all of its regional partners, particularly its partners to the South -- to India, which is going to be the largest market for all of these countries over the next 50 years. Many of the economies of the region and the leaders of the region see that this is going to be a real pole of opportunity, and therefore it's not in any of their interests to see any of these regional trade opportunities get locked in a Eurasian Union. On the contrary, we need to keep these trade routes open and these trade opportunities open. That's certainly the message that we're conveying to our friends in Russia and to everybody else in the region.

Afghan Officer Sought in Killing of 9 Colleagues
By ROD NORDLAND The New York Times March 8, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan policeman on late-night guard duty at a checkpoint allowed Taliban insurgents to enter and kill nine other policemen as they slept in their beds, an official in the Ministry of Interior said on Thursday.

The guard, who escaped, was a member of the Afghan Local Police, a unit trained and vetted by American Special Operations troops, according to Brig. Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadzai, who is in charge of the local police program at the Ministry of Interior.

The episode occurred in Oruzgan Province, in southern Afghanistan, around 2 a.m. Wednesday, he said.

General Ahmadzai said he had information indicating the guard was a Taliban infiltrator, though he declined to elaborate, and added that the police were seeking the man.

“He helped coordinate the attack and let the Taliban in, and they killed them while they were in dreamland,” General Ahmadzai said.

The episode is yet more evidence of the challenges the United States faces as it prepares Afghans to take over their own security ahead of the end of NATO’s combat mission in 2014. American and other coalition forces are also being killed in increasing numbers by Afghans in uniform.

Many of those attacks are motivated by animosity between the supposedly allied forces, according to American and Afghan officers, but infiltrators have also been suspected in some of the cases.

The Afghan Local Police program is one way of passing more control to Afghans, and it is controversial. It seeks to take groups of armed men, some of them former Taliban sympathizers, and incorporate them into government service protecting their own communities.

Human rights critics have complained that the program often empowers abusive local militias, but the American military says its training of the police and background checks minimize such risks.

General Ahmadzai said the Oruzgan episode was not typical and called the local police program a success, with 12,041 local officers working in 28 provinces. He said the recruits get three weeks of American Special Operations training and are paid about $190 a month, substantially less than regular policemen.

According to NATO data cited by the Brookings Institution, 830 police officers were killed in the first half of last year, more than double the number of either Afghan soldiers or coalition troops.

Sayed Hamdard Maruf, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Oruzgan, also confirmed the nine police killings, but said they came after Taliban insurgents stormed the checkpoint and engaged the officers in an hourlong firefight. A 10th officer is missing, he said.

The victims were local policemen stationed at a checkpoint in the Char Chino district of Oruzgan Province, General Ahmadzai said.

Elsewhere, the police were targeted by a bomb in the eastern city of Jalalabad, the fourth bomb attack there in a week, and NATO warplanes killed three people caught trying to plant a roadside bomb in the eastern city of Khost.

In Jalalabad, the bomb was planted in the median strip of a city street and went off around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, wounding 11 people. Seven of the victims were policemen, but the other wounded included a child who was in critical condition, according to Ahmad Zia Abdulzay, a spokesman for the Nangarhar Province governor.

In Khost, the police chief, Sardar Mohammad Zazi, said that the NATO airstrike killed three people caught in the act of planting a bomb in the Mahdikhail area; two other insurgents managed to flee.

Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan, Farooq Jan Mangal from Khost and an Afghan employee of The New York Times from Kabul.

Several local Taliban leaders captured in Afghan Wardak province: ISAF
KABUL, March 9 (Xinhua) -- Several local Taliban leaders were captured Friday during a joint operation by Afghan forces and NATO- led coalition troops in the Afghan province of Wardak, some 35 km west of capital city of Kabul, the NATO-led forces said.
"An Afghan and coalition security force captured several Taliban leaders during an operation in Maidan Shahr district, Wardak province, today," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces said in a press release.

Without disclosing the exact number of the detained leaders, the press release said that "Two of the leaders planned and conducted attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in the district along Highway 2, including an attack in January against a convoy that left three Afghan National Army soldiers wounded."

The other leaders provided weapons and ammunition to a cell of multiple insurgents that conducted roadside bomb and direct shooting attacks in the district, the release said.

They also detained one additional suspected insurgent as a result of this operation, the release added.

Afghan forces and ISAF troops have intensified cleanup operations throughout the post-Taliban country recently. Over 230 insurgents have been killed and more than 660 others detained in the country since the beginning of this year, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry.

Taliban insurgents have yet to make comments.

After a decade, Afghan forces don't trust Americans
McClatchy Newspapers By Jon Stephenson and Ali Safi Thursday, March 8, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan soldiers and police say the recent burning of Qurans by U.S. personnel has seriously undermined their trust in their American counterparts, suggesting that the decade-long campaign to win hearts and minds has not only failed but also threatens the Obama administration's exit strategy.

"We are tired of the Americans here," said Mohammad Aziz, 20, a Kabul police officer. "We don't want them to stay because they keep insulting our religion."

The crisis of confidence has called into question the viability of the U.S.-led mission to have international soldiers and advisers train Afghan forces and hand security responsibilities to them before the end of 2014. The Afghans' abilities to safeguard their country against Taliban and other threats remain uncertain, and international trainers already have been forced to restrict their contact with Afghans after the violent backlash from the Quran incident.

"It has created a gap between us and the Americans," said Col. Rozi Khan of the Afghan army's commando brigade. "There is no trust between us."

Interviews with more than two dozen Afghan security personnel in recent weeks suggest that mistrust and hostility between the supposed allies has been simmering for years — but boiled over after Feb. 20, when American personnel burned Qurans and other religious materials at the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.

