Saturday, October 3, 2009
Oct. 3rd, 2009
KABUL – Three American troops were killed by attacks in eastern Afghanistan, the military said Saturday, adding to the toll as the Obama administration debates its strategy in the troubled eight-year war.
Two of the Americans were killed Friday in a firefight with militants in Wardak, an eastern province bordering Kabul. The third service member died Friday of wounds from a bomb attack in Wardak the day before. The newly reported deaths came the same day as a suicide attack on a U.S. convoy in the south killed two Americans.
U.S. and NATO deaths dropped in September over the previous two months — possibly due to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan or because no major offensives were launched. But since President Barack Obama's decision to send 21,000 more troops to curb the growing Taliban-led insurgency, international and civilian tolls have risen steadily.
In far western Afghanistan, a Taliban attack Saturday on a NATO supply convoy killed a civilian contractor escorting the trucks, said Raouf Ahmadi, a regional police spokesman.
U.S. forces mounted major operations in July and August in southern Afghanistan to try to dislodge the Taliban from longtime strongholds and improve security ahead of the Aug. 20 presidential election, the outcome of which remains in doubt because of allegations of massive fraud by supporters of President Hamid Karzai.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
KABUL – An airstrike on a compound in southwestern Afghanistan killed at least six civilians, a local tribal leader said Thursday, after the U.S. military reported that ground forces were coming under fire from inside the residence and called in aircraft.
Civilian deaths have been a source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and U.S. military commanders and have infuriated many ordinary Afghans, who claim international soldiers use heavy-handed tactics.
In Helmand province, local tribal leader Ghulam Mohammad Khan said a farmer, his wife and four children were among nine dead in the airstrike Wednesday evening. He said three guests at the compound also died, but he did not know their identities.
U.S. officials said they were investigating the reports of civilian deaths in the Helmand airstrike and met Thursday with local leaders.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made protecting innocent Afghans a priority since taking command this summer and has ordered troops to limit airstrikes.
In Logar province, in eastern Afghanistan, a spokesman for the governor said villagers claimed a U.S. operation overnight killed an innocent shopkeeper and complained that American forces had wrongly detained three civilians. Din Mohammad Darwesh, the spokesman, said villagers were refusing to bury the shopkeeper's body, in order to prove his innocence, and demanding the release of the three men.
Also Thursday, a U.S. military helicopter made an emergency landing after coming under rocket-propelled grenade fire in Nangahar province of eastern Afghanistan, U.S. spokeswoman Capt. Regina Willis said.
There were no serious injuries, she said.
The incidents occurred as President Barack Obama is considering whether to send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to confront a growing Taliban-led insurgency.
Top military commanders and congressional Republicans are pushing for a troop increase, but there are division within the Obama administration on whether to escalate the U.S. presence.
White House officials say it may take weeks more before the president decides whether to overhaul the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan or send more troops.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
by Gerald Posner
One is branded a druglord; the other a corrupt tycoon—critics say President Karzai's brothers undermine Afghanistan. Both respond exclusively for the first time.
“My friend, I am ready to take a polygraph. I am innocent. If anyone can find any money from my family hidden in any bank in the world, I am telling you that they can keep it.” Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is excited, his voice rising as he talks. He is tired of six years of news reports casting him as the Afghan Pablo Escobar.
“Our character is being assassinated before the entire world,” says Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s older brother, and the subject of widespread reports questioning a purported fortune through favoritism and tainted deals. “I am sick and tired of people thinking that I have accomplished what I have only because I am the president’s brother.”
“I am the most wanted person by al Qaeda and the Taliban. That is because I have brought the tribes together. I have done so much work for the Americans, so much of it secret, it is incredible how much I have helped the Americans. And I am repaid with these press reports?”
Ahmed and Mahmoud are cited by Afghanistan watchers as serious political liabilities to the country’s fragile democracy and to Hamid Karzai’s claim that his government is making progress against the systemic corruption that is part of the nation’s DNA.
Neither has ever been charged with any crime. The duo recently came out swinging, providing The Daily Beast exclusive and feisty interviews regarding what Ahmed calls “the slanders, lies, and vicious attacks” swirling around them.
First, some background. Afghan and American officials have privately accused Ahmed, who heads the powerful provincial council in Kandahar, of being a heroin kingpin in the nation that supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium supply. They cite a few examples. In 2004, Afghan security forces stumbled on a cache of heroin hidden in tractor-trailer outside Kandahar. The local commander, Habibullah Jan, said Ahmed called him and demanded the drugs be released. Jan was ambushed and shot to death in 2007, with government officials blaming the Taliban. In 2006, a DEA informant, Hajji Aman Kheri, gave a tip about a truck near Kandahar carrying 110 pounds of pure heroin, allegedly under the watchful eye of one of Ahmed’s bodyguards. And last month, the German magazine Stern reported that British troops seized several tons of raw opium on one of Ahmed’s farms.
Ahmed spent a half hour debunking the details of the various charges. Jan was a well-known political opponent of his brother, he says, and went on to become an opposition member of parliament. So why would he have told a political foe to release seized drugs? “Anyone who understands our politics would know this is impossible it would be so stupid.”
