Thursday, November 29, 2012

Karzai Accuses U.S. of Duplicity in Fighting Afghan Enemies

Karzai Accuses U.S. of Duplicity in Fighting Afghan Enemies
New York Times
October 4, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan
The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, on Thursday accused the United States of playing a “double game” by fighting a war against Afghan insurgents rather than their backers in Pakistan, and by refusing to supply his country with the weapons it needs to fight enemies across the border. He threatened to turn to China, India and Russia for those arms.
He also accused the Western news media of trying to undermine the confidence of the Afghan people by publishing articles suggesting that a civil war and economic collapse might follow the departure of NATO troops at the end of 2014. However, he also promised, using his strongest words to date, that he would step down from the presidency and that there would be an election.
“No circumstance, no foreign propaganda or intervention and no insecurity can prevent the election from happening,” Mr. Karzai said at a news conference. It was the second time in recent days that Mr. Karzai had sounded angry and resentful over the policies of his American partners, and his comments Thursday were among his most pointedly critical in recent years, Afghan analysts said, suggesting that the always rocky relationship between the countries is hitting a new low. Mr. Karzai touched on a number of similar points in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” on Sunday.
“NATO and Afghanistan should fight this war where terrorism stems from,” Mr. Karzai said on Thursday, alluding to the havens in Pakistan where the Taliban take refuge. “But the United States is not ready to go and fight the terrorists there. This shows a double game. They say one thing and do something else.
“If this war is against insurgency, then it is an Afghan and internal issue, then why are you here? Let us take care of it.
“But if you are here to fight terrorism, then you should go to where their safe havens are and where terrorism is financed and manufactured,” he said.
He also expressed frustration about the lack of sophisticated weapons from NATO countries, saying, “Are we going to wait and do nothing, or should we buy them from Russia, China, India or other countries?”
The relationship between Afghanistan and the United States has been on a downward slide since midsummer, shortly after a conference in Tokyo at which Western countries pledged $16 billion to support Afghanistan through 2015.
Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, with whom Mr. Karzai had built a strong relationship, left for health reasons. His replacement, James Cunningham, lacks the same history with the Afghan leader. Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander as well as the American commander for Afghanistan, also does not have an especially close relationship with Mr. Karzai, although the two talk regularly.
In August, a tense and unpleasant dispute began between the countries over the terms for handing over Afghan prisoners at the American-run detention facility in Parwan. With most prisoners handed over, the Americans halted the remaining transfers in September after indications that the Afghans might release some of the most dangerous ones. The Afghans were furious and charged the Americans with breaking the terms of a memorandum of understanding on the handover. It took a lengthy phone call by President Obama to Mr. Karzai to get discussions back on track.
Then, eight Afghan women were killed in American-led airstrikes as they collected firewood in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan. At the same time, the frequency of insider killings of Western troops by Afghan security forces was undermining the relationship between the American and Afghan soldiers on the ground.
These developments, along with a lack of clarity about American policy after the November presidential election, appear to have enraged Mr. Karzai.
His remarks Thursday suggest that he is not sure whether he can count on the Americans, analysts said, and he is trying to leverage some commitment from the United States regarding Afghanistan’s future.
“He is tremendously confused about our interests and priorities,” Stephen Biddle, a professor of defense studies at George Washington University, said in a telephone interview. “Sometimes it sounds like Karzai thinks we want Afghanistan as a kind of aircraft carrier in Central Asia to use to attack our enemies in the region.
“He doesn’t have a very clear picture of what we are after, so he flops around between various fairly extreme ideas of American interest, because what he has seen from us is so inconsistent.”
Afghan analysts emphasized that Mr. Karzai was speaking to Afghans and trying to reassure them that he was not a tool of the Americans and Europeans, even though they still hold the country’s purse strings.
“By lashing out at the West and the U.S., the president is trying to send a message to the people of Afghanistan that he is not a puppet of the West,” said Khalil Roman, an analyst based in Kabul.
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Incomplete Election Better Than Illegal Government: Karzai
Thursday, 04 October 2012
President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that any kind of election is better than an illegal government, confirming that the 2014 presidential election will go ahead as scheduled regardless of the country's situation.
Speaking in a press conference in Kabul, Karzai emphasised that his government will not be legal after his term is over and said that none of the threats, including insecurity and "foreign propaganda", will prevent the election from being held on time.
"Any election, even if it's incomplete, is better than an illegal government, because in 2014 when my term expires, I will not be a legal president of Afghanistan for even a day," he said.
He slammed the role of foreign figures in the 2009 presidential election saying that they will not be permitted to interfere in the next one.
"As I told the foreign officials very clearly, they should not interfere in our upcoming election as in the previous presidential or parliamentarian elections. It has been proven that they cannot impose their aims on the Afghan people. So, we want a free election without the intervention of both foreigners and the Afghan government," he said.
On the signing of an Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic pact which has raised the ire of Afghan senators and lawmakers, Karzai said it will only happen when Pakistan accepts all Afghanistan's conditions including the end of the cross-border shelling in eastern Afghan provinces.
"If these conditions are met – terrorism is stopped, extremism is dismantled, anti-Afghan activities are stopped, the destruction of Afghanistan is stopped – then a friendship will start between the two countries which hasn't happened so far. Then the strategic pact will be signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.
He also urged the US and Nato to combat terrorism in the region, saying the focus should be to eliminate it at its roots – which are not in Afghanistan.
"The US and Nato should go to the places where the roots of the terrorism exist. They are saying one thing but acting contrary to that," he said.
Karzai noted that the Afghanistan-US security pact will allow for some presence of US troops in Afghanistan which should help peace and stability in Afghanistan. However, he made it clear he was not solely depending on the US, using the Afghan Air Force as an example.
"I asked the US government to equip our air force with weapons, intelligence and transport planes – we still haven't received a response from them. Our discussions will continue next week as well and if they show no interest in this, we will decide to whether purchase from Russia, China, India or any other country," he added.
Karzai laid some blame on the US for the ongoing shelling of Afghanistan's eastern provinces from Pakistan, saying that the Afghan forces were not sufficiently equipped to respond so the US should have stepped in.
"The Afghan government does not have required artillery to target those areas where they are firing from. According to Afghan-US strategic pact, US is committed to defend Afghanistan against any such foreign threats until the Afghan forces find the ability. We asked them several times but they never accepted that these attacks were occurring," he said.
Karzai stressed that Afghanistan will not retaliate in like manner to the shelling because the tribes on the other side of the Durand line were the tribes, the brothers, of the Afghan people.
Referring to the media, Karzai reiterated his past condemnation of Western media for propagating an "ideological war" against Afghanistan with the suggestions that it will face economic failure and the return of the Taliban when the Nato forces withdraw in 2014.
"The western media has launched an ideological war against Afghanistan saying that Afghanistan will face serious economic problems after the withdrawal of foreign troops or that the Taliban will come back to power after 2014," he said, adding that some Afghan media outlets and experts were following in the footsteps of the foreign media. "Criticising the government should not harm the national interests of Afghanistan," he said.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan media watchdog Nai chief Sediqullah Tawhidi responded to Karzai's comments which follows the Council of Minister's call this week for an investigation into those media which go against the "national interests".
Tawhidi said the government should work on improving security and providing good governance instead of focusing on the media's performance.
