Troop pullout in Afghanistan set for next summer

June 22, 2010


WASHINGTON – The Obama administration reaffirmed Sunday that it will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer, despite reservations among top generals that absolute deadlines are a mistake.

An Afghan policeman stands at the scene of a blast in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, June 20, 2010. Two bombs set up in push carts exploded minutes apart in Lashkar Gah, killing a young girl and a woman. At leas 14 other people were hurt in the blasts. (AP Photo/Abdul Khaleq)

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff said an announced plan to begin bringing forces home in July 2011 still holds.

“That’s not changing. Everybody agreed on that date,” Rahm Emanuel said, adding by name the top three officials overseeing the policy girding the war: Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.

Petraeus, the war’s top military boss, said last week that he would recommend delaying the pullout if conditions in Afghanistan warranted it. Days after the date was announced in December, Gates pointedly said it was not a deadline.

Emanuel’s remarks reflect the White House view that Obama must offer a war-weary American public and Congress a promise that the nearly nine-year war is not open-ended. The problem, congressional Republicans and some military leaders say, is that a fixed date encourages the Taliban-led insurgency and undermines U.S. leverage with Afghan leaders.

Gates pledged Sunday that some troops would begin to leave in 13 months, but he was more cautious.

“We clearly understand that in July of 2011, we begin to draw down our forces,” Gates said. “The pace with which we draw down and how many we draw down is going to be conditions-based.”

Uniformed and civilian defense leaders accepted the announcement of a date to begin leaving as a condition of Obama’s major expansion of the war. Obama ordered an additional 30,000 troops, the last of whom are arriving now, with a mission to squeeze the Taliban on its home ground, build up Afghan security forces and improve chances that local people would swing behind the U.S.-backed central government.

With little progress apparent in the critical Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, the split between politics and tactics is again on display. As Gates acknowledged Sunday, it is taking longer than he hoped to gain an enduring edge over the Taliban in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Gates asked for time and patience to demonstrate that the new strategy is working. He lamented that Americans are too quick to write off the war when Obama’s revamped strategy has only just begun to take hold.

“It is a tough pull,” Gates said. “We are suffering significant casualties. We expected that; we warned everybody that would be the case last winter.”

At least 34 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan this month, making June among the deadliest months of the war. Casualties are expected to rise through the summer and fall as fighting expands in Helmand and Kandahar.

Earlier this month, Gates said the United States and its partners must demonstrate progress this year or risk the collapse of already dwindling public support for the war.

Petraeus told Congress last week that he would recommend postponing the start of the withdrawal if security conditions and the capability of the Afghan government could not support it.

That does not mean Petraeus is opposed to bringing some troops home, and he said repeatedly that he supports Obama’s strategy. His caution, however, is rooted in the fact that the uniformed military – and counterinsurgency specialists in particular – have always been uncomfortable with fixed parameters for an inexact process of persuasion.

The war strategy Obama adopted is based on the success of Petraeus’ counterinsurgency tactics in the Iraq war. It combines a short-term “surge” of forces to blunt rising violence and a longer-term project to persuade locals to help uproot a homegrown insurgency.

Emanuel did not dispute quoted remarks from Vice President Joe Biden that “a whole lot” of forces would come home in July 2011. Biden, who argued within the administration for a narrower mission in Afghanistan involving fewer troops, was interviewed for the book “The Promise,” by Jonathan Alter.

Gates, however, said he had never heard Biden say such a thing, and that the evaluation by the on-the-ground war commander will largely determine the scope of the withdrawal.

“That absolutely has not been decided,” Gates said. “I’m not accepting, at face value, that … he said those words.”

Emanuel spoke on ABC’s “This Week.” Gates appeared on “Fox News Sunday.”

India likely to get role in Afghan military affairs

June 22, 2010

Sikander Shaheen

ISLAMABAD – The ongoing row between the NATO forces and allied European countries regarding provisions of training for Afghan National Army is paving way for Indian ‘legalised’ presence in Afghanistan.

