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Default [Afghan News] May 2, 2012 - 05-02-2012, 03:21 PM

Taliban attack in Afghan capital kills at least 7
By AMIR SHAH and CHRIS BLAKE | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban insurgents attacked a compound housing foreigners in the Afghan capital Wednesday, killing seven people, hours after President Barack Obama made a surprise visit and signed a pact governing the U.S. presence after combat troops withdraw.
The Taliban said the attack was a response to Obama's visit, which coincided with Wednesday's anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan.
It was the second major assault in Kabul in less than three weeks and highlighted the Taliban's continued ability to strike in the heavily guarded capital even when security had been tightened security for the high profile events.
Obama arrived at Bagram Air Base late Tuesday, then traveled in to Kabul by helicopter for a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in which they signed the agreement. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He ended his lightning visit with a speech broadcast to Americans back home.
The violence began around 6 a.m. in eastern Kabul with a series of explosions and gunfire ringing out from the privately guarded compound known as Green Village that houses hundreds of international contractors.
Shooting and blasts shook the city for hours as militants who had stormed into the compound held out against security forces, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
A local witness said the attackers were disguised in burqas — the head-to-toe robes worn by conservative Afghan women.
"A vehicle stopped here and six people wearing burqas entered the alley carrying black bags in their hands. When they entered the alley, there was an explosion," said Abdul Manan.
At least seven people were killed, according to the Interior Ministry. It also said 17 were wounded, most Afghan children on their way to school.
The area appeared to have calmed down by about 10 a.m. and NATO said all the attackers had been killed. The gate at the entrance of the Green Village was destroyed, with the wreckage of the suicide bomber's car sitting in front. The road running past the compound was littered with shoes, books, school supplies and the bloody ID card of a student from a nearby school.
The suicide car bomb that exploded near Jalalabad road — one of the main thoroughfares out of the city — was among the first blasts, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said. A station wagon that was driving past was caught up in the explosion and four people inside were killed, Sediqi said. A passer-by and a Nepalese security guard were also killed, said Kabul Deputy Police Chief Daoud Amin. The seventh death was not identified.
A young man who saw the explosion said the dead pedestrian was one of his fellow classmates.
"I was walking to school when I saw a very big explosion. A car exploded and flames went very high into the air," said 21-year-old Mohammad Wali. "Then I saw a body of one of my classmates lying on the street. I knew it was a suicide attack and ran away. I was so afraid."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.
"This was a message to Obama that those are not real Afghans that are signing documents about this country," Mujahid said. "The real Afghan nation are those people that are not letting foreign invaders stay in this country or disrespect the dignity of our country."
However, because such complex attacks usually take significant advance planning, it also was possible that the Taliban were capitalizing on fortunate timing. Mujahid said the target was a "foreign military base."
NATO forces spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff said no NATO bases came under attack.
The Green Village complex, with its towering blast walls and heavily armed security force, is very similar in appearance to NATO bases in the city. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw a group of Afghan soldiers enter the Green Village compound, after which heavy shooting could be heard coming from inside.
Outside the complex, men could be seen carrying a wounded man covered with blood, apparently pulled out of the flames engulfing a nearby car.
"These people evacuated a man from the burning car, two bodies are laying there now and three or four other victims were evacuated from the school," said Ahmad Zia, a resident who saw the explosion.
Green Village was also the target of anti-foreigner protests following the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base in February. At that time, violent protests raged outside, but the angry crowds did not breach the compound's defenses.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

Obama vows to 'finish the job' in Afghanistan
By the CNN Wire Staff May 2, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- President Barack Obama marked the first anniversary of the death of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden with an unannounced trip to Afghanistan, where he reiterated that U.S. troops will not remain in the country "a single day longer" than necessary.
Obama said he remains committed to pulling 23,000 troops out of the country by the end of summer and sticking to the 2014 deadline to turn security fully over to the Afghan government. He said that NATO will set a goal this month for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations next year.
"We will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains," the president said during a nationally televised speech at Bagram Air Base early Wednesday. "That will be the job of the Afghan people."
Going back to the Vietnam War era, American television networks have covered presidents speaking to military personnel or alongside foreign leaders overseas. But Obama's speech was the first televised address to the nation delivered from a war zone on foreign soil, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Obama's trip was his third to Afghanistan since taking office and comes as he fights for re-election. The president is scheduled to return to Washington around noon Wednesday.
Read extensive excerpts of the speech
Meanwhile, two coalition service members were killed and two wounded in an explosion targeting their vehicle in Wardak province, Maj. Paul Haverstick said. A U.S. official told CNN the victims were Americans.
And about two hours after Obama left the country, a powerful explosion rocked the capital, Kabul, authorities reported.
A suicide car bomb was detonated outside the gates of Green Village, a compound that houses contractors and aid workers, killing at least seven people and wounding 17 others, the Afghan Interior Ministry said. The casualties included schoolchildren.
"This is another desperate attack by the Taliban," said Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. "Another attack by the insurgency that resulted in the deaths of innocent Afghan civilians, with most of that being children from a nearby school."
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said that the "indiscriminate and illegal attacks are unacceptable and that those responsible are fully accountable for the deaths and injuries of civilians."
In an e-mail, the Taliban denied there were any civilian casualties and said it planned the attack after word circulated that the American president was going to be in Afghanistan. The group also said it will launch its spring offensive Thursday.
In his speech, even as Obama pledged to not keep troops in harm's way "a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security," he promised to "finish the job" and "end this war responsibly."
Obama also spoke of a "negotiated peace" and said his administration has been in direct talks with the Taliban. "We've made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws," he said.
Finally, the president vowed: "This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end."
Earlier in his trip, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed an agreement outlining cooperation between their countries once the U.S.-led international force withdraws in 2014.
Some U.S. forces will remain in a post-war Afghanistan as military advisers, but both U.S. and Afghan officials have yet to decide how many troops will continue supporting the Afghan military, and for how long.
At a signing ceremony for the Strategic Partnership Agreement, Obama said that neither country asked for the war that began more than a decade ago, but now they would work in partnership for a peaceful future.
"There will be difficult days ahead, but as we move forward in our transition, I'm confident that Afghan forces will grow stronger; the Afghan people will take control of their future," Obama said.
Addressing a concern in Afghanistan that the United States will abandon the country once its troops leave, Obama said, "With this agreement, I am confident that the Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them."
He later added that the United States "did not come here to claim resources or to claim territory. We came here with a very clear mission to destroy al Qaeda," referring to the terrorist organization responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Obama's address came nine years to the day after then-President George W. Bush delivered his "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
Karzai offered his thanks to the American people for helping Afghanistan, and the presidents shook hands after signing the document in the atrium of the King's Residence, part of the Presidential Palace in Kabul.
"This agreement will close the season of the past 10 years and is going to open an equal relationship season. With the signing of this agreement, we are starting a phase between two sovereign and independent countries that will be based on mutual respect, mutual commitments and mutual friendship," Karzai said.
Obama warned the Afghan people and, later, U.S. troops he met with, of difficult days ahead. In remarks to troops at Bagram, Obama sounded emotional as he said that soldiers could see friends get hurt or killed as the mission winds down.
"There's going to heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead, but there's a light on the horizon because of the sacrifices you've made," he said.
The security risks in Afghanistan were evident from the secretive nature and timing of the trip. Obama landed in Afghanistan in the cover of darkness, and the signing ceremony occurred in the late evening.
Back in the United States, politicians reacted to the president's visit -- some with praise, others claiming it was politically motivated.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said, "I am pleased that President Obama has returned to Afghanistan. Our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our president about what is at stake in this war. Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security. It would be a tragedy for Afghanistan and a strategic setback for America if the Taliban returned to power and once again created a sanctuary for terrorists."
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, was less supportive.
"Clearly, this trip is campaign-related. We've seen recently that President Obama has visited college campuses in an attempt to win back the support of that age group since he has lost it over the last three years. Similarly, this trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military," he said in a statement.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement provides a framework for the U.S.-Afghanistan partnership for the decade after the U.S. and allied troop withdrawal, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the flight.
Specific levels of U.S. forces and funding are not set in the agreement and will be determined by the United States in consultation with allies, the officials said on condition of not being identified.
Noting the anniversary of the bin Laden mission, the officials called it a resonant day for the Afghan and American people.
More than 130,000 troops from 50 countries serve in Afghanistan, according to the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force. The United States is the biggest contributor, providing about 90,000 troops, followed by the United Kingdom (9,500), Germany (4,800) and France (3,600).
The war that began in 2001 is increasingly unpopular in the United States, with the latest CNN/ORC International poll in late March showing 25% of respondents supporting it and 72% opposing it.
More than 2,700 troops from the United States and its partners have died in the war, the majority of them American.
In 2011, the United States outlined its plan to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The move was followed by withdrawal announcements by most of the NATO nations.
Last week, Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Daftar Spanta and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker initialed a text that outlined the kind of relationship the two countries want in the decade following the NATO withdrawal.
The deal had been long expected after Washington and Kabul found compromises over the thorny issues of "night raids" by U.S. forces on Afghan homes and the transfer of U.S. detainees to Afghan custody.
It seeks to create an enduring partnership that prevents the Taliban from waiting until the U.S. withdrawal to try to regain power, the senior administration officials said.
Obama visited Afghanistan in March 2010 and returned in December of the same year. He also visited Afghanistan in 2008 as a presidential candidate.
CNN's Tom Cohen, Barbara Starr, Keating Holland, Nick Paton Walsh and journalist Masoud Popalzai contributed to this report.

