[Afghan News] July 3, 2012 - 07-05-2012, 05:50 AM
White House Correspondent By Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Tuesday that Pakistan was reopening ground supply lines into neighboring Afghanistan after she apologized for the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO strike in November.
"We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military," Clinton told Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar by telephone. America's top diplomat said in a statement that she had also offered "our deepest regrets for the tragic incident" on Pakistani soil that led that country to shut the supply lines.
American and NATO officials had said that the closure of the routes had not hurt the alliance's war on the Taliban, but that they would be crucial to the plan to withdraw the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) 130,000 troops by the end of 2014. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress earlier this month that the need to rely on other supply lines was costing NATO an additional $100 million per month and suggested perhaps imposing limits on America's aid to its sometimes fitful ally.
"Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives," Clinton said. "We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again."
The stalemate over the supply lines was just one of many symptoms of fraying ties in the aftermath of the May 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in a garrison city in Pakistan. Pakistani authorities expressed anger that they had not been consulted. American officials charged that some Pakistani officials must have known that the al-Qaida mastermind was there. Relations have also suffered from escalating American drone strikes inside Pakistan. And American lawmakers had increasingly discussed the possibility of reducing—or tying strings to—military and economic aid from Washington.
"America respects Pakistan's sovereignty and is committed to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect," Clinton said.
"Our countries should have a relationship that is enduring, strategic and carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of both our nations and the region," she said.
Clinton said that her Pakistani counterpart "has informed me that the ground supply lines into Afghanistan are opening." Pakistan will not charge a transit fee, she added, calling that "a tangible demonstration of Pakistan's support" for NATO's goals in Afghanistan.
"This will also help the United States and ISAF conduct the planned drawdown at a much lower cost," Clinton said. But "no lethal equipment" will pass through that route except for weapons going to Afghanistan's security forces.
The standoff cast a cloud over NATO's summit in Chicago in May. American officials had privately expressed hope that the stalemate would be broken before the gathering, which Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari attended. President Barack Obama briefly spoke to Zardari but did not hold a full-fledged bilateral meeting—a move seen in some circles as a snub related to the supply lines issue.
At the summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that the transit routes' closure had not affected the war effort "so far."
"But it goes without saying that it will be quite a logistical challenge to draw down the number of troops in the coming months and years," Rasmussen said. "So we need a number of transit routes, and obviously the transit routes through Pakistan are of great importance, and I would expect a reopening of the transit routes in the very near future."
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan army of rocket attacks
By Mirwais Harooni Mon, Jul 2, 2012
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan accused Pakistan's army on Monday of launching months of rocket attacks on its territory and threatened to report Islamabad to the U.N. Security Council, straining already troubled ties between the neighbors.
Kabul has regularly accused elements in Islamabad's government and army of backing militants fighting the U.S.-backed Kabul government - charges denied by Pakistan.
But it was the first time Afghanistan has held Pakistan directly responsible for hundreds of rocket strikes on the heavily forested Afghan border province of Kunar that it says have killed four civilians since March.
No one was immediately available for comment from Islamabad but Pakistan has previously accused Kabul of not doing enough to wipe out militant bases in Afghan border areas like Kunar.
"We now have enough evidence that proves the rockets used in these attacks belong to the Pakistani army," the spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, Shafiqullah Taheri, told Reuters.
"Pakistan has never had such brazen courage in its history ... They know that Afghan security forces can't react, so they outrageously and indecently attack us," he added.
Kabul would report Islamabad to the U.N. Security Council if the attacks continued and talks with Pakistan yielded no results over the coming days, Afghanistan's foreign ministry spokesman Faramarz Tamana said.
"If diplomatic discussions bring no positive results we will refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council," he told Reuters.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan had previously accused the Taliban of carrying out the attacks on Kunar, as part the militant group's insurgency plaguing both sides of the border.
Taheri's comments come a week after Pakistan accused Afghan troops and NATO forces of failing to take action against what it said were Taliban safe havens in Kunar and other areas.
A Pakistani intelligence official on Monday accused Afghan troops of crossing into Pakistani territory on Sunday and killing two tribesmen.
"Men in Afghan National Army uniforms came into Pakistan in the Ghozdarra area of Kurram. They opened fire at a house, killing two people," said the intelligence official. "The villagers returned fire and the attackers left."
Commentators have said Pakistan is trying to stamp its authority on the troubled border region ahead of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN; Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Afghan media freedom threatened: rights group
AFP via Yahoo! News - Jul 03 02:00am
Hard-won media freedoms in Afghanistan are under serious threat from a draft law that is seen as a concession to Muslim conservatives ahead of NATO's exit in 2014, a rights group warned Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Afghan government to withdraw the bill, which has been circulated for comment before going to parliament, saying that it would limit free speech restored after the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban.
"Press freedom has been one of Afghanistan's most important success stories since 2001," said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
"The Afghan government should be acting to solidify media gains, not seeking to placate forces hostile to free expression," he said.
HRW said provisions in the bill, which would replace a 2009 media law, undermine free expression and increase government control.
