[Afghan News] August 3, 2012 - 08-12-2012, 11:23 AM
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan officials searched Friday for a member of a government-backed village defense force suspected of killing 11 civilians at a house in southern Afghanistan, officials said.
It was just one of several deadly attacks in the country, underlining the unstable situation as NATO scales back its operations, aiming to hand over responsibilities to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.
Those killed in the Wednesday shooting in Khas Uruzgan district were members of Afghanistan's Pashtun majority, said Fareed Ayal, a spokesman for the Uruzgan provincial police.
The gunman is a member of the Hazara minority ethnic faction, Ayal said. The Taliban killed two Hazaras recently in the area because they were suspected of working for the U.S.-led military coalition. Police were investigating whether the latest killings were carried out in revenge.
Authorities said women and children were among the victims, but no other details were available.
Salim Assas, an Afghan National Police commander for several provinces in the south, said the gunman was a member of the Afghan Local Police, which is overseen by the Interior Ministry.
The Afghan Local Police program has been credited with providing security in areas where Afghan and NATO troops are not deployed. However, Human Rights Watch issued a report last year alleging that some units were committing human rights abuses, including rape and murder.
In neighboring Helmand province, Taliban fighters attacked Afghan national policemen, killing one and wounding two others, said provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi.
Also Friday, in the east, 21 people were wounded when a bomb, which was placed in a canal that ran under a mosque, exploded in Chaparhar district, said Jamil Shamal, deputy police chief in Nangarhar province.
Taliban Attacks Eastern Afghan Province
August 3, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Afghan officials say an Afghan soldier and a female civilian were killed when hundreds of suspected Taliban militants launched simultaneous attacks on the eastern province of Konar, along the border with Pakistan.
Provincial officials said militants attacked five districts, including Shigal, Dangam, Marawara, Watapur, and Manogay, before dawn.
The German dpa news agency quoted provincial police chief Ewaz Mohammad Naziri as saying Pakistani fighters had crossed the border to join the Taliban in the attacks, which he said lasted several hours.
Naziri, who claimed dozens of militants were killed, said the insurgents escaped into the mountains after Afghan security forces and foreign troops entered the area.
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called the attack the largest in Konar so far this year.
Based on reporting by dpa and "The New York Times"
Afghanistan mosque bomb wounds 19: official
A bomb hidden inside a mosque tore through dozens of worshippers during Friday prayers in eastern Afghanistan, wounding at least 19 including the imam, officials said.
The attack in Chaparhar town in Nangarhar province came just days after a provincial judge was killed and four civilians were wounded in a mosque bombing in southern Uruzgan province.
"The bomb went off close to the imam as he was offering the Friday prayer," provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai told AFP.
"Nineteen people have been injured, among them the imam who is in a critical condition," he said, blaming Taliban insurgents for the bombing.
A spokesman for the Islamist militants denied responsibility for the attack.
A member of the provincial council, who declined to give his name for security reasons, suggested the imam might have been targeted after agreeing to offer prayers for a man killed by the Taliban for working with US-led NATO forces.
The Taliban, whose hardline regime was overthrown in a US-led invasion in 2001, warned at the start of their annual summer offensive this year that they would target Afghans working for foreign organisations.
Large numbers of local people work for Western civilian and military projects in Afghanistan, where NATO has 130,000 troops helping the Kabul government fight the insurgents.
Senate approves new ambassador to Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Thursday confirmed career diplomat James Cunningham as ambassador to Afghanistan, replacing Ryan Crocker, who stepped down because of ill health.
Cunningham has been serving as deputy ambassador at the U.S. embassy in Kabul since June 2011. Earlier, he was the U.S. ambassador to Israel; he also held senior U.S. posts in Hong Kong, NATO and the United Nations.
He was confirmed on a voice vote.
Crocker said in May that he was leaving the demanding Kabul post for health reasons after a long career in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Jackie Frank)
Afghan security forces demonstrate professionalism, eliminate militants
By Abdul Haleem, Chen Xin
KABUL, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- Afghan security forces put on display their competence and ability as they foiled terrorist attacks in capital Kabul by killing five would-be suicide bombers Thursday.
In the well-coordinated operation involving police, army and the intelligence launched Thursday morning, no security personnel or civilians has been hurt.
The brazen operation which lasted for a while was conducted on a tip-off in Butkhak area, some 8 km east of Kabul city, where eight militants armed with suicide vests, firearms and ammunitions had hidden in a rented house to launch massive offensive including suicide attacks, police said.
"Based on intelligence report, the security forces carried out an operation against a house in Butkhak neighborhood in eastern Kabul and upon arrival of the forces, the armed terrorists engaged them with firefight. As a result, five armed terrorists were killed in the gunfight," the Kabul police said in a statement.
Another militant was captured and two others made their good escape, the statement said, adding a manhunt operation has been launched to trace them.
The militants had rented a house from where they planned to organize their attacks in Kabul city.
In previous operations against well-trench anti-government militants in cities, the security forces often suffered casualties. But this time no security personnel was hurt.
An explosive-laden vehicle was found at the site and defused on the spot, the statement said.
Separately, Kabul police discovered and defused two bombs planted under a bridge to target security forces vehicles in Sheena village, a neighboring locality to Butkhak on Thursday morning, according to the statement.