Analysis: Obama has 2 narratives on Afghanistan
By ANNE GEARAN and ROBERT BURNS | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — In President Barack Obama's twin narratives, the United States is both leaving Afghanistan and staying there.
The different messages are meant for different audiences, one at home and one away. As Obama's brief, symbolic visit to Afghanistan on Wednesday made clear, the more important audience is American voters fed up with a war that will be in its 12th year on Election Day in November.
The president flew in secret to sign a long-awaited security compact with Afghanistan. It was after midnight in Kabul when the signing took place, and 4 a.m. there when Obama addressed Americans in a specially arranged speech at 7:30 p.m. Washington time on network television. By the time most Afghans woke up, Obama was gone.
"My fellow Americans," Obama said from Bagram Air Field, "we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the predawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon."
The backdrop of armored troop carriers matched Obama's message of praise for U.S. forces who fought and died in Afghanistan, but it was an odd fit for what followed — a direct appeal to American optimism and self-interest in an election year.
"As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America," Obama said.
The agreement pledges ongoing U.S. support for Afghanistan after 88,000 U.S. combat forces leave. The pact envisions wide-ranging U.S. involvement in Afghan economic and security affairs for a decade, if only as an adviser or underwriter. It gives Afghans a promise of more roads and schools and support for the uneven Afghan fighting forces.
It gives the U.S. a security foothold in the country to bolster Afghan forces for their continued fight against Taliban-led militants or al-Qaida, and to keep an eye on neighboring Iran. Obama's emphasis on a long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan reflects a lingering worry about the threat of a Taliban resurgence after 2014, when U.S. and NATO combat forces are scheduled to leave.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for attacks that rocked Kabul a few hours later. Officials and witnesses said a suicide car bomber and Taliban militants disguised in burqas attacked a compound housing hundreds of foreigners in the Afghan capital, killing seven.
With the agreement signed Wednesday in Afghanistan, the U.S. also has in mind the strategic significance of preserving a military partnership on Iran's eastern frontier, even if it does not include permanent U.S. bases.
Even after the U.S. combat mission is concluded in 2014, it is likely that thousands of U.S. troops will remain for some years to conduct counterterrorism strikes and otherwise train and advise Afghan forces, and help the Afghans collect and exploit intelligence on insurgents and other military targets.
The agreement was long sought by the U.S.-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the perpetually skittish leader who has publicly voiced fears of what would befall his country if the United States quickly packed up and left.
"I recognize that many Americans are tired of war," Obama said in the speech. "But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly."
The larger rationale of the agreement was to reassure Afghan leaders that the United States would not repeat the mistake it made following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. Then, Washington withdrew support for anti-Soviet militia forces in Afghanistan and set the stage for Taliban rule. The Taliban then allowed al-Qaida to use the country to plan the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In his speech, Obama turned the signing of the promise to stay in Afghanistan into a vehicle for his other promise — to go.
The signing was a quick and businesslike affair at Karzai's palace in Kabul. There were pleasantries, but no pageantry. There was also no opportunity for Karzai to make one of the off-message demands or denunciations of U.S. behavior that have exasperated U.S. officials in the past, even when they acknowledged Karzai had a point.
"The Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them," Obama said, with Karzai seated beside him at the signing table. "They will know that the United States can achieve our goals of destroying al-Qaida and denying it a safe haven, but at the same time we have the capacity to wind down this war and usher in a new era of peace here in Afghanistan."
With that, it was back to the sprawling U.S. air base outside the capital to underscore that last point, that he will close down the war and bring U.S. forces home.
By alighting in Afghanistan on the anniversary of the raid that killed Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, Obama was also making an unsubtle show of the power of the presidency. Not only is he the commander in chief who can finally end what many Americans see as an unwinnable war — Obama was telling Americans that he is the commander in chief who bagged the biggest bad guy in America's recent history.
"This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end," Obama said in the speech.
Republicans warily saluted Obama's war-zone trip but accused him of craven politics nonetheless.
"Clearly this trip is campaign-related," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military," a reference to tightening defense budgets.
Obama's presumed Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, was in New York accusing the president of politicizing the fleeting unity that came with bin Laden's death.
Stephen Biddle, a defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Obama will be hard pressed to convince Afghans or Pakistanis that the United States will remain an effective security partner once most U.S. troops have gone home.
"The trouble is, he is talking to audiences that have a very strong belief that the United States is going to abandon them," Biddle said in a phone interview.
Anne Gearan and Robert Burns cover national security issues for The Associated Press.
An AP News Analysis

