[Afghan News] September 14, 2012 - 09-15-2012, 05:57 AM
A passenger bus collided with a fuel tanker in Afghanistan on Friday, killing 50 people and injuring several others, with women and children among the victims, officials said.
The incident happened in Ab Band district of Ghazni province, on the highway from Kabul to Kandahar, the capital of the south and Afghanistan's second largest city, on what is one of the most dangerous roads in the country.
It was not immediately clear to whom the fuel tanker belonged.
Ghazni is part of the main supply route for NATO goods coming into Afghanistan from the north and heading south.
"At around 6:30 am (0200 GMT) a passenger bus collided with a fuel tanker in the Spin Band area of Ab Band," Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy governor of the province, told AFP.
"As a result, the fuel tanker and the passenger bus caught fire and 50 people were killed and six others were wounded in the collision. There are women and children among the victims," he said.
Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi also said that 50 people had died, with five others wounded.
Baz Mohammad Himmat, the head of the main hospital in Ghazni city, said only that five wounded had been brought in after the accident, but had no information about the dead.
Afghanistan's roads are perilous and many vehicles in the country are old, meaning that high casualty road traffic accidents are relatively common.
There was no immediate suggestion that insurgents had been involved in Friday's accident, but Ghazni is a flashpoint for Taliban attacks, particularly on the highway.
The Islamist militia is leading a 10-year insurgency against the US-backed government and 177,000 NATO combat troops who by the end of 2014 are due to withdraw and hand over security responsibility to Afghans.
Afghan protests over anti-Islam film so far peaceful: Pentagon
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Protests in Afghanistan over a film insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammad have so far been peaceful, the Pentagon said on Friday, as it expressed appreciation for calls by religious leaders for a non-violent response to the movie.
"We're gratified based on what we know now that religious leaders have appealed for non-violent protests, if protests are going to happen," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
"For the moment, we have not seen outbursts of violence against our diplomatic installations or our military installations in Afghanistan."
(Reporting by David Alexander, writing by Phil Stewart)
Movie Sparks Demonstrations In Jalalabad
By AMIR SHAH 09/14/12 Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — Hundreds of Afghans – some shouting "Death to America" – burned the U.S. flag and an effigy of President Barack Obama on Friday during a protest against an anti-Islam film outside the eastern city of Jalalabad.
The film depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman.
Since it surfaced on the Internet, it has prompted violent protests at U.S. embassies in the Middle East. The American ambassador and three other U.S. staff members were killed when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked.
Mohammad Zhirullah, a protester who spoke to The Associated Press on the phone from the site, said the crowd called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sever relations with the United States.
"When the movie was shown around the world, it broke the heart of every Muslim," Zhirullah said. "We condemn this act and those who are behind it should be put on trial and should be hanged to death. ... It cannot be tolerated by the Afghan people."
It is unclear who organized the demonstration, which lasted about an hour, in the Marko area of Nangarhar province between Jalalabad and the Pakistan border.
White House says Karzai, Obama committed to preventing Afghan riots
CNN By the CNN Wire Staff September 13, 2012
President Barack Obama said he discussed the attacks against U.S. diplomatic offices with his Afghan counterpart, and both leaders are committed to ensuring the violence does not spread to Afghanistan.
Crowds stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and demonstrated at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, protesting the online release of a film they believe mocks Islam.
The film, produced in the United States, depicted the Muslim Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer.
The Benghazi raid Tuesday night killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans. In a statement Wednesday that did not mention the killings, Afghan President Hamid Karzai angrily condemned the film, describing it as an affront to Islam.
"Insult to the greatest Prophet of Islam means insult to high values of 1.5 billion Muslims across the world," Karzai's office said in a statement. "This offensive act has stoked interfaith enmity and confrontation, and badly impacted the peaceful coexistence between human beings."
His statement neither appealed for peace nor denounced the killings, sparking fears that his focus on the film could spark protests in his nation.
Afghanistan has a history of anti-U.S. protests. In February, the country plunged into chaos after American troops mistakenly burned copies of the Quran at Bagram air base.
At the time, Obama apologized to Karzai, calling the burning an inadvertent error.
In 2010, Karzai condemned Florida pastor Terry Jones for burning Qurans. His outcry fueled an already tense situation, prompting mob killings in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Analysts said the outrage has the potential to spill over to Afghanistan.
"People are boiling with anger with the United States because they hosted the director of the movie," said Abdel Bari Atwan, author of "The Secret History of al Qaeda."
Relations between the United States and the Afghan leader are not at their best, according to the author.
"Karzai has to be careful with his words because he does not want to be a target of angry Muslims. He knows Afghans are frustrated by the behaviors of U.S. soldiers there."
In addition to Karzai, Obama spoke with the leaders of Libya and Egypt, the White House said.