The incident sparked widespread fury in this conservative Muslim nation and led to public demonstrations and attacks on bases belonging to the U.S.-led coalition. At least 30 Afghans have been killed and more than 100 wounded in the unrest. A Pentagon investigation found five soldiers responsible, but it was unclear whether they would face disciplinary action. Afghan leaders have called for the perpetrators to be tried and punished.

The Quran burnings unleashed pent-up anger from many Afghan soldiers and police who perceive U.S. troops as insensitive to their culture and religion, indicating a relationship in which even relatively minor misunderstandings could cause serious problems. Coalition officials in Afghanistan ordered their forces to undergo additional training on the proper handling of Islamic religious materials.

Several Afghans interviewed voiced frustration at previous incidents of Americans desecrating the Quran. And while they didn't mention specific cases, the burning last year of a copy of the Muslim holy book by Florida pastor Terry Jones received wide attention in Afghanistan and sparked days of deadly protests nationwide.

"The Quran has been burned by the Americans on several occasions in the past," said Jamaluddin, a sergeant major interviewed in Kabul who, like many Afghans, uses only one name.

Six U.S. service members have been killed by their Afghan counterparts since the burnings — two at a joint U.S.-Afghan base in the eastern province of Nangarhar, two at a joint base in the southern province of Kandahar, and two at a high-security Ministry of Interior compound in Kabul.

The killings at the Ministry of Interior caused Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, to withdraw all ISAF advisers from Afghan ministries until security could be improved. When advisers do return, it's expected to be under tighter security restrictions, potentially limiting their interaction with Afghans.

U.S. political and military leaders have stressed that the violence won't derail the training mission. The coalition said this week that the suggestion that the mission was in serious jeopardy was "a gross exaggeration."

"It's business as usual. Nothing has changed," said a coalition spokeswoman, Lt. Lauren Rago. "We have hundreds of interactions with them every week. There definitely is a sound relationship there."

But at a news conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama appeared to suggest that the fallout from the Quran burning could lead the U.S. to accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"I think that it is an indication of the challenges in that environment, and it's an indication that now is the time for us to transition," Obama said.

Despite a partnership that's in its 11th year — and a training mission on which the Pentagon says it's spending more than $11 billion this year — U.S. troops and Afghans have long viewed each other with unease. The recent "green-on-blue" attacks by Afghan forces are the latest in a series that has claimed the lives of more than 70 American service members in 46 incidents since 2007. The violence has increased since Obama surged more U.S. troops into Afghanistan; half of the attacks have occurred since May 2009.

By comparison, during nearly nine years in Iraq, about six U.S. service members were killed by Iraqi security forces, according to Pentagon statistics.

For Afghans — some of whom have never accepted the presence of non-Muslim soldiers in their country — the burnings at Bagram caused deep offense, despite repeated assurances from American officials that the incident was a mistake. Some Afghan soldiers and police said they couldn't understand how U.S. personnel could make such a mistake after more than a decade in Afghanistan.

"Didn't ISAF know that the Quran is the holy book of Muslims, and that people will die for it?" asked Col. Mohammad Sharif, who's based at a U.S.-Afghan base in Paktika province, bordering Pakistan.

Muslims believe that the Quran contains the literal words of God, and every Afghan soldier or police officer that McClatchy spoke with said they would not hesitate to intervene if they saw anyone desecrating it. Most said they were prepared to use violence.

"If an American burns the Quran in front of my eyes, I will kill him. I don't care whether I live afterwards or not," said Jandad, a soldier based at Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense in Kabul. "My life would be worthless if I saw such a thing and didn't take action."

All the Afghans interviewed condemned the killing of two U.S. officers at the Interior Ministry — which occurred inside a supposedly well-secured part of the complex, causing shock among U.S. officials — saying it was wrong to target innocent people in retaliation for the actions of others. But despite acknowledging a duty to uphold the law and maintain security, some Afghan soldiers admitted they would side with demonstrators if they decided the burnings had been deliberate.

"If we know that the Americans burned the Qurans by mistake, we will defend them," said Mohammad Rahim, a soldier. "But if we learn that they burned it intentionally we will support those protesters who attack American bases."

"The Afghan police and army swear when they graduate that they will protect the faith of Islam," said a political analyst in Kabul, Wahid Mujda. "An Afghan soldier will fight to protect these values."

The anger that led to widespread protests appears to have subsided for the moment. Some Afghan soldiers said they wanted U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan and complete their training mission.

"They have come to help Afghanistan and we have joined the army to serve our country. We need their assistance. We need them till the Afghan security forces stand on their feet," said Abdul Tariq Akhtarzada, 22, a soldier from Kapisa province who was undergoing training at the National Military Academy.

Some soldiers expressed determination not to allow attacks on their ISAF counterparts.

"If I see a colleague who wants to kill foreign soldiers in my unit, I will stop him. I won't let him do it," said Rahmat Gul, a soldier who works at Kabul airport. "Our job is to maintain security — that's why we are wearing this uniform."

However, even the more optimistic admitted the fallout from the Quran burnings could affect the U.S.-Afghan relationship for some time. Sharif said that the killing of U.S. personnel by Afghan security force members would lead to changes in training rules — perhaps restricting the number of Afghans with whom international trainers have direct contact.

"The Americans may decide to teach the Afghan instructors first, and these instructors will then teach the Afghan soldiers," said Sharif. "It is hard for Americans to trust Afghan forces. That lack of trust will continue until things cool off."

Even some Afghans who said they preferred non-U.S. ISAF forces to Americans said they were not happy with the presence of any Western soldiers in Afghanistan. Police officer Ghulam Hazrat, who is based in the northern province of Kunduz and was trained by Dutch and German forces, said they behaved with greater cultural and religious sensitivity than U.S. soldiers, but he added that "these foreigners are all the same."

