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Default [Afghan News] January 12, 2012 - 03-01-2012, 09:33 AM

Intelligence report: Taliban still hope to rule Afghanistan
Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Newspapers January 12, 2012 06:21:05 AM
WASHINGTON — A new top-secret U.S. intelligence assessment warns that Taliban leaders haven't abandoned their goal of reclaiming power and reimposing harsh Islamic rule on Afghanistan, raising doubts about the success of any peace deal that the Obama administration tries to broker between Kabul and the insurgents.
The National Intelligence Estimate presented to President Barack Obama last month also concluded that security gains won since last year's 30,000-strong U.S. troop surge may be unsustainable, a finding that top U.S. commanders and the White House dispute, according to U.S. officials and people familiar with the report's findings.
"We have heard that the report offers a very dire assessment. We don't agree," said a senior U.S. defense official, who like all of those whom McClatchy interviewed for this report spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The NIE came as the White House is examining ways to boost "reconciliation" — the U.S.-backed initiative to start peace talks — as an American troop drawdown and a phased hand-over of security responsibilities to Afghan forces are completed in December 2014, the officials and knowledgeable people said. The assessment is expected to be finished before a NATO summit in Chicago in May, at which the alliance will review plans for the security transition.
Obama has said repeatedly that the longest war in U.S. history can be settled only through negotiations between the Afghan government and the insurgents — not by force.
Earlier this month, the Pakistan-based Taliban leadership agreed after a year of secret contacts to open a political office in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar, raising U.S. hopes that peace talks might be possible.
"With the possibility of new progress on reconciliation, it is only natural that we are very carefully deliberating how we move forward," said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. He declined to comment on the NIE.
U.S. officials caution that negotiations are a long shot and could take several years to convene, leaving lots of time for the effort to collapse.
"Nothing has been concluded. We are still in the preliminary stages of testing whether this can be successful," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in announcing that U.S. special envoy Marc Grossman would travel to Afghanistan next week to pursue the initiative.
Before it embraces the opening of the Qatar office, the administration is looking for confidence-building measures from the Taliban — such as renouncing violence and observing cease-fires in select areas of Afghanistan — said a person who's familiar with the issue.
The two sides also would have to deal with other issues. Already, officials said, the insurgents are refusing to admit an Afghan government representative to the discussions, something that Washington assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai it would seek. The Taliban also are spurning participation by Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan.
The White House, meanwhile, is still considering a Taliban demand for the release of five Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. official said.
"Where this is headed is very uncertain," one knowledgeable person said.
Adding to the uncertainty is the new NIE's finding that the main Taliban leadership council, the Quetta Shura, shows no sign of giving up on its goal of reclaiming control of Afghanistan and reimposing Islamic rule on the war-ravaged nation of 33 million.
While in power from 1996 to 2001, the fundamentalist movement staged public executions, barred women from work and education, forced men to grow beards, persecuted religious minorities and harbored al Qaida and allied terrorist groups.
The NIE "is very pessimistic," a U.S. official said. "There is no indication that the Taliban are ready to settle for a goal short of total control over an Islamic emirate."
The review has renewed a debate between the White House, led by Vice President Joe Biden, and the Pentagon and State Department over the pace of the U.S. troop drawdown, according to several of those interviewed.
Biden and other White House officials, concerned about the war's costs and Obama's tough re-election bid, favor an accelerated drawdown. Military and diplomatic officials, arguing that a buildup of Afghan forces requires more time, want to stick to the plan of keeping some 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan through the 2014 fighting season.
"The precise pace of the drawdown between now and 2014 has yet to be defined," a second senior U.S. defense official said.
NIEs, the highest-level U.S. intelligence assessments, are produced by the National Intelligence Council, a board that comprises the senior-most U.S. intelligence analysts. They reflect the consensus of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, and their distribution is restricted to the president, his top aides and Congress.
The Quetta Shura, the NIE found, remains locked into its political objectives despite the hammering its forces have taken since last year's U.S. troop surge into the insurgent strongholds of southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces, officials said. An intensified U.S.-led campaign of night raids and drone strikes also has hurt the Taliban.
"There is no give at this point by the Omar group," one knowledgeable person said, referring to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the head of the Quetta Shura, which is named for its sanctuary in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's province of Baluchistan.
The finding raises doubts about whether the council will adhere to any peace pact with the Karzai government. Its refusal to do so almost certainly would plunge Afghanistan back into a civil war between the Taliban, who mostly comprise the main Pashtun ethnic group, and the ethnic minorities of the former Northern Alliance — a scenario raised by the NIE, a U.S. official said.
In separate comments appended to the NIE, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, and the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, concurred in the judgment that the Taliban have shown no readiness to abandon their political goal, the U.S. official, the two senior U.S. defense officials and one knowledgeable person said.
But Allen, Crocker and Marine Gen. James Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for Afghanistan, also shared a White House view that the NIE is "unduly pessimistic" — as the U.S. official put it — in warning that the security gains achieved in Kandahar and Helmand may not be sustainable.
The NIE, the knowledgeable person said, also was flawed because it focused on the Quetta Shura and didn't consider the objectives of the allied Haqqani network or local Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, who may not agree with their Pakistan-based leadership.
The assessment also didn't consider the objectives of Pakistan, whose security establishment is widely thought to be backing the Afghan insurgency in order to prevent rival India from gaining influence in Kabul after the U.S. drawdown, he said.