"Instead of threatening the media, the government should show its commitment towards ensuring the security of people, and launch a transparent election which would stop the rising concerns of the Afghan people," he said.
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Afghanistan imposes currency curbs in response to Iran rial dive
By Sharafuddin Sharafyar
Thu Oct 4, 2012
HERAT, Afghanistan
Afghanistan has imposed a cap on U.S. dollar flows across the border with Iran amid clashes there between Iranian police and protesters prompted by a collapse in the rial currency, Afghan police said on Thursday.
The Iranian currency's plunge has also jolted traders in the western Afghan business hub of Herat city, where currency speculators and businesses have been hard hit by the rial's slide.
It has prompted provincial authorities to limit to $1,000 the amount travelers can take out of Afghanistan, to be imposed on Afghan and Iranian travelers alike.
"We have tightened security in the border in the wake of rial falls and many complaints that Iranian currency is flowing in and dollars moving out," General Sher Ahmad Maladani, head of the paramilitary Afghan Border Police in Heart, told Reuters.
"Amid the complaints that the Afghan and foreign currencies are flowing out of Herat, the government has imposed a $1,000 limit."
It was not clear how Afghan police intended to enforce the limit along the porous border, which is crossed clandestinely by refugees, drug smugglers and even insurgents carrying arms into Afghanistan.
But Maladani said border police had already seized a suitcase containing 140,000 euros ($181,000) from an individual crossing into Iran.
In Iran, shops in Tehran's Grand Bazaar stayed shut and police patrolled the area a day after security forces clashed with anti-government demonstrators and arrested money changers. Traders told Reuters by telephone in Dubai that most stores were closed for safety reasons.
The rial's fall has badly hit cross-border trade in Herat, one of Afghanistan's wealthiest provinces thanks to Iranian trade and where traders recently ran briefly out of U.S. currency due to high demand from dollar-starved Iranians.
The dollar is a second currency across most of conflict-racked Afghanistan due to the presence of thousands of foreign workers and advisers, as well as 100,000 NATO-led troops.
Many Iranians have come to rely on Herat city's three-story currency market to secure dollars and skirt Western sanctions imposed in response to Iran's disputed nuclear programme.
Traders in Herat had previously accepted rials as payment, while Iranian taxis loaded with U.S. cash made their way back across the border at Islam Qala, sometimes paying hefty bribes to frontier police.
Now, the piles of rials in shops and on the tables of money traders are worth about a third less than they were a week ago, with the currency sinking to a record low of 37,500 against the dollar on Tuesday.
"People used to buy meat under a promise to pay in rials and settle debts much later. But even if I collect all the rials they owe me, it's not going to be much," butcher Arbaab said in his small Herat shop.
"Most of our business is across the border with Iran. It's badly affecting everyone."
The currency woes have, however, created opportunities for some Afghans.
Long used to paying top dollar in Herat shops filled with Iranian goods, including crockery, appliances and cookware, some residents now see a tidy profit in buying cheaply across the border in Iran and reselling in Afghanistan.
"It's a fortune for anyone who can go and buy goods from Iran now," said Faramarz Alizai, who makes frequent journeys across 110 km (70 miles) of desert over to the Iranian side.
"I buy kitchen appliances from Iran and sell them in Herat and other cities, earning good money."
The directive seemed to have little to do with the Afghan central bank and was driven rather by worried provincial officials.
Central bank Governor Noorullah Delawari said he had been warning currency speculators in western Afghanistan for weeks that they would suffer huge losses if the rials they had been buying with U.S. dollars suddenly lost value.
"I couldn't believe how anyone will exchange good currency for bad currency," Delawari told Reuters. "They saw the Iranian rial was very low and they bought. I don't know what was their game is, I don't understand."
Delawari said the central bank had noticed Afghan banks had been transferring growing quantities of dollars and euros to branches in Herat as speculators sold hard currency to dealers across the border in Iran.
Standing in the Khorasan market, the main currency exchange in Herat, money trader Mohammad Aref said he had been ruined by the rial's decline and even suggested a Western attack on Iran could help restore stability to the currency.
"If the Americans plan to hit Iran, they should do it now. Why are we suffering?" he said.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Matthew Green in Kabul; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Ron Popeski)
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Russia keeps door open to Pakistan after Putin cancels trip
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Islamabad yesterday in an apparent effort to smooth feathers ruffled in Pakistan by Putin's last minute cancellation of his own scheduled visit.
Christian Science Monitor
By Fred Weir, Correspondent
October 4, 2012
Confusion surrounds the Kremlin's hopes of establishing a tighter relationship with Pakistan, in advance of NATO's planned 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, after President Vladimir Putin abruptly cancelled a visit to Islamabad planned for this week.
It would have been the first visit to Pakistan by any Soviet or Russian head of state, and a strong signal that something might be changing in the foreign policy calculus of a country that has always strictly regarded India as its No. 1 regional partner.
The Kremlin says Mr. Putin's trip to Pakistan was never officially confirmed and his working schedule this week is "too tight" to accommodate the two-day visit, which was to have included participation in a regular summit of regional leaders on Afghanistan and bilateral talks on trade, technical, and military cooperation with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
However, Putin dispatched Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Islamabad Wednesday in what looked like a hastily arranged effort to explain the change to Pakistani leaders and keep the door open for future warming of ties. Experts say that an increasingly anxious Russia wants very much to engage with Pakistan, and sees it as an indispensable regional player in dealing with whatever emerges in Afghanistan following NATO's pullout in barely two years. The Russians fear a repeat of the turbulent 1990s, when narco-trafficking exploded across former Soviet Central Asia and militant Islamist movements based in Afghanistan triggered major civil strife in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
"It remains to be seen what will happen, of course, but most in Moscow tend to view it through the prism of how things went when the USSR pulled its forces out of Afghanistan in 1989. There followed a string of disasters which nobody would like to see repeated," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow foreign policy journal.
"Pakistan will be a key player, and it follows that Russia must have an open channel to Pakistan, at the very least to know how they will react and what they will do," he adds.
A Russian take on Afghanistan
Not everyone agrees that the outlook for Afghanistan after 2014 is chaos. Gen. Makhmud Gareyev, president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences and a former adviser to the pro-Soviet leader of Afghanistan, President Najibullah, following the withdrawal of Soviet forces, argues that things are quite different now.
"The fact is that the new post-Soviet Russian government established contacts with the rebels, and left Najibullah without ammunition," says General Gareyev.
"I firmly believe that Afghanistan could have been normalized if not for that.... The Americans talk about leaving, but they aren't really going to go. They'll do what they did in Iraq, leave some forces and regroup them. They'll try to keep bases in Central Asia and reinforce their presence in Pakistan. The Americans will still be around," he says.
"Which doesn't mean things will be OK. The Taliban will continue killing, and drugs will still pour out of Afghanistan. There will be lots of problems," he adds.
Putin's planned visit this week would have been the perfect opportunity to officially begin building bridges with Pakistan. He was to have attended the regular quadrilateral meeting on Afghanistan, which includes the leaders of Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Previous summits, held in various regional capitals, were always attended by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, who has met with Mr. Zardari six times in the past three years – though never in Pakistan.
Putin's planned visit this week would have been the perfect opportunity to officially begin building bridges with Pakistan. He was to have attended the regular quadrilateral meeting on Afghanistan, which includes the leaders of Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Previous summits, held in various regional capitals, were always attended by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, who has met with Mr. Zardari six times in the past three years – though never in Pakistan.