Two men responsible for planting the bombs under bridge have been captured, it added.
Earlier, Taliban targeted a hotel overlooking a lake in west of Kabul in June, killing 17 civilians and a policeman, besides holding scores of people as hostages for more than 11 hours.
Nevertheless, the security forces after 11 hours of intense gun battle killed all five Taliban fighters and ended the drama in the Qargha lake, a picnic spot in the west of Kabul.
In a related development, 10 terrorists had been arrested in Taliban's former stronghold Kandahar couple of days ago, according to a statement of the National Directorate for Security (NDS) or intelligence agency Thursday.
The Afghan forces' professionalism has been shown during security transition process from NATO-led troops to Afghan government, a process scheduled to complete by the end of 2004 when the U.S. and allied forces pull out from Afghanistan.
Afghan Olympian Has Eye On Prize -- Equality For Women
By Omid Marzban August 2, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Afghanistan's only female Olympian does not expect to win a medal, but says the opportunity to compete in London is worth more than gold.
Sprinter Tahmina Kohestani, who will compete in the 100 meters on August 3, says the real prize will be to see more Afghan women enter the sporting arena in the future.
"If I can open the way or motivate other Afghan girls to join us and improve the quality of our sports, so that in next Olympic Games more than one or two Afghan girls participate, I think that is worth more to me than a medal from this Olympics." she told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.
Kohestani yet to break 14 seconds in her event, far off the favorites' times, but has broken taboos at a record pace in her home country.
"To reach my training every day, from home to the stadium, I had to take three different buses," she said. "On every bus, people were bothering me and speaking harshly to me because they thought it was against their honor if I, as a Muslim Afghan girl, represented Afghanistan in the games."
On one occasion, a driver even kicked Kohestani off his bus.
"That day I trained with tears in my eyes," she said. "Now I work hard in order to promote the culture [of sport] among my people."
Tahmina is only the third Afghan woman ever to have earned the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games, and is taking care to represent her country and Islamic faith in proper fashion.
"I will wear a headscarf, long trousers, and a blouse with long sleeves," she said. "I will run in clothes that my trainers and the head of Afghan National Olympic Committee advise me to wear. It is completely Islamic."
Acid attacks, poison: What Afghan girls risk by going to school
CNN By Allie Torgan August 2, 2012
Deh'Subz, Afghanistan - Terrorists will stop at nothing to keep Afghan girls from receiving an education.
"People are crazy," said Razia Jan, founder of a girls' school outside Kabul. "The day we opened the school, (on) the other side of town, they threw hand grenades in a girls' school, and 100 girls were killed.
"Every day, you hear that somebody's thrown acid at a girl's face ... or they poison their water."
There were at least 185 documented attacks on schools and hospitals in Afghanistan last year, according to the United Nations. The majority were attributed to armed groups opposed to girls' education.
"It is heartbreaking to see the way these terrorists treat ... women," said Jan, 68. "In their eyes, a women is an object that they can control. They are scared that when these girls get an education, they will become aware of their rights as women and as a human being."
Despite the threat of violence, Jan continues to open the doors of her Zabuli Education Center, a two-story, 14-room building where 354 area girls are receiving a free education.
"Most of the (local) men and women are illiterate," Jan said. "Most of our students are the first generation of girls to get educated."
Seven small villages make up Deh'Subz, where the school is located. Though Deh'Subz is not Taliban-controlled, Jan has still found it difficult to change the deep-rooted stigma against women's education.
On the evening before the school opened in 2008, four men paid her a visit.
"They said, 'This is your last chance ... to change this school into a boys' school, because the backbone of Afghanistan is our boys,' " Jan recalled. "I just turned around and I told them, 'Excuse me. The women are the eyesight of Afghanistan, and unfortunately you all are blind. And I really want to give you some sight.' "
Jan has not seen the men since.
"You can't be afraid of people," she said. "You have to be able to say 'no.' Maybe because I'm old, the men are kind of scared of me, and they don't argue with me."
The Zabuli Education Center teaches kindergarten through eighth grade. Without her school, Jan says, many of the students would not be able to receive an education.
"When we opened the school in 2008 and I had these students coming to register, 90% of them could not write their name. And they were 12- and 14-year-old girls," Jan said. "Now, they all can read and write."
Jan's school teaches math, science, religion and three languages: English, Farsi and Pashto. It recently added a computer lab with Internet access.
"They can touch the world just sitting in this house," Jan said. "The knowledge is something that nobody can steal from them."
To shield the students from attacks, Jan has built a new stone wall to surround the school. She also employs staff and guards who serve as human guinea pigs of sorts.
"The principal and the guard, they test the water every day," Jan said. "They will drink from the well. If it's OK, they'll wait. ... Then they'll fill (the) coolers and bring it to the classroom."
Jan says she is so scared of poisoning that school staff members accompany children to the bathroom and make sure the children don't drink water from the faucet. Additionally, the day guard arrives early each morning to check for any gas or poison that might be leaked inside the classrooms. The guard opens doors and windows and checks the air quality before any children are allowed to enter.
"People are so much against girls getting educated," Jan said. "So we have to do these precautions."
Do you know a hero? Nominations for 2012 Heroes close August 31
Born in Afghanistan in the 1940s, Jan traveled to the United States in 1970 to attend college. Much of her family was killed or fled Afghanistan during the Russian invasion. She stayed in the U.S., raised a son and opened a small tailoring business. She became an American citizen in 1990.