Recalibrating American strategy to promote reconciliation holds significant implications for U.S.-led international diplomatic and military efforts to end the war, experts said.
The current approach included reconciliation among several U.S. political objectives — along with building up Afghan security forces and boosting popular support for Karzai through improved local governance and a crackdown on corruption — and coupled them with intensified military pressure on the insurgents.
Much, however, has transpired since Obama unveiled that strategy in December 2009: the killing of Osama bin Laden, damaging U.S. strikes on al Qaida operatives in Pakistan, better security in southern Afghanistan and a serious crisis in relations with Pakistan.
Domestically, Obama is running for re-election amid strong opposition to the war, demands for federal spending cuts, persistent high unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery.
Moreover, key objectives of the current U.S. strategy have proved to be unachievable. Local governance remains poor, high-level corruption is raging, Karzai remains weak and the administration has failed to convince Pakistan to crack down on Afghan insurgent sanctuaries despite billions of dollars in economic and military assistance.
Last June, Obama unveiled the drawdown plan, which already has pulled out 10,000 soldiers. It calls for withdrawing the 30,000 "surge" troops by next summer, followed by most of the remaining 68,000 service members by the end of 2014.
Regardless of the drawdown's pace, the Pentagon already is planning to recalibrate the military mission from emphasizing offensive operations to reacting to threats that Afghan forces can't handle, two military officials told McClatchy.
U.S. troops also will rely more on intelligence, air power, special forces operations and nonmilitary methods to capture insurgents, and will concentrate more on training Afghan forces, they said.

U.S. intelligence report on Afghanistan sees stalemate
The sobering judgments in a classified National Intelligence Estimate appear at odds with recent optimistic statements about the war by Pentagon officials.
By Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times January 11, 2012
Reporting from Washington - The U.S. intelligence community says in a secret new assessment that the war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate, and warns that security gains from an increase in American troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan, according to U.S. officials.
The sobering judgments, laid out in a classified National Intelligence Estimate completed last month and delivered to the White House, appeared at odds with recent optimistic statements by Pentagon officials and have deepened divisions between U.S. intelligence agencies and American military commanders about progress in the decade-old war.
The detailed document, known as an NIE, runs more than 100 pages and represents the consensus view of the CIA and 15 other U.S. intelligence agencies. Similar in tone to an NIE prepared a year ago, it challenges the Pentagon's claim to have achieved lasting security gains in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials who have read or been briefed on its contents.
PHOTOS: A decade of conflict in Afghanistan
In a section looking at future scenarios, the NIE also asserts that the Afghan government in Kabul may not be able to survive as the U.S. steadily pulls out its troops and reduces military and civilian assistance.
"Its viability is tenuous," said one official, citing the report.
Although the review gives the U.S. military and its allies credit for driving the Taliban out of some areas last year, it says the gains were not enough to bolster the weak central government in Kabul, haven't diminished the Taliban's will to keep fighting, and haven't instilled confidence among Afghans in much of the country.
As a result, the NIE warns that the overall difficulties could jeopardize the Obama administration's plans to withdraw most U.S. troops and hand over responsibility for the war to the Afghan government by 2014.
The findings prompted a sharp response from Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander of Western forces in the war, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, who filed their objections in a one-page written dissent. The comment was also signed by Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of Central Command, and Adm. James Stavridis, supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Military and Pentagon officials argued that assumptions used by intelligence agencies were flawed.
"It assumes a quicker drawdown of U.S. support to the Afghan government than a lot of people are projecting, " said one U.S. official familiar with Pentagon thinking, speaking of the assessment.
Military officials also cited what they claim are gaps in the intelligence agencies' understanding of the Taliban leadership's thinking, the officials said.
Some in Congress and the Obama administration are concerned that the bleak assessment suggests little progress was made in the last year. During that time, the U.S. has suffered more than 400 military fatalities and spent more than $100 billion. As of Wednesday, 1,873 Americans had been killed in Afghanistan since U.S. forces invaded in late 2001, according to the website
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus wrote a dissent to last year's NIE when he was U.S. commander in the war. He is now CIA director, and he pledged during his Senate confirmation hearings not to allow his personal views as a former commander to color the CIA's analysis.
The recent NIE agrees with the military that Afghan Taliban fighters have found safe haven in Pakistan's tribal areas. After a six-week lull, CIA drone strikes resumed this week in North Waziristan, reportedly killing four people Wednesday, but U.S. officials warned that drone strikes alone cannot prevent Afghan insurgents from regrouping there.
"It's all about the safe haven," one congressional official said. "That has to be solved."
Military officials have acknowledged that there are no easy answers, and that a peace deal may be the only solution.
The Taliban has suffered heavy losses, particularly in southern Afghanistan, but it also has gained ground in the country's east, near Pakistan, according to officials briefed on the NIE. But the intelligence community is not convinced that military gains in the south can be maintained once large numbers of U.S. forces withdraw.
The Afghan army and in particular the police face enormous problems contending with the insurgency as U.S. assistance declines, the document concludes. But it also raises doubts about whether Afghan civilian ministries can govern successfully in the south and other areas.
In late 2009, President Obama agreed to deploy 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, and the total U.S. force in the country peaked at about 100,000 last summer. The U.S. now has 91,000 troops there, and all combat forces are scheduled to withdraw by 2014.
