[Afghan News] October 7, 2011 - 02-16-2012, 05:48 PM
October 7, 2011 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said his government and the U.S.-led NATO mission had failed to provide security to Afghans.
In an interview with the BBC in Kabul marking 10 years since the start of war, Karzai said, "We've done terribly badly in providing security to the Afghan people and this is the greatest shortcoming of our government and of our international partners."
The Afghan president, who took office shortly after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime, said the Taliban insurgency could not be defeated unless its sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan were eliminated.
Karzai also said he did not rule out negotiations with the Taliban, but such talks would take place only if the militants named a representative.
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, which started on October 7, 2001, was aimed at ending the rule of the Taliban and hunting down Al-Qaeda Islamic militants held responsible for carrying out the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The "Operation Enduring Freedom" invasion toppled Taliban rule within weeks, and a new U.S.-backed administration under current President Hamid Karzai was installed.
However, tens of thousands of U.S., NATO, and Afghan troops continue to battle Taliban insurgents and to conduct operations aimed at establishing security and functioning government institutions.
compiled from agency reports
Ten years on, brothers' tragedy mirrors story of Afghanistan
By Nic Robertson, CNN Fri October 7, 2011
(CNN) -- Ten years ago, as the first bombs began to fall on Afghanistan, I was almost 500 miles away with our live satellite transmission dish on the roof of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Two weeks earlier the Taliban had forced me out of the country, but before they did I managed to get to their spiritual capital Kandahar, and to our make-shift office in a dusty, drab one-storey villa.
That visit was now proving vital. My cameraman, Alfredo Delara and I set up our staff there -- two Afghan brothers -- with a camera and satellite phone. Their job was to be CNN's eyes and ears once we were forced out of the country.
At that time, no other TV network had a presence in Kandahar. So as the United States began its response to the 9/11 attacks on October 7, our staff were able to relay details of the bombs falling around the airport.
Later we would learn the target was the al Qaeda training camps where Osama bin Laden's fighters had infamously been recorded swinging on monkey bars and crawling through mock tunnels.
That night it was enough to know the United States had gone to war.
Everyone knew it was going to happen, we even had a good idea when, but those two brothers kept me fed with an up-to-the-minute, blow-by-blow account, all those miles away on the roof of the Marriott. That information was then quickly passed to our audience.
Although they dared not call in their reports live, they bravely continued day after day, week after week, venturing out with a camera to record what they could of the opening days of the war. And sometimes braving local anger when occasionally civilians were killed.
When a Taliban armored personnel carrier was hit by a missile right outside our office, blowing out the windows, the two brothers were forced to flee, setting up camp in a tumbledown old house that two wars earlier had been their family home, graceful and opulent with rose gardens.
They built a bunker among the flowers in the back garden, and kept us informed as best they could.
When several months later the Taliban capitulated and Kandahar, their last hold-out, fell, the brothers took us to the airport. The showed us dozens of Arab passports found in the al Qaeda camp. Many had arrived just days before 9/11. Bin Laden knew what would follow and had rallied his supporters to his side.
Taliban key to peace process 10 years on
Driving him from Afghanistan proved easy. Killing him, however, was a decade-long challenge. Ensuring the country does not fall into his allies' clutches and become once again a breeding ground for terrorism is proving far more difficult.
The Taliban, once al Qaeda's erstwhile ally, regrouped and re-emerged. Their Pashtun nationalist agenda that claims to push the interests of Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, has, on the face of it, little in common with al Qaeda's global terrorism.
The two groups share conservative Islamic values, but while the Pashtun tribes who make up the Taliban traditionally follow a more spiritual path of Sufi'ism, al Qaeda's takes the ultra-radical Salafist agenda. In theory, they are not natural bedfellows.
But against a backdrop of a common enemy, the United States -- considered occupiers by the Taliban and the sworn global enemies for al Qaeda -- the two are drawn together. That's the conundrum: To separate and isolate al Qaeda from internal Afghan issues, thus denying them legitimacy in the Afghan conflict.
The Taliban ride the great Mujahedeen myth that no occupier has ever successfully conquered their country. On the back of this, they refuse to give ground, whatever the pain. Al Qaeda money fuels the fight, and nothing in the past 10 years of war has divided the two.
The Taliban win local recruits every time NATO inadvertently kills civilians. Al Qaeda feeds on these mistakes, selling them as a global Christian crusade against Muslims.
Until recently the Taliban demanded NATO troops leave before they enter serious talks with the Afghan government. The United States and the Afghan government have demanded the Taliban publicly cut ties with al Qaeda first, ensuring the global terrorists can never return.
But 10 years of war have not turned the tide. I've watched year after year.
As long ago as 2002, I was embedded with U.S. troops in the mountain valleys near Khowst in Eastern Afghanistan, when they were handing out radio sets to Afghans.
It was an inducement for them to hand over information about Taliban leaders in the Haqqani network. The same men are still being hunted today.
It didn't work then, and it doesn't work today.
Loyalty cannot be bought, and is rented only rarely and unreliably. The equation is simple: No one will rat out a well-armed neighbor unless they're sure of protection 24/7. In Afghanistan no one gets that, except President Karzai.
And on the subject of Karzai, his last election victory was marred by allegations of vast fraud that even he has not been able to lay to rest. Efforts to build a nation around his flawed veneer are failing.
NATO plans to use its troops to provide security until Afghan forces are deemed ready. But as every Afghan farmer who may or may not have an inkling of Taliban activity knows, if you can't trust the president, how can you trust the forces who might come in his name to protect you?
The Taliban see this and exploit it. The cycle of violence that leads to occasional civilian causalities continues.
Writ large, it means for all the well-meaning NATO effort, it is struggling to find a tipping point to bring the Taliban to their knees and sever the al Qaeda connection once and for all.
Agendas have been set for NATO troops to leave over the next three years. Afghans fear the resumption of the civil war already under way as 9/11 was sprung on the world. The Taliban had all but a tiny sliver of land in the far northeast controlled by ethnic Tajiks.
It was there that U.S. special forces first entered the country. Little surprise that those same northerners have benefited well from their early alliance. Today they are well armed and well equipped. A new civil war would be a highly-energized affair.
Those Afghans who fret over NATO's departure are right to be disturbed. I share their concerns. The country has become a far more dangerous place.
In the past decade a new highway from the capital Kabul to Kandahar seemed to symbolize a brave new future for Afghanistan. It slashed the drive from 16 hours to four. I drove it a few times before the Taliban shut it down.
It was the same highway that Alfredo, my cameraman, and I drove just after 9/11.
We'd bumped and bounced over its entire 300 mile sand and rock surface to reach our Kandahar office, train the two brothers, hand them the camera and phone before being forced out of the country.
When I look back it saddens me immensely. So many lives have been lost. Both of the Kandahar brothers are dead.
One brother was murdered a few years ago. He was killed by a bomb placed outside his grocery store in Pakistan where he'd fled Afghanistan's violence for the safety of his family. The other brother, I was told, had been killed in a roadside blast in his hometown, Girishk, in Helmand province.
Even now all this time later when both of them are dead we cannot reveal their names for fear of endangering their families.
It breaks my heart. They were amiable, educated young men -- the seed of the country's future, forever lost to the violence that still wracks their nation, winnowing out a generation of its promising sons.
