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Default [Afghan News] September 27, 2011 - 02-14-2012, 07:26 AM

Pakistanis Tied to 2007 Border Ambush on Americans
By CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times September 26, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan — A group of American military officers and Afghan officials had just finished a five-hour meeting with their Pakistani hosts in a village schoolhouse settling a border dispute when they were ambushed — by the Pakistanis.
An American major was killed and three American officers were wounded, along with their Afghan interpreter, in what fresh accounts from the Afghan and American officers who were there reveal was a complex, calculated assault by a nominal ally. The Pakistanis opened fire on the Americans, who returned fire before escaping in a blood-soaked Black Hawk helicopter.
The attack, in Teri Mangal on May 14, 2007, was kept quiet by Washington, which for much of a decade has seemed to play down or ignore signals that Pakistan would pursue its own interests, or even sometimes behave as an enemy.
The reconstruction of the attack, which several officials suggested was revenge for Afghan or Pakistani deaths at American hands, takes on new relevance given the worsening rupture in relations between Washington and Islamabad, which has often been restrained by Pakistan’s strategic importance.
The details of the ambush indicate that Americans were keenly aware of Pakistan’s sometimes duplicitous role long before Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate last week that Pakistan’s intelligence service was undermining efforts in Afghanistan and had supported insurgents who attacked the American Embassy in Kabul this month.
Though both sides kept any deeper investigations of the ambush under wraps, even at the time it was seen as a turning point by officials managing day-to-day relations with Pakistan.
Pakistani officials first attributed the attack to militants, then, when pressed to investigate, to a single rogue soldier from the Frontier Corps, the poorly controlled tribal militia that guards the border region. To this day, none of the governments have publicly clarified what happened, hoping to limit damage to relations. Both the American and Pakistani military investigations remain classified.
“The official line covered over the details in the interests of keeping the relationship with Pakistan intact,” said a former United Nations official who served in eastern Afghanistan and was briefed on the events immediately after they occurred.
“At that time in May 2007, you had a lot of analysis pointing to the role of Pakistan in destabilizing that part of Afghanistan, and here you had a case in point, and for whatever reason it was glossed over,” he said. The official did not want to be named for fear of alienating the Pakistanis, with whom he must still work.
Exactly why the Pakistanis might have chosen Teri Mangal to make a stand, and at what level the decision was made, remain unclear. Requests to the Pakistani military for information and interviews for this article were not answered. One Pakistani official who was present at the meeting indicated that the issue was too sensitive to be discussed with a journalist. Brig. Gen. Martin Schweitzer, the American commander in eastern Afghanistan at the time, whose troops were involved, also declined to be interviewed.
At first, the meeting to resolve the border dispute seemed a success. Despite some tense moments, the delegations ate lunch together, exchanged phone numbers and made plans to meet again. Then, as the Americans and Afghans prepared to leave, the Pakistanis opened fire without warning. The assault involved multiple gunmen, Pakistani intelligence agents and military officers, and an attempt to kidnap or draw away the senior American and Afghan officials.
American officials familiar with Pakistan say that the attack fit a pattern. The Pakistanis often seemed to retaliate for losses they had suffered in an accidental attack by United States forces with a deliberate assault on American troops, most probably to maintain morale among their own troops or to make a point to the Americans that they could not be pushed around, said a former American military officer who served in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Looking back, there were always these attacks that could possibly be attributed to deliberate retaliation,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because his job does not permit him to talk to journalists. Pakistani forces had suffered losses before the May 14 attack, he added.
As with so many problems with Pakistan, the case was left to fester. It has since become an enduring emblem of the distrust that has poisoned relations but that is bared only at critical junctures, like Teri Mangal, or the foray by American commandos into Pakistan in May to kill Osama bin Laden, an operation deliberately kept secret from Pakistani officials.
The attack in 2007 came after some of the worst skirmishes along the ill-marked border. By 2007 Taliban insurgents, who used Pakistan as a haven with the support of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment, were crossing the border, frequently in sight of Pakistani border posts, and challenging the Afghan government with increasing boldness. American and Afghan forces had just fought and killed a group of 25 militants near the border in early May.
To stem the flow of militants, the Afghan government was building more border posts, including one at Gawi, in Jaji District, one of the insurgents’ main crossing points, according to Rahmatullah Rahmat, then the governor of Paktia Province in eastern Afghanistan.
Pakistani forces objected to the new post, claiming it was on Pakistani land, and occupied it by force, killing 13 Afghans. Over the following days dozens were killed as Afghan and Pakistani forces traded mortar rounds and moved troops and artillery up to the border. Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, began to talk of defending the border at all costs, said Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the senior American general in Afghanistan at the time.
The border meeting was called, and a small group of Americans and Afghans — 12 men in total — flew by helicopters to Teri Mangal, just inside Pakistan, to try to resolve the dispute. They included Mr. Rahmat. The Afghans remember the meeting as difficult but ending in agreement. The Pakistanis described it as cordial, said Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier and a military analyst who has spoken to some of those present at the meeting.
The Americans say the experience was like refereeing children, but after five hours of back and forth the Pakistanis agreed to withdraw from the post, and the Afghans also agreed to abandon it.
Then, just as the American and Afghan officials were climbing into vehicles provided to take them the short distance to a helicopter landing zone, a Pakistani soldier opened fire with an automatic rifle, pumping multiple rounds from just 5 or 10 yards away into an American officer, Maj. Larry J. Bauguess Jr., killing him almost instantly. An operations officer with the 82nd Airborne Division from North Carolina, Major Bauguess, 36, was married and the father of two girls, ages 4 and 6.
An American soldier immediately shot and killed the attacker, but at the same instant several other Pakistanis opened fire from inside the classrooms, riddling the group and the cars with gunfire, according to the two senior Afghan commanders who were there. Both escaped injury by throwing themselves out of their car onto the ground.
“I saw the American falling and the Americans taking positions and firing,” said Brig. Gen. Muhammad Akram Same, the Afghan Army commander in eastern Afghanistan at the time. “We were not fired on from one side, but from two, probably three sides.”
Col. Sher Ahmed Kuchai, the Afghan border guard commander, was showered with glass as the car windows shattered. “It did not last more than 20 seconds, but this was a moment of life and death,” Colonel Kuchai said.
As he looked around, he said, he saw at least two Pakistanis firing from the open windows of the classrooms and another running across the veranda toward a machine gun mounted on a vehicle before he was brought down by American fire. He also saw a Pakistani shot as he fired from the back seat of a car, he said. The rapid American reaction saved their lives, the two Afghan commanders said.
The senior American and Afghan commanders had been driven out of the compound and well past the helicopter landing zone when a Pakistani post opened fire on them, recalled Mr. Rahmat, the former governor. The Pakistani colonel in the front seat ignored their protests to stop until the American commander drew his pistol and demanded that the car halt. The group had to abandon the cars and run back across fields to reach the helicopters, Mr. Rahmat said.
His account was confirmed by the former United Nations official who talked to the unit’s members on their return that evening.
Those who came under fire that day remain bitter about the duplicity of the Pakistanis. Colonel Kuchai remembers the way the senior Pakistani officers left the yard minutes before the shooting without saying goodbye, behavior that he now interprets as a sign that they knew what was coming.
He insists that at least some of the attackers were intelligence officers in plain clothes.
Mr. Rahmat remains incensed that back in Kabul an attack on a provincial governor by Pakistan was quietly smothered. There was never any Afghan investigation into the ambush, for fear of further souring relations.
Official statements from Kabul and NATO went along with the first Pakistani claim that insurgents were behind the attack. NATO did not call for an investigation by Pakistan until two days later.
General McNeill, who is retired, remembers the episode as the worst moment of his second tour as commander in Afghanistan, not only because he knew Major Bauguess and his family, but also because he never received satisfactory explanations in meetings with his counterpart, the Pakistani vice chief of army staff, Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hyat.
“Ahsan Hyat did not take it as seriously as me in asking, ‘Have we done as much as we could, and how could we have done it differently?’ ” he said.
Lt. Gen. Ron Helmly, who led the Office of the Defense Representative at the American Embassy in Pakistan at the time, was told that the Pakistani soldier who opened fire was unbalanced and was acting alone, yet he was left acutely aware of the systemic shortcomings of Pakistani investigations.
“They do not have a roster of who was there,” said General Helmly, who is retired. “It was all done from mental recollection.” The Pakistani soldiers who fired from the windows consistently claimed that they were firing at the Pakistani gunman, he said.
Both Generals Helmly and McNeill accept as plausible that a lone member of the Frontier Corps, whether connected to the militants or pressured by them, was responsible, but they also said it was possible that a larger group of soldiers was acting in concert. The two generals said there was no evidence that senior Pakistani officials had planned the attack.
As for the Afghans, they still want answers. “Why did the Pakistanis do it?” General Same of the Afghan Army said. “They have to answer this question.”
Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed reporting.