According to the information received from top representatives of the UN Afghanistan, a special delegation on behalf of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen landed in Kabul last week to discuss the situation with Afghan Government in the wake of reluctance of NATO’s European allies to cooperate any further in Afghanistan. Sources say that Indian diplomats were equally involved in these deliberations and the contractors of ‘private security sector,’ presumably the notorious Blackwater, were also present who are likely to be assigned a major role in Afghanistan’s military affairs in collusion with India. The award of lucrative $120 million to Blackwater in Afghanistan by the US Department of State is seen a pertinent move in this regard. The dwindling chances of training of Afghan forces by the European states are to blur further thus giving India all the needed justifications to ‘serve’ in Afghanistan.

The key European countries including the UK and Netherlands have refused to send further troops in Afghanistan. British Premier David Cameron announced earlier this month that the UK did not intend to amass any more British soldiers in Afghanistan while the political atmosphere in Netherlands ‘overcharged’ when the country’s coalition government collapsed last February following the reluctance of Dutch Parliament to give extension to Dutch troops in Afghanistan. Around 2500 Dutch soldiers are serving there, who are likely to pull out by the end of this year.

The only European country that committed to dispatch a ‘peanut’ amount of 80 trainers to Afghanistan in February this year was France. Still, it is not clear if the French trainers have landed in Afghanistan.

The target of International Security Assistance Force to train 134,000 and 171,600 troops of Afghan National Army by October 2010 and 2011 respectively seems to be a far-fetched notion. Likewise, training 80,000 Afghan policemen this year and those of over 100,000 in 2011, as decided in London Conference on Afghanistan, also sounds nothing more than a far cry.

Pertinent quarters say that at least 5000 to 7000 trainers are needed to train the Afghan National Army and Police but complete non-cooperation shown by Western European allies is adding to frustration for American camp.

With the pressure building on Pakistan to launch military offensive in North Waziristan, India is digging its ground to come out of its covert embryo and ‘ legally’ present itself in Afghanistan.

Afghan Taliban deny being supported by Pakistan

June 17, 2010


The Taliban’s executive council has denied a recent report that stated the Pakistani military and government provides direct support to the Afghan group.

In a statement released on it website, the Voice of Jihad, the Afghan Taliban described a study released by the London School of Economics as “a merely baseless propaganda launched to promote British and American interests” and “a dictated drama of the political rulers of the West.”

The Taliban claimed that it is fighting the US and Afghan governments with the support of the people in Afghanistan and that it has no need for Pakistani support.

“The current Jihad and resistance against the invaders are being led by the leadership of the Islamic Emirate based inside Afghanistan – obviously with the help and support of the Afghan Mujahid people,” the statement read. “The enemy itself admits, the Islamic Emirate has control over 70% of the Afghan soil. The Islamic Emirate does not need to have such councils outside the country in order to continue the current popular resistance.”

The Afghan Taliban have long attempted to portray their movement as a localized, nationalist insurgency seeking only to restore the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, and they did so again in yesterday’s statement denying links to Pakistan. “The present resistance is completely an home-grown Afghan Islamic resistance against the aggression of the invaders,” the statement read.

The Taliban said that it wasn’t “rational” for the Pakistani government to back them as Pakistan has declared its support of the US and that “manifestations and impact of their support would have categorically become visible.” The Afghan Taliban offered no criticism of Pakistan or the Pakistani military, however, while repeatedly lashing out at the US, Britain, and NATO.

The London School of Economics report, titled “The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents,” was released last weekend and created a stir as it accused the Pakistani military, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, and even the Pakistani government itself of providing support across the spectrum for the Taliban.

“Interviews strongly suggest that support to the Afghan insurgency is official ISI policy,” the paper stated.”It appears to be carried out by both serving and former officers, who have considerable operational autonomy.”