As for the 2006 heroin seizure, “I am guilty by association. Can I be responsible for everyone who used to work for me?” And as for reports that British troops seized opium on his farm, he gets agitated. “Look, my friend, what land? What happened to the opium? The driver? What happened to those people who were taking the drugs somewhere? Every major foreign intelligence and drug agency is operating in Afghanistan. If I am a drug dealer why have they not produced a shred of real evidence, not just get somebody to print false rumors?”
Evidently Hamid Karzai heard the rumors often enough that he wanted to know if they were true. In 2006, he summoned to the presidential palace both the American ambassador, Ronald Neumann, and the embassy’s CIA station chief. Also present were the British ambassador and his MI6 spymaster.
Julia Zappei, Associated Press Writer – Tue Sep 29, 5:18 am ET
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A Muslim woman sentenced to caning for drinking beer wants to get the punishment over with now that it has been confirmed by an Islamic appeals court judge, her father said Tuesday.
If the punishment is carried out, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 32-year-old mother of two, would become the first Muslim woman to be caned in Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the 28 million people are Muslims.
The case has ignited a debate in this moderate Muslim-majority country whether conservative Islamists, who advocate harsh punishments, are gaining influence over the justice system and whether Islamic laws should intrude into people's private lives.
According to local media reports Monday, chief Judge Abdul Hamid Abdul Rahman of Pahang state's Shariah courts decided to uphold the sentence passed by the state high court on Kartika after a one-month review of the case. No date was immediately set for the caning.
Kartika's father, Shukarno Abdul Muttlib, 60, told The Associated Press that while the family had yet to be informed of the judge's latest decision, his daughter "accepts the punishment" and would like it to be carried out sooner rather than later.
"We obey the law," he said, adding that "it's a challenge ... (but) it's the way of my life."
Pahang court and religious department officials declined to talk about the case Tuesday. Others could not immediately be reached.
Kartika, a former model and nurse, was sentenced in July to six strokes of the cane and a fine of 5,000 ringgit ($1,400) for drinking beer in December 2007 at a beach resort in violation of Islamic laws. Islam prohibits Muslims from drinking alcohol.
Kartika, who pleaded guilty, refused to appeal her sentence and was on the verge of being caned on Aug. 24. But the punishment was halted at the last minute following an uproar in the media and among rights activists.
Instead, the government asked the Shariah High Court Appeals Panel in Kuantan, the capital of Pahang, to review the verdict. Judge Abdul Hamid, who headed the panel, ruled that the sentence was correct and should go forward.
The caning would be done with a thin stick on the back and would be largely symbolic rather than aimed at causing pain, unlike the caning of rapists and drug smugglers with a thick rattan stick on bare buttocks that causes the skin to break and leave scars.
Deputy Home Minister Abu Seman Yusop said the prisons department has trained personnel who can carry out the caning in accordance with Islamic rules.
The date and time for the whipping will have to be decided by the court first, he said.
Malaysia follows a dual-track justice system. Shariah laws apply to Muslims in all personal matters. Non-Muslims — Chinese, Indians, Sikhs and other minorities — are covered by civil laws, and are free to drink.
Only three states in Malaysia — Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan — impose caning for drinking alcohol. In the other 10 states it is punishable by a fine.
2 US soldiers killed in Philippines blast
By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press Writer Jim Gomez, Associated Press Writer – Sept-29th, 2009
MANILA, Philippines – Two U.S. Navy construction troops and a Philippines marine were killed Tuesday in a roadside blast in the southern Philippines that officials said was likely an attack by suspected al-Qaida-linked militants.
It was believed to be just the second time U.S. soldiers have been killed in the southern Philippines in violence blamed on the Abu Sayyaf group since American counterterrorism troops were deployed to the region in 2002, and the first fatalities in seven years.
One Philippine marine also was killed and two others were wounded in the blast on Jolo island, a poor, predominantly Muslim region where the Americans have been providing combat training and weapons to Filipino troops battling the Abu Sayyaf.
Philippine officials described the blast as being caused by a land mine, a description normally used for military-grade weapons. The U.S. Embassy said it was an improvised explosive device.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said a Philippine military convoy joined by U.S. troops was on its way to Kagay village in Jolo's Indanan township where troops were building two school buildings and digging artesian wells when the land mine exploded.
One U.S. soldier died at the scene, while another who was critically wounded in the blast died a short time later, Brawner told The Associated Press.
They were from the Naval Construction Battalions, or Seabees, which gather skilled craftsmen like electricians and carpenters into special military units.
"They were not in combat," Brawner said. "These U.S. soldiers were there in the area to supervise the developmental projects in Indanan."
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy said the deaths happened when the soldiers' vehicle struck an improvised explosive device at about 8:45 a.m. (0045 GMT) during a resupply mission for the school construction project.
The troops were not identified pending notification of next of kin.
