View Full Version : [Afghan News] April 19, 2012


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04-30-2012, 01:49 PM
How will leaked photos impact U.S. mission in Afghanistan?
By Ashley Fantz, CNN April 19, 2012
(CNN) -- On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times published photos of U.S. soldiers posing with what the paper said were bodies of insurgents in Afghanistan.
The newspaper said a soldier came forward with the images to draw attention to the safety risk associated with a decline in leadership and discipline. In the Times story, editor Davan Maharaj said publishing the photos "would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan, including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops."
The Los Angeles Times said efforts to get responses from the soldiers involved were unsuccessful. CNN has not independently authenticated the photos.
The images are just the latest in a string of scandals that some say could damage U.S. efforts in the war, which is in its 11th year.
In January, video footage emerged of U.S. soldiers apparently urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, Afghans rioted after it was discovered that Qurans had been burned in violation of Islamic custom at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Last month, an Army staff sergeant allegedly went on a rampage and shot to death 17 Afghan civilians, including numerous children.
The U.S. is due to hand over control of the country to Afghan forces in 2014. On Thursday Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an "accelerated" transition of security responsibilities to the country's forces. He called the photos "inhumane and provocative."
CNN spoke with three national security and military experts about the images and what impact they may have on the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Here's an edited version of their responses.
Read the complete interviews here
Baer: 'Very, very difficult time stabilizing this country'
Robert Baer is a former CIA agent who spent most of his career in the Middle East. His book "See No Evil" has been lauded for its first-person look inside the agency and for its analysis of events leading up the war on terror.
I think the situation there is going from bad to worse. ... It's incidents like these which are dividing American troops from the Afghans. I just don't see it getting better. Of course, this is an isolated event. It's not the end of the world, but if it continues on like this -- more bad news -- we're going to have a very, very difficult time stabilizing this country before 2014.
Getting into one of these wars is very easy. It's very, very difficult for a White House to walk away from this, especially when the same people that attacked us on 9/11 are going to come back. For a politician to say, 'Hey, let's forget about it, let's hope for the best, let's leave' -- this is a problem for the White House. They cannot be seen to be losing a war. It doesn't really matter that we never really won the war. It's just morphed into something else, into a quagmire, guerrilla warfare.
I don't think we're going to speed it up, we're just going to hope for the best and get better control of the military. And hope that the Afghans will be able to take this over. I'm not very confident, though.
Marks: 'Very damaging to all the U.S. efforts'
James "Spider" Marks is a retired U.S. Army general. He works as a consultant in Washington.
This is very damaging to all the U.S. efforts, specifically the U.S. effort to assure it stays in harness with the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces moving forward in this critically important mission. This does nothing but throw sand into that fabric of trying to establish and trying reinforce what has been, over the last decade, a reasonably good relationship. There's nothing good that comes from this.
Sadly, you had soldiers ostensibly dehumanizing the enemy. That can't be done. You've got to hold these bad guys with respect that they deserve if they're willing to kill themselves to achieve a goal ... our soldiers understand this. These are several bad apples. You need to always respect your enemy, so you better understand them.
The record of the military in our conflicts, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, and routine activities that take place every day around the globe [have been] decentralized out to young men and women like these folks [in the photos], who sadly made a huge mistake. But most folks -- 99% of our military -- do a magnificent job. So you have to let the record speak for itself. What you have to do locally -- and Gen. John Allen [the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan] understands this intimately -- you have a lot of damage control to do. You have to anticipate what the reaction is going to be in Afghanistan. It speaks to this isolated incident, and it doesn't speak to a full breakdown in terms of morale and discipline and capabilities in our military. ... The military in this case is losing ground because they've achieved so many great things, specifically in Afghanistan, and this incident is setting them back.
Clark: 'We'll get an orderly withdrawal'
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark served as supreme allied commander of NATO from 1997 to 2000 in the Kosovo war. Once a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, he has a degree in philosophy, politics and economics, and a master's degree in military science. He served 34 years in the Army and ran in the 2004 presidential election.
[The photos don't] represent the standards or the training or the values of the United States armed forces. Our soldiers and our leaders know you don't pose with dead enemy bodies, and there's a lot of other things that you don't do. We maintain these standards. I think the men and women of the armed forces have done a remarkable job, our leadership has done a remarkable job. No one ever expected when this conflict started that we'd be in it [almost] 11 years later, a volunteer army would have held together and done so very well. This is an exception, and I know the military will take their proper measures.
We've accomplished our major objective there. We got Osama bin Laden. We've taken strong measures against al Qaeda -- it's a broken organization, at least as it was in 2001. And it's not going to recover, at least not in the near term there. There are other enemies on the ground there in Afghanistan, and it's been a tough fight. So winning the hearts and minds? I think we can continue training Afghan security forces. I think we can expect to fulfill the obligations to Hamid Karzai's government. I think we'll get an orderly withdrawal out of that region, as President Obama said, [in] 2014. That's what we're really looking for.
There will be mixed feelings, because those mixed feelings on the ground among the populace are inevitable in wartime. This is a country that's been through 40 years of war. So, there have been a lot of losses, a lot of tragedy, there's been a lot of hatred. This is one more small piece of that.