Taliban Says it Controls Haqqani Network, Denies Links to Pakistan
VOA News September 27, 2011
The Taliban says it, not Pakistan, controls the Haqqani network, which U.S. officials blame for numerous attacks on American targets and have linked to Islamabad's intelligence agency.
A statement relased on the Taliban's website (Voice of Jihad) said "all insurgent activity is of "our own initiatives and our own actions." It said there are no ties between the Haqqani network and Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI
The statement also said attempts to link the Haqqani network's founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, to the Pakistani government were an attempt to "give a bad name to our prominent figures" by tying them to foreign intelligence services.
Last week, the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said that the Haqqani group was a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani spy agency, blaming its fighters for a deadly assalt on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, as well as an attack on a NATO base in Afghanistan earlier this month.
Pakistan has repeatedly rejected the allegations.
U.S. officials have recently applied increasing diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to take military action against the group.
The Taliban has also denied American charges that Haqqani fighters are seeking refuge in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region that borders Afghanistan.
On Monday, Pakistani military officials said Islamabad has decided not to target the Haqqani network because its military is already stretched too thin battling other militants in northwest Pakistan.
In Washington Monday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. remains confident it can work constructively with the Pakistani authorities to address concerns about the terror group. He said Washington recognizes that the Haqqani network poses a clear threat to U.S. security in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, has canceled a visit to Britain during which he was scheduled to meet privately with Defense Minister Liam Fox. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also called for a rare cross-party conference to be held on Thursday to form a united front in the face of the U.S. allegations leveled against the military and the ISI.
Gilani has condemned the allegations as a “propaganda blitz." He also asked Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who is attending the U.N. General Assembly session in New York, to "forcefully present Pakistan's point of view" when she addresses the world leaders Tuesday.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