Jan was always involved in various philanthropic efforts and community organizations in Duxbury, Massachusetts. She worked for many years to forge connections between Afghans and Americans.
Then the events of September 11 shook her to the core.
"I was really affected personally by what happened to the innocent in the U.S.," she said. "It's something that you cannot imagine for a human being to do to other human beings."
Almost overnight, Jan turned her small store into a workshop and launched an exhaustive campaign to help victims, first responders, U.S. soldiers and Afghan children. Jan and community volunteers sent 400 homemade blankets to rescue workers at ground zero and assembled and shipped nearly 200 care packages for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. When she heard that U.S. soldiers needed shoes to distribute to Afghan children, Jan and her volunteers sent them more than 30,000 boxes of shoes.
Still, in the back of her mind was a bigger dream. On a visit to her homeland in 2002, she noticed that women and girls were struggling from years of Taliban control.
"I saw that the girls had been the most oppressed," she said. "The Taliban regime was very brutal, brutal in the way that the woman had no place in their book. The woman had no right. No say in anything."
Jan said that while her life in America was fulfilling and rich, her dream was "to do something for Afghanistan and to educate the girls."
So in 2004, she began searching for land on which to build a school. In 2005, she began fundraising through her Massachusetts-based nonprofit, Razia's Ray of Hope. Then, on a visit to Afghanistan, Jan was able to negotiate with the Ministry of Education to secure the land where the Zabuli Education Center now stands.
"After five years now, (the men) are shoulder to shoulder with me, which is such a great thing," Jan said. "It's unbelievable how much they are proud of the girls."
The school is entirely free. Jan says it costs $300 to teach each girl for an entire year. Those fees are covered by donations to her nonprofit.
Although she isn't there every day of the week, Jan spends as much time at the school as possible. She meets with her students' fathers and grandfathers two or three times a year to address any issues and make sure she still has their buy-in. She also deals with community elders and locals to ensure that the school has local support.
Jan, who takes no money for her work with the school, believes the education her students receive will benefit not only future generations of Afghan women but the country as a whole.
"My school is very small. It's nothing big. But for this to start here, I think it's like a fire. And I think it will grow," she said.
"I hope that one day these girls ... will come back and teach, because I'm not going to be there all my life. I want to make this school something that will last 100 years from now."
US, Pakistan appear to make little headway in spy meet
WASHINGTON, Aug 3 (Reuters) - U.S. and Pakistani spy chiefs exchanged grievances in their first official meeting this week, sources familiar with the discussions said on Friday, but it was unclear if the two uneasy allies made any progress to end deep divisions on militants living in Pakistani tribal areas or on U.S. drone strikes.
Lieutenant-General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was named to head the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in March, on his first official visit to Washington met on Thursday with CIA Director David Petraeus at CIA headquarters.
Ahead of his visit, Pakistani officials said the country's spy chief would call for an end to U.S. military drone strikes in volatile areas bordering Afghanistan and push for a sharing of technology and intelligence.
The public preview of Pakistani demands of Petraeus appeared to have displeased U.S. officials, who pushed back at the notion they might cede to Pakistani requests.
The United States and Pakistan are seeking to repair relations that have suffered over the past 20 months, in part because of the unilateral U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May and a U.S. air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
The two countries reached a breakthrough last month with a deal that reopened ground supply routes that NATO nations use to supply troops in neighboring Afghanistan, which had been closed since the November air attack along the Afghan border.
The Obama administration is deeply suspicious of Pakistan, which it believes harbors militants, while Pakistan accuses Washington of disregarding its own human toll from militancy and says drone strikes violate its sovereignty.
While sources familiar with the discussions said the two spy chiefs aired mutual grievances, they did not appear to have made big strides on the main issues.
Pakistan's parliament has demanded an end to the drone strikes, but the sources in Washington indicated that U.S. officials did not yield to those demands.
"The discussions today between General Zahir and Director Petraeus were substantive, professional, and productive," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
"Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to counter the terrorist presence in the region that threatens both U.S. and Pakistani national security."
Ahead of Thursday's meeting, U.S. officials signaled there would be little, if any, change in U.S. counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan and the region.
The Obama administration is pressuring Pakistan to take action in particular against the Haqqani network, a militant group allied with the Taliban that is blamed for some of the boldest attacks against Western and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan.
Pakistan responds that it is doing all it can against militants, but notes that extremists attack its own civilians and soldiers.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Tabassum Zakaria; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Vicki Allen)
Afghan female sprinter in countrywomen call
By John Weaver | AFP
Afghanistan's only female athlete urged her fellow countrywomen to "come and join" her at the next Olympics after she set a personal best in the London Games 100m heats on Friday.
Tahmina Kohistani, who has overcome prejudice and huge difficulties to reach the Games, trailed in last in 14.42sec -- the day's slowest time by nearly half-a-second.
However, she was overjoyed to run her best ever time in front of a packed Olympic Stadium. And she said more women should take up sport in Afghanistan, where such activities are often strongly opposed.
"I have a big message for the women of Afghanistan. Come and join me because I'm alone and I need your support," Kohistani said.
"And we must be ready for the next Olympics. We should have more than one girl in the next Olympics."
