[Afghan News] February 27, 2012 - 03-03-2012, 05:39 AM
February 27, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Three of the four Republican candidates still in the running for the U.S. presidency said in televised interviews on February 26 that U.S. President Barack Obama should not have apologized for the Koran-burning incident in Afghanistan.
News that Korans and other Islamic religious materials were burned by U.S. troops at the Bagram military base earlier this month sparked angry protests in several Afghan provinces.
During the six days of unrest that followed, some 30 Afghans were killed. The February 25 killing of two U.S. advisers, who were shot dead in the Interior Ministry building in Kabul, has been connected to the continued outrage over the Koran burnings.
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker handed over an official apology from President Obama to Afghan officials on February 23.
Republican candidates competing to run against Obama this November seized on the issue in their campaigns. They have criticized Obama for the apology and said it is Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people who should be apologizing to the U.S.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" on February 26, candidate Rick Santorum said the burning of the Korans "was inadvertent." "This was a mistake and there was no deliberate act," Santorum said. He said it "should not have occurred, but it was an accident" and so "there was no act that needed an apology."
Propaganda Tool For Taliban
Santorum said what happened in Afghanistan after the news broke about the burning of the Korans does require an apology. "I think the response needs to be apologized for by Karzai and the Afghan people of attacking and killing our men and women in uniform and overreacting to this inadvertent mistake," Santorum said, adding, "that is the real crime here, not what our soldiers did."
Another Republican candidate, Newt Gingrich, released a statement after President Obama's apology that said, "It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around" and branded Obama an "appeaser."
In a separate interview on Fox News, also on February 26, candidate Mitt Romney said "with regards to the [Obama] apology, I think for a lot of people it sticks in their throat." Romney said, "The idea that we are there, having lost thousands of individuals through casualty and death -- we've made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom, and for us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance."
Afghan officials worry the Taliban is using the Koran-burning incident as a key propaganda tool to incite the Afghan people against Karzai's government and the presence of foreign troops.
Karzai appealed for calm, saying the demonstrations of discontent had already served their purpose. "Now that we have shown our sentiments and defended our belief and religious values with the cost of our lives, it's time to regain and preserve calm," Karzai said. The Afghan president warned, "We should not allow enemies to misuse it and to risk our country and our people's properties."
But in these public comments, he took a hard line with those responsible for burning the Korans.
"On behalf of the Afghanistan nation and the sentiment of Afghans, in fact world Muslims," Karzai said, "we repeated our demand that the American government put on trial and punish those who committed this action."
Drawdown Pace Criticized
Wall Street Journal By JULIAN E. BARNES FEBRUARY 27, 2012
Republicans stepped up criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of the Afghanistan war over the weekend, with defense hawks saying the administration's current drawdown plans were misguided, potentially putting U.S. forces at risk.
The comments follow a rise in violence stemming from the burning of Qurans in Afghanistan that have left four U.S. service members dead.
On Tuesday, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce a bill barring contractors or Afghan security forces from guarding U.S. military installations.
The bill is designed to force the administration to draw forces down more slowly, by requiring the administration to keep more troops in the country to provide protection for U.S. combat forces.
Military analysts have said as Mr. Obama orders the number of troops to drop below 68,000 by the end of this summer from about 91,000 now, U.S. forces will become increasingly dependent on Afghans to provide security at forward operating bases, at combat outposts and along key roads.
"My bill will mean that President Obama will have to change his planned force levels to provide for force protection," Rep. McKeon said Sunday.
On Sunday, Sen. John McCain also questioned the administration's current drawdown plan and said Mr. Obama should quickly agree to a long-term security arrangement with Afghanistan.
"Have no doubt that if Afghanistan reverts to a chaotic situation, you will see al Qaeda come back and it again [will] be a base eventually of attacks on the United States of America," Sen. McCain said on ABC News.
Republican presidential contenders renewed their criticism Sunday of Mr. Obama's written apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week for the destruction of the Qurans.
Mitt Romney, in an appearance on Fox News Sunday, took issue with the Obama administration's handling of the war and said the apology "sticks in the throat" of many Americans.
"We've made an enormous contribution to help the people," Mr. Romney said. "For us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance."
Rick Santorum criticized the apology and said it "shows weakness" on the president's part.
"You make it sound like there was something that you should apologize for, and there was no act that needed an apology," he said on NBC.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview on CNN in which she called on the Afghan government to step up protection of international troops and advisers, said criticism of Mr. Obama's apology for the burning of the Quran was "not helpful."
She said the political rhetoric risked inflaming a dangerous situation in Afghanistan.
"It was the right thing to do to have our president on record as saying this was not intentional, we deeply regret it," Mrs. Clinton said.
U.S. shouldn't speed up Afghanistan pull out - ambassador
Reuters By Jackie Frank 27/02/2012
WASHINGTON - The United States should resist any urge to pull troops out of Afghanistan ahead of schedule in response to the violence against Americans sparked by a burning of the Koran at a U.S. military base, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker said on Sunday.
"Tensions are running very high here. I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business," Crocker said in an interview from Kabul on CNN's "State of the Union."
He added that a full investigation of the incident was underway at the Bagram airbase near Kabul.
A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said the Afghan defense and interior ministers were postponing scheduled trips to the United States this week while consulting with other Afghan leaders on protecting allied forces and quelling the violence.
Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi had been set to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday, March 1.
Panetta looks forward to hosting them at the Pentagon in the "near future," and understands why their efforts at home take priority now, Pentagon press secretary George Little said in an email.
Crocker, in the CNN interview, said: "This is not the time to decide that we are done here. We have got to redouble our efforts. We've got to create a situation that al Qaeda is not coming back," Crocker said.
"If we decide we're tired of it, al Qaeda and the Taliban certainly aren't," he said.
U.S. forces are scheduled to cede the lead role in combat operations in Afghanistan next year, but will keep fighting alongside Afghan troops under American plans announced recently.
The U.S. forces have been fighting in Afghanistan since a 2001 invasion that toppled the Taliban rulers who harbored the al Qaeda leaders responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States.
President Barack Obama apologized on Thursday in a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of copies of the Koran, which he called "inadvertent" and an "error." Crocker added that Karzai accepts both publicly and privately that the burning was inadvertent.
Still, anger raged in Afghanistan for a sixth day on Sunday over desecration of the Muslim holy book.
Seven U.S. military trainers were wounded on Sunday when a grenade was thrown at their base in northern Afghanistan. At least four American troops have been killed in apparent revenge attacks in the past week, and dozens of Afghans have been killed or wounded in protests over the incident.
In a CNN interview from Rabat, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday others need to join Karzai in calling for an end to the violence. "It is out of hand and it needs to stop."
Crocker noted that Karzai has called for calm "almost since the beginning," and Afghan security forces were working to quell the demonstrations. "They are very much in this fight trying to protect us," Crocker said.
U.S. personnel working alongside Afghans in government ministries were removed on Saturday after two U.S. officers were killed at their desks in apparent retaliation for the Koran incident.
Clinton chided Republican U.S. presidential candidates for continuing criticism of Obama's apology. "I find it somewhat troubling that our politics would enflame such a dangerous situation in Afghanistan," she said.
"It was the right thing to do to have our president on record as saying this was not intentional, we deeply regret it," Clinton said.
A leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, on Sunday stepped up his criticism of Obama. Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Romney said that for many Americans, considering the thousands of American deaths in Afghanistan, the apology "sticks in their throats."
Pulling U.S. forces and civilians out of Afghan ministry offices after two U.S. officers were killed in the Interior Ministry in apparent retaliation for the Koran incident was, Romney said, "an extraordinary admission of a failure."
His chief opponent, Republican Rick Santorum, said Karzai should apologize to the United States for the violent reaction to "something that was clearly inadvertent."
"I think the response needs to be apologized for by Karzai and the Afghan people - of attacking and killing our men and women in uniform," Santorum said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That's the real crime here, not what our soldiers did."
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Jim Wolf; Writing by Jackie Frank; Editing by Will Dunham and Christopher Wilson)
Putting peace talks on pause
By Omar Samad Monday, February 27, 2012 Foreign Policy
Progress with the Afghan reconciliation process, still in "exploratory" mode, and involving a diverse set of actors and conflicting agendas, has been excruciatingly slow and wrapped in uncertainty. Testy exchanges, described as "hard talk" that occurred at an Afghanistan-Pakistan summit a few days ago in Islamabad, are a case in point. What is sorely needed at this stage is a slight pause, to allow for an evaluation and re-think in order to give this highly sensitive process more coherence and a chance to better define the Afghan end-state.
Islamabad's position on the peace talks was revealed when Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, publicly scoffed at an Afghan request to facilitate talks between Kabul and the members of the Taliban Quetta Shura (leadership council). The Afghan side had sought clarification on the whereabouts of Afghan insurgent leaders reported to have disappeared in Pakistan. Khar said it was "preposterous" to think that her government could deliver Taliban leaders to the negotiating table, and warned Kabul against "unrealistic, almost ridiculous expectations" about peace talks.
For its part, Kabul expressed optimism for having detected "a big change among Pakistanis." Sounding enthusiastic, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman said "the atmosphere is much better... we are more optimistic than before that they will support us." Karzai himself went a step further and asked the Taliban to engage in direct talks and, once more, urged Pakistan to facilitate negotiation efforts.
A week later, in an about face, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani urged all Afghan rebel groups to take part in peace talks. This amounted to a tacit acknowledgement that the country's civilian government was sending a message to insurgent leaders based in Pakistan, asking that they engage in talks with Kabul.
The Taliban agreed last year to establish an office in Qatar for preliminary talks between the U.S. and Quetta Shura emissaries as part of "confidence-building measures" that aim to secure the release of a handful of top leaders from U.S. custody in Guantanamo, and reduce U.N.-imposed bans on a number of blacklisted commanders in exile. It is not known what type of realistic quid pro quo, if any, is expected of the Taliban within that framework. Karzai, not too keen on the Qatar peace track, has grudgingly endorsed the Taliban office there as an "address," hoping that real talks would be held as part of a preferred separate process, whilst the Taliban insist that they will not talk to the Afghan government. Minister Khar, during a visit to the United Kingdom last week, complained that despite her government's intentions to help the process move forward, the message from Kabul was confusing because "Karzai was still unclear whether his government really wanted to negotiate with the Taliban in Qatar."
While Pakistan is also leery of the Qatar process, and prefers to sit on the margins, it has thus far facilitated Taliban travel and engaged both the Americans and the Qataris on logistical matters. But, because of their special relationship with Saudi Arabia, Pakistanis are partial to Saudi mediation efforts and prefer to downplay the contacts underway in Qatar.
Recent reports out of Saudi Arabia say that the Kingdom has hinted that it is willing to facilitate talks if the Taliban 1) renounce al-Qaeda, 2) lay down their arms, and 3) join the Afghan political arena, or in other words, agree to a power-sharing arrangement. Karzai has also hinted at times that he feels more comfortable with the Saudi track, which partially explains his reservations about the Qatar process.
Much of Afghanistan's loyal political opposition, women's rights groups and civil society not only feel marginalized, but are also increasingly concerned about a re-Talibanization of the country as a result of misplaced reconciliation priorities. There are calls for putting the current initiatives on hold, reforming the High Peace Council tasked to manage the reconciliation process, and reinforcing the government's negotiating baseline by getting more relevant social and political groups involved in the process.
With the unfortunate Quran burning dilemma causing deep anguish over the past week, it is too early to tell what impact it might have on the Afghan mission, at a time when the stakes for seeking a negotiated settlement are in high gear. Not only would a pause on peace negotiations during the Quran burning debacle allow all sides to engage in necessary damage control, but it would also provide a break to review strategic imperatives, consult on the way forward, and recommit.
If true, promising new channels of communications said to have opened between local officials and Taliban mediators as part of a fresh Afghan-to-Afghan initiative, could prove useful. However, the recent gruesome beheadings of four innocent civilians in Helmand and a popular radio station owner in Paktika Province are stark reminders of the cruel side of an insurgency that is pretending to recast itself as moderate. If the Taliban do not put a stop to such carnage and duplicity, the peace process will lose the support of even larger numbers of Afghans. Frankly, trying to appease elements that have no qualms about such egregious human rights violations cannot be conducive to lasting peace.
Given the current foray of activities, and spins and counter-spins, policy lines are being drawn by the following main actors, none of whom can be ignored or sidelined if there is to be a meaningful process:
1. The Afghan Government: Since Karzai's political preference seems to be the so-called Saudi formula, he has been reluctant to fully embrace the Qatar track, where Pakistan also remains a peripheral actor. He is aware, though, that the Taliban are not yet ready for direct talks. Recognizing the growing internal challenges he faces, his dual approach of candid talk and friendly overtures vis-a-vis Pakistan is seen as a dangerous wager by many Afghans who are asking for more transparency, consultation and verification. Meanwhile, Karzai rightly expects the U.S. to keep him in the inner loop, and is eager to see the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership finalized soon. How the Quaran burning disaster might impact the work in progress is still unclear. With a critical 2014 political transition ahead, Karzai may be inclined to agree to a power-sharing arrangement with the armed opposition that would not undermine his political base. This could translate into blurring established red-lines on gains made in the domains of democratic governance and constitutional rights, including gender rights. To strengthen its negotiating position, Kabul should implement reconciliation process reforms that would expand its support base through consultations and inclusivity. Afghans should agree on negotiation red-lines and stand by them. Furthermore, the next three years offer an opportunity to push for real change to improve governance, promote rule of law, especially on the judicial and prosecutorial sides, and implement electoral reforms that assure institutional independence and systemic transparency. These changes should also aim to provide the necessary space to draw the Taliban (or at least those independently inclined to do so) into a legitimate political arena, following a demobilization, disarmament and reintegration program.
2. The Taliban: Given their access to a support infrastructure, including sanctuaries inside and outside Afghanistan, the core decision-making bodies, based in Quetta and in North Waziristan, continue to hold the levers of power. However, trying to sideline the Afghan government and portray it as a puppet regime may prove to be a shallow tactic that will not find much support among ordinary Afghans. The Taliban's immediate objective is to secure the release of their top operatives from Guantanamo via the Qatar track. Thereafter, escalating the fighting as seasonal snows melt, while keeping all sides preoccupied with a tactical mix of peace overtures and psychological wearing-down ploys, may prove to be the most convenient distraction. Eventually, depending on the matrix of political progress, some fighters may favor a power-sharing arrangement, while others will invariably pursue a zero-sum game, either for ideological reasons or at the behest of foreign patrons, which will determine whether they will fracture or morph into a smaller yet more lethal opponent. Under a power-sharing arrangement, all measures need to be taken to see improvement on the security front, and prevent the fundamental weakening of the constitutional order and basic rights. The ultimate goal should be to integrate the reconcilable opponents into the political mainstream as seamlessly as possible, and let them compete for votes.