Uncertainty why Putin cancelled
Russian experts say they are at a loss to explain why Putin ducked out of the meeting, a move that seems to have seriously set back Moscow's timetable and led to a wave of injured feelings and perplexed speculation in the Pakistani media.
"One possible explanation is that Putin is a very specific guy, who feels like he can write his own rules and do things his own way," says Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs columnist for the Moscow daily Kommersant. He points out that Putin last May refused to attend a summit of the Group of Eight advanced countries, despite the fact that President Barack Obama had specifically moved the meeting's venue to accommodate him. Putin never offered any more detailed explanation other than that he was "too busy."
"So far there is no clear statement from the Kremlin as to when, if ever, the visit will take place. It's hard to see what's going on here, but the fact that Lavrov has gone to Pakistan suggests that there is a strong feeling in Moscow that if we miss the chance to develop stronger relations with Pakistan now, we may pay for it with deep complications down the road," Mr. Strokan adds.
Pipeline politics?
Some experts suggest that pipeline politics may lie at the root of the mystery. Russia's powerful state-run natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, is seen as deeply involved in plans to export Iranian, Russian, and Central Asian gas to the lucrative markets of South Asia via two projects that are currently on the drawing boards. First, the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, which analysts say Gazprom has a strong interest in, has apparently been stalled by Pakistan due to US objections. Second, the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which experts say Gazprom wants to build and own, may also be an unresolved issue between Moscow and Islamabad.
"There is a lot of talk behind the scenes about these pipelines, and it's obvious that interests are lining up. It may be a hidden explanation for the confused diplomacy we're seeing at the moment," says Strokan. "But everything will depend upon regional stability. You can't build pipelines through Afghanistan if there isn't reliable security there."
Experts say that time may be running out to find some kind of regional formula to handle the worst-case scenario for post-NATO Afghanistan that Moscow seems to believe in.
"From the moment NATO troops are partially withdrawn from Afghanistan, Russia wants that country to be controllable," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute of Strategic Assessments in Moscow.
"The fear in Moscow is that radical Islamism will spread, drug trafficking with explode, and Russia will be left to pick up the pieces. We know there's no hope for stability there without Pakistan's active participation, and we need to be talking seriously with them," he adds.
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Alleged Herat Kidnappers Executed by Taliban
Thursday, 04 October 2012
Taliban leaders in western Herat province have executed two alleged kidnappers by firing squad after holding a drumhead court-martial, local officials said.
According to reports, two men allegedly kidnapped the child of a family in the Pashtun Zarghun district. They were captured by the Taliban while the father of the child was paying them for the child's release.
"Although, the exact location of the [execution] is not clear yet, there are insecure areas in the Obe district in which the incident probably took place," Herat police chief Gen. Sayed Abdulghafar Sayedzada told TOLOnews.
Residents of Obe district confirmed that the Taliban executed two people by firing squad in the district after holding the drumhead court-martial while scores of residents were watching.
TOLOnews obtained amatuer footage of an execution showing two men being blindfolded and executed.
Herat Governor Dr. Daud Shah Saba also confirmed the reports, saying that the Taliban killed the two civilians ten days ago after charging them with kidnapping.
"These people escaped the law and have gone to these criminals [Taliban]. And the Taliban killed them in a volley of bullets at a drumhead court-martial," he said.
He condemned the actions of the Taliban, saying that the kidnappers had been associates of the Taliban and were collaborating in most of the kidnappings throughout Herat.
Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Herat denounced the execution and drumhead court-martials.
AIHRC chief, Herat office, Abdulqader Rahimi said: "A drumhead court-martial is not accepted by the Human Rights Commission by any means. We ask that those who have acted this crime to be referred to the judiciary organisations."
He said the commission officials are concerned about the increase of other groups exacting justice in the western provinces.
Officials added that the alleged kidnappers had been under investigation by the police but the Herat police had not succeeded in identifying and arresting them which opened the way for the Taliban to act as they did.
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Can the U.S. Leave Behind “Afghan-Sustainable” Military Bases?
As one outpost is prepared for a handover, a report raises the risks attendant upon the departure of American forces
By John Wendle
October 4, 2012
Combat Outpost Garda, Wardak Province
The arm of the battered orange backhoe rose up and came crashing down on the plastic-and-steel walls and roof of the barracks. The corrugated roofing squealed and popped off. A plastic wall buckled and fell flat, raising a thick cloud of dust. Bright yellow insulation spooled out and tangled everywhere.Then the arm swung over and scooped up a bucket of dirt from a smashed Hesco barrier and buried the debris.
American troops have abandoned “downtown” as they called this part of Combat Outpost Garda, in Wardak Province, and moved up to the top of their fortified hill in the lead-up to leaving the base in the coming weeks. It is part of making the outpost “Afghan-sustainable” as it is handed over to the company of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stationed here. But there is already considerable doubt, despite downsizing facilities to make them more manageable, that thefledgling Afghan security forces can sustain the necessary operations and patrols to keep the country stable as more such combat outposts (COPs) are handed over to Afghanistan amid the U.S. and NATO drawdown ahead of the planned 2014 pullout.
“We have a tolai here, an Afghan company,” says Col. Andrew Rohling of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and head of operations in Logar and Wardak Provinces, as he surveyed Garda with a handover team and an Afghan counterpart. “So our goal is to take [the base] down from what is an American size company to an Afghan size company. The size is about the same, but it’s the logistics. Its all about,really, its all about logistics. The Afghan tolai just doesn’t have the same logistical capacity as the American company.”
When the U.S. troops pull out of Garda, it and the surrounding high mountain valley will become the domain of the Afghan company– and the entrenched insurgent groups that surround it. For many of the Afghan soldiers, it is strange to see infrastructure that has been trucked in at enormous cost and built on territory gained with great difficulty knocked down with such little fanfare. As more of the walls came crashing down, an Afghan translator watching from nearby told TIME, “Every time the ANA goes off the base, they are attacked by roadside bombs, sometimes [insurgents] ambush them. I think if [Coalition forces] leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will start fighting everywhere,” he says, speaking anonymously because he did not feel comfortable talking on such a small installation. “It will be like it was – when there was civil war everywhere. There will be more fighting,” says the translator, who has lived on the base for around two years.
A report by an American military Human Terrain Team that was shown to TIME by a U.S. officer outlines the specific fears the U.S. military has about the upcoming handover of Garda. The study draws lessons from the results of thehandover late last year of Jalrez, a combat outpost just a few miles from Garda lying along the strategic east-west Route 2 that crosses the mountainous midsection of the country.
Taking lessons from the closure of the nearby base, the report, in part, reads that, “The closure of COP Garda will have minimal impact on the security of the predominantly Pashtun population residing east of the Jalrez District Center (DC); however, the Hazara/Tajik communities residing west of the DC will suffer due to an influx of Taliban fighters, and the resurgence of historical rivalries with their Pashtun neighbors.” Also, because there is only one road through the valley, Hazara and Tajik farmers will effectively be cut off byillegal checkpoints from markets in their provincial capital and in Kabul, just 30 miles away.