Kohistani, dressed in a black headscarf topped with Afghanistan's other national colours of red and green, and a long-sleeved, light blue top with long trousers, missed the next round's qualifying time by a distance.
But she said her mere involvement in the Games would inspire other women in her war-ravaged, deeply conservative homeland.
"I think when I'm here it's a big reason for the other athletes of Afghanistan," she said. "It makes them ready for the next Olympics and when I go back I'm going to have a lot of messages for them.
"And I'm going to say for all women of Afghanistan to join me, and I'm ready to say welcome and I'm ready to help you, and we should make a network for women's sport in our country."
Kohistani comes from a country with few training facilities, and where many people are openly hostile to women playing sport.
She ran on a day when judoka Wojdan Shaherkani, 16, became Saudi Arabia's first ever female Olympian, and 400m runner Maziah Mahusin made the same breakthrough for Brunei.
Kohistani is part of a six-strong Afghan team in London including Rohullah Nikpai, whose taekwondo bronze at Beijing 2008 was the country's first ever Olympic medal.
"It's the most and best achievement for me to be here and to represent Afghanistan as the only female athlete... I did my best to have a medal but I can't. I'm going to say sorry for my people," she said.
She spoke of the challenges she faces in daily life as she trains in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
"I train in Kabul but the situation is not good for me because whenever I train there are lots of people who want to disturb me," she said, adding that her coach was "fighting with them all the time".
"There were a lot of times when the people were saying something very wrong to me, (like) 'Just leave these things, it's not good'. One day when I was coming (to training) when I get the taxi the taxi driver asked 'where are you going?'
"When I said I am going to training because I am going to be in the London Olympics he said, 'Get out of my taxi'."
Kohistani, standing just five feet three inches (1.60m) tall, added that her time in the British capital had been happy -- away from the pressures of home.
"When I'm here I'm very happy because I had good training over here and... here I can do my best in training because there were no people to disturb me, there was no one to say something bad about me," she said.
"I think that most of the people here were very, very lovely and all the time they were smiling at me and encouraging me."
Afghan women competed at the Olympics for the first time at Athens 2004, when Robina Muqimyar ran the 100m and Friba Razayee took part in judo.
Months after Americans leave, an Afghan base in disrepair
Washington Post By Kevin Sieff Friday, August 3, 2012
JALREZ VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN - After U.S. soldiers left Combat Outpost Conlon in February — packing up weapons, generators and portable toilets — their Afghan successors rushed to the American barracks and command center, eager to inspect their inheritance.
The Afghans renamed Conlon in Dari and scrawled Koran verses on the walls. The base was now theirs, and they were proud.
Months later, it’s a dismal scene. The 240 Afghan soldiers are down to three hours of electricity a day. Almost all of their vehicles have broken down. They don’t have the night-vision goggles needed to guard their base after sunset.
As the Taliban ramped up its attacks in eastern Afghanistan’s Wardak province this spring, the Afghan soldiers here came to a painful conclusion: They were not ready to take on the fight alone. But it was too late — the Americans were not coming back.
The transition of Combat Outpost Conlon to Afghan control — marked by a flag-raising ceremony and a visit from top U.S. military brass — was an early milestone in the NATO drawdown that will continue through 2014.
But Afghan officials worry that the problems plaguing Conlon could be replicated across the country as the U.S. military hands over authority, leaving 200,000 Afghan soldiers without the equipment or wherewithal to defeat a resilient enemy.
“The Americans left too early, and they left without giving us what we need,” said Lt. Col. Hamidullah Kohdamany, the battalion commander.
U.S. officials say that after years of depending on Americans for tactical and logistical support, Afghan soldiers often struggle to adapt to a sudden surge in responsibility.
“They’ve just never had to rely on their own leaders. They’ve always had the Americans for a backstop,” said Lt. Col. Clint Cox, the head of the U.S. military advisory team that oversees Afghan units in Wardak province. “It’s going to take some time. It’s just like with children — sometimes it takes a hard lesson for them to learn.”
In 2009, President Obama’s first “surge” troops constructed Combat Outpost Conlon in the Jalrez Valley, a Taliban stronghold 50 miles from Kabul. The soldiers called Jalrez the “Valley of Death” after being attacked repeatedly while patrolling local villages.
But they made quick progress, reopening roads and bazaars once controlled by the insurgency. The effort was seen as an affirmation of the president’s war strategy — early proof that with more troops, counterinsurgency could work in even the toughest places.
In 2011, U.S. military officials announced that Conlon — named after Pfc. Paul E. Conlon, who was killed in the area in 2008 — would receive another distinction: It would become one of the first American bases in Wardak to be handed over to Afghan control. In February of this year, after the flag-raising ceremony, Afghan officials changed the name of Conlon to Khote Ashru, or “Ashru’s home,” named after an ancestor of the local tribe. Soldiers from the Afghan 203rd Corps rushed to claim the tiny rooms that once housed American troops.
“Wardak has always been a laboratory for the coalition forces,” said Mohammad Halim Fidai, the province’s governor. “Sometimes the experiments work. Sometimes they don’t.”
Fidai and the top Afghan army officials in the province say the transition experiment at Khote Ashru has failed not because the troops aren’t courageous or capable, but because they don’t have the resources that existed when Americans shared the base, or the training to maintain equipment.