Afghan leader condemns US troop photos
By AMIR SHAH | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned photographs of U.S. soldiers posing with the bloodied remains of three suicide bombers as "disgusting" and said Thursday that only a quicker exit of international forces can prevent such missteps.
Karzai joined top American officials in denouncing that 2-year-old photos, the latest in a string of embarrassing controversies that have jeopardized relations between the two countries in the midst of negotiations over the withdrawal of foreign troops.
He also warned that "similar incidents of an odious nature" in the past sparked angry reactions from Afghans, including violent protests that left dozens dead, although there was no immediate sign of a popular backlash.
The photos were published in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times. One shows members of the 82nd Airborne Division posing in 2010 with Afghan police holding the severed legs of a suicide bomber. The same platoon a few months later was sent to investigate the remains of three insurgents reported to have accidentally blown themselves up — and soldiers again posed and mugged for a photo with the remains, the newspaper said.
A photo from the second incident appears to show the hand of a dead insurgent resting on a U.S. soldier's shoulder as the soldier smiles.
"It is such a disgusting act to take photos with body parts and then share it with others," Karzai said. "The only way to put an end to such painful experiences is through an accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces."
The Afghan government is currently scheduled to start taking the lead in security in 2013 and fully take over by the end of 2014 when the majority of international combat troops leave. It was not clear what Karzai meant by an "accelerated" transition. Karzai has previously talked about speeding up the handover only to later explain that he meant sticking to the agreed timetable.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid also called the pictures disrespectful. He condemned both the U.S. soldiers involved in the pictures and the Afghan police also featured in them.
"We strongly condemn these occupiers and their puppets who are without culture, who are brutal and inhuman," Mujahid said. "Next to these occupiers there are some Afghans — puppets — who were ordered to stand next to the bodies of the martyrs."
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized and expressed concern the gruesome photos could incite fresh violence against Americans. The White House also called them "reprehensible."
Afghans have had mixed reactions to scandals involving American troops in recent months, including the burning of Muslim holy books, urinating on Afghan corpses and an alleged massacre of 17 Afghan villagers.
After the burning of the Qurans in February, large-scale demonstrations turned violent, leaving more than 30 Afghan civilians and six Americans dead. However, few protests occurred after a video in January when U.S. Marines were found to have recorded themselves urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans.
Many Afghan lawmakers played down the possibility that the newly revealed photos would spark mass protests, saying the general population has little sympathy for suicide bombers, who frequently kill civilians as well as foreign and Afghan security forces. One bomber detonated his explosives-filled vest at the entrance of a mosque in Kabul on Dec. 6, 2011, killing 80 worshippers during the Shiite Muslim rituals of Ashoura. It was the single deadliest suicide attack since 2008.
"It is different from an American soldier going and killing children, or Americans burning holy Qurans. These issues and the suicide bombers are completely different," said Hafiz Mansour, a lawmaker from the northern province of Panjshir.
Several broadcasters mentioned the photos on evening newscasts, but not everyone in Afghanistan owns a television and very few have access to the Internet. No newspapers were published on Thursday and Friday, the Afghan weekend.
Mohammad Naim Lalai Hamidzai, a parliamentarian from southern Kandahar, said protests would only erupt if somebody tried to organize them.
"The burning of Qurans and the killing of children create emotions in people, but there is no sympathy for suicide bombers who kill innocent people," Hamidzai said.
But some in Kandahar city worried that it would give the Taliban justification for more attacks.
"I don't think people will display outrage because these were not normal people, but this kind of thing can mean more Taliban attacks," said Abdul Ghulam Haidari, a restaurant owner.
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Associated Press writers Patrick Quinn and Heidi Vogt in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Karzai Criticised For Calling Taliban ‘Brothers'
TOLOnews.com Wednesday, 18 April 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai calling the Taliban ‘brothers' has garnered much attention and strong reactions among Afghans, some arguing it will negatively impact the image of Afghanistan.
The actions of the Taliban do not merit the term brother, Chairman of the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS) Mir Ahmad Joyenda said Wednesday.
The Taliban, who have "never believed in humanity", should not be called brothers, he said, adding that he feared the international community would cut aid if Karzai continues to refer to them as such.
"Calling those who are enemies, who are trying to destroy the city, and who have never believed in humanity, brothers, is greatly disappointing," he told TOLOnews.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) condemned Sunday's attacks in Kabul and said the Taliban's actions had no regard for civilians, and as such, should be condemned.
"The Taliban have no respect for civilians and all their operations harm civilians," AIHRC head Mohammed Musa Mahmoodi. "These acts should be strongly condemned."
It is not the first time Karzai has referred to the militant group using this term. He has used it as far back as 2009.
Some analysts have previously argued that calling Taliban ‘brothers' would downgrade the morale of Afghan security forces and encourage the Taliban to increase their insurgent activities.
Karzai used the controversial in his public address in Kabul on Tuesday, but stressed that what the Taliban had done was against Islamic principles.
"You [Taliban] damaged Islam, Afghanistan and its economy," he said.
"You did nothing for Islam, you did not work for Afghanistan's independence and you did not work for its people, freedom and development. You worked to prolong a foreign presence."

Russia slams NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan
By SLOBODAN LEKIC | Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — Russia's foreign minister sharply criticized NATO's plan to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 2014, saying Thursday that coalition troops should remain in the country until Afghan government forces are capable of ensuring security.
"As long as Afghanistan is not able to ensure by itself the security in the country, the artificial timelines of withdrawal are not correct and they should not be set," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
NATO plans to hand over lead responsibility for the war against the Taliban to the Afghan army and police by the middle of next year, then withdraw its troops by the end of 2014. The alliance already has started drawing down its forces, which reached a peak of about 140,000 last year.
NATO leaders say that Afghan forces are improving rapidly and will be able to counter Taliban guerrillas after 2014. But critics have pointed to widespread drug use and the high desertion rate among government forces as signs that it remains unprepared to handle the insurgents.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance's secretary general, responded to Lavrov's criticism by saying the Afghan government has agreed with the withdrawal schedule, and that it is "definitely not artificial." He also urged Russia, China and other non-NATO countries to help fund the post-2014 Afghan armed forces.
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said that initially he also was worried about the drawdown. "Fortunately enough flexibility has been built into the plan ... so there will not be so much of an impact as many people were thinking," he said.
The Afghan army and police are scheduled to expand to more than 350,000 members in the next several months. NATO has already handed over to them responsibility for security over half of the country's population, and the transition is set to continue.
Lavrov, who attended a meeting of NATO defense and foreign ministers in Brussels, said China and other countries in Asia also are worried about the withdrawal schedule.
Moscow views NATO's military effort in Afghanistan as crucial for its own security, including helping to prevent instability from spreading into ex-Soviet Central Asia.
Russia, which is not a NATO member, has provided the alliance with air corridors and railway routes for carrying supplies to and from landlocked Afghanistan. The link has become particularly important since Pakistan blocked NATO supplies from crossing its territory following an alliance airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani border troops in November.
On Thursday, Lavrov and NATO ministers discussed a plan to give the alliance a new logistics facility on Russian territory to transfer military cargo to and from Afghanistan.
The proposal, now being considered by Russian lawmakers, would for the first time allow alliance members to set up a logistics facility in Ulyanovsk, Russia, for troops and cargo.
Officials said there were "no differences" between the two sides on the use of the air base in Ulyanovsk.
"We expect to expand the transit options offered to us by Russia ... to Afghanistan," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after the meeting. "We appreciate very highly Russia's contribution, which is based on our shared interests and contributes to our shared security."
The former Cold War rivals remain sharply at odds, however, over a U.S.-led NATO missile defense plan in Europe that Washington says is aimed at deflecting a potential Iranian threat. Moscow fears it will eventually become powerful enough to undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent.
Despite those differences, Russia has also cooperated with the alliance in suppressing piracy off the Somali coastline and in such areas as anti-terrorism, counter-narcotics and search-and-rescues at sea.