More alarmingly, the report says that, “Historically, Jalrez District has served as a critical avenue to facilitate attacks upon Maidan Shahr and Kabul.” With the closure of COP Garda, not only will ethnic tensions and violence increase in northern Wardak, but a critical blocking position will be removed, making it that much easier for Taliban, Hisb-e-Islami and other insurgent factions, such as the Haqqani Network, to infiltrate Kabul and conduct attacks.
A NATO official tells TIME that the Coalition has closed and handed over around 320 bases with half given to the ANA and half to other government security agencies. The official says no bases have been closed outright. The territory and bases have been relinquished through a series of tranches – with the most peaceful areas – provinces and cities like Bamyan, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Panjsher – handed over first. Col. Rohling is realistic about the Afghans’ ability to manage it all. Says he, “I don’t have a problem giving it to them – the problem is that they can’t manage it. They don’t have the fuel to run it, the power, all the things that go with it. The reality is, they’re not jacked up, it’s just that they don’t have the American logistical system.”
As the U.S. and NATO have tried to disentangle themselves from the country, they have pushed for speedier handovers. “The question is: how fast do you hand over? It’s not a gulf of difference. It is a spectrum and it depends on your judgment on the progress we are making. And on the security side we are making good progress,” said Sir Richard Stagg, British ambassador in Kabul, in an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday. “The more the people of Afghanistan see their own government stand on its own two feet, the better for everybody. This is not a matter of us cutting and running and disappearing, it is a matter of shifting the nature of our engagement from hand-holding to one which is offering support as needed andrequired.”
But most Afghans do not see it that way. “This round will be different from the others because insecure areas are part of this round of transition,” Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said Tuesday at a press conference, adding that while he welcomed the withdrawal of NATO troops, he was concerned about the upcoming fourth and fifth tranches. He added that, “The Afghanistan situation is very sensitive right now.”
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Afghan civil war feared as Taliban survive US surge
By Lawrence Bartlett
With the end of the US surge in Afghanistan, the Taliban have survived the biggest military onslaught the West will throw at them -- and fears are growing that a disastrous new civil war looms.
The last of the extra 33,000 soldiers President Barack Obama deployed nearly three years ago left late last month, and the remaining NATO force of some 112,000 will follow by the end of 2014.
Although a small contingent of foreign troops may remain to conduct counter-terror operations, Western politicians stress that what Obama once called the "good war" will "end" in 2014.
But while the unpopular conflict might end for NATO, some analysts predict a collapse of the Western-backed government and a civil war worse than that in the 1990s when Soviet troops withdrew after their own 10-year occupation.
"I think it is only a matter of time before the government collapses. That is certain," says Candace Rondeaux of the International Crisis Group.
"What will come to dominate in Kabul in 2014, 2015 will be chaos and violence.
"And the fracturing that we saw in the 1990s will only be compounded by the fact that there are more weapons in the country and greater incentives now for a lot more brutality than we have seen before."
Afghan expert Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace also predicts renewed strife, but goes further to foresee a Taliban return to power.
"After 2014, the level of US support for the Afghan regime will be limited and, after a new phase in the civil war, a Taliban victory will likely follow," he wrote in a recent analysis.
This contrasts sharply with forecasts by the NATO military and Western governments that Afghan forces will be able to defend the country after 2014.
That claim is "completely unrealistic", Rondeaux says, noting that the often illiterate and poorly trained troops "have no air resources, zero logistical supply capability and zero real cohesion".
The Taliban have also proved adept at tactics: if they lost territory in the south, they assassinated key officials, staged high-profile attacks that humiliated their enemies and infiltrated the Afghan security forces.
Last month, for example, they stormed onto one of the largest NATO bases in the country, destroying six fighter aircraft in the biggest single loss of air assets for the United States since the Vietnam War.
One of the aims of the surge was to put so much pressure on the Taliban that they would come to the negotiating table, but the insurgents called off early contacts in March, accusing the United States of constantly changing its position.
The New York Times reported this week that US generals and civilian officials have now all but written off the prospect of a Taliban peace deal.
Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul told Washington on Wednesday that the government would still work "vigorously" to seek peace with the Taliban, but the Islamists have always refused direct talks with what they call a "puppet" regime.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged after meeting Rassoul that the United States would stand by Afghanistan "despite the challenges".
The surge also never managed to cut off support in Pakistan for insurgent groups, which Rondeaux said meant "nothing has shifted strategically".
Pakistan, where more Pakistani soldiers have died at the hands of a local Taliban insurgency than US troops have been killed in Afghanistan, is widely accused of continuing to support the Afghan Taliban, who have havens on Pakistani soil.
But in Islamabad, there are fears that the US withdrawal will increase the spillover of civil strife into Pakistan, says political analyst Hasan Askari.
"The Taliban may not succeed completely in overthrowing the government in Kabul, but they can make life miserable and in certain areas... the Afghan government will have limited control," he told AFP.
Although Pakistan was an ardent supporter of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, its relationship since with the hardline faction has been uneasy at best.
"Terrorism will continue, so I think it's a mixed package for Pakistan and personally I don't see Pakistan in a position to manage these kind of groups that are based in Pakistan or stop the movement across the border," said Askari.
In Afghanistan, the United States has also seen its image tarnished among ordinary Afghans this year by the burning of Korans at a military base, the abuse of corpses and a massacre of civilians by a rogue soldier.
An unprecedented number of Afghan security personnel have turned their weapons against their allies, killing at least 51 NATO soldiers this year.
Despite this, many Afghans, particularly in the cities, fear the departure of the Western troops in a country where the government of President Hamid Karzai is widely seen as corrupt and dependent on foreign support.
"Many, many Afghans are preparing for their exit from Kabul and contingency plans are already under way at a very personal level," says Rondeaux.
Dorronsoro said the withdrawal of international forces will in some respects leave the country worse off than it was before the 2001 invasion, which ousted the Taliban for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
"In the end the withdrawal is the result of a failed strategy," he wrote.
The US administration denies this, but there was no fanfare at the end of the surge and the war has become so unpopular that both Obama and his rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, barely mention it.
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Afghan government: Insider attacks are terrorism
By Jamie Crawford
October 4th, 2012
The vast majority of attacks by Afghan soldiers on their U.S. and NATO counterparts are the result of a "mutation" of terrorist tactics rather than a difference in cultural sensitivities, a senior Afghan official said Thursday.
"The majority of it is a terrorist infiltration in the (Afghan army) ranks and forces which is a tragic thing in itself," Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan'sdeputy foreign minister, said of "green on blue' attacks, in which Afghan soldiers turn their weapons on NATO forces alongside whom they serve.
U.S. officials have said a percentage of such attacks can be attributed to cultural grievances by Afghan forces, as well as Taliban or other insurgents exploiting the situation to drive a wedge between the United States and Afghanistan.
"It is kind of a last-gasp effort to be able to not only target our forces, but to try to create chaos, because they have not been able to regain any of the territory that they have lost," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters last month during a visit to Asia.
The phenomenon, which has picked up in pace within the last year, is mostly the work of terrorists taking advantage of a current large-scale recruitment drive for the Afghan National Forces to meet recruiting level targets, Ludin said.
"I suppose what happened in that process, we perhaps overlooked some of the crucial screening requirements, and as a result the enemy used that as an opportunity to infiltrate," Ludin said. He added that the number of Afghan soldiers being killed by a fellow Afghan was "far higher" than the instances of "green on blue" attacks.