3. The United States: Having decided to disengage from the lengthy Afghan campaign, albeit maintaining some degree of responsibility and continuity (as is envisaged in the strategic partnership), the US aims to "work itself out of a job." The question is how fast, to what degree and with what end-state in mind? What seems to escape some policy advisors and pundits, who would have us perversely believe that we are witnessing some miraculous Taliban-style perestroika and glasnost moment, is the simple fact that Afghanistan remains the epicenter of the most dangerous and most security-relevant neighborhood in the world. There are no discernible indications that the forces that want to pursue a violent adversarial confrontation have as of late had a change of heart. As the U.S. tries to avoid another blowback effect (as experienced by the neglect of the 1990s) by seeking a reasonable negotiated agreement, it should also aim to protect the accomplishments of the last decade, and help define, with Afghans and other allies the logical end-state that assures real prospects for a durable and just peace that has the backing of major segments of Afghan society. Actively engaging all sides to shift to a new regional cooperation paradigm would also need to be a cornerstone of such an end-state strategy. The timeline for agreeing and putting such initiatives into effect is now as the 2014 withdrawal dateline approaches.
4. Pakistan: From an Afghan perspective, Pakistan (and to some extent Iran) has a strategic choice to make as a key player: use its influence to help forge a durable and just peace in Afghanistan, to help promote regional stability and economic development, pay lip service, or covertly use radicalism and duplicity to achieve its outdated militaristic objectives. The good news is that some among Pakistan's leadership now claim that they do not want a return to the chaotic Afghan conditions of the 1990s, are no longer obsessed with the "strategic depth" imperative to counter-balance India, or even a power grab by the stalwart Taliban. Pakistani leaders are now advocating "power-sharing" as a preferred option. As part of a new diplomatic offensive, visiting officials recently made an effort in Kabul to engage those Afghan political groups and personalities they usually consider adversaries. These indicators, if substantiated, need to be taken seriously as they could offer a glimpse of real change underway in Pakistani strategic calculus. However, if the crux of the matter still remains a perception that Indians are too close to Afghans, and the only way to offset this historic relationship is to impose the Taliban or other proxies into the body-politics of Afghanistan, then the reasoning is fundamentally flawed, because Indian-Afghan relations are by and large based on soft-power supply and demand dynamics, not on an anti-Pakistan predisposition. Regardless, the solution cannot be sought in continued bloodshed and promotion of proxy radicalism. The answer lies in separating the Afghan card from the Indian deck, and to have a broader and deeper understanding of a neighbor that has over the years bent backward to convey a message of peace and cooperation to Islamabad.
5. The role of other fringe actors, i.e. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union, Japan and even Qatar, are not inconsequential. They can use their good offices to facilitate and advocate for a just and durable peace, using their diplomatic and economic clout in as coordinated and coherent a manner possible to help the process move in the right direction.
The complex, and at times frustrating, reconciliation process proposed by the Afghan government at the international London Conference in 2010 is now in its third year, with almost no tangible results in sight. Thousands more lives have been lost on all sides, and billions of dollars later - partly to pay for a useful yet inconclusive surge - we have collectively failed to convince those who promote war that peace is the only option. Today's Afghanistan is no longer the country rescued from the clutches of terrorism in 2001. It is a very different place. The hard-earned gains (possible red-line items) in terms of education, health, gender rights, civil society and media development, income generation, infrastructure and institution building can neither be ignored nor should be traded off.
At a conference this week in Morocco, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressing outrage for the burning of the Qurans, clearly defined the U.S. policy objective when she said, "... the hard work of trying to build a more peaceful, prosperous and secure Afghanistan must continue." However, what worries Afghans the most is a lack of clarity about the end-state and contingency planning; what is plan B in case these efforts fail, or if Afghans find themselves in a perilous situation post 2014? These fundamental questions need to be answered now, not later, as part of a pause and re-think that are crucial to carve the right way forward.
Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert in residence at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. D.C. He was Afghanistan's ambassador to France (2009-2011), to Canada (2004-2009), and spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). This article reflects his personal opinion.
Koran Burning: Can U.S. and Afghan Soldiers Work Together?
TIME By JOHN WENDLE 27/02/2012
KABUL - As the anger over the Koran-burning controversy continued to convulse Afghanistan, another violent incident disrupted how the Kabul government interacts with its Western allies. On Saturday afternoon, a member of the Afghan Interior Ministry opened fire on two U.S. advisers -- a lieutenant colonel and a major -- at the ministry's command-and-control center in the capital. The Americans were shot in the back of their heads as they sat at their desks, news reports said. "A countrywide manhunt is underway for the fugitive," Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi told TIME. Since the news broke, speculation has raged over whether the killer was an insurgent infiltrator or simply motivated by the Koran burnings at the Bagram Airbase earlier this week. Sediqi denied the idea of infiltration, saying it is "clear that insurgent groups are not able to have such connections as this. The ministry is very secure, and we have not had any such incidents in the past. It cannot be suggested that he has links with some groups. But we will have to investigate."
After reading the initial reports, one Afghanistan-based security expert does not believe the killer was a Taliban plant -- as the militant group has claimed. However, Paddy Smith, a security analyst and former British soldier, says, "Given the nature of where the killer was, it is definitely interesting that he was able to holster his weapon and walk away. It is an indication of either confusion or collusion. That's some feat -- unless some other people knew about it -- to just walk into the control center and head-chop them." But Smith also says the attack underlines huge structural problems facing foreign forces in training a viable Afghan army and security force large enough and strong enough to defend the country from internal and external enemies -- one of the requirements the U.S. and NATO have set in order to withdraw by 2014 and still be able to declare a kind of victory.
The growing divide between Afghan soldiers and their mentors has already been stretched to the breaking point after six days of violent and deadly protests over the Koran burning that have left around 30 dead, including four U.S. soldiers previously killed by Afghan soldiers or men in Afghan-security-force uniforms. The burning of Korans by foreign soldiers on one side and the killing of foreign soldiers by Afghan soldiers on the other have pushed the level of alienation between the two sides to what could be an all-time high.
The Saturday murders were only the latest of at least 22 similar killings that have occurred since April last year. Smith says there have been at least 35 in the past 12 months, though NATO spokesman Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson refused to confirm that number. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least 77 coalition soldiers have been killed in the past five years in "green on blue" incidents, with around 57 of those having taken place since early 2010. Smith is not sanguine about improving the situation, even as the allies pour more money and effort into training ever more locals. Says he: "You only ever rent an Afghan, you can't buy one." "Language and culture barriers always remain," says Smith. "These Americans [killed on Saturday] probably didn't have the first clue of what was about to hit them. Even if the Afghans had been sitting around talking about the murder in Dari [a local language], these guys wouldn't have known about it. Very seldom do we actually connect with each other," Smith says, adding, "These guys are loyal because we pay them. You only start to develop a bond over months and years, and British soldiers only have six months before they go home."