Pentagon planners assume that a residual force will remain to train and assist the Afghans, but the White House has yet to sign off on that. The Obama administration is negotiating a long-term military alliance with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Pentagon officials insist that the troop increase has put the Taliban on its heels.
"We're moving in the right direction and we're winning this very tough conflict," Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told troops on Dec. 14 at Forward Operating Base Sharana in the eastern province of Paktika.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday that Panetta continues to believe there has been "substantial progress." The key, he said, is "to strengthen Afghan security forces and to build toward a long-term relationship with Afghanistan."
National intelligence estimates often carry significant weight in U.S. policy circles, although they are hardly immune from errors.
Most famously, the 2002 NIE on Iraq judged with high confidence that Saddam Hussein was secretly amassing chemical and biological weapons, and trying to build a nuclear bomb. The George W. Bush administration repeatedly cited that NIE before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but it ultimately was proved inaccurate in almost every respect.
Although they declined to discuss the contents of the current NIE, some members of Congress with access to intelligence said they are concerned about the lack of progress in Afghanistan.
"I think there are real problems," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. "There have been gains in security … but the Taliban is still a force to be reckoned with. They still occupy considerable land in the country."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the Obama administration should release an unclassified version of the NIE for public debate.
"I do think it would be very helpful to release an unclassified version," she said. "Given the expense and the lives that are at stake, the American people should see some of the top-line conclusions of the NIE."

Taliban Say Marine Abuse Tape Won't Hurt Afghanistan Talks
January 12, 2012 at 1:21 PM ET By REUTERS via The New York Times
KABUL (Reuters) - A video showing what appear to be American forces urinating on dead Taliban fighters prompted anger in Afghanistan and promises of a U.S. investigation on Thursday, but the insurgent group said it would not harm nascent efforts to broker peace talks.
The video, posted on YouTube and other websites, shows four men in camouflage Marine combat uniforms urinating on three corpses. One of them jokes: "Have a nice day, buddy." Another makes a lewd joke.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the video, describing the men's actions as "inhuman" and calling for an investigation, in a statement on Thursday evening.
It is likely to stir up already strong anti-U.S. sentiment in Afghanistan after a decade of a war that has seen other cases of abuse, and that could complicate efforts to promote reconciliation as foreign troops gradually withdraw.
"Such action will leave a very, very bad impact on peace efforts," Arsala Rahmani, a senior member of the Afghan government's High Peace Council, told Reuters.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul also condemned the actions of the men, and the U.S. military has promised an investigation.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, seeing a glimmer of hope after months of efforts to broker talks, is launching a fresh round of shuttle diplomacy this weekend.
Marc Grossman, Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will fly into the region for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top officials in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
His immediate goal is to seal agreement for the Taliban to open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Despite concerns when the video first emerged that it would not help his efforts build confidence among the warring parties, a Taliban spokesman said although the images were shocking, the tape would not affect talks or a mooted prisoner release.
"We know that our country is occupied...This is not a political process, so the video will not harm our talks and prisoner exchange because they are at the preliminary stage."
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta denounced the actions show in the film as "utterly deplorable.
"Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent," he said in a statement.
Panetta said he had ordered the Marine Corps and the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to investigate. ISAF described the acts depicted in the video as "disrespectful" and "inexplicable".
Two military officials in the United States, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the video appeared to be authentic, but Reuters could not verify it or its source independently.
News of the footage had yet to spread in Afghanistan -- a country where a minority have access to electricity and the Internet is limited to an tiny urban elite -- but Afghans who were told about what the tape appears to show were horrified.
"It may start with just video footage, but it will end with demonstrations around the country and maybe the world," said 44-year-old Qaisullah, who has a shop near the Kabul's Shah-e-dushamshera mosque.
Anti-American feeling has boiled over, or been whipped up, into violence several times in Afghanistan in recent years. Protests over reports of the desecration of the Muslim holy book have twice sparked deadly riots.
The tape also sparked anger across the Middle East and in internet chatrooms, prompting reference to earlier scandals involving U.S. soldiers' treatment of prisoners in Iraq and the killing of unarmed civilians in Afghanistan.
"This is the embodiment of the strong assaulting the weak. It's nothing new for the American, it only adds to what they have done in Abu Ghraib prison. This a breach of the sacredness of Islam and Muslims," said Othman al-Busaifi, 45, in Tripoli.
The U.S. military has been prosecuting soldiers from the Army's 5th Stryker Brigade on charges of murdering unarmed Afghan civilians while deployed in Kandahar province in 2010, and cutting off body parts as war trophies.
"They cut off ears and fingers and keep them as medals, and urinate on bodies, then they talk about civilization," wrote user Abu Abdullah al-Janubi on one forum.
The video was released at a critical time for what U.S. officials hope might become authentic talks on Afghanistan's political future.
In Kabul, Grossman will seek approval from Karzai -- whose support for a U.S. effort he fears will sideline his government has wavered -- to move ahead with a series of good-faith measures seen as an essential precursor to negotiations that could give the Taliban a shared role in governing Afghanistan.
The diplomatic initiative includes a possible transfer of Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison.
A breakthrough would mark a milestone for the Obama administration, struggling to secure a modicum of stability in Afghanistan as it presses ahead with its gradual withdrawal from a long and costly war. The United States and its allies aim to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Missy Ryan and Warren Strobel in WASHINGTON, Ali Suaib in TRIPOLI, Firouz Sedarat and Andrew Hammond in DUBAI; Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Afghan Opposition Criticizes U.S.-Led Taliban Peace Talks
January 12, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The leader of Afghanistan’s main political opposition says peace talks with the Taliban need to more inclusive, following a meeting between several other Afghan opposition leaders and members of the U.S. Congress in Berlin.*
Abdullah Abdullah told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on January 11 that he supported peace talks with the Taliban but only if they included the voices of all Afghans.