The Afghan government has taken on a wholesale review of Afghan army recruits Ludin said, and that a "large number of people have actually been taken off the ranks just because we were not satisfied with their backgrounds."
The loss of strongholds in the south of the country following the recently completed "surge" of U.S. troops, and the large scale of arrests of would-be terrorists in Kabul and other urban areas, are forcing terrorists to find alternate venues, such as the Army ranks, to carry out their operations, Ludin said.
Ludin spoke with reporters Thursday at the Afghan Embassy in Washington after joining Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmoui Rassoul at the State Department Wednesday for the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Commission. The commission was established as a part of the Strategic Partnership the two countries signed in May.
In her meeting with Rassoul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that James Warlick, deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, would lead negotiations for the United States for a future Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan. Eklil Hakimi, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, will lead the negotiations for Afghanistan.
Clinton said such an agreement between the two countries would "establish the framework of our future security relationship based on our shared vision of a secure and stable Afghanistan."
While talks with the United States are ongoing, Ludin told reporters that talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are "dormant." The Afghan government is working to define "verifiable representatives" of the Taliban who renounce violence, cut all ties with terrorism and who respect the equality of women in Afghan society.
Ludin said the Afghan government was not opposed to a separate U.S. attempt to negotiate with members of the Taliban in Qatar. In that effort, the United States would transfer five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar in exchange for a U.S. soldier currently held by the Taliban. It was the lack of Afghan involvement in the process that drew Ludin's criticism.
"We felt that if you are really true to the model of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process, we should be involved," Ludin said.
Those talks have still not begun.
At his confirmation hearing in July, James Cunningham, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, said Taliban leaders are "signaling they are open to negotiations," although he said the Taliban must end its alliances with terrorist groups such as al Qaeda before the United States would endorse any peace deal.
And with the leadership of the Afghan Taliban still operating mostly out of Pakistan, Ludin said that nation remains a crucial player in Afghan peace talks with the Taliban. However, Pakistan and other interested countries must still "take a back seat" in the actual negotiations, he said.
"When it comes to talking about the future of the peace process, the political discussion, that frankly is nobody else's job," Ludin said. "We have to do it."
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Peace Talks With the Taliban
New York Times
October 4, 2012
American military commanders long ago concluded that the Afghan war could only end in a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, not a military victory. But now the generals and civilian officials say even this hope is unrealistic before 2015 — after American and coalition troops are withdrawn. They are, instead, trying to set the stage for eventual peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgency sometime after their departure.
President Obama’s failure to make headway in talks with the Taliban is a serious setback. Of course, persuading militants to negotiate a peace deal was always a daunting challenge. But the Obama administration has not been persistent enough in figuring out how to initiate talks with a resilient, brutal insurgency that continues to carry out deadly attacks against American and NATO forces.
During the 2010 surge, when the United States added 33,000 troops to the 68,000 in Afghanistan and put maximum military pressure on the Taliban, the administration was conflicted and too cautious about pressing for talks. Top generals resisted negotiations, saying the focus should be on military gains. Even after the administration decided in February 2011 to pursue talks, it took officials months to agree on the details of their approach.
The talks between the United States and the Taliban began early this year but soon collapsed when the administration, faced with bipartisan opposition in Congress, could not complete a proposed prisoner swap. The Taliban wanted five of their leaders released from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for the sole American held by the insurgents, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The risky deal was supposed to be a confidence-building mechanism to encourage more serious talks. But its collapse has made talks even harder.
The Taliban are internally divided and unwilling to meet Washington’s demands to sever all ties to Al Qaeda, renounce violence and accept the commitments to political and human rights in Afghanistan’s Constitution. Pakistan has long played a destructive role, enabling Taliban groups and refusing to support negotiations. Even a more basic outreach to the Taliban — the so-called reintegration program that seeks to get lower-level fighters to lay down their arms — has enticed only 5,000 of an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 insurgents off the battlefield.
Still, the United States has not and should not give up completely on a negotiated solution or at least some movement toward reconciliation. And it can’t wait until 2014 or later. Although there are no formal talks under way, there are contacts between the Taliban and Afghans and others. Pakistan recently urged the insurgents to join the political process and agreed to help Washington vet potential new Taliban interlocutors. It shouldn’t take long to see if Pakistan’s Army is serious.
The 2014 presidential election is critical to any peace deal. One idea under discussion: an interim agreement under which the Afghan opposition, the Taliban and others might endorse minimum objectives rejecting Al Qaeda and supporting an inclusive political system. The goal would be to elect a broadly accepted new president better suited to lead than Hamid Karzai, whom the Taliban considers an American puppet and resists reform.
Given Afghanistan’s history, it’s hard to be optimistic. But with American troops leaving Afghanistan, there should be an interest in advancing a political system that insurgents might see as an alternative to armed conflict.
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Afghanistan Beats Oman in Elite Cup Tournament
Thursday, 04 October 2012
Afghanistan National Cricket Team defeated Oman by 74 runs in their second match at the Asian Elite Cricket Championships in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.
Oman won the toss and put Afghanistan to bat first. Afghanistan made 268 off 50 overs with Shahzad Mohammadi scoring one century and Karim Sadiq retiring with an injury at 85 runs.
Oman's top bowler Zishan Sediqi took a five-wicket haul to stop Afghanistan at 268.
But chasing 269 runs seemed to be a difficult task for Oman, losing all their wickets at 194 off 48 overs with Afghanistan's Dawlat Zadran taking three wickets and Mohammad Nabi two. All other bowlers took one each.
Afghanistan's win followed the victory of their first match against Malaysia on Wednesday by 36 runs.
Afghanistan will play their next match against the Maldives on Saturday.
Afghanistan is grouped with Oman, Malaysia and the Maldives in Group A while Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Nepal are in group B.
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Afghan president says 2014 election will be on time
By Mirwais Harooni
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday that presidential elections would be held on time in 2014 and he would step aside as mandated, denying speculation that the exit of foreign troops and security problems would delay the poll.
"The election will definitely happen. Go on and choose your own favourite candidate. My term, if prolonged by even a day, will be seen as illegitimate," Karzai told a press conference at his Kabul garden palace.
Karzai's increasingly unpopular government has for months been considering a change in election timing to avoid overlapping with the drawdown of U.S.-led NATO forces due to be completed by the end of 2014, when security is fully turned over to Afghan forces.
Last month a newly formed "Cooperation Council" of around 20 political parties warned that any delay to the presidential poll would lead to a serious crisis.
Opposition parties also say they are worried Karzai could act outside the constitution on poll timing, or try to install an ally as his successor to maintain an influence on power.
Karzai hit out at the foreign media for painting a "doomsday scenario" of Afghanistan after the NATO pullout, despite promises of ongoing international development aid and security assistance from Western military backers.
He said international media were conducting "psychological warfare" against the country's international reputation.
A German intelligence assessment of Afghanistan after 2014 seen by Germany's Spiegel newspaper this week said it could take upwards of 35,000 foreign troops to stabilise the country after the NATO exit, including elite troops and advisers.
The U.S. would provide most of those, the report said, while other NATO countries would be expected to provide around 10,000 soldiers. NATO forces in the country now number around 100,000.
The World Bank, in its most recent assessment of Afghanistan, said while the economy had expanded strongly in the past few years, bolstered by big aid flows helping real gross domestic product growth reach 8.4 percent in 2010/11, the NATO pullout was expected to cut that growth by about half.
