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27 November 2012





Audit Says Kabul Bank Began as ‘Ponzi Scheme’




No articles featured today


Germany Gives $126M of Tokyo Pledge to Afghanistan
The chequered tale of the Taliban 'boy commander'

Afghanistan: A Renewed Effort Toward Peace With the Taliban
Exports as Important as Security: Commerce Ministry
Rasmussen Discusses Afghanistan Progress, Missiles for Turkey
Analysis: For Obama, could 10,000 troops in Afghanistan be too many?
Afghanistan: Another province goes to the Taliban
UK top brass in limbo - waiting for political masters to act
Security Fears Linked to Less Women in Media: Nai
Peshawar university to begin distance learning programme in Afghanistan
Analysts: Ethnic, Political Divisions Pose Threat to Afghan Peace
Ferozi Football Team Leading Kabul League Table
David Cameron set to decide on Afghanistan withdrawal timetable
How Long Will it Take to Leave Afghanistan?
Another IMU 'weapons facilitator' captured in northern Afghanistan
250 Isaf Bases Handed Over to Afghan Forces
Germany Criticizes Afghanistan's Lack of Progress
Afghan Requiem
Sindzai Wins First 2 Games at World Snooker Championship
Afghan Students Demand Reprieve For Killer Of French Soldiers
Khost Bomb Blast Injures 26 Civilians (Update)


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Audit Says Kabul Bank Began as ‘Ponzi Scheme’

New York Times
November 26, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan

Kabul Bank became Afghanistan’s largest financial institution by offering the promise of modern banking to people who had never had a saving or checking account. What it really dealt in was modern theft: “From its very beginning,” according to a confidential forensic audit of Kabul Bank, “the bank was a well-concealed Ponzi scheme.”

Afghan and American officials had for years promoted Kabul Bank as a prime example of how Western-style banking was transforming a war-ravaged economy. But the audit, prepared this year for Afghanistan’s central bank by the Kroll investigative firm, gives new details of how the bank instead was institutionalizing fraud that reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars and obliterated Afghans’ trust after regulators finally seized the bank in August 2010 and the theft was revealed.

Going further than previous reports, the audit asserts that Kabul Bank had little reason to exist other than to allow a narrow clique tied to President Hamid Karzai’s government to siphon riches from depositors, who were the bank’s only substantial source of revenue.

At one point, Kroll’s investigators found 114 rubber stamps for fake companies used to give forged documents a more legitimate look. And the auditing firms used by the bank never took issue with loan books that were “almost entirely fraudulent,” Kroll found, recommending that the Afghan government explore suing the last such auditor, A.F. Ferguson & Co., a private Pakistani firm with a franchise under PricewaterhouseCoopers.

When Afghan regulators, aided by American officials, first discovered the extent of the fraud at the bank in the summer of 2010, “we never imagined that the criminality was as deep as it was, that it was so widespread and that it included high-ranking officials and their relatives,” said Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, at the time the governor of the Bank of Afghanistan, the country’s central bank.

“At the beginning, I received information from the U.S. Embassy that maybe $150 million or $200 million is gone in bad loans to powerful people,” he said. The number soon climbed close to $900 million, though “we did not know who took the loans and that they were all tied to a few individuals.”

What Kroll’s audit found is that on Aug. 31, 2010, the day the Bank of Afghanistan seized Kabul Bank, more than 92 percent of the lender’s loan portfolio — $861 million, or roughly 5 percent of Afghanistan’s annual economic output at the time — had gone to 19 related people and companies, according to the audit.

Among the largest beneficiaries were a brother of Mr. Karzai and a brother of First Vice President Muhammad Qasim Fahim who each owned stakes in the bank that had been bought with loans from the bank, according to the audit and regulatory officials. For their part, both have insisted that they never took part in any fraud at the lender.

Reached for comment, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, stressed that the president considered the audit incomplete: Mr. Karzai still believes Kroll has to find out where all the missing money has gone, to which countries it was sent and to which accounts if the firm wants the report to be seen as credible, Mr. Faizi said.

The New York Times obtained a copy of the 277-page audit report, which Afghan and Western officials have confirmed was the one Kroll prepared.

The two men that Afghan prosecutors, Western officials and the Kroll audit accuse of profiting most from the fraud were the bank’s principal owners: Sherkhan Farnood, its chairman and a former World Series of Poker Europe winner, and his former bodyguard, Khalil Fruzi, who served as the bank’s chief executive.

Working with the bank’s executives, they devised simple, yet effective, schemes to fool weak and reluctant regulators, and the Americans who were advising them, the audit says.

The owners kept two sets of books, and hid loans to themselves and their shareholders by taking them in the names of friends, relatives and even domestic servants, according to the audit and Afghan officials. They grouped related loans together to better keep track of who owed what. Hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit loans were routed to Dubai through a money exchange controlled by Mr. Farnood, who founded the bank.

Kabul Bank employed people to forge documents for fictitious companies, which were then audited by accounting firms that appear to have been complicit, according to Kroll. That is where the rubber stamps came in: they bore the names of those false companies, like Abdul Mahmood Trading and Ali Jan Abdul Hadi Ltd., to lend an air of respectability to fake documents.