For example, broadcasting of foreign programming would be restricted and sanctions would be created for a new, long list of media violations. The government would even be allowed to control the use of certain words, it said.
"Afghan journalists have bravely held the government accountable in key areas such as corruption and human rights. President (Hamid) Karzai should openly oppose any legislation that curbs media freedom," Adams said.
But the information and culture ministry, which drew up the draft, said "good opinions" would be taken into consideration before the bill was finalised.
"We will gather all the opinions, study them and definitely use the good opinions when we revise the draft," ministry advisor Delawar Nazirzoi told AFP.
Activists have accused the government of limiting freedoms as NATO combat troops prepare to end their involvement in Afghanistan in 2014.
Women in particular have been fearful that their rights could be under threat if the government cuts a peace deal with the Taliban, who banned girls from going to school and women from having jobs during their repressive 1996-2001 regime.
Last month, HRW also criticised the Afghan government for suspending a political party after it demanded the prosecution of war crimes suspects now in key positions of power.
Afghan police officer kills three British troops
AFP – Mon, Jul 2, 2012
An Afghan police officer has killed three British soldiers serving with NATO in Afghanistan's troubled south, the latest in a series of escalating "green on blue" attacks in the decade-long war.
The deaths on Sunday take to at least 26 the toll so far this year from 18 attacks in which Afghan forces turned their weapons against their Western allies.
The defence ministry in London confirmed the soldiers were British, serving with an Afghan police advisory team, and were killed after meeting local elders in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand province.
In keeping with policy, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) gave few details of the incident, which happened around 5:00 pm (1230 GMT) on Sunday, but said the gunman was wounded and detained after the attack.
"An individual wearing an Afghan National Civil Order Police uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force service members in southern Afghanistan... killing three service members," ISAF said.
Helmand provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi confirmed the man who opened fire was a member of the civil order police, an elite riot control force set up in 2006.
An increasing number of Afghan troops have turned their weapons against NATO colleagues helping them fight a decade-long insurgency by hardline Taliban Islamists.
The latest attack comes less than two weeks after three men in Afghan police uniforms killed a soldier with the US-led force, also in the south.
Some of the assaults are claimed by the Taliban, who say they have infiltrated the ranks of Afghan security forces, but many are attributed to cultural differences and antagonism between the allied forces.
ISAF has taken several security measures in response to the shootings, including assigning "guardian angels" -- soldiers who watch over their comrades as they sleep.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "deeply saddened" by the killings, while Defence Minister Phillip Hammond vowed that the "cowardly" attack would not deter British troops from their mission to build up Afghan forces.
"Every day, tens of thousands of coalition forces, including UK personnel, live and work successfully with their Afghan counterparts to build an Afghan police force and army which can take the lead for their own security by the end of 2014," Hammond said.
"That process will continue, and though deeply tragic, yesterday's incident and attacks like it will not derail the mission or distract us from the task in hand."
NATO has around 130,000 soldiers fighting alongside some 350,000 Afghan security personnel, but Western combat troops are due to pull out of the country in 2014.
The coalition is to hand over security to local forces by mid-2013 and will play a support role up to the final withdrawal by the end of the following year.
Violence in Afghanistan kills 148 in three days
by Farid Behbud
KABUL, July 3 (Xinhua) -- Up to 148 people including five NATO soldiers have been killed in insurgency-hit Afghanistan since Sunday morning.
Taliban carried out an attack in the country's restive eastern region that left a NATO soldier dead on Tuesday, the military alliance confirmed.
"An International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) service member died following an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan today," the NATO-led ISAF said in a press release.
Another ISAF soldier was killed in similar incident in the troubled southern part of the country on Monday.
The brief ISAF statement didn't reveal the nationalities of the victims under the ISAF policy.
However, local media reported that an Australian special force member was killed in an attack in southern Uruzgan province on Monday.
Violence has been on the rise since Taliban launched annual spring offensive on May 3.
Also on Monday evening, a suicide car bomb attack on a minibus left seven passengers dead and 23 others injured in Kandahar city, the provincial capital of southern Kandahar province.
Blaming Taliban for the attack, provincial police chief General Abdul Raziq told Xinhua that the victims were all civilians.
However, a local security official told Xinhua that the minibus carried a group of Afghan special force personnel in plain clothes from a military compound to their residence.
Kandahar, the birthplace of Taliban, has seen increasing militancy despite persistent cleanup operations.
In the latest target killing, unknown gunmen shot dead an official with the intelligence agency on Sunday in Herat city, the capital of western province of Herat.
"Two unidentified gunmen riding a motorbike opened fire on Syed Ismael Qazi Zada, a senior officer with the National Directorate for Security (NDS) in Herat province, and murdered him on the spot, " spokesman of NDS in the province Syed Shir Agha told Xinhua.
The incident happened in the morning rush hour when Qazi Zada was on way to office and attackers fled after firing seven bullets on their target, he added.
Also on Sunday, a man wearing Afghan police uniform opened fire and killed three British soldiers with the ISAF in southern Helmand province.