Suicide bomb, blast kill 18 civilians in Afghanistan
By Sharafuddin Sharafyar in Herat and Abdul Malek in Lashkar Gah
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A roadside bomb in western Afghanistan on Tuesday killed 16 civilians, most of them children, hours after a suicide car bombing killed two people and wounded dozens in a southern city pioneering a transition to Afghan security control.
The roadside bomb in Herat province detonated under a van carrying a group of people back from an engagement party, killing all but four people on board, the provincial police chief's office said in a statement.
Abdul Raoof Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said there were 11 children among the dead. Four adult women and the driver were the other victims.
The explosion came just hours after a suicide car bombing near a local police chief's office in southern Lashkar Gah, a city in where two months ago foreign forces handed over responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts.
The bomber hit in a busy street close to shops, government offices and a bakery that supplied bread to police. One of those killed was a child and 10 police were among the wounded, said Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the Lashkar Gah attack in a text message sent to reporters.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are at record levels, and foreign troop deaths are down from 2010 but still high, while the insurgency is gaining strength in the once relatively peaceful north and west.
About three-quarters of civilians' deaths are caused by insurgents, U.N. figures show, although there are still many caused by foreign forces hunting militants with air strikes and night raids.
Helmand, bordering Pakistan, is an insurgent stronghold in which more foreign troops have been killed during the decade long war than any other province of Afghanistan.
The handover of Lashkar Gah in July, from NATO-led coalition troops, was seen as a critical test of the readiness of Afghan forces to assume control of security affairs.
It was one of the first six areas chosen to kick off a gradual withdrawal of foreign troops that will end with the return home of all NATO-led combat troops by the end of 2014, and the one that posed perhaps the biggest security challenge.
(Reporting by Sharafuddin Sharafyar in Herat and Abdul Malek in Lashkar Gah; Additional reporting by Ismail Sameem in Kandahar; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Sanjeev Miglani)

Suicide Car Bomb Kills Two in Southern Afghanistan
VOA News September 27, 2011
Afghan officials say a suicide car bomb attack has killed at least two people in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan's volatile southern Helmand province.
The provincial government spokesman Dauod Ahmadi said the explosion occurred early Tuesday on a busy street outside a police station, wounding at least 26 people, including 10 police officers.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Lashkar Gah was one of seven areas where control of security passed from foreign to Afghan forces in July as part of the first wave of a transitional process that is due to see all foreign combat forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The attack comes one day after U.S. officials said a shooting incident inside the U.S. Embassy's annex in Kabul killed an American citizen and another wounded another.
A U.S. embassy spokesman said the incident took place Sunday night when an Afghan employee of the U.S. government opened fire on Americans before being killed himself.
In other violence, a local government official in Herat province said a passenger bus returning from a wedding hit a roadside bomb, killing 16 people, including 11 children.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Kabul Tuesday to call for an international investigation into last week's assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading the nation's peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The protest was led by former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, who stepped down last year after opposing the government's efforts to hold talks with the Taliban.
Many of the demonstrators held signs saying, “Death to the Taliban” and “Death to Pakistan.”
Mr. Rabbani was killed a week ago at his home in Kabul by a suicide bomber pretending to deliver a “message of peace” from Taliban leaders.
Some Afghan officials have hinted that a recent series of targeted assassinations of Afghan officials may have been coordinated in part by Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

Afghan Bomber Attacks Store That Sold Goods to Police
By ALISSA J. RUBIN The New York Times September 27, 2011
KABUL — A suicide car bomber in southern Afghanistan took aim at a local merchant who sold his goods — cooking oil, bread and wood — to the local police, exploding a car in front of his grocery and bakery, killing a father and son on Tuesday.
The clear message was to discourage anyone who dared to do business, much less work for, the Afghan security forces. However, the two people who were killed appeared not to have had a connection to the merchant.
The explosion in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, comes several months after the city’s security was handed over to Afghan forces and several elders said they felt security had deteriorated since then.
“I don’t think the Afghan forces are able to stop these kind of attacks here,” said Haji- Muhammed Aslam, a tribal elder in Lashkar Gah.
A bombing of a minibus that killed 11 children and five adults headed to an engagement party in western Afghanistan, meanwhile, appeared to be a reminder of how long the country has been locked in conflict.
The bomb was likely an old piece of ordnance left over from the Soviet occupation or the civil war that followed said a spokesman for the provincial governor who noted that it was planted off the road and in a place that is never traveled by NATO or Afghan security forces. He described the explosive as an anti-tank land mine.
The spokesman, Mohyaddin Noori, said the van was in a convoy of vehicles bound for the party when one drove off the road to try to quickly pass other cars.
“This is a tragic incident that happened in the area, mainly due to the carelessness of the drivers,” he said.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar and Sangar Rahimi from Kabul.