Toward the end, Mr. Fruzi even expensed foreign shopping sprees at stores like Louis Vuitton and Versace in Dubai and New Delhi. Mr. Farnood was snapping up villas in Dubai with bank money, though he has maintained they were investments gone bad, nothing more.

Bailing out depositors cost the cash-strapped Afghan government more than $825 million, and Afghan and Western officials say that only between $200 million and $400 million, depending on how assets are valued, has so far been recovered from shareholders.

For many Afghans, the scandal surrounding Kabul Bank, a linchpin of the economic order established here by Americans and their allies, has cemented the opinion that the United States brought crony capitalism, not free markets, to Afghanistan. The audit is likely to reinforce that view while raising potentially troubling questions about who is being prosecuted here in connection with the scandal, and who is not.

The United States and its allies have pressed hard for prosecutions, threatening to cut aid if no action was taken. The completion of the forensic audit, which was financed by international donors and delivered in March, was another demand by the international community, as was a separate report, due later this week, by an Afghan government-funded but largely independent corruption watchdog commission composed of Afghan and foreign experts.

Mr. Farnood and Mr. Fruzi top the list of 22 defendants charged so far, and both are on trial in Kabul. Many others on the list are Kabul Bank executives who are accused of helping to carry out fraud, though it is unclear whether they personally profited.

Few officials have any problem with those prosecutions. But there are questions about the charges brought by Afghan prosecutors against a few officials at Afghanistan’s central bank. Western officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed worries that those cases appeared to be intended to end further investigation into Kabul Bank. Kroll has said it has no evidence that the Bank of Afghanistan’s staff members were complicit in Kabul Bank’s collapse.

In the most prominent such case, the former chairman of the Bank of Afghanistan, Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, has been indicted primarily for failing to warn the Afghan government about Kabul Bank and concealing the fraud there — an accusation that one Western official called “laughable.” Several Western and Afghan officials insist that Mr. Fitrat had actively pressed inquiries of Kabul Bank, and believed he had been indicted in order to scare him off. He fled the country last year.

Even Mr. Farnood said Mr. Fitrat had done nothing wrong: “Fitrat was the one person who was not involved in any bribing,” he said in a telephone interview.

The situation was particularly galling, the officials said, because apart from Mr. Farnood and Mr. Fruzi, the other “high-value beneficiaries” — each of whom still owes at least $5 million to the bank, Kroll estimates — have yet to face any legal action. That group includes Mahmood Karzai, the president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim, the vice president’s brother.

In an interview, Mahmood Karzai said he had repaid all the money he originally owed, an amount he put at $5.3 million. He insisted that Kroll had miscalculated and included assets he never owned, like a villa in Dubai, when it tallied his liability at $30.5 million.

He called Kroll “a piece of puke” and said it had relied too heavily on evidence provided by Mr. Farnood, who in the summer of 2010 began cooperating with American officials and, subsequently, Afghan investigators after a dispute with his fellow shareholders.

Neither Mr. Fahim nor Mr. Fruzi responded to phone messages seeking comment.

Kabul Bank did serve some legitimate functions — for instance, the United States paid the salaries of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police and teachers through it.

But many of the bank’s practices seemed tailor-made to lure depositors by any means available. One popular gimmick detailed by the audit was known as a Bakht account, which offered those who opened them a chance to win houses, cars and jewelry at glitzy prize drawings.

The only real winners, however, were the bank’s senior managers and their friends, the audit found. The new depositors’ money was used principally “to provide free financing to the other business interests of senior management and a group of connected persons.”

Alissa J. Rubin and Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting.

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Germany Gives $126M of Tokyo Pledge to Afghanistan
By Karim Amini
Monday, 26 November 2012

Germany has delivered a total €97million (US$125.7m) to Afghanistan for development projects in education, rural rehabilitation and irrigation, the Afghan Minister of Finance said Monday.

"This donation was part of Germany's pledge at the Tokyo Summit on Afghanistan. Germany fulfills part of its pledge today," Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal said Monday at a press conference in Kabul.

According to the ministry, €20 million will be spent on improving the education sector, €32m on Kabul's water supply, €5m towards rehabilitation of Faizabad in Badakhshan province and Emam Saheb of Kunduz province, and €40m will be transferred to the Afghanistan Rehabilitation Fund.

"The international community is with us and will be with us still after 2014. I assure that the rumors about Afghanistan going into crisis after 2014 are untrue – this a solid example of it," Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak said at the conference.

German Ambassador to Afghanistan Rüdiger König said the two countries will continue to have a partnership into the future.

"Afghanistan and Germany have been strong partners in the past and will be strong partners in the future, which is even more important than talking about past. We have entered into mutual commitments at the Tokyo conference which we are now implementing," he said at the press conference.

According to the Finance Ministry, Germany has been one of the main donors of Afghanistan pledging up to € 400m to Afghanistan while it has donated €88m for improvement of education in the country.

The international community committed $16bn to Afghanistan's development for the next four years from 2012, mostly funded by the US.

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The chequered tale of the Taliban 'boy commander'

BBC News
By Bilal Sarwary
26 November 2012

When he was barely out of adolescence, Obaidullah Safi was fighting a war in the lawless borderlands of Afghanistan's Kunar province.