Taliban in Afghanistan make online donations appeal
18 April 2012 BBC News
Afghanistan's Taliban has made a call for donations on one of its websites.
The appeal, which provided telephone numbers and email addresses for the Taliban's financial commission, called on Muslims to support the insurgency.
Some analysts believe the appeal is primarily a propaganda move, because the Taliban is thought to receive most of its funding from opium production.
The Taliban governed Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when a US-led military coalition dislodged them.
Insecurity
The insurgent militant group claimed on Saturday that it was "in dire need of financial assistance... for its military and non-military expenditures."
It called on readers to "extend a helping hand in the form financial aid in the same way as [Taliban fighters] take part in Jihad physically."
But correspondents say that the call for cash is little more than a propaganda push to gain popular support.
The Taliban is believed to receive funding through smuggling activities and private benefactors in the Gulf, although Afghan and Western intelligence claims that opium production in Afghanistan forms the majority of the Taliban's income.
Separately, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report published on Tuesday suggests that opium farming in Afghanistan will increase in 2012.
The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2012 said that opium production in nine of 34 Afghan provinces was projected to increase.
Fifteen of the country's provinces were listed as free from poppy cultivation, compared with 20 provinces in 2009 and 2010.
The report links opium farming with insecurity, and lack of agricultural assistance to villages.

Afghan police kill 25 militants
KABUL, April 19 (Xinhua) -- Afghan police backed by national army and the NATO-led forces have killed 25 Taliban militants and wounded nine other over the past 24 hours, Interior Ministry said in a statement released here on Thursday.
"During the past 24 hours, Afghan Police backed by National Army and the NATO-led Coalition Forces launched 15 joint clean up operations in Kabul, Nangahar, Baghlan, Kunduz, Balkh, Helmand, Zabul, Logar, Ghazni, and Farah provinces during which 25 armed insurgents were killed, nine wounded and another one arrested," the statement added.
However, it did not say if there were any casualties on the security forces.
Taliban militants fighting Afghan and NATO-led troops have yet to make comment.

Tony Blair: Afghanistan Must 'Take Responsibility For Its Own Future'
By Lara Seligman | National Journal
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Thursday that the international community must keep a presence in Afghanistan, but once U.S. and other NATO forces leave, the country should “take responsibility for its own future.”
Blair said on CBS’ This Morning that the silver lining of the insurgent attack in Kabul earlier this week is that Afghan forces took the lead and fought back. He said that international forces should keep a presence in the country to ensure that the Afghan forces continue to grow their capabilities.
“Afghanistan will have to take responsibility for its own future,” Blair said. “If we hadn't been there over this last decade, then Afghanistan… could have gone back to being what it was, which is essentially a training ground for terrorism.”
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Afghan Authorities Eye Taliban In Suspected Girls School Poisoning
April 18, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Mustafa Sarwar, Ron Synovitz
Officials in Afghanistan's northeastern province of Takhar believe the Taliban was responsible for the suspected poisoning this week of more than 140 schoolgirls and their female teachers.
The incident on April 17 has rekindled concerns about the safety of girls trying to receive an education in Afghanistan, with foreign forces preparing to leave the country by the end of 2014.
Human-rights advocates say the international community must ensure that access to education for girls in Afghanistan is not sacrificed as security is handed over to Afghan forces or as a result of any political settlement between Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and insurgents.
Hafizullah Safi, the head of Takhar province's public health department, says investigators "strongly suspect" a water-supply tank at the Rostaq district's school for girls was poisoned by Taliban militants.
Safi says both the water supply itself and blood from hospitalized girls are being tested as part of an ongoing investigation by Afghan authorities.
"Their health condition is good now. They now only are showing signs of dizziness, fatigue, and exhaustion," Safi says. "The results of our investigation are not yet known. It has not been confirmed whether they were really poisoned or they were affected by hysterics after seeing, in their words, a man close to the water tank -- and fainted as a result.
"Perhaps that man did nothing and they fell ill due to a physiological effect," Safi continues. "We've taken blood samples of five girls, as well as samples of the water, and sent them along to Kabul to make clear whether it was poisoning or just a psychological condition."
Tawhidi says the parents of the sick schoolgirls are insisting on sending their daughters back to continue their education.
Listed In Stable Condition
Most of the hospitalized girls and teachers reportedly had been drinking from the school's water tank before becoming ill with symptoms that included severe nausea, headaches, and dizziness. But some reportedly fell ill only after seeing signs of sickness among the others.
About 40 girls were treated and released on April 17 while about 100 others -- including adult female teachers -- were kept at the hospital for observation.
By midday on April 18, Safi said 15 girls remained hospitalized with ongoing symptoms of poisoning. They were listed in stable condition.
The Taliban has not claimed responsibility for the incident. But Faizullah Tawhidi, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Takhar, said confirmation of poisoning would support investigators' suspicions of Taliban involvement because of the militia's opposition to schooling for girls.
"Of course, if it's proven that the water was poisoned or materials were mixed with it in order to damage the health of the girls, it is clear that it has been done by the enemies of Afghanistan, by those who do not want the children of the country to continue with their studies," Tawhidi says.
Taliban Infiltration
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for few incidents of violence in Takhar Province compared to other parts of Afghanistan. Tawhidi says, however, that Taliban militants appear to have infiltrated the province in recent years.
"Some secret networks of the Taliban are active [in the province]," he says, "and it is clear that they are trying to damage the society by resorting to different methods."
When in power in Kabul from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban regime banned education for girls. Taliban fighters have continued to target girls schools in the areas they control since then, resorting to rocket and mortar attacks, arson, poison, and even throwing acid in the faces of young girls. Taliban militants also have beheaded teachers who taught girls.
Afghan Education Ministry officials have confirmed there were at least 17 poison-gas attacks on girls schools in Afghanistan in 2010 -- including six attacks in Kabul -- that were thought to have been carried out by the Taliban or their sympathizers.
Skeptics downplayed many of those incidents, saying the wave of reported gas attacks was likely the result of mass hysteria. But doctors who treated victims said the use of poison was apparent and that such attacks have happened many times in Afghanistan.
In 2009, five Afghan girls briefly slipped into comas and nearly 100 other pupils needed treatment after an alleged gas attack against their school. Taliban sympathizers also were blamed for that incident.