Transcript: Obama hails 'light of a new day' in Afghanistan
May 2, 2012
Editor's note: Transcript of President Obama's address to the nation from Afghanistan:
(CNN) -- Good evening from Bagram Air Base. This outpost is more than 7,000 miles from home, but for over a decade it has been close to our hearts. Because here, in Afghanistan, more than half a million of our sons and daughters have sacrificed to protect our country.
Today, I signed an historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defines a new kind of relationship between our countries -- a future in which Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation, and we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states; a future in which the war ends, and a new chapter begins.
Tonight, I'd like to speak to you about this transition. But first, let us remember why we came here. It was here, in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden established a safe-haven for his terrorist organization. It was here, in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda brought new recruits, trained them, and plotted acts of terror. It was here, from within these borders, that al Qaeda launched the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent men, women and children.
And so, ten years ago, the United States and our allies went to war to make sure that al Qaeda could never again use this country to launch attacks against us. Despite initial success, for a number of reasons, this war has taken longer than most anticipated. In 2002, bin Laden and his lieutenants escaped across the border and established safe havens in Pakistan. America spent nearly eight years fighting a different war in Iraq. And al Qaeda's extremist allies within the Taliban have waged a brutal insurgency.
But over the last three years, the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban's momentum. We've built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al Qaeda's leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders. And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set -- to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild -- is within reach.
Still, there will be difficult days ahead. The enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over. But tonight, I'd like to tell you how we will complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan.
First, we have begun a transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Already, nearly half the Afghan people live in places where Afghan security forces are moving into the lead. This month, at a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year. International troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans and fight alongside them when needed. But we will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward.
As we do, our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.
Second, we are training Afghan security forces to get the job done. Those forces have surged, and will peak at 352,000 this year. The Afghans will sustain that level for three years and then reduce the size of their military. And in Chicago, we will endorse a proposal to support a strong and sustainable long-term Afghan force.
Third, we are building an enduring partnership. The agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the Afghan people: as you stand up, you will not stand alone. It establishes the basis of our cooperation over the next decade, including shared commitments to combat terrorism and strengthen democratic institutions. It supports Afghan efforts to advance development and dignity for their people. And it includes Afghan commitments to transparency and accountability, and to protect the human rights of all Afghans -- men and women, boys and girls.
Within this framework, we will work with the Afghans to determine what support they need to accomplish two narrow security missions beyond 2014: counter-terrorism and continued training. But we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains. That will be the job of the Afghan people.
Fourth, we are pursuing a negotiated peace. In coordination with the Afghan government, my administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We have made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban -- from foot soldiers to leaders -- have indicated an interest in reconciliation. A path to peace is now set before them. Those who refuse to walk it will face strong Afghan security forces, backed by the United States and our allies.
Fifth, we are building a global consensus to support peace and stability in South Asia. In Chicago, the international community will express support for this plan, and for Afghanistan's future. I have made it clear to Afghanistan's neighbor -- Pakistan -- that it can and should be an equal partner in this process in a way that respects Pakistan's sovereignty, interests and democratic institutions. In pursuit of a durable peace, America has no designs beyond an end to al Qaeda safe-havens, and respect for Afghan sovereignty.
As we move forward, some people will ask why we need a firm time line. The answer is clear: our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars, and many more American lives. Our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that. Afghans want to fully assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace. That requires a clear time line to wind down the war.
Others will ask why we don't leave immediately. That answer is also clear: we must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilize. Otherwise, our gains could be lost, and al Qaeda could establish itself once more. And as commander in chief, I refuse to let that happen.
I recognize that many Americans are tired of war. As president, nothing is more wrenching than signing a letter to a family of the fallen, or looking in the eyes of a child who will grow up without a mother or father. I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security. But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly.
My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm's way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda.
This future is only within reach because of our men and women in uniform. Time and again, they have answered the call to serve in distant and dangerous places. In an age when so many institutions have come up short, these Americans stood tall. They met their responsibilities to one another, and the flag they serve under. I just met with some of them, and told them that as commander in chief, I could not be prouder. In their faces, we see what is best in ourselves and our country.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians in Afghanistan have done their duty. Now, we must summon that same sense of common purpose. We must give our veterans and military families the support they deserve, and the opportunities they have earned. And we must redouble our efforts to build a nation worthy of their sacrifice.
As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America. An America where our children live free from fear and have the skills to claim their dreams. A united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation.
Here, in Afghanistan, Americans answered the call to defend their fellow citizens and uphold human dignity. Today, we recall the fallen, and those who suffer wounds seen and unseen. But through dark days we have drawn strength from their example, and the ideals that have guided our nation and lit the world: a belief that all people are created equal, and deserve the freedom to determine their destiny.
That is the light that guides us still. This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. With faith in each other and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand, and forge a just and lasting peace. May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.

Explainer: What Does The U.S.-Afghan Partnership Accord Mean?
May 2, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have signed a new partnership accord committing Washington to support Kabul for 10 years after NATO forces leave by 2014. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel looks at what's in the agreement and what's not.
Q: How important is the new agreement?
A: U.S. President Barack Obama flew to Kabul on May 1 to sign the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the anniversary of the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
On the emotional level, the new accord is meant to send a strong message to Afghans that Washington will not abandon them after NATO-led forces pull out by 2014. On the legal level, the document lays out what Washington will do to support Afghanistan with military and economic assistance through 2024.
Q: What does the United States promise in terms of military assistance?
A: The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending after 2014. But it designates Afghanistan as a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States and promises the United Sates will support Kabul in securing the country against ongoing internal threats and against any possible foreign attack.
The agreement does not specify the forms of help. It says the U.S. government will seek funds on a yearly basis from the U.S. Congress to support the training and sustaining of Afghanistan's security forces for 10 years after 2014 and says it will view any external aggression with "grave concern."
Q: Does the agreement determine the future status of U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
A: No. Washington has said it plans to continue training and equipping Afghan security forces after 2014 and that means leaving some troops in the country. But while U.S. officials have previously said as many as 20,000 U.S. troops might remain, the number still must be negotiated and so must the soldiers' legal status, including whether they could be arrested and tried within Afghanistan.
The two sides agreed in their new partnership accord to initiate negotiations on a bilateral security agreement that will answer these questions and they set a goal to conclude that agreement within one year. The agreement signed in Kabul further states that the United States does not seek any permanent U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan.
Q: What economic assistance does the United States promise?
A: Washington commits itself to continuing to support Afghanistan's development. But again it leaves vague how much this support will be. As with military assistance, Washington promises to seek funds on a yearly basis for social and economic assistance to Afghanistan. However, it says the economic assistance will be "commensurate" with the strategic importance of the U.S.-Afghan partnership.
Q: Does the agreement settle the long-standing disagreement between Kabul and international donors over how economic aid is spent in Afghanistan?
A: No. But the agreement makes a measurable concession to Kabul's demand for more authority. The agreement commits to channel "at least 50 percent" of U.S. economic and social assistance through the Afghan government. And it reaffirms Washington's readiness to progressively align its assistance with the Afghan government's own vision of national priorities, if they are mutually agreed upon with Washington.
Q: When does the agreement come into force?
A: The agreement will come into force after it is approved by the legislatures of both countries. Washington and Kabul worked hard to get the deal signed before the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21. If all goes well, they could have legislative approval before that date, too. That would enable Washington to present the accord as a successful template for other NATO members to follow in making their own future partnership commitments to Afghanistan.