Even though he was born in 1992, his story of divided loyalties, betrayals and bounties mirrors those of Afghan power-brokers, commanders and warlords over the centuries.

While his contemporaries were busy chasing girls or playing sport, Obaidullah had the distinction of having fought for - and being imprisoned by - both sides in the Afghan conflict.

He joined the Taliban at 16, waging many fierce battles against Nato-led forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three years later he decided to switch sides and help the government in their war against the Taliban.

When I met him earlier this year, he had been made head of the local police and put in charge of 60 men.

There was a Taliban bounty on his head and he had been informed that the militants "were ready to sacrifice the lives of 50 insurgents" in exchange for his.

But in a further twist to his story, shortly after that interview he was arrested and charged with the murder of an influential tribal elder - the very man who had paid a ransom to free him from his imprisonment by the Taliban years earlier. He denies the charge, saying he has been framed.

Taliban training

A friend in Afghan intelligence arranged for me to meet Obaidullah on a clear day in a house near a remote mountain pass.

After about 45 minutes of waiting in the sweltering heat, a motorbike passed by. The rider had his face and head covered with a scarf, for protection against the dust.

The bike returned after a few moments.

"How are you, Bilal?" the rider said in Pashto as he parked nearby.

Standing only five feet (1.5m) tall but with an athletic physique, Obaidullah looked far older than his 19 years.

"I was studying in grade eight at the local school and dreaming of being an engineer when the Taliban approached me," he said. "My vast knowledge of Kunar's rugged terrain interested them."

Three years ago Kunar was very unstable and the scene of frequent clashes between the Taliban and Nato-led forces.

"Loyalties were divided. Although many people in my village supported the Afghan government, they were fast becoming disillusioned because of a lack of development, poverty and rampant corruption.

"Taliban propaganda was at its peak. And I became its victim," he said.

"When I first met Taliban insurgents, I found them to be credible young men following the path of Sunnah [the recorded words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad]," Obaidullah said. "I was young and raw, and fell in love with their ideology."

Obaidullah was taken to a Taliban camp, given basic training in handling a weapon, and sent to a remote area on the Afghan-Pakistan border to fight.

'Kill or capture'

His skill in battle attracted the attention of the Taliban leadership - in three years he rose through their ranks to become one of their youngest commanders.

Obaidullah says he has fought on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. "Once I raided 12 Pakistani checkposts in a single day," he said.

"With every successful attack on Afghan and Nato forces, I became more and more popular among my fighters," he said.

He even claims to have met the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud.

He says that he was eventually put in charge of 250 fighters. According to Afghan intelligence officials in Kunar, his rising popularity among the insurgents was noticed by Nato forces, and his name was soon included in their "kill or capture" list.

But the teenager says he became disillusioned with the "futility" of the insurgency after being imprisoned by the Taliban in 2010 and what he calls their "pretence" that they were safeguarding and furthering Islam.

"In three years, I had begun to understand the true nature of the Taliban's jihad," he said. "I thought they were fighting for Islam. But they were not. They were fighting for themselves or for Pakistan," he said.

Obaidullah says trouble with the Taliban arose when he refused to accept suicide attackers in his group, deeming such a move to be un-Islamic. He also said he had reservations about targeting the local infrastructure.

He was jailed by the Taliban for 47 days in 2010 for being a renegade commander, accused of wrongfully taking ransom money, extortion and working for Afghan intelligence.

"The Taliban's war was only a pretext for destroying Afghanistan," he said.

Chequered reputation

With nine of his most trusted lieutenants, he decided to swap sides.

During his subsequent interrogation, government officials became aware of his knowledge of Kunar's terrain and his understanding of the Taliban's internal workings, and thought his strengths could be put to use.

A few months later, he was made head of the local police, in charge of 60 men, including the nine insurgents who surrendered with him.

But Obaidullah has a chequered reputation among villagers in the area. One elder in the Shroankaray valley in Khas Kunar said: "We all feared him. He was brave, cruel and if he said he was going to do something, he made sure he did it."

Obaidullah admits that he extorted money from tribal elders and rich traders, but insists the money went to senior Taliban leaders.

"I didn't make money for myself," he says.

Shortly after our interview, in October 2012, Obaidullah was arrested and charged with the murder of the influential tribal elder who paid the $52,000 (£32,000) ransom to free him when he was held by the Taliban two years ago.

Obaidullah flatly denies this charge, but he remains in prison in Asadabad in Kunar and is awaiting a hearing at a military court. If he is found guilty, he could face life in prison or the death penalty.

His career on the front line was relatively short-lived. But Obaidullah's shifting loyalties are just one example of the instability inherent in Afghanistan's borderlands.

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Afghanistan: A Renewed Effort Toward Peace With the Taliban

World Politics Review
By Shehzad H. Qazi, Briefing
26 Nov 2012

A series of major political developments on the Afghan front this month all point toward new cooperative efforts by Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. to bring the Taliban leadership into the negotiation process. The renewed push for a negotiated settlement to the conflict comes against the backdrop of the looming withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Though major questions remain as to whether the effort will bear fruit, it represents what many fear is the last chance to avert a bloody fight for control of Kabul once foreign troops have left the country.