Obama Warns Pakistanis on Militants
New York Times By RICK GLADSTONE October 6, 2011
President Obama cast some doubt on the long-term relationship between the United States and Pakistan on Thursday, saying his administration was concerned about the Pakistani government’s commitment to American interests because of ties between anti-American militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s own intelligence service.
At a news conference in Washington focused mostly on the American economy, Mr. Obama said he was thankful for cooperation from Pakistan, which has allowed the United States to use drones to strike at Qaeda cells ensconced along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier.
But he also obliquely criticized Pakistan over its position regarding Afghanistan, where efforts to stabilize the country and wind down the American-led war have been frustrated by what American and Afghan officials have described as Pakistan’s support for insurgent groups, including the Taliban and their allies in the Haqqani network.
“I think that they have hedged their bets in terms of what Afghanistan would look like,” Mr. Obama said. “And part of hedging their bets is having interactions with some of the unsavory characters who they think might end up regaining power in Afghanistan after coalition forces have left.”
The United States will “constantly evaluate” Pakistan’s cooperation, Mr. Obama said. He added: “But there’s no doubt that, you know, we’re not going to feel comfortable with a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan if we don’t think that they’re mindful of our interests as well.”
Mr. Obama’s remarks seemed to call into question whether the United States could continue supplying Pakistan with billions of dollars in military and civilian aid, as it has since the Sept. 11 attacks, if its intelligence service could not be persuaded to drop its support for militant groups long used as proxies against India and Afghanistan.
Asked, however, if he would be willing to cut off aid to Pakistan, recently ravaged by flooding, Mr. Obama hesitated. The United States has a “great desire to help the Pakistani people strengthen their own society and their own government,” he said. “And so, you know, I’d be hesitant to punish flood victims in Pakistan because of poor decisions by their intelligence services.”
His remarks came against a backdrop of already heightened American tensions with Pakistan, since Adm. Mike Mullen, the just-retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel last month that the Haqqani network, a potent part of the insurgency battling American forces in Afghanistan, was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy agency.
Admiral Mullen also accused the agency of supporting an attack by Haqqani militants on the United States Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Mr. Obama said: “What we’ve tried to persuade Pakistan of is that it is in their interest to have a stable Afghanistan, that they should not be feeling threatened by a stable, independent Afghanistan. We’ve tried to get conversations between Afghans and Pakistanis going more effectively than they have been in the past. But we’ve still got more work to do.”
Afghanistan at a Critical Juncture
Foreign Policy By Omar Samad Thursday, October 6, 2011
Much has been written and said about "the longest war," initiated 10 years ago (under a United Nations mandate) in retaliation for the tragedies of 9/11, as part of an effective U.S. and allied air offensive, backed by Special Forces and anti-Taliban Afghans on the ground to strike against al Qaida and oust their Taliban hosts from power. But for Afghans, that initiative did not end the ongoing conflict that is now in its fourth decade, affecting three generations of a frustrated, yet resilient nation.
Today, Afghanistan stands at a critical juncture: one path leads down to the abyss of more warfare and unforeseeable predicament; the other offers a sliver of hope along a slower and windier road to what Afghans hope will be durable stability, peace and prosperity. But to get to this point, Afghanistan must deal with four key issues: Pakistan and broader regional rivalries, persistent governance shortcomings, future economic prospects, and sources of tension and worry in the international community.
The geo-political dilemma
While Afghans have not given up on their aspiration for a just peace, they are highly suspicious of any vaguely defined policy of reconciliation that does not reflect a national consensus and does not call into question Pakistan's intentions, as well as accusations of complicity with Afghanistan-focused militant groups. The recent assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, and head of the country's High Peace Council, was the final straw, forcing President Karzai, under public pressure, to reassess the flawed political mechanism at work since 2008.
In a thinly veiled criticism of Islamabad's posture, hours before leaving for his pre-arranged two-day trip to New Delhi on Tuesday, Karzai lamented, "after all the destruction and misery, the double-game towards Afghanistan and the use of terrorism as an excuse still continues."
On Wednesday, after signing a wide-ranging agreement with India, he reassured Pakistan that "this strategic partnership is not directed at any country." A few hours later, Afghan security officials made a surprising announcement that they had disrupted a plot allegedly led by the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda to assassinate Karzai and attack sensitive installations in Kabul, arresting six men who officials allege were trained in Pakistan.
Despite Karzai's attempt at calming Pakistani nerves, this latest twist in a series of dramatic events is surely going to increase the trust deficit between the two countries, and further strain Afghan-Pakistani relations. On Tuesday, Rahmatullah Nabeel, acting head of Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the NDS, told Afghan Senators that he has evidence that more than a dozen different Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)-backed terrorist cells have been involved in the assassinations of key tribal elders, religious scholars, and political and security officials.
Ironically, while the rhetoric from Islamabad is about political talks and multi-track diplomacy, Pakistan has to date been unwilling or unable to present a preferred end-game in Afghanistan, or articulate an alternate strategy for engaging all relevant sides on the country's future. Pakistani leaders have also failed to elucidate their vision of Afghanistan's and their own role in the region. Instead, as has been the case for the past four decades, it has used repeated denials and deceptive tactics, preferring to covertly use extremist groups as proxy assets, and stoke ethnic tensions between Pashtuns and other groups.
Moreover, there is growing angst in Kabul about media reports that some U.S. officials have used back-channel contacts to meet with Haqqani Network representatives, with help from the ISI, at the end of August, reflecting policy contradictions or a lack of coherence and coordination in political outreach efforts to militants.
On the upside, recent tensions have generated a nascent debate and introspection of alternate strategic choices within segments of the Pakistani intelligentsia. This can be construed as a positive development. One observer recently wrote "there is a growing body of opinion in Pakistan itself that the time for our strategic games is up...[The Haqqanis] are assets for the future, our strategic grandmasters will say. Haven't we played enough of Afghan games and isn't it time to let that unfortunate country be on its own?"
To this end, the United States and NATO need to clearly lay out a policy that does not swing between "appeasement" and scolding of those who are using non-state terrorist actors as strategic assets against Afghan and international forces.
While the pursuit of a coherent and coordinated political track is necessary, building up good neighborly relations based on non-interference, sovereign rights, and mutual interest is the only win-win option left. This counter-approach will require an added effort on the part of the United States and NATO, but also other concerned interlocutors, including the Chinese, Saudis, Russians and Turks, to make use of collective diplomatic leverage to push for a cessation of hostilities, and seek a resolution that is in line with past U.N. resolutions dealing with Afghan sovereignty and outside interference.
Achilles Heel: Governance
Afghans have experienced several bloody episodes of regime change over the past four decades: A stable but slowly progressing system was brutally transformed into a failed Marxist-Leninist experiment, followed by various strands of political Islam framed by a chaotic environment and influenced by regional rivalries. Consequently, Afghans, especially the under-30 majority, today yearn to see the strengthening of a traditionally pluralistic, moderate, fair and accountable system that is neither overly centralized, nor too diffuse and ineffective, one that respects the population's basic mores and values, yet manages to stay connected to the global village.
The current system is viewed as fragile and handicapped by patronage, corruption and inefficiency. Good governance is a key to implementing much-needed reforms. That process starts with individuals, their skill-sets and their value systems, and moves on to institutions, acquiring a sense of professionalism and service delivery. Afghans want and deserve better-quality leaders and administrators, and more responsive and competent institutions. The cost of fixing the governance flaws now through fast-track training, quality education, and capacity building might end up being a fraction of what current expenditures would be later.