Takedown: How the media almost blew Obama's secret trip to Afghanistan
By Halimah Abdullah, Special to CNN May 2, 2012
Washington (CNN) -- Hours before the official announcement that President Barack Obama had landed in Kabul, Afghanistan, for a surprise visit, the media -- both social and electronic -- were already buzzing with reports about the trip.
Had he indeed landed in-country? Was it just a rumor? Should it be reported anyway?
Some, including those inside the administration, were actively concerned about the safety of the commander in chief as he arrived in a war zone, while others felt any word of the president's visit was public information and fair game in today's competitive, instant news cycle.
Before the day began, the administration issued what was later revealed to be a fake presidential schedule, having the president and vice president in meetings throughout the day at the White House.
Early Tuesday morning, an Afghan official told CNN that the palace staff in Kabul was instructed to go home at noon local time, 3:30 a.m. ET, sparking rumors of a VIP visit to the city.
Then, shortly after 9 a.m. ET, Afghanistan-based 24-hour news channel TOLONEWS filed a Twitter post announcing the president's supposed arrival in Afghanistan. (The tweet has since been deleted from its feed.)
@TOLOnews "BREAKING: United States President Barack Obama has arrived in Kabul to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai."
Minutes later, The Huffington Post's Joshua Hersh retweeted @TOLOnews with a question:
@joshuahersh "Is this right?RT @TOLOnews BREAKING: United States President Barack Obama has arrived in Kabul to meet Afghan president Hamid Karzai"
But, at 9:32 a.m, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul announced via Twitter:
@USEmbassyKabul "Reports that President Obama is in Kabul are false."
That was enough to send the Twitterverse and traditional media buzzing. The New York Post posted a story on its website shortly after 10 a.m. reporting the president was in Afghanistan.
"Obama arrives in Afghanistan report says; White House denies it," read the Post's headline. The story was later removed from the paper's website.
"Where is Obama," read a similar headline on The Drudge Report. Many of the publications that posted early reports on the president's visit later pulled their stories. However, The Drudge Report kept its post up.
Early reports often wrong
At the time, all those reports were wrong, or at least premature, according to the administration. The White House later reported Air Force One actually landed in Afghanistan at 2 p.m. ET
Yes, the president had indeed secretly traveled to Afghanistan, a trip loaded with symbolism on the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's killing. But virtually all of the major media organizations that were in a position to have known about the trip did not report it until it was officially announced around 3 p.m. ET.
The trip took place in the wake of security questions raised last month following a scandal that erupted when several members of a Secret Service advance team in Cartagena, Colombia, solicited prostitutes before the president's arrival at the Summit of the Americas. And in March, several news outlets, at the White House's request, removed stories about daughter Malia Obama's spring break trip to Mexico.
But balancing news interests against security interests is nothing new for White House reporters.
CNN's John King, host of "John King,USA," said he faced a similar challenge during a trip to Iraq with then-President George W. Bush as he visited newly minted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"We were told we were not supposed to tell our family," King told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday. "We were supposed to tell one or two of our colleagues, meaning our bosses, and to keep it as secret as possible."
A secret rendezvous in the dark of night
News organizations who were a part of the traveling press pool covering the president's surprise Afghanistan visit -- a small group of reporters, producers and photojournalists designated to be the eyes and ears of the White House press corps during such clandestine trips -- were part of the secrecy and complied with the White House's request to hold off on reporting the information until the president was safely in Kabul, according to White House pool reports.
Hours earlier, reporters had secretly gathered at a remote parking area at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, had all their electronic gear confiscated -- cell phones, laptops, cameras, "anything that might have tracking software" -- and were driven by bus to a darkened Air Force One waiting in the shadows on the tarmac.
After an 11-hour flight, the media -- and the president -- found themselves in a steep descent into Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, the official modified Boeing 747 still shrouded in darkness. On trips such as these, it is safest for the president to land and takeoff under cover of night.
"We landed at Bagram Airfield at 1020p local and got onto Chinook helicopters that were waiting with rotors spinning," reported pool producer Richard Coolidge of ABC News. "The short flight to Kabul was also in blackout -- no use of any flashlights or even phones due to their backlit screens. Pilots and gunners used night vision goggles."
Within hours, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement, setting the framework for a U.S. military presence in the war-torn nation for the next decade. Then, Obama addressed cheering troops at Bagram, spoke to the nation in a live remote address and was wheels-up, safely clearing Afghan airspace.
"AF1 is blacked out as it was on arrival with shades down. But the increasing light limits the value of that precaution," reported the press pool. "We are on AF1 and rolling 425a local 755 pm ET."
Total time on the ground was six hours and five minutes.
White House plugging holes
The early reports of the president's Afghanistan trip sent White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor scurrying to douse the rumors. According to the website BuzzFeed, that outlet agreed to the White House request and pulled its report after Vietor called around 9:33 a.m. The New York Post followed suit, removing its story hours later.
Vietor did not respond to CNN's request for comment.
"It wasn't that hard a call," BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith told CNN. "There's an appropriate tradition of deferring to White House and military requests to delay -- not spike -- a story when they believe people in a war zone could be in danger."
"And a plane in the air above Afghanistan, the situation, as we later learned, is a pretty clear case of that," Smith added. "Vietor's narrow denial also telegraphed the situation to media watchers paying close attention."
But media experts acknowledge the press has to walk a fine line between the need to get the news out and the safety of the president.
Journalists must often ask themselves the question "what does the public need to know and when do they need to know it," said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a media training organization in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Tompkins said that in the harried and hypercompetitive world of reporting via social media, outlets sometimes reason that a competitor's scoop signals a green light to rush ahead with news. This is a dangerous precedent when national security is concerned, he said.
"No, you can't unring the bell, but you can stop ringing it," Tompkins said.
Halimah Abdullah is a freelance writer based in Washington. CNN's Tim McCaughan, Nick Paton Walsh and Bryan Monroe contributed to this report

