Saturday, March 13, 2004

"The fledgling Afghan military is losing its morale both because of the successes of the (former ruling) Taliban and because the real power in the country continues to be held by the unaccountable warlords, not the central government," said James Ingalls of the California Institute of Technology and founding director of the Afghan Women's Mission.
"The ANA is currently nothing more than another US-backed armed faction, albeit a weak one," added Ingalls, author of 'Buying Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan'.
The army's nominal head, he said, is Afghan President Hamid Karzai, "widely recognized as a US puppet". But the army answers primarily to Minister of Defence General Mohammed Fahim, who is a warlord, according to Ingalls.
The Afghan Government took control of 10 border police posts built by the Iranian Government along the shared border of the two countries in the Herat Province. The completed posts are the first of 25 that are being built in Herat, Nimroz and Farah - the result of a bilateral agreement between Iran and Afghanistan in early 2003. The aim is to enhance the capacity of the Afghan border police to stop the illegal trafficking of humans and drugs as well as illegal migration.
Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen were targeting each other’s position with heavy weapons on Friday, as tension between Madakhel Wazir and the Afghan Tanai tribe took a serious turn over the demarcation of the controversial Durand Line in North Waziristan Agency....
Afghan soldiers have warned the Pakistani tribesmen several days back that the area would be bombed by the Americans and brought under the control of Afghan government by force, if the Madakhel tribesmen did not withdraw the claim.
Secretary of State Colin Powell is leaving tomorrow for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
U.S.-led forces have launched a new operation across a broad area of the south and east of Afghanistan aimed at capturing top al Qaeda and Taliban militants such as Osama bin Laden, the U.S. military said on Saturday.
The operation, codenamed "Mountain Storm," was launched on March 7 and involved troops from the 13,500-strong U.S.-led force backed by air support, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Hilferty told a news briefing.
"We believe that this will help bring the heads of the terrorist organizations to justice by continuing to place pressure on them," he said.
The watchtower at the United States military compound in Herat city is empty, the helicopter pad has been converted into a basketball court and the gate is devoid of the usual heavily armed soldiers. The 65-troop civil-military provincial reconstruction team (PRT), based in a residential district of the city, does not want to upset the neighbours with crass displays of military strength, explains Commander Lieutenant Colonel James Hand.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has replaced six provincial governors to strengthen reforms in mainly northern regions, where his influence is limited.
Two years after the fall of the Taliban, most of Afghanistan is ruled by warlords with little regard for Mr Karzai's government in Kabul. They have little to gain from a unified, democratic and centrally governed Afghanistan.
"If anyone thinks we are ready for elections, he's lying," said General Daoud Khan, the powerful commander of northern Kunduz. "But if we must have elections, those people in the south shouldn't be allowed to vote.
A major meeting focusing on Afghanistan is taking place today at NATO's military headquarters in Mons, Belgium. NATO officials say member states of the alliance will be asked to contribute troops and assets toward setting up more so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the north and west of the country. PRTs are expected to play a crucial role in stabilizing Afghanistan ahead of elections later this year.
The compound is near a rugged mountain area between Taliban leader Mullah Omar's home province of Oruzgun and Pakistan's tribal region of South Waziristan, where Osama bin Laden once was thought to be sheltering.
Correspondents who visited the base before it was closed to journalists last week report that it, like other such bases in Afghanistan, is crowded with Special Forces soldiers.
The Afghan border chief gestures toward a fresh spray of bullet holes across his pickup truck, then points toward the place he says the Taliban attackers came from: Pakistan.
"See the trees? They started from that border post," said Palawan, his head shaved. Afterward, "the vehicles came from there, and took the Taliban away."
Two Afghan soldiers were killed and three others wounded overnight after their vehicle ran over a landmine in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province.
Medical experts from the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition treat hundreds of impoverished Afghan civilians every week. But mobile medical teams that deliver medical aid to Afghan women have to be sensitive to the cultural traditions of the country's male-dominated society. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz traveled with one of the medical teams in southern Afghanistan and filed this report.
Weekly Afghanistan report from the UN.
About 2,000 supporters of a notorious former commander replaced as minister in the Afghan cabinet staged a protest on Friday to demand the resignation of President Hamid Karzai.
The battle for hearts and minds is being won in Afghanistan, says a top Canadian military man. Case in point: the Afghan capital Kabul is gaining 10,000 people a month.
The former commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan says a burgeoning heroin trade is hurting rebuilding efforts in the war-torn Middle Eastern country.
"Terrorist organizations are evolving past religious fundamentalism into narco-criminals," said Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, who recently ended six months as deputy commander of the international security assistance force in Kabul.
"The warlords and the terrorists who gain the vast majority of their funding from drugs now, including the Taliban, will fight to the death to protect their livelihood," Leslie told military and business leaders today.
"It's not necessarily for religious reasons, but for . . . personal wealth."
Hundreds of armed tribal volunteers began on Thursday their search for Al Qaeda fugitives in South Waziristan Agency, but authorities warned they had only days to deliver on their promise.
Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, 15 percent of Afghanistan was covered with trees such as cedars, pines and oaks. Eighty percent of the population was dependent on agriculture. Abundant fruits — grapes, melons, apples, plums, apricots and nuts — were produced and sold locally, as well as in Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia and India. The country was self sufficient in food.
Now, only 0.5 percent of Afghanistan is covered by forests, which can no longer be seen by satellite photos. Soviet soldiers cut large swaths of trees to deprive the Afghan resistance of hiding places. Later, Afghans cut trees for fuel during the long, hard winters. A seven-year drought in the 1990s capped the deforestation of Afghanistan, destroying not only the trees but also the orchards and vineyards, many of which had been abandoned by farmers fleeing the war. The former "Orchard of Central Asia" has become the poorest nation in the world, the World Bank reports.
***Where is the best place to get a drink in Kabul? How cold does it get in Bamiyan? What is the difference between a traditionalist and an Islamist? Why is opium poppy cultivation on the increase? A new guidebook on Afghanistan answers these and more questions as a tool for aid workers, journalists, diplomats and maybe even soldiers to understand the complex environment of a country torn by a quarter of a century of war.