Smith says that NATO soldiers "get on a plane at a NATO base in the U.S. or Europe and fly to a NATO base in Afghanistan, and they never really engage with the Afghan population. Also -- and this is the chicken-and-the-egg question -- because of force-protection measures, soldiers can't get out there and win hearts and minds, and because of this, more soldiers die, and the more that soldiers die, the more force-protection measures there are -- and they interact even less. We've just driven a wedge between ourselves," Smith says, echoing feelings and observations expressed in numerous conversations TIME has had with analysts, observers, soldiers, officers and security contractors over more than two years in Afghanistan.
The Saturday attacks seem to verify the findings of a declassified -- then reclassified -- U.S. Army study entitled "A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility," which was released in May 2011. Through hundreds of interviews with both Afghan and American soldiers, it found that the murders of NATO soldiers by Afghan soldiers "do not represent 'rare and isolated events' as [is] currently being proclaimed." Afghan soldiers cited night raids and home searches by foreign soldiers, the lack of respect for women, indiscriminate shooting, constant cursing and arrogance as top complaints against their foreign "partners." They also said failure to prosecute foreign soldiers for war crimes, disrespect for Afghan soldiers, poor logistical support and a failure to share information led to divisions between the two forces -- among numerous other complaints that included entering mosques, eating in front of fasting Afghan soldiers during Ramadan and other episodes of the desecration of the Koran.
At the same time, the report noted that U.S. soldiers have an extremely low regard for their Afghan counterparts. The soldiers' top complaints were that the Afghans were drug abusers, thieves, traitorous, unstable, incompetent and had poor officers and noncommissioned officers. The soldiers also said Afghan recruits lacked discipline, were dangerous in firefights, were cowardly, lazy and had poor hygiene.
The report concludes that "the rapidly growing fratricide-murder trend committed by Afghan national security force [ANSF] personnel against NATO members" confirms the "ineffectiveness [of] our efforts in stabilizing Afghanistan, developing a legitimate and effective government, battling the insurgency, gaining the loyalty, respect and friendship of the Afghans [and] building the ANSFs into legitimate and functional organizations." The report says that these complaints and murders challenge the usefulness of the "partnering" concept. "This is all the more a paradox given [NATO's] assumption of and planned reliance [on] the [ANSF] to be able to take over the security burden before it can disengage from this grossly prolonged conflict."
Despite that, the U.S. and NATO have always painted the partnership in positive terms. In a message issued on Saturday, NATO commander in Afghanistan General John Allen thanked the Afghan military "for the sacrifices they have made this week to minimize violence throughout the country," and added that "for many years, these brave ANSF soldiers and policemen have stood together alongside us, shoulder to shoulder, shohna ba shohna, in dutifully seeking to protect the Afghan population from a merciless insurgency." That message was released before the two U.S. soldiers were killed. On Saturday NATO pulled back all of its soldiers from their mentoring roles in Afghan government ministries, a significant move NATO spokesman Brigadier General Jacobson described to TIME as "temporary" -- but one that is bound to have far-reaching ramifications over the coming year.
Afghan diplomat, officials arrested on charges of spying for Pakistan, Iran
By AFP February 27, 2012
KABUL: Afghanistan’s spy agency said Monday that a senior foreign ministry diplomat and three other government officials had been arrested over charges of spying for neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.
The men were detained “on charges of spying for neighbouring regions” and “the arrests were made with concrete evidence”, the agency’s spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, told AFP, speaking in English.
The spokesman refused to provide details but a senior intelligence official speaking to AFP under condition of anonymity said the men worked for Iran and Pakistan – both accused of interference in the troubled nation.
“One of them is a senior diplomat at the foreign ministry, he’s the deputy head of the Asia desk. The others are government employees in the provinces of Nangarhar (in the east) and Herat (in the west),” the official said.
The arrests were made a month ago, he said.
The official said the senior diplomat and two of the three other men were providing intelligence for the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which Afghans accuse of secretly helping Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
The foreign ministry was not immediately reachable for comment.
The Taliban, who were in power from 1996 until 2001 when they were ousted in a US-led invasion, are waging an insurgency to topple President Hamid Karzai’s Western-backed government.
The fourth person was arrested in Herat, Afghanistan’s western trading hub on the border with Iran and Turkmenistan.
Turkey not considers withdrawing staff from Afghanistan
ANKARA, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Turkey was not considering withdrawing any of its staff from Afghanistan, after the burning of Islamic holy Koran by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan triggered protests and retaliation attacks, Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News quoted Turkey's foreign ministry sources as saying on Monday.
Unlike NATO and the UK, Turkey was not considering any withdrawal of staff from Afghanistan, said the report.
On Feb. 25, NATO pulled all its staff out of Afghan government ministries after two of its advisors in the interior ministry were shot dead, Hurriyet reported, adding that Britain also said its embassy was temporarily withdrawing all civilian mentors and advisors from Afghan government institutions in Kabul.
Turkey, which has the second largest standing army in NATO, has 1,600 soldiers serving in International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). However, unlike other European members of ISAF, Turkey's mission is limited to patrols and its troops do not take part in combat operations.
One of Afghanistan's interior ministry employees was reportedly on Sunday of shooting dead two U.S. officers. The Taliban has claimed that the shooter was one of their sympathizers, and the move was in retaliation for the Koran burnings.
Karzai Admits Asking Pakistan to Facilitate Talks with Taliban
TOLOnews.com Sunday, 26 February 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted at a news conference on Sunday to having asked Pakistan to facilitate talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
President Karzai said that he had clearly expressed his demands to Pakistani officials during his recent visit to Islamabad.
He asked for Islamabad to play a practical role in Afghan peace talks.
The leader of Hezb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said he supported the call for Pakistan to co-operate in peace negotiations, a move welcomed in turn by President Karzai.
While western media had reported that Mr Karzai had taken tough tone during his visit to Islamabad, the Afghan President said that Afghan demands were expressed very clearly this time.
"We have asked for facilitation of talks between Taliban leaders and Afghan government. We hope Pakistan will co-operate with us in this," President Karzai said.
At the time of Mr Karzai's visit to Islamabad, Pakistani Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, said that President Karzai had demanded she produce senior Taliban officials for him to talk to.
Mr Karzai, however, said he had asked Pakistani officials to organise practical steps.
The president also said that talks are still continuing regarding a long-term strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the United States.
Mr Karzai said the pact will be signed after the United States agrees to demands made by the Traditional Loya Jirga including ending arbitrary arrests of Afghans and night raids.
President Karzai visited Islamabad more than two weeks ago to participate in a trilateral summit between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. He said he considers the visit the most important he has made to the country in the past ten years.
During the news conference President Karzai also renewed calls for calm as demonstrations continued in some parts of the country for the sixth day over the Koran burning at Bagram Airbase.
Around 30 people including four US soldiers have been killed since the news about the Koran burning emerged on Tuesday.
After two foreign military advisors were found dead in their offices in the Afghan Ministry of Interior, Nato and the British government recalled their advisors from Afghan ministries.
President Karzai has said it is still unclear who shot the advisors, or whether the attacker had been apprehended.
"Who has done this, and whether he is an Afghan or a foreigner, we do not know. We are saddened by the incident and express our condolences to their families," he said.
