[Afghan News] January 10, 2012 - 03-01-2012, 09:21 AM
By Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents stormed a government building in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, setting off a firefight that killed 10 people, the Interior Ministry said, the latest sign of insurgent strength after a decade of war.
A statement said three attackers broke into a communications building in Sharan, the provincial capital, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Kabul.
In the ensuing firefight two of the attackers set off their suicide bomb vests, it said. In addition to the three attackers, three policemen and four employees of the Telecommunications Ministry were killed in the attack, the statement said. Two officers and a civilian were injured.
The Taliban claimed responsibility and said it involved multiple targets. In a statement emailed to journalists, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the governor’s office, the provincial reconstruction team and the intelligence headquarters were all hit.
The ministry, however, said only one building was attacked.
Paktika province borders Pakistan and is one of the main routes for Taliban fighters infiltrating into eastern Afghanistan from their sanctuaries across the border. It is also one of the main strongholds of the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network, which has been blamed for a series of spectacular attacks, including suicide bombings inside Kabul.
Elsewhere, a joint Afghan and coalition force killed seven suspected insurgents and captured 30 in Balkh province, 180 miles (300 kilometers) north of Kabul. A military statement said the guerrillas used rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire to engage the security force. Caches of homemade explosives, pressure-plate bombs, weapons and ammunition were seized.
An explosion in Kunar province killed two Afghan soldiers, military spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said. Six soldiers and four civilians were also killed in the blast.
In a separate development, officials said the U.S. and NATO are continuing to reorient their supply lines toward to the so-called Northern Distribution Network through Russia and Central Asia, rather than through Pakistan, which served as the main conduit for the logistics chain in the past.
Pakistan shut down the alliance’s main transit routes from the port of Karachi in November in response to a NATO air attack on a Pakistani border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
About 85 percent of military fuel supplies now passes through the northern route, said a U.S. official who could not be identified under standing rules. Nearly a third of other supplies that used to arrive through Pakistan are now using the alternate route.
For most of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, 90 percent of supplies shipped to the international force came through Pakistan, via the port of Karachi. Over the past three years, road and rail shipments from NATO’s European members through Central Asia have expanded. Before the border incident, they accounted for more than half of all overland deliveries.
Associated Press reporters Rahim Faiez and Ahmen Massieh Neshad contributed to this report.
Afghan opposition urges caution in peace talks with Taliban
By Associated Press, January 10
BERLIN — Three prominent Afghan opposition leaders on Monday warned against trusting the Taliban in peace talks, saying they are “not honest.”
Former Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and two other members of the Afghan National Front said it would be “naive” to exclude the possibility that the Taliban are using negotiations to assuage the United States government while troops are being withdrawn, while planning to “resurge” after they are gone at the end of 2014.
The comments come a week after the Taliban announced plans to open a political office in Qatar to hold talks with the U.S.
The Afghans met with a group of four members of the U.S. House of Representatives in a follow-up to a December conference in Bonn for private talks not sanctioned by the U.S. State Department.
Asked about the meeting, the State Department said it had suggested to the members of Congress they should meet Afghan representatives in Afghanistan and not in Germany.
“We also believe it’s always best when our members of Congress can see a broad cross section of Afghan political leaders, not just a slice,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “But it’s within their right to meet with whomever they’d like.”
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.
Two insurgents killed, 23 detained in Afghanistan
KABUL, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- At least two suspected Taliban insurgents were killed and 23 suspects detained during military operations in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, the country's Interior Ministry said on Tuesday.
"Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan National Army and Coalition Forces launched five joint operations in Nangarhar, Laghman, Helmand, Zabul and Ghazni provinces during the past 24 hours,"the ministry said in a press release. "As a result of these operations, two armed insurgents were killed and 23 others were arrested by the ANP,"it said.
It added that the ANP also seized a handful of weapons and ammunition during the operations besides defusing an anti-vehicle mine.
Afghan forces and NATO-led coalition troops have intensified cleanup operations throughout the post-Taliban country recently. Since December 2011, over 300 insurgents have been killed and 600 others detained.
However, Taliban insurgents responded by launching attacks, suicide and roadside bombings. One person was killed and 14 others injured in a mortar attack in the country's Kunar province Tuesday.
Separately, four suicide bombers and two Afghan policemen were killed Tuesday morning when a group of attackers stormed a provincial communication office building in neighboring Paktika province.
The Taliban, who launched a rebel offensive against Afghan and NATO forces in May 2011, has yet to make comments.
Afghanistan Not to Hand Over Any Provinces to Taliban
TOLOnews.com Monday, 09 January 2012
The Afghan government has not considered handing over some of the Afghan provinces, a spokesman for President Karzai said denying reports that the government had decided to transfer responsibility of some provinces to the Taliban.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief spokesperson, Emal Faizi, on Monday dismissed reports that the government had considered handing over some of the provinces to the Taliban.