"They are all infidels," Hazrat said.

(Stephenson and Safi are McClatchy special correspondents.)

Afghanistan: Cold War Warrior is no match for a Taliban bomb in the ground
The latest upgraded Warrior armoured vehicles arrived for operations in Afghanistan last year and it has taken the Taliban less than 12 months to show they are still vulnerable. ( By Thomas Harding 08 Mar 2012
Following severe criticism of its weak underbelly after a number of deaths the Ministry of Defence decided to increase its protection.

Since the 2003 Iraq invasion, up to a dozen Warriors had been destroyed with the loss, before yesterday, of 22 lives, including four killed outside Basra when an IED detonated underneath.

At a cost of £30 million the MoD contracted BAE Systems to vastly improve its defence, especially after the coroner at the inquest into the death of four soldiers inside a warrior said he would “urgently seek” what could be done to improve its protection.

The overhaul was substantial and expensive. At a cost of £570,000 per vehicle extra armour was added to the undercarriage and sides and more robust seating was introduced along with measures to stop internal devices flying off during a blast. In addition the gear box was improved to deal with a weight increase to 40 tons and the suspension was raised to give it further blast protection.

It was considered one of the best vehicles to safely carry troops across Helmand rough terrain while packing considerable punch with its 30mn cannon and improved battlefield sights.

Its off-road capabilities almost meant it had greater chance of avoiding Taliban bombs planted in vulnerable locations on roads.

Commanders yesterday still insisted that the Warrior remains one of the better armoured vehicles on the battlefield but questions will remain over its underbelly vulnerability.

Depite the deaths, armoured infantry officers said it should remain in service. “Nothing carries as much accurate and heavy firepower as a Warrior bar a main battle tank,” said one officer. “Despite this event we want it to remain on operations because it delivers so much.”

The vehicle has been iconic for the British Army since it was introduced in the 80s seeing active service in the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo and the 2003 Iraq invasion.

With only about 20 in Afghanistan it is used sparingly and to date it is understood three have been written off by an enemy frustrated by targeting the better protected Mastiff class of vehicle. The Mastiffs are used on mainly flat terrian and do not have the off-road capabilities of the Warriors.

The Warrior should have been replaced in the coming years by a new fleet of at least 3,000 armoured vehicles in a project called FRES (Future Rapid Effects System). But with defence cuts being imposed much of FRES is likely to be axed and the MoD has already agreed a £1 billion contract with the American company Lockheed Martin to refurbish the Warrior’s gun turrets in the 400-strong fleet. That force will not have any further armour improvement than the vehicle destroyed in Helmand.

But commanders insist on having a tracked vehicle that can carry troops across rugged terrain equipped with a strong main armament.

While ministers will stick with Warriors in Helmand right up until the 2014 withdrawal Taliban bombing in the past has forced the MoD to withdraw several poorly designed or protected vehicles including the Vector, Wimik and Viking.

Airmen have also been let down by poor standards after the death of 14 servicemen when an RAF Nimrod surveillance aircraft came down over Kandahar in 2006. It was found that a faulty fuel pipe caused the accident that led to the grounding of the entire fleet.

An MoD spokesman said: “Through state of the art equipment, every effort is made to minimise risk on operations but it can never be removed entirely.”

Culture clash, bribes prod Afghans to turn on NATO
‘Green on blue’ killings a perplexing problem
The Washington Times By Rowan Scarborough Thursday, March 8, 2012
The post-Koran-burning slayings in Afghanistan have put focus on one of the most pressing questions facing U.S. commanders: Why do Afghan troops suddenly turn their weapons on NATO personnel and kill them?

Six Army soldiers alone were killed by insiders - two in the Interior Ministry and four at bases in southern and eastern Afghanistan - after reports surfaced Feb. 20 that U.S. personnel burned Korans at the main base in Bagram.

There is not an official report on the killings. Speculation immediately centered on the Taliban or the Haqqani Network activating agents inside the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to commit murder.

But analysts, statistics and at least one study suggest that the explanation is not so simple.

In an impoverished, deeply Islamic nation at war for decades, amid a stark mix of Western and old-school Muslim values, disputes are bound to arise.

“The Taliban have been pretty consistent in messaging, calling for the Afghan security force, police and army to turn on their NATO counterparts,” said Paraag Shukla, a former Pentagon intelligence officer who is an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

“But the effect of some of this consistent messaging is really very, very difficult to measure because we don’t know the motives for these killings of [NATO] personnel. There’s not really a consistent pattern. They are sort of all over the map.”

‘Green on blue’

Pentagon statistics provided to The Washington Times paint a complex picture.

Before the Koran burning, there were 42 reported incidents of “green on blue,” as the Afghan troop betrayal is called, from 2007 to February of this year.

But the U.S. could confirm only four, or 9 percent, as the work of insurgent plants who sneaked through the U.S.-Afghan screening process.

Another four cases are classified as “co-option” - that is, an Afghan is threatened or bribed.

The majority, 26 incidents, stemmed from “personal matters” such as disputes among soldiers or grievances against the command.

The Pentagon has yet to come up with a sure-fire way to weed out malcontents before they resort to violence.

“Personal issues, combat stress and other factors, some of which we don’t fully understand in every individual case, often underlie these attacks,” David Sedney, assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, told the House Armed Services Committee last month.

“Combat stress that leads to use of violence by forces against their colleagues and their partners is something that is an unfortunate characteristic of war everywhere, and something that we must do everything we can to prevent in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”

Last year, Jeffrey Bordin, a political and behavioral scientist, published a field study in Afghanistan for the U.S. Army. He conducted 68 focus groups made up of 613 Afghans to determine the reasons for the repeated occurrences of “personal clashes.”