Balkh Governor Noor Demands Government Reviews Its Taliban Policy Monday, 26 September 2011
The governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor, said he will go to the Mujahidin for advice if the government does not review its policy towards the Taliban.
"To protect the gains made in the past ten years, I will have to refer to the Mujahidin if the government brings no changes in its policies," Mr Noor told TOLOnews in an exclusive interview. "People can no longer tolerate the assassination of their leaders."
Mr Noor has been one of the most severe critics of the Afghan government's peace strategy.
Simmering tensions started to boil over after High Peace Council chief Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated at his home in Kabul by a man who posed as a Taliban messenger.
"The High Peace Council is something useless." Mr Noor said following the assassination. "There is no way to make peace with the Taliban. I urge all the supporters of our leader Burhanuddin Rabbani to remain united and take revenge."
Separately, at a memorial service for Rabbani in Panjshir province on Sunday, former vice president Ahmad Zia Massood criticised the government for not cracking down on the Taliban.
Mr Massood said that Pakistan was implementing its own strategy in Afghanistan by having high-profile Afghan figures assassinated.
He also accused the Taliban of being responsible for Rabbani's assassination. The Taliban has declined involvement.
He added that Pakistan has always violated the national sovereignty of Afghanistan but the Afghan government has kept only silent.
Mr Massood's comments add to recent public statements made by US officials suggesting that Pakistan supports terrorist networks. The US told Pakistan to reign in terrorist groups operating on its soil otherwise it would take action.

How to leave a strong Afghanistan
September 27, 2011
Editor's note: Jeremi Suri is the Mack Brown Distinguished Professor for Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of the new book, "Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama" (Free Press).
(CNN) -- The first CIA agents landed in Afghanistan on September 26, 2001, beginning direct American efforts to overthrow the Taliban. Ten years later, the United States is still fighting the Taliban, and the recent assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, shows that we are far from total victory.
The terrorist training camps are gone and al Qaeda's top leaders are dead or on the run. Nonetheless, Afghanistan remains riddled with violence, corruption and hatred. The citizens of Afghanistan continue to suffer from crushing poverty, immobility and intimidation.
President Obama in June made it clear that the United States would not continue to fight indefinitely in Afghanistan. The president announced that he would withdraw about one-third of the roughly 100,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan by summer 2012. He also pledged a fuller disengagement by 2014, when "the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security." Subsequent discussions revealed that the White House expected to keep no more than 25,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, about half the U.S. deployment in Germany.
After 10 long years, American withdrawal from Afghanistan is wise and necessary. An open-ended commitment is unsustainable in the face of global recession, excessive U.S. government debt and pressing political challenges in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iran -- just to name a few crucial countries. The United States must disengage from Afghanistan and focus its resources elsewhere.
The real question is how the United States should withdraw and what it should leave behind. How can we make sure the sacrifices of the last 10 years are not betrayed after we leave? How can we help ensure against a reversion to the conditions in Afghanistan that allowed the 9/11 terrorists to train and take refuge?
The United States has extensive experience with these questions, from our difficult interventions over the last century. In the Philippines, Germany, Japan, and to a certain extent, Iraq, American investments in nationwide elections, in a multiparty legislature and in a respected judiciary have brought some legitimacy to the government. This is a very mixed history with few "victories," but some insights that might help with our withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Hedge your bets. American leaders have a tendency to invest heavily in friendly strongmen, like Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, Shah Reza Pahlavi in Iran and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. These figures initially look reliable and morally attractive as courageous leaders of anti-communist and anti-Taliban efforts. Extensive American support, however, becomes corrupting, increasing the isolation and dictatorial qualities of Washington's chosen allies. In the end, dependence on strongmen discredits American power.
As American soldiers leave Afghanistan, they must not "hand over" power to Karzai or any similar figure. Instead, the United States must work hard in the next year to build deeper ties with diverse local leaders, many of whom oppose both the Taliban and Karzai at the same time. The United States should encourage power-sharing between groups, and it should avoid dependence on Karzai for security after 2012. Afghanistan needs more federalism across regions and less centralization in Kabul.
Build institutions. America's long history of foreign interventions proves that local insurgents can outlast our soldiers. As in Afghanistan, the United States will eventually bring its troops home, but the insurgents have nowhere to go. They can stay under cover, re-group and re-emerge after the Americans leave. That is precisely the dynamic with the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
If American soldiers cannot outlast the insurgents, American-supported institutions can. In the Philippines, Germany, Japan, and to a certain extent, Iraq, where American investments in nationwide elections, in a multiparty legislature and in a respected judiciary have brought some legitimacy to the Iraqi government. It is the joint businesses, the public works and especially the schools that changed society in the most enduring and beneficial ways. These institutions are also the most likely to draw local participation and popular endorsement. Money devoted to infrastructure and schools is well spent, especially as foreign military forces are reduced.
Nurture regional stability. American efforts in Afghanistan are threatened most by the extremism and violence in Pakistan. Although an official ally of the United States, Pakistan has provided sanctuary for terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, and the leaders of the Taliban. Pakistan has contributed to the corruption and intimidation in Afghanistan that oppress citizens seeking a better way of life.
The United States must put more pressure on Pakistan to play a productive role in the region. We must insist that the billions of dollars we send to Islamabad are not diverted to meddling in Afghanistan. Instead, the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies must work to apprehend terrorists, especially on their own soil, and they must enforce a cessation of violence on the key trade and communications routes into and out of Afghanistan. We cannot ask the Pakistanis to abandon their sympathies for some extreme Islamic parties, including elements of the Taliban, but we can insist that they help to maintain order, stability, and openness in the region.
Although Americans must withdraw from Afghanistan, they must do so in a way that supports positive changes. We must give Afghans the chance to run a functioning nation-state of their own. For all the difficulties of the last 10 years, there are real achievements -- including the establishment of political stability in the Northern provinces and the reduction in country-wide poverty -- to build on. Progress in withdrawal is possible and it will not cost very much. It will certainly come at less expense than a reversion of Afghanistan to the terrorist haven it was in September 2001.
The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Jeremi Suri.