Congressional and Pentagon Reaction to President Obama's Afghanistan Trip
By National Journal Staff | National Journal
Reaction to President Obama's unannounced trip to Afghanistan came in from Capitol Hill and the Pentagon on Tuesday. Here's what some members of Congress were saying:
Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma criticized Obama’s trip as “campaign related” and blamed him for the falling public support for the war, saying that the president “refused to articulate the value and importance of the work our troops are doing there.”
“This trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national-security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military. He cut the F-22, future combat system, C-17, and our ground-based interceptor in Poland, to name a few. On top of that, he has tried to close Gitmo -- the very source of some of our intelligence that resulted in bin Laden’s demise,” Inhofe said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this president has allowed Washington and campaign politics to dictate his strategy in Afghanistan rather than the conditions on the ground.”
The president's speech should at least serve to ease criticism from conservatives in recent months who argued that he was hiding the war from the American people. For months, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., has demanded that Obama address the nation specifically on Afghanistan. At a keynote speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in March, McKeon said, "President Bush gave over 40 speeches about the war on terrorism and the importance of victory. President Obama has given three. We must do a better job of communicating the importance of this fight."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., touted Osama bin Laden’s killing a year ago in a statement on Tuesday. “While al-Qaida’s leader is gone, the organization remains a threat and is motivated to bring harm to our nation, and we will never hesitate to use the full extent of our power to stop the threat of terrorism,” Reid said.
Later in a statement he praised the U.S.-Afghanistan security pact. "Today's agreement brings us closer to the end of a painful chapter in our nation's history that started on Sept. 11, 2001," Reid said in a statement. Nevertheless, there is still a great deal of work to be done in Afghanistan, and I am encouraged that we now have a road map in place to achieve success." Reid said he looked "forward to continued work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that our troops have the resources and support they need to carry out their mission."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Tuesday evening applauded the signing of the partnership agreement with Afghanistan. “Many of us in Congress have been steadfast in expressing our opposition to an extended military presence in Afghanistan; this agreement moves us toward the day when all U.S. troops have been brought safely home,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We have come to this moment because of the bravery of our troops and the sacrifices they and their families have been willing to make. In Afghanistan, and around the world, they have performed excellently,” she added.
Pelosi also said, “One year ago, with the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama sent a clear message that we will pursue those who intend to do our nation harm and will never lose focus on our responsibility to keep our nation safe.
“President Obama has reiterated his commitment to the security of the American people and to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a statement, called the agreement "a tangible sign" of a lasting partnership between the two countries and claimed that it "affirms the long-term commitment" of the U.S. to Afghanistan beyond 2014.
"There will be more challenges ahead, but our strategy is succeeding," Panetta argued.
Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who closely watches the Afghanistan war for Republicans in Congress, issued an unusually extensive statement extolling the agreement as "a turning point" in the war.
"This is a day I have been looking forward to for over two years. I am confident that with proper implementation, this will help secure our nation and allies from future attacks using Afghanistan as a staging area," Graham said. “The details of the security agreement have yet to be negotiated, but I envision a follow-on force made up of American military power, transport capability, and Special Forces units."
Graham congratulated Obama and President Karzai for reaching an agreement, but he also jabbed the administration for sticking with announced plans to draw down U.S. forces this summer and through 2014. "It is imperative Gen. [John] Allen have sufficient forces to continue the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida until 2014, when the Afghans take the lead. Any further reductions in force, beyond recovering the surge forces, puts the mission at risk and is militarily unwise," Graham argued.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., along with several other Republicans, embraced Obama's apparent commitment to retaining forces in Afghanistan. "This strategic partnership agreement signals to friend and foe alike that the U.S. will remain a key security partner of the Afghan people for years to come," Ayotte said. "A stable and secure Afghanistan is vital to our national security interests."
Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, sounded like a campaign surrogate on Tuesday night, giving Obama’s “decisive leadership” much credit for the death of Osama bin Laden, which he said paved the way for the strategic partnership agreement and the end of the war.
“This announcement underscores the fulfillment of a promise made by then-candidate Obama to responsibly bring the war in Afghanistan to an end,” Smith said in a statement. “Simply put, Osama bin Laden is dead, much of al-Qaida’s senior leadership has been decimated, and it is time to bring our troops home as soon as we responsibly can. I applaud the administration for continuing to move us toward an end of this conflict. The agreement signed today is a significant step forward for our two nations, and it establishes a new era of our partnership. I look forward to continuing to work with the administration as we responsibly bring the war to an end and ensure our national security.”

Taliban announce start of annual Afghanistan offensive
May 02, 2012 Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban have warned they will officially start their annual "spring offensive" in Afghanistan on Thursday.
Wednesday's announcement comes hours after a brazen attack on a foreigners' housing compound in Kabul that killed seven people shortly after a surprise visit by President Barack Obama.
The offensive comes every year as the country's snows melt, making both travel and fighting easier. It normally leads to a surge of militant attacks throughout the country as the Taliban attempt to retake lost territory and intimidate the Afghan government.

U.N. seeks $2 billion to speed return of Afghan refugees
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - Nearly 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran must be encouraged to go home to help stabilize their country and boost prospects for peace, the United Nations said on Wednesday, calling for $1.9 billion in aid to help it happen.
The U.N. refugee agency presented a Geneva conference with a 3-year plan - backed by all three countries - for the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Afghanis, some of whom have spent decades in exile.
"The ability for refugees to return in safety and dignity and become productive citizens in their communities upon return is also integral to the stability and progress of Afghanistan," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said at the start of two-day talks.
Diplomats met on a day when a suicide bomb attack, apparently by the Taliban, killed seven people in Kabul hours after U.S. President Barack Obama visited the city to agree a long-term U.S. role for when foreign troops leave by end-2014.
The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan said the refugee issue was a vital part of securing the country's long-term future.
"The key issue now is to reduce the many uncertainties facing the people and government of Afghanistan. This (refugee) strategy can be an important part of reducing some of those uncertainties," Michael Keating told the talks.
More than 5.7 million Afghans have returned home in the last decade following the U.S.-led invasion and they constitute nearly a quarter of the population, according to the UNHCR.
But fewer than 70,000 went back last year, against 112,600 in 2010, it said. Afghans also constituted the large number of asylum seekers in the West last year, lodging 35,700 requests.
"Afghan refugees have shown that they 'vote with their feet' when conditions for return are conducive, they have always wished to go home," Guterres said.
Jamaher Anwary, Afghanistan's minister for refugees and repatriation, acknowledged the daunting challenges facing returning refugees, 60 percent of whom continue to live below the standard of their countrymen.
"They are struggling to find work, to provide housing for their families, to get medical care when needed, to enroll their children in school and to find water that is safe to drink," he said.
Pakistan, which is home to 2 million Afghan refugees, said foreign assistance for them had shrunk over the years while countries hosting them still bore a heavy burden.
"As the international community winds down its engagement in Afghanistan, the return of refugees should be accorded high priority. Refugee return has to be an integral element of a final settlement in Afghanistan," Shaukat Ullah, Pakistan's minister of states and frontier regions, said.
"Our preference is for refugee returns to be voluntary, orderly and swift."
Lakhdar Brahimi, who served as chief of the U.N. assistance mission in Afghanistan until 2004, offered a long-term perspective, saying much had been achieved since 2001.
"But we have to recognize that we failed in the important field of security and in the equally important field of institution-building, especially rebuilding the rule of law," Brahimi said. "Corruption was allowed to take root and became the fast growing cancer it is today."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Uzbek Border Guards Kill Two Afghan Drug Traffickers
May 2, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Uzbek border officials say border guards have killed two suspected Afghan drug couriers who were allegedly trying to smuggle 33 kilograms of heroin into Uzbekistan.
The officials did not specify the exact date of the incident, and the circumstances of the shooting of the drug suspects could not be independently reported.
Officials said investigations have been launched.
The announcement on Many 2 came one day after the Uzbek National Security Service said several Tajik citizens were detained when they were caught allegedly trying to smuggle eight kilograms of heroin to Russia via Uzbekistan.
Based on reporting by Interfax and RIA-Novosti