Pulitzer-Winning Image Source Of Pride, Nightmares For Afghan Photographer
April 18, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Mustafa Sarwar, Abubakar Siddique
Tarana stands erect amid the dead and injured at her feet, her blood-stained hands opened as if asking, "Why?" Tears and blood stream down her face, her mouth agape.
It is a heartbreaking image, one that captures the ubiquitous violence that has befallen Afghanistan, and for that it has been awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for breaking-news photography.
But for the man who took the picture, the photo that has earned him international recognition leaves him conflicted, a reminder of the traumatic experiences he encounters as a news photographer in one of the world's most violent places.
Afghan photographer Massoud Hossaini recalls the day he took the award-winning image vividly. It was December 6, 2011, on the occasion of the Shi'ite festival of Ashura.
As participants of a festival procession gathered outside the Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul, a powerful blast went off. Standing just 15 meters away from the blast, Hossaini was spared major injury by the hundreds of mourners between him and the suicide bomber.
Hossaini rushed toward the center of the blast, which killed more than 70 people and injured scores more. There, as the smoke cleared, he saw the 10-year-old Tarana, dressed in green, screaming amid the chaos.
"In the blink of an eye, Tarana's surrounding's were filled with blood. The dead and injured bodies of her relatives surrounded her," Hossaini says. "Among them were her brother and playmates. This caused her to go into shock, which led her to stand in the mayhem and cry in pain."
Showing Afghans' Pain To The World
Despite his own shock and shrapnel injuries to his arm, Hossaini continued to shoot pictures. When he was done, he rushed back to his office at Agence France-Presse to upload the images for the world to see.
"The procession was drenched in blood, but I was still responsible for covering it. This sense of responsibility motivated me to continue taking pictures," he says. "So I covered that tragedy from many angles so that people around the world could see what pain I saw that day and what pain we observe almost every day in similar incidents."
Afterward, Hossaini sought treatment for his wounds and retreated home to his family. He soon began receiving telephone calls -- his photograph of Tarana had appeared on the front pages of major U.S. newspapers, including "The New York Times", "The Washington Post," and the "Los Angeles Times."
"To me the picture showed to the people of the world what had happened in Kabul that day. What had struck Tarana and what had I witnessed," he says.
Proud, Despite The Suffering
It was a point of pride for the 30-year-old photographer, who after fleeing to Iran to escape the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan had worked as a tailor to raise money to buy his first camera.
He documented subjects close to him -- the reformist movement in Tehran and fellow refugees living along Iran's border with Afghanistan.
Hossaini returned to his native Kabul after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. There he took various photojournalism courses and joined Agence France-Presse in 2007.
This year, his hard work was awarded, multiple times. He is currently in Holland to receive second prize in the Spot News category for the 2012 World Press Photo contest, which was awarded for his photo of Tarana. Next, he will head to New York to pick up his Pulitzer, and a $10,000 prize.
While Hossaini expresses satisfaction with his awards, they have also left him with conflicting emotions.
"I am happy that, as an Afghan, I am able to reflect the suffering of Afghans. But I am unhappy over what happened and that I witnessed it," Hossaini says.
"I saw Tarana in that condition and I am even in contact with her now. I know that she has nightmares about it just as I do."
Written by RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique, based on an interview conducted by Radio Free Afghanistan's Mustafa Sarwar

U.S., Allies Weigh Post-Pullout Plan
Wall Street Journal By JULIAN E. BARNES April 18, 2012
BRUSSELS - U.S. officials have begun discussions with allies on sending military special-operations forces to Afghanistan to conduct counterterrorism and training missions after the end of alliance military operations in 2014, Western officials say.
The proposal, discussed on the sidelines of North Atlantic Treaty Organization meetings Wednesday, offered the first outline of how the international troop presence in Afghanistan will look after 2014, when the Afghan government is due to take full security responsibility.
The allies also discussed a plan to cut the size of the Afghan national security forces starting in 2015 to make it more affordable for beleaguered allies. The NATO members are coalescing around a plan to fund the Afghan security forces at about $4 billion a year, which would allow a force of about 228,000 people after 2015, down more than 120,000 from its peak.
In side sessions with the U.S., Australia and Canada discussed the possibility of sending special-operations forces to Afghanistan, a Western official said. Those forces could conduct counterterrorism missions as well as train Afghan forces.
"There is a lot of interest in preserving counterterrorism capabilities," said a Western official. "One way to preserve them is to be part of an enduring presence in Afghanistan."
Prior to the formal NATO meetings Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith, followed by a meeting with Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay.
Australian defense officials didn't immediately comment about the meeting. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday said Australia would shift away from a combat role next year but "was prepared to consider a limited special-forces contribution."
That statement was greeted warmly by U.S. officials. "Not only is this not a pullout, this is a symbol of commitment," said a senior U.S. defense official.
A spokesman for Canada's Department of National Defense appeared to dismiss the idea that there were plans to send Canadian special forces back into Afghanistan after 2014.
"Our intent now is to focus on training Afghan Security Forces in Kabul so that the Afghans can secure their own sovereign territory and future," said the spokesman, declining to comment further. Canada halted combat operations last year, though is now the campaign's second-largest contributor of military trainers.
The U.S. hasn't decided how large its own force in Afghanistan will be in 2014, but military officials said they hope to deploy special-operations forces there.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there was support within the alliance for continued assistance in Afghanistan after 2014.
"I see emerging agreement from NATO to take on a new mission in Afghanistan after transition to full Afghan security responsibility is complete," he said. "It will be a new mission and a new role for NATO."
Mr. Rasmussen said he expects agreement soon on a "clear picture" of the long-term size and cost of the Afghan army and police forces.
A senior NATO diplomat said the current rise of Afghanistan forces—intended to help the country take charge of its own security—would peak at 352,000 in October. It would remain at that level into 2015 before declining to 228,000 over two years, by the end of 2017, to make it more affordable.
Other NATO officials said the exact size of the Afghan security forces could change, based on the prevailing conditions.
The Obama administration has proposed spending about $5.7 billion next year on Afghan security forces, roughly the annual cost of supporting a force of about 352,000 until 2015.
U.S. officials hope that after 2015, the American contribution can drop to about $2.2 billion. U.S. and NATO officials are seeking commitments of $1.3 billion from American allies, and $500 million from the Afghan government.
"I sense there is a positive attitude toward international financing of the Afghan security forces because people realize a bill of that size goes well beyond the financial capacity of the Afghan government," Mr. Rasmussen said.
He said several allies had made concrete commitments to contribute funding to the Afghanistan security forces after 2014. Both NATO and U.S. officials declined to name the countries making the pledges.
The meeting this week in Brussels comes a little more than a month before the alliance's heads of government meet in Chicago on the future of the alliance's role in Afghanistan after its major combat role ends in 2014.
The senior NATO diplomat said officials were discussing efforts to offer alternative employment to demobilized fighters as they leave the Afghan force. More than 100,000 security personnel, who enter the force with little if any formal education, will have learned to read and write to third-grade level as part of their military training.
Mr. Rasmussen said funding Afghan security forces is much less expensive than funding international troops. "It is a good deal and it is very easy to make the case this is a good way forward," Mr. Rasmussen said. —Alistair MacDonald and Stephen Fidler contributed to this article.