The engine of growth -- social and economic development
Besides the tremendous inflow of aid and reconstruction money (estimated by some sources at more than $40 billion in non-military expenditures) over the last decade, most of which has been channeled through non-Afghan government institutions, other factors such as the entrepreneurial spirit of the Afghans, their hard work ethic, and ironically, the illicit drug business, have also helped keep the country afloat. But recent statistics are alarming, as unemployment hovers around 40 percent and more than a third of Afghans earn less than $1 per day.
While a small, yet growing, urban middle class is emerging across the country, economic growth in the years to come will depend on security, good governance and rule of law. As long as people are living in fear of attacks and corruption, local and foreign investment outlays will suffer, and more money will leave the country through illegal pathways. Although other indicators such as yearly Gross National Product (GNP) per capita (which has almost tripled since 2001 to more than $500) and government revenues have experienced exponential growth, economists forecast a drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 30 percent by the end of 2014 when international forces are expected to hand over security to Afghans and leave. To offset this dramatic shock, the country needs to accelerate the development of its promising mineral and agricultural potential, as well as call on learned economists and other specialists to pro-actively propose alternate solutions.
Since Afghanistan's position as a land-bridge between central Asia, China, Iran and South Asia, allows it to facilitate multi-directional trade and transit, it is essential that other nations in the region with high demands for raw material, natural resources or trade corridors appreciate the importance of promoting regional integration and revitalization of projects such as the "New Silk Road" initiative with the United States, China, India, Central Asian nations and other interested parties.
The sectors that have experienced spectacular progress in the past decade, and are in need of special attention and protection, are civil society and media development, whose activities have experienced strong capacity building and the introduction of new technologies, especially through profitable telecommunications and Internet businesses. Not only are these sectors dynamic and productive, but they also play an integral role in connecting the country, acting as a fourth pillar of information exchange and public discourse. They provide the much-needed checks and balance module that is lacking in the rest of state structures, and are essential for the protection of democratic rights, as well as women's rights.
An uneasy partnership: The international community
Gains over the last 10 years could not have occurred without the significant contributions and sacrifices made by the international community. But these gains are fragile and ultimately unsustainable. The Bonn II conference scheduled for December in Germany is yet another occasion for the Afghans and the international community to redefine the contours of their partnership for the next decade. The onus should be on the viability of the democratic process, the build-up of security institutions, social and economic development, governance, rule of law, gender rights, and regional and international cooperation. And we know now that none of the aforementioned tasks can be fully realized unless the insurgency is brought under control.
Relations with key donor nations, especially the United States, have been strained since flawed presidential elections were held two years ago. Contested parliamentary elections last year did not help ease political tensions inside the country, and put the international community in an awkward position. The internationally-supported big tent policy, under the slogans of national unity and Afghan political inclusiveness, has been reduced to a mediocre gazebo, as fringe groups and divisive agendas have been allowed to weaken the political center of gravity, and sour important partnerships. A concerted effort is required by all sides, especially by Karzai himself, to sincerely engage constructive elements within society and the loyal opposition, to agree on a way forward, based on common sense and common denominators defining fundamental national interests.
As fatigued NATO partners contemplate their exit strategies, some key stakeholders such as the United States, the United Nations, Britain, NATO, and the European Union either already are, or may soon negotiate terms of reference for their respective post-2014 strategic engagement with Afghanistan. These arrangements will provide the much-needed impetus for critical mission follow-up through aid and technical contributions in key security and development sectors. They will also send the consequential signal to regional spoilers that the international community is not entirely walking away, yet, from an unfinished mission that it considers crucial.
Omar Samad is the former Ambassador of Afghanistan to France (2009-2011), Canada (2004-2009) and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004).
Pakistan army says "NO" to fresh anti-Taliban offensive
by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan's army chief has ruled out any another military operation against the militants and insisted that civilian administration now takes security responsibility in areas cleared of Taliban militants.
The United States is mounting pressure on Pakistan to launch military operation against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network which the CIA says based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region and launch attacks from there.
However, Pakistan Army says that Haqqani Network is based in Afghanistan's Kunar and Nuristan provinces, the areas that oversaw repeated attacks in Pakistan's Chitral and Upper Dir from Afghan militants.
"Military operation is not a solution to every problem. We're done with those operations where we had to," Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani told reporters after he witnessed joint Pakistan-Saudi Arabia military exercises near Mangla, a town in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, on Thursday.
His comments are largely seen in the context with the Pak-U.S. row that had spurred to a wider degree of hostility, lately, against the U.S. demand to Pakistan for taking on terrorist sanctuaries, particularly the Haqqani Network, in North Waziristan.
Replying to a question over the recent tension along the Pakistan-Afghan border, General Kayani said Pakistan has asked the Afghan side to stop incursion and firing from Afghan soil.
"We have made adequate arrangements to avert incursions from Afghan side into Pakistani areas."
The army chief spokesman says that Pakistani Taliban, who have fled military operations, have now established bases in the Afghan border regions and are attacking Pakistani border posts from there.
Sources said that the army chief in a meeting with Afghan ambassador in Islamabad asked him to ensure that militants on Afghan soil should not attack Pakistani posts and border villages.
General Kayani said that the security forces have conducted several military operations against the insurgents and now it is the responsibility of the civil authorities to take over security responsibility in those areas where the government writ has been established.
"Military cannot permanently stay at any given area. The civilian government has to take the charge, after all," he said.
Afghanistan is losing time for a peaceful solution – and the Taliban know it
Headlines of the past decade in Afghanistan have been about the bloodshed, but behind them lies political failure at every level
The Guardian By Declan Walsh Friday 7 October 2011
Ten years ago, as the first American bombs fell on Afghanistan, a Pashtun tribal leader slipped across the Pakistani border riding a motorbike. He wore a loosely tied turban, was accompanied by three companions and carried a CIA-donated satellite phone. His name was Hamid Karzai.
US-backed militias were sweeping towards Kabul from the north; Karzai's job was to help rout the Taliban in the south. Using his CIA phone he called in a team of US special forces soldiers, who swooped in by helicopter with weapons for another 300 fighters. Together, they pushed towards the Taliban's spiritual home of Kandahar. Victory was at hand. But first, a momentous meeting.
On the morning of 5 December, Karzai received a Taliban delegation in Shah Wali Kot, 20 miles north of Kandahar. Things were moving fast. Hours earlier, Afghan tribal elders gathered in Bonn, Germany, had anointed Karzai as the country's interim leader; the UN signed off on the arrangement. In Kandahar, the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar dispatched his second in command and defence minister, Mullah Obaidullah, to meet Karzai.
Recognising defeat, the Taliban wanted to talk peace: a formal surrender, the transfer of vehicles and weapons, an end to fighting in Kandahar, all in return for assurances their leaders could be able to return to their villages. That night Obaidullah sent bread for Karzai, in a gesture of conciliation.
In retrospect, it was a tantalising opportunity for a smooth post-Taliban transition and, perhaps, a novel political dispensation. But it wasn't to be. Furious after the 9/11 attacks, the US war machine pursued the Taliban hard. Karzai, the new leader, acquiesced. And the Taliban leadership slunk across the border into Pakistan to lick their wounds and plan the resurgence that is racking the country today.
The exact circumstances of that meeting are still debated among historians. But the irony is lost on few that, today, President Karzai wants to get back into that room with the bearded Talibs in Shah Wali Kot. After 10 years of steadily rising conflict and with the prospect of a major American withdrawal by the end of 2014, Karzai knows that his political future – and perhaps that of his country – could hinge on a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The question is whether there's enough time left to achieve it.