The London School of Economics report even claimed that top political leaders, including Asif Ali Zardari, have met with detained Afghan Taliban leaders and promised to free them as soon as was politically expedient.

Direct Pakistani support for the Taliban has been an open secret for years. The Pakistani government, through the ISI, helped found the Taliban and helped it gain power during the 1990s. Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government.

After the US ousted Mullah Omar from power in 2001 and 2002, the Taliban and al Qaeda regrouped in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan as well as in northwestern Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban teamed up with Pakistani Taliban factions and maintain safe havens and training camps in Pakistan to this day. The Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban’s executive council, is named after the Pakistani city where it is based. The ISI, through the Haqqani Network, is known to have directed suicide operations against the Indian Embassy and other targets in Kabul. Several Pakistani military officers have been detained inside Afghanistan in connection with terrorist attacks on Afghan soil, while numerous Afghan Taliban commanders have admitted to receiving support from the Pakistani military over the past several years.

Full text of the denial of Pakistani support by the Quetta Shura

A Study Team of the London School of Economics has claimed in a report that the intelligence agency of Pakistan has been supporting the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan militarily and logistically. It has claimed that Pakistani intelligence officials practically participate in meetings of the alleged Quetta Council and impose their discretions on members of the Leadership Council.

While considering this report of the London School of Economic as a merely baseless propaganda launched to promote British and American interests, the Islamic Emirate, meanwhile, declares its stand as follows:

1. The military power of the Evil Coalition including American, British and NATO forces have failed to prevent the victorious operations of the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Now they want to utilize their academic and research institutes in the work of the occupation of Afghanistan and for oppression of the Afghan Muslim people. The baseless report of the London School of Economics is a case in point. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan believes, the said report by the so-called research institute is a dictated drama of the political rulers of the West. It is not an investigative report based on facts and reasons, ethically carried out by academic research institute.

2. The current Jihad and resistance against the invaders are being led by the leadership of the Islamic Emirate based inside Afghanistan – obviously with the help and support of the Afghan Mujahid people. The enemy itself admits, the Islamic Emirate has control over 70% of the Afghan soil. The Islamic Emirate does not need to have such councils outside the country in order to continue the current popular resistance.

3. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has always emphasized that the present resistance is completely an home-grown Afghan Islamic resistance against the aggression of the invaders. It is not possible to lead such resistance simply by foreign support instead of the native support of the Afghan masses. Had a foreign support rather than indigenous support , ever played a role in such cases, then the surrogate administration of Karzai has military, espionage, economic and political support of 49 countries, why it has failed to prevent the growing national resistance of the Afghan Mujahid nation despite the support of the foreign invaders that the Administration enjoys?

4. Rulers of the government of Pakistan claim that they are the frontline pioneers of the American ignited war. They have not spared to do whatever was in their capacity to do. Hence, it is not rationale to say that they are supporting the jihad and resistance against the Americans in Afghanistan. Had Pakistan supported the Mujahideen, then manifestations and impact of their support would have categorically become visible.

5. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan openly invites all academic and research institutes, military and intelligence entities of the world including the London School of Economics to come to Afghanistan and behold the ranks of the Islamic Emirate with their own eyes that whether the Afghan gallant people or any foreigner make up the Mujahideen and leaders of the Jihad. Then again, they should check the ranks of the Karzai stooge administration to see whether their leaders are the gallant Afghans or the open enemies of our country and the invaders. After that, they should put, their academic and investigative report conducted on the basis of the ground realities, at the disposal of the public of the world. Had they done so, these academic institutes would have abided by their recognized norms and principles; would have saved their caliber and reputations, and produced useful academic report. At least, it would not have been a fabricated drama, ironically ordered by the arrogant powers.

6. To end, the Islamic Emirate calls on all independent countries of the world, particularly, the neighboring countries to extend their support to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to put an end to the occupation of the arrogants so that our oppressed and suffering countrymen can get rid of the occupation of the tyrants and form an independent system.