"Almost everyone in Afghanistan is supportive of peace talks with the Taliban," Abdullah said. "We, too, hold this opinion. But we will only support the peace process if it is transparent and inclusive to the people of Afghanistan."
Abdullah’s comments follow a private meeting several Afghan opposition leaders -- but not Abdullah -- had on January 9 in Berlin with four members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Peace Talks 'Flawed'
Those leaders, including the ethnic Uzbek leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum, issued a joint statement that described the peace negotiations with the Taliban as "flawed" because they excluded anti-Taliban groups who helped to topple the Taliban after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
"The present negotiations with the Taliban fail to take into account the risks, sacrifices and legitimate interests of the Afghans who ended the brutal oppression of all Afghans," the statement read.
In his interview with RFE/RL, Abdullah also said power in Afghanistan needs to be decentralized. He said the country needs an inclusive parliamentary system that represents all Afghans.
"A parliamentary system is needed for the people of Afghanistan," Abdullah said. "The transfer of power to a certain degree to the provinces is also needed. For example, if we have elected mayors and governors they can serve the people more effectively. In the current government all the decisions are taken by one office.”
In Washington, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said it had not sanctioned the meeting but had suggested that the legislators meet with the opposition leaders in Afghanistan, not Germany.
Speaking January 9, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "It is always better to meet Afghan representatives in Afghanistan and...we also believe it’s always best when our members of Congress can see a broad cross-section of Afghan political leaders, not just a slice.’s within their right to meet with whomever they’d like."
The Taliban announced on January 3 that they had reached a preliminary agreement to open a political office in Qatar to facilitate peace talks with the international community.
A negotiated settlement with the Taliban to end the insurgency has become a key focus for Washington as it prepares to withdraw the majority of U.S. forces by 2014.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid responded to news of a disturbing video that appears to show U.S. soldiers urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters by saying the clip was "barbaric" but "will not harm our talks and prisoner exchange" because the political process was in its preliminary stages.
* CORRECTION: This story has been amended to make clear that Abdullah Abdullah did not attend the Berlin meeting between Afghan opposition representatives and U.S. lawmakers.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this story

MoFA Slams National Front's Meeting With US Republicans Wednesday, 11 January 2012
Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday said that recent meeting between the members of the Afghan National Front and some of the US republican lawmakers in Berlin was against the Afghan constitution.
In a statement released by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs the meeting between the newly Afghan National Front and US lawmakers in Berlin has been considered against the Afghan constitution and interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs.
The MoFA has warned against repetition of such moves in future.
Efforts by some Afghan political parties to change the current system and to establish a federal system have followed some criticisms in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government has warned that such meetings must not repeat.
"The Afghan government is against any kinds of meetings and actions that are against national unity and the constitution. The Afghan government considers such moves as interference in Afghan internal affairs and such actions should not be repeated in future," the MoFA statement said.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the National Front told TOLOnews on the phone that there was nothing illegal about the meeting with the US lawmakers in Berlin. The spokesman warned that the achievements of the last ten years faced the threats of being spoilt.
"We want the government to address concerns of the Afghan people. The government has been weak in the fields of security and fighting against corruption. We believe that the achievements of the last ten years could be lost after foreign troops leave by the end of 2014, Faizullah Zaki, Spokesman for the National Front, said.
Chief of the National Front Ahmad Zia Massoud, Leader of Junbish-e-Milli Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, Leader of Afghan People's Wahdat Party, Haji Mohammad Mohaqes, and former Chief of the National Directorate of Security Amrullah Saleh were the figures who recently had a meeting with some of the US republican lawmakers in Berlin where they emphasised on establishement of a decentralised political system in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: A Non-Kosher U.S. Taliban Deal
The Huffington Post By Khalil Nouri Co-founder of New World Strategies Coalition, Inc. 11/01/2012
Taliban and "peace mission" -- these words do not fit together in the minds of Afghans who know the Taliban's history. But they are the words that we have seen in recent publications, stating that the Taliban intend to open a "peace mission" office in Qatar. The idea is that foreign diplomats can stop by, share a cup of tea, eat some munchies, and talk about ending the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Ideally, the talks and negotiations would thrust forward until the parties accept the terms and conditions for a cordial settlement amongst themselves. However, because the existing political climate in Kabul is so extremely convoluted, fragile and oddly murky with lingering recollections of the country's history of post-Soviet withdrawal turmoil; an unfamiliar political power sharing between the Taliban's 12th century Islamo-fascist mindset and the corrupt and warlord infested government of Hamid Karzai is a recipe for chaos and failure. These are the dire mixtures that will not only bear bitter fruit in this already decades old war-stricken country; the greater danger is the spillover or ignition of a regional conflict.
Qatar's controversial decision was only grudgingly accepted by Mr. Karzai, who apparently fears that foreign powers -- including the United States -- will deal directly with the Taliban, sidelining his fragile and corrupt government. For Washington, a negotiated return of the Taliban in a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul may allow U.S. President Barack Obama an exit with honor from Afghanistan. However, there is fear among many Afghans that the Taliban are trying to cast themselves as a reasonable, or at least even, counterweight to the current erratic leadership in Kabul just to get back into legitimacy. The coming friction of attempted sharing of the lion's den can clearly be seen on the horizon, because there is only room for one or the other, but not both. Just imagine how conditions would be in the United States if each member of Congress had their own militia to back their political position... there would only be bloody chaos.