On Nov. 14, during the three-day visit to Islamabad of the Afghan High Peace Council, Pakistan announced that it would release 13 members of the Taliban, including several senior figures. Pakistan has been periodically arresting Taliban commanders since 2009, but Islamabad ramped up the detentions in 2010, in response to having been excluded from exploratory talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. At the time, Pakistani security forces detained seven major Taliban leaders, including the group’s second-in-command, Mullah Baradar.

On Nov. 19, news also surfaced that the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed on a list of more than 20 Taliban leaders to be taken off the U.N. sanctions list so that they can participate in peace negotiations. The move followed the U.N.’s decision on Nov. 6 to impose sanctions on members of the Haqqani Network, which has remained the most resistant among Taliban groups to negotiations.

Pakistan subsequently released the 13 Taliban under a “safe passage mechanism” that ensures they will not be re-arrested by the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan. Moreover, they were granted Afghan passports to travel either back into Afghanistan or to a “third country,” most likely Qatar, where other Taliban have previously located with their families.

In addition to several former provincial governors and mid- to low-level fighters, the released group includes key figures such as Mullah Jehangirwal, Mullah Omar’s former secretary; Mullah Turabi, the former justice minister; and Anwar ul Haq Mujahid, a senior military commander whose father was the famous anti-Soviet Afghan warlord and leader of the Hizb-e-Islami, Maulvi Mohammed Younis Khalis. Mullah Baradar, who is the most influential Taliban leader arrested by Pakistan so far, remains in captivity. Though Pakistani officials claim that they are considering Baradar’s release, they will likely wait until the U.S. offers a clearer strategy for negotiations and until the Afghans make more progress in formulating a unified negotiating position among themselves before making a firm decision.

For Pakistan, the logic for releasing the insurgent leaders is twofold: On one hand, Islamabad wants to demonstrate to the U.S. and Afghanistan that it is willing to play a constructive role in the negotiations, and on the other, it hopes to help revive the dormant peace process as the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. forces approaches and talk of another round of civil war in Afghanistan increases. Pakistan will suffer greatly if Afghanistan plunges back into the kind of internecine strife that followed the Soviet withdrawal.

The key question now is whether these Taliban leaders can actually deliver peace. The Afghan High Peace Council, which includes several former Taliban, has so far made no meaningful progress in talks with the insurgents. The Taliban has its doves and hawks, and it remains to be seen if these leaders have any persuasive power over the more militant fighters and decision-makers. For any real progress to be made, local commanders and mid- to lower-level cadres must be convinced to accept the decision to enter talks.

A glimmer of hope came on Nov. 13, following the announcement of U.N. sanctions on the Haqqani Network, when a senior Haqqani commander announced that the group would be willing to enter negotiations with the U.S. if such talks were sanctioned by Mullah Omar. This indicated that even the more radical of the insurgents groups are sensitive to international political pressure. However, given the Taliban’s current comfortable military position, the looming inevitably of U.S. withdrawal and the disappointing false start of the 2012 Qatar initiative, compromise may be a hard sell.

Another challenge to the process has been the Afghan High Peace Council’s failure to achieve reconciliation within Afghanistan on a common negotiating stance. Meanwhile, the Taliban insurgents have staunchly refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, rejecting President Hamid Karzai as a mere puppet and demanding to deal directly with the U.S. Nevertheless, the Peace Council’s recent successful effort in getting Pakistan to release Taliban leaders hints at some expectation or perhaps even an understanding of reciprocation in the form of dialogue from the Taliban. Moreover, the release may have also enhanced the council’s credibility in the eyes of the Taliban.

Then there is also the question of convincing all the various Afghan anti-Taliban groups to enter dialogue. On Nov. 13, while the Peace Council delegation was in Pakistan, Ismail Khan, a veteran warlord who is currently Karzai’s minister of water and energy, announced that he was remobilizing his militia in anticipation of war with the Taliban following the U.S. withdrawal. Many groups that had helped the U.S. overthrow the Taliban in 2001 remain opposed to their return and are preparing to take their objections to the battlefield. As a former senior Afghan official has put it in off-the-record conversations, “The North is armed and ready.”

The events of November, including this week’s meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-ISAF Tripartite Commission to discuss the post-withdrawal transition of security and border control, indicate that Afghanistan and Pakistan, supported by low-profile U.S. assistance, are beginning to take serious steps toward reviving the peace process and participating in joint-planning for the post-transition scenario. Nevertheless, several uncertainties continue to haunt this process. The biggest and most significant missing piece of the puzzle is the U.S. strategy for negotiations. With the U.S. presidential election now over, the Obama administration must offer a clear roadmap for negotiating with the Taliban and helping the political transition inside Afghanistan. Continued lack of clarity will only breed confusion and leave the various militias with little option but to prepare for another round of civil war with the Taliban.

Shehzad H. Qazi is a research associate at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

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Exports as Important as Security: Commerce Ministry
By Shahla Murtazaie
Monday, 26 November 2012

Efforts to build demand for Afghanistan's products abroad are as important as efforts to secure the country, the Deputy Minister for Commerce and Industries said on Monday.

Muzmil Shinwari said at a meeting in Kabul that a better strategy is needed to increase the international markets interested in Afghan products in order to shore up the country's economy.

"The economic transition will have more impact than the security transition," he said at the meeting.