Leadership Council

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Taliban Aim at Officials in a Wave of Killings

June 10, 2010


KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban have been stepping up a campaign of assassinations in recent months against officials and anyone else associated with local government in an attempt to undermine counterinsurgency operations in the south.

The governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa, center, in white, was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt last year.

Government assassinations are nothing new as a Taliban tactic, but now the Taliban are taking aim at officials who are much more low-level, who often do not have the sort of bodyguards or other protection that top leaders do. Some of the victims have only the slimmest connections to the authorities. The most egregious example came Wednesday in Helmand Province, where according to Afghan officials the insurgents executed a 7-year-old boy as an informant.

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Afghanistan suspends two aid groups for preaching Christianity

June 1, 2010

* Government says it has no evidence
* Proselytising is punishable by death

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL, May 31 (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s government has suspended the activities of two Western aid groups on suspicion of proselytising, an official said on Monday.

World Church Services (WCS) and the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) were ordered to stop work as part of a government probe into the activities of aid groups after a private Afghan TV channel accused them of trying to convert Muslims — an offence that carries the death penalty in Afghanistan.

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Women worry Afghan peace jirga will harm rights

May 31, 2010

As Afghanistan’s most powerful men arrive in Kabul for a major conference aimed at starting a peace process with the Taliban, many women are worried the event could lead to a compromise of their hard-won rights.

Golnar Motevalli

Afghanistan is holding a peace jirga or an assembly of powerful leaders, tribal elders and representatives of civil society to consider plans to open talks with Taliban leaders in an effort to end the nine-year conflict.

A possible return of the Taliban has touched off concern about the fate of women who were banned from schools, the work place and public life during the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.

“I would not expect the peace jirga to do anything good for women. My hope is that it will recognize their presence and protect their rights equally to men, as presented in the constitution,” said Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a leading women’s rights activist in Kabul.

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Fazlullah killed in clash with border police; Maulvi Faqir denied

May 28, 2010

KABUL: Taliban leader Maulvi Fazlullah has been killed in a clash with Afghan forces near the border, our sources quoted Afghan border police as claiming Thursday.

Fazlullah killed in clash with border police; Maulvi Faqir denied

Maulvi Fazlullah, the head of a Taliban faction in Pakistan`s Swat Valley, was reportedly killed along with six of his comrades in the Barg Matal district of Afghanistan`s Nuristan province, which lies close to the border with Pakistan, said Mohammad Zaman Mamozai, chief of the Afghan border force for the eastern region.

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A flawed strategy and a failed war in Afghanistan

May 27, 2010

By Katrina vanden Heuvel
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Speaking to graduating cadets at West Point on Saturday, President Obama noted the “ultimate sacrifice” of 78 of their predecessors who gave up their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he did not mention that just days before, five U.S. soldiers were killed in Kabul, bringing the toll of American dead in Afghanistan to over 1,000.

As we pass this grim marker, the Obama administration’s strategy in Afghanistan is foundering because it is fundamentally flawed. It lacks a clear, achievable mission, isn’t in our national security interest and costs too much in treasure and lives.

The counterinsurgency strategy to win the hearts and minds of Afghans is failing — a Pentagon report last month revealed that only 29 of 121 critical Afghan districts could be classified as “sympathetic to the government,” compared with 48 “supportive of or sympathetic to” the Taliban. The number of Afghans who rated U.S. and NATO troops “good” or “very good” dropped from 38 percent in December to 29 percent in March — perhaps as a result of the civilian casualties that are on the rise.

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In Afghan graft fight, US sets sights lower — in rank

May 24, 2010

by Shaun Tandon

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Burned by going after President Hamid Karzai, the United States is taking its anti-corruption fight in Afghanistan to a lower level in hopes of rooting out the scourge at base.

An Afghan street seller offers the local currency called ‘afgani’ in exchange for US dollars and few pre-paid mobile phone cards, in Kabul, in April. Burned by going after President Hamid Karzai, the United States is taking its anti-corruption fight in Afghanistan to a lower level in hopes of rooting out the scourge at base.