Walking around Khote Ashru last week, Gen. Seziq Raziq, the corps commander in charge of southeastern Afghanistan, inspected what was left of the base’s vehicles. Two pickups were attacked this year and were in disrepair. One Humvee was shot during an ambush this month and was rendered useless. The 240 men here are now left with only one armored truck.
Then Raziq walked to the radio tower, which the soldiers lack the fuel to run. Instead, they use their cellphones to discuss operational plans, even though they know that the Taliban taps those conversations.
“These men don’t know how to fix these things when they break,” Raziq said. “American contractors used to fix them for us, but they are gone.”
Now, troops patrolling the area near the base return before dusk because the Afghan army has no provision for night-vision goggles, which the troops borrowed from the Americans when the base was shared. The patrols — adapted from U.S. counterinsurgency theory — are not as common as they once were, and Afghan soldiers say they are of little consequence.
“The enemy has gotten stronger since the Americans left, and their morale is up,” Kohdamany said.
“We talk to the local people a lot. But it’s like talking to a donkey. No matter what we say, they support the Taliban,” said Capt. Azizullah, the top commander on the base, who like many Afghans uses only one name.
Many sentences at Khote Ashru now begin with “When the Americans were here . . . ”
“When the Americans were here, we had air support and close coordination,” said Azizullah.
“When the Americans were here, we got their advice every day. They were with us on so many patrols,” said Lt. Ahmed Zia Muradi.
Now, even physical relics of the former U.S. presence are scant — just a few English scrawlings on blast barriers and barracks walls that the base’s new owners struggle to decipher.
“Motivation,” reads one.
“Through these doors misery has walked,” reads another.
In less than two months, the only other American base in Jalrez, Combat Outpost Garda, will be transferred to Afghan control, ending the last chapter of the three-year U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in the valley. Three more bases in the surrounding area will be transferred in the coming months.
To many U.S. officials, it’s a symbol of progress: Afghans filling the void in places Americans were always destined to leave.
In April 2011, a similar transition took place at Combat Outpost Tangi, about 10 miles from the Jalrez Valley. Within several months, Afghan soldiers abandoned that base, saying it was too dangerous to maintain. In September, the Taliban released a video of dozens of insurgents entering the vacant base on motorcycles, carrying assault rifles and grenade launchers.
“These are the brave mujaheddin of Tangi who through sacrifice and valor cleansed the occupiers and crusaders,” a man says in the video.
Afghan officials said they don’t expect either Garda or Conlon to fall into the hands of the Taliban, but they acknowledge the challenges ahead. The Americans, too, are well aware of the risk.
“These Afghan leaders are going to have to step up. If they choose to let discipline fall off, the enemy is going to have a vote,” Cox said.
If logistical problems persist, the Afghan army will have no choice but to close some of its bases, including Khote Ashru, leaving the Taliban more room to maneuver.
Raziq felt the lack of resources most acutely several months ago when eight of his men were killed by improvised explosive devices 50 miles north of Jalrez. Their bodies were strewn across a narrow road not far from an Afghan army base, but Raziq did not have a helicopter to pick up the remains. It took 24 hours for an American helicopter to retrieve them.
“It’s our responsibility and we couldn’t take care of it,” he said. “It was a great sadness.”
The young men of Khote Ashru are diligent about watching the perimeter, defending against the horrible scenario that lurks in the minds of many soldiers: the possibility that a mass of insurgents could emerge from a cluster of nearby trees and bushes and attempt to overtake the base.
All day long, soldiers stare at the dense brush through binoculars. When night comes, they squint into darkness, taking a break occasionally to etch their own words into the plywood observation tower, just as the Americans did.
One soldier scrawled a line from a famous Afghan poem in Dari.
“Flower, don’t be proud of yourself. Eventually you will fade.”
Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.
America's 7 mistakes in Afghanistan
CNN By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN August 2nd, 2012
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School. He also teaches Afghan history to deploying U.S. Army units. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
More than a decade into the conflict, the Afghan war isn’t going well. Politically, Afghanistan is a mess. While some analysts still say the American counterinsurgency strategy works, Afghans beg to differ. Their country was safer ten years ago than it is today. The problem wasn’t the invasion itself, but rather than aftermath. The mission to deny terrorists a vacuum was essential, so where did the United States go wrong?
Here are the seven key mistakes the United States and its allies have made:
Rapidity of Reform. Cynics may say Afghanistan never changes, but that is nonsense. Afghanistan today is far different than it was 30 years ago, let alone a century ago. The fact is, Afghanistan changes: Just very slowly. The experience of Amanullah Khan in the first decades of the twentieth century and the Saur Revolution in 1978 demonstrate the correlation between rapidity of reform and insurgent backlash. Zahir Shah (r. 1933-1973), on the other hand, moved slower but presided over some of Afghanistan’s most successful reforms. It’s possible to bring good, representative governance to Afghanistan and perhaps even democracy. Just not on a Washington political timeline.
Centralization. To reconstruct Afghanistan, diplomats pushed for a republican rather than parliamentary system. A strong president could co-opt warlords by offering them plum positions as not only ministers, but also as governors and regional appointees. Most Afghans care little for Kabul, however, and even less so for the men Kabul sends to lead their local governance. They want local officials who look like them, speak like them, and whom they know. The lack of coordination between top down government and bottom up democracy only adds to dysfunction.