Meanwhile, five civilians were killed and 18 others injured when a passenger bus was struck by a roadside bomb in eastern Ghazni province.
To check the Taliban-led attacks, the Afghan police and army, backed by NATO-led ISAF, kept up military pressure on insurgents across the country.
"Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, Afghan intelligence agency and Coalition Forces launched 12 joint cleanup operations in Kabul, Jawzjan, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Wardak, Logar and Ghazni provinces, killing 82 armed Taliban insurgents during the past 24 hours," Afghan Interior Ministry said Tuesday.
The joint forces have killed up to 132 Taliban insurgents and captured 34 others over the past two days.
Furthermore, a NATO air raid on a Haqqani militant group's shelter in Ahmadabad district of eastern Paktia province left eight militants dead, including a senior commander named Adam Khan Kochi, deputy provincial governor Abdul Rahman Mangal told Xinhua on Monday.
The Taliban-linked Haqqani network mostly operating in eastern Afghan provinces and capital Kabul was responsible for many high- profile attacks against the security forces.
Afghan militants use children as bombers in terror attacks
KABUL, July 3 (Xinhua) -- The arrests of three children with bombs and remote-control devices in former Taliban stronghold Kandahar have drawn wide attention in Afghanistan amid the government's efforts to promote education for all children in the militancy-plagued nation.
Citing Kandahar's provincial administration spokesman Jawed Faisal, local media reports said that the arrested children aged 8, 12 and 17 and all from Kandahar, have been taken into police custody for interrogation.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) also confirmed the arrest of junior insurgents. In a statement released on June 28, the alliance said that two children and one young adult were arrested while they were found carrying improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
"The Afghan National Police took children carrying improvised explosive devices into custody and the Afghan Local Police found multiple IEDs and a large amount of homemade explosives June 28 in Zharay District, Kandahar province," the statement added.
Though Taliban militants, the major anti-government armed outfit, have yet to admit to recruiting children in fighting against the government, officials believe that Taliban-run Madrasahs or religious schools in Pakistan's tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan train young seminarists with terror tactics and send them to Afghanistan to fight.
It was not the first time that security forces reporting arrest of the underage used by anti-government militants to fight Afghan and NATO-led troops.
In August 2011, Afghan President Hamid Karzai set free from a juvenile detention center in Kabul some two dozen would-be children suicide bombers, with the youngest aged only 8.
When the teen potential bombers were presented to journalists at the Presidential Palace, an 11-year-old boy said his teachers told him to "just get close to a group of foreign soldiers and touch these two wires together." His Taliban trainers in Quetta of southwest Pakistan told him that he would be able to detonate his vest and kill the foreign occupiers without killing himself.
But later in February this year, at least one of the pardoned young fighters has been arrested again in Kandahar while preparing to blow himself up against the security forces.
According to Aziz Farotan, the spokesman of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Kabul, 316 children under 18 had been recruited by militant outfits in 2011 to fight or help the fighters on the battle ground.
At least five children are killed or injured in Afghanistan every day and their increasing casualties in Afghan conflict have been a major concern for the UNICEF, Farotan was quoted as saying.
Afghanistan massacre defendant's wife says he didn't do it
Mon Jul 2, 2012 12:16pm EDT
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kari Bales, the wife of a U.S. Army staff sergeant charged with killing 16 villagers in Afghanistan in March, said on Monday she continues to believe her husband is innocent and that "I don't think that anyone really knows what happened."
But she also said she has not asked Robert Bales, her husband of seven years who is charged by the U.S. military with 16 counts of murder in the March 11 mass shooting, what happened on that day.
"I just don't need to ask him. I know my husband and it's not a question I really need to ask. I know him," she told the "CBS This Morning" program.
Robert Bales, a decorated veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, is accused of walking off his base under cover of darkness and opening fire on civilians in their homes in at least two villages. The incident in Afghanistan's Kandahar province eroded already-strained U.S.-Afghanistan relations.
When she first learned of the incident, Bales said: "I was completely shocked and didn't believe what they were telling me, couldn't believe that it happened, didn't believe my husband was involved at all."
Asked if she continued to believe her husband was not involved in the massacre, Bales responded: "I still do not."
"I want to know what happened. I don't know what happened and I don't think that anyone really knows what happened," she said.
Bales faces the death penalty if convicted, as premeditated murder is a capital offense under U.S. military law. A minimum sentence would be life in prison with eligibility for parole, according to the military.
Kari Bales said when she talked to her husband two days before the shooting, they did not discuss anything out of the ordinary, and that he had wanted to come home to see their two children.
"He wanted to be home. He wanted to be with us. Deployments are always hard. This was our fourth one," she said.
(Reporting by Joseph O'Leary; additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Will Dunham)
Afghan air force hobbled by safety and maintenance problems
By Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post July 3
KABUL — A series of maintenance and safety problems has grounded much of the Afghan air force’s fleet of planes and helicopters in recent months, a situation that the defense minister calls a “grand failure” and one that highlights the challenges facing the country’s fledgling security forces as U.S. and other NATO troops start to withdraw.