He found deep mistrust among Americans and Afghans, and he warned of a “rapidly growing systemic threat.”

Seeds of discontent

“ANSF members identified numerous social, cultural and operational grievances they have with U.S. soldiers,” the study said.

The list of grievances: U.S. convoys running traffic signs, indiscriminate fire that killed civilians, use of flawed intelligence sources, violations of female privacy during searches, public urination and the unnecessary shooting of animals.

“They found many U.S. soldiers to be extremely arrogant, bullying, unwilling to listen to their advice and were often seen as lacking concern for civilian and ANSF safety during combat,” Mr. Bordin found.

U.S. soldiers had their own list of complaints about their Afghan comrades.

The study said: “They reported pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity, incompetence, unsafe weapons handling, corrupt officers covert alliances/informal treaties with insurgents, high AWOL rates, bad morale, laziness, repulsive hygiene and the torture of dogs.”

Said John Pike, who directs “I think the problem is that they understand us all too well, and that there is an unbridgeable cultural chasm. Americans are contemptuous of the Afghans’ primitive practices and beliefs, and the Afghans are contemptuous of the Americans’ infidel ways.”

The largest number of green on blue attacks have been in the past two years. Volume may explain the spike. During that time, the government and NATO greatly expanded the Afghan National Security Force to reach a goal of 352,000 by year’s end.

Adding tens of thousands of troops put great pressure on a screening process that relies significantly on the word of village elders to vouch for a person’s character.

“When you have a rapidly growing force like that, it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor everyone,” Mr. Shukla said.

‘A thinking enemy’

A special-operations soldier who served in Afghanistan said low pay makes locals susceptible to bribes.

“We are growing an enormous army in Afghanistan,” said the officer. “That means recruits aren’t extensively vetted, and their limited pay makes them extremely susceptible to inducement by the enemy to kill NATO forces either from bribes or threats to their families.

“This isn’t about the Afghan national army being infiltrated. This is about the susceptibility of its forces to inducements.”

In 2009 congressional testimony, U.S. commanders said a Taliban soldier earns about $300 a month, more than twice the salary for an Afghan soldier whose pay has since been increased to stay competitive with that of the enemy.

Another factor, the special-operations officer said, is that the Afghan army is viewed suspiciously by the majority Pashtuns in the south. The army is now ethnically diverse and includes members of the old Northern Alliance who fought the Pashtun Taliban in the 1990s.

“The Taliban can target any ethnicity in the ranks, but the Pashtun would generally be easier,” the officer said.

The problem is not just screening recruits. It also is keeping an eye on police and soldiers to detect behavior that might tip off a green on blue attack.

A case study is the killing of two U.S. soldiers last March at Forward Operating Base Frontenac.

The Afghan attacker, a security guard, was fired in 2010 for making statements about killing Americans. His employer, Tundra Security, recommended that he not be rehired. But the information was not inserted into his file and the attacker was rehired the next year - by the same firm.

As a result, base commanders must screen all Afghan nationals who come on and off the base on at least a weekly basis. U.S. units assign “guardian angels” to keep watch over Afghans during missions. The government also is setting up a counterintelligence program to try to weed out disloyal troops.

“So this is a thinking enemy that we’re dealing with here, a cunning enemy who wants to hurt us. And every now and then the enemy’s going to have some success,” Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told Congress last month.

“So what we’re trying to do is eliminate as much as possible, reduce the possibility that that can happen, but we can’t eliminate it completely.”

3 including pro-gov't figure killed in N. Afghanistan
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan, March 9 (Xinhua) -- Three people including a pro-government figure were shot dead by gunmen in northern Afghan province of Kunduz Thursday night, a district official said Friday.

"Unknown armed men opened indiscriminate fire on the vehicle of a local elder namely Ali Mohammad in Sarak-e-Naw area of Khan Abad district late on Thursday killing Ali Mohammad and two of his comrades on the spot," administration chief of Khan Abad district, Nizamuddin Nashir told Xinhua.

The official said Mohammad was a former Mujahidin commander and was working in a commission in charges of recruiting locals for local police force in Kunduz province, some 250 km north of capital city of Kabul.

"Investigation has been launched to probe the incident, and police has been attempting to arrest the attackers," Nashir added.

No group or individual have claimed the responsibility for the attack so far.

Afghan officials and pro-government figures have been repeatedly targeted by the militants since May last year when the Taliban insurgents launched a rebel offensive against Afghan and NATO forces in insurgency-hit country.

A total of 3,021 Afghan civilians were killed in 2011, an 8 percent rise compared with 2010, according to the United Nations annual report released in Kabul on Feb. 4.

Are Afghan women better off after a decade of war?
CNN By Heather Barr, Special to CNN March 8, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - Editor's note: Heather Barr is the Afghanistan Researcher for Human Rights Watch. She has lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, since 2007.

When U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government following the 9/11 attacks, there was a global wave of support from people horrified by the plight of Afghan women. Under the Taliban, women had been denied education, banned from medical treatment by male doctors, and publicly executed for "immorality."

The Taliban's fall promised women some basic freedoms and rights. Indeed, over the past 10 years there have been significant improvements for Afghan women and girls. Official restrictions ended on access to education, work, and health care. Millions of girls went to school for the first time. Women joined government, won elected office, and became police officers and even soldiers. A new constitution in 2004 guaranteed women equal rights, and a 2009 law made violence against women a crime.

Underneath the surface of these changes, however, deep seated problems persist. Women in public life have suffered harassment, threats, and sometimes murder. Forced marriage, underage marriage, and domestic violence are widespread and too widely accepted.

About 400 women and girls are imprisoned at present for the "moral crimes" of sex outside of marriage and simply running away from home, often to flee abuse. While education is more accessible, more than half of girls still don't go to school. Every two hours an Afghan woman dies of pregnancy-related causes.