During his call with Obama, Karzai "expressed condolences for the tragic loss of American life," and both leaders highlighted the importance of ensuring that the violence does not extend to U.S. forces or Afghans.
The two presidents "discussed the importance of working together to help ensure that the circumstances that led to the violence in Libya and Egypt do not pose a threat to U.S. forces or Afghans," the White House said.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy also expressed condolences for the killings in Libya and said Egypt will ensure that American personnel in the nation are protected.
"This is an act that we reject, and such an act is rejected by Islam as well," Morsy said in a recorded video message from Brussels broadcast by Nile TV.
"Those who are attacking the embassies do not represent any of us," he said. "At the same time, on my behalf and on behalf of the entire Egyptian people, I'd like to issue my sincere condolences and my deepest concerns, and I strongly condemn the killing of the American ambassador in Benghazi and those who were with him."
The Taliban issued a statement denouncing the "violations against our heavenly book."
U.S. officials said the four-hour assault in Libya on Tuesday night seemed to have been planned, and the heavily armed attackers used the protest as a diversion.
Sources tracking militant Islamist groups in Libya said a pro-al Qaeda group is a chief suspect. The group is responsible for a previous armed assault on the Benghazi consulate, sources said.
Stevens was the victim of a targeted al Qaeda revenge attack, London think tank Quilliam speculated Wednesday.
The assault "came to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al Qaeda's second in command killed a few months ago," it said.
Libyan officials denounced the attacks, and apologized to the United States and the world.
Pakistan, China and Turkey also condemned the violence, with the latter's Foreign Ministry calling on Libya to ensure security for diplomats stationed in the nation.
In an editorial, Chinese state media called on the U.S. to rethink its Middle East policies.
"On one hand, this tragedy shows the vulnerable security and intense conflicts in Libya," the state-run Xinhua news agency said. "On the other hand, the Libyans are not grateful to the U.S. for 'freeing them,' which they didn't ask for."
CNN's Paul Armstrong contributed to this report.
The Deadly Consequences Of Cultural Insensitivity In Afghanistan
By Frud Bezhan September 13, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
If a foreign soldier asks to see a picture of your wife, don't take offense -- but don't show it to him either. And if he blows his nose in your presence, or exits from the shower naked in your presence, don't be alarmed. These actions are not intended to insult, and are no cause for retaliation.
These are among the bits of cultural advice being provided to recruits being trained for Afghanistan's fledgling security force. Contained in an extensive guidebook being distributed by the Afghan government, the advice is intended to establish codes of conduct to reduce attacks by Afghan soldiers and police against foreign troops serving in Afghanistan.
Such "green-on-blue" attacks, as they are commonly known, are often attributed to cultural differences that emerge as foreigners train Afghanistan's future security forces.
Ignorance can have deadly consequences. The NATO-led coalition force says Afghan security forces have killed at least 45 international troops in such insider attacks.
And while the common reaction is to blame Taliban militants, NATO says only about one-quarter of the attacks can be pinned on enemy combatants who infiltrated Afghan forces. The great majority, rather, are due to misunderstandings, cultural differences, and Afghan soldiers harboring personal grudges against some of those training the 350,000-strong Afghan National Army and police force.
The 28-page "Brochure for Understanding the Culture of Coalition Forces," which has been distributed to some 5,000 Afghan soldiers so far, sheds light on the huge cultural divide that still exists some 11 years after the U.S.-led invasion.
In a deeply religious and conservative country with an instilled culture of honor and pride, the guidebook lists taboos in Afghan culture that it says are routine in the West. It reminds Afghans not be offended if a foreign soldier puts their boots on a table, swears, or pats them on the back. "Remember that all misunderstandings are unintentional," the guidebook advises.
"Even slight cultural differences can cause friction and misunderstanding," it adds. "If you or your coalition colleagues become angry, stay away for a while until the situation is defused."
As the number of green-on-blue attacks has risen, NATO has implemented various measures to keep them in check, albeit with little success. The coalition, for example, has made it compulsory for international troops to carry loaded weapons at all times. Efforts have also been made to strengthen vetting and screening procedures for new Afghan recruits, with the U.S. military employing an eight-step vetting process for the past year.
Patrick Hennessey, a former British soldier who served in the southern Helmand Province, says the distribution of such guidebooks is a welcome development. Previously, he says, it was only Western troops that received cultural-awareness education.
"I think it's a step in the right direction. I don't think by handing out a few leaflets you can stop the problem overnight, but I think it's important that both sides have recognized the importance of this and that both sides have tried to do something," Hennessey says. "If it helps alleviate the problem and helps reduce some of the surprise and aversion, then that can only be a good thing."
Nevertheless, Hennessey also notes that the effort may not have a far-reaching impact, considering that many members of the Afghan force are illiterate.
Perceived, And Real, Insults
Hennessey, who has embarked on a literary career since quitting the army in 2007, recently published "KANDAK: Fighting With Afghans." The book explores the often comically bad first meetings and the mutual mistrust between Afghan and international troops.