"This should be compulsory reading for all new staff coming into Afghanistan. It really is an excellent book...there aren't enough copies around – those who have them hoard them" – Dan Kelly, Head of United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan
"Every single soldier should be issued with a copy before they go out...[it] could even save lives" – German army officer with ISAF
"The best book I've read on Afghanistan"
– Pam Constable, Washington Post Bureau Chief for South Asia

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

A four-part series by Stars and Stripes on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan
March, 2004

Reporter Terry Boyd spent five weeks with troops, eating, sleeping and continuously patrolling with them throughout the country. The series strives to show the complex set of missions that the 11,000 U.S. soldiers — mostly from the 10th Mountain Division — tackle every day.


Note: Two earlier articles from this series were blogged on March 8.
The scope of the upcoming operation is far broader in both Afghanistan and Pakistan than it has been in the past, and is likely to be launched in April, according to high-level sources that spoke to Asia Times Online.
An important development has already taken place on the Afghan front: access to Tora Bora has been restricted by international and Afghan military forces. While this piece of information made news around the globe, what is little known is that there is a truce between local Afghan military bosses in Jalalabad and local warlords associated with Hezb-i-Islami, the Afghanistan rebel group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that is spearheading the Afghan resistance movement....
In the next sweep, the US is expected to play an active role within Pakistan; however, the mission has been kept secret as this is a very sensitive issue in the country. The owners of major Pakistani press organizations have already been warned against coverage of events showing US involvement in Pakistan. And for foreign media correspondents, new proposals are under review to restrict their movements, as well as monitor their writing.
More than 250 southeastern Afghan tribal leaders Wednesday arrived in the capital, Kabul, with complaints that the US military was "mistreating" villagers in southeastern Barmal district of Paktika province....
Barmal, some 220 kilometres (140 miles) southeast of Kabul, is adjacent to the US-led Shkin fire base, described by the US army as "the most evil place in Afghanistan". More US troops have been killed near Shkin and neighbouring areas than any other US base in Afghanistan.
A fundamental truth about the present situation in Afghanistan:
The longer it takes to consolidate the peace and deliver a peace dividend to the beleaguered population, the greater the likelihood that anti-government spoiler groups, whether they are the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami, or al-Qaeda, will be able to unravel the nascent state-building process.
The Taliban are acutely aware that sustained donor interest and military support will not last forever; donor fatigue, shifting budgetary priorities and waning donor attention are inevitable. With the world's eyes firmly fixed on Baghdad - not Kabul - maintaining high levels of donor support for Afghanistan is an arduous task. A historic window of opportunity exists to stabilize and reconstruct this war-torn country, but with each passing day that window closes ever more slightly. Once that window is closed, there is no guarantee that a similar opportunity will arise again, for the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups will be waiting to take advantage of the situation.
Nato's top commander will unveil ambitious plans on Thursday for the US-led alliance to take full responsibility for the security of northern and western Afghanistan - eventually taking command over the whole country. General James Jones said the plan would be carried out in two phases as Nato and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which is separate from the alliance and focuses on fighting terrorism, carve out areas of responsibility.
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan is investigating claims that Taliban leaflets are being posted overnight on the mud walls of some village compounds near the Afghan-Pakistani border ahead of a planned U.S. military offensive. The so-called "night letters" threaten villagers who cooperate with U.S.-led coalition forces. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz traveled near the Spin Boldak border crossing with a team of U.S. and Romanian troops to investigate the appearance of one such night letter in the Takteh-Pol district of Kandahar Province.
A U.S. military probe has absolved U.S. forces of all blame for an air attack that killed nine children and an adult late last year in southern Afghanistan.