The bulk of Afghanistan’s Russian-made helicopter fleet was barred from flying last month to undergo extensive inspections, following a grounding of cargo airplanes late last year because of maintenance problems, according to Afghan and NATO officials.
“The issue as a whole is important,” Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said in a recent interview. “We don’t have all the air assets which are required for independent operations. It has to become serious.”
Unlike the Afghan army and police force, which have recruited tens of thousands of additional personnel in recent years, Afghanistan’s air force has been slower to develop. Wardak has repeatedly asked NATO to supply fighter jets to establish the force’s attack capability and protect Afghan airspace, but those requests have been denied on the grounds of the high cost and more pressing priorities for the young military.
So far, NATO has supplied about 100 aircraft toward its target of 140 for the air force. But many of those, including fleets of 43 helicopters and 15 cargo planes, have been grounded or removed from service in recent months because of problems with maintenance, a lack of spare parts, safety concerns and the need for more-thorough inspections, according to Afghan and NATO officials.
“We have raised the issue from the beginning that we were having a lot of problems,” said Wardak, who added that despite NATO’s contributions, Afghanistan’s air force is not as strong as it used to be. “In 1992, when I was chief of staff of the Afghan army, I had 450 types of air assets. Today, we have 102. One hundred two, but mostly on the ground.”
In the fight against the Taliban, Afghan soldiers and police rely heavily on NATO planes and helicopters to provide air support, evacuate their wounded and dead, and supply bases around the country. The cargo planes and helicopters were supposed to help Afghan forces manage logistics and supplies for their soldiers as U.S. troops pull out over the next two years.
The decision to halt flights on the Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters last month came after a NATO review found that Afghan capabilities did not meet the manufacturer’s requirements, according to a NATO official. About half the helicopters had been in the Afghan fleet since NATO began advising in 2007. Others were given later by the United States, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. The helicopters now need up to a month of comprehensive inspections before they’re ready to fly. About a quarter have completed the inspections.
The fleet of 15 C-27A transport airplanes was grounded in December because of maintenance problems involving a subcontractor of Alenia Aermacchi North America, which refurbished the aircraft, according to NATO officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. The grounding was reported last month by the Wall Street Journal. The subcontractor, a unit of L-3 Communications Holdings, had poor and incomplete records on cannibalized parts, tools and other safety issues, the officials said. This spring, Alenia terminated the maintenance subcontract and hired DynCorp International instead, the officials said.
An L-3 official said the problems with the aircraft went beyond maintenance issues. Parts were missing, the official said, and they “were old aircraft in pretty rough shape.”
An Alenia spokesman said the company is “continuing to work closely with the U.S. Air Force on the regeneration” of the fleet, adding that several of the planes “have flown, and we are confident we are headed in the right direction.”
A maintenance overhaul on the planes — including cleaning, inspection of parts and electrical systems, and flight tests — is underway. The fleet is scheduled to be ready by fall, one NATO official said.
“We’ve stood down these fleets until we have all the data available to support our confidence in their safety,” the official said, adding that “the shortage of available aircraft is a concern shared” by NATO’s training command in Afghanistan.
“What we’re striving for is developing a force that is capable, affordable, sustainable and right for Afghanistan,” Brig. Gen. Timothy Ray, commanding general of NATO’s air training command, said in a statement. “We have a saying that sometimes you have to slow down to get somewhere faster.”
Wardak said the problems could have been avoided if NATO had bought the Afghan air force new aircraft rather than refurbishing older ones.
“The solution is definitely to have reliable new aircraft from the beginning,” he said. “In the long run, I think the cost would be much cheaper.”
US Drawdown in Afghanistan Includes Many Trainers
Associated Press By HEIDI VOGT July 2, 2012
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - For today's drill, an instructor explains, the Taliban will be played by U.S. Marines, and the "village" will be just down from the driving practice loop.
An Afghan police officer uses a stick to point out targets to his team on a map drawn in the dirt. They grab their weapons and head out, taking cover behind a berm. A pickup truck drives up. The Afghans take aim and mimic the sound of a machine gun. The Marines tumble out of the vehicle, grabbing their chests as they fall to the ground.
That's a successful day at the U.S. Marine-run Joint Sustainment Academy in southwestern Afghanistan, which has been offering supplementary training on weapons, specialized skills and unit leadership to Afghan soldiers and police since 2009. The Afghans who attend the academy say they learn things that were never taught in their official training: how to handle different weapons and how to organize a patrol or an ambush.
But now, even as U.S. officials talk about their commitment to training and advising Afghan security forces well past 2014, the Joint Sustainment Academy is preparing to shut down.
Officials in the U.S. talking about the need to decrease combat operations in Afghanistan have been much more reticent to highlight one aspect of the drawdown: that plenty of U.S. advisers and mentors are also leaving.
Those who stay will be hopping in and out of a number of Afghan units rather than being embedded with one group — a move that is being described as a way to get Afghan forces to take more responsibility, but which also follows a string of turncoat attacks this year by Afghan forces against their Western counterparts.