Afghanistan needs firm security funding pledges, U.S. says
Afghan officials fear that without specific aid contributions, they won't have the resources to battle insurgents after foreign troops leave.
By David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times April 18, 2012
BRUSSELS — The United States and its allies are promising to provide more than $4 billion a year for Afghanistan's army and police after international forces depart in 2 1/2 years, but they still lack firm financial pledges to meet the target, U.S. officials said.
As a result, Afghan officials fear that they won't have the resources necessary to fight what is expected to be a still-virulent insurgency after most foreign troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
The escalating financial crisis in Europe and uncertainty about how long Afghanistan's cash-strapped government will need major military aid are making it difficult to nail down contributions, U.S. officials acknowledged.
"We cannot shortchange the security that must be provided by the Afghans forces now and in the future," Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said at a news conference here Wednesday after daylong meetings about the funding shortfall and other issues at NATO headquarters.
The meetings were unusual because Panetta joined forces with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the alliance headquarters. Their goal was to put finishing touches on the announcements that President Obama and other leaders intend to make next month at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Chicago.
Along with security funding, the White House plans to use the May 20-21 summit to unveil a long-term military alliance with Afghanistan. Officials also will disclose a separate agreement for the U.S. and its allies to shift from the lead combat role to a training and advisory mission by mid-2013, putting Afghan forces in the lead fighting position.
For Obama, the high-profile summit in his hometown is an opportunity to show Americans that he is wrapping up the unpopular, decade-old conflict in Afghanistan in the midst of a hard-fought reelection campaign.
U.S. officials say a small number of American troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 to provide training and to conduct limited counter-terrorism operations.
But the uncertainty about how much military aid Afghanistan will receive after U.S. troops leave is causing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to dig in his heels in negotiations with Washington over the terms of a long-term alliance.
Karzai said this week that the Obama administration needs to spell out in writing how much it would provide for the army and police after 2014, a demand that suggests he is increasingly worried about being abandoned once U.S. and allied combat troops depart.
Panetta said Karzai's demand was impractical because it would trample on Congress' prerogative to set aid levels in annual appropriations bills. With public support for the Afghanistan war dropping, Congress may decide to cut future funding for the Afghan army and police, no matter what the White House promises Karzai.
"We do not have the power to lock in money for the Afghans or anyone else," Panetta said.
The U.S. is spending more than $9 billion this year to support Afghan security forces. After American troops depart, the administration is promising to pay $2.2 billion a year, more than half the amount that the U.S. estimates is needed for security.
The plan under discussion at NATO calls for allies to contribute at least $1.2 billion and Afghanistan to chip in at least $500 million. At that level, the army and police would shrink from a planned force of more than 300,000 to about 230,000, U.S. officials said.
Some Afghan officials worry that the Taliban, though weakened, could regain its strength once U.S. forces have withdrawn, especially because insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan remain largely intact.
U.S. and NATO officials said Afghan troop levels could be revised upward if the insurgency does not wane. They also said they believe that the capabilities of the Afghans will improve in time, allowing the force to shrink while remaining effective.
"We believe we are on a path to ensuring that their security forces … will have the resources necessary to protect the Afghan state and the Afghan people," Clinton said at the news conference Wednesday.
British officials pledged $110 million a year during the closed-door meetings, but they indicated that the money would not be available until 2015 or later, a senior NATO official said.
Other countries also announced a willingness to contribute, though they held off announcing specific amounts, U.S. and NATO officials said.
"We are in a time of austerity, particularly with European governments," a senior U.S. Defense official said. "We're moving toward [obtaining firm commitments], but there's a long way to go yet."
david.cloud@latimes.com

Afghanistan attacks: Were signs of improved US-Pakistan ties just a mirage?
Despite optimism relations were rebounding, the attacks bore the signature of a Pakistan-based group, a reminder, as the US plans to exit Afghanistan, that Pakistan is at best a fickle partner.
By Howard LaFranchi April 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm EDT The Christian Science Monitor
Washington - US officials voiced cautious optimism recently that relations with Pakistan, a critical but difficult partner, had survived a brush with a breaking point. One hope was that vital NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan were about to be reopened.
But the weekend’s coordinated insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, which US officials say bear the signature of a Pakistan-based militant organization that has for decades flourished under the protective wing of the Pakistani intelligence services, have raised new warning flags about Pakistan.
They serve as a reminder that the US – despite dispensing billions of dollars in military and civilian aid and receiving pledges of support in the battle with Islamist extremism – will have to factor in Pakistan as at best a fickle partner as it sets its course in a region that remains a threat to US national security.
“The attacks [in Afghanistan] show signs of involvement by groups benefiting from sanctuary” in Pakistan, “so certainly this is just another reminder of Pakistan’s lack of action on its side of the border,” says Lisa Curtis, a South Asia senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “At the same time, this can’t help but highlight the ongoing disagreements between the US and Pakistan.”
The US will have one eye on Pakistan as it decides two critical policy issues on Afghanistan, regional experts say. One is the pace of the drawdown of about 60,000 US combat forces that will remain in Afghanistan by this fall. The other is the size, makeup, and focus of the military presence the US will seek to keep in Afghanistan as part of a long-term strategic partnership agreement.
With Pakistan still providing safe haven to the Taliban and other militant groups that cross the border to carry out attacks in Afghanistan, the US will have to factor in the Pakistan threat as it decides how many troops and bases it hopes to keep in Afghanistan.
US officials say both privately, and to a lesser degree publicly, that they believe the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, long considered primarily a border contraband-smuggling mafia, was behind the weekend attacks in Kabul and three other Afghan cities. That is troubling for two reasons: the suggested evolution of the Haqqani network into a sophisticated fighting force and Taliban affiliate; and the fact that the Haqqani network has operated under the protection and encouragement of the Pakistani intelligence services since the 1980’s.
Some US officials did seek to soften their claims about the Haqqani network by specifying that they did not believe the organization had masterminded the attacks from Pakistan. “Though the evidence leads us to believe that the Haqqani network was involved in this, it doesn’t lead back into Pakistan at this time,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in comments to reporters in Washington Monday.
But Ms. Curtis of Heritage says a certain soft-peddling of any accusations against Pakistan is to be expected, since the US is focused on getting relations with Pakistan back on track after last year’s falling out (over the deadly attack on a Pakistani border outpost by US forces, and earlier the stealth raid into Pakistan territory that ended in the killing of Osama bin Laden). “We’re unlikely to see any direct blaming of Pakistan [for attacks in Afghanistan] because the US is most interested in getting the supply routes back open,” she says. “The priority right now is to get relations back on a functional level.”
Pakistan had been the route of choice for supplying US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, but the Pakistani government closed its borders to NATO shipments after the border outpost incident in November. Another so-called “northern route” has been opened up that passes through Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but US military officials say the new route is much costlier, with the cost per truck container now an estimated $17,000, compared to $7,000 per container shipped through Pakistan.
The Pakistani parliament recently agreed to a resetting of relations with the US that would allow a reopening of the border to NATO shipments, but some of the conditions the parliament calls for will never be accepted by the US.
One is an end to all drone strikes in Pakistan. With Pakistan refusing to take its own action against the border-region safe havens from which both Afghan and Pakistani militant groups operate, the US will refuse to give up what it says has been one of its most effective counter-terrorist tactics.
Still, US officials and some Pakistani officials say they expect differences to be resolved to allow the NATO supply routes to reopen.
One factor that some experts say may actually contribute to an easing of US-Pakistan tensions is the strategic partnership agreement the US is expected to conclude with Afghanistan in the coming weeks. The reasoning? If Pakistan is convinced that the US plans to remain a presence in the region, it will be less focused on its traditional interest in seeing Afghanistan remain unstable and unattractive to Pakistan’s arch-rival India.
“A US strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan will be a positive factor because it will send a good signal to both Pakistan and the Taliban that the US is here to stay and isn’t about to abandon a vital national security interest,” Curtis says.
Over all, she adds, “It will help reinforce the reality with Pakistan that its thinking on Afghanistan is wrong.”