The United States and its allies are stepping up training, enforcement and incentives to eliminate corruption among Afghanistan’s rank-and-file authorities — particularly the police, who are notorious for seeking bribes.

President Barack Obama’s administration put a renewed focus on corruption when taking office last year, believing that the problem had grown so severe it was sapping Afghans’ support for the West and its anti-Taliban campaign.

“I honestly will tell this Congress that I don’t believe that in advance of year 2009 that we paid very much attention to an anti-corruption program,” Arnold Fields, the special inspector general looking into reconstruction in Afghanistan, told a recent congressional hearing.

“I’m very disappointed… that after we have spent essentially 50 billion dollars, we still have a country that’s almost at the bottom of the list in terms of corruption,” said Fields, a retired Marine major general who was appointed under former president George W. Bush.

Graft watchdog Transparency International in its last annual report found that Afghanistan had the worst corruption of any country except Somalia, which has no functional government.

The Obama administration has made no secret of its concerns about Karzai, who was installed after US-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. Obama flew to Kabul in March to deliver him a strong message on corruption.

Karzai responded with a series of strident public criticisms of the West, leading the administration to change tactics. Obama on May 12 offered Karzai a red-carpet welcome and the administration — at least in public — has been reticent about corruption.

But with 80 percent of US money to Afghanistan bypassing the central government, US authorities believe they can make progress on the ground by eliminating opportunities for corruption.

Ninety-five percent of soldiers and 70 percent of police are now paid electronically thanks to an improved banking system, sidelining local chiefs who would previously dole out salaries, said Army Colonel Thomas Umberg, chief of anti-corruption efforts in the NATO training mission.

Umberg said the average monthly salaries for police officers have been raised to up to 240 dollars a month, hopefully reducing incentives to seek bribes — or to accept better offers with the Taliban.

Forces have also put blue dye in security forces‘ fuel so it is identifiable if someone tries to resell it, he said.

Umberg acknowledged that such steps would not eliminate corruption completely, saying there was a need for enforcement of the law “both at the highest levels as well as the patrolman level.”

“But if we continue to focus here and limit opportunities for corruption… we’re going to see some pretty dramatic improvements over the next couple of years,” he said in a conference call with bloggers.

A United Nations study in January found that corruption was the top concern for Afghans — more even than security — and that the impoverished nation paid the equivalent of nearly one-quarter of its Gross Domestic Product in bribes.

Cheryl Benard, who helped lead a study on corruption in Afghanistan for the Rand Corp., found that many Afghans blamed the United States, believing its money fueled the problem and that it should be powerful enough to stop it.

Karzai on his visit to Washington pledged to tackle corruption. In March, he signed a decree giving new authority to an anti-corruption chief, Mohammad Yasin Osmani.

But Benard said it was unrealistic to expect Osmani to fight corruption among top leaders and that Western powers should instead encourage efforts at the “middle-to-lower level.”

“If Osmani decides that he’s going to take on these big shots, Osmani is dead meat,” Benard said.

“My thinking is, why not let him do something where he has a chance of being effective. Why not start improving things at the level where people actually spend their daily lives.”

Kabul’s street photographers fade into history

May 19, 2010


KABUL, Afghanistan – As his workday begins, Mia Mohammed walks down a dusty street, a bulky contraption on his shoulder. He stops in front of a hospital and puts down the box, setting its battered wooden legs on the edge of the street.

In this photo taken on May 16, 2010, a young school girl being photographed is reflected in the mirror as photographer Mia Muhammed, who still uses a homemade box camera to take portraits of people is seen taking her photograph in Kabul, Afghanistan. His business, though, is coming to an end as supplier of photographic paper no longer stocks it because of dwindling demand and when his last four boxes are finished, he expects he will be too. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

His back to the morning sun, the slim, taciturn 37-year-old man fishes a small lens from his pocket and screws it carefully into one end of the wooden box. He places two trays of chemicals and some paper inside. Then he closes the lid and sets up a chair facing the box.