Hennessey explains that a normal occurrence in Western militaries, such as being shouted at by your superior officer, can be taken as a grave insult by Afghan soldiers.
"The genesis, or [source] of resentment, that seems to have fed into moments when Afghan soldiers have turned their weapons [on Western soldiers] seems to be because they perceive themselves being slighted by being shouted at, or some sort of perceived insult," he says. "Very few of these attacks seem to be about somebody who has a political, religious, or ideological hatred of Westerners in Afghanistan or who is an out-and-out Taliban sympathizer."
Hennessey also stresses that such attacks cannot all be written off as Afghans misinterpreting foreigners’ culture. There are indeed times when foreign soldiers look down upon their Afghan allies. As an example, he recalls that Afghan troops sometimes smear black kohl under their eyes, which foreign troops mock as makeup. Afghan troops also appear to share a greater "brotherly bond," which reveals itself in hand-holding and other common gestures that are generally taboo among foreign soldiers.
Add in Afghan soldiers' shabby uniforms, lack of discipline, and sometimes scruffy appearance, Hennessey says, and you have the building blocks for a negative stereotype of Afghan soldiers that portrays them as lazy and untidy. He says it is important to nip such avenues for ill will in the bud because they can lead to dangerous friction.
"All the little [cultural] differences added up to a much bigger problem of just not getting each other -- Afghan and British soldiers who after a while had just given up, thinking they could never truly understand each other," Hennessey says. "The single most dangerous thing is that the two sides don't trust each other because then they don't openly communicate and they second-guess."
Amid Strains, U.S. Begins Wind-Down In Afghanistan
by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson NPR September 14, 2012
When the U.S. military handed over the detention center at Bagram Air Field to Afghan authorities this week, it symbolized an American role that is winding down — and the uncomfortable relationship between the two countries.
The prison, where Taliban and terrorism suspects are housed, has been a sore point for Afghans for years.
At the ceremony, an announcer read the names of Bagram prisoners who the Afghans said were wrongly detained and were now being freed.
But what wasn't addressed at the ceremony was that America is delaying the transfer of hundreds of prisoners.
Neither side would say why, but a terse statement from President Hamid Karzai's office warned the United States it was breaching Afghan sovereignty.
Such squabbles are common these days as Afghans grow weary of the Western presence here.
A Critical Period
Afghanistan is entering a critical phase as the NATO-led coalition prepares to end its mission by the end of 2014. Afghanistan's political system remains fragmented and corrupt; peace negotiations with the Taliban have stalled, and Afghans are disillusioned with continuing insecurity and economic hardship.
Some say the growing emphasis on pulling foreign troops out of Afghanistan is making things worse. They predict that if the next U.S. administration fails to stabilize the country, both Afghans and Americans will pay the price.
"In the West, I know the thinking of the people: 'Oh, what are we doing in Afghanistan?' You are fighting in Afghanistan because the fighters are not in New York, Washington and California," says Tamim Nuristani, a former California businessman who is the governor of Nuristan province.
He says the current American approach reminds him of what happened here after Soviet troops left in 1989.
American interest in rebuilding Afghanistan waned once the Soviets departed. Nation-building measures were left to countries like Pakistan, which instead forged deals with various strongmen and warlords, and eventually the Taliban.
Nuristani predicts that without renewed American attention to stabilizing his country this time, al-Qaida and other extremist groups will return to Afghanistan.
"The next administration should see that. Not just leaving and telling the people in the United States 'everything is good, everything is safe,' " he says. "When they leave without any plan they leave a government without anything, then when they come back next time to fight them nobody is going to help them."
Challenges Facing The U.S.
So what are Afghans seeking from the next U.S. president?
Officials interviewed say they want the new administration to take a much tougher stance toward neighboring Pakistan, which is widely accused of harboring militants who frequently launch attacks across the border.
They also call for the U.S. to more aggressively tackle corruption by dealing less with the power brokers in Kabul and more with Afghan leaders at the grass-roots level.
Nuristani and other governors complain that their people seldom benefit from the billions of dollars spent in their country. They say most of the money never leaves the various ministries in the capital.
"The entire budget of the American spending in Afghanistan was going through a very limited number of people," says Tooriyalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar province. "Those people had only guns before, but now they have the economy in their hands as well."
Reviving Afghan government negotiations with the Taliban should be another priority for the new administration, says Afghan analyst Wahid Mojda.
Mojda says Taliban leaders he met on a February trip to Pakistan accused the Obama administration of stalling.
"They told me every time somebody comes from United States and talks with us about the Afghanistan situation, after this delegation went, another came and the talking started from zero again and again," he says.
Mojda believes that's because Afghanistan is perceived as a liability by both American presidential candidates.