Australian troops to stay in Afghanistan through 2014
AFP News
Australia vowed in an apparent U-turn Thursday to keep combat troops in Afghanistan through 2014 after Prime Minister Julia Gillard had indicated they would come home earlier than planned.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Defence Minister Stephen Smith made the pledge during talks with NATO counterparts to fine-tune the coalition's plan to hand security control to Afghans over the next two years.
Progress in Uruzgan province, where most of Australia's 1,550 troops are based, shows that transition of security control to Afghan forces "is achievable by the end of 2014 -- possibly earlier", Carr said.
"All of us, however, must continue to be present in support of the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) and be combat ready to do so until transition is finally complete at the end of 2014," he said.
Gillard indicated on Tuesday that most Australian soldiers would be withdrawn next year following significant security gains over the past 18 months.
Gillard said they would begin leaving as soon as Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared Afghans would take responsibility for Uruzgan province. Once he did, the withdrawal should take 12 to 18 months, she said.
While NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Australian announcement was within the agreed transition plan, German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Wednesday said he was "surprised".
The alliance has been at pains to explain its transition strategy ever since US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta indicated in February that NATO hoped to switch to a backup role some time next year.
Since then, NATO officials have stressed that Afghan forces are expected to take the lead nationwide by the end of next year but that NATO troops would continue fighting the Taliban until the end of 2014.
Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said the Australian and American statements about the transition had been misunderstood.
"From our conversation with the high offifials from both countries I think that both statements were misinterpreted," Wardak told reporters at the end of two days of NATO talks in Brussels.
"Australia reaffirmed they will stay in Afghanistan in 2014 and beyond," he added.
In the statement to NATO partners, the Australian ministers said their government was ready to support the training and funding of Afghan security forces after 2014.
Gillard will outline her country's contribution at a summit of NATO and Afghan coalition partners in Chicago next month, the statement said.
The bill to sustain the Afghan security forces after 2014 is estimated to cost $4.1 billion a year, with the United States paying around half and NATO nations the rest with the help of the international community.