Donors meeting in Tokyo in July promised civilian aid worth $16 billion over the next four years, but tied that to a much stronger effort by Karzai to combat corruption that has seen millions of aid dollars stolen.
The president also fired a broadside at cabinet members and other senior officials whose families live abroad and who he said were bad-mouthing Afghanistan.
"I have told many of them to bring their families back to Afghanistan because life and the environment is better and happier here," he said.
"Those whose families are abroad and fuelling publicity about instability, I will fire them immediately."
Karzai predicted the U.S.-led war on militancy would "not be successful from Afghanistan's view" because it was being fought in Afghan villages, rather than against insurgents sheltering in neighbouring countries, an allusion to Pakistan.
He said Kabul would only sign a cross-border security pact with Islamabad aimed at ironing out security differences when Afghans can be certain that "suicide bombers, terrorists, weapons and cross-border shelling" would stop.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been strained in recent months over cross border shelling which Kabul blames on the Pakistan military. Islamabad says the shelling is in retaliation for anti-government attacks launched by insurgents operating from mountain havens on Afghan soil.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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Afghan Resort Struggles to Recover from Taliban Attack
Voice of America
By Bethany Matta
October 04, 2012
In June, Taliban militants stormed a hotel at the Qargha Lake resort area a short drive from Kabul. At least 18 people died in the 12-hour assault, which the Taliban said was aimed at punishing people for partying, drinking alcohol and other un-Islamic activities. The popular resort is working on making a comeback
Like many of the Taliban's high-profile sieges, the Qargha Lake attack played out on TV.
Viewers who witnessed it will never forget the images of people clinging to the wall of the Spozhmai restaurant at Qargha lake, as attackers on the terrace above carried out their killing spree.
Today, for those living and working in Qargha, life is slowly returning to normal
Most of the Spozhmai restaurant has been reconstructed, but there are still signs of the attack
The floor remains stained from pools of blood. The bullet holes have not yet been repaired. And areas bombed out by the attackers' hand grenades can still be seen.
While the restaurant has returned to serving officials and middle-to-upper-class Afghans, the number of guests is down by more than 50 percent.
"There are two kinds of people," said Asadullah, the restaurant's manager. "There are those who have lived through 30 years of war; the attack has not affected these people. But, the other people who have not lived through the war; they are scared. The people who come here, they come for picnics, they are not those people fighting on the front line, it has affected them greatly."
Faridoon, the restaurant's accountant says he is used to attacks like the one at Qargha. But, still, he says, his life has been changed forever.
"I lost my brother in the attack, he was 23 and has two children," recalled Faridoon. "Two of our guards were killed and some of our guests."
Restaurants around the lake that serve traditional Afghan foods such as kebab and roasted chicken have also seen a decrease in business.
A worker at one of them says business is good at night, but there are fewer patrons during the day.
"After the attack, business has decreased by about 30 percent," noted one of the restaurant workers.
Security is tighter. More checkpoints have gone up and so has the number of guards patrolling the area.
Nabi, a cook at one of the lakeside restaurants, was also working the night of the attack.
"My family is happy I have a job and can go to work, but security-wise, of course, all Afghans are worried when someone in their family leaves the house," Nabi explained.
While some Afghans do leave their home and risk a trip to Qargha Lake, there are many others staying at home. It’s another reminder that nearly 11 years after the U.S.-led invasion, security fears still overshadow much of Afghanistan's daily life.
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Garlanded Afghan film Buzkashi Boys comes home for premiere
Tale of two young boys in Kabul dreaming of playing the national sport has invigorated country's tiny film industry
By Tom Peter
Thursday 4 October 2012
An Afghan film that has already begun touring international film festivals and claimed several awards is to have its premiere in Kabul on Thursday night.
Buzkashi Boys is the story of two young boys in Kabul who dream of playing buzkashi, the Afghan national sport in which horseback riders compete for possession of a headless goat. Before the boys can compete in the sport, they must confront the stifling limitations of life for poor Afghans.
The film, which was produced with a joint international and Afghan crew, recently won best drama at the LA Shorts Fest, which makes the film eligible to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Buzkashi Boys has provided a rare opportunity for a narrative, fictional film shot in Afghanistan to reach an international audience and has invigorated the tiny Afghan film industry.
One of those leading the production was the American film-maker Sam French. Working as a documentary maker in Afghanistan, French said he was often frustrated at seeing only the portrayal of Afghanistan's conflict and strife on screen.
"What we see in the west is not what we see here on the ground. The news is full of bombs, bullets and burqas, not the stories of the people who I know and love in Afghanistan," he said. "One of my missions became to show the world another side of the country."
French recruited local Afghans, some with technical skills, others with only passion and an interest in film-making, and mentored them through the production and post-production process.
The country once had a small cinema scene, but the industry came undone over three decades of fighting, especially during the Taliban's rule, when music and films were outlawed. Over the past decade, there has been a quiet resurgence in film-making, but the vast majority of paying opportunities are in television or non-fiction work.
"There are very few fictional films made in Afghanistan each year. You can count the number on just your fingers and toes. The main problem is there's no way to make income on films yet. The foreign film market has overshadowed us," said Saleem Shaheen, who owns two film production firms in Kabul. "In every house in Afghanistan, there is cable or satellite TV, and this changes every house into a cinema. People have a variety of films to watch in their houses, so why would they go out and buy a film?"
Massih Tajzai, who worked as the trainee director on Buzkashi Boys, grew up in a family of actors, but says there were few opportunities for training in film-making. Several local universities offered film courses, but Tajzai said most of the training relied on outdated materials.
"Our film-makers here in Afghanistan are not professional. They did not study anything but they watched a lot of Indian films and foreign films. Now they're just copying them without knowing what they're doing," he said. "Their films can't show the culture of Afghanistan because it's all copied."
The film offered him a chance to get on-the-job training that Tajzai says was invaluable. Now he hopes to study film-making internationally and return to Afghanistan to continue making movies there.
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Australia 'looking silly' by staying in Afghanistan
ABC Online
Greens leader Christine Milne says Australia is looking increasingly silly for insisting it will stay the course in Afghanistan.
Senator Milne told the Sydney Institute last night that the time had arrived to end Australia's military deployment in Afghanistan.
She says the situation there is not improving nor will it be any better by the arbitrary withdrawal date of 2014.
With four countries announcing their withdrawal, Senator Milne says Australia is starting to look silly awaiting instruction from the United States on when it should go.
Senator Milne says the war in Afghanistan is no longer in Australia's national interest and the best way to honour our soldiers and save more lives is to bring them home.
She says no-one in government can explain what can be achieved by remaining in Afghanistan until 2014.
"We are seeing increasing green-on-blue attacks," she said.
"It is clear, we are very likely to lose more young Australian lives, and the question you have to ask is is it worth it and what's it for?"
"Nobody can answer that question, then we need we need to bring our troops home out of harms way."
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Afghanistan Will Build on Sacrifices of Past: Rassoul
By Abdu Wali Arian
Thursday, 04 October 2012
Afghanistan will muster all its efforts to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, building peace on the sacrifices of the past decade, the Foreign Minister said Wednesday in the US.
Zalmai Rassoul said that Afghanistan is committed to making peace after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that there were tough times ahead.
The pair were speaking at the launch of a new body set up to improve bilateral ties between the two countries.