But the analyst warns that the next administration will have no choice but to deal with the Taliban if it wants stability in Afghanistan.
Canadian officer drops in rank over Afghanistan training death
Agence France-Presse Friday, Sep. 14 2012
OTTAWA — A decorated Canadian officer was sentenced on Friday to a reduction in rank over a training incident in Afghanistan that killed a soldier and injured four others.
Major Christopher Lunney’s rank was reduced to captain, the military announced in a statement.
He was in command during the February, 2010 training incident at a range northeast of Kandahar, when an explosive mine packed with steel balls raked a Canadian Forces platoon.
The court martial heard that the reservists taking part in the exercise were ready for deployment to Afghanistan but it turned out they had received no advance training with the explosives that killed Corporal Josh Baker.
Capt. Lunney pleaded guilty to “negligent performance of a military duty.”
Two of Capt. Lunney’s subordinates also face charges in the incident. Their courts martial have not yet been convened.
Canada ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011. The conflict claimed the lives of 157 Canadian soldiers over nine years. Nearly 1,000 military trainers, however, are still deployed in the country until 2014.
A Long View of Afghanistan’s Wars
New York Times (blog) By RICHARD OPPEL September 13, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - One of the most troubling things about the national conversation about Afghanistan is that it tends to focus almost solely on the decade since the 2001 American-led invasion. Perhaps this is understandable, since the Afghan conflict marks the longest stretch of time that the United States has actively been at war. And as always, the latest crisis¬, any of them, dominates attention: the growing threat posed by Afghan forces who kill their NATO colleagues, the unwillingness of Pakistan to stop sheltering militants who carry out attacks in Kabul, the plague of official corruption that undermines Western trust and the Afghan public’s support.
But both Afghanistan’s current throes and any educated guess about its future can only be appreciated by considering not just the course of the American-led occupation but three other distinct periods over the past quarter-century as well. Illustrating the arc of all four — and thus giving a glimpse of the sort of possibilities that could be in store for the next phase — is the accomplishment of “A Distant War,” a new book-length project by Bob Nickelsberg, one of the region’s longest-serving photojournalists.
Mr. Nickelsberg came to Afghanistan the year before the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, a period that some compare to the current American and NATO coalition: A large, long-term foreign occupier that built up a huge indigenous security force only to withdraw after failing to defeat rugged guerrillas, who in many parts of the country, remained the de facto government administration.
In “A Distant War,” Mr. Nickelsberg dwells into all four violent phases that followed: His first chapter encompasses the ending years of the Soviet occupation in the late 1980s and the fight for Kabul and other major cities that ensued. The second tracks the 1992 fall of Kabul and the Soviet-backed government and the brutal four-year civil war that followed, one fought more for power than ideology.
It was the depredations of the warlords who ruled this period, many of whom are nearly as powerful today as back then, that laid the groundwork for the third chapter: the rise and dominion of the Taliban, who seized Kabul in 1996, and before the United States invasion, controlled 90 percent of the country despite being almost entirely made up of Pashtuns, who are less than half the population. After a decade of occupation — the subject of Mr. Nickelsberg’s fourth chapter ¬— the Taliban still effectively control much of the country, particularly in the south and east and some of the north, where local residents, out of expediency or fear, or both, turn to mullahs to settle disputes instead of whatever anemic and corrupt government presence exists.
So with nearly all Western troops scheduled to be pulled out in two years, the last phase Mr. Nickelsberg chronicles is beginning to draw to a close. What will be the fate of the fifth? A collapse of the foreign-backed government, followed by civil war, similar to what happened after the Soviets left? A successful peace deal that allows for the Pashtun-dominated Taliban to share power with their nemesis, the old Northern Alliance factions? Or perhaps the minority groups ¬— the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, who have a disproportionate presence in the country’s fledgling security forces ¬— will be able to defend Kabul, while the Taliban dominate the south and the east.
And will the Hazara, the long-oppressed Shiite minority group, be able to retain heart-stirring advances in education, employment and political representation? Will women be consigned to abuse and illiteracy?
Mr. Nickelsberg doesn’t see an identical repeat of the early 1990s replaying after Western troops leave: Some of the mujahedeen leaders who drove the Soviets out are now heavily invested in the new Afghan order, both politically and commercially. And despite all the recent “insider” killings by Afghan forces, Western military troops are seen by many Afghans as far more benevolent than a Soviet war machine that killed one million people in a decade. Some Western troops —¬ and a lot of Western aid money ¬— will remain as well.
But looking back on his two decades roaming the most austere corners of Afghanistan —¬ the very places where the country’s power brokers derive their greatest influence ¬— Mr. Nickelsberg believes the West is in for disappointment.