Members of the international military coalition described the removal of advisers as a temporary security measure, stressing that they did not expect it to affect partnerships with the Afghans that are key to preparing the country's security forces to take on more responsibility as international troops draw down.
Afghan authorities said Sunday they have identified a suspect in the killing of two US military advisers inside an Afghan ministry a day earlier and have launched a manhunt to track him down.
Isaf spokesman General Carsten Jacobson told TOLOnews: " The questions are how could he make it , into the this part of the Ministry of Interior, which is so highly secure, what motivated him or her to do this act, to kill people in cold blood."
Suicide Attack Kills 9 Amid Protests in Afghanistan
VOA News February 27, 2012
Nine people have been killed in a suicide car bombing outside the gates of a NATO base and the Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan, according to Afghan police.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the “inhuman and un-Islamic” attack that officials say killed six civilians, an Afghan soldier and two guards, 12 others were wounded.
A Taliban spokesman said the suicide bombing was revenge for last week's Quran burning at Bagram Air Base. More than 30 people, including four U.S. military personnel, have died in nearly a week of protests since the incident.
The unrest has continued despite apologies from U.S. President Barack Obama and appeals for calm from President Karzai.
On Sunday, a protester was killed and seven American soldiers wounded in a grenade attack at a U.S. base in northern Kunduz province.
Afghan authorities are also searching for an Afghan intelligence official suspected of killing two U.S. military advisors Saturday at the Interior Ministry in Kabul.
The American officers were found dead inside a locked office that can be accessed only by people aware of the combination to the lock.
All international military personnel working in Afghan government offices were recalled Saturday after the shooting. NATO said the decision to order the recall came “for obvious force protection reasons.”
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident at the Interior Ministry.
The U.S. Embassy has been in lockdown since the violence erupted and has warned of a “heightened” threat to Americans in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker told CNN that tensions are running very high. “I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business.”
Afghan defense and interior ministers have postponed scheduled trips to the United States this week so they could remain in Afghanistan to monitor the situation.
Taliban claims responsibility for bomb attack, poisoning in Afghanistan
CNN By Nick Paton Walsh and Masoud Popalzai February 27, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber detonated a car full of explosives Monday near a NATO base at Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan, an attack that follows a week of deadly violence spurred by the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base.
At least nine people were killed and 12 wounded in the early morning explosion near the airport's front gate, Gen. Abdullah Hazim Stanikzai, the provincial police chief, said. There were no NATO casualties.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was retaliation for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base.
In a statement, the group said it hoped "these attacks will continue with the anger of the public."
The insurgency in Afghanistan is often scattered, and it was not immediately clear whether the attack near the International Security Assistance Force base was indeed carried out in reaction to the Quran burning or whether it was a long-planned assault that the Taliban was now seizing on for political capital.
The Taliban also claimed Monday to be behind the poisoning of food at a dining facility at Forward Operating Base Torkham, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It too was a retaliatory attack, the group said.
ISAF confirmed that food at the base appeared to have been tampered with over the weekend.
"Nobody got sick. An Afghan dining facility worker came to his leaders at the FOB and said that something had been poisoned," Maj. David Eastburn, an ISAF spokesman, said.
"The dining facility was shut down and we brought in environmental health, who found traces of chlorine bleach in the coffee and fruit. Soldiers are now eating pre-prepared rations and no one was affected. There is a full investigation that is narrowing down who was responsible."
The Taliban has frequently exaggerated its claims or claimed responsibility for attacks that later turned out to be the work of another group.
Even so, Monday's bombing and news of the poisoning incident come on the heels of a week of violent protests in Afghanistan that has left dozens dead, including four American soldiers.
Even so, the bombing comes on the heels of a week of violent protests in Afghanistan that has left dozens dead, including four American soldiers.
U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, have apologized for the burning and called it inadvertent. A military official -- speaking on condition of anonymity, given the sensitivity of the issue -- said the materials were from a detainee center's library and had "inscriptions" that appeared to be used to "facilitate extremist communications."
Such statements, or explanations, haven't stopped protests from Muslims in Afghanistan, who believe the Quran is the word of God and desecrating it is an affront -- an act of intolerance and bigotry
Demonstrators on Sunday attacked a U.S. military base in the northern Kunduz province, police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said.
Some threw hand grenades at the base, known as Combat Outpost Fortitude, injuring seven U.S. personnel believed to be Special Forces members, he said.
Another 16 protesters suffered injuries as grenades, pistols, knives, sticks and stones were used to attack a police chief's office in Kunduz, Hussaini said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that such unrest and targeting of Americans has gotten "out of hand and needs to stop."
She urged Afghans to abide by the call of their president, Hamid Karzai, for calm.
CNN's Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.
Afghan actors gear up for Shakespeare at London Olympics
Reuters By Amie Ferris-Rotman 27/02/2012
KABUL - The odds were against them: Taliban suicide bombers laid siege to their rehearsal space and the search for actresses in ultra-conservative Afghanistan was long and arduous.
But come late May, a band of Afghan performers will be staging a play by William Shakespeare in their native Dari at London's Globe Theatre, part of a cultural festival designed to lead up to the Olympics.
"We took a comedy because the Afghans don't want to do tragedy, they have lived enough tragedy," German-Syrian director Corinne Jaber said of choosing "Comedy of Errors", Shakespeare's farcical, slapstick play of mistaken identity.
The project will allow Afghans to defend a culture severely ruptured by 30 years of war and conflict, said local celebrity Nabi Tanha, who plays a lead role of Antipholus of Ephesus and debuted to Western audiences in the Oscar-nominated Afghan film "The Kite Runner".
"Slowly and gradually, we are trying to rebuild our arts and theatre again after they were destroyed by fighting," he told Reuters before donning a grey silk turban for a scene.
Afghan-made costumes with traditional fabrics, Afghan music, Afghan place names as well as local renditions of the characters -- Antipholus of Ephesus is renamed Arsalan -- complement the original Shakespearean text in Dari.
The play is part of "Globe to Globe", a celebration of the Bard where all his 38 plays will be performed in 38 languages by 38 companies in a six-week festival that kicks off on his birthday on April 23, and includes troupes from South Sudan and ex-Soviet Georgia.
It is part of the London 2012 Festival, itself the climax of the Cultural Olympiad, a four-year celebration of arts and culture in Britain leading up to the London summer Olympics.
"It is a huge honour for me to act in a Shakespeare play and in a country where he has a dedicated theatre," said Farzana Sultani, one of three actresses in the play.
Soft spoken and clad in trainers and a flowing blue hijab, the 21-year-old lamented the hurdles faced by women who want to work and act. "We have to satisfy our families and justify why we want to work as they don't have a very open view of society."
Producer Roger Granville pointed to the irony in finding Afghan actresses, saying it would have been simpler to live up to Shakespearean traditions by having an all-male cast. In the time of the Bard, actors crossdressed as women.
"In Afghanistan that would have been all too easy... (but) let's not beat around the bush, it's been really tough to find actresses."
Underlining the challenge, one of the three actresses -- an Afghan refugee -- comes from as far away as Canada.
REHEARSALS IN INDIA
Though Afghans are devotees of Bollywood films and boast a rich musical legacy, the livelihood of its film industry is threatened by violence and lack of quality equipment and theatre was never given a proper chance to evolve and flourish.
The bulk of the funding for Jaber's theatre company Roy-e-Sabs, roughly meaning "Path of Hope", to rehearse and travel to London comes from the British Council, Granville said.