As the announced departure of international forces in 2014 draws closer, many Afghan women look to the future with fear. They worry that the troop pullout signals the end of interest in Afghanistan, and with it the international commitment to push the Afghan government to promote and protect women's rights. Also likely to decrease is the foreign aid that pays for schools and clinics that have changed many lives. Afghan women fear being abandoned again by the rest of the world, as they were during the Taliban era.

Plans for peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government raise the specter of women's rights being bargained away. If there are no women at the negotiating table, this is even more likely.

This week the fragility of women's rights in Afghanistan has been on full display. The Ulema Council, a government-supported body of religious leaders, issued a statement on several issues, including the recent burning of copies of the Quran at a U.S. military base. The longest part of the statement, however, gave religious guidance on how women should be treated and should behave.

The statement said some good things. It prohibited a traditional practice of giving a girl to another family to resolve a dispute ("baad"). It spoke against forced marriage. It confirmed women's rights to inherit and own property.

On women's duties, however, the statement took a turn for the worse: Women should not travel without a male chaperone. Women should not mix with men while studying, or working, or in public. Women must wear the Islamic hijab. Women are secondary to men.

If this was just the view of conservative religious leaders, it would be discouraging, but just another in a long line of discriminatory statements about women from Afghanistan's male dominated institutions. What caused consternation, however, was the sense that President Hamid Karzai had embraced the statement. In a departure from usual practice, the statement was posted on the Presidential Palace website, distributed to the media by the Palace, and defended by President Karzai at a news conference.

President Karzai has a mixed record on women's rights. He committed Afghanistan to an international convention promising equal rights for women and pushed through by decree the 2009 law making violence against women a crime. He recently spoke out on two high-profile cases of violence against women.

On the other hand, in the run-up to the 2009 presidential election he curried favor with hard-liners by signing the Shia Personal Status Law, which, for Afghanistan's Shia minority, gives a husband the right to withdraw maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey sexual demands, grants guardianship of children exclusively to men, and requires women to have permission from their husbands to work. Some women fear that Karzai is using the Ulema Council statement to send a message about what compromises he is ready to make with the Taliban.

With international interest in Afghanistan waning, negotiations with the Taliban in the offing, and Karzai's endorsement of the Ulema Council's statement, Afghan women are more vulnerable than at any time in the past 10 years. Now President Obama and other backers of the Afghan government should make it clear that they will not support any deals that sacrifice women's rights, and press Karzai to make his position clear. The risks for Afghan women are too high to do anything less.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Heather Barr.

U.S. Honors 'International Women Of Courage'
March 8, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Heather Maher
WASHINGTON -- A Pakistani political rights activist and an Afghan women's radio station owner are among 10 honorees chosen by the U.S. State Department as 2012 International Women of Courage.

The recipients were honored at a ceremony in Washington led by first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton said each of the honored women had persisted in their work "in the face of adversity, often under the threat of violence."

"They come from diverse and distant places, but in one important way, they all walk the same path," Clinton said. "They, too, are working tirelessly for justice. They are working for accountability. They are working for freedom and they are working tirelessly to improve the lives of women and girls."

This year's honorees include five Muslim women, from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Libya, and women from Turkey, Brazil, Colombia, the Maldives, and Burma.

Maryam Durani of Afghanistan is a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council and the owner of a radio station that broadcasts information about women's rights. Clinton said Durani, who has survived attempts on her life for speaking out, ensures that "the message of equality and inclusion is heard loudly and clearly" in her community.

Shad Begum from Pakistan is regularly threatened for her work, which tries to engage women in political participation. Clinton praised Begum for "fearlessly championing Pakistani women's political and economic rights, and working to empower the disadvantaged and oppressed."

Other honorees include Samar Badawi of Saudi Arabia, the first woman to sue her father for abusing the guardian system and preventing her from marrying the suitor of her choice. She is also the first woman to file a lawsuit against the government demanding the right for women to vote.

Zin Mar Aung of Burma was imprisoned for 11 years for her political activism and has dedicated her life to promoting democracy, women's empowerment, and conflict resolution.

First lady Michelle Obama praised the women for standing up and saying "the things that no one else could say, or would say. Year after year, they endured hardships that few of us could bear."

"These women come from all different corners of the globe; they have taken very different journeys to this moment," she said. "But they are all here today because somewhere along the line they decided they could no longer accept the world as it is. And they committed themselves to fighting for the world as they know it should be.

"They saw corruption and they worked to expose it. They saw oppression and they worked to end it. They saw violence, poverty, discrimination, and inequality, and they decided to use their voices and risk their lives to do something about it."

The State Department gives out the awards every year on International Women's Day on March 8.

Afghan girls put lives at risk to pursue education
Globe and Mail By Dawn Walton Thursday, Mar. 08, 2012
CALGARY - Afghan teens Maryam and Heena have risked their lives and defied a repressive, conservative culture to do what most young Canadian women take for granted: attend school.

Even as they don caps and gowns to speak to reporters via Skype late at night from a unique Afghan-Canadian school in Kandahar city, these new graduates from SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary are taking a chance.

“For me,” said 18-year-old Heena, who dreams of being a doctor, “every second of going outside is dangerous.”

They live in the Taliban’s birthplace, where women are discouraged from going to school or getting a job, and one of the most violent places on Earth. But, especially on International Women’s Day, they are also fiercely proud. The opportunity to study at the Afghan-Canadian Community Center (ACCC) and receive college diplomas in business management from SAIT means they can support their families and have a future previously unimaginable.

“It is really not easy to get an education for Afghan women, especially in Kandahar city, but still we didn’t give up and we do our best to get an education,” said 19-year-old Maryam, who lives with her mother, brothers and sisters. “I believe education is the only solution for the problems we are facing in Afghanistan.”