"When foreign forces leave Afghanistan there will be an economic gap – the economic situation needs to improve to prevent unemployment. There should be lots of attention on the economic situation and the industries should be promoted."

Monday's session entitled "Access to Global Markets", hosted by the European Promotional Products Association in Kabul, was also attended by the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the Afghanistan Investments Support Agency.

On a positive note, the ministry officials claimed that Afghanistan's exports have strengthened in than last two years, especially the export of fresh fruits.

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Rasmussen Discusses Afghanistan Progress, Missiles for Turkey

Department of Defense
By Claudette Roulo American Forces Press Service
Nov. 26, 2012

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is confident Afghan security forces will be able to take full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security by the end of 2014, he said today during an interview with the Pentagon Channel.

His confidence comes from discussions with senior Afghan and International Security Force officials during a recent visit to Afghanistan, the secretary general said. He added that he saw Afghan special operations forces in action during that trip and was "impressed."

Speaking from NATO headquarters in Brussels, Rasmussen said an encouraging development is that Afghans are taking more responsibility for their own training and operational activities.

"Right now, around 90 percent of all training activities are conducted by the Afghan security forces themselves," he said. "Furthermore, we have seen the Afghan security forces take the lead in around 80 percent of all our security operations. These developments are testaments to the increasing security capability of the Afghan security forces."

The secretary general noted that while NATO is on track to meet the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline, troop reductions and redeployments should not be seen as a rush for the exit. "It's actually part of the plan," he said. "As the Afghans take more responsibility, and we hand over that responsibility to them, our troops can take a step backwards and move into a more supportive role. … All 50 nations within the ISAF coalition have committed themselves to stay until the end of 2014."

Rasmussen said the NATO Response Force, which is intended as a rapid response force and as a framework for NATO training and exercises, will gain importance as operations in Afghanistan draw down.

"Furthermore, the United States has decided to rotate a brigade unit to Europe to participate in NATO Response Force activities," the secretary general said. "That would be an excellent opportunity for American service men and women to work together with partners and allies in Europe so that we maintain that ability to operate and work together."

Rasmussen also touched on the security situation in Turkey, which he said officially requested Patriot missile support from NATO last week. "This week, a military expert team is visiting Turkey to look closer into possible sites for the deployment of these Patriot missiles," he said.

The NATO countries that would supply the missiles -- the United States, Germany and the Netherlands -- are holding internal discussions, and a decision by the NATO Council would follow, he said. "I would expect that decision to be taken in days," the secretary general added.

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Analysis: For Obama, could 10,000 troops in Afghanistan be too many?

By Phil Stewart
November 26, 2012

President Barack Obama publicly scoffed at the idea of keeping 10,000 troops in Iraq. So could he really be persuaded to keep that many in Afghanistan after the war formally ends in 2014?

The 10,000 figure is well within a preliminary range put forward by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and which is informing deliberations by the Obama administration, one U.S. official said.

But the optics could be tricky for Obama, who must balance his promise to end the war in Afghanistan in 2014 with the need to keep enough forces there to prevent the destabilization of the country and a return of al Qaeda. He also must get Kabul to agree.

"As long as (U.S. troops) are in a war zone and putting their lives on the line, it's hard for any president to say the war is over," said Juan Zarate, a former counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Allen's preliminary suggestions for a post-2014 training and counterterrorism mission ranged from around 6,000 to 15,000 troops, said the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The figures were still in flux, the official said. The estimate was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

By comparison, there are around 66,000 American forces in Afghanistan now.

The timing of Obama's decision is unclear but Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier this month the he hoped for a figure to be finalized within weeks, raising the possibility of a December announcement. The timing of any announcement is also tied to discussions in Kabul, where a long-term U.S.-Afghan security agreement is being hammered out.

The Pentagon sought to tamp down speculation about the deliberations on both the post-2014 force and the pace of the drawdown over the next two years.

Panetta, who will speak on Tuesday with Allen in Kabul via video-conference, has not yet forwarded a recommendation to Obama, a spokesman said.

"It's entirely premature to speculate on troop numbers in Afghanistan between now and the end of 2014 or beyond," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.

But with the election over, the future scope of the American military presence in Afghanistan is the subject of intense debate in Washington - with some analysts saying far more than even 16,000 troops are required.

Kimberly and Fredrick Kagan, two experts on the Afghan war, recommended keeping American forces in Afghanistan at the current level through the end of 2014. They envisioned a residual force of more than 30,000 troops.

"At that level U.S. forces in Afghanistan could do nothing beyond the minimum necessary to allow us to continue counterterrorism operations in South Asia," they wrote in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post.

Obama could benefit from some contributions of trainers or counterterrorism troops by NATO allies, helping him off-set the total number of U.S. forces present in Afghanistan past 2014.

But it would be difficult to imagine Obama agreeing with the Kagans. In his final debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney before the U.S. presidential election, Obama blasted the idea of keeping a sizeable troop presence in Iraq - a war he opposed.

"What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down," Obama said at the time.

The Kagans' recommendation that the United States keep all of its forces in the country until the end of the NATO mission in 2014 also seems unlikely to gain much sway at the White House.

Asked about the pace of the drawdown in 2013 and 2014, Little echoed remarks from Obama last year suggesting troop levels would decline.