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Karzai says West starts to get Taliban peace push

May 19, 2010

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday the West was starting to realize the war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily and that the peace process must involve reaching out to the Taliban.

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai (L) shakes hands with Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg at the Presidential Palace in Kabul May 17, 2010.

More than nine years after their ouster from power by U.S.-backed forces, the Taliban have made a comeback in Afghanistan despite the presence of some 140,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military.

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6 NATO soldiers killed in Kabul suicide attack

May 19, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan – A Taliban suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy in the Afghan capital Tuesday, killing six troops – five Americans and one Canadian, officials said. Twelve Afghan civilians also died – many of them on a public bus in rush-hour traffic.

Smoke billows up from the site soon after a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday May 18, 2010. A Taliban suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy in the Afghan capital Tuesday, killing six troops, five Americans and one Canadian, officials said. Twelve Afghan civilians also died – many of them on a public bus in rush-hour traffic.

The powerful blast occurred on a major Kabul thoroughfare that runs by the ruins of a one-time royal palace and government ministries. It wrecked nearly 20 vehicles, including five SUVs in the NATO convoy, and scattered debris and body parts across the wide boulevard. The body of woman in a burqa was smashed against the window of the bus.

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Civilian Casualties Raise Afghan Ire at U.S.

May 18, 2010


An Afghan boy stands over fresh graves at a family cemetery near Koshkaky village, in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the scene of a deadly early morning raid by U.S. special forces

Nazir Ahmad says he heard gunfire coming from a guardhouse in the early hours of Friday, May 14, outside the large adobe compound he shares with nine families. Thinking that thieves were trespassing, he and several men ran into the ink-black courtyard, where they were struck down by grenade explosions and gunfire. “They were shooting lasers,” says Ahmad, 35, misidentifying bullets as the laser sights on his assailants’ weapons. Shrapnel flew into his cheek and hit his 18-month-old daughter in the back. A neighboring family fared even worse: within seconds, a father and four sons lay dead.

Local witnesses interviewed by TIME say the nighttime raid by U.S. forces killed eight residents of this sunbaked farming village in eastern Afghanistan. The U.S. military insists that the operation in Koshkaky, about nine miles (14 km) west of Jalalabad, targeted active insurgents in the area, including a Taliban subcommander who was killed. Two wounded fighters were seized, along with machine guns and “communications equipment,” the military said in a statement without offering casualty figures. (Afghan police are conducting their own investigation.)

But ordinary Afghans are more inclined to believe the worst. As word of the incident spread Friday morning, street protests erupted, as hundreds of people burned tires and threw stones to chants of “Death to America,” “Long live the Taliban” and antigovernment slogans. When a crowd tried to storm the district police center, officers responded with gunfire that killed at least one protester.

Since General Stanley McChrystal took command of international forces in Afghanistan last summer, restrictions on airstrikes have sharply curbed the incidence of civilian deaths, which have fueled public outrage and friction between the Afghan government and the U.S. Observers, however, point to a concurrent rise in night raids by special-forces units. According to United Nations and Afghan government estimates, night raids accounted for more than half of the 600 civilian deaths by coalition forces last year. After a series of mishaps, McChrystal issued a new tactical directive in late January to reduce casualties and be less invasive. He mandated that “wherever possible,” Afghan authorities and local elders should be notified ahead of time and that Afghan security forces take the lead.

But McChrystal’s guidelines appear to have been applied more to regular infantry units than to special forces, whose officers fear that their covert missions could be compromised by such consultations. Nor has the involvement of Afghan troops helped reduce fatal mistakes. For instance, in a Feb. 12 raid in Paktia province, special forces barged into a family celebration of a newborn baby, killing an Afghan police officer, his brother, two pregnant women and a teenage girl. NATO initially claimed that a joint Afghan-coalition operation had discovered the bodies of three women bound and gagged after a firefight with militants. But as contradictory evidence mounted, some reports suggested that a U.S. officer had been sent to personally apologize for the shootings and offer compensation payment to the relatives of the deceased.