Literacy rates in Afghanistan are among the lowest in the world. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, one in two men and four of five women over the age of 15 cannot read or write. The problem is even more glaring in rural areas – where most people live – where an estimated 90 per cent of women and 63 per cent of men are illiterate.

In the past decade, school enrolment among Afghan girls has risen to about 30 per cent from virtually zero.

The improvements have come despite threats and attacks.

In one particularly horrific incident in 2008, terrorists sprayed acid in the faces of 15 girls outside their school. That was among 292 attacks on schools that year that killed 92 people and injured 169 others, according to the UN.

But since its inception in 2007, the ACCC has been challenging the odds.

It opened with a small group of students, but now boasts 1,500, and the majority are girls and women, teens to adults, studying everything from English to information technology.

To date, more than 2,000 students have graduated, and 17 are from SAIT. The school’s offerings include six online courses on subjects ranging from computers to communications. Dozens more have taken at least one subject and 40 students are currently enrolled.
Gord Nixon, SAIT’s vice-president academic, pointed out that while the average per-capita income in Afghanistan is about $60 per month, the women who have gone through the program, even if they’ve completed only a single course, are bringing home $800 each month.

“The program has been life-changing for our students,” he said.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, the ACCC’s director, said employers, including the Afghan government, international development agencies and local businesses, clamour for graduates because they respect a Canadian education. The students not only go on to support an average of five family members, but they become role models, which in turn has spurred enrolment.

“People in the community see that and it helps them think that women, and women’s education, are important, and maybe their daughter should get an education, too,” he said.

While more than half of ACCC’s funding comes from the Canadian International Development Agency – about $541,000 since 2008 – the money runs out in September. Officials such as Ryan Aldred, president of the Canadian International Learning Foundation, a registered charity that has supported the initiative from the start, is knocking on doors trying to secure new revenue. He’s optimistic the school will be self-sufficient within three years.

Maryam and Heena are among 16 SAIT students – and 200 ACCC students – who are about to graduate. The ceremony date remains secret because of security concerns. For the same reason, they requested that their last names not be published.

They both talk about how walking across that stage is a step toward changing Afghanistan. But they also share something more fundamental to which every Canadian student can relate.

“My family is really proud,” Heena said.

Afghanistan: Western Advisers Withdrawn Following Killings
Amid the routine confusion at the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, changes are immediately apparent to the returning visitor: conspicuously absent is the usual contingent of foreign soldiers and police advisers arriving for meetings in armored SUVs, freshly pressed shirts, body armor, crew cuts and wraparound shades; instead, they seem to have been replaced with Kalashnikov-toting Afghan police, who stand a silent watch amid the chaotic hustle of the ministry compound.

The absence of foreign advisers and security personnel is a consequence of the incident a week and a half earlier, when two high-ranking U.S. officers were shot and killed at a secured office in the ministry amid a wave of riots sweeping the country following the burning of Korans and other religious materials at the U.S. base at Bagram. Hours after those shootings, NATO withdrew all of its military and civilian advisers from Afghan government ministries -- and they have not returned, despite a frenzy of debate in the U.S. over the consequences for the Obama Administration's withdrawal plan of U.S. personnel being unable, temporarily and for security reasons, to mentor their Afghan counterparts.

Many Western advisers stationed in Kabul opposed the decision by General John Allen, commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, to withdraw them from their offices, even if -- as NATO insisted -- the move was temporary. "Pulling all advisers from the ministries as a blanket reaction to an incident at the Interior Ministry was an extreme reaction, giving the message that we don't trust anyone," says Santwana Dasgupta, an American support manager at the Ministry of Higher Education. "During these times, I believe it is even more important for the international community to reach out to the Afghans they know, express their dismay at the Koran burnings and not to hide in fear," Dasgupta tells TIME. "I think it is a shame that internationals are asked to run and hide."

"My beef is not that we were under lockdown -- this has happened before for a variety of reasons -- but more about the public way it was mandated that no Americans should visit any ministries," says Dasgupta. "It smacked of tit for tat, and given the cordial relationships we at the Higher Education Project enjoy with the ministry and universities, this message was disappointing." She does concede, though, that she would rather stay home than risk her Afghan colleagues getting injured if she were targeted.

But not all advisers were withdrawn -- some of those not working in U.S. State Department or NATO programs have remained. "We were never sent home," says a European adviser speaking on condition of anonymity. "And, actually, I feel safer at my office than I do in my house because the security is quite good at the ministry. I haven't received any updated security restrictions from my embassy." This adviser, who has only been in Kabul for a little over a month, says that right now "there's no friction between the Afghan and foreign staff after the Koran burnings. They are all educated and know us and our customs, so they understood that it was a mistake. Also, I don't advise the military, I work in development, so there is not as much of a threat."

Many other foreign advisers, however, particularly those working with the Afghan military, continue to do their works as best they can from their bedrooms, guesthouses, dormitories and barracks. TIME's request to interview military advisers affected by Allen's orders were declined until such time as they're cleared to return to their positions.

As NATO has struggled militarily in the face of rising insurgency, the training of Afghan security forces has become the centerpiece of the mission there. Viable government and security institutions are deemed vital to prospects of withdrawing U.S. and NATO troops. But if the advisers are unable to advise their Afghan counterparts, many ask, then why is the U.S. still in Afghanistan?

A June 2011 report by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee entitled "Evaluating U.S. Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan" clearly shows the importance the Obama Administration has placed on building the capacity of the Afghan government and the optimistic light in which it paints those prospects. "The Administration's fiscal year 2012 request for Afghanistan includes roughly $3.2 billion in foreign aid. This funding level reflects the pivotal role the State Department and USAID are expected to play to help consolidate our military gains and ensure a successful transition. It gives our Embassy and USAID Mission in Kabul the necessary resources to build basic Afghan capacity," the report argues, adding that this request is a 22% decrease from fiscal year 2010–enacted levels.