"We will continue to pursue the peace process vigorously," Rassoul said in Washington D.C. "This is the just and deserving right of the Afghan people and the surest path to ending the cycle of violence in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is fully committed to building on our shared sacrifice of the last decade, delivering results and taking on the challenges ahead."
Clinton renewed the US commitment to Afghanistan saying that her country will stand by it in the years to come.
"We know that difficult days lie ahead," she said. "But despite the challenges, the United States is committed to the people of Afghanistan, and we have made progress together that too often is overlooked."
Rassoul also emphasised that there had been improvements and noted that the Afghan-US relationship put Afghanistan on the right track.
"Today we are a proud member of the community of the nations and moving steadily toward a peaceful and self-reliant future," he said.
"Our partnership has responded to the threats to international peace and security, and has placed Afghanistan on the path toward a secure, democratic and prosperous future. I believe that this bilateral commission will grow into the key forum for our relations and partnership and into a convening point for many committed actors in both our governments, and to expansive dialogue to define and implement coordinated collaborative action in realising our common interests and shared goals."
Afghanistan and the US signed a long-term strategic pact in May this year.
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Exclusive: Army turned down Afghanistan-bound troops' preferred anti-IED system
By Mike Mount, CNN Senior National Security Producer
October 4th, 2012
Army staff at the Pentagon are denying or delaying some requests for a preferred anti-roadside-bomb system preferred by Army combat units deploying to restive regions of Afghanistan, according to internal Army documents obtained exclusively by CNN's Security Clearance.
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) continue to be a leading killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the anti-IED program has been at the center of an ongoing controversy with the Army accused of denying troops a better - and less expensive - system developed by an outside company in favor of one developed in-house.
According to the documents, the latest rebuff by Army staff was aimed at the 4th Brigade Combat Team (4th BCT) of the 1st Infantry Division, based in Fort Riley, Kansas.
Earlier this year, as the unit of several thousand soldiers prepared to deploy to eastern Afghanistan in one of the most deadly regions in the country, commanders filed their first request for a computer intelligence software system called Palantir. The system tracks insurgents and predicts where they might place improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The Palantir technology was developed outside of the military procurement system; the software ties together intelligence data to improve information for troops about the possible location of roadside bombs planted by insurgents.
But the Army has been using its own technology in Afghanistan, the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), which many soldiers believe to be inferior to Palantir when it comes to hunting IED’s. Army civilians at the Pentagon seem resistant to allowing units to change systems when requests come in.
Earlier this year, the Army conducted a survey of soldiers who have used the system and found a widespread belief that the Palantir system is a better resource than the homegrown, Army-wide DCGS software.
The 4th BCT request was turned down and, soon after, the unit deployed with the DCGS.
The move by the Army on the 4th BCT adds to the growing list of denials or delays it has made to deploying or deployed units, according to Army documents and e-mails seen by Security Clearance.
In the case of the 4th BCT's primary request, commanders from the unit - while still at their post at FortRiley - filed a request for the Palantir system to the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, which meets urgent needs for deploying Army units.
CNN's Security Clearance agreed not to reveal the names of the soldiers because of privacy concerns.
"Palantir will provide the capability to reach across numerous data sources and systems to quickly fuse intelligence to maintain situational awareness in a quickly evolving operational environment. ... We feel this system will aid the 4th BCT ... to make sound and timely decisions," according to a request by a mid-level officer in the unit to the Army's Rapid Equipping Force.
In response, the Army denied the request on the same day.
"I cannot buy Palantir anymore without involving the Senior Leadership of the Army, and they are very resistant," according to an e-mail response to the officer in the 4th BCT from a senior Army officer in the Rapid Equipping Force office.
The Army has said it is using Palantir in the field in limited quantities. It is also testing the system and how it integrates into DCGS. Results from those tests have yet to be released.
Last month, in a written response to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, about the status of the Army's procurement of the Palantir system, Secretary of the Army John McHugh said, "I and the entire Army senior leadership take these issues very seriously and have taken steps to thoroughly examine the acquisition, testing and distribution of these systems," according to the letter obtained by Security Clearance.
"From the time the Army's first conventional ground force requested the software in 2008, there have been deliberate efforts on the part of mid-level bureaucrats to deny units this resource despite repeated urgent requests from commanders," Hunter said in his original letter to McHugh, sent in August.
Hunter, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, has been at the forefront of this flap, calling on the Army to explain delays in getting the Palantir system into the field as soon as possible.
Major Army divisions or elements of divisions that have been blocked or stymied from using the software system in Afghanistan include the 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, and the 3rd and 2nd Infantry divisions, according to sources with knowledge of the request denials and delays.
But Army officials maintain that some Army units are using the system in the field and some denied requests were for common sense reasons.
“Some units requested Palantir and were rejected because they were replacing a unit that was handing its Palantir system over to them, so if there was seven more months on the contract it would not be cost effective to buy a new one,” said Lt. Col. Freddie Mack, and Army spokesman.
"With IEDs still the main source of casualties, there is absolutely no justification for these delays," Hunter said in an e-mail statement to Security Clearance.
"We continue to learn about unit after unit being denied alternative counter IED resources with wide use and effectiveness by other services and commands. The Army seems content with making things difficult for all the wrong reasons," Hunter continued.
The 4th BCT deployed throughout the late spring to eastern Afghanistan. The unit was based along the border with Pakistan, in Pakitika province, known to be an insurgent hotbed.
In August, from the field, the 4th BCT's commander, a colonel, filed an urgent request to the Army Headquarters at the Pentagon to again try to get the Palantir system for his troops.
"The threat from a reduced operational presence in boundary provinces and districts grows," the colonel wrote the Army staff. "With the upcoming expansion of the (unit's) operating environment to encompass the most kinetic province in Regional Command East, the Task Force ... requires an immediate capability to analyze ever greater amounts of data," the colonel said in the memo.
In the memo the colonel explained that the unit, which his replaced in Pakitika, had used Palantir with success, and not using the software system caused an unnecessary risk to troops."
"Disapproval of the Palantir platform will be detrimental to counter-IED analysis and operations," he said in the memo.
Army spokesman Col. Jonathan Withington told Security Clearance Wednesday night the 4th BCT had been approved to receive Palantir after the initial denial earlier in the year. He did not know when the approval had cleared the chain of command at the Pentagon.
Withington could also not say how long the acquisition process would take in order to deliver the Palantir software to the 4th BCT.
“I just don’t know how long the acquisition process takes for this,” Withington said.
The unit is on a nine-month deployment, which means some troops could be returning back to the United States by February 2013 or earlier.
A similar Palantir request by a unit in the 2nd Infantry Division in 2009 also was denied initially prior to deployment, but the Army eventually approved the request after multiple requests from the unit while it was in the field.
However, bureaucratic delays slowed delivery, and the system was received in Afghanistan just two months before the unit was to return home, according to a staffer familiar with the issue in Hunter's office.
The delay did not allow for training on the system or enough time to plug in information to make its matrix useful to identify potential IED sites, according to the staffer in Hunter's office.
According to CNN records, at least four soldiers from the 4th BCT have been killed since arriving in Afghanistan in June, two by IEDs.