New Afghan protests accuse NATO of killing civilians
AFP – Tue, May 1, 2012
Hundreds of Afghan protesters blocked highways in two separate demonstrations on Tuesday, accusing US-led NATO troops of killing children and civilians, officials and witnesses said.
In the first demonstration, protesters carrying the bodies of four children aged eight to 12 blocked the Kabul-Kandahar highway in the south and chanted anti-US slogans, they said.
A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Lieutenant Commander Brian Badura, said initial reports suggested that the children were killed by insurgent fire.
"We are aware of an incident in southern Afghanistan yesterday. ALP (Afghan Local Police), along with coalition advisors, were meeting with local villagers when they were attacked by insurgents," he said.
"Initial reporting indicates there were a number of children killed and wounded by the insurgents. The children were evacuated by coalition forces to a medical facility for treatment."
The deputy governor of Zabul province, Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar, said the children died during an exchange of fire between Taliban insurgents and ISAF and Afghan security forces in Shahjoy in the troubled southern province on Monday.
The gunfight began when the security forces were meeting local community leaders and came under attack by insurgents.
"ISAF and Afghan troops returned fire. There was an exchange of fire during which four children were killed and some others kids were injured. Today the people are protesting the killing of the children," Rasoulyar told AFP.
The official said his initial findings suggested the casualties were caused by Taliban fire.
Police official Mohammad Zahir told AFP that "a few hundred" people took part in the protest. The men carried the bodies of four children they alleged were killed in ISAF fire, he said.
Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue in the US-led war against the Taliban insurgency and have often been the cause of tense relations between Kabul and Washington.
In a separate demonstration in eastern Laghman province, protesters carrying the bodies of two men blocked the highway from Kabul to Jalalabad, chanting "Death to America and Death to (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai".
Mohammad Aziz Kuchi, the uncle of one of the dead men, said that "around 2:00am last night, Afghan and foreign forces entered our house. They opened fire on us, killing two young men.
"They took eight others away, including a 75 year-old man. They were all civilians, with no links to the Taliban."
ISAF said in a statement: "In Qarghahi district, Laghman province, an Afghan-led and coalition supported security force conducted an operation to detain a Taliban leader today.
"The leader coordinated roadside bombings against Afghan and coalition security forces throughout the province.
"During the operation, the leader and one additional insurgent fired on the security force. The force returned fire, killing the attackers.
"The security force also detained multiple additional insurgents and confiscated several small arms weapons."

Equipment for Afghan army is stranded in Pakistan, Pentagon says
Los Angles Times May 1, 2012
WASHINGTON - Thousands of tons of military equipment intended for the Afghan army and police is stranded in Pakistan, which for months has refused to reopen ground supply routes for NATO convoys despite high-level U.S. pressure, a new Pentagon report says.
Unless Pakistan reopens the routes, Afghan army units will face “increasing shortages of equipment, particularly of vehicles,” according to the report, a regular assessment of the U.S.-led war made public Tuesday.
Lack of access to the routes is “a strategic concern” that “will also significantly” hamper the U.S. military’s ability to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan over the next three years, according to the Pentagon.
Islamabad barred North Atlantic Treaty Organization convoys in November after U.S. forces mistakenly fired on two Pakistan border posts, killing 24 soldiers.
The report, which Congress requires every six months, gives a largely positive assessment of the war, noting that violence levels from October to March are lower in most parts of the country compared with the same period a year earlier. Afghan army and police units, which are due to take over the main combat role in late 2014 from the U.S. and its allies, are improving, it says.
But the campaign still faces “long-term and acute challenges” unless Pakistan moves against Taliban sanctuaries along the border and the Afghan government curtails corruption and takes other steps to improve its popularity with ordinary Afghans.
A senior Defense official who briefed reporters on the report on the condition of anonymity, said that “we are making serious important progress” but “challenges remain.”
Attacks by insurgents in 2012 were down 16% compared with the same period in 2011, but the level of violence went up 13% in Kandahar province and other parts of the south, which has been a focus of U.S. Army operations for two years. In neighboring Helmand province, where U.S. Marines are leading the effort, attacks were down 29%.
U.S. forces in both areas will come down in coming months, as the additional troops sent to Afghanistan by President Obama in 2009 are withdrawn, bringing total U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 68,000 by September.
Despite the U.S. focus on the south since 2009, “Helmand and Kandahar remains two of the most violent provinces in Afghanistan, due in part to insurgent sanctuaries” across the border in Pakistan, the report says.
In eastern Afghanistan, enemy attacks declined 8%, the report says. But the Haqqani network, an insurgent group based in Pakistan, remains a powerful force, able to generate large-scale attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.
“It does represent a problem,” the senior Defense official said of the Haqqani fighters. He added that “we are shifting the emphasis to the east” over the next year.
The strategy of handing off combat to Afghan forces has been hampered by the inability to ship equipment through Pakistan. More than 4,000 vehicles intended for the Afghan forces are stuck in Pakistan, but the U.S. and its allies have been able to deliver ammunition and communications equipment by increasing cargo flights.
Islamabad has demanded a public apology for the killing of the soldiers and better financial terms as a condition for reopening the border crossings. The U.S. expressed regret for the incident but has refused to give a formal apology.
A high-level U.S. delegation visited Islamabad last week for talks on the issue but left without any agreement, officials said.