The headlines of the past decade in Afghanistan have been written in blood – about 17,000 civilians and 2,750 foreign soldiers killed, countless suicide bombings and, in recent years, guerrilla spectaculars such as the recent 20-hour assault on the US embassy. But if war has dominated the news, the greatest failings have been political.
At first, it seemed anything was possible. As the Talibs fled in late 2001, reporters filed stories about jubilant women casting off their burqas; kites, banned under the Taliban, fluttered in the skies. Then came more substantial gestures: promises of money, development and democracy. That mood of hope peaked in 2004, with the first presidential poll. Some 70% of voters participated and Karzai scooped a 55% majority, with support from every ethnic group. Designer Tom Ford hailed him as the "chicest man on the planet" for his flowing cape and wool hat.
An airy sense of confidence gripped Kabul, which expressed itself in small ways – young lovers who defied convention and eloped in "love marriages"; palatial wedding halls modelled on mirrored-glass skyscrapers from Dubai; flourishing body-building and sports clubs. On the edge of the city, I visited the Kabul golf club, which had shut under the Taliban, now open after the putting greens had been swept for mines. The course pro, recently returned from exile, told me the Taliban had flogged him with a steel cable. Now a gentrified warlord was financing the renovations. "Attack the course," urged the scorecard.
The joke was not seen as bad taste. The Taliban insurgency was distant, largely confined to the southern provinces, more nuisance than serious threat. A Swiss Red Cross worker had been killed in Kandahar in March 2003, but western military officials had started to speak of the Taliban as a declining force. At Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, American soldiers took pedicures and massages in a beauty parlour. "You can't fight if you have sore muscles," one young officer told me.
Yet this brave democracy had perilously fragile foundations. The US invasion had toppled the Taliban but, many Afghans complained, left behind the force they hated equally: the warlords who had plundered the country for decades. Instead of being banished, many of the old faces were back. Some stood for election, such as Abdul Rashid Dostum, the US-allied warlord accused of suffocating up to 2,000 Taliban fighters in shipping containers. In 2005 Karzai made him chief of staff to the military.
The president protested he had little choice but to accommodate such bullies – the Americans wanted nation building on the cheap. He had a point. The Bush administration, preoccupied with the war in Iraq, had only 8,000 soldiers in Afghanistan at the time of the 2004 election. Commanders, intelligence assets, military equipment – all were being re-routed to Baghdad.
Meanwhile, across the border in Pakistan, the Taliban leadership were plotting a comeback. There was clearly no place in a political process – American leaders bundled them in the same basket as al-Qaida fugitives, which was a mistake. Then, in 2005, they made a dramatic reappearance. Violent incidents soared to more than 4,000, from 1,500 the year before. Coalition deaths doubled from 60 to 131.
Pakistan denied the insurgents were using its territory but Nato officers spoke of the "Quetta Shura" – the Taliban ruling council headquartered in western Pakistan. More worrying proof was available. In 2006 I attended a funeral north of Quetta for a fallen Taliban fighter; the homily was read by a mullah who was also the provincial minister of health.
It was a perfect storm for the British deployment to Helmand. Few took seriously the statement by the then defence secretary, John Reid, in mid 2006 that "not a single shot" might be fired. But British officers did promise to do things differently from the Americans. Criss-crossing the desert in nimble – but hugely exposed – open-top jeeps, officers said there would be no kicking down people's doors. They talked confidently about the lessons of Northern Ireland; young soldiers strolled the bazaars, playing football with local kids.
None of that lasted long. By June, British troops had been sucked into a vicious fight in Sangin, a village deep in Helmand's heroin country that threatened to become a British Alamo. Insurgents streamed across the desert from Pakistan; the death toll inched upwards. British commanders turned to pulverising air strikes and helicopter gunships that killed hundreds of Taliban fighters. But the more the British killed, the more fighters seemed to spring up.
The violence spread like a virus. Nato launched Operation Medusa in neighbouring Kandahar in summer 2006 – the alliance's first land operation. It was a success, of sorts. Canadian soldiers started the fight and Americans finished it, driving the Taliban back over the border towards Quetta. I toured the battlefield with Colonel Stephen Williams, a flamboyant American who played heavy metal music as his artillery pounded Taliban-held compounds. "Rock'n'roll, man," he said.
But the Taliban were also adapting. The insurgency melted out of sight, instead attacking western and Afghan forces with roadside bombs and suicide attacks. Casualties of western troops mounted, touching a high of 711 last year. Some 2,700 civilians also perished. The main problem was that the Afghan government seemed incapable of holding captured ground. In Kabul, western officials scrambled to come up with solutions.
Every season brought a new initiative – counter-narcotics, building the justice system, rooting out corruption. At first western forces demobilised Afghan militias, then they started to arm them. Diplomats attended fundraising events in Tokyo, Berlin and London, trying to maintain flagging interest. The term "Afghanisation" – putting Afghan soldiers, civil servants or policemen up front – became an article of shaky faith.
But no amount of money or soldiers seemed capable of patching up the deeply dysfunctional relationship at the heart of the affair. Anger and frustration turned to resentment and deep mistrust on both sides. Diplomatic cables from 2009 released through WikiLeaks showed the US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, describing Karzai as a "paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building". Another cable noted that Karzai's deputy, Ahmad Zia Massoud, had been questioned after arriving in Dubai with $52m in cash – raising questions about financial propriety at the highest levels of government.
The Obama "surge" of two years ago, bringing the US contingent to more than 100,000 troops, was supposed to rescue the situation. It succeeded in part. Western troops now control a greater swath of southern Afghanistan than they have for years; Taliban violence there is receding. Yet the fight has simply shifted to the mountainous east, along the border with Pakistan's tribal belt.
The area is controlled by the notorious Haqqani network – the tribal jihadi clan based out of north Waziristan, and recently the subject of friction between the US and the Pakistani military. The US accuses Pakistan's ISI intelligence service of supporting the Haqqanis, who carried out the daring 13 September attack on the US embassy. The Pakistanis say they don't know what the US wants – to make peace with the insurgents, or to fight them.
Amid the confusion, the one sure thing is that, by the end of 2014, the US and Britain will have withdrawn most of their troops. Talk of an "endgame" may be premature: informed officials say that between 10,000 and 20,000 US soldiers will remain behind to support Karzai's government.
But will it survive? The prospect of talks with the Taliban has already resurrected old ethnic tensions; grave talk of civil war runs quietly in the corridors of diplomacy. Karzai periodically says he would like to sit down with the Taliban leaders, as he once did 10 years ago. The question now is whether that would solve Afghanistan's conflict, or propel it into a new phase.
An Afghan Alliance Takes Unexpected Turn
Tribe Picked by U.S. to Fight Taliban Gets Tied Up in Its Own Feud; 'If They Take Our Land, We'll Kill Them All'
Wall Street Journal By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS OCTOBER 7, 2011
ACHIN, Afghanistan - In an area where the U.S. once tried to enlist tribal leaders in the war against the Taliban, clan fighting—some with weapons given by the U.S. to battle insurgents—is now undermining the effort.
The clash between two clans from the Shinwari tribe over a patch of desert land in Nangarhar province has tied down Afghan security forces for six months, slowing the campaign against insurgents and drug traffickers along this rugged section of the Pakistan border, U.S. and Afghan commanders say.