"As the president made clear in June 2011, our forces will continue to come home at a steady pace as we transition to an Afghan lead for security," Little said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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Afghanistan: Another province goes to the Taliban

Logar, a strategic province that neighbors Kabul and is home to an all-important copper mine, is increasingly under Taliban control as NATO sources begin to withdraw.

Global Post
By Fazelminallah Qazizai and Chris Sands
November 26, 2012
PUL-I-ALAM, Afghanistan

The first sign of the Taliban's growing strength in Logar province comes on the main highway, where culverts have been blown up at regular intervals, each one an ideal place to hide a bomb aimed at passing military convoys.

Next, there is a police post made from a shipping container and surrounded by sandbags. It looks like it has been set on fire and abandoned.

But the definitive proof that the insurgents are in the ascendency here can be found among the residents. Those who are willing to be interviewed are happy to express their admiration for the Taliban, while many others are scared of talking to a journalist.

"If the people didn't support the Taliban, how could they be such a powerful movement like they are now?" said Mohammed Rafiq, a local bookshop manager.

Logar is a short drive to the south of Kabul. In recent years, it has become one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan.

The situation here is a blueprint for what may lie ahead for large swathes of the country as NATO forces continue to withdraw. Outside the district centers, the government has little influence or backing. The foreign troops are even more unpopular.

A tense atmosphere hangs over Pul-i-Alam, the provincial capital. During a recent visit, a number of pick-up trucks belonging to the national intelligence service were parked in the center of town.

Their presence offered no great comfort to residents, who frequently accuse the security forces of being part of the problem.

Sayed Abdul Wahab is a local high school student who told GlobalPost that even his teachers use Taliban songs as the ringtones on their cell phones.

Aged 18, he is an ethnic Tajik — a section of society not usually associated with sympathy for the insurgents. He openly admitted supporting the Taliban, claiming US troops deliberately target civilians. He accused the police of discriminating against him and other bearded villagers who come into town wearing traditional Afghan clothes.

"This fight is a jihad and everyone knows this and supports this. These people are our oppressors and our enemies, they are not letting us live and be happy," he said.

Last month, four children were killed in a battle between foreign troops and the Taliban in nearby Baraki Barak district. In response, Gen. John Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, quickly offered his "sincerest condolences to the families of the civilians that were killed."

Meanwhile, the rebels are making their own attempts to win hearts and minds. Besides using tactics including suicide attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, they run an informal judicial system that is generally regarded as cleaner and faster than the official courts.

Logar is also a key transit route for insurgents travelling to and from Pakistan along old mountain trails formerly used by the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1980s.

Haji Sayed Habibullah Husseinyar was a resistance commander then, and is now a tribal elder. Another Tajik, he said a number of different militant factions are active in the area and people "give them food, a place to stay and pray for them" in accordance with Islamic teachings.

“In the government you cannot find a good man — all of them are corrupt,” he said.

Husseinyar claimed that when US forces were searching a village they asked him why people hated them. He replied, “If you want to help us go forward, go back to your homes and send us your engineers, doctors, and teachers, not guns, troops, and tanks.”

As well as being strategically vital, Logar is the location of a multi-billion dollar copper mine project that is seen as an important bellwether for Afghanistan’s long-term economic hopes. In September, Reuters reported that Chinese investors have stopped work on the site due to security concerns.

Anyone here associated with government-backed initiatives or the occupation is at constant risk. Earlier this month, the dead bodies of two Afghans were found near Pul-i-Alam town, with the government offering differing versions of who they were. One official account claimed they had been translators for NATO while another said they had been employees of a contractor working with the Afghan army.

Timor is a taxi driver who travels the 50 minute journey from Kabul to Pul-i-Alam daily. He told GlobalPost the Taliban are active everywhere, including the provincial capital.

He described how a colleague had agreed to take some men to a local military base. Soon after dropping them off he picked up a new passenger who duped him into going to a nearby village, where insurgents were waiting. They beat him and confiscated his car as punishment.

“Security does not exist here. Everyday after 4 p.m. people are not safe inside the town, on the highway or in the villages,” Timor said.

“At around 4 p.m. the Afghan soldiers are leaving the highway and going to their base. Even if you swear on the Quran, they will not come out to help you.”

Fazelminallah Qazizai reported from Pul-i-Alam. Chris Sand reported from Kabul.

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UK top brass in limbo - waiting for political masters to act

• frustration among military chiefs

• Afghanistan not the only concern
By Richard Norton-Taylor
Monday 26 November

It is an extremely frustrating time for Britain's defence chiefs. They are waiting to get their troops out of Afghanistan, and they are waiting for the next round of cuts to bite. Jobs are being cut across the armed forces, the army in particular.

They do not know what kit they will have at their disposal to train and fight - though it should be said they are in no hurry to mount a new military operation.

All the decisions they are waiting for are political, they stress.

Their frustrations were reflected in a recent lecture General Sir David Richards, chief of the defence staff, gave to Oxford University's department of politics and international relations.

Richards said ministers had cut the armed forces' numbers and resources without reducing their demands for operations. "We have a whole load of tasks expected of us. Our political masters are quite happy to reduce the size of the armed forces, but their appetite to exercise influence on the world stage is, quite understandably, the same as it has always been", Richards said.