The mere idea of talking to the Taliban may seem, in itself, like an admission of defeat by the West. It certainly wasn't the mission plan in 2001, and it may yet have horrible consequences. But there are plenty of policymakers in Washington and London who now see it as the best, and only, way to proceed. Not only might it spare Afghanistan from decades of internal conflict -- the thinking goes -- but, played right, it could also limit Pakistan's influence in the country after 2015, and therefore the Taliban's too.
But, in our native view, we see a totally different outcome for the upcoming political landscape in Afghanistan; first and foremost the Taliban will be asking the United States for an unconditional withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan, and to give up all objections to the Taliban returning to power (as part of a "coalition" with the Karzai government). Then they will ask for the building of a headquarters compound just for them, and a formal announcement that the Taliban are no longer an enemy of the United States; a statement that there is no desire for a permanent U.S. presence in Afghanistan, an unconditional release of all Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay (allowing them to move to Qatar); and lastly, a formal apology for brining the war to the Taliban who were not part of the 9/11 terror plot.
Having demanded all of that, then the Taliban will say, not to the U.S. but to the Afghan people that they are the only credible partners to negotiate with right now. That the troublesome, corrupt government of Hamid Karzai cannot be trusted to end the war, cannot even be trusted to protect people's money or pay their bills; and that they, and only they, can speak for the Afghan people.
And on the issue with Pakistan; its Afghan policy is motivated by its quest for "strategic depth," and many suspect its wish list is but a new face and possible spoiler for U.S. strategy.
As Pakistan desires to have a role in any transfer of power in Afghanistan, the challenge ahead is not just defining Pakistan's role but also understanding overall U.S. objectives.
What does the United States really want out of these talks? A quick-fix settlement to provide just enough cover for its war-weary coalition to pull their troops out before Afghanistan descends into a civil war; or a serious process that might offer an enduring peace? Does the United States believe the Taliban are now more amenable to talks than they were before, or that a possible destabilization of Pakistan could go into effect? Are domestic political pressures in the United States driving it towards a quick exit?
The real concern for the U.S. should be that it might get blindsided. If the United States is seen as holding up the peace process because it is trying to force its way out of Afghanistan for any of the above reasons; or if Mr. Karzai is proactive in discussions with the resentful Taliban, and in the process the U.S. gets blamed for prolonging the conflict by the Afghan Public, the United States will stand to lose even more; or the conflict could spill over into a wider regional conflict.
One main thing is for sure, that there is no solid Afghan leadership to unify the war stricken country. Therefore, all these non-kosher dealings will stall the peace process until there is sound leadership in Kabul. The Afghan National Reconciliation's strategy plan may offer the only real leadership solution.
Khalil Nouri is the cofounder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc, a native think-tank for a nonmilitary solution studies for Afghanistan, and a member of Afghanistan Study Group

U.S. Regional Envoy To Visit Afghanistan, Qatar Next Week
January 12, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that special regional envoy Marc Grossman would visit Afghanistan next week.
Clinton said that Grossman will “continue our consultations with the Afghans and also to go to Qatar to continue our consultations with our partners.”
The Taliban announced last week that it wanted to set up a political office in Qatar in a move seen as a precursor to talks with the United States.
Washington has consistently said that any talks with the Taliban could only take place with the agreement of, and eventually should be led by, the Afghan government.
Grossman is also expected to visit key regional players next week, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid sent an e-mail statement that said while the group supports peace talks, its fighters would continue military operations against foreign forces in Afghanistan and the "stooge Kabul administration."
The statement said the Taliban had "increased political efforts" to bring about peace in Afghanistan but that did not mean "surrender from jihad" or "acceptance of the constitution" of the current Afghan government.
compiled from agency reports
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Taliban Ready for Afghan Peace Talks
VOA News January 12, 2012
The Taliban says its political wing is ready to enter peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan.
In an emailed statement, the group said it has increased its efforts to bring about peace in the troubled nation. But it also reiterated its opposition to the current Afghan constitution, and it referred to the government led by President Hamid Karzai as a "stooge" administration.
Also Thursday, a Taliban spokesman said an online video that appears to show U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters will not affect plans to begin talks.
Zabihullah Mujahid said because the process is so preliminary, the video controversy will likely not affect plans for talks or a proposed prisoner exchange.
The NATO security force in Afghanistan strongly condemned the actions depicted in the video by a small group of U.S. Marines who apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan. The Marine Corps says the actions portrayed are not consistent with its values and not indicative of the character of Marines.
President Karzai said the government is "deeply disturbed" by the video and the actions depicted amount to desecration of the Afghans' bodies.
The Pentagon has said it is investigating the origin of the video, but has not verified its authenticity.
The events occur as senior U.S. diplomat, Marc Grossman prepares to lead a delegation to the country next week in an effort to get approval from President Karzai for peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Earlier this month, the Afghan Taliban said it has reached a preliminary agreement to open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar, in a move that could help facilitate the talks.