Achin is witness daily to absurd scenes of government impotence. Clan fighters fire grenades and heavy machine guns at each other across the main road, lobbing rounds over the heads of 300 Afghan soldiers and police camped out in between. Boys skip school when it is their turn to stand guard, watching for boys from the enemy clan.
The disputed land is 2,500 acres of parched desert scrub near the road, with no water or known mineral wealth. The government claims it for its own, but forbids its troops from firing at either side in the clan conflict.
"If they take our land, we'll kill them all," Farook, an 18-year-old student from the Sepai clan, said of the rival Ali Sher Khel clan. "They're our brothers, but they're making trouble."
The dispute highlights the difficulty the U.S. has had finding alternative partners to the Kabul government, which is seen by many Afghans as corrupt and incompetent. Over 10 years of war, the U.S. has wooed village elders, flirted with warlords and created armed neighborhood-watch forces in its search for ways to make up for government shortcomings.
Last year, the Shinwari tribe seemed like a feasible partner. The tribe, which belongs to the Pashtun people, the foundation of the insurgency, agreed with the U.S. to embrace the Afghan government en masse, in exchange for $1 million in U.S. aid.
Afghan authorities, however, objected to being left out of the deal, and the pact collapsed—after the U.S. had already delivered weapons.
Today, the Americans worry the lack of security in Achin will spread, at a time when the U.S. is beginning to reduce its footprint in Nangarhar province as part of its troop drawdown.
"Right now if you're a citizen inAchin, your government doesn't look very good," said Lt. Col. Jerry Turner, commander of 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment.
The short-lived pact thrust the U.S. into a Hatfield-McCoy world it didn't anticipate. Sparring over the land broke out within a few months, but was suspended under a one-year cease-fire. Fighting renewed this year, and weapons that were meant to be trained on the Taliban are instead being used in internecine warfare.
"It's not about good guys and bad guys," said Col. Turner. "I don't think we fully understand it, and I'm as versed in this as anyone."
The simplest explanation for the conflict is that the Shinwari population is growing, creating competition for land.
The Americans and some Afghans suspect clan chieftains, known as maliks, want to keep the dispute alive to distract the army and police from targeting their drug operations. In the spring, the district is alive with pink and purple opium poppies; these days the same fields are thick with chest-high marijuana plants.
Likewise, the Taliban are apparently supplying weapons to both sides to tie down government forces, U.S. and Afghan officers say. "They're keeping us busy over there so we can't conduct our regular security operations," said Col. Mohammed Kamaludin, commander of the Afghan army battalion in the area.
Casualty estimates vary. Col. Kamaludin said about 10 people have been killed or wounded this year, split evenly between the Sepai and Ali Sher Khel. The Ali Sher Khel say they have lost 20 dead and dozens wounded.
Though the U.S. military tries to maintain strict neutrality, the Ali Sher Khel accuse them of favoring the Sepai. When Cavalry Capt. Adam McCombs passed through an Ali Sher Khel neighborhood recently, he was accosted by shopkeeper Mohamed Amin, who demanded that the U.S. supply his clan with a heavy machine gun for every one the coalition gave to the Sepai last year. Capt. McCombs declined.
The Ali Sher Khel also complain the provincial governor and power broker, Gul Agha Shirzai, is biased against them, and his advisers have had to quell Ali Sher Khel rumors that he married the daughter of a Sepai malik. "He already has four wives; he can't marry a fifth," said the governor's political adviser.
The government, in a recent peace effort, managed to persuade the clans to allow civilian traffic to pass through no-man's land. Most schools reopened, although one headmaster says hundreds of students have switched to single-clan schools out of fear of violence. Markets, once completely shut, are now about 90% closed.
Gov. Shirzai's political adviser, Abdul Ahad, said he is confident peace talks sponsored by President Hamid Karzai will soon secure a cease-fire. Once the fighting stops, he said, the government will divide the land between the two clans. That seems far off for now.
"They're Afghans," sighed Army Maj. Mohamed Aizam, sitting in an abandoned gas station in no-man's land recently, as clan machine-gun rounds crisscrossed overhead. "It's Pashtun honor. If they were arguing over 10 afghani, they'd spend 500 afghani fighting over it."
War-weary Afghan farmers long for peace
by Farid Behbud, Zhang Jianhua
KABUL, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Although Taliban regime was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion 10 years ago, security remains a primary concern for Afghan people including farmers who pray for durable peace in their war-torn country.
"We wish for peace, safety and we demand the government and international forces ensure security for citizens all over the country. Enough is enough," Hajji Lal Jan, head of a 500-farmer cooperative in northern Kunduz province, told Xinhua on Friday.
"Exactly ten years ago when the war against the Taliban begun we were hopeful that it will come to an end in one or two years. However, ten years have passed but the situation in Afghanistan is still uncertain," said Jan, 65.
"The extended war is killing the economy and agriculture which some 80 percent of people rely on," said Jan, whose province is well-known for growing rice and fruits.
The overall agricultural production, the backbone of the national economy despite the fact that only 12 percent of its total land is arable and less than six percent currently is cultivated, dramatically declined over the past couple of years due to drought as well as the continued fighting and instability in rural areas.
"Insecurity has remained the main challenge for our daily works, we cannot drive our tractors to carry fertilizer and improved seeds in fear of roadside bombs," Jan said.
Insecurity is a major and growing concern for aid agencies in war-torn Afghanistan, with insurgency and military operations undermining reconstruction efforts and restricting humanitarian assistance in parts of the country.
A survey conducted in 2007-2008 by National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA), an Afghan government statistic organization financed by European Commission, found that 7.4 million, nearly a-third of the whole population, are unable to get enough food.
"We have enormously suffered from protracted war. I was a farmer and busy in my farmland in my hometown Zabul province years ago,"said Abdul Satar, who currently works as a construction worker in neighboring Kandahar province.
"I have no idea about Oct. 7, but I only know it was the war and drought that caused me to change my occupation," he said.
"Two of my sons who were also busy in farming are currently working in a cookies factory in Kandahar city only for 2,000 Afghanis (41 U.S. dollars) per month each," Satar said.
"Americans need to stay in Afghanistan and recent advancement by government and foreign troops were fragile and reversible," Satar said, "If they (foreign troop) go, internal fighting will resume and many more people will be killed."
"Nearly three million people across Afghanistan are facing severe food shortages as a result of drought," Oxfam, an international charity that focuses on fighting poverty around the world, warned on Thursday as it called on donor governments to act now before the crisis becomes a catastrophe.
The drought is affecting 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces in the north, northeast and west of the country where 80 percent of the non-irrigated wheat crop, which people rely on for food and income, has been lost. Many people in these areas were already suffering from chronic hunger. Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months, according to Oxfam.
"Governments need to wake up to the gravity of this crisis and ensure they are ready to respond before the situation gets worse. Delays will just make things harder for families already struggling to cope. The drought has completely destroyed the wheat crop in some areas. People are reducing the amount of food they are eating and selling what little they have. We still have time to stop this becoming a disaster, but only if we act now." Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam in Afghanistan said in the statement.
"There have been reports of people trekking nine hours to get clean water and going into debt to ensure their children have food. Donor and aid agencies need to heed these warning signs and ensure that people have the support that they need," Charles added.
Obama Says Pakistan Has ‘Unsavory’ Contacts in Afghanistan
Bloomberg By Paul Tighe and Haris Anwar October 06, 2011
(Updates with comment from Republican presidential candidate Romney starting in sixth paragraph.)