"Someone made the decision, 'OK, I'm going to only have the personnel for this piece,'" said Lt. Col. Mike Cromwell, the director of the academy at a U.S. base in Helmand province, as he watched an Afghan police officer brief trainees on the day's mission. "It just means fewer people. It's part of the overall drawdown."
Cromwell and the 31 other American service members running the academy end their tour at the beginning of 2013, and they have been told they won't be replaced. They say it's an opportunity to pass the torch to the Afghan trainers at the academy. But, Cromwell explains, the academy as it exists on Camp Leatherneck is closing.
The Marines are just hoping that the Afghan army and police see the value in what they've been teaching and incorporate it into their existing training centers at a nearby army base and at a police facility in the provincial capital.
"As we ramp down, those centers are the longer term solutions," Cromwell said.
Training classes have already shrunk at the academy. Last year, the Marine academy trained 2,547 Afghans. Cromwell expects to train less than half that — about 1,000 — by the end of this year.
"We may not make that," Cromwell said. And this is even though the academy is focused now on training Afghan soldiers and police to become trainers themselves — a goal that NATO and U.S. forces say is one of their most important priorities.
Ever since President Barack Obama announced the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan a year ago, his administration has stressed that it does not mean an abandonment of Afghanistan. Combat troops are supposed to decrease as more forces move into a support role. But less advertised is the fact that the U.S. is also decreasing the number of advisers and trainers it is sending to Afghanistan.
According to an April report submitted to Congress, the U.S. forces that make up most of the mentoring teams that operate alongside Afghan troops are being cut with the idea that other NATO nations will fill the gap.
"The United States provides the (Afghan security forces) with the majority of required mentor teams. The drawdown in U.S. forces will result in a decreased number of partnered units, creating additional requirements for other coalition partners," the report states. The plan is to increase the overall number of advisers, using contributions from other allies. But even though the Americans that make up about 63 percent of the adviser teams have already started leaving, NATO is still working to get commitments from other nations.
"The nations have not finalized how much they're going to provide, and which nations," said Maj. Martyn Crighton, a spokesman for the international military force. He said more than 20 nations had agreed to participate, but few had made firm troop commitments.
The plan is to move from a one-to-one mentor ratio to a "one-to-many" ratio in which small teams of up to 18 specialized advisers jump between Afghan units teaching them specific skills. That also leaves open the possibility of keeping those advisers at more of a distance from Afghan forces — a move that would not be surprising following the recent rash of "green-on-blue" attacks by Afghan forces. In the most recent such attack, an Afghan police officer turned his weapon on NATO police advisers in Helmand province Sunday, killing three British soldiers.
Helmand and Nimroz province, the area covered by U.S. Marines, has already seen troops start to leave, and bigger reductions are coming. The Afghan commander for the region, Maj. Gen. Saad Malouk, said he expects at least 10,000 U.S. troops to depart the southwestern region in September — nearly half of the 23,000 announced by the Obama administration.
The general overseeing the two southwestern provinces says the trainer cuts don't worry him.
"We're handing over this part of the training," said Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus. "We will continue to have security force assistance teams — out with the different battalions and brigades and with our police — that will continue to mentor, advise and train as we move forward toward the end of 2014 and potentially beyond."
Gurganus would not confirm exact numbers of U.S. troops leaving his operating area, but said it is "significant." U.S. spokesmen would not say exactly how many U.S. mentors are leaving.
The U.S. also has already started decreasing its role in the formal training that all Afghan soldiers and police must undertake. U.S. troops under what's called the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan started drawing down from 3,300 troops this winter and will continue to decrease through the fall, said Lt. Col. Tim Stauffer, a spokesman for the training mission.
There are about 2,500 U.S. troops under the training mission banner, and that will be cut by about 7 percent by the end September, he said.
"As we're building the capacity for the Afghans to be able to train themselves, the natural next step would be for us to reduce our footprint, and as a result the Afghans would be able to stand on their own and conduct their own training," Stauffer said.
But it's unclear if the Afghan government has the drive to maintain or build on the type of intensive training being provided by coalition troops. An elite military academy is in the works in Kabul, but it won't be up and running until 2013, and then it's hard to know how helpful it would be.
Gurganus noted that a major barrier to additional training is finding the time to take Afghan soldiers out of combat. And the men who have gone through the specialty academy at Leatherneck say they've learned skills from the Marines that go far beyond any Afghan offerings.
"In regular training, we only learned how to use a Kalashnikov and a pistol. Here we learn different weapons. We also learn driving skills, ambush tactics, how to read a map," said Azizularahman Habibi, a 21-year-old police officer serving in Helmand's Nawa district. "We learn to look at the weather, the terrain, where the friendly and unfriendly forces are, how to execute a plan step by step. I had never done any of this before."
Lack Of Electricity Dims Afghan Economic Prospects
NPR By Sean Carberry July 2, 2012
Afghanistan desperately needs to jump-start its economy if it hopes to stand on its own after NATO's drawdown in 2014. But there's a major constraint for a country trying to build a modern economy: electricity shortages.