NATO's top commander says he is prepared to make aggressive demands on member-nations to expand the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
The U.S.-led war on diehard Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan is almost over and three-quarters of the country is stable and secure, NATO's top soldier said....

"the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban as fighters is virtually, almost complete...."

The Taliban recently shifted the focus of its jihad, or holy war, against foreign soldiers to target troops in big cities, where they say they have dozens of would-be suicide bombers, and away from remote rural areas in the south and east.
PAKISTAN is failing to cooperate with the United States in its battle to crush the Taliban despite Washington's restraint over Islamabad's nuclear proliferation scandal, US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in a report today.
Wolfowitz presents a blunt assessment of its key war on terror ally in an interview with the weekly Asian magazine Far Eastern Economic Review, saying Pakistan was turning a blind eye to Taliban activity during a renewed drive to hunt down Islamic extremists.
FOB SOLERNO, Afghanistan
(Army News Service, March 10, 2004)
The word came in. An intelligence report said a possible Taliban commander was nearby and task force leaders quickly formulated a plan to seal off the village.
Militants attacked a remote U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan with rockets and heavy machine-guns, sparking a battle that killed a bystander, the military said today. The main American base in the south also came under rocket assault.
Hundreds of colorful turbans dot the vista as tribesmen dance to the beat of drums, heralding an agreement to form a 600-strong tribal force to hunt "foreign terrorists" in this remote corner of Pakistan.
A moderate earthquake shook northwestern Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan on Wednesday, but there were no reports of injury or damage.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

A spokesman, Maulvi Latifullah Hakimi told Radio Tehran that Taliban fighters blew up a US military vehicle with a remote controlled bomb at Khogyano district in the western Ghazni province, leaving seven US soldiers dead. However, the US authorities were not available to confirm the report.
Afghan president says men should let women vote but tell them who to vote for.
Pentagon officials confirmed weeks ago that a spring offensive is planned against suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is in southern Afghanistan with troops from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and provides this account of the military buildup.
If Musharraf compromises too much, Pakistanis will conclude that he is a failed pawn of the United States, which might break him, said Hamid Gul, a former head of the Pakistani military's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
An Afghan warlord challenging US backed President Hamid Karzai in elections this summer today accused Karzai of firing him from the government because of his candidacy. Mohammed Mohaqeq also said he had received a series of threatening telephone calls, injecting tension into a campaign that could open rifts between Karzai and faction leaders who still control much of this war-shattered country.