Kabul Summons Pakistan's Ambassador over Border Shelling Monday, 26 September 2011
Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan was summoned on Monday in Kabul over recent border artillery attacks on Afghan border regions, officials said.
Officials in ministry of interior affairs said concerns about rocket rounds landed in border provinces over the past couple of days was expressed to Pakistani ambassador in Kabul.
Calling on Pakistan to bring an immediate end to rocket attacks into Afghanistan, officials warned the attack could severely damage relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
The attacks have also been strongly condemned by ministry of defence, and it warned of counterattack.
Afghan commander of commando forces has said that their troops are prepared to counter the attacks.
Officials in ministry of foreign affairs said they are looking into diplomatic ways to stop the attack in any way possible.
"Based on the obligation that Ministry of Foreign Affairs should preserve the rights of people, today Pakistan's Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq was summoned. We expressed our concerns about the attacks to the Pakistani envoy," Deputy Spokesman to Foreign Ministry Dr Framarz Tamana said.
Releasing a statement, defence ministry warned if Pakistan keeps the attacks coming, Afghan troops would not leave the missile attacks without answer.
"There could be no motive behind the attacks to continue and Pakistan's government should know that if the attacks continue, Afghan National Army along with the support of people is prepared to response," the statement said.
Experts warn that the government would lose the rein of power, if the situation continues the same.
Jawaid Kohestani, an Afghan political analyst, said Pakistan is making efforts to take advantage of the shaky situation in Afghanistan and prevent the country from developing a strong system.
Since last week, Pakistan has started firing rockets into border regions of Afghanistan that have led to the death of many civilians and making dozens of families to evacuate their homes.

Afghan forces kill 25 insurgents
GHANZI, Afghanistan, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Afghan forces eliminated 25 Taliban insurgents in Aband district of Ghazni province 125 km south of capital city Kabul Tuesday, police said.
"Police backed by NATO-led troops operated against Taliban insurgents in Aband district at 11:00 a.m. local time today killing 25 rebels," provincial police chief Zarawar Zahid told Xinhua.
The fighting flared up when a group of Taliban militants ambushed a security company and police accompanying the company returned fire leaving 25 insurgents dead, he further said.
He also added that the security company was a local one escorting logistic convoys of NATO-led troops in the province when came under attack.
Meantime, Zabihullah Mujahid who claims to speak for the Taliban outfit in talks with media via telephone from undisclosed location confirmed the clash, saying 14 police and guards of the security company were killed and seven vehicle were burned in the gun battle lasted for a while, a claim rejected by police chief Zahid as baseless.
Zahid insisted no police be killed in the firefight.

IMF says discussions underway with Afghanistan on new loans
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- The Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced Monday that it was in discussions with the Afghan authorities over a new economic program and the process has made headway.
"Afghanistan has made substantial progress on a number of actions intended to safeguard financial and economic stability, which, when completed, would serve as the basis for a new program, " Axel Schimmelpfennig, an IMF official said in a statement.
"Over the last few days, the Afghan authorities and an IMF team reached an understanding on the structural reform agenda of the Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies that could be supported by a Fund program. This will allow an IMF mission to visit Kabul shortly to update macroeconomic projections underlying a possible program," noted the statement.
Schimmelpfennig said once the Afghan authorities complete a number of remaining actions over the coming month, the IMF's Executive Board is expected to consider the request for a new IMF- supported program.

Gulf Air criticizes Afghanistan over landing spat
By ADAM SCHRECK - AP Business Writer
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — One of the few foreign airlines flying to Afghanistan accused Kabul of unfairly breaching an aviation agreement after refusing its planes landing rights.
Two of Gulf Air's flights were denied permission to land in Afghanistan in recent days, including one that was forced to turn back as it neared the capital Kabul, CEO Samer Majali said. It's unclear whether the carrier's next flight Wednesday will get the go-ahead.
The dispute is causing headaches for the Bahrain-based carrier and forcing it to reroute passengers on alternate flights. It also underscores the challenges of attracting foreign business to Afghanistan, which is in desperate need of outside investment but is beset by rampant cronyism and corruption.
"It's just nonsensical. ... Somebody says you can fly, then they change their mind," Majali told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. "They're trying to normalize the country ... and yet they do something which is uncivilized. It's unprofessional."
Afghan aviation authorities refused the landing rights after asking Gulf Air to cut its flights from four to two per week. Majali said that request goes against an agreement between Afghanistan and Gulf Air's home of Bahrain that allows the airline up to eight flights a week — twice the number it had been operating.
A spokesman for Afghanistan's civil aviation department, Nangyalia Qalatwal, acknowledged that Gulf Air had been asked to reduce the frequency of its flights, but denied that authorities had acted improperly.
He said the department acted following pressure from domestic carriers.
"There were complaints from the Afghan airlines regarding this contract with Gulf Air. They wanted us to stop their flights, but instead we decreased" the frequency, Qalatwal said. "We have the authority to stop (all) their flights, but we are not doing that. They should respect our decision."
Gulf Air began flying to Kabul from the Bahraini capital Manama in mid-June.
Its flight last Wednesday was unexpectedly denied permission to land after it entered Afghan airspace, Majali said. That plane, carrying 117 passengers, was forced to land in the Gulf city of Dubai instead.
Gulf Air flights Saturday and Sunday received landing clearance, but permission was again denied for Monday's flight.
Majali said if the dispute drags on, Gulf Air may be forced to reduce its flight schedule or consider pulling out of the Afghan market altogether.
Persian Gulf cities such as Manama and Dubai are among the most popular transit points for government officials, aid workers and businesspeople traveling to Afghanistan because they offer a wide range of long-haul destinations.