Spokesman Mujahid said in a statement the Taliban is asking for the release of prisoners held at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
U.S. officials have recently been quoted as saying that Washington is open to negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban, and that a possible deal could include the transfer of Taliban prisoners.
In December, Vice President Joe Biden said the Afghan Taliban are not America's enemies, and that the insurgent group did not represent a threat to the United States unless it continued to harbor al-Qaida terrorists.
U.S.-led forces ousted Afghanistan's Taliban government following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Those attacks were carried out by al-Qaida, which had training camps in Afghanistan.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.
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Clinton says no decision on release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that Washington has not made any decisions about releasing the Taliban prisoners from the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
At a press conference with visiting Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, she also announced that U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman will visit Afghanistan and Qatar next week to continue consultations on the Afghan reconciliation process.
Regarding the peace talks with Taliban, Clinton said the United States was prepared to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation and would participate in that "if we believe it holds promise for an end to the conflict."
"I think the positive statements last week from both President Karzai and the Taliban demonstrate that there is support for such discussions, for the political office to open in Qatar," she said.
But Clinton said "nothing has been concluded" on the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, noting "we are still in the preliminary stages of testing whether this can be successful."
She reiterated the three conditions for Taliban to join the Afghan political process, namely renouncing violence, breaking with al-Qaida, and supporting the laws and constitution of Afghanistan.
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Human Rights Watch Warns Against Transfer of Afghan Prisons Wednesday, 11 January 2012
The control of Afghan-run prisons should not be transferred from Afghanistan's Justice Ministry to the Interior Ministry, Human Rights Watch has warned.
The Human Rights Watch made the warning as it is concerned about the heightened risk of torture and mistreatment of prisoners.
The decress has went into effect on Tuesday, but the Human Rights Watch has urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to revoke it.
Placing all prisoners under Interior Ministry control increases the likelihood that the Afghan police, who have been implicated in torture, would be in charge of suspects during interrogation, the Human Rights Watch has said.
According to the Asia director of the Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, greater police involvement in Afghan prisons may "lead to more torture, not less."
The Human Rights Watch has said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had first proposed the transfer of Afghan prisons in April 2011 after more than 470 prisoners escaped from a jail in Kandahar.
It comes as the United Nations, in October last year, accused the Afghan National Directorate of Security and police of "systematically" torturing prisoners.
But that the UN added that the mistreatment was not part of government policy.
Nato has said it has halted transfer of prisoners to 16 Afghan detention centres where the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has found evidence of torture and mistreatment by police and security officials.
The Afghan Ministry of Interior took over control of all Afghan prisons on Tuesday.

Suicide Bombing Kills Afghan District Chief
VOA News January 12, 2012
Authorities in southern Afghanistan say a suicide car bomber has killed at five people, including a local district chief.
Provincial officials say the governor of Kandahar province's Panjwayi district was traveling in his car with his two sons when the bomber rammed a vehicle full of explosives into them. All three were killed in Thursday's blast.
Two of the district governor's guards were also killed in the explosion near Kandahar city.
Officials say nine police officers and a civilian were wounded.
On Wednesday, Kandahar's police chief escaped unharmed after a suicide bombing outside his office in Kandahar city.
There has been no claim of responsibility for either attack.

Afghan forces kills 11 Taliban militants, capture 17 others
KABUL, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- Afghan police backed by national army and the NATO-led troops have killed 11 Taliban militants and detained 17 others across the country over the past 24 hours, a press release of Interior Ministry issued here said on Thursday.
These operations have been conducted in Kapisa, Helmand, Faryab, Zabul, Wardak, Ghazni and Khost provinces to stabilize security in the country, the press release said.
Two more militants sustained injuries during the operations, it added.
However, it did not say if there were any casualties on the security forces.
Taliban militants fighting Afghan and NATO-led forces have not to make comment yet.

Afghan Announcements Annoy U.S., Hurt Relations
NPR By Quil Lawrence January 11, 2012
U.S.-Pakistan ties are virtually frozen. And now, relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Washington are once again getting frosty.
Over the weekend Karzai surprised the Americans with the demand that the largest U.S.-run prison be turned over to Afghan control much sooner that planned.
It's the latest in a series of announcements by the Afghan government that sometimes appear designed to embarrass and annoy U.S. officials, as well as complicate American plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
A special commission named by Karzai gave a news conference over the weekend at the Government Media and Information Center in Kabul. U.S. government donations built the multimillion-dollar facility, but it has become the venue for the Karzai administration's increasingly anti-American declarations.
Last month, Afghan officials there condemned Americans for causing civilian casualties in the war against the Taliban — without mentioning that 80 percent of such deaths are caused by insurgents, according to the United Nations. The U.S. Embassy pulled its team of advisers out of the media center the same day.
An Expression Of Anger
Most recently, the topic was prisons.
Gul Rahman Qazi, head of the special commission, read a list of prisoners' complaints about ill treatment in the largest U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan. Americans say they're taking the allegations seriously, while U.N. monitors say conditions in the American prison are not nearly as bad as most Afghan facilities.
The prison had been slated for transfer to Afghan control this year, but Karzai has now demanded it be turned over this month. It's not clear whether that's possible, but the sudden announcement took the American Embassy by surprise. That was intentional, says Afghan political analyst Omar Sharifi.
"First, [Karzai] has to show his anger, and that's one of the ways to show his anger," Sharifi says. "It also sends a message, that it's impossible to have anything meaningful without the Afghan government."