President Barack Obama criticized Pakistan for ties to “unsavory characters” opposed to American aims to end the insurgency in Afghanistan.
“They have hedged their bets in terms of what Afghanistan would look like,” Obama told a news conference at the White House yesterday. “And part of hedging their bets is having interactions with some of the unsavory characters who they think might end up regaining power in Afghanistan after coalition forces have left.”
The U.S. will constantly evaluate its relationship with Pakistan on the basis of whether it is “helping to protect Americans and our interests,” Obama said.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have soured amid allegations by U.S. officials that the Pakistani government is aiding guerrilla attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan last month rejected a claim by the retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that the Pakistan-based Haqqani Taliban faction “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter- Services Intelligence Directorate.
“There’s no doubt that, you know, we’re not going to feel comfortable with a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan if we don’t think that they’re mindful of our interests as well,” Obama said, according to a government transcript. “Pakistan, I think, has been more ambivalent about some of our goals” in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is playing both sides by going after the Taliban within its borders in some cases and helping it in others, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and a contender in the race to be the Republican presidential candidate, said on Oct. 4, according to the Associated Press.
Pakistan has to decide if it’s “with us or with them,” AP cited Romney as telling voters in New Hampshire. “If you’re with them, that will have a very significant consequence. If you’re with us, that’s a very good thing.” Romney didn’t say what the consequence may be, AP reported.
Obama acknowledged that the U.S. policy of going after al- Qaeda operatives in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan “could not have been as successful as we have been without the cooperation of the Pakistan government.”
There is more work to do getting cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.
Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is scheduled to visit Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, this weekend to meet with Pakistani government officials.
“Job one between the U.S. and Pakistan on the counterterrorism front is to tackle the Haqqani network,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a Sept. 30 briefing in Washington announcing his visit. “We’ve got to find a way to work on this together.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani hosted political parties, including Islamic opposition groups, in Islamabad on Sept. 29 in a show of unity after U.S. charges that Pakistan-based insurgents struck American targets in Kabul last month. Lawmakers called on Gilani’s government to renew peace efforts with militants in Pakistan’s regions bordering Afghanistan.
President Asif Ali Zardari, writing in the Washington Post last week, said it’s “time for rhetoric to cool and for serious dialogue between allies to resume.”
Terrorists have gained the most from the “recent verbal assaults some in America have made against Pakistan,” Zardari wrote in the Washington Post. “This strategy is damaging the relationship between Pakistan and the United States and compromising common goals in defeating terrorism, extremism and fanaticism.”
Tension between the U.S. and Pakistan also spiked after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a house north of Islamabad in May. A Pakistani judicial commission investigating the U.S. assault recommended yesterday that the government bring treason charges against a local doctor who allegedly helped the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency track down the al-Qaeda chief.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sept. 15 that the U.S. won’t allow further strikes on its forces by the Haqqani group, which is based largely in Pakistan’s border district of North Waziristan. Some congressional leaders have urged tougher policies, with Republican Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham saying the U.S. may have to consider a military response.
The Afghan government said on Sept. 30 said it may suspend its efforts to work with Pakistan on a process to end the war in Afghanistan because no progress has been made.
Afghanistan may work more closely with the U.S., Europe and India instead of trying to negotiate with Taliban groups based in Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.
Pakistan sees its security interests threatened by an independent Afghanistan, in part because they think it will ally itself to India, Obama said.
“Part of what we want to do is actually get Pakistan to realize that a peaceful approach toward India would be in everybody’s interests and would help Pakistan actually develop,” he said.
--Editors: Patrick Harrington, John Brinsley
With Afghan drawdown looming, U.S. scales back ambitions
Washington Post By Greg Jaffe and Joshua Partlow Friday, October 7, 2011
The war in Afghanistan began as the good war. Today it is the good-enough war.
In Kabul and Washington, the push is on to wind down a fight that on Friday will mark its 10th anniversary. U.S. officials, who are facing a future of fewer troops and less money for reconstruction, are narrowing their goals for the country. The constrained ambitions come amid pressure from the Obama administration to scale back the U.S. commitment at a time of flagging public support.
In southern Afghanistan, American commanders are focused on holding territory taken from the Taliban over the past two fighting seasons. In the Afghan capital, U.S. officials are working to restart peace and reconciliation talks that appear to be going nowhere. And in the east, where violence is up slightly over last year and plans for U.S. reinforcements were scuttled this spring, military commanders are pressing new offensives before troop levels begin to fall. That is where American commanders face their most daunting challenge.
“Our sense of urgency is driven by time and a recognition that we will never have more forces on the ground than we do right now,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, the U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. troop levels, which are at their peak of about 98,000, will shrink by about 30,000 by summer. The coming cuts have led senior military officials to press forward with large-scale operations designed to take on key insurgent strongholds before troop levels decline, U.S. military officials said.
Many of those assaults have focused on shoring up security along the southern approaches to Kabul, where the Haqqani network has sought to expand its presence. The insurgent group has been responsible for many high-profile attacks in the capital.
The military had plans this year to shift some combat forces from the south to the east to help in the battle against Haqqani strongholds, but those plans were shelved because commanders were worried that if they thinned out forces in the south too quickly, they would give up hard-won gains there. “You’ve ended up with about two-thirds of the planned-for uses of the surge,” said a U.S. official in Afghanistan, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the state of the war candidly.
The inability to increase the size of the U.S. force in the east, currently about 30,000 troops, has compelled commanders to make tough choices. They have identified 45 of 160 districts as “key terrain districts” where security and governance must take hold. To further focus limited resources, they have designated 21 of the 45 as “priority” districts.
“If we stabilize the 45 key terrain districts, that directly affects 80 percent of the 7.5 million people in regional command east,” Allyn said.
The focus has meant forgoing some plans that may have made sense a few years earlier. In Paktika province, long a stronghold of the Haqqani network, military commanders recently held off building a string of outposts to help Afghan police forces hold an area where they had crumbled in the past.
U.S. officials focusing on reconstruction are also scaling back goals and expectations. In Konar province, a restive area along the Pakistani border, money that went toward paying Afghan elders $120 monthly stipends to sit on district councils, known as shuras, was eliminated. About half of the elders are expected to stay with the quasi-official bodies, which play key roles in areas such as local dispute resolution.
“It remains to be seen if they will continue to be effective,” said a U.S. official in eastern Afghanistan who follows the program. “We have dramatically reduced expectations of what we can accomplish here.”
Despite the problems, U.S. commanders point to signs of progress. There are new indications that the Taliban is having a harder time recruiting fighters locally. In two districts of Ghazni province where U.S. forces have fought tough battles, as many as 55 percent of insurgents who were captured or killed had come from outside the region to fight. Many of the fighters were drawn from the “vast Pashtun sea” that straddles both sides of the border with Pakistan, a senior U.S. military official said.
Some commanders point to the influx of foreign fighters as a sign that Afghans are ready to seek peace. “What we can definitively state is that the population is tired of the fighting,” said Allyn, the top commander in the east.
Others worry that the supply of young fighters from Pakistan could be inexhaustible. “They are like bees,” one U.S. official said. “How many do you have to kill to get them all?”
Dissatisfaction with Kabul
U.S. and Afghan forces have made their biggest gains over the past year in southern Afghanistan. Violence levels have fallen dramatically in the wake of advances by U.S. troops, and the Afghan army and police have performed better than expected in many of these areas.