Luring Fighters Away from the Taliban: Why an Afghan Plan Is Floundering
By Julius Cavendish / Khost and Kabul Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011
About 18 months ago, Haji Ismail, an elderly government official in southeastern Afghanistan, received a letter from an old friend. "Whether this peace process, which our elders are discussing with the government, succeeds or fails," it read, "I want to come in." It was signed, with a blue-ink ballpoint pen, by Maulawi Sangeen — one of the Taliban's most dangerous battlefield captains and a deputy to veteran jihadist Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose network is deemed America's most virulent enemy in Afghanistan.
Not only was the erstwhile implacable jihadist seeking peace terms; he was also, if Ismail understood correctly, offering the release of the only U.S. soldier in Taliban captivity as part of the deal. "We have something that belongs to the Americans," the letter said. "It is safe. And we will talk about this as well." The letter was written on a Taliban letterhead and was drafted in a faltering Pashto script. It was political dynamite.
The only problem with Ismail's story is that it was also, according to analysts, an elaborate lie — part of "a long tradition" in Afghanistan of political fakery. "I don't see how you can reach any conclusion other than it's a wheeze by Ismail to persuade someone to give him more money," says Michael Semple, an academic and leading expert on the Taliban. Ismail insists the letter is genuine. "I don't lie," he told TIME. "If I'm lying, then punish me, stone me." But others analysts concur with Semple, arguing that the last thing any senior insurgent trying to defect would do is provide signed evidence of his intentions to a garrulous local official.
Instead, they reckon Ismail was trying to net a share of the $139 million committed by donors to the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) — his letter materialized shortly after donors announced their pledges at the 2010 London conference. APRP is a high-profile scheme aimed at wooing Taliban insurgents back into the fold. Many observers fear, however, that rather than supporting ex-combatants and their host communities with material help, the larger part of the $139 million will simply disappear into Afghanistan's patronage machine.
Concerns over the state of reconciliation efforts have been amplified by last week's assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the government's designated negotiator with the Taliban. Although his High Peace Council has recorded little tangible progress either in talks with the Taliban leadership or in grassroots efforts to reintegrate the movement's rank-and-file fighters, the running costs for its joint secretariat stood at $2.3 million as of June 30, while a further $1.5 million had gone to APRP cells within government ministries. By contrast, spending on reintegrating former Taliban fighters stood at $150,000.
To some minds, the APRP itself is little more than "a wheeze to channel lots of money to Karzai's allies," as Semple puts it. "And if you're looking for more evidence of this, your Haji Ismail is a pretty good example ... The purpose of this program is not to provide assistance to those who need to have another way of life, another option, another choice. It's a sop to the donors [and] a way of rewarding all those people who are already on the inside and are well connected to those in power — and that's the way the serious Taliban view it."
Cynical as that may sound, it's worth thinking back to previous peace initiatives in Afghanistan. Maulawi Mohammad Sardar Zadran, a former commander who went over to the government in the early days of the Karzai regime, helped run APRP's predecessor, known as PTS. One day, he told TIME, "I received a call from the head of the PTS in Kabul who told me to bring in 30 to 35 Taliban. I said: 'I can't, it takes time, it's not so easy.' They told me to bring in shopkeepers with beards. I told them that was fraudulent [so] they threatened me, said they would cut my salary. [Then] they dismissed me." Across the country, PTS enriched venal officials, did nothing for wannabe defectors from the Taliban and hardened perceptions of the government as corrupt, feckless and insincere. As one Afghan official put it: "PTS was a fiasco."
NATO is adamant that the PTS experience won't be repeated — the APRP program has been designed to prevent the kinds of abuses that plagued its predecessor. "This hasn't been simply a process of tipping money down a pipe and hoping for the best," says Major General Phil Jones, the head of the NATO cell supporting the Afghan government's peace program. "What [the APRP secretariat] has been doing, has been trying to build a unique, decentralized, transparent and accountable system such that money can flow down ... It's been really challenging in the first year when these things weren't in place and yet you want to get on with things ... So yeah, the huge complaint has been that $139 million has sat in the bank here for some time, waiting for disbursement."
It would be nice to think that the meticulous plan sketched out by Jones on a blustery day at NATO HQ in Kabul stands a chance. But amid growing popular skepticism that President Karzai's government and its NATO backers are able or willing to deliver peace, APRP is struggling to get up and running as the political environment becomes increasingly toxic and mistrustful. "Money given by the international community is not getting through," says Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. "I can't say whether that's because they're still taking precautions [against its misuse], but it's almost a year now. Isn't that a little bit long?"
In gloomy guesthouses across Afghanistan, you can find the collateral damage of this slow, deliberate approach. One afternoon in the southeastern city of Khost, TIME stumbles on three brothers pining for their days with the Pakistani Taliban. "Life was good," says Nikzuman, a slight 22-year-old with high cheekbones, an engaging smile and wistfulness beyond his years. "Among the militants we had pickups, weapons, enough money, everything ... But when we reintegrated with the Afghan government, we lost everything." The brothers can't return to the property their parents abandoned during the Soviet invasion of the 1980s for fear their neighbors will sell them out to the Taliban — who have threatened to kill them. So, jobless and outcast, they live on the graces of a family friend. "Other fighters — our former comrades — have called us to ask if the government's providing any resources," Nikzuman explains. "And if so, they say they'll come over. We say: 'Don't bother.' I get a call once or twice a month like that, from commanders of a hundred or 200 men." He pulls his woolen cloak tighter and leans back into the gathering shadows, settling in for the night.