"Often politicians say to me, 'Can you go and do this?' I say to them, 'With what?'" He added: "If you reduce your armed forces, there is going to be a give — something gives."

On Afghanistan, Britain's most senior military officer — who commanded Nato forces at the time of the British surge to Helmand in 2006 — said western leaders had "collectively failed" by wasting the opportunity won by years of costly military operations.

"All the military can do is buy space and time and opportunity for a political resolution of a problem. It is a great shame that we have not understood this."

The chiefs of staff publicly avoid answering questions about what they think of the decision to build two large aircraft carriers for the navy or plans to build a new fleet of Trident nuclear missile submarines. Those decisions, they say, are entirely "political".

But Richards, according to reports of his Oxford lecture, made it clear he was worried about a shortage of relevant resources to meet the needs of practical and current operations.

"One of my biggest concerns is the number of frigates and destroyers the navy has," he said. Pointing to the EU's counter piracy operation, he continued: "You get to this ridiculous situation where in Operation Atalanta off the Somali coast, we have £1bn destroyers trying to sort out pirates in a little dhow with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] costing $50, with an outboard motor [costing] $100," he said.

"That can't be good. We've got to sort it out."

Richards' lecture was reported on 14 November in the Daily Telegraph. Two days later, the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown said British forces must withdraw from Afghanistan as quickly as possible before any more troops are killed.

"We cannot pretend there is any more to do in Afghanistan", he told the Times newspaper in an interview. "The urgent priority is to get out. It is not worth wasting one more life in Afghanistan. All that we can achieve has now been achieved. All that we might have achieved if we had done things differently, has been lost."

Ashdown continued: "The only rational policy now is to leave quickly, in good order and in the company of our allies. This is the only cause for which further lives should be risked."

This was a significant intervention from a former Royal Marine Commando, member of the Special Boat Service, and of Britain's foreign intelligence service.

Britain's armed forces seem to be on a hiding to nothing in Afghanistan and want to get out, at least as far as combat operations are concerned, as soon as possible. They are waiting for ministers, after advice from the National Security Council, to decide when the 10,000 British troops in Helmand should leave, and how quickly, between now and the end of 2014, when all Nato troops will cease combat operations in Afghanistan.

The British government is in a hurry, and since Britain is supposed to synchronise its moves with the US, it wants Barack Obama to take a decision rather more quickly than is his wont.

The army is already planning a massive extraction operation, the biggest, it says, in a generation. It will involve the removal from southern Afghanistan of 20,000, 20-foot, containers, Lt Gen Richard Barrons, deputy chief of staff responsible for military strategy and operations, told the Commons defence committee last week.

Asked if he seriously believed that by 1 January 2015 Afghan security forces will be sustainable, Lt Gen David Capewell, the UK's chief of joint operations, told the committee earlier it was " an assumption we have to make".

Mark Sedwill, Britain's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Foreign Office's political director, said it would take a generation to root out corruption in the country, and the same length of time to rid the country of narcotics.

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Security Fears Linked to Less Women in Media: Nai
By Haseeb Maudoodi
Monday, 26 November 2012

The presence of women working in media has decreased by around ten percent, possibly over fears of security, Afghanistan's media watchdog Nai said on Monday.

Abdol Mojib Khelwatgar, executive head of Nai, said that the phenomenon of women leaving media positions, particularly visual media, may be the consequence of mental stress from the perceived deterioration of security and fear of what will come after 2014.

He said Nai is deeply worried about the matter because the presence of women in the media is a great need in order to combat violence against women.

Meanwhile, he reiterated Nai's objection to the Afghanistan High Peace Council's joint statement with Pakistan that the officials of both countries will avoid naming each other in association with terror and insurgent attacks.

"Such a statement goes against [Afghanistan's] Constitution, media law and civil rights and citizenship law," he said.

"Firstly, it breaks the law, and secondly it limits the right to have access to information."

There are also concerns that such an agreement is not clear in what can or cannot be said.

TOLOnews requests to government officials to respond to questions on these matters went unanswered.

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Peshawar university to begin distance learning programme in Afghanistan

Business Recorder (blog)
November 27, 2012

The University of Peshawar plans to start its distance learning education programme and other relevant disciplines for joint research in collaboration with Ningahar University of Afghanistan, said Vice Chancellor Dr Qibla Ayaz while talking to a delegation of Canadian High Commission here on Monday.

He further informed that the joint research projects for resource exploration in Afghanistan between Department of Geology, University of Peshawar and Kabul University would start shortly. The Canadian three-member delegation was led by its Political Counsellor Denis Chouinard, who met here at his office. Other members of the delegation were included Christopher Martin, Analyst Asia division for the Government of Canada and Uday Sequeira, First Secretary (Political) of the Canadian High Commission Islamabad. On the occasion, Professor Dr Babar Shah and Director Pakistan Study Centre Professor Dr Fakhrul Islam were also present.

The visit was focused on identifying the role of University of Peshawar in the Afghanistan-Pakistan co-operation process, said Denis Chouinard. He further said that University of Peshawar was being hosting to a number of Afghan students and the fact that most of the people at the helm of affairs in the present Afghan Government had either remained students of this institution or their off springs had been part of it, he added.