Britain offers Afghan financing
Reuters By Sebastian Moffett and Missy Ryan Thu Apr 19, 2012
BRUSSELS - Britain was the only country to publicly pledge an actual amount of cash to pay for Afghanistan security after foreign combat troops withdraw in 2014, at a NATO meeting on Wednesday where differences over funding the country's future persisted.
The United States hopes to be able to announce annual contributions worth 1 billion euros (811.2 million pounds) from other NATO allies and partners when it hosts a summit of alliance members next month. But not all ministers at Wednesday's preparatory meeting were ready to commit.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would provide an annual 70 million pounds to "make Afghanistan a safer and more stable country and protect our own national interests."
"I look forward to discussing with other like-minded countries the contributions they will make," he said.
NATO wants to come up with a basic plan for post-2014 Afghanistan, when Afghan security forces are supposed to have full control. The security challenge was illustrated on Sunday when the Taliban launched an 18-hour attack on Kabul's business district.
But financing security operations is a big problem given the high levels of government debt in many NATO countries, especially in Europe.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that "a number of allies announced today concrete financial contributions to Afghan security forces in the future".
But he did not specify which countries or the amounts pledged. Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said the British delegation "was the only one which provided precise figures".
A number of other countries, including Italy, had said they would provide "significant financial contribution in the future" without providing clear numbers, he said.
FULL AFGHAN CONTROL
A timetable agreed between NATO and Afghanistan in 2010 calls for the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 when Afghan security forces are supposed to have full control.
After that, Afghanistan will need donor countries to provide billions of dollars a year to pay for its army and police.
Countries have yet to agree just how big a force is needed and who will pay for it, but are under pressure to fill in the blanks before the summit of the 28-member NATO alliance in Chicago on May 20-21.
"We cannot short-change the security that must be provided by the Afghan forces now and in the future," U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said more of the burden should fall to Afghanistan's neighbours and to countries that had not taken part in the military operation already.
"If you don't contribute troops, you should contribute funds. We sent troops," Sikorski said.
Efforts are being made to have non-NATO and non-ISAF countries - such as the Gulf states or perhaps Japan - contribute to the bill.
Rasmussen said that an annual cost of $4 billion was "a good planning base" as it had already been endorsed by Afghanistan and the international community.
"I would expect NATO allies and ISAF (the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) to commit themselves to pay a fair share of the total bill," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he wants at least $2 billion a year from Washington after 2014.
This week's meetings, on Wednesday and Thursday, come after renewed violence further shook Western public support for the war. On Sunday, insurgents attacked the capital's heavily-guarded diplomatic district, sparking 18 hours of fighting.
Afghan forces backed by NATO troops killed 35 insurgents. Eleven Afghan troops and four civilians were also killed.
On Tuesday, Australia - which is not a member of NATO but is part of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan - became the latest country to announce a faster-than-planned withdrawal, saying it would start pulling out its troops this year.
Rasmussen said Prime Minister Julia Gillard had made clear Australia would remain committed to Afghanistan after 2014.
France has said it will withdraw its troops by the end of 2013 and New Zealand may pull out before 2014.
Plans now call for 350,000 Afghan security personnel, including 195,000 members of the Afghan army, when NATO pulls out the bulk of its troops, leaving only special forces, trainers and security to protect them.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Justyna Pawlak and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Nato chiefs and politicians at war over 'risky' Afghan withdrawal plans
International summit split over cost-cutting exit strategy that would see security forces radically depleted as soon as West leaves
The Independent By Kim Sengupta Thursday 19 April 2012
Brussels - The blueprint for the West's exit strategy for the long war in Afghanistan is being set out in a critical meeting, with military officials and diplomats battling to prevent a proposed depletion of Afghan forces while the security situation remains precarious.
The conference in Brussels took place as an American newspaper published photographs yesterday of US soldiers next to the dismembered bodies of Taliban suicide bombers. The Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, had to apologise to the Afghan delegation and fellow Nato ministers for the way the reputation of international forces had been "besmirched" by the actions apparently depicted in the pictures published in the Los Angeles Times.
The Independent has learnt that military commanders and diplomats have been arguing against an early cut of almost 40 per cent in the size of Afghan forces, just when they are supposed to be taking over security responsibility from Nato.
Under one proposal which was being considered, the numbers would shrink from 352,000 to 220,000 from 2014. The primary reason is cost: cutting manpower would lower the country's annual defence budget, which the international community will have to fund, from $6.2bn (£3.9bn) to $4.1bn.
However, senior diplomatic and military sources say they are increasingly confident that the cuts, which they say would have a hugely damaging effect at a particularly sensitive time, can be delayed.
The timetable, however, remained unclear after yesterday's meeting. The British Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, said: "I think the intention is that the numbers will run through 2014, through 2015, and will then start to go down to get to the target number of 228,500, which will be achieved by the end of 2017. So the number will be achieved over a couple of years."
Mr Hammond added that the UK will provide $110m of the $1.3bn requested from Nato members towards the funding of Afghan forces. Washington will contribute the bulk of the remaining $2.7bn.
However, Nato's Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, pointed out that the decision on the timing of the depletion of Afghan security forces has not been decided and would depend on the security situation in the country. "Together with the rest of the international community we will play our part and pay our share in sustaining Afghan security forces at the right level for years to come," he said. But, he added, there was a consensus that the long-term strength "would be around 230,000".
Nato commanders concerned about the effect of too quick a cutback have received support in the US Congress. The dangers involved were raised with the US General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, when he appeared before the Senate Armed Forces Committee in Washington. Senator Carl Levin, the chairman, asked: "Given that transition to a strong Afghan security force is the key to success of this mission, why [are we talking] about reducing the size of the Afghan army by a third?"
Yesterday in Brussels, Mr Panetta praised the actions of the Afghan forces during a fierce insurgent assault on Kabul last Sunday. "They moved quickly and effectively because of the training we had given them," he said.
A senior British officer said: "This is precisely why we must be careful about the message we send. Is it really wise to tell these guys risking their lives that they may lose their jobs a little down the line? Do we really want 120,000 disaffected men – trained to use arms – made unemployed, out on the streets, in an economy highly unlikely to find them other jobs?"
The Afghan Defence Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, said: "Nobody can predict the security situation after 2014. Going lower on troop numbers has to be based on realities on the ground. Otherwise it will put at risk all that we have accomplished together with so much sacrifice."
However, the security situation will be considerably affected by the actions of Gen Wardak's government, diplomatic sources pointed out. Afghan national elections are currently scheduled for 2014 – after international forces have left.
The elections in 2010 were beset by violence despite the presence of tens of thousands of Nato troops, and President Karzai is considering bringing the next elections forward to next year. But that has led to accusations that he may also be attempting to manipulate the country's constitution in order to run for a third time.
"Even if he does not run, as he keeps on saying, any hint of the kind of corruption we had the last time would lead to great anger and also trouble," said an American diplomat. "Security is much improved, but we have to accept that pretty risky times lie ahead."
Job done? The nation Nato will leave behind
Democracy The legitimacy of Hamid Karzai's regime has been undermined by corruption.
1.5m Ballots cast in 2009 presidential election deemed potentially fraudulent by EU.
180 Afghanistan's current rank on Transparency International's corruption index (out of 182).
Security forces Critics fear the withdrawal of so many troops so quickly could leave a vacuum.
128,961 Number of coalition troops currently in Afghanistan.
$2bn The annual saving that the US hopes to make with its planned troop cut.
220,000 The proposed strength of the Afghan security force after 2014 – a reduction of 130,000.
Loss of life Civilian deaths at hands of Nato forces have poisoned relations with Kabul.
12,793 Estimated civilian deaths since 2006 caused by both the Taliban and Nato.
Women's rights Genuine gains for women mask the continuing barriers to full equality.
2.7m The number of girls enrolled in school – up from 5,000 under the Taliban.
400 Women and girls that Human Rights Watch says are locked up for so-called 'moral crimes'.
Drugs trade Massive US expenditure on poppy eradication has proved largely futile.
90 per cent Share of the world's opium that comes from Afghanistan. Production increased by 61 per cent from 2010 to 2011.