The austere rule of the Islamist Taliban banned theatre outright and though they were toppled a decade ago, performers today, especially women, complain of threats from the group and pressure from disapproving relatives who deem acting un-Islamic and too Western-leaning.
This, coupled with the uncertainty of everyday life in Afghanistan, were main drivers behind Jaber's decision to have the troupe do most of its rehearsing for six weeks in India, beginning in April.
They briefly used the British Council for early rehearsals, but stopped after it was attacked by a band of suicide bombers in August in an hours-long assault that killed nine people.
"After (that) bombing it was clear that we could not rehearse here peacefully," said Jaber.
(Editing by Ron Popeski)
UNAMA relocates int'l staff in Afghanistan
KABUL, Feb. 27 (Xinhua)-- The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is relocating its international staff from Kunduz province, 250 km north of Afghan capital Kabul, according to a statement released by the UN office here on Monday.
The decision has been taken in the wake of violent protests over Quran burning on Saturday and Sunday in Kunduz that left two people dead and injured over 30 others.
"Following an attack on its office in Kunduz, the UNAMA is relocating its international staff to put in place additional arrangements and measures to make sure that the office can continue to operate in safety," said the statement.
However, this is temporary relocation that takes place inside Afghanistan and will be for a limited period of time, the statement said, adding that the UNAMA office in Kunduz will continue to deliver the critical programs in the region for the people who need them the most.
"UNAMA wants to reiterate that the organization is standing by the people of Afghanistan and will continue to stand as long as the people of Afghanistan want them," it added.
In the six-day protests against the alleged Quran burning by U. S. military in Bagram 50 km north of Kabul, which began on last Tuesday and continued until Sunday, more than 30 people were killed and over 180 others were injured across the country.
Afghan ministers cancel US visit: Pentagon
WASHINGTON, Feb 26, 2012 (AFP) - Afghanistan's defense and interior ministers have canceled a visit to Washington next week to concentrate on addressing security concerns back home, the Pentagon said Sunday.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "understands why that's a priority and why they are unable to travel to Washington in the coming days," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement sent to AFP.
The pair had been scheduled to meet with the secretary on Thursday, but were staying in Afghanistan in the wake of violence sparked by a recent Koran burning incident at a US base.
"Senior Afghan officials, including the defense and interior ministers, are consulting this week with others in the Afghan government and Afghan religious leaders on how to protect ISAF personnel and quell violence in the country," Little said.
Panetta "looks forward to hosting them at the Pentagon in the near future," he added
Earlier Sunday the US ambassador to Afghanistan vowed to "redouble" efforts despite an insidious Taliban attack at the interior ministry in Kabul that killed two US military officers. "We've got to create a situation in which Al-Qaeda is not coming back," said envoy Ryan Crocker.
NATO pulled all its advisors out of government ministries after the shooting deaths Saturday, blamed on a rogue Afghan intelligence official and claimed by the Taliban as a response to the Koran burning.
The toll since the incident at Bagram airbase north of Kabul, which inflamed anti-Western sentiment already smoldering in Afghanistan over abuses by US-led foreign troops, rose Sunday to more than 30.
A US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that left almost 3,000 people dead, hoping to ensure that Al-Qaeda would never again have safe haven to plot such destruction.
Nearly 90,000 US troops remain deployed in Afghanistan, propping up the government of Western-backed President Hamid Karzai. There are plans for the force to decline to 68,000 by the end of September.
Top Afghan officials and American commanders have suggested the United States will likely retain a military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, when Afghan army and police are due to take over security for the whole country.
Karzai has repeatedly invited the Taliban for direct talks with his government, urging neighboring Pakistan -- where many insurgents hide out in the rugged border areas -- to help facilitate negotiation efforts.
Afghan violence exposing lack of U.S. trust in Afghanistan
CNN By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent February 26th, 2012
In the latest sign of how strained U.S. and Afghan military relations have become, a senior U.S. official tells CNN, "There is a strong sense inside the Obama administration that the Afghans did not do enough to quell the violence" that has erupted since the burning Qurans and other religious material a week ago.
"We are not going to settle for what has happened to our troops in recent days," the official said. He declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the situation. This official has access to the latest intelligence about the situation and is involved in discussions inside the administration.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, said the Afghans have not been totally absent in trying to stop the violence. "I think we need to bear in mind that the Afghan security forces, throughout this whole process, have been seeking to quell these demonstrations," Crocker said in an exclusive interview on CNN's "State of the Union."
"They've done so with loss of life on their side as well as some of the protesters, and they have been defending U.S. installations. So they are very much in this fight trying to protect us," Crocker added.
Still, the official who spoke to CNN is reflecting a sentiment felt across several levels of the U.S. military about the critical lack of trust that has erupted.
"There will have to be a new building of trust," the official said. But what can be done to fix it - and what happens if it not fixed - remains the tougher question.
He emphasized that Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta want a specific commitment from the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to quell the violence, as well as to provide new security measures at Afghan ministries where U.S. military personnel work.
Allen has specifically told his commanders he will not authorize the return of personnel to the ministries until those measures are in place and he is convinced they are working, the official said.
Crocker told CNN that he, too, has pulled all diplomatic staff from Afghan ministries until things calm down.
"Administration officials are appalled by what happened at the Interior Ministry," the official said, referring to the killing of two U.S. military personnel there by an assailant. The official said there is growing belief this was "an inside job" by someone who had access to the secure area in which the Americans worked.
As to the future of the U.S.- Afghan relationship, the official said "a lot depends on the Afghan commitment to stronger measures to curtail violence."
But the official also acknowledged that if the Afghan government does not step up, it's unclear what, if any, additional response the United States might have beyond its strong rhetoric. The Afghan ministers of defense and interior canceled a planned visit to Washington this week, to stay in their country and work on the situation.
A senior U.S. military official acknowledged that for the troops and their commanders, the issue of trust "is on the table right now. I would be lying if I told you it wasn't."
Gen. Allen Friday visited troops in the field and in an impassioned speech told them not to enact revenge, after several U.S. troops have been killed and wounded in the recent violence.
But the ministry killings are generating exceptionally raw feelings because they took place inside a secure Afghan government building.
"There is no doubt an incident like this chips away at trust," the military official told CNN. "I am not going to tell you there hasn't been concern."
Both officials said the United States believes many of the violent demonstrations have sprung up spontaneously and while the Taliban has claimed some credit so far, there is no evidence of a broadly organized effort.
US urges Afghan allies to stand firm
Financial Times By Matthew Green and Geoff Dyer February 26, 2012
Islamabad, Washington - Washington has urged its allies to stand firm in Afghanistan after the murder of two US officers working in the heart of the security apparatus in Kabul exposed the threat posed by the worst outpouring of anti-western fury in a decade.
Attacks on Nato soldiers and scenes of rioters chanting “Death to America” and waving white Taliban flags to protest at the burning of copies of the Koran at a US base last week raised questions over the US exit strategy.
Western allies are placing growing emphasis on technical trainers mentoring Afghan counterparts to bolster the state’s ability to withstand a stubborn insurgency, as the bulk of foreign combat troops prepare to leave by the end of 2014.