Karzai. After the Taliban captured and executed Mujahedeen figure Abdul Haq in October 2001, the CIA seemed to embrace Hamid Karzai as their man in Kabul. Karzai had, according to U.S. State Department documents, acted as a Taliban-designated U.N. representative, and also had relations with Iran and Pakistan; he could talk to everyone. Being all things to all people isn’t enough, however. That the Karzai administration turned out to be corrupt and its leader ineffective and apparently without a moral backbone provides yet one more example why Langley should be out of the business of promoting informants to higher office.
Setting a Time Line. In Iraq, the surge wasn’t only a military strategy, but a psychological one. When George W. Bush declared his goal to be victory and committed the resources to achieve it, the fence-sitters decided their best hope for survival was cutting a deal with the strong horse. President Obama took the opposite tack: He informed Afghans that America’s commitment had an expiration date. Immediately, our NATO partners started charting their own departure, not necessarily on a coherent coalition timeline. Any Afghan official who cared about his own survival took the hint that they should begin to make their accommodation to Pakistan, Iran, or the Taliban.
Talking to the Taliban. If a timeline was one nail in the coffin of the U.S. mission, sitting down with the Taliban was the second. Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. By offering the Taliban a seat at the table, Obama couldn’t have done more to convince ordinary Afghans that the Taliban was on the verge of complete victory. After all, the Taliban’s 1995 capture of Herat and its 1996 capture of Kabul both followed ceasefire and peace talks, not to mention that 9/11 occurred after five years of Clinton administration engagement with the group.
Too Much Aid. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Presently 90 percent of the Afghan government’s budget depends on foreign aid and money from the international donor community and military spending makes up about 97 percent of the country’s GDP.” Aid agencies, it seems, have descended on Afghanistan as much to prove their own worth and relevance as to help the Afghan people. Afghanistan can’t absorb so much money however, so all it did was spark corruption. Terrorism may impact a few hundred people, but millions suffer from the result of corruption. Not only Afghanistan, but also the U.S. Treasury would be in a much better place today had the donor community only given it one-tenth the assistance we dispatched.
Trusting Pakistan. Pakistani leaders may say the right thing, but they have never been onboard with U.S. goals in Afghanistan. A strong, independent, nationalist Afghanistan is anathema to Pakistanis, who have so little self-confidence about their own identity. Trusting Pakistani generals to do the right thing is about as wise as putting American national security in the hands of Pyongyang or Tehran. Even before bin Laden’s death, that was obvious. That so many diplomats and, frankly, generals in Afghanistan allowed themselves to be so duped should have led to retirements, not promotions.
UK believes new 9-inch 'spy drone' could be 'trump card' against Taliban
London, Aug.3 (ANI): Britain's military chiefs believe that a new spy drone could be an effective new weapon to fight the Taliban.
The SQ-4 Recon, one of the smallest unmanned aerial vehicles in the world, will save soldiers' lives in Afghanistan, the chiefs said.
According to the Daily Mail, the 'nanodrone', costing around 20,000 pounds, contains two cameras that allow soldiers to look 'over hills' and 'inside enemy bunkers' without the risk of being killed or injured.
It can be operated remotely by troops sitting in a control room thousands of miles away, or by soldiers on patrol using a seven-inch tablet computer.
The nanodrone that weighs just seven ounces and with a nine-inch diameter, can fly and hover for 30 minutes and can zoom in on suspicious activities for up to eight hours.
In February, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond admitted that "new nano-unmanned aerial systems... are planned for introduction".
The U.S. military is examining the drone, devised by Cardiff-based BCB International and Middlesex University's Autonomous Systems Laboratory. (ANI)
Officer advises against court-martial in Afghanistan shooting death
The case of Army Sgt. 1st Class Walter Taylor, who faces a charge of negligent homicide in the killing of a doctor during a firefight, has raised questions about U.S. rules of engagement and civilian casualties.
Los Angeles Times By Kim Murphy August 3, 2012
An Army sergeant facing a charge of negligent homicide in the fatal shooting of a popular Afghan physician should not have to face court-martial, a military hearing officer concluded Thursday.
In a strongly worded report, Lt. Col. Alva Hart found in favor of Sgt. 1st Class Walter Taylor on every point, saying there was insufficient evidence to support the charges against him. The shooting — following a confusing firefight in central Afghanistan — has raised questions about the strict rules of engagement to which U.S. soldiers are held in attempting to minimize civilian casualties.
The findings now go to a senior commander at Taylor's home base in Bamberg, Germany, where they're expected to play a substantial role in the decision on whether to drop the charges or proceed to a court-martial.
Taylor, a 13-year Army veteran with four combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been facing the possibility of three years in prison as a result of the July 2011 firefight, when insurgents attacked a U.S. convoy on the main road between Kabul and Kandahar.
The firefight started when a roadside bomb blew up a heavily armored vehicle at the front of the convoy, seriously injuring five soldiers inside. Taylor and his men exchanged fire with insurgents who were fleeing in a pair of white cars.
Amid the gunfire, an unknown black car sped through the scene, coming to a halt near the command wire for the roadside bomb. After the white cars had escaped and the gunfire had stopped, an unidentified figure emerged from the car and moved toward its rear. Taylor and another soldier opened fire, later saying they believed the person to be an insurgent who might set off a second bomb or a suicide vest.