Afghan army members prefer light touch of U.S. to Soviets' heavy hand
Adam Ashton McClatchy Washington Bureau via Tacoma News Tribune May 01, 2012 06:55:36 PM
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Soviets shaped the Afghan army that Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hashim remembers from his days as an up-and-coming officer. They tended to give the orders, as if his countrymen were working for the Russians.
The Americans assisting him today use a lighter touch as they aim to restore a different kind of army, he said.
“It used to be the other army would tell the Afghans what to do,” said Hashim, who counts 31 years wearing his country’s uniform. “The Americans just come up with recommendations. The Americans work side by side” with Afghan soldiers.
Hashim’s U.S. advisers, including several from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, are cultivating a hands-off approach both to show their respect to distinguished Afghan officers and to instill in them a creativity they say the Soviets lacked.
They’re working to build a new ground forces command for the Afghan army that will manage the daily operations of local units all over the country. The command is due to open in October, and it would represent a level between the big picture strategists at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense and the army units out in the field fighting Taliban insurgents day in and day out.
Educated Afghan soldiers are already manning an operations center modeled after one used by NATO forces at the coalition headquarters in Kabul.
It has rows of Afghan soldiers working at computers, monitoring daily incidents and feeding reports to higher-ranking officers.
The U.S. soldiers assisting the Afghans want to leave their mark, but they’re not trying to re-create an American command.
Each U.S. officer partners with an Afghan soldier, and in each case the Afghan holds a significantly higher rank than the American. The rank difference alone requires the Americans to attempt to persuade instead of imposing orders.
“You need to sell it,” said Col. Lapthe Flora of the Virginia-Maryland National Guard. He is advising a three-star general. “I show what we have. It’s up to you to take it.”
Flora is the top American officer among a small group of soldiers assigned to build up the Afghan ground forces command. The troops belong to Flora’s National Guard unit and to Lewis-McChord’s I Corps, which returns to the base south of Tacoma this summer.
It’s an assignment that calls on U.S. soldiers to nurture tight relationships and to exercise patience as they operate within another country’s customs. They drink a lot of tea with their Afghan partners as they learn more about each other’s personal backgrounds.
“There’s a lot of give and take,” said I Corps’ Maj. Ayodele Lawson, 36, of Lacey. “You’ve got to build relationships.”
The Americans and the Afghans have seemingly close ties after the months they’ve spent creating the new command.
Maj. Ian Bennett of I Corps recently teased Hashim about a planned hunting trip to Spain. It was to be Hashim’s first break in two years. Hashim laughed off Bennett’s suggestions that he would not like the looks of Spanish women.
Over tea, Hashim showed off his diplomas from Soviet military schools. He even kept his report cards. He graduated from an armor academy in 1975 on his way to becoming a two-star general before the Taliban’s rise.
Hashim fled Afghanistan in 1996 as civil war toppled his country. He returned to the Afghan army in 2009.
“You should write a book,” Bennett told him.
“It is all, sorry to say, classified,” Hashim replied through his interpreter.
As with other NATO assignments in Kabul, the close relationships at the ground forces command do not prevent the Americans from keeping up their guard. At least 18 NATO soldiers have been killed by Afghan soldiers this year, and two American officers were slain in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior while performing an advising mission similar to the one taking place at the ground forces command.
Afghans are prohibited from bringing weapons into the American side of the compound. They’re screened with a metal detector. At least one U.S. soldier brings a rifle whenever a party of American officers crosses the compound to the Afghan side.
Flora says his best defense is becoming as close as he can to Afghan leaders.
“If you have a good relationship, they will treat you like family, and they will do anything to protect you,” he said.
Bennett finds the assignment rewarding, especially when an Afghan officer independently reaches a conclusion Bennett would have recommended.
He’s an Iraq War veteran who’s planning to return to Lewis-McChord this summer for an assignment with the 17th Fires Brigade.
“Working with the Afghans, much like working with the Iraqis, is one of the most rewarding and difficult jobs there is to be had out here,” said Bennett, a DuPont resident. “It can be supremely frustrating at times, but then you have one of those ‘eureka’ moments and it all clicks, and the feeling is awesome. And then the cycle begins again.”
Hashim, the chief of staff for the ground forces command, is looking forward to the day when the Afghan army can confront his nation’s insurgency without Western assistance.
He cites three weaknesses that must be overcome: air support to move supplies across Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, artillery to pound enemy strongholds, and combat engineers to clear roads of buried bombs.
“If we have the three kinds of support … we can say, ‘you guys can go back home,’” Hashim said. “We’ll give you flowers and say, ‘We can take this responsibility.’”

Tortured Afghan Bride Defies The Odds, Embarks On New Life
By Frud Bezhan, Fareba Wahidi May 2, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
KABUL -- Sahar Gul, the young Afghan bride whose harrowing ordeal at the hands of her in-laws attracted international media attention, has received some solace after authorities handed down lengthy prison sentences against her tormentors.
The Kabul Sessions Court on May 1 delivered 10-year sentences against Gul's father-in-law, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, who had been accused of imprisoning and brutally abusing the 15-year-old newlywed. Police are still looking for Gul's husband and brother, both of whom are suspects in the case.
When police in northern Baghlan Province followed a tip and rescued Gul in December, she was lying unconscious on the floor of a dark basement. Her fingers were broken, some of her nails had been torn out, patches of hair were missing, and her frail body was covered with bruises and scars.
She was so feeble and traumatized that for weeks she could barely speak.
"I wanted them to be punished," Gul said after hearing the verdicts from the court. "I want them to have their nails ripped off and for them to receive burns like they gave me. I wanted to get my revenge."
Doctors are still closely monitoring her fragile psychological condition as the teenager battles acute trauma and depression. But after enduring months of hell after being sold into marriage to a man twice her age, most of Gul's physical scars have healed and she now looks forward to a divorce and to achieving the big goals she has set for herself.
Resumed Her Education
Speaking from her new home in Kabul, at a shelter run by Women For Afghan Women, a nongovernmental organization that supports abused women, she is full of optimism.
She has been inspired by her newfound freedom and has resumed her education, which she was forced to abandon at the fourth grade after she was forced into marriage.
"I study and pray. When I feel like it, I go outside and sit with my friends. Then when I'm tired, I go to sleep. I sometimes play with my doll," she says. "If I can, I sit down and write and read my schoolbooks. I go to school in the afternoons."
Suriya Sobrang, head of women's affairs at Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, hopes Gul's case will set a precedent for violent crimes against women.
Sobrang admits that many Afghan women who have endured violence do not receive justice. She says the majority of such cases result in the acquittal of the perpetrators, the dropping of charges to less serious crimes, convictions with shorter sentences, and female victims themselves being accused of "moral crimes" for making private matters public.
"In relation to the case of Sahar Gul, I have to say that in the 21st century this is a crime against humanity. All the people included are criminals," Sobrang says. "Afghans should see the consequences and learn a lesson. I hope this will prevent the continuation of such violent crimes in Afghanistan."
Chilling Account
Her rescuers did not expect her to live, but against all odds she survived.
After receiving life-saving treatment at a local hospital in Baghlan, Gul was flown to Kabul, where after months of medical procedures and rehabilitation she can now move, eat, and speak freely.
Gul provides a chilling account of the six months she spent at her husband's home.
She explains how her older brother sold her into a marriage to a 35-year-old man already married with 10 children.
With her father dead and mother remarried, Gul says she was powerless to stop her brother, who received several hundred dollars in exchange.
She says her husband and in-laws forced her to become a servant and prostitute. When she resisted, Gul says, she was abused with pincers, lashed with cables, beaten with hot irons, and tortured with electric shock.
"They wanted me to do bad things with men. They told me if I didn't, then they would kill me," Gul says. "They would bring men there [to their home] and tell me to sleep with them. I said I didn't want to do it and that I was only a child. I said all these men were like my brothers and fathers."
Gul has big plans. She dreams of completing school and even becoming involved in the country's political affairs.
She says she is determined to stop the culture of violence against women in Afghanistan, a country where domestic abuse is routine, forced marriages are the norm, and female suicide rates are among the highest in the world.
For now, though, Gul must go back to basics. For the past few weeks, she has been taking private school lessons and has been learning the Dari (Persian) alphabet.
"In the future, I want to become a doctor and a female leader," she says. "Now I'm learning the alphabet. I've learned to write auntie, uncle, brother and these kinds of words."
Written and reported by Frud Bezhan, with additional reporting by Fareba Wahidi