“Their efforts have seized the initiative from the Taliban, and they will not regain it,” Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the No. 2 commander in Afghanistan, said at a ceremony in Kandahar province last week.
The concern, even in the south, is that the military gains against the Taliban have not led to widespread improvements in the performance of the Kabul government or a reduction in the sort of corruption that drives Afghans to support the insurgency.
“If we continue to draw down forces at pace while such public and systemic corruption is left unchecked . . . we risk leaving behind a government in which we cannot reasonably expect Afghans to have faith,” Adm. Mike Mullen said late last month before stepping down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In recent months, U.S. efforts to confront Afghan corruption have stumbled or been scaled back. A turning point came in the spring, when Afghan investigators, working with Western advisers, arrested an aide to President Hamid Karzai on allegations of bribery. Karzai intervened to spring the aide from prison on the day of the arrest, and the political firestorm led to a deep discord in U.S.-Afghan relations. Karzai later compared the American advisers’ actions to detentions carried out during the Soviet occupation.
Since then, prosecutions of corrupt officials have been almost nonexistent. “How many major cases brought to the attorney general have been resolved? It is a fairly depressing number,” the senior military official said.
Kabul’s unwillingness to weed out incompetent leaders also has disappointed U.S. officials. In one key eastern province, the Americans have been pressing for almost a year to replace the governor, U.S. officials said.
“Karzai has not supported state institution building and instead tried to balance power brokers, creating his own [power] base,” one former U.S. official said.
In areas where there are strong provincial and district governors, such as Helmand province, U.S. officials said, the Taliban losses have been most sweeping and the gains seem most certain to hold. Another bright spot has been an effort, led by U.S. Special Forces troops, to work with elders to build village police forces. About 7,500 Afghans participate in the program, and Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has said that he hopes to double the size of the program to 15,000.
Setbacks to peace talks
The Americans’ best hope for a resolution to the conflict, a peace deal with one or more of the key insurgent groups, has been plagued by setbacks in recent months. The outreach sometimes has ended in calamity and sometimes in farce. Last fall, a shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta embarrassed the government by passing himself off as one of the Taliban’s most senior commanders. The imposter was flown to Kabul on a NATO jet and ushered into the presidential palace to meet Karzai.
Earlier this year, a representative of Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, Tayyab Agha, met with State Department officials in Germany and Qatar but pulled out when news of those liaisons was made public. Last month, another promising Taliban contact deceived his hosts and blew himself up while hugging former Afghan president and peace negotiator Burhannudin Rabbani, killing him.
“That was the last nail in the coffin for peace with the Taliban,” said Ahmed Wali Massoud, an opposition leader from northern Afghanistan who is against negotiating with insurgents. “The policy has failed.”
Both American and Afghan officials still acknowledge the need to jump-start serious discussions about peace. They now suggest that they must engage Pakistan’s government more directly, in the hope that Islamabad can persuade insurgents to come to the bargaining table. But others worry that the United States’ desire to extricate itself makes it more likely that the Pakistanis will stand pat.
“At the end of the day, there is going to have to be some political resolution of the insurgency,” said another senior U.S. official in Afghanistan. “We’re not anywhere near that now. But we can’t give up the effort.”
Partlow reported from Kabul. Staff writer Kevin Sieff contributed to this report.
With All Eyes on Apple, It's Easy to Forget Afghanistan
by Emily Rauhala Friday, October 7, 2011 at 7:50 am time.com
Every day, Mother Jones, an American magazine, publishes a photograph from a war zone or military base. The pictures, taken in places like Ramadi, Iraq, or Kabul, Afghanistan, are labeled with the date, the location and a bracing tagline: "We're still at war." Indeed, today marks 10 years since the beginning of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. That, as my colleague Tony Karon notes, is 326 days longer than the Soviet Army spent there. Afghanistan is America's longest-running war.
And yet, over the years, the conflict has proved easy to ignore. Public interest in the fighting shifts with the political season. With the U.S. on the brink of recession, at the cusp of what promises to be a gritty, divisive presidential campaign, the 10-year anniversary of the deadly—and disastrously expensive—war might have occasioned some reflection. It might still. But this week, at least, the anniversary has been overshadowed by the death of Steve Jobs, the brilliant American businessman who brought elegant consumer technology to the (relatively wealthy) masses. TIME literally stopped the presses to put him on the cover. And around the world vigils mark his passing.
There are many good reasons to mourn Jobs. He helped transform communications and inspired many. Amid the gloom of the present, the brainy, bespectacled Californian represented the possibility of the future. He was, as Alexis Madrigal writes for the Atlantic, "the white wizard in the black turtleneck holding the forces of decline at bay." Only a small fraction of the world could afford his wares, but that didn't stop a not-so-small fraction from coveting them—or from admiring him. As Madrigal put it, "We could all want to be Steve Jobs." For most of us, though, "the occasional glimpse of our better selves in the reflection of an iPad is enough."
To catch that glimpse, we're willing to forget. We forget the harsh realities of globalized labor that lurk just beneath those brushed metallic surfacs. We pretend that it was the iPod and the iPad, not war, that defined the decade. Steve Jobs and the iPhone may be the American dream, but Afghanistan is American reality.
McChrystal: Ten years in, goals in Afghanistan only “50 percent” met
By Laura Rozen | The Envoy Yahoo! News - Fri Oct 7, 2:16 pm ET
On the 10th anniversary of the American war in Afghanistan, the former top U.S. military commander in the war said the United States and its allies are only "50 percent of the way" toward achieving their goals.
American military commanders have repeatedly sought over the past decade to "put time on the Washington clock," as retired General David Petraeus once put it, by describing the progress their forces made in the counterinsurgency campaign.
However, Petraeus' predecessor as the top commander in Afghanistan, retired General Stanley McChrystal, sharply broke with that message Thursday in bracing remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations.
"We didn't know enough and we still don't know enough," McChrystal said, the Guardian's Declan Walsh reported. "Most of us, me included, had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years."
McChrystal resigned his command last year after a Rolling Stone article reported that his staff disparaged the civilian leadership of the war from the White House; a military investigation subsequently cleared him of wrongdoing and questioned the accuracy of the report.
On Thursday, McChrystal said that in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, there was a supportable rationale for the United States' overthrow of the Taliban, al-Qaida's Afghan hosts. But he obliquely questioned the strategic wisdom of the Bush administration's 2003 decision to invade Iraq--at least in the eyes of the Muslim world, as he put it. (McChrystal served in both Iraq and Afghanistan including as commander of special operations.)
"When we went after the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, there was a certain understanding that we had the ability and the right to defend ourselves and the fact that Al Qaeda had been harbored by the Taliban was legitimate," he said. "I think when we made the decision to go into Iraq that was less legitimate" in the eyes of the Muslim world.
Farid Maqsudi, an Afghan-American businessman who travels frequently to Afghanistan, suggested the problem with assessing progress in Afghanistan is that it's a mixed picture, rather than a clear-cut success or failure.
"I don't think it's 'one-step forward, two steps back,'" Maqsudi told The Envoy by email Thursday. "It is one step forward and almost one step backwards."
"We have had an incoherent policy over the last 10 years and and it is still vague," Maqsudi said.
But a decade into America's longest war, Maqsudi said it's still not clear whether the U.S. government has learned much from its experience there.
"Why this 'civilian surge' when they [the civilian personnel of the American government] can't get out of the embassy?"--because of security concerns, he said. "We still think we can solve [it by] throwing lots of money" at the Afghan national army and police.