The report does warn that despite the best efforts of the State Department and USAID to build capacity, Afghan ministries may not be ready to stand on their own after U.S. withdrawal, and it also warns that "our overreliance on international technical advisors to build Afghan capacity may undermine these efforts. Our aid projects need to focus more on sustainability so that Afghans can absorb our programs when donor funds recede." It also cautions that a sudden drop in aid could trigger a major economic recession in Afghanistan, further imperiling the country's security prospects.

Westerners working in Kabul, however, warn that if advisers are kept out of Afghan ministries -- either for security reasons or because of funding cutbacks -- the 10 years of work the U.S. has put into its nation-building exercise in Afghanistan will be jeopardized.

"I understand why the military advisers were pulled as they are a definite target, but where this all went wrong was pulling out the civilian advisers," says a senior foreign adviser at one of the ministries. "I don't think it was right to pull the civilian advisors out of the ministries for two reasons: first, it encourages similar attacks when Taliban see they can easily disrupt the government by attacking the international staff; and second, the disruption caused to our work by not being on site was huge. We cannot be active advisors and capacity builders of the Afghan government from a distance." Echoing a sentiment widely shared by Westerners involved in capacity building in Afghanistan, this adviser warns, "We must be able to interact with our national colleagues and should not appear to be more precious than them."

For Afghan Policewomen, Sex Abuse Is A Job Hazard
by Quil Lawrence NPR March 8, 2012
The image of Afghan women wearing police and army uniforms is meant to inspire pride and hope for a future where the rights of women will be protected in Afghanistan.

So why would female police officers in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif be ashamed to admit they wear the badge?

"Except my very close family members, no one really knows that I am a police officer," said one woman at a NATO training session.

The woman, who asked not to give her name, says she tells most of her family that she works with a foreign aid organization. That's because the rumors about sexual abuse in Mazar-e-Sharif's police force are so widespread that many of these women are ashamed to say they're cops.

Profound Inequality

Protection of women's rights in Afghanistan remains a focal point for the West — and American officials regularly tout the fact that the Afghan security forces now include hundreds of women. In northern Afghanistan alone, about 300 women are serving in the police force.

But in a culture that is not fully comfortable with women working outside the home, these women face significant risks. An NPR investigation in the city discovered disturbing allegations of systematic sexual coercion and even rape of female police officers by their male colleagues.

The women at the recent training session at a huge base outside Mazar-e-Sharif hardly looked like victims as they assembled and loaded assault rifles. But none dared to give their names as they alluded to what is an open secret in the city.

"Some women are being promoted only if they agree to give sexual favors," said one female officer.

Most of the female police have many children, and most are poor. Though they say they'd like to serve their country, just as many say they joined the police because the pay — about $300 a month — is better than working as a maid or a teacher. The threat of job loss is a powerful one.

None of the policewomen on the training course — which consisted of a mix of men and women — would admit to being victims of sexual coercion.

Shocking Stories Of Rape

But privately, several told of terrifying experiences. The women agreed to speak on the condition that their names be withheld, and the only place they felt safe enough to talk with a reporter was in a car moving around the city.

"It's a fact. Women in the police are being used for sex and as prostitutes," said Ann — not her real name — who is in her mid-30s.

"It's happened to me. Male cops ask for sex openly because they think women join the police just to work as prostitutes," she said.

In Afghanistan, even in modern cities like Mazar-e-Sharif or Kabul, the capital, a wide array of supposedly "immoral" conduct can get a woman called a prostitute. Anything from wearing the wrong clothes to sitting in the front seat of a car, or simply working outside the home can cause dangerous rumors.

The law reflects that. With sexual assault, the woman is as often sent to jail as the man, the assumption being that any woman who puts herself in a situation to be vulnerable to rape must be immoral.

That seems to apply even to police officers: Women interviewed for this story said that if cases of rape are exposed, the woman always gets the blame.

Ann says that's why she never reported the worst attack.

She says on one occasion her house was invaded by a group of men who stayed all night, raping her in front of her small children. Ann, who is married, recognized some of them as police. She didn't report the incident for fear of public disgrace, and because she believes the police chief already knew.

A second woman in her mid-30s, Jane — also not her real name — says she was also raped by her superiors on the force after the threat of losing her job — the only income supporting her several children.

"Put it this way: If there is a young woman, and she wants to remain in her post, she accepts being used this way," said Jane.

A Type Of Sexual 'Trafficking'

The women say abuse is widespread across Mazar-e-Sharif's police force and that female officers are practically "trafficked" when they are transferred from one district to another. Pay and promotion depend on sexual favors. Ann says she would never encourage a woman to join the police.

"I have daughters of my own, and I would never ever want them to join the police force," she said.

Another woman, in her late-30s, arrived for an interview hiding her police uniform under her burqa. She says that after almost 10 years on the force, police officers stopped demanding sex from her but forced her to procure prostitutes.

"Anywhere you ask for a job in the police force, they either ask you to give yourself or bring them girls," she said. She named several policewomen who act as madams for cops in the city.

Official Denial

Afghan officials in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul denied all the charges made in this story.

"The women police are working closely alongside their Afghan brothers. I totally reject any report that they are being abused by their male counterparts," said Sadiq Sadiqi, the spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry.

But advocates in Kabul say the problem is not limited to Mazar-e-Sharif.

"We've received many reports of abuse of Afghan women police in many parts of the country," said Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. "We are very concerned."