“A lot of things have improved,” he said in a phone interview from New York. “But the cohesiveness that a lot of countries had sought will never come. They had high hopes that Afghans would rally around a central government, but that is never going to happen. It’s just the nature of the place. There is no real trust in a central government, and because there are no properly-functioning civil institutions in Afghanistan, politics is all about the people, and all very locally oriented.” And in Afghanistan, local politics all too often means warlords and Taliban mullahs.
Conflict has been a constant for so long here that only those in their late 30s or older remember life before the Soviet occupation, leaving only a precious few with memories of anything besides war, given that some estimates of average life expectancy are still no better than 50. Even after the mujahedeen defeated the Soviet-backed government and took control of Kabul 20 years ago, all that meant was the beginning of an even more horrific phase for those who live in Kabul, who soon came under bombardment from warring factions, signaling the start of the 1992-96 civil war.
“There was very little time to celebrate that victory, because it immediately turned into another battle,” Mr. Nickelsberg said. “There has never been any period of celebration; it just continued on to another chapter of violence. And unless you stopped and pulled back from this, you wouldn’t gain any sense of continuity from one chapter to another.”
Mr. Nickelsberg, who would shoot for Time magazine, The New York Times and other publications in Afghanistan for more than two decades while based in New Delhi and New York, first came here in January 1988. (Bob and I are friends and we have worked together in Afghanistan and Iraq.) He traveled to all corners of the country in taxis rented by the week or the month, and sent rolls of film out of the country with friends or businessmen traveling to Pakistan’s Islamabad, New Delhi or Europe, where undeveloped film could be sent onward to picture editors in New York and Hong Kong.
The reporter who worked most closely with him in Afghanistan, Tim McGirk, recently recalled seeking him out when he arrived in 1990, “thinking, unwisely, that he would keep me from getting shot at. It was quite the reverse. Nickelsberg reacts to gunfire like a bird-dog to the rustle of quail.” Mr. McGirk, a former Time magazine bureau chief, claims to be the faster runner in retreat, but he admired Mr. Nickelsberg’s style.
“He dresses for war as if going for a brisk walk in the Vermont hills, his hair as clipped as a military officer’s, perfectly parted,” he wrote on Time’s Web site. “In the midst of Afghanistan’s chaos, Nickelsberg always kept his composure.”
For anyone here, one of the first pictures Mr. Nickelsberg ever took in Afghanistan has a spooky resonance: An Afghan soldier handing a small flag to a Soviet soldier riding in the hatch of a troop carrier as a Soviet column departed the country. The two men, Afghan and Russian, ¬are smiling. In the last months before Kabul fell to the mujahedeen and the city was decimated by warring factions, Mr. Nickelsberg also captured Afghan men performing a traditional dance in Kabul’s Babur Gardens. They do the same dance there now as well, though many of the country’s young and educated fear such expressive liberties may disappear.
It was also in this period that Mr. Nickelsberg first met Jalaluddin Haqqani (Slide 8), leader of the fearsome clan that now dominates a portion of the Afghan-Pakistani frontier and who American intelligence officials say functions with support from the Pakistani spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. The Haqqanis carry out many of the deadliest and most sophisticated attacks on American and Indian targets in Kabul. But when Mr. Nickelsberg snapped a picture of the patriarch in May 1990 at his jihadist training base in Afghanistan’s Khost Province, he encountered not hostility but a vain man who cared a lot about his appearance ¬— especially a beard as large as his head.
Mr. Haqqani has been a C.I.A. ally in the 1980s and by then was growing committed to global jihad, but “nobody took that concept seriously back then,” Mr. Nickelsberg recalls. But the warlord made an impression: deft and manipulative, if a bit preening.
“He reminded me of Ben Cartwright,” he said, referring to the family patriarch in the show “Bonanza.” “He knew how to manipulate extremely well, to stay in power not only politically but also commercially, as his family was heavily into smuggling. He took a lot of care about his appearance but had an air of confidence.” As Mr. Nickelsberg took pictures, Scud missiles fired by government forces who then still controlled the provincial capital landed nearby. Mr. Haqqani just chuckled.
Many of Mr. Nickelsberg’s most remarkable pictures are from the 1992-96 civil war and document the destruction not only of Kabul’s buildings but also the souls of its harrowed residents. In one of the seminal pictures of that era, Mr. Nickelsberg captured a frame of two fighters loyal to the Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum firing on Hezb-i-Islami forces of the Pakistani-backed warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in southwest Kabul.
Mr. Hekmatyar (below), still a powerful insurgent leader today, was Mr. Nickelsberg’s bête noire, in his view the worst of the warlords of that era, “at least as far as indiscriminate killing and violence in Kabul.” (Many Afghans would rank some other warlords right alongside him as well.) Mr. Hekmatyar’s deviousness was only surpassed by his competitiveness with other warlords, Mr. Nickelsberg recalls. He controlled much of the east and recruited from refugee camps in Peshawar, Pakistan, and other places. Mr. Nickelsberg was struck by how Mr. Hekmatyar used a translator even though he spoke English, a device, perhaps, to make it easier to deflect questions he cared not to answer.