The murder of a colonel and a major who were working in a supposedly secure command centre at Afghanistan’s interior ministry on Saturday has highlighted the growing number of incidents of members of Afghan forces turning their weapons on foreign soldiers.
“Tensions are running very high here and I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere and then get on with business,” said Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Afghanistan. “This is not the time to decide that we are done here,” he told CNN.
The discovery of the bodies of the two men prompted the Nato-led force in Afghanistan to take the extraordinary step of pulling several hundred advisers working in ministries back to their bases. The pair had been shot in the back of the head.
General John Allen, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said he had recalled all staff attached to ministries in and around Kabul after the shooting.
“We are investigating the crime and will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack,” Gen Allen said. “The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered.
“For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other Isaf personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul.”
Afghan officials said they believed the men were murdered by a 25-year-old police intelligence officer who was on the run.
The double murder prompted France to announce that it was making plans to withdraw non-military personnel working in Afghan institutions as more riots broke out around the country for a sixth day on Sunday. In the latest violence, protesters threw a grenade at a Nato base in the north, wounding seven US military trainers.
A senior Afghan defence official described western advisers as the “spine” of the defence and interior ministries and warned that soldiers’ wages would go unpaid and military vehicles would run out of fuel if they did not soon return.
“The ministries will fall apart if they just leave,” the official said. “The immediate problem will be the approval of wages and expenses – who will approve them and where will the money come from?”
The weekend attacks followed an incident on Thursday when an Afghan soldier killed two US soldiers at a small military base as enraged protesters massed at the gates.
“It’s impact has been quite stark given that a major part of the western exit strategy is institution-building,” said a western diplomat in Kabul, referring to the double murder. “But it’s important to keep a sense of proportion – Kabul is not in flames.”
More than 25 Afghans have been reported to have been killed in protests directed against government offices, Nato bases and the UN in many parts of the country following the discovery of perhaps four singed copies of the Koran at a rubbish pit at Bagram Airfield, a major US military base, last Tuesday.
An apology from Barack Obama, the US president, and appeals for calm from Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, have done little to appease public anger.
The violence overshadowed a week in which the US might have drawn some comfort from Pakistan’s pledge to support efforts to start talks to end the war. Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, issued a statement on Friday urging the Taliban – which enjoys sanctuary in Pakistan – to embrace dialogue
But the ferocity of the backlash in Afghanistan has laid bare how the cultural gulf that often yawns between foreign forces and their hosts provides fertile soil for misunderstandings to spiral out of control, with grave implications for western allies.
“It’s going to be very, very challenging for western leaders to convince their public that they have to be in this for the long-haul,” said Bahar Jalali, a political science professor at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.
The anger is partly a result of the offence to religious sensibilities caused by the Koran burning in Afghanistan’s deeply conservative society but also a wider symptom of pent-up resentment built up during a decade-long intervention.
While US forces succeeded in overthrowing the Taliban’s brutal theocracy, they have presided over the return of a resilient insurgency and resentment towards a new class of conflict entrepreneurs riding a booming war economy.
In a further potential complication to the situation in Afghanistan, Mr Obama has also come under attack from some of his Republican presidential rivals for the apology he issued last week over the burnt Korans.
Speaking on Saturday, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, stepped up his attacks on Mr Obama. “I find it very offensive as commander in chief that he is apologising to the Afghans when in fact he should be demanding an apology from Karzai,” he said at an event in California.
Rick Santorum, a former senator and one of the frontrunners in the race, also attacked the apology.
Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, warned Republican candidates on Sunday that their rhetoric could make the situation worse.
5 insurgents killed, 22 detained in Afghanistan: gov't
KABUL, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Five insurgents were killed and 22 others detained during joint military operations in eight Afghan provinces over the past 24 hours, the country's Interior Ministry said on Monday.
"Afghan National Police (ANP), army, NDS or Afghan intelligence agency and NATO-led Coalition Forces launched eight joint operations in Kandahar, Kunduz, Balkh, Nimroz, Wardak, Khost, Ghazni and Logar provinces over the past 24 hours,"the ministry said in a statement.
"As a result of these operations, five armed insurgents were killed and 22 others were captured by the ANP,"it said. "The ANP also discovered and defused four anti-vehicle mines, two drums full of explosives and an explosives-laden vehicle used by enemies of peace and stability for destructive activities in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces at the same period of time,"the statement added.
In a separate development, Afghan police shot and killed a suspected Taliban leader during a manhunt operation in the country ' s eastern province of Ghazni Sunday night. "The killed Taliban leader Mullah Musazai was responsible for a roadside bomb attack near provincial capital Ghazni city that left five Polish soldiers with the NATO-led forces dead on Dec. 21 last year,"Ghazni provincial police chief, Zarawar Zahid, told Xinhua on Monday.
Afghan forces and NATO-led coalition troops have intensified cleanup operations throughout the post-Taliban country recently. Over 200 insurgents have been killed and more than 590 others detained in the country since the beginning of this year, according to the Interior Ministry.
The Taliban insurgent group, who has been fighting Afghan and over 130,000 NATO and U.S. forces in a violent insurgency in its 10th year, has yet to make comments.
Pakistan Completes Demolition of Bin Laden’s Hideout
VOA News February 27, 2012
Pakistani authorities have finished destroying the compound where U.S. special forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden last May.
Workers completed the demolition job in the northwestern garrison town of Abbottabad Monday. Bulldozers tore down the final remnants of the three-story concrete compound where bin Laden lived for years before his death.
Pakistani security forces cordoned off the area during the demolition process to keep spectators and journalists away. The demolition began late Saturday.
Officials have never said why they decided to tear down the compound that once housed the leader of the al-Qaida terrorist organization.
Pakistan was outraged and embarrassed by the daring night raid that killed bin Laden. The United States said it kept the raid secret because it feared someone in Pakistan's government might tip off the al-Qaida chief.
The U.S.-Pakistan relationship, which has been especially tense since the raid, deteriorated further after a U.S. airstrike on a Pakistani border post in November left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.
Towards more sustainable solutions for returnees
JALALABAD/SARACHA, 27 February 2012 (IRIN) - Baswra squats on a dirty street corner in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, watching fellow Afghans walk by with packages of assistance from aid agencies. When the door to the distribution site opens, she throws herself at it, waving documents in the face of anyone who will hear her story.
A widow, Baswra returned from a refugee camp in the tribal areas of Pakistan in 2002. Ten years later, she still has no land and no income.
“I don’t know where to look for help,” she pleads to Mohammad Eamal, a programme associate with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
He studies her documents and informs her that she falls outside the mandate of assistance.
The aid being distributed on this day is targeted at vulnerable Afghan refugees who have recently returned from Pakistan to a homeland that cannot absorb them. Like Basrwa, many no longer have land and cannot find jobs in their villages of origin.
“We’re focusing on the vulnerable of recent years. We can’t help everyone,” Eamal tells IRIN, as Baswra waits expectantly, a pout covering her missing teeth.
She spends her days shuttling in plastic sandals and a dirty shawl from the Department of Refugees and Repatriation (DoRR), where she has applied - unsuccessfully - for a land allocation to this aid distribution point, looking for help for herself and her six children.
“We assume that those who arrived years ago have been able to resettle,” Eamal says. He looks at Baswra and then adds: “But we have found that many don’t.”
Biggest mistake ever
UNHCR says it has realized in recent months that for the past decade, it has followed a misguided strategy in dealing with the nearly five million refugees - almost a quarter of the population - it has helped return to Afghanistan since 2002.