Gagnon says the U.N. is currently trying to gauge how widespread the problem is — especially as the international community draws down and starts handing over control to Afghan forces.

"Violence against women in Afghanistan is at very high levels. One of the solutions put forward is for more females to join the police force to address this issue," she said. "It will be very difficult to take this seriously when females join and are themselves abused by other officers within the force."

U.S. drone missile strike in Pakistan kills 12 militants
Fri Mar. 09 2012 07:25:03 The Associated Press
ISLAMABAD — An American missile attack killed 12 militants on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border on Friday, one of only a handful of such strikes this year, Pakistani officials said.

The missile struck in the Mandao district of South Waziristan, a rugged militant stronghold where the Pakistani army has staged offensives in the past, the officials said, giving no further details. The officials did not give their names because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

It took place hours after al-Qaida confirmed that a strike last month in North Waziristan killed one of its commanders -- a success in a CIA-led campaign, but a major source of tension plaguing the relationship between Washington and Islamabad.

The strikes, which began in earnest in 2008, have killed scores of militants, including foreign al-Qaida members involved in plotting attacks on the West. Their frequency increased in 2010, when they hit militants widely seen as being proxies of the Pakistani army, causing friction between the U.S and Pakistan.

Reflecting the tensions, the number of attacks dropped in 2011, and they were cut back even more after November, when U.S. aircraft mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops on the Afghan border. Pakistan blocked U.S. supply routes into Afghanistan in protest and said it was renegotiating its ties with Washington as a result.

Friday's attack was the eight this year. In contast, in 2010, there were more than 150 such strikes.

Faced with strong public anger over the drone attacks, Pakistani officials publicly condemn them as an unacceptable violations of sovereignty that boost support for extremism. Privately, the program has long had some level of official sanction and even co-operation.

The confirmation of the death of militant commander Badr Mansoor is significant, because he was believed to be behind many of the suicide attacks that have killed scores of Pakistani civilians in recent years. It could be used by supporters of the campaign in Washington and Islamabad as an example of how drone attacks benefit both countries.

The U.S.-based SITE monitoring service said on Friday that the confirmation of Mansoor's death came in a video statement by Ahmad Farooq, al-Qaida's head of media and preaching in Pakistan. The video was released on an Internet jihadist forum.

Local Taliban fighters previously said Mansoor was killed in the Feb. 9 strike, but there was no confirmation from the U.S. or Pakistan. A militant video eulogizing the dead is considered the most reliable way of knowing when a top commander has been killed.

In the nine-minute video, which featured photos of Mansoor alive and dead, Farooq accused Pakistan of collaborating with the strikes.

"America is now more eagerly attacking the Pakistani government's targets," he said. "The drone program is being run with the full consent, permission and co-operation of the Pakistani government."

The issue of drone strikes -- their frequency, targeting and whether Pakistan should be informed ahead of them -- is key to ongoing, back-channel negotiations to restart U.S.-Pakistani relations, which are important for America's hopes of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Mansoor was said to have run a militant camp in North Waziristan region, an al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold where the Pakistani army doesn't launch offensive operations, giving the militants a safe haven -- aside from the drone strikes.

Mansoor was from Pakistan's largest province, Punjab, and moved to North Waziristan in 2008, where he led a faction of some 230 fighters, local insurgents have said. The enlistment of Punjabis in the Pakistani Taliban has been a serious concern for the government, because it makes it easier for the militants to export violence from the border to the heart of the country, where most Punjabis live.

Also Friday, suspected militants attacked a vehicle carrying Pakistani security forces in North Waziristan, killing seven troops, army and intelligence officials said.

The security forces returned fire, killing eight militants, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

U.S. basketball team set up so Afghan women can shoot hoops
Reuters By Miriam Arghandiwal Thu Mar 8, 2012
KABUL - Afghanistan's female basketball team has played its first game against a squad of American women especially created for them, highlighting the struggles Afghan women still face more than a decade after the Taliban were toppled.

With black hijabs covering their hair and clad in red sweatshirts, the national all-women team has trouble finding opponents in a country where sport is underfunded and women often encounter disapproval from relatives and society who deem it un-Islamic.

"They are taller and older than us (but) we're happy to have competition," Afghan team member Sameera Asghari, 19, said of American team "Kabul Kats", composed of female staff of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Despite playing for years against mostly female students, and often winning, the Afghan team lost to Kabul Kats with a score of 38 to 21 in the friendly, played in the gym belonging to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in its heavily barricaded headquarters in the centre of the capital.

Kabul Kats was formed in December after the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, met members of the Afghan female team, who lamented their struggle in finding other teams to play.

"So we agreed it would be fun to play a game against our embassy women," Crocker told Reuters at the match on Wednesday, a day before International Women's Day.

While Afghan women have gained back basic rights in education, voting and work since the Taliban were toppled in 2001, their plight remains severe and future uncertain as Afghan and U.S. officials seek to negotiate with the Taliban to ensure stability after foreign combat troops leave by end-2014.

Her head downturned, Afghan team captain Palwasha Sangar, 19, said she feared any return of the Islamist group.

"We will not have freedom nor rights if the Taliban have power, they are ill-minded," she said, recalling the time when "they didn't want us outside the house", referring to a Taliban law which forbade women leaving the house without a male relative.

There is now fear among some Western officials and rights groups that women's rights in Afghanistan could be compromised under any power-sharing deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Activists were outraged this week when President Hamid Karzai backed recommendations from his powerful clerics, the Ulema Council, to segregate the sexes and allow husbands to beat wives under certain circumstances, reminiscent of Taliban rule.

While Kabul Kats player and U.S. embassy strategic planner Melanie Smith applauded her opponents, whose team was formed seven years ago, she added: "I know they are still working really hard to achieve equal rights."
(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy) (