Some Afghans ssy the errant raids may be directed by misinformation passed to the Americans to settle local feuds. On April 29, the brother-in-law of Afghan lawmaker Safiya Sidiqi was shot dead in a night raid on her family home in Surkh Rod district. Sidiqi says her brother had called earlier, saying thieves were outside the house. When she checked with police, she said they informed her that American forces were conducting an operation there. The U.S. military later asserted that the victim was a “Taliban facilitator” who emerged from the home with a shotgun, displaying lethal intent and refusing orders to drop the weapon. Lieut. Colonel Joseph T. Bresseale, a spokesman, dismissed claims that the weapon had been wielded in self-defense against suspected criminals, calling it a common excuse used by night-raid targets.

But residents of Koshkaky village who witnessed the latest American raid stick by their story. Mohammad Siddiq Bismil says it is normal for isolated farmers to keep weapons on their property, and when they heard gunfire, he says, several men gathered their rifles and two Kalashnikovs – for which they had permits – and fired several shots into the air as a warning. Seconds later, some of the men were gunned down by soldiers who had scaled 15-ft. (5 m) walls on several sides and blasted through a rusty gate. “Instead of announcing themselves, they shot first,” Bismil claims. The U.S. military says the firefight began after the men refused to step outside.

When the dust settled, villagers said, they were held inside the compound and interrogated until after dawn by American and Afghan soldiers. They maintained that they had no idea who Qari Shamshudin, the alleged Taliban subcommander, was. Their rifles and cell phones were confiscated, they alleged, and two injured men, said to be truck drivers, were taken away. Though reporters were not allowed inside the family compound to explore the scene of the shootings because women were mourning in the courtyard, there were dried streaks of blood outside and broken glass still peppered the ground. Bullet holes were visible in car windshields.

A short drive down the road back to Jalalabad, a gaggle of young men were gathered at a cemetery around one of five fresh graves, palms open in prayer. Assadullah, a 19-year-old student, listed the names of his former neighbors, the father and sons from the village: Sayid Rahim, Shafiullah, Shams, Zikruddin, Rasul Khan. “These are our brothers, not Taliban,” he says, “The U.S. is telling lies. We will fight the Taliban – and [the Americans] too, if we must.”

This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Disease ‘to cut Afghan opium by up to 70%’

May 17, 2010

by Sardar Ahmad

KABUL (AFP) – A mystery disease infecting opium poppies in Afghanistan could cut this year’s illicit crop in some areas by up to 70 percent, an official said Sunday.

US soldiers patrol near a poppy field in Kandahar on May 11. A mystery disease infecting opium poppies in Afghanistan could cut this year’s illicit crop in some areas by up to 70 percent, an official said Sunday.

The disease has led authorities to expect a “significant” reduction in opium production this year, with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) saying this week that the output could fall by up to 25 percent.

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Pakistan more willing to act against terrorism: Obama

May 13, 2010

US president says his government’s goal is to break down old suspicions, bad habits and continue to work with Pakistani government

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has said he is seeing a growing recognition among Pakistan’s leaders that extremist groups based in the country represent a “cancer in their midst”.

After a meeting at the White House on Wednesday with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama said Pakistani leaders were recognising that the groups that were using the border areas as a base were threatening Pakistan’s sovereignty. Obama said it would take time for Pakistan to assert control in the border areas that had been “loosely governed” until now. He said the Pakistani authorities were starting to do that, but it was “not going to happen overnight”. He said while full control over the historically ungoverned areas would take time, continued international engagement with Islamabad and Kabul was essential. He said the US and Afghan officials had been highlighting to Pakistani leaders that the security of all three countries was “intertwined”.

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