Monday, March 08, 2004

But while most tribesmen deny the presence of Osama Bin Laden, the authorities in this semi-autonomous region admit some al-Qaeda elements could be hiding there. There are lots of places for him to conceal himself: South Waziristan can best be described as Pakistan's Wild West. The whole region is a mass of mostly arid mountains and hills, and is difficult to live in.
U.S. officials in Afghanistan say they are fighting the Taliban not only with guns but with infrastructure -- building roads, bridges, wells, schools, and power plants as a way to sap the extremist militia of the power it once held. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is in southern Afghanistan for a firsthand look at the U.S.-led coalition's so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).
Tracked down to his remote village in south-eastern Afghanistan, Naqibullah has memories of Guantanamo that are almost identical to Asadullah's. Prison life was good, he said shyly, nervous to be receiving a foreigner to his family's mud-fortress home.
The food in the camp was delicious, the teaching was excellent, and his warders were kind. "Americans are good people, they were always friendly, I don't have anything against them," he said. "If my father didn't need me, I would want to live in America."
US Secretary of State Colin Powell will attend the third international Afghanistan conference, scheduled to take place on March 31 and April 1 in Berlin.
Pakistan today said the son of top al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al Zhawari, was not among the 20 militants arrested during last month's operation.
Afghan women are training in the police force. Girls are back at school. Female athletes are putting on a demonstration at Kabul's main stadium. The once ubiquitous burqa veil is losing its monopoly. Women have come a long way in the roughly two years since the hardline Islamic Taliban was ousted from power, ending a regime that brutally suppressed them and denied them basic rights.
A spokesman of Afghanistan-based US military on Monday refuted the Human Rights reports on US troops' involvement in post-Taliban Afghanistan as unfounded.
"I think the report shows the lack of understanding of the situation here. This is a combat zone we follow the law of war," Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty told journalists at a news briefing here.
A Taliban official in Pakistan, contacted by NEWSWEEK, says he's heard that both top Qaeda leaders moved to more secure and separate locations in January, before the spate of publicity about an American "spring offensive." The Taliban official learned that, he said, from a ranking Qaeda operative, a Yemeni who told him that other Qaeda and Taliban fighters had moved into Afghan provinces more than 100 miles from the Pakistani border. "We decided to leave the dangerous zone for safer areas," the Arab told the Taliban official, who goes by the nom de guerre Zabihullah. "The sheik is now in the most secure area he has ever been in," the Arab said, referring to bin Laden. "We were all laughing at all these recent reports that the Americans had our sheik cornered."
Zabihullah also said he received an encrypted e-mail last Thursday from a senior Qaeda source in Saudi Arabia. The Qaeda operative told him not to be taken in by the American "psychological warfare" campaign about bin Laden's
imminent capture.
Further New Zealand contributions to Afghanistan and the international campaign against terrorism.
Unconfirmed report: Three Afghan civilians, one a child, were shot in a clash with US-led forces in troubled central Afghanistan after a convoy carrying US troops hit a landmine, an official said on Sunday.“Three people were killed when the coalition forces fired on, after their vehicle was hit by a landmine,” district police chief Ghulam Haider Khan said.
Another seven people, three of them teenagers were wounded during the shooting which occurred some 500 metres from the district centre of Charchino in central Uruzgan province on Saturday.

an update.
UN envoy condemns burning of girls' schools in Afghanistan.... The spokesman said the “cowardly” violence was aimed at thwarting reconstruction and development in Afghanistan against the wishes of the country's people. “The overwhelming majority of Afghans want their children – both boys and girls – to be educated,” he said.... Mr. de Almeida e Silva hailed efforts by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to provide replacements for the property lost in the attacks, and pointed out that gender-based violence against schools is not widespread, with fewer than 30 incidents reported out of 7,000 education centres.
FIREBASE PURGATORY, Afghanistan — The war on terrorism began in Afghanistan, and it will end here, said Capt. Joel Cunningham.... As the U.S. military prepares an offensive aimed at driving a stake through the heart of Taliban and al-Qaida forces, those on the ground in Afghanistan continue their daily fights. At Firebase Purgatory, 100 miles southwest of Kandahar, the war doesn’t feel like a sure thing. The war on terror is a low-key, often covert village-to-village struggle, the soldiers say. Like working a jigsaw puzzle “blindfolded and drunk,” says Cunningham, the officer in charge of Purgatory’s maneuver forces, drawn mostly from the 10th Mountain’s 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, or Triple Deuce.


Surviving a stint inside Purgatory.

At a jirga, or tribal council, attended by 10,000 tribesmen in Wana, about 190 miles south-west of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, elders agreed yesterday to to set up militia bands totalling 2,000 fighters to root out "foreign" elements in the region and hand them over to government forces.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

A United Nations official said Sunday that two more girls' schools have been set alight in Afghanistan, where the ousted Taliban regime was against the education of girls.
Two gunmen shot dead Muhammmad Isa, head of the Afghan Red Crescent in Zabul province, on Saturday near the provincial capital Qalat....Isa, a former mujahedin commander, had received repeated threats from members of the ousted Taliban regime warning him to leave his job, according to a Red Crescent official.
Khan, who was jailed under the harsh 1996-2001 Taliban regime, commands enormous respect in Herat, where he is widely-known as 'emir' instead of governor. His personal army is estimated to number some 30,000 troops. However, his paternalistic style of government has angered rights activists who say there is no freedom of speech in Herat. They accuse Herati authorities of arbitrarily arresting and intimidating opposition elements -- accusations Khan denies.
"In Herat there is also opposition," he said.
He has also been accused of trying to impose Taliban-style rules in Herat -- including the banning of music at weddings and the reintroduction of vice and virtue police.
Armed bands of tribals will help Pakistani authorities search for al Qaeda and Taliban militants in remote western regions of the country, tribal elders assured the government Sunday. A grand jirga, or council, of tribesmen decided that up to 2,000 armed tribal fighters would help the government search for foreign "terror" suspects believed to hiding there.
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