US pushes Afghan army to stand on its own two feet
By Rachel O'Brien | AFP
The call from the Afghan army captain came in around midnight -- he wanted American back-up at a police checkpoint under insurgent attack. But US troops refused.
"Tell him to kill some bad guys for me!" yelled Captain Michael Kolton, in charge at US Combat Outpost Monti in rural northeastern Afghanistan, to the interpreter on the phone to the Afghan captain.
It is not that Kolton could not help -- "We could end it a little faster," he said later -- but with foreign troops pulling out by the end of 2014, the US priority now is making sure Afghan forces can deal with the enemy alone.
"They have got to believe in themselves. They're physically capable," Kolton told AFP at his base in Kunar province. "The bottom line is: do it yourself."
Or, as he put it more bluntly to another Afghan officer, Major Moeenuddin, in COP Monti's tactical operations centre: "You don't need me to go down there like your mom. I'm not your mom!"
The situation at the outpost, near the Pakistani border, illustrates wider questions over the readiness of Afghan forces to take over from the 140,000-strong foreign force, which is still in place after 10 years of war.
The issue is particularly pressing in dangerous areas such as Kunar, a transit route for insurgents who cross from the mountainous badlands of Pakistan to launch attacks against Western and government targets in Afghanistan.
The Afghan army and police have been recruited and prepared rapidly, growing from around 190,000 in late 2009, when the current programme to train them up began, to 305,000 today.
The US-led training mission for the Afghan forces has an $11.6 billion budget for this year alone, and there are now 170,000 troops in the Afghan army with combined army and police numbers due to peak at 352,000 by November 2012.
But a decade into the war, US troops on the ground complain that Afghan forces are still over-reliant on them and fail to take initiative.
"After 10 years of us being here, they have grown too dependent on us to where they don't want to do the job themselves," said First Lieutenant Tyler Bell. "Everything they have done has been us pushing them to do it."
Afghan forces have also faced recurring questions over issues such as cronyism, attrition rates and chronic illiteracy.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is trying to tackle the issues through the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan (NTM-A), whose key priorities include building leadership skills.
US troops at COP Monti are training up 650 or so Afghan soldiers in their area and have an Afghan National Army presence on all their patrols.
For their part, Afghan troops claim they are not getting the equipment they need to do the job from the international force.
Moeenuddin said he and his men could go it alone on one condition, repeated by several Afghan soldiers who spoke to AFP: "Only if the coalition forces give us better weapons, technology and all the stuff we need, like they have now.
"It's not enough right now. We are the army: we should have jets, helicopters and heavy weapons."
Another Afghan officer, First Lieutenant Nisar Ahmad, even threatened to defect to the Taliban in future unless more equipment was forthcoming.
"How can I protect myself when the bad guys are shooting at us?" he said.
"I want to stay in the army, but if the Taliban come in 2014 and we don't have good weapons, I will join the Taliban."
Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi declined to comment when contacted by AFP, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Major General Michael Day, NTM-A's deputy commander responsible for Afghan army training, said Afghan forces were being provided with "state of the art" equipment suitable for waging a counter-insurgency rather than other types of warfare.
ISAF is giving $2.7 billion worth of vehicles, weapons, communications equipment and aircraft to Afghan security forces between August this year and March 2012, a huge surge in military equipment provision which is only part of the overall spending.
"In a counter-insurgency, you don't have that classic force-to-force lining up in a Wellingtonian manner, good guys on one side of the hill, bad guys on the other," Day told AFP.
"It (the equipment) is suitable to the ground that they're going to be operating in."
Day gave the example of the Afghan army needing, and receiving, equipment for clearing roads of improvised explosive devices, a key Taliban tactic.
"They're not second-rate, they're not hand-me-downs, they're what professional militaries around the world use today," he said.