But it was a civilian woman: Dr. Aqilah Hikmat, head of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the local provincial hospital. Hikmat's husband, who was injured in the firefight, said his family had unwittingly driven into the scene and was attempting to escape when their car came under fire.
Army officials opened a murder investigation and initially filed charges of manslaughter, later reducing the charges to negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. They presented their case in June in Bamberg during a three-day hearing under Article 32 of the military justice code.
The case struck a chord among U.S. soldiers, many of whom have said the Army's drive to minimize civilian casualties, although justified, has resulted in rules of engagement that make it increasingly difficult for soldiers to defend themselves in combat.
More than 5,600 people have signed on to a Facebook page in support of Taylor, who was seriously injured in a grenade attack a little more than a week after the firefight. The case has delayed his medical treatment in the U.S., needed to help repair his vision and reconstruct his face, which was severely disfigured in the attack.
Prosecutors said Taylor failed to comply with policies requiring soldiers to establish positive identification that a potential target is a combatant — and has demonstrated hostile intent — before firing.
Hart found no fault with the rules of engagement or with Taylor. He said the 31-year-old noncommissioned officer had complied with rules as well as could be expected.
Several members of the convoy had opened fire on Hikmat's car long before Taylor began approaching it, he noted, and at least one of them had positively identified it as hostile.
"By driving into the firefight, the vehicle operated in a manner inconsistent with the prior experience of any of the testifying members of the [platoon]. Due to its unusual behavior, the potential threat posed by the vehicle as a possible [vehicle-borne improvised explosive device] should have increased in the minds of [platoon] members," the officer found.
"Therefore, I find that a reasonable person, under these circumstances, with the training provided, and knowledge gained through daily operations, would determine that the vehicle's actions were the prelude to an imminent use of force against" the platoon, he said.
In any case, he added, positive identification of hostile combatants "is based on a reasonable certainty not a 100% mathematical certainty, and requires balancing the risk of collateral damage with mission objectives and force protection."
Hart also rejected one of the pieces of evidence chiefly used by the prosecution to argue that Taylor was guilty: a statement by one of his platoon soldiers, Sgt. Richard McKelvey.
According to that statement, Taylor smiled when he came upon Hikmat's husband, who lay injured in the car, and yelled, "Yeah, that's what you get."
McKelvey was not to be trusted, Hart concluded, because he appeared to have a grudge against Taylor and was described by his superiors as "a person of weak personal integrity."
"He was a man known to bend the truth to his needs when it was to his advantage," the officer wrote.
Likewise, Hart rejected as evidence a statement Taylor allegedly made to one investigator from the Army's Criminal Investigative Division, in which he said he was "very angry" and "out to get somebody" for the injuries inflicted on his soldiers by the roadside bomb.
Taylor has said he does not remember making such a statement and never would have, though he was under the influence of several strong pain-killing drugs at the time of the interview as a result of surgeries on his face.
Hart said the statement was "invalid" because of the "apparent mental incapacitation" of Taylor during the interview.
James Culp, Taylor's civilian attorney, said he believed the hearing officer's findings were forceful enough that the case would not proceed to court-martial.
"This is a recommendation on whether or not the case should proceed to trial. And this officer found he didn't even have probable cause to find an offense had even taken place," Culp said.
He said that when Taylor heard the officer's recommendations, he began weeping "for the first time" since the case began.
"I'm exceedingly pleased," Culp said. "I'm not used to the right thing happening."
Ex-Taliban: No Taliban Office in Iran
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 02 August 2012
It is impossible for the Taliban to open an office in Iran and Pakistan, former Taliban member, Sayed Akbar Agha, told TOLOnews on Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal quoted senior Afghan and western officials saying that Iran has allowed the Taliban to open an office in the eastern city of Zahedan to expand options for retaliation if its nuclear facilities come under attack.
Zahedan is near the Pakistan and Afghanistan borders and on an easy transit route from Pakistani city of Quetta where many Taliban leaders are based. The office is meant to allow Iran to coordinate with the Taliban against the U.S., the officials said. "This is absolutely impossible. The Taliban would not open an office in Iran because the Afghan people will blame them for any Iranian intervention or attacks. I strongly reject this," Agha said.
Mohammad Dehqani, a spokesman for Iranian embassy in Afghanistan, denied the allegations, telling TOLOnews during a phone interview that "foreign governments are trying to create regional conflict for their own benefit."
Rockets Attacks Continue on Eastern Afghanistan
Afghan officials insist Pakistani military is shelling Kunar, though NATO blames insurgents.
IWPR By Hafizullah Gardesh, Mina Habib 2 Aug 12
Afghanistan - Rockets continued to fall on Afghanistan’s Kunar province in July, as arguments raged over who was behind the barrage.
Senior Afghan officials pointed the finger at the Pakistani military, saying that only Islamabad had access to the munitions used.
Pakistan has denied the allegation, while the United States Defence Department and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, have indicated that insurgents may be to blame.
On July 20, rockets killed three men and a woman in Kunar province, according to the Afghan foreign ministry. On July 22 and 23, nearly 400 rockets were fired from Pakistani territory into Kunar’s Dangam district. More have fallen since.