"We have not set clear goals," said Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia who is the chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, in an interview with The Envoy Thursday. "If you ask Americans ... on the street, 'What's the goal in Afghanistan?,' their eyes will glaze over."
"Was the goal to get rid of al-Qaida? Then we've largely succeeded," Nunn said. "Was it to get rid of the Taliban? That was not the original mission. So it's one of those areas where, has the mission changed, without clear articulation?"
Afghanistan 10 Years On: 'By Working, We Have Managed To Change Our Lives For The Better'
October 7, 2011 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
KABUL -- Suicide attacks. Assassinations. A resurgent Taliban. "Considerable political volatility and disconcerting levels of insecurity," according to a UN report.
The news from Afghanistan these days -- 10 years after the first salvos of the U.S.-led invasion -- offer little evidence for optimism. But look more closely, in the shadows behind the headlines, and success stories do emerge.
Take Mohammad Kabir Anwari, his wife, Rabia, and their six daughters.
In November 2002, Anwari was working two jobs and 18-hour days to make ends meet. He was a schoolteacher and a shopkeeper. Life was difficult and money scarce. The family was so poor they used to all drink tea from the same cup.
The toppling of the Taliban, he told RFE/RL back in 2002, offered hope for a better future.
"We are very optimistic about the [current] situation. The Taliban period was really a period of terror," Anwari said. "We suffered a lot in the past, but now we are optimistic about the future. Now we can work freely, and I hope that things go like this in the future, as well."
Rabia, too, believed that the future held promise, after enduring years of gender discrimination by the Taliban.
"I have six daughters, and under the Taliban they could not go outside of the house. Their rights were fully neglected, and we had lots of problems," Rabia said. "And I felt that my six daughters and I were the unluckiest people. It was very difficult for us in the past and we suffered a lot, but after the change [the fall of the Taliban], I feel that we are the happiest family. I was mostly thinking about the future of my daughters. Now, fortunately, all of my children are busy with their lessons and school."
In 2002, the couple's eldest daughter, Husnia, said she had felt like a prisoner inside her own home during the days of Taliban rule.
"Now I feel very happy," Husnia said. "We were at home during the past five years and the doors to school and education were closed to us. And we did not have the right to go outside. But now we are very happy that we can go to our school after a long delay."
Nine years later, the hopes of Anwari, Rabia, Husnia, and the rest of the family have largely been realized.
Anwari, 56, dressed in a pinstriped charcoal-colored sport coat and slacks, his face not as careworn as it once was, is now the principal of his old school, the Abdul Ali Mustaghni High School. Fifty-two-year-old Rabia is elegantly dressed in a black dress called a "pirahan", a pale-blue scarf covering her head and shoulders. She teaches biology at the school.
After the fall of the Taliban, Anwari says, "we started from zero." Today, he says, his family is doing just fine.
"Fortunately, today, my children are in a better situation," Anwari says. "My eldest daughter [Husnia] brought home a master's degree from France. Another has graduated from university. Two are pursuing philosophy degrees at university, and I have two young daughters in grade 7 and 9. They are all top students."
Anwari says he works only 12-hour days now as principal and brings home about 25,000 afghanis per month (about $525), compared to the 3,000 per month ($60) he earned as a schoolteacher in 2002. It's enough to live comfortably, he says. Rabia earns about 11,000 afghanis ($225) as a biology teacher.
"Every person who works does it in pursuit of a bright future," Anwari says. "Through teaching or any other profession, you can achieve what you want. This is how I became the principal of this school -- through hard work and believing in myself."
In 2002, the family ate, slept, and played all in one room of their small, war-damaged house in the Kart-i-Sei district in western Kabul. He had to sell that house, Anwari says, when work dried up and money got tight. He now shares a house with a neighbor, paying 7,000 afghanis ($150) a month in rent. Any leftover money goes toward buying furniture and appliances.
"Today I solve one problem and I solve another problem tomorrow," he says, expressing a philosophy that has served him well over the past decade.
Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion, 140,000 foreign troops -- 100,000 of them American -- patrol Anwari's country. But he remains steadfastly focused on the big picture, which for him is not the longest war in U.S. history but the fate of his family of eight.
"The reason why my children currently live like they do is because of the work me and my wife have done," Anwari says. "By working, we have managed to change our lives for the better."
written by Grant Podelco, based on reporting by Abdul Hameed Rasheed Khan and Mohammad Seend in Kabul; translation from Dari by Frud Bezhan
U.S. Envoy: New Silk Road Would Bring Prosperity
October 7, 2011 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
DUSHANBE -- The U.S. special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan says a bid to revive the ancient Silk Road across Central Asia should bring prosperity to the region, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Marc Grossman made the comments in Dushanbe on October 7 after meeting with President Emomali Rahmon to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Grossman claimed that Rahmon expressed support for the proposed revival of the ancient Silk Road, saying the project should be drafted and implemented fast.
"This vision of the new Silk Road is a way to bring economic development and prosperity to the very important region from Central Asia to New Delhi," Grossman said. "As the President [Rahmon] just put it to me, it is the way to connect Central Asia to South Asia."
Grossman also indicated that he and Rahmon discussed upcoming international conferences on Afghanistan and its neighbors to be held in Istanbul, Turkey on November 2 and in Bonn, Germany, on December 5.
"The idea in Istanbul is for the neighbors and near-neighbors of Afghanistan to show their support for the future of a secure and stable and prosperous Afghanistan inside of a secure, stable and prosperous region," he said.
"And the idea of the conference in Bonn, which will be chaired by the government of Afghanistan and hosted by the government of Germany, is to welcome the statement from Istanbul and very importantly to move forward with the vision of a new Silk Road."
The Silk Road was once at the heart of lucrative trade routes between Asia and the West, with merchants carrying goods ranging from textiles to spices.
About 25 countries met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month to discuss the idea of reviving the Silk Road by developing closer economic ties between Afghanistan and its neighbors.
Asked on October 7 about the situation in Afghanistan after the assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, Grossman said "the death of Professor Rabbani is a message that we have to continue this process of peace."
Taliban shadowy district governor killed in S. Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Afghan troops, backed by NATO-led Coalition forces, have killed five Taliban insurgents including a shadowy governor in country's Kandahar province, some 450 km south of capital city of Kabul, provincial government said on Friday.
"Based on accurate intelligence reports, a joint unit of Afghan and international forces carried out a cleanup operation in Kajoor village of Shah Wali Kot District Thursday night, killing five insurgents including Taliban's Shadow Governor for Shah Wali Kot named Mula Nissar Ahmad," the local government said in a statement.
Another well-known and most wanted insurgent's commander was also killed during the mentioned operation, without giving the name, the statement added.
The insurgent group, who stepped up their attacks on Afghan and about 130,000 NATO-led International Security Assistance Force ( ISAF) troops stationed in the country since a spring rebel offensive in May this year in the country, has yet to make comments.
Separately, an ISAF soldier died in southern Afghanistan provinces on Thursday, the military alliance confirmed in a statement on Friday.
"An International Security Assistance Force service member died in southern Afghanistan yesterday," ISAF said in the statement without revealing the nationality of the causality under ISAF policy.
"An investigation is being conducted to determine the circumstances that led to the incident," the brief ISAF statement added.
Over 470 NATO soldiers, most of them Americans, have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of this year.
|2011, afghan, news, october|