Afghan Arnies gripped by bodybuilding craze
By Usman Sharifi | AFP
Beneath a poster in a Kabul gym of muscular US movie star and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, scores of young Afghan men are pumping iron to Western dance music and dreaming of looking like their idol.
The urban youths, sporting spiky hair and tight T-shirts, have few memories of the oppressive Taliban regime ousted in 2001 by a US-led invasion, and grew up in a city where many people have grown rich on the war economy.
They love Hollywood and Bollywood movies -- Sylvester Stallone and Salman Khan are other popular stars -- and spend hours in Kabul's roughly 200 gyms honing their biceps to perfection.
"I don't care what's happening in the world," 18-year-old Hamid tells AFP, taking a break from his weights. "I want to look good and party, man. I want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger... it's my dream to look like him."
It is all a far cry from the days of the hardline Islamist Taliban, who now lead a bloody insurgency against foreign troops and President Hamid Karzai's government.
While in power, the Taliban banned most sports and all music but allowed bodybuilding on condition that men wore traditional dress while training.
However, there is a dark side to the recent craze for bodybuilding.
As more young Kabulis hit the gyms, the market for steroids in Afghanistan is growing fast.
In a country where the government struggles to exert authority in many areas due to the fierce insurgency, there is no licensing regime for drugs, meaning youngsters can buy steroids with no restrictions.
Hamid, who does not want to give his surname, admits to using performance-enhancing drugs and says many of his friends do too.
Another gym user, Waheedullah, adds that it is easy to get hold of steroids.
"All you have to do is go to a pharmacy and say you need to build your muscles. The pharmacists would happily offer you various types of tablets, powders and vials," he says, stressing he himself does not use them.
The most popular place to buy the drugs is Kabul's Bush Bazaar, a huge outdoor market selling everything from pilfered military rations to knives.
The bazaar is named ironically after US former president George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Here, prices range from around $1 to around $25 for performance-enhancing drugs.
One shop owner in the bazaar, Zalmay, has shelves stacked with different types of bodybuilding supplements and powders in his cramped store, where an international cricket match plays on television in the background.
He denies selling steroids but says that other vendors often do.
"Steroids are not illegal -- I don't sell them but some vendors here keep the vials and tablets," he explains.
"However, they only sell them to gym trainers, not to everybody. Then the trainers will give them to some athletes."
The rising use of steroids causes concern among officials, who say they will take steps soon to address it.
Mujeeb Ul Rahman Rahmani, spokesman for Afghanistan's National Olympic Committee (NOC), the official body responsible for all sports-related issues, said it would launch an educational campaign on steroid abuse "in the near future."
The older generation of bodybuilders also bemoans the use of drugs.
"It is a matter of serious concern because this trend is rising among our young athletes," said Bawar Hotak, head of Afghanistan's bodybuilding federation and a former national bodybuilding champion.
But experts say it is unlikely officials will be able to stop the use of drugs which goes with bodybuilding as young Afghans try to emulate the Western attitudes to which they have increasingly been exposed since 2001.
"This is a generation that wants to catch up with the rest of the world," says Barayalai Fetrat, a sociology lecturer at Kabul University.
"Bodybuilding is a sport that is allowed in society but it is also something that links them to a world beyond Afghanistan."

800 additional U.S. military trainers to be sent to Afghanistan by March
Washington Post By Walter Pincus Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Eight hundred more U.S. military trainers will be sent to Afghanistan by March to help with logistics, maintenance, medical care and other areas in which the Afghan army is short on skills, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, commander of NATO’s training mission there, said Monday.
“That will better help us start getting at some of these specialty skills,” he told reporters in a teleconference from Kabul.
Caldwell said training in these areas was needed to enable Afghan army units to be better prepared to operate without U.S. support by 2014, when American combat troops are scheduled to leave.
Caldwell said that only two of 126 Afghan army battalions are currently operating “by themselves.” But he later said that even those two needed logistics, maintenance, medical and intelligence support. Other battalions operated “very effectively with minimal coalition support,” he said.
He said that training programs once were led by contractors but that Afghans increasingly are taking control. About 3,100 Afghans are assigned to training instruction, and half of those “have been certified through a very deliberate process,” he said.
Caldwell said Afghan police played a key role in protecting civilians during the attack on the U.S. Embassy on Sept. 13.
In another attack that day that was not as well-publicized, a group of students at a high school were saved when an Afghan police officer “did a bear hug around a suicide bomber when he blew himself up and there in the process obviously killed himself,” Caldwell said.
He told of another senior police officer who also ran up to a bomber who got close to Afghan National Civil Order Police headquarters, again giving the assailant a hug as the bomb went off, killing himself but saving the lives of nearby officers.
Caldwell also said that attrition rates within the Afghan military, though higher than desirable, have not kept Afghanistan’s security forces from growing. They are on track to reach 352,000 personnel by 2012.
Literacy remains a problem. But the recruitment of about 3,000 Afghan literacy teachers has eased it somewhat. Caldwell said that about half of all Afghan army and police personnel have gone through the literacy program. Only 18 percent of those currently serving were literate when they joined, he said.
The Afghan security forces program overall costs about $6 billion a year for a country whose government income is estimated at just over $1 billion. Caldwell refused to predict how long it will take for the spending to decrease. He said he is looking for “sources from the international community to help pay for it in the long term,” as well as contributions from the U.S. and Afghan governments.
Caldwell said some savings are already being realized through the purchase of local products. Boots once bought for the Afghan army at $170 a pair from the United States are now bought for less from Afghan factories. A similar approach is being taken when buying uniforms, sheets and pillowcases. The overall savings amount to $168 million a year.
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