The Philippine government offered its condolences to the families of the slain soldiers and praised them for helping undertake civic projects and secure peace on Jolo, about 590 miles (950 kilometers) south of Manila, the capital.
Brawner said no suspects were immediately identified, but suspicion immediately fell on the well-armed Abu Sayyaf, which is blamed for numerous bombings, beheadings and kidnappings of Filipinos and foreigners in the south in recent years.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, a military commander overseeing counterterrorism campaigns in the south, told The Associated Press that Abu Sayyaf had likely planted the explosive in Indanan, where the militants have jungle strongholds.
The U.S. Seabees were immediately pulled back from the school project in Indanan after the attack, Dolorfino said.
He said U.S troops have long been targets for militants in the south, and Tuesday's blast would not likely cause any change in Washington's resolve to keep troops there.
Two weeks ago, a suspected Abu Sayyaf militant or sympathizer hurled a grenade near U.S. troops unloading supplies at Jolo's pier. The Americans were not hurt, he said.
Abu Sayyaf attempts to sabotage U.S. projects indicated the militants were wary of losing community support, he said.
"They know that once education sets in, the villagers will be well-informed and hard to fool and to recruit," Dolorfino said.
Abu Sayyaf is believed to have about 400 fighters, to have received funds from al-Qaida and is suspected of sheltering militants from the larger Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah.
An estimated 600 U.S. troops are currently stationed in the Philippines, mostly in the southern front lines of the Philippine military's operations against the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiyah.
In October 2002, a U.S. Green Beret was killed along with two Filipinos when a bomb loaded with nails exploded outside a cafe in Zamboanga city.
Change of Tactics Needed in Afghanistan War, Chief of NATO Says
Viola Gienger Viola Gienger – Tue Sep 29, 12:01 am ET
Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said nations waging the war in Afghanistan must change their tactics and promote successes or risk losing public support there and at home.
“Reaching our goal in Afghanistan is not guaranteed,” Rasmussen told an audience at the Atlantic Council policy group in Washington yesterday. More troops will be needed at least to train the Afghan National Security Forces, Rasmussen said, while cautioning that a revised strategy must be agreed upon before decisions are made about the additional resources.
“We cannot continue to do exactly what we’re doing now,” Rasmussen said, calling for more focus on civilian reconstruction to accompany the military campaign. “Things are going to have to change.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization leads the 41-nation military campaign in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime shielded al-Qaeda before being ousted by the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The U.S. has 65,000 troops in the country, with the remainder of the 103,000-strong foreign force contributed by NATO members and other allies.
President Barack Obama is reviewing whether to continue with a strategy in Afghanistan that focuses on protecting and supporting the population against al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. Rasmussen, 56, a former prime minister of Denmark, met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday and is scheduled to meet today with Obama at the White House.
The top commander in the war, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, recently submitted an assessment of the security situation in the country that recommends even more emphasis on protecting the population to make room for the countryâ€™s development. He concluded he would need more forces to carry out the strategy than the 68,000 the U.S. expects to have in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Leaders of the nations fighting in Afghanistan must speak out more about the successes achieved in the eight years of the war to win back public support, Rasmussen said.
He cited 7 million Afghan students in school, one-third of them girls, and that millions of citizens were able to vote in the nationâ€™s presidential election last month in the face of threats from the Taliban.
The election results remain in dispute because of fraud allegations. Rasmussen said he agreed that the NATO-led alliance needs a “credible and legitimate government in Afghanistan.”
Some administration officials and members of Congress, who question whether the U.S. should step up its involvement as McChrystal recommends, cite the risk that the fraud allegations could erode the strength of the Afghan government.
“We should let the Afghans decide whether they consider the elections to be credible or not,” Rasmussen said.
The NATO leader also said Afghan women now can walk freely in the streets, hold jobs and serve in parliament, and that al- Qaeda has no haven and no training camps in Afghanistan. â€œThese are huge achievements in just eight years,â€
The mission in Afghanistan is broader than just attacking al-Qaeda, said Rasmussen, who was making his first speech in the U.S. since taking over as the allianceâ€™s top official on Aug. 1.
Should the Taliban take over the country again, they would harbor terrorists as they did before, neighboring Pakistan would be destabilized and militant attacks would spread throughout the region and beyond, he said.
Afghanistan demonstrates how NATO’s territorial defenses now and in the future begin far beyond the borders of the alliance members, Rasmussen said.
“NATO will stay for as long as it takes to succeed,” he said. “But that cannot mean forever.”
Rasmussen has said he opposes a timetable for withdrawing international forces from Afghanistan for fear the Taliban will use it to persuade Afghans that the U.S. and its allies are planning a “run for the exits.”
He pledged yesterday to push U.S. allies to provide necessary resources for increased training of Afghan forces.
He cautioned the U.S. against criticizing European partners in NATO for not sending more troops or restricting the mission of their forces in a way that limits their ability to fight. All 28 NATO member nations are part of the mission and more than 20 countries have lost soldiers there.
“Talking down the European and Canadian contributions as some here in the United States have done can become a self- fulfilling prophecy,” Rasmussen said.