Facing Death, Afghan Girl Runs To U.S. Military
NPR By Quil Lawrence and Ahmad Shafi May 1, 2012
In a remote part of Afghanistan early last year, a girl was sentenced to death. Her crime was possession of a cellphone. Her executioners were to be her brothers. They suspected her of talking on the phone with a boy. The girl, in her late teens, had dishonored the family, her brothers said.
"My older brother took the cellphone from me and beat me very badly. It was dinnertime. They told me that they would execute me after dinner. They said to me this would be my last meal," says "Lina," a pseudonym.
The question of how to protect the rights of Afghan women after U.S. troops leave the country has become a key question. But this task hasn't been easy, even with a huge American troop presence in Afghanistan.
Lina's story illustrates the point: When she came to an American military base pleading for help, U.S. officials had to figure out how to save her life without enraging the local community.
"I was terrified to think of running away from home, but suddenly a voice from inside told me to flee before my brothers killed me. Maybe the devil made me do it," says Lina. "I took one of their cloaks and wrapped it around me to look like a man. Then I slipped out of the house and started walking to the foreigner's base nearby."
So-called honor killings are common in Afghanistan, along with other gruesome punishments for women suspected of contact with men outside their family. It's considered a dishonor even when a woman is the victim of sexual assault. Hundreds of women are in Afghan prisons for "moral crimes" such as being the victims of rape.
Seeking Refuge
It's not clear if her brothers knew it, but Lina says one of her in-laws was regularly abusing her — physically and sexually. Women in remote villages have little recourse, almost no route of escape. Most spend their lives barely leaving the house. Advocates say they have heard of only a few cases where Afghan women approached American bases for help.
"She approached the gate. When they realized she was in danger, they took her in," says U.S. Marine Maj. Jennifer Larsen, who was to become Lina's almost constant companion for the next several weeks. (The location of the base is also being withheld to protect Lina.)
Larsen says the guards at the gate saw the same car passing again and again. Each time it drew near, Lina looked petrified. They took her to a doctor who discovered fresh bruises on her back and knees from the beating. After treating her, Lina moved into a tent with three American women and an Afghan translator — her exposure to male soldiers on the base was limited.
But even that small corner of the American base was a new world for Lina, after a life of sequester in the village. Things like television and hot running water were new — as was the existence of books, written words and even written numbers.
But Larsen says the girl embraced them. She devoured new foods from the cafeteria, especially ice cream and Doritos. She quickly gained a small English vocabulary, including phrases from the PG-rated movies they watched to pass the time. Some showed men and women kissing. "Kiss" was a favorite new word, says Larsen.
"She was scared and overwhelmed, but she was a strong person, and as she had new things come to her, she adapted quickly. I found out she was very bright," says Larsen.
"She wanted to get away from where she was. Anytime you asked her a question, her answer was, 'Do I have to go back?' Our answer at the time was 'no,' and we had to figure out how to keep that promise," Larsen says.
Pressure To Return
But saving a teenage girl was not part of the battle plan for U.S. forces in Afghanistan — it might even have jeopardized that mission.
Afghan advisers told Americans at the base very bluntly: To keep peace with the community, Lina had to go home, even if it meant her death. Her original "crime" now paled in comparison to the fact that Lina had spent weeks living with non-Muslim soldiers, says Huma Safi, a women's rights advocate in Kabul.
"In Afghan society, women stay with their families. When they spend nights in other places, it's a dishonor for their families. It's not just the military base ... they don't want their daughters to spend the night anywhere," says Safi.
An elder from the community stayed on the base with Lina, but he stopped speaking to her once she said she wanted to stay with the foreigners. Her family also tried to convince her to come home, but Lina knew it was a trick, says Larsen.
"The hard part was as I watched her sister beg her to come home. Even her niece and nephew, who were very young, were there as well," Larsen says. "She was glad to see them, she hugged them and kissed them. But as soon as her sister even suggested that she come back home, the whole meeting came to a screeching halt. She had no time for her sister, and she asked her to leave. It was hard to watch. At that moment, an interpreter was unnecessary."
Lina also saw her brothers again — they surprised her by showing up at a meeting near the base. Larsen says she feared the brothers might try to kidnap Lina or even throw acid on her at the meeting. Lina says she knew her family planned to lure her home to kill her.
"My brothers pleaded with me to return home. I told them no. They said they would let me marry whoever makes me happy. I asked them, 'Why would I ever believe you?' " Lina says.
This is where the story in Afghanistan often ends: The woman is sent home, and later killed by her family to cleanse the dishonor.
But Lina's tale has a rare happy ending. U.S. officials helped fly her to a women's shelter in a larger city, while Afghan officials in her province agreed to look the other way.
A Life Of Hope
Women's shelters in Afghanistan can be virtual prisons, and Lina says she felt depressed after about eight months there. But the same pluck that helped her escape death served her again.
When she was brought before a female Afghan judge, Lina asked for help. The judge said she knew a young man looking for a wife. Lina insisted on seeing him first, and that she not be made a second wife to a married man. They met, and after a short discussion, decided to get married. She is now expecting her first child.
Larsen, Lina's Marine caretaker, says that news brought tears to her eyes.
"It's overwhelming sometimes. I don't even know what to say. There are so many women who have this issue. It would be nice if there was something we could do that was tangible, but I don't know what that thing is," Larsen says. "We did help one, and hopefully she'll be able to help others in the future."
Speaking by phone from her new home, Lina says she wants for nothing. After fleeing her home with only the clothes on her back, she now wears the traditional rings and necklaces given to a bride by her husband.
Lina's husband is aware of her past and, unlike most men in this deeply conservative society, is still accepting of her. She says she'll never forget the Afghans and the Americans who helped her escape.
"I have everything I ever dreamed of," Lina says. "I live with a big family, and they all love me very much."

Intelligence Chief Calls on Tribal Elders to Discourage Insurgency Tuesday, 01 May 2012
Afghanistan's intelligence chief called on Pakistan's tribal chiefs to prevent boys from learning to be insurgents at the religious schools throughout the country.
Head of National Directorate of Security Rahmatullah Nabil said Tuesday that some of the more than 5000 religious schools in Pakistan were teaching boys to be suicide attackers.
"It is my message to all Pakistan's tribal chiefs to not allow their young to learn insurgency. Instead they should learn computers programs," he said during his address to the Afghan Senate.
"We want tribal chiefs to not allow their boys to join with the Taliban," he said.
Nabil encouraged more Taliban to come to Afghanistan for peace talks, and repeated reports that 25 Taliban members who had been attempting to join Afghanistan's reconciliation programme, including Mullah Ismail, had been killed by Pakistan's intelligence agency.
Nabil warned the international community that as long as there were insurgent hubs on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Afghanistan's war would continue.
He laid some blame on the Afghan government, saying that not enough investment had been made in intelligence services.

Salang Highway Closes After Brief Reopening Tuesday, 01 May 2012
The Salang Highway, Afghanistan's main transit route between the north and south of the country, closed again Sunday night because of heavy snow, officials said.
The pass briefly reopened Sunday morning, only to close again in the afternoon when heavy snow threatened to cause major traffic problems and increased avalanche risk.
There has been heavy snow for three days on both sides of the Salang highway and hundreds of vehicles remain stuck, Deputy Public Works Minister Ahmad Shah Waheed said.
One driver waiting out the reopening of the pass said Sunday night that he had been stuck for two days "and the food is so expensive".
Another traveler blamed the heavy freight vehicles for destroying the roads.
"It is two days that we have been here in Salang because of hard snowing on both sides of the pass, and also the freight vehicles have destroyed all roads here," he told TOLOnews.
Parwan provincial traffic manager Khaja Merabuddin also suggested that larger vehicles, including the Isaf convoys, had contributed to the poor roads.
"The problems have increased in Salang highway since ISAF forces started using the highway to transport supplies," he said.
"The government should solve these problems," he added.
Wahid told TOLOnews many of the vehicles do not have snow chains, so this contributes to the need to close the pass as it is not safe to drive.
Salang Highway is one of the major routes linking Afghanistan's capital with the northern provinces.
Last year dozens of Afghans were killed in an avalanche in the pass.
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