Mr. Hekmatyar also represents what Mr. Nickelsberg admits is an obsession with a singular theme that has bedeviled the country throughout decades of fighting: Foreign influences, particularly the Pakistanis and their highly-effective spy agency that turned the Pashtun clans on the frontier into sophisticated and fearsome movements that can strike at the heart of the most guarded enclaves of Kabul.
For the Pakistanis, Mr. Nickelsberg believes, it all goes back to the 1947 partition and a continuing paranoia that India, now wealthier and more powerful, will undermine Pakistan by strengthening its alliance with Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan stuck in the middle.
Pakistan seethes that “India plays big brother through their foreign relations, and Afghanistan was one place that this anger and animosity would play out,” Mr. Nickelsberg said. Yet Pakistan was hardly alone: Iran supported minority Shiite groups, the Saudis supported the fighters of warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf as well as Arab Al Qaeda fighters and other Sunni movements, and Tajik fighters got backing from India and Russia.
Pakistan eventually shifted much of its support from Mr. Hekmatyar to the Taliban, who eventually did what Mr. Hekmatyar could never do: capture Kabul.
As the Taliban moved on the capital in September 1996, Mr. Nickelsberg was there, shooting pictures as they fired rockets at retreating Northern Alliance forces, until one very angry Taliban commander chased him away.
And he was with the Taliban in May 1997, when for a very brief period they were part of a power-sharing arrangement with Uzbek commanders in Mazar-i-Sharif, the country’s northern hub. Thirty-six hours after the truce, Mr. Nickelsberg and a handful of other journalists heard pings on rooftops, and venturing onto a main street, he snapped away as a Taliban fighter perhaps a 100 feet from him was gunned down by an Uzbek militia fighter who had lured him into an ambush. It proved the beginning of an all-out massacre of the Taliban; the city’s Uzbek population had quickly rejected decrees to stop educating girls and for men to turn in weapons. As gunfire erupted, Mr. Nickelsberg and some colleagues were pinned down for 15 minutes before scrambling away and taking shelter at an International Committee of the Red Cross clinic. For two days, huge numbers of Taliban fighters were massacred across the city.
If Mr. Hekmatyar was the most craven figure he encountered, the most charismatic was Ahmed Shah Massoud ¬— Mr. Hekmatyar’s rival from university days ¬— and the military commander of the Northern Alliance. Mr. Massoud’s picture still bedecks banners across Kabul, his handsome, bearded and chiseled features staring out over squares in the capital city.
But Mr. Massoud was actually a little shy and aloof, and not much of a public speaker, Mr. Nickelsberg said. Always in motion, brave and intuitively and strategically brilliant, Mr. Massoud, who also spoke French, last granted Mr. Nickelsberg an audience in May 2001 at his camp in Takhar Province near the Tajikistan border. The Taliban by that time controlled almost all of the country, and it was only a matter of time, Mr. Nickelsberg said, that they would drive Mr. Massoud’s forces even out of Takhar. It wasn’t from lack of resolve against the Taliban, but by 2001, there had been too much starvation, too much blood and too much fatigue. The Northern Alliance was tired and ripe to give way, Mr. Nickelsberg felt.
He also remembers Mr. Massoud saying during that last visit, just four months before the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor, that his enemies had something major in the works. “Massoud’s contacts in Kandahar were picking up that something was going on,” Mr. Nickelsberg recalled. “They were working on something, some big Western project.”
Indeed, for Mr. Massoud and the Northern Alliance, fate would intercede a few months after Mr. Nickelsberg photographed him striding out of his headquarters in Takhar as he rolled up his sleeves (above): Mr. Massoud was assassinated on Sept. 9, 2001 by two Al Qaeda members posing as journalists. Two days later the twin towers fell — perhaps the project Mr. Massoud’s agents had caught some hint of — and soon C.I.A. paramilitary forces were working to drive out the Taliban with Northern Alliance forces. Two months later, Kabul would fall for the third time in a decade.
Mr. Nickelsberg, now 61, still has the curiosity and energy of a college student. He can keep pace-for-pace with troops one-third his age, as he did in the 125-degree summer of 2009 in southern Helmand Province, where he documented Marines doing the civil and administrative jobs in a tiny village that Afghan forces were supposed to be doing. And he did it that year as well in Ghazni Province, talking pictures of a fledgling Afghan police force decimated not so much by the Taliban but by thievery of their own leaders and corruption so endemic that the commander of an American outpost described the Afghan promotion system as: “Hey, your sister has a pretty mouth ¬— do you want to be a general?”
Mr. Nickelsberg takes no position on whether the Americans and NATO should stay or go in 2014, the planned pullout date. But he finds it hard to be optimistic about what will follow. He recalls being one of a handful of journalists watching as the United States closed its embassy in Kabul in 1989. The flag was lowered as it snowed.