Karzai is angry, Sharifi says, because he feels that the Americans are trying to bypass him on a number of issues — especially in efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban.
American officials have been meeting with Taliban figures over the past year, and last month they secured an offer from Qatar to open up a Taliban office, where preliminary negotiations can begin.
But the Taliban have for years ruled out talks with Karzai — whom they regard as illegitimate. When news of the Qatar office leaked, Karzai withdrew the Afghan ambassador in Qatar. A few days later Karzai relented, but observers say he is still feeling angry and out of the loop. Many recent announcements by Kabul have been in retaliation, says Sharifi.
A 'Dysfunctional Marriage'
But Karzai is also in the process of negotiating a strategic partnership deal with Washington, which may involve long-term U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. Karzai needs to show the Afghan public that he's not a yes man for the Americans, says Sharifi.
Karzai "wants to establish his credentials as a guy who is tough to negotiate [with], and also who is capable of delivering. Now, about the delivering part, we have to wait and see," Sharifi says.
Karzai's tough demands are popular with most Afghans, but it's dangerous for him to keep making them because he looks weak when the U.S. doesn't comply, according to Kate Clark, of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul.
"The Americans have up to now put all their eggs in the Karzai basket. And Karzai needs the Americans to survive; most Afghans don't think he'd survive a day without American forces and American money," Clark says.
"So in a way they're in bed together, and both partners irritate the other occasionally ... sort of like a dysfunctional marriage where neither side feels it can walk out," she says.
The American initiative for negotiations with the Taliban may be the first step outside that marriage, and Clark says Karzai is making clear his irritation — and his fear of being abandoned.

Report: Afghans Will Require Substantial Help After 2014
VOA News January 11, 2012
Al Pessin | London - A respected London research organization says the Afghan government likely will be able to retain control of the country after foreign troops end their combat role in three years. But the International Institute for Strategic Studies says Western nations will need to provide financial and military support for Afghanistan for much longer.
The 300-page report says the challenges ahead for Afghanistan are huge, and its path will be difficult. But the authors, including Middle East expert Toby Dodge, come away with what they call ‘constrained optimism,’ as long as the West does not abandon Afghanistan when its combat troops leave in 2014.
“The United States and its allies, brought together within NATO and the United Nations, have to keep a quite muscular, omnipresent watching brief on Afghanistan," said Dodge. "Certainly there will be an ‘over the horizon’ watching brief and a presence on the ground in Kabul. But the main commitment will be financial, and I think there is enough of a political consensus to guarantee that over the next decade.”
The report warns the Kabul government may not have full control over the country by 2014. But the authors believe its security forces should be strong enough to assert control where necessary to prevent terrorists from using the country as a base, as they did in the years before the September 11th attacks in 2001.
Some experts believe Afghanistan will need a more robust foreign military presence than Western nations want to provide after 2014, including training, air support, counter-terrorism units and rapid reaction forces. But retired British Brigadier Ben Barry, who wrote the book’s security chapter, said there also may be resistance to a continuing Western military role from the Afghans.
“You could see Afghan nationalism coming into play, and the Afghans becoming increasingly fed up with Western boots on the ground, with civilian casualties and collateral damage, and also a sense that Western boots on the ground are a recruiting sergeant for the Taliban and Jihadists. We have seen this to a certain extent in Iraq,” said Barry.
The IISS report is fairly optimistic about the future role of Afghanistan’s neighbors. It says the relative strength of the Afghan government forces the country’s neighbors to deal with Kabul, rather than their preferred ethnic groups or militias.
The book does, however, express concern about what the authors call the myriad risks in Pakistan.

Afghan Forces Able to Conduct Night Raids, MoD says Wednesday, 11 January 2012
Afghan Ministry of Defence Spokesman General Zahir Azimi said at a press conference on Wednesday that if the Afghan president assigns the responsibility for conducting night raids to the Afghan security forces, they will be capable of handling these operations.
"As members of the defence ministry we are obliged to carry out the orders of President Karzai," General Azimi said. "Night operations should be fully transferred to ANA forces because our commando forces are powerful enough."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has asked the US to stop night raids immediately.
Isaf said night raids will continue because they are the most effective way of targeting insurgents but the organisation stressed it will try to involve the ANA in the operations.
Over the past 20 days, 20 joint operations have been conducted in various areas of the country. About 42 insurgents have been killed and 240 others have been captured in these operations, General Azimi said.
He added that 18 ANA soldiers also died.
The defence ministry believes that security situation is 26 per cent better than it was a year ago. General Azimi did not say how this was calculated.
The ANA is currently planning Operation Nawid (Hope) will commence after New Year in Afghanistan on March 21. The operation will continue for 19 months.
As international troops prepare to leave the country in 2014, Afghan forces are increasingly taking over the responsibility for providing security. In the second phase of transition, Afghan forces have already taken over security in seven out of 18 areas.
The strength of the ANA is currently 180,000 men strong. The growth target is 195, 000 by November of this year.

Afghanistan's 'Jack Bauer' says he is under pressure to give up TV cop show
Actor faces more threats off screen than on in Hollywood style drama funded by the US to boost the image of the local police force By Nick Hopkins Wednesday 11 January 2012
The star of one of Afghanistan's most popular TV programmes gave an interview yesterday in which he said he had received hundreds of death threats and was defying warnings to continue making the show.