Kabul has previously threatened to refer Islamabad to the United Nations Security Council if the bombardment, which began in May, does not stop. (See Afghans Say Pakistan Behind Cross Border Fire.)
Kunar provincial governor Fazlullah Wahedi said nearly 2,000 rockets had landed in recent months. As well as killing civilians, the attacks had displaced hundreds of families.
“The central government should address this issue seriously. The bombardment has made the public very anxious,” Wahedi told local media.
This week, Afghanistan’s interior minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and army chief-of-staff Sher Mohammad Karimi, appeared before the Meshrano Jirga, or upper house of parliament, to discuss the Kunar attacks.
Mohammadi presented photographs of munitions that had landed and claimed that only the Pakistani military possessed armaments of this type, including 155-mm artillery shells.
Karimi assured senators that the Pakistani military was behind the shelling, and claimed the assault was intended to pressure Kabul into accepting the Durand Line, a poorly-defined border established by an 1893 agreement. Kabul does not recognise the line, which Pakistan would like to see formalised as the official frontier.
Karimi also questioned why the US was not doing more to address the situation.
“I don’t know why the Americans are ignoring this issue,” he told the Meshrano Jirga. “Maybe the Americans are afraid because Pakistan has nuclear weapons, or maybe they are old friends and [America] doesn’t want to clash with them.”
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little said America was working closely with Afghanistan and Pakistan to try and limit violence along the border. Little suggested that insurgents were to blame, according to press reports on July 25.
“We have obviously been in constant contact with the Afghan government to work on these issues and we have put pressure on the enemy that operates along the border,” Little told a press conference in Washington.
The US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the issue, saying it fell within ISAF’s remit.
On July 24, ISAF condemned what it called “cross-border insurgent indirect-fire attacks” and said it was working with the Afghan defence ministry and the Pakistani government to stop them.
The Pakistani embassy in Kabul has denied any state involvement in the attacks. Embassy press officer Akhtar Munir said insurgents operating on either side of the border could be firing the rockets in the hope that Afghans would blame Pakistan.
Kunar is mountainous and heavily forested, and borders Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, over which Islamabad has limited control.
Officials in Islamabad have accused insurgents of staging attacks into Pakistan from Kunar. They say the Pakistani Taleban have found refuge in parts of eastern Afghanistan from which most Afghan and American forces have withdrawn over the last two years, and are now using the area as a springboard for cross-border attacks, according to a New York Times report.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on July 24 that “terrorists” had launched 15 attacks from Kunar and Nuristan provinces against Pakistani border posts and villages over the last year. The newspaper claimed that 105 soldiers and civilians had been killed in the attacks.
Kabul has largely confined its response to the shelling to formal diplomatic channels.
President Hamid Karzai and the incoming Pakistani prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told a press conference in Kabul in July that they had discussed the attacks, though a more junior Afghan official was left to issue a sterner public statement.
Jawed Ludin, deputy foreign minister for political affairs, conveyed Kabul’s “serious concerns” to Pakistani ambassador Mohammad Sadiq on July 22. He warned that the bombardment “would have a significant negative impact on bilateral relations, especially in light of the broad range of important issues related to peace, security and economic cooperation”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said the administration understood the public’s concerns, but was keen to avoid reacting emotionally to what was a complicated issue,
“We understand our people’s feelings but the issue is very complex. We are doing whatever is in the country’s national interest,” he said. “Some decisions have been made in this regard and some orders have been issued to the security agencies, but we cannot divulge the details.”
Some Afghans are frustrated that their foreign allies have not done more to stand up for Afghanistan, especially after Karzai and US president Barack Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement earlier this year. In the agreement, which paved the way for continued cooperation until 2024, the US said it would view any external aggression against Afghanistan with “grave concern”. (For more on the deal, see Afghan Parliament Approves US Partnership.)
Faizi said Afghan officials had raised the Kunar bombardment several times in meetings with senior NATO and ISAF officials, while interior ministry spokesman Mohammad Sediq Sediqi confirmed that officials had presented evidence of Pakistan’s alleged involvement to their foreign allies.
But according to an official in the presidential office, the commander of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, remains unconvinced. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Allen had told the Afghan authorities several times that they lacked sufficient proof of Pakistani involvement.
The official said that while the situation was very complicated, the US and NATO were displaying “negligence and ignorance” regarding the attacks.
Atiqullah Amarkhel, a defence expert and retired general, said a stronger government in Kabul might have lobbied more successfully for western help. He added that the US was heavily reliant on Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan, which might make it reluctant to accuse Islamabad of involvement.
On July 31 the US and Pakistan signed a deal on shipments of supplies to the international forces in Afghanistan, prompting Washington to release over one billion dollars in frozen military aid, the Associated Press reported. This ended a crisis that began in November 2011 when Islamabad closed its borders to freight for NATO troops in Afghanistan, after American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Wahid Mozhda, an Afghan political analyst, said that even if it knew Islamabad was implicated in the shelling, Washington might be reluctant to confront it given its reliance on the transit route.
“The... least expensive transit route for American troops here in the region goes through Pakistan. The US needs Pakistan to achieve its long-term goals in the region,” Mozhda said. “I am confident that with the technology at their disposal, the Americans know where the rockets coming into Afghanistan are being fired from, but they don’t want to upset Pakistan,” he said.
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR’s Afghanistan editor. Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained contributor in Kabul.
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