Afghanistan ranks among the countries with the lowest electricity production per capita in the world. Despite billions of dollars in projects over the past decade, at best one-third of the population has access to regular power.
The Juma Mohammad Mohammadi Industrial Park, on the dusty outskirts of Kabul, is home to about 10 rundown-looking factories, including one that makes candies and another that produces snack foods. The Omid Plastic Making Factory manufactures plastic bags for things like salt and toilet paper.
Inside, three tall machines roll out bags, another prints labels, and three more cut the bags. It's a small operation that's fairly low-tech. But it still needs electricity.
"We have a lot of problems with electricity," says Abdul Qadida Sozai, the factory manager. "There is no industrial power for us. We are using the same power as normal people."
That power often isn't enough to run their machines at peak efficiency, and the electricity shuts off several times a day. So they often have to resort to a generator.
"We have a lot of material that needs a specific temperature, and when the electricity goes out, we have to throw out a lot of material. So we lose money," says Sozai.
He says the factory is running at about 50 percent capacity at most. He says that when the business opened a few years ago, the Afghanistan Investment Support Office that created the industrial park had promised full power.
"We thought that we would have no problem, but now we see they are not keeping their promise," he says.
A Widespread Problem
"Most of our industrial parks in the seven major cities are just receiving a limited percentage of electricity," says Ghulam Farooq Qazizada, Afghanistan's deputy minister for electricity.
He says that industries are getting about 15 percent of the power they need. And, he says some businesses spend three times as much for generator power.
And that's a major challenge for Afghanistan.
"Energy remains a huge constraint for the development of the country," says Clare Lockhart, a former U.N. adviser in Afghanistan. She says that when she first started working in Kabul in 2002, most meetings were conducted by candlelight.
"There has been enormous amount of investment, and there's been some progress, but the outcome is far less than the input," she says.
Lockhart says that's in large part because the international community lacked a coherent development strategy for the past decade and initially relied on costly diesel generation. The security situation hasn't helped either, with Taliban attacks disrupting projects over the years.
The country shows great potential in mining, small industry and agricultural processing, Lockhart says. That could fuel desperately needed job growth, but only if there's power.
Currently, Afghanistan produces about 500 megawatts of electricity — less than a number of Caribbean islands. The country imports another 500 megawatts from neighboring countries.
But that hardly meets demand. Afghanistan plans to import more power in the short run, but existing distribution lines can't handle the available supply from neighbors like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
"Right now we cannot bring more than 300 megawatts to Kabul even though the need is high here," says Qazizada, the deputy minister.
Lockhart believes it's critical for Afghanistan to reduce its reliance on power from its neighbors. She says Afghanistan is well-suited to renewable technologies like small-scale hydroelectric dams as well as wind and solar power.
"There have been very promising finds of gas in the north of the country," she says. "If this can be tapped and turned into energy, this could really help solve Afghanistan's energy security problems going forward."
Long Process Ahead
For people like Abdullah, that can't happen soon enough. He runs a welding shop in Kabul. He says the power is the best it's been in 25 years. But it's not consistent or powerful enough for his equipment. So, he still relies on a generator.
"The generator is harmful to our staff and neighbors because of the exhaust fumes and the noise," says Abdullah. Even though it's more expensive, he says he'd rather use city power, but it's just not reliable.
Lockhart says that even if the international community can develop a clear strategy, people like Abdullah are still going to need their generators.
"Even under the best estimate, in another decade's time only 60 percent of the country will have coverage," she says. "And that's the best estimate."
NPR's Aimal Yaqubi and Shafi Ahmed contributed to this story.
Pentagon Seeks More Afghan Surveillance Drones in Shift
Bloomberg By Tony Capaccio Jul 3, 2012
The Pentagon is seeking congressional approval to shift as much as $641 million in funding for intelligence and surveillance to priorities such as expanding Afghanistan operations of a Boeing Co. (BA) drone for Navy commandos.
The request for the “reprogramming” of previously approved military intelligence funds was submitted yesterday to the four congressional defense committees in a 20-page document. It follows an $8.2 billion request on June 29 to shift funds for other defense programs.
The $94.2 million sought for the ScanEagle drones made by Chicago-based Boeing would provide more ground stations. Six sites operated by contractors in Iraq would be moved to Afghanistan and ground stations operated by Navy SEALs would be doubled to eight from four.
The surveillance drones are vital to supporting Afghan local police and village-stability efforts “aimed at building an enduring, self-reliant Afghani general population able to resist insurgent” threats, according to the document.
While Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has cited progress in such efforts, others have questioned the prospects for stability in Afghanistan under President Hamid Karzai.
“A transition that focuses primarily on Afghan security force levels and capabilities cannot adequately address the flaws in governance that have alienated ordinary Afghans from the Karzai administration and fueled the insurgency,” Stephen Hadley, national security adviser under President George W. Bush, and John Podesta, a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, wrote in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Africa Command
The Pentagon’s unclassified reprogramming request provides a window into U.S. military intelligence systems and their missions. Among the items sought is $2.6 million to purchase hardware and software for an intelligence-gathering and dissemination system the U.S. Africa Command can use to share data with partner nations.