But while nobody could question the bravery of Najebullah Sadiq, star of 'Eagle Four', it is not hard to see why the drama has put him in danger. Eagle Four is Afghanistan's answer to '24', and he is the Jack Bauer figurehead.
Plotlines have been provocative; they have included exposing drug-traffickers, taking on tribal warlords, and hunting down would-be child suicide bombers.
Sadiq plays a tough talking police officer, who brow beats suspects and delivers lines such as "You didn't make it to paradise today."
If you hadn't guessed already, the show has been part-funded by the Americans, in the hope it might give Afghans more confidence in their much derided police force.
Western involvement becomes obvious when you read the official biography of the programme, which is broadcast on the TV station, Tolo.
"Despite the tireless reconstruction efforts of NATO and its Allies, (Afghanistan) remains a Nation mired in lawlessness and instability. Corruption and collusion between the Government and Business is commonplace.
From local police who prey on the citizens they are paid to protect to foreign opportunists who misappropriate massive sums of money intended to rebuild the Nation.
A thriving underground economy exists encompassing gun running, drug smuggling, human trafficking and the illegal export of millions of dollars worth of Afghan antiquities.
And major crime is flourishing. From Tribal Warlords using Poppy to fund their militia and arms purchases to kidnapping rings that snare Diplomats, Journalists, Western Contractors and wealthy, local Businessmen.
But amidst the chaos of war and insurgency, there exists an elite team working to combat the most dangerous criminal and security threats facing Afghanistan...Eagle Four.
Foreign trained and boasting the brightest and best law enforcement Agents in the Country, Eagle Four is charged with the task of tracking down major criminals, at all levels of society, and bringing them to justice. Eagle Four's brief is simple – to clean up Afghanistan."
In the interview, Sadiq admits he has been under pressure to give up the role.
"We have faced lots of problems. I've been given warnings hundreds of times. They say you shouldn't make films about the fight against narcotics anymore, or women's rights.
They ask, 'why did you play that role in this film or that serial? You're against suicide attacks.' So I've had warnings many times, received messages, even letters to my house.
Before leaving my home, I walk and look around my house and when I drive out with my car, I park it and look around my house again or I tell someone else to see if there's anyone suspicious around my house."
However, Sadiq says wants to carry on and claims Nato "Eagle Four has acted as one way to develop our police department".
"I hope that one day our police will be equipped like they are in 'Eagle Four' and be able to find terrorists from security cameras or using the internet."
That is a courageous aspiration. The New York Times said of the programme: "(It) seems to take place in a kind of parallel universe, one where Americans and Europeans are never seen, and where the Afghans are as confident as they are competent — not to mention stunningly computer literate in a country that has yet to get hard-wired onto the Internet."
The funding for the programme lays it open to accusations of propaganda - criticism that will be fuelled by the platform for Sadiq's interview: The Nato website.

Elusive Officials Leave Afghans Queuing for Days
Uruzgan residents complain about massive wait for basic services.
IWPR By Ahmad Shah Jawad 11 Jan 12
Afghanistan - All Rahmatollah wants is the paperwork allowing him to cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan so he can take a sick relative for treatment.
For the last fortnight, though, he has been standing outside the census office in the central Afghan province of Uruzgan, waiting to be served.
“The officials aren’t here. Even if they are, they only work two hours a day,” Rahmatollah, a resident of Charchino district, told IWPR. “They come at ten in the morning and work until 11:30, when they tell us to leave because it’s their lunchtime. Many of them don’t return after lunch – they go home. We don’t know what to do.”
Accessing government services can be an exasperating experience in this impoverished province. Residents say they often have to queue for days to see officials who appear to spend little time at work, and residents of remote villages say they spend weeks staying in hotels provincial capital of Tarin Kowt just waiting to be seen.
Daud, a 50 year-old from Tarin Kowt district, said he had been waiting a week for his turn at the provincial finance department. Wrapped in a blanket, he told IWPR he spent every day outside the office waiting to be called, before returning to his hotel. The official he needs to see does not come in every day, and when he does, he only stays for two hours.
“To tell you the truth, there is no government is Uruzgan,” Daud said. “The people who work here regard the premises as their own private offices. They do whatever they want.”
While residents accuse public servants of being lazy, unprofessional and corrupt, local government officials blame transport and weather that make it difficult for staff to turn up on time.
Uruzgan is one of Afghanistan’s least developed provinces, with few decent roads.
Alhaj Gholam, head of the provincial finance department, conceded that staff at all government offices tended to arrive at work “very late,” but explained that “these employees live in remote places and don’t have transport”.
Uruzgan’s deputy governor Khodai Rahim maintained that lengthy delays occurred only in winter, while in summer, all provincial government offices opened at eight in the morning.
According to Mohammad Qais, head of the provincial department for labour and social affairs, government employees were expected to work seven hours a day, although exceptions were made for staff living far from their workplace.
Asked about the members of the public who spent weeks queuing to see an official, he said: “We promise to monitor the performance of every agency from now on, and to take legal action to solve the problem.”
As well as inconveniencing the public, bureaucratic delays may have other, more serious implications.
One tribal elder warned that people might turn to the Taleban, who can sometimes resolve their problems more efficiently than local government.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the elder said he had spent the last decade trying to get the authorities to issue members of his tribe with identity cards, and had found government services extremely inefficient.
“Nobody listens to me,” he said. “If that’s the case, how can I tell my people to support the government?”
Ahmad Shah Jawad is an IWPR trainee reporter in Uruzgan.
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