“I nearly put my camera down and walked away,” he said. “It was so evident that things were going to spiral out of control.”
Afghan Forces Leading 80 Percent of Operations: Isaf
TOLOnews.com By Shakeela Abrahimkhail Thursday, 13 September 2012
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are leading 80 percent of military operations in the east and southern parts of Afghanistan, Isaf Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Brig. Gen. Roger Nobel said in a press conference in Kabul Thursday.
Afghan special forces are involved in 75 percent of the overall operations, he said.
"In RC east and south, more than 80 percent of the operations are led by Afghans. The special forces units partnered with Isaf are now approaching a 75 percent share. Recently Afghan special forces were involved in 27 operations out of 35," Nobel said, adding that 90 percent of the training is now being run by the Afghan instructors.
Nobel added that insurgents are the cause of 81 percent of civilian casualties and Isaf and Afghan forces are responsible for 15 percent.
"Insurgents killed 81 percent of civilians [casualties], which is a conservative figure," he said. "The principal cause of injuries and death is improvised explosive devices. Isaf has caused 7 percent of the casualties, which is 53 percent down from the same period last year," he told reporters.
He said that the ANSF are responsible for 3 percent of casualties and 9 percent of deaths, and the remaining casualties are the result of unknown reasons. The aim of Isaf is to bring civilian casualties to zero, he added.
Lawmakers to Vote on Karzai Cabinet Nominees Saturday
TOLOnews.com By Saleha Sadaat Thursday, 13 September 2012
The Afghan government's key defense positions may finally be filled as lawmakers agreed to vote on President Hamid Karzai's nominees this Saturday after they were introduced to Parliament.
First Vice President Mohammad Qasim presented the nominees to the parliamentarians Wednesday, urging them to approve the new candidates.
"Even though the lawmakers have full authority [to approve the nominees], considering the current security situation, I urge you to give these new faces a chance and see how they work," Fahim told the lawmakers.
The four nominees were meant to be introduced Tuesday, but the lawmakers refused to let them enter the hall as they were not accompanied by the President or one of his deputies -- as the constitution states they should be.
The Minister of Interior and Minister of Defense positions have been open since August 5 when Karzai accepted parliament's decision to dismiss the sitting ministers citing inaction on matters of security.
Three weeks later on August 29, Karzai dismissed the country's intelligence chief at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) saying his contract could not be extended past two years, according to a previous presidential decree.
Lawmakers told TOLOnews Wednesday that they will make the vote on Saturday in Afghanistan's best interest.
"I believe that the lawmakers will decide based on the national interests of Afghanistan and they will not sacrifice our national interests to the interests of our neighbors," Kabul MP Farkhunda Zahra Naderi told TOLOnews.
Daikundi MP Sadeqi Zada Nili said the delay in the appointments was concerning.
"The security situation is deteriorating. You know, that the three important security positions are being led by acting ministers," he said.
Karzai nominated last week the former Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi as the new Defense Minister, the deputy minister for the Afghan Public Protection Force Gen. Mujtaba Patang as the nominee for Interior Minister, former Kabul governor Haji Azizullzah Din Mohammad as the Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs, and the current Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs Asadullah Khalid as the new chief of the NDS.
Kabul Police Detain Three Drug Smugglers
TOLOnews.com By Shahla Murtazaei Thursday, 13 September 2012
Three drug traffickers were detained Wednesday night in Kabul after police found them in possession of 78 kilograms of opium and hashish in potato bags, Kabul's second precinct police chief Col. Shahwali Tamana said Thursday.
"Last night the criminal department stopped a car loaded with potato bags in the Asmayee district of Kabul and found three suspicious people. After they were transferred to the precinct, the suspects confessed to smuggling," Col. Tamana told reporters at a briefing in Kabul. "Seventy-eight kilograms of opium and hashish were recovered by police in the presence of the assigned prosecutors. The case is under investigation."
This comes as six drug-making laboratories were destroyed by the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA) in northeastern Badakhshan province recently, head of Operational Department of CNPA Col Abdul Khalil Bakhtiyar said at a press conference in Kabul Thursday.
"An operation was launched in the Keshm district of Badakhshan province recently to destroy the test centers as a result of which as many 180kg of heroin, 1500kg of morphine, 700kg of chemicals, 1200kg of opium, 2000kg of hashish seeds and one kalashnikov were seized by the CNPA police," Bakhtiyar added.
He said that no one was arrested in connection with that particular operation but he added said that since the start of this month, 12 tonnes of drugs were seized and 137 people were arrested in relation to narcotics across Afghanistan.
Scepticism as US Blacklists Afghan Insurgent Group
Pakistan’s secret service, not its proxies, is the real problem, Afghan experts say.