The reprogramming documents must be approved by the congressional defense committees -- the authorization and appropriations panels in the House and Senate -- before the shift takes effect. Monitoring Pirates
The ScanEagle gained international attention when the Navy revealed in April 2009 it used the drone to monitor a lifeboat off Somalia where pirates held hostage the captain of an American-flagged container ship.
The Boeing ScanEagle weighs 40 pounds (18 kilograms) and has a wingspan of 10 feet (3 meters). The planes, under the direction of seven-member Navy Special Warfare teams, have flown more than 5,600 hours of reconnaissance since November 2008, according to Navy officials.
The U.S. Central Command told Bloomberg News in July 2010 that the unmanned planes have “supported missions to kill or capture over 40 high-value individuals,” spotted weapons caches and thwarted efforts to ambush troop convoys or plant roadside bombs.
The plane is built by Insitu Inc., a Boeing subsidiary based in Bingen, Washington.
Money to pay for such initiatives would be shifted from numerous programs within unclassified military intelligence accounts, reflecting savings in contract negotiations, reduced requirements or funds once spent in Iraq and now available for Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon document.
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Afghanistan's Hazara Minority Outraged By Science Academy Insults
By Abubakar Siddique July 3, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Documenting Afghanistan's diverse ethnic makeup would seem like an innocent enough endeavor, but a recent attempt has left a team of academics facing possible criminal charges.
The source of the problem is the innocuously named "Ethnographic Atlas of Non-Pashtun Ethnic Groups of Afghanistan," published in June by the government-appointed Academy of Sciences Afghanistan.
Certain passages have Afghanistan's Hazara minority seeing red.
"The Hazaras are liars, dishonest, and unreliable people," reads one passage cited by the "Daily Outlook Afghanistan" newspaper. "Bodies of their women are hairless except on the head. The Hazaras are the sons of Mongol Khans living in the mountains of Afghanistan. These people [know] nothing except fighting."
The newspaper goes on to report that the book, which RFE/RL was unable to independently obtain, describes the Hazaras as "rafizi" -- worse than infidels.
The resulting outcry from Hazara politicians was enough to prompt President Hamid Karzai to step in. In mid-June, Karzai banned the atlas, dismissed four academics from the Academy of Sciences, and ordered an investigation into their reasons for publishing the comments.
The four now face possible criminal charges for stoking ethnic tensions, pending the findings of a lengthy questionnaire they have been asked to fill out.
'Face The Force Of Law'
Deputy Attorney General Enayatullah Kamal, who is overseeing the investigation, has said that if it is determined that the insults were intentional, the academics will have to answer for their actions.
"Fanning differences among the ethnic groups of Afghanistan is forbidden," Kamal said. "Anybody violating this has to face the force of law."
Karzai has described the contents of the book as "grossly offensive" and "an insult to all the resident ethnicities and thus the entire Afghan population."
Sayed Amin Mujahid, the author of the atlas, has defended the book, in part by claiming that most of the contested passages were based on the writings of a Hazara historian, Fayz Muhammad Kateb.
Mujahid says everything he wrote was clearly referenced and that the contents are being distorted for political reasons.
"An academic and scholarly issue has now being turned into a political one," he says. "I am saying this because in cases people are only told about the first half of a sentence, but they are being kept away from the second half."
The Academy of Sciences Afghanistan is no stranger to controversy when it comes to the Hazaras. In late 2011, leaders of the predominantly Shi'a-minority group took umbrage at what they considered lowball estimates of the Hazara population that were contained in an almanac published by the academy.
The reference listed the Hazaras as making up 9 percent of Afghanistan's estimated population of 26 million. They claimed the figures were heavily biased in favor of the Pashtuns, who were listed as comprising 60 percent of the population.
Hazara politicians widely cite the figure of 20 percent in estimating the minority's share of Afghanistan's population.
Exact figures are unavailable, largely due to the fact that no accurate census has ever been taken in Afghanistan. The last attempt, in the late 1970s, was never completed. Calls for a new census following decades of war have never been realized.
Generally accepted figures cited in UN documents and by other international bodies list the Pashtun population at just over 40 percent, followed by Tajiks at less than 30 percent, and Hazaras and Uzbeks at around 10 percent. Various smaller minorities account for the rest of the population.
Such statistics are an important issue among minorities, who can use greater numbers to argue for greater political influence. Observers say politicians commonly exaggerate the population of their tribes or ethnic groups.
Hussain Yasa, a Hazara and editor of the "Daily Outlook Afghanistan" in Kabul, says the latest controversy does not augur well for the future of a country preparing to maintain security on its own.
He says it will not be easy to end discord over Afghanistan's ethnic makeup but that a comprehensive population census would be a good place to start.
"This is not only about which community is larger than the other community," Yasa says. "The census is one of the very important things for our development and even for our security."