Despite assistance in relocating and an initial cash grant, UNHCR says most returnees have failed to re-integrate because what they need is long-term development work.
“The needs of the returning population [are] beyond the humanitarian scope,” Suzanne Murray Jones, a senior adviser at UNHCR in Kabul, told IRIN.
In December, Peter Nicolaus, UNHCR representative in Afghanistan, called it “the biggest mistake UNHCR ever made... [ ] We thought if we gave humanitarian assistance then macro-development would kick in."
UNHCR is now waking up to the reality that this never happened.
The Afghan government, dogged by corruption, lack of capacity and continued conflict, has been incapable of providing for returnees.
Billions of dollars in aid spent in Afghanistan over the last decades have not had the desired effect, in part because much of the aid has been driven by political and military goals, not humanitarian and developmental needs. And aid that has targeted the vulnerable has not been well-coordinated.
“Everyone is working in their own silos. It has not been systematic. There hasn’t been an integrated approach by everybody,” Murray Jones said.
For too long, she said, aid workers failed to address important questions: “Where does humanitarian assistance stop and where does development aid begin? How do we bridge the gap?”
As a result of that gap, the population in Kabul has tripled in just seven years and the government’s land allocation scheme for returnees is so overwhelmed there are already tens of thousands of families on the waiting list for Nangarhar Province alone.
Nearly 60 percent of communities surveyed in a recent study by UNHCR and the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation said returnees lived in worse conditions than local communities.
Many of them live six families to a house “that is not meant for living in, or on highways and main roads, or even in deserts, beneath the mountains,” said Ghulam Haidar Faqirzai, DoRR director in Nangarhar Province, which borders Pakistan. Others, he said, live in illegal settlements.
Reza Gul lives in one of those settlements, atop a steep hill of winding dirt paths where men smoke opium in the open and dusty children run around in open sandals in the depths of winter. She lives without water or electricity in a home she does not own. UNHCR helped her build an extra room to her house, but her situation is fragile.
“If we are kicked out, we’ll have to live under a tent,” she told IRIN.
Since returning from Pakistan, she has had no intention of going back to her village of origin, despite her current living conditions. This settlement, Majbooraba, is in Jalalabad, a large city where her husband can find work.
Asked what it would take for her to go back, she offered a long list:
“If we are provided with land, employment, water and work for my husband - that’s all I’d need.”
Stories like these have forced UNHCR to reconsider its approach to returnees.
Saracha, a vast agricultural village 10km outside Jalalabad, was on the frontline of the war between the Soviets and Afghan rebels in the 1980s. Just minutes from the airport that served as the Russian base, it was often hit by rockets.
Most of the population fled to Pakistan in the 1980s and again during the civil war of the 1990s. It was not until 2004 and afterwards that they returned en masse to find damaged irrigation canals, collapsed homes and landmines in their village. Children walked to Jalalabad city for school and had to travel to Pakistan for any serious health issues.
The conditions in Saracha were ripe for poverty, disillusionment, secondary displacement or recruitment to militant groups. But the villagers got together, elected a leader and started rehabilitating their communities. Then they contacted aid agencies for help.
In 2011, UNHCR began a pilot project in the village that aimed at focusing comprehensive development assistance in areas of high refugee returns.
At a cost of US$1.4 million, development partners have helped the village build a micro hydro plant; an irrigation system; and a waste water canal. They have also provided agricultural training, promoted honey and vegetable production, offered literacy and computer classes, and provided poultry as an income-generating mechanism to vulnerable families.
“Before there would be one project here, one project there. But under this programme, it’s a package,” said Golam Nasseer, head of one of the sub-villages that make up Saracha. “Our village has been rebuilt. Now, it’s like Paris,” he joked.
The idea of the project is to pool resources, including those that already exist in the country, and direct them towards communities where refugees are returning en masse. UNHCR will highlight the areas that need investment; and ask development partners to focus their energies there.
The model will be presented at an international stakeholder conference in Switzerland in May. It hopes to replicate it in 48 areas of high return across Afghanistan.
“Once we complete [work] in [one] village, we move on to another,” explained Eamal, the UNHCR programme associate.
Marines from Camp Pendleton depart for Afghanistan -- again
February 27, 2012 Los Angeles Times
Under a cold, gray sky, Marines departed Camp Pendleton on Monday for Afghanistan, more than a decade after Marines from the same base toppled the Taliban government.
“Daddy is going to Afghanistan to help protect people,” said 2-year-old Adrianna Dimmer, the daughter of Warrant Officer Jorge Dimmer.
This mission is different, though similar to the task in late 2001 when Marines from the base were the first conventional U.S. forces into Afghanistan: Defeat the Taliban and support friendly Afghan forces. Within days the contingent from Camp Pendleton will assume command of western forces in Helmand province on the border with Pakistan, once a Taliban stronghold.
There is less fighting now, fewer headline-grabbing casualties, but the daunting task of helping the Afghan government win the support of the populace remains, including training the Afghan army and police and trying to convince farmers not to grow the poppy crop that feeds the heroin trade and provides income for the Taliban.
“It’s going to be a hard year,” said Major Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus, an Iraq veteran who will deploy as the head of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), the command structure for forces from the U.S. and nine allied nations in Helmand.
As the Marines waited to board buses for the trip to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, there was time for last-minute discussion about how husbands and wives will stay in contact, with email and Skype, and how spouses will cope with uncertainty.
“You stay busy and you never stop praying that the Lord will bring them all home safely,” said Grace Rodriguez, 31, as she cuddled her daughter Miia, born two weeks ago. Her husband, Master Sgt. Hector Rodriguez, 42, served in three deployments to Iraq.
Katy Gillen, 24, whose husband is Cpl. Jeff Gillen, 24, knows she will be busy. She’s six months pregnant with the couple’s first child. She’s going home to Florida to be near her family, a common strategy among spouses.
The jobs assigned to the Marines suggest how the conflict has changed as the U.S. looks to decrease its troops and leave the country by the end of 2014.
Sgt. Clint Robbins, 27, wears a badge indicating that he is trained as a parachutist. But on his second deployment to Afghanistan he’s assigned to work as an accountant, overseeing construction projects.
“As we’re drawing down on forces, we need to make sure the money goes where it needs to go,” he said.
First Lt. Tom Allsworth, 25, will be in charge of building bridges and roads. “He’s thrilled that he’s going,” said his mother, Pam Allsworth. “I’m less thrilled, but it’s what he’s trained to do.”
For some couples, this is their first deployment separation. Some of the Marines were not yet teenagers in 2001.
Lance Cpl. Jo Le, 20, was in elementary school in Houston when Marines landed in a desert outpost called Camp Rhino in November 2001 and then blocked Taliban fighters trying to flee to Kandahar to regroup.
"Now it’s my turn to go,” said Le as he and his girlfriend, Karen, said their goodbyes.
For other Marine families, the departure was nothing new.
This will be the eighth deployment for Master Gunnery Sgt. Tim Gerdes, stretching back to Operation Desert Storm. There will be no other deployments, said Gerdes, a Marine for 22 years and a father of six.
“My wife has given me the order: This is the last deployment,” he said as he headed for one of the buses rapidly filling up with Marines.
|2012, afghan, february, news|