He said the Afghan government will never accept such a demand and will never take any action that could damage the country's territorial integrity and national unity.
"Reports about possible handover of some provinces to the Taliban are baseless. The Afghan government will never accept such a demand from any side, as our stance is very clear about national unity," Mr Faizi said.
Mr Faizi also told TOLOnews that violence in Afghanistan must be stopped before any talks are held with the Taliban.
"We have been clear that violence against the Afghan people must stop before we begin to hold talks," said Emal Faizi.
Asked whether the Afghan government has sent representatives to Qatar, Mr Faizi said the government had not yet made any decisions about it.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the US forces will declared a ceasefire in the southern parts of Afghanistan after it begins talks with the Taliban.
14 Taliban insurgents surrender to gov't in W Afghanistan
HERAT, Afghanistan, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- Over a dozen Taliban insurgents surrendered to the government in Afghanistan's western province of Herat on Tuesday, provincial governor said.
A 14-member group of Taliban fighters, including their commander Mullah Basir Ahmad, has renounced violence and joined the government in Shindand district of Herat province Tuesday morning, governor Daud Sabah told Xinhua.
By joining of the former insurgents to society, the peace and stability would further be strengthen in southern parts of the province with Herat city as its capital, some 640 km west of capital city of Kabul, Sabah added.
Taliban militants fighting Afghan and NATO-led troops have yet to make comment.
The Afghan government set up a High Peace Council in summer 2010 to encourage Taliban to disarm and give up militancy against the government.
More than 3,000 anti-government insurgents, according to officials, have laid down arms in Afghanistan over the past year, a claim rejected by Taliban outfit as propaganda.
Bomb Kills 29 in NW Pakistan
VOA News January 10, 2012
Pakistani officials say a bomb blast near the Afghan border has killed at least 29 people and wounded at least 37 others, in one of the deadliest attacks in the country's northwest in months.
Authorities say a remote-control bomb in a truck exploded in the Khyber tribal agency on Tuesday. The blast struck near a bus terminal in the town of Jamrud, destroying several vehicles parked near a fuel pump.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But some officials said the attack targeted members of the Zakhakhel tribe, which has formed a militia to fight against the Taliban in the region.
Since 2007, Islamist militants - some with links to al-Qaida - have carried out hundreds of bombings targeting members of pro-government militias and security forces.
Tuesday's bombing was the deadliest attack in Pakistan's northwest since last September, when a suicide bomber killed at least 31 people at a funeral for a tribal elder opposed to the Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistan's army supports the formation of local anti-Taliban militias, known as "lashkars."
The Pakistani military has carried out offensives against militants in Khyber and the surrounding tribal agencies for more than four years.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
Afghan peace council to gather details on Taliban setting up an office in Qatar
Reuters Jan 10, 2012
KABUL - A senior member of Afghanistan's peace-making body will travel to Qatar soon to gather details about plans for a Taliban political office in the Gulf nation, the High Peace Council's adviser on international affairs said yesterday.
The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week that they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up an office in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the US military at Guantanamo Bay.
"We want to see the office with our own eyes and that's why someone from the High Peace Council will be travelling to Qatar soon," said Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a leading member of President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council.
"We want to see how big the office is and other details."
The decision to open an office, after years of insisting the group would consider talks only when foreign troops had left Afghanistan, is seen as a crucial step forward for attempts to reach a negotiated end to more than a decade of war.
But the announcement excluded the Afghan government, describing the two parties to the conflict as the Taliban and the US-led coalition. Mr Karzai's response was slow and muted.
Mr Karzai and US officials have said repeatedly that any peace process must be Afghan-led and the president has been angered in the past when he felt excluded by foreign efforts to set up any kind of negotiations.
"Any talks without the participation of Afghanistan are not going to succeed," Mr Qasimyar said.
Afghan officials have also warned against allowing the Taliban to use the office to fundraise.
Military uses drone helicopter on supply mission for first time
Los Angles Times By W.J. Hennigan January 9, 2012
For the first time ever, the military used a drone to deliver food and supplies to troops in Afghanistan.
On Dec. 17, in a 90-minute flight, the Marine Corps deployed a cargo-lifting K-MAX helicopter drone, carrying 3,500 pounds of food and supplies to U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Payne.
“We delivered cargo that was supposed to be delivered by convoy; now that convoy has three pallets that it does not have to carry,” said Maj. Kyle O’Connor, the officer-in-charge of the mission.
K-MAX is the latest robotic aircraft to join the military's expanding drone fleet, which include high-flying spy jets, small hand-launched planes and missile-firing hunter-killer aircraft.
Before its deployment, the heavy-lift drone chopper, made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Kaman Aerospace Corp., underwent flight testsin Twentynine Palms.
Lockheed and Kaman teamed in 2007 to transform Kaman’s manned power-lift helicopter into a drone capable of autonomous or remote-controlled cargo delivery. Kaman designed the airframe and Lockheed designed the helicopter’s mission management and control systems.