IWPR By Hafizullah Gardesh 13 Sep 12
Afghanistan - Experts in Afghanistan say the United States decision to include the militant Haqqani network on the list of designated “foreign terrorist organisations” will have little effect on reducing insurgent attacks launched from neighbouring Pakistan.
The State Department’s announcement followed a year of efforts to get the group blacklisted, and was welcomed by the US Department of Defence. It was also hailed by Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s office, which said it had long been calling for such a move.
Karzai’s spokesman Emal Faizi described it as an “important positive step in the war on terror”.
“In the service of foreign intelligence organisations, the Haqqani network has not only conducted terrorist attacks on our security institutions in order to weaken our national army, it has also carried out suicide attacks in mosques, bazaars and other public places,” Faizi said. “I wish the decision had been made earlier.”
The insurgent group has a long history. Its founder Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani led mujahidin force during the western-backed war against the Soviets in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he aligned himself with the Taleban and al-Qaeda.
In the anti-western insurgency since 2001, the Haqqani group has played an increasingly important role, allied with but distinct from the Taleban.
The group operates out of the North Waziristan region of northwest Pakistan, just over the border from Paktia, Khost and Paktika, the Afghan provinces where the group operated in the 1980s. The elder Haqqani seems to have taken a back seat and handed over command to his son Sirajuddin.
The network has gained notoriety for its ability to mount complicated, daring and devastating attacks in urban areas.
A year ago, Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing that the Haqqani force “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency” or ISI. He said there was evidence that the insurgent group, “with ISI support”, mounted an attack earlier in September 2011 attack on the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul that lasted several hours and left some 24 dead, as well as a truck bomb attack two days earlier which killed four Afghans and injured 77 American soldiers in Wardak province. He also said the Haqqani group was believed to be behind a June 2011 assault on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel and a number of other operations.
Reuters news agency quoted a Haqqani representative as saying Washington was being dishonest since it talked about seeking a peace deal in Afghanistan but still imposed blacklists.
A spokesman for the Taleban itself, Zabihullah Mojahed, also condemned the announcement, and insisted that the Haqqani network was an integral part of the movement and its commanders all followed orders from Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Afghan political analyst Fazel Rahman Oria praised the US decision both as a way of weakening the insurgency and a move to curb Pakistani interference in Afghanistan.
“The Haqqani network exists as a terrorist network in military, economic and political terms – that one cannot deny,” he said. “First the Americans weakened the Taleban in Kandahar, then they weakened its Quetta council. Now it’s the Haqqani network’s turn.”
Oria said taking action against the Haqqani group amounted to “sanction” against its sponsor, the ISI.
“Once sanctions are imposed on the Haqqani network, Pakistan will be placed under further pressure. It will be further weakened, and this will have a negative impact on the Taleban,” he said. “We will see greater tension between Pakistan and the US, and that is to the Afghans’ advantage.”
Another analyst, Wahid Mozhda, took an opposing view a political analyst, arguing that the US administration was depicting the Haqqani network as the bogeyman so as to justify negotiations with “good” elements of the Taleban, its enemy of the last ten years.
He added, “When the Americans were negotiating with Sirajuddin Haqqani last year with Pakistani mediation, he bluntly told the Americans to talk to Mullah Mohammad Omar because he was their leader as that they were part of the Taleban.”
Mozhda doubted the announcement would serve as a deterrent.
“It will further motivate the United States’ enemies to assist and support the Haqqanis and the Taleban,” he said. “Pakistan is aware that the US no longer packs the punch it used to. At one time Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was prepared to do anything after one phone call from Vice-President **** Cheney, but now it’s closed the transit route used by the US and NATO, and issues warnings to the United States. The ISI ignores action taken by the CIA.”
Nurulhaq Olumi, a former member of parliament and one-time general, agrees that blacklisting individual groups will have no effect on the ground when the real threat ultimately comes from the ISI.
“We won’t see any change to the military, economic or political position of the armed opposition unless the ISI is blacklisted by the USA and the international community” he said.
Olumi suggested the announcement might have been timed to boost President Barack Obama’s bid for reelection.
“He killed Osama [Bin Laden], brought the Taleban and Hezb-e Islami to the negotiating table, and will eliminate some of the smaller groups that are fighting. So he appears to have achieved a lot in Afghanistan, and people should vote for him,” Olumi said. “The reality in Afghanistan is quite different.”
On the streets of Kabul, people interviewed by IWPR were sceptical about Washington’s intentions, as they doubted it was serious about taking on Pakistan.
“The Pakistani ISI has fought against the US in Afghanistan for the past ten years, but the US is unaware of this,” said Kabul University student Sayed Nayim, reflecting views expressed by others. “Since Pakistan succeeding in forcing the US to apologise for killing its soldiers, I am sure it will also be able to make it apologise for blacklisting the Haqqani network.”
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR’s editor in Afghanistan
|2012, afghan, news, september|