Security Clearance has reported extensively on the bureaucratic flap between Army civilians and soldiers in the field requesting the software over the DCGS. In an August report about a memo from the head of the Army's test and evaluation command, Gen. Genaro J. Dellarocco, to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno hammered the DCGS for its "poor reliability" and "significant limitations" during operational testing and evaluation earlier this year.
Security Clearance also reported that earlier this year, after ordering the Palantir system pushed out to units in Afghanistan that had been urgently asking for it, Odierno requested that the Army's operational test command report on the software system by surveying troops who have used it.
Documents obtained by Security Clearance show that the initial report came back with overwhelmingly positive feedback on Palantir and recommended that more computer servers be put into Afghanistan so more units could use the system.
But despite the findings, the commander of the test command, Col. Joseph M. Martin, reportedly ordered the report destroyed and another report generated that removed favorable references to Palantir. An Army investigation is still ongoing into that incident.
The Army has spent over $2.3 billion in procurement and research and development to fund the DCGS. The Palantir system requested by U.S. troops is about $2 million, according to congressional staff familiar with the programs.
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Karzai Meets Protestors on University Renaming
Thursday, 04 October 2012
President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday met with university students who protested against the name change of Education University and assured them he would find a solution to their complaint.
Karzai met with the students at the Presidential Palace to hear their point of view and their suggestions for resolving the situation, said a statement from the Presidential Office.
Students began protesting on Sunday last week against the changing the name of Kabul's Education University to Martyr of Peace Burhanuddin Rabbani. It escalated into the students blocking the entrance to parliament and finally smashing the university's new sign a few days ago.
Karzai first announced the name change at a ceremony on September 20 to mark the one-year anniversary of Rabbani's assassination when he was head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council.
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Afghanistan - searching for hope 11 years on
A coalition of international forces marched into Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Eleven years later, many in Afghanistan and elsewhere are disappointed with the war that started out with such good intention.
American and British troops went into Afghanistan to drive out the Islamist Taliban terror regime. They were later joined by an international coalition of troops under NATO's command. And it did not take long to throw the jihadists out of power and out of the country. Afghanistan, and most of the international community, celebrated the mission as a 'good war' that was meant to serve the liberation of the Afghan people.
Ahmad Shah, a resident of the Afghan capital, Kabul, remembers vividly:
"On the day the Taliban were driven out, people took on a different awareness. It felt like a rebirth. At every corner of the city people were dancing. Beards were shaved off, hair was cut. For everybody it was if we were born again."
Flush with optimism
The new beginning was full of optimism. The country's development moved forward rapidly. A new government was installed and girls went back to school. For the Afghans, the new range of possibilities seemed endless.
Shah Hussain Mortazavi, a political analyst and journalist for a well-known Afghan daily, thinks that Afghanistan in the last few years, compared to the rest of its history, has witnessed many achievements.
"We have a modern constitution, a legitimate president, an elected parliament, a lively media landscape, press freedom is improving and there is an active civil society. Instead of just one voice, society is speaking with many voices," Mortazavi told DW.
Shaky security
But not everyone sees the developments in Afghanistan as positive. Many Afghans complain about a societal regression and failures of the international community. In particular, the tense security situation is a key reason why many Afghans, like Akhtar Mohammad from the Taliban stronghold Kandahar, have lost much of their initial optimism and now reject the Afghan mission.
"Nobody has any work here and you see many young people without jobs. We hoped that factories would be built for us to create jobs, but instead we're unemployed," Mohammad explained to DW.
"There are schools but the students are not learning much. The teachers are not teaching properly because they don't earn enough. The few schools there are, are in the city and not in the [outlying] districts. In all of Kandahar, we only have one hospital and it's supposed to serve four other provinces. When the foreigners cut off their funding, this hospital will also close."
Worried about the future
With the scheduled withdrawal of international forces, beginning in 2014, many Afghans fear that the situation will get a lot worse. Akhtar Mohammad said he was concerned about security and a possible civil war which could erupt after the pullout. The new Afghan state is not functioning very effectively, nor is it particularly democratic, according to Thomas Ruttig, an Afghanistan expert with the Afghan Analyst network. Eleven years later, things were not very positive, he said.
"The warlords have the upper hand and many people feel excluded. The Afghan government and the various components belonging to it are also exerting a lot of brute force, which, in the polarized atmosphere, leads to many people to choose the Taliban as an option."
For a number of people, the euphoria that came with the collapse of the Taliban regime has dissipated. The withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014 leaves many wondering what will happen to the country that 11 years ago had looked to the future with so much optimism.
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Kabul Municipality Illegally Collecting Fees: ACCI
By Zabihullah Jahanmal
Thursday, 04 October 2012
Kabul Municipality is going against a decision from the Council of Ministers and collecting transit fees at Kabul's gates, the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) claimed Wednesday.
In a press conference in Kabul, ACCI deputy chief Khan Jan Alokozai said the Council of Ministers had decreed that municipal council incomes should be collected in a separate account under Customs but Kabul Municipality was acting contrary to the decision.
"Kabul Municipality wrote to us that Kabul's gates are an exception to the decision, so they were handed over to contractors," Alokozai said.
ACCI estimates that around 1.2 billion Afg (US$520 million) in taxes is collected by municipalities each year.
Meanwhile, Kabul Municipality announced Wednesday that it was working with private companies to install guard-rails along Kabul city's main roads.
The Municipal Council said the railings would be built with some of the funds expected to come from advertising on the roadside barriers.
"We are attempting to use the help of private companies and banks [for funding] as we will install their logo on the fence," Kabul Mayor Mohammad Yonos Naw Andish told TOLOnews Wednesday.
According to the council estimates, the cost per meter of the cast-iron fence is estimated to be 5,000 Afg (US$100).
In other news, Kabul municipal officials said several roads will be reconstructed with funds from Japan this year, estimated at $33 million.
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858 newly graduates join Afghan army in northern province
Oct. 4, 2012
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan
Up to 858 newly graduates were commissioned to the Afghan army in the country's northern province of Balkh on Thursday, an army commander said.
"Today, after a nine-week training phase at army Corps 209 Shahin Headquarters' training center in Mazar-i-Sharif city, a total of 858 graduates were commissioned to the Afghan National Army (ANA) to serve the nation," General Aminullah Mubin, deputy commander of regional army Corps 209 Shahin, told Xinhua.
The new graduates are prepared to be deployed to any part of the country to provide security for their people, he said.
The Afghan government and NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) have stepped up efforts to train and equip Afghan police and army recently.
The process of handing over security responsibilities from over 100,000 U.S. and NATO-led forces stationed in Afghanistan to Afghan forces began in July, 2011 and would be completed by the end of 2014 when Afghanistan will take over the full leadership of its own security duties from foreign forces.
Under the U.S. President Barack Obama's withdrawal plan, the last of 33,000 U.S. surge troops pulled out from Afghanistan in September.
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Potential Suicide Bomber Arrested in Parwan
Thursday, 04 October 2012
A would-be suicide bomber was arrested in central Parwan province, local officials said.
The detained man, who is allegedly from northern Balkh province, was planning to attack the Parwan governor Basir Salangi, said the provincial spokesperson Roshna Khalid in a statement.
It was not clear if the arrest took place Wednesday or Thursday.
National security forces arrested the potential attacker and two others in the central capital Charikar as they were attempting to enter into the city, the statement said.
Khalid said that it was the seventh suicide attacker arrested by Afghan security forces that was planning to attack the governor.

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