The companies developed two unmanned K-MAX helicopters under a $45.8-million contract with the Navy.
Because the K-MAX can resupply troops without risking lives, the military hopes the K-MAX drone can reduce the number of truck convoys to forward operating bases, which are targeted by roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan.
The drone’s first flight in the combat zone is part of a six-month assessment period in which the military will decide whether to purchase more of the robotic choppers.
Talking to the Taliban
As the insurgents say, the U.S. has the watches but the Taliban has the time.
Los Angles Times By Rajan MenonOp-Ed January 9, 2012
The Taliban's on-again, off-again approach to negotiations on a political settlement appears to be on again. Or so it seems from the announcement that it will open an office in Qatar to have a secure "address" (this seems to be the prevailing diplomatic term of art) from which it can participate in talks.
Even those optimistic about the prospects for a deal robust enough to actually end the war in Afghanistan are treading warily, lacing prognostications with caveats. And rightly so in light of what has happened in the past.
In November 2010, for example, an impostor posing as a top Taliban emissary seeking to initiate a peace process with the Afghan government purloined a huge stash of cash earmarked to grease the skids and get things moving. Less than a year later, Burhanuddin Rabbani, a prominent Tajik leader, former anti-Soviet guerrilla, Afghan president during a part of the 1990s and the head of a committee appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to initiate talks with the Taliban, was blown up by a visitor who concealed a bomb in his turban. Police said the visitor claimed to be carrying a message from the Taliban.
Apart from the uncertainty about the Taliban's commitment, the ambivalence — and even opposition — of other interested parties clouds the prospects for serious peace talks. Pakistan worries that the United States might cut a deal with the Taliban that gives short shrift to Pakistani interests (which, above all, involve minimizing India's influence in Afghanistan) and reduces the advantages Islamabad has by virtue of its special contacts with the Taliban leadership.
The Tajiks in Afghanistan (the largest ethnic group after the Pashtuns, the Taliban's base) revile the Taliban, having fought them intermittently from 1996 to 2001 in an effort to prevent their northern redoubts from being conquered. The Tajiks were the leading edge of the Northern Alliance, which the United States teamed up with to bring down the Taliban regime after the 9/11 attacks. For most Tajiks, especially Amrullah Saleh, Karzai's intelligence chief from 2004 to 2010 and an outspoken opponent of negotiations, the only good Taliban may be a dead one.
Then there's Karzai, a Pashtun, who was initially opposed to giving the Taliban a perch in Qatar and who, rightly, sees America's interest in negotiating with the Taliban — whose leaders want to deal directly with the U.S., not the government in Kabul — as evidence of war fatigue. His question: Will the Americans reach a face-saving accord and leave me to deal with the Taliban?
But the talks are likely to proceed, albeit with uncertain results, because of a convergence of interests between the Obama administration and the Taliban.
President Obama has insisted that the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution. His rationale for the 2009 surge that added 30,000 troops was that the Taliban had to be squeezed before its leaders would negotiate in good faith, and in ways that would bring good results for the United States. Since then, he has set out to diminish America's military role: 10,000 troops were withdrawn in late 2011, an additional 23,000 are to return home by the fall of 2012, and the president wants all major combat operations terminated before the end of 2014.
But U.S. hawks have lambasted Obama's disengagement, claiming that it will reverse the gains of the surge, demoralize Afghans and convince the Taliban that victory is nigh. Given the election season, the anti-exit vitriol will increase, and Obama needs political cover. Hence the value of being able to show that the Taliban has in fact been battered enough to bargain and that the withdrawal is proceeding under prudent and honorable circumstances.
For its part, the Taliban has suffered serious losses, in fighters and territory, because of the surge and the stepped-up drone attacks on its strongholds. Though adept at replenishing its ranks and devising new tactics (bombings, assassinations and focusing operations in areas lacking U.S. forces), the Taliban could use a respite. More important, the Taliban believes that the talks will sow doubts in Afghanistan about America's staying power, thus giving it a psychological edge.
True, the Taliban has said in the past that it won't negotiate until foreign troops depart. But it can spin the talks as a win by boasting that the United States was forced to bargain because, despite U.S. military might, the Taliban proved invincible. Moreover, the Taliban and Obama have this much in common: Both want a reduction in American forces, albeit for very different reasons. A cessation — even a diminution — of the war makes it more likely that Obama can implement his timetable.
The Taliban's adage has been that the Americans have the watches but it has the time. Its leaders know that the insurgency lacks the muscle to defeat the U.S. troops. But that has never been the Taliban's strategy. Its plan all along has been to persist till war weariness and the weakening of allied support nudge the United States toward the exits.
So there's no distinction between war and peace in the Taliban's mind. The new address in Qatar is not a case of the Taliban crying uncle; it's a new phase in a long struggle.
Rajan Menon is a professor of international relations at Lehigh University.
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