With contributions from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan
Sikh man deported to Afghanistan returned to UK
The case of a Sikh man who was deported from Britain to Afghanistan and then imprisoned without charges for 18 months, brings to light the difficult situation of Afghan religious minorities. The Sikh population of Afghanistan is dwindling as they face religious intolerance in that country.
Tuesday, July 3rd 2012, 10:00 AM New York Daily News
A Sikh man who was jailed in Kabul for "falsely claiming" to be an Afghan when he was deported from the UK, and says he was bullied and tricked into making a televised conversion to Islam, has been flown back to Birmingham by the British government.
The case of 23 year-old Baljit Singh highlights concerns about the justice system and the status of religious minorities in Afghanistan as the withdrawal of western troops gathers pace.
Singh was deported from the UK nearly two years ago and was spotted by Afghan government officials as soon as he stepped off the chartered aeroplane that carried the failed asylum seekers, marked out by his distinctive Sikh turban. He was taken aside for questioning and then was put in prison for 18 months during which he never received a charge sheet, let alone a conviction.
Prosecutors told him informally that his crime was falsely claiming to be Afghan. "
The only thing in his file was a note saying 'this is the day he was arrested'," said Kimberley Motley, a Kabul-based lawyer who took on his case pro bono and helped secure his release and his return to Britain. "I wrote to the attorney general's office saying he is being held without charge, which is illegal. You can't just keep him indeterminately locked up for no reason."
But although illegal, his fate was not unusual in Afghanistan, activists say. The country is still struggling to build up its justice system and hundreds of people are jailed without a valid criminal charge.
"There are lots of people in prison in Afghanistan without legal cause, some of whom have completed their prison sentences but not been released, others charged for things that are not a crime under the penal code," said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. "His case is unusual, but unfortunately the pattern of being put in prison without anyone finding a section of the law that you violated is not that unusual."
As well as the prospect of an indefinite spell in prison, in a country he had left when only five years old and where he no longer had friends or close relatives,
Singh said he was being harassed for his religion and pressured to convert. He was verbally and physically abused in prison. One inmate threw boiling water over him, Singh said, pulling out a picture of his bandaged face shortly after the assault. He was also ordered to sleep in a corner of an outdoor courtyard, next to the toilet, he said. Men had to step over him on their way to relieve themselves, and as they did so, some kicked the turban that marked him out as a Sikh.
"Basically they were trying to say 'be like us'," he said of the beatings prior to his conversion, which he described as a superficial change he was tricked and harassed into. "They said 'you should say these words', it was just an accident thing, and they lifted me up and said 'you are a Muslim'."
TV cameras were called in to record the moment and despite promises his face would be obscured, it was broadcast along with his name.
"They played it on national television. They were very proud that a Sikh converted." Singh said the conversion angered the country's already beleaguered Sikh community, which has dwindled from thousands of families to just a few hundred over 30 years of war and persecution.
"It makes me very sad, now we Sikhs only own four houses round here, most people have sold up," said Narander Singh, a fortune teller and herbalist who took his own family to India over a decade ago but could not find work so returned to Kabul to support them from a distance. Many other men were in a similar situation, he said, with Afghan objections to the Sikh tradition of burning their dead a particular irritant.
"Day by day, they are trying to leave," added Singh, who is not related to Baljit.
Baljit, who never lived in Kabul, was part of the wider exodus. He was born in the eastern town of Jalalabad. His father died when he was young and the rest of the family left Afghanistan soon after. He was separated from his family during a journey through Pakistan, the Middle East and Europe, and ended up in England in 2007. His first request for asylum was refused, but he remained in the UK pending an appeal, until he was abruptly arrested when he tried to register for marriage in 2010. Shortly afterwards, he was deported following what both he and Motley describe as mistakes by careless lawyers.
"It's extremely difficult to get asylum in the UK, especially if you are not physically in the country," said Motley. "I think by them taking him back to the UK it is a recognition that there was a legal error that took place and that they are trying to correct."
Barr said the UK government's decision to deport a Sikh to Afghanistan was "shocking" given the country's limited religious freedom.
"Religious minorities are a very small portion of the population in Afghanistan, and are sometimes tolerated and sometimes not tolerated. So for the UK to send him back in the first place without carefully considering the situation of Sikhs in Afghanistan and the treatment that would await him is shocking," she said.
Singh told the Guardian by phone from Birmingham, where he is now seeking asylum, that being there felt "unbelievable". He had asked that his case not be publicized until he was back on British soil, because of worries it could complicate his departure.
"I never thought I would see the UK again … So many people are still stuck in jail [in Afghanistan]. I am so lucky," he added.
The British embassy declined to comment on the details of Singh's case, but suggested that it was convinced he is Afghan, and he was returned to the UK only because that could not be proved.
"Individuals are only returned to a country when there is substantial evidence that it is their country of origin," an embassy spokeswoman said. "We have agreements in place with certain countries that mean we will re-admit individuals unable to prove their nationality to the satisfaction of the receiving country's authorities."
The Afghan justice ministry said it was not aware of the case, and the attorney general's office did not respond to requests for comment.
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