Bin Laden family deportation hits more snags
Associated Press April 18, 2012
ISLAMABAD - The plan to deport Osama bin Laden's three widows and their nine children from Pakistan ran into more bureaucratic hurdles on Wednesday, making it uncertain when they would leave, their lawyer said.
The family was detained by Pakistani authorities last May after U.S. Navy SEALs raided the compound in northwest Pakistan where the al-Qaida chief was hiding and killed him. The American commandos left bin Laden's relatives but took his body, which they later buried at sea.
Pakistan interrogated the family members and eventually charged the widows and two adult daughters last month with illegally entering and living in the country. The five women were convicted at the beginning of April and sentenced to 45 days in prison, with credit for about a month served.
Their prison term, which was spent at a well-guarded house in Islamabad, ended Tuesday. They were scheduled to be deported after the completion of their sentence, but their departure has been held up for bureaucratic reasons, said Atif Ali Khan, who took over as their lawyer Wednesday.
A brother of one of the widows, who has been campaigning for their release, fired the previous lawyer, Mohammad Amir Khalil, for making unauthorized statements to the media, said Khan.
Khalil could not be reached for comment. He initially said the family would be deported around midnight Tuesday and later revised that to sometime Wednesday.
But Khan said Pakistan's Interior Ministry has not yet issued the necessary authorization for the family to leave, and it's unclear exactly when that would happen.
Two of the widows are from Saudi Arabia, and one is from Yemen.
Khalil had said the entire family would be sent to Saudi Arabia. But Khan said the Yemeni woman, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, may be sent to her home country with her children.
"The Saudi and Yemeni Embassies are in touch with Pakistan's Foreign Ministry on this issue, and a final decision about the destination of the widows and children will be taken once we get" authorization for them to leave, said Khan.
There have been questions about Saudi Arabia's willingness to take the family.
Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 because of his verbal attacks against the Saudi royal family. Saudi officials have declined to comment on the prospect of bin Laden's family returning.
Pakistani officials have said very little publicly about the family, raising questions about why they were kept in detention for so long.
Some speculated Pakistan was worried information from the widows would point to some level of official assistance in hiding bin Laden. The compound in the town of Abbottabad where he lived for six years and was killed by U.S. commandos was about a kilometer (half a mile) from one of Pakistan's main military academies.
The Pakistani government has denied knowing the terrorist leader's whereabouts, and the U.S. has said it has no evidence senior Pakistani officials knew he was in Abbottabad.
But details leaked to the media from the interrogation of al-Sada, bin Laden's Yemeni wife, raised further questions about how he was able to live in the country unnoticed for so long.
Al-Sada said the al-Qaida chief lived in five houses while on the run in Pakistan for nine years and fathered four children, two of whom were born in Pakistani government hospitals.
The family's departure could help Pakistan close a painful chapter in the country's history. Pakistani officials were outraged that the U.S. did not tell them about the operation against bin Laden until after it happened — a decision American officials explained by saying they were worried the information would be leaked.
In addition to facing difficult questions about how bin Laden was able to hide in the country for so long, Pakistan's army suffered unusual domestic criticism because it was unable to stop the American raid from taking place.

Bridging Afghanistan's development gap
Foreign Policy By Wais Ahmad Barmak Wednesday, April 18, 2012
In Afghanistan, bridges are important. They link families separated by Afghanistan's often mountainous terrain, enable farmers to bring crops to market, and allow everyone - from traders to teachers - to move about more securely.
Last month, as Afghanistan's newly appointed Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, I handed over more than twenty completed projects - including a 460ft bridge and a university community center - to the people of Kapisa province in northeast Afghanistan. The bridge alone will benefit more than 70,000 people.
What relevance does this have for America, especially given longstanding concerns about the reasons for engaging in Afghanistan, the human and financial costs of doing so, and continuing apprehension about plans for transition, and Afghanistan's future stability and prospects?
Well, despite the regular diet of negative news about Afghanistan as we approach the drawdown of international - primarily American - military forces, I believe significant and sustained developmental progress is being achieved.
You might think, that as a government minister, I would say that. But the evidence is compelling.
My ministry manages five nationwide programs. Last year alone they provided direct technical support and funding to villages and districts in every one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces to help meet community-owned, locally agreed development plans. Rural roads and bridges helped connect two million people; access to clean water and sanitation reached two million more. And we helped almost 60,000 people, a third of them women, launch savings groups that will go on to create small and medium-sized businesses. Our work helps reintegrate former insurgents into communities as productive members of society, supporting stabilization efforts by our civilian and military partners. It is long running and life changing.
The major human development indicators are now moving in the right direction - for example, on the number of children in school, or levels of child and maternal mortality - but after thirty years of conflict Afghanistan has started from very low baselines. There is much more to do.
Afghans are increasingly taking responsibility for security and service provision. Under the third tranche of the Inteqal, or transition process, approximately 75% of the population will have seen security responsibilities pass to Afghan forces. That process is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014 but, as we know, it is not without its risks.
The years from transition to 2025 are already being termed a period of ‘transformation,' in which Afghanistan moves from heavy dependence on international donors to a state better able to pay its own way in the world, and make its own decisions. Support from the United States and the rest of the international community has been essential to fostering economic growth, social development, and stronger governance, enabling the Afghan government to begin providing support to 38,000 communities in over three hundred districts throughout 34 provinces.
Even in insecure areas, we have devised innovative mechanisms to deliver critically needed assistance, because development can and does address the root causes of conflict. Reducing poverty removes local grievances that can lead to tacit support for violence. Investing in education and training helps Afghanistan's young men and women find meaningful jobs. For farmers - and four out of five Afghans have a direct involvement with agriculture - promoting alternative, legal ways of generating income, instead of poppy cultivation, reduces insecurity and corruption.
A number of sectoral initiatives - National Priority Programs - are currently being finalized in partnership with international donors. The Tokyo Conference this July will look at those programs, including how they translate into long-term financial support. Discussions will not be easy: a decade more is needed before Afghanistan's economy can generate a substantial proportion of its own budget needs, and the global economic crisis has changed the donor landscape.
In the run-up to Tokyo, there is much the U.S. can do. I believe the Obama administration and Congress should look at a comprehensive package of support:
* In the wider context, finalizing the long-term, multi-dimensional strategic partnership, ensuring the U.S.-Afghan relationship will endure well beyond 2014; * Bringing rural development funding on-budget, providing greater accountability, oversight and predictability, and increasing the value of aid from U.S. taxpayers; * Re-shaping the American development aid program to integrate bottom-up rural development and top-down strategic development, a necessary step to meet Afghanistan's unique circumstances and needs; * Encouraging regional states to join Afghanistan in coordinating cross-border rural development initiatives; * Supporting incentives for U.S. firms, including encouraging foreign direct investment in rural economic initiatives such as agri-business.
Now is not a time to cut and run. We know that post-conflict stabilization and development requires decades to complete, but we are a long way from becoming a ‘failed state.' The real and sustainable progress made so far has been achieved at great human and financial cost: the United States' continued commitment to our long-term development will be vital in bringing about a secure, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.
Wais Ahmad Barmak, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in the Afghan Government, is currently visiting the United States.

www.afghanistannewscenter.com (http://www.afghanistannewscenter.com)