The delegation also showed interest in organising joint seminars and symposia to judge the approach of Afghan and University of Peshawar students about a best fit scenario for a peaceful Afghanistan in the future, especially after the 2014 American withdrawal.

"The travelling of people to and from Afghanistan cannot be stopped due to obvious reasons of close proximity and bonds among people on both sides of the divide, just is the case among Canadian and American citizens", said Vice Chancellor University of Peshawar Professor Dr Qibla Ayaz. "Many of the Afghans living in Pakistan today are not war refugees only, in fact most of them are economic migrants and unless there is a stable Afghanistan, we have to live with them," said Professor of Regional Studies Dr Babar Shah.

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Analysts: Ethnic, Political Divisions Pose Threat to Afghan Peace

Voice of America
By Sharon Behn
November 26, 2012

As the 2014 draw-down of international combat troops in Afghanistan nears, a lot of attention has been focused on whether the Afghan army can secure the nation from extremist militant groups, such as the Taliban. But former government and military officials say ethnic divisions and political factions could be as big a threat to peace in the country.

The Afghan army is now some 184,000 strong. The police force numbers 146,000.

Relying on just the personnel count gives the impression that Afghan security forces are nearing the targets for being able to defend the country from extremist threats.

But former military and government officials are warning that the Taliban and terrorists are not the only threats Afghanistan will face in 2014. They say some ethnic warlords are starting to re-arm themselves for what could turn into an ugly fight for territory and influence.

These ethnic divisions, which analysts say exist in the government, the army and even provinces controlled by warlords, could prove disastrous.

"The fear is that after 2014 that the army will disband again, because there are different factions," noted Shir Khosti, the former governor of Ghazni province, "as most of these generals in the army are from the north, and now my understanding is that they are shifting heavy weapons to the north as well, and that is going to create a lot of problems in the future. [We] need to pay heed to these issues now, before it escalates to a level we cannot contain any more."

The Taliban are present in most of Afghanistan, but are most resilient among their ethnic Pashtun base in the south. In the north, commanders of the former Northern Alliance, comprising ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara, hold sway.

The head of Kabul's Military Training Center, Brig. Gen. Aminullah Patyani, says army recruits are a mix of all ethnic groups.

He says, Pashtun, Tajiks, Uzbek, Hazara, Pashaei, Noorestani, Baluch -- all the nationalities that make up the nation of Afghanistan, can come here, that is how we are training here.

After Soviet Union forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the country entered a brutal civil war, fought along largely ethnic lines.

But analysts say the situation in 2014 will not be the same. They point to more civic institutions and expectations that the American military will maintain a presence of some 10,000 personnel in the country. But also they caution that much will depend on how well the army sticks together to face the challenges ahead.

Khosti warns Pashtuns are underrepresented in the Afghan military, and army commanders tend to come from the north.

Political analyst Khalid Mafton adds that many in Afghanistan's security forces, as well as in the ministries of defense and interior, have been appointed based on their affiliations with particular political and ethnic groups, making them vulnerable to ethnic conflict once international troops leave.

Mafton said he is expecting the worst.

"If the United States leaves the country, this army, because of the reasons I mentioned, will definitely collapse, maybe not within days or weeks, maybe with in a month, maximum, ok, so who will be replacing them? The Taliban," he said.

Asked if he thought different groups in the country were beginning to stockpile weapons for possible conflict, Mafton's affirmation was an unequivocal "Yes."

After three decades of war, and a thriving black market thanks to opium sales, analysts say there are more than enough weapons in the country to go around.

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Ferozi Football Team Leading Kabul League Table
By Mir Sayed
Monday, 26 November 2012

Ferozi football team is leading the Kabul's Premier League Football Competition with 49 points on the ladder, but the final winner will depend on Saturday's grand final, the Afghan Football Federation (AFF) said Monday.

Eighteen football clubs in Kabul participated in the competition which has been running since June, AFF spokesperson Ahmad Shah Sahil told TOLOnews.

"The matches started on June 6 this year and 18 teams from Kabul participated. All the teams played 18 matches. The final match will be played on Saturday and final point score will be announced after that," Sahil said.

He also said that Ordoo (Army) and Esteqlal teams are second and third in the table, while Pamir, Shuha, Jawanan Azadi, Shuha Tawhid, and United Youth have dropped to the bottom of the table after being defeated by their opponents.

The grand final will be held at the AFF field in Kabul.

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David Cameron set to decide on Afghanistan withdrawal timetable

National security council meeting will discuss scale of military pullout and how many personnel will stay on after 2014

The Guardian
By Nick Hopkins
Tuesday 27 November 2012

David Cameron is expected to rule on the scale and scope of the British military withdrawal from Afghanistan over the next two years when he chairs a meeting on Tuesday of the national security council.

A series of plans will be presented by the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, and the prime minister will agree in principle the favoured timetable, which will also determine how many British personnel remain in Afghanistan after 2014.

One scenario with widespread military support involves keeping troop numbers stable at 9,000 until September next year, the end of the next "fighting season", and then withdrawing 8,000 personnel over the following 12 months.

That would leave about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 for training, logistical support and protecting supply lines. Nato has said it will have ended all combat operations against the Taliban by then.

With reports in the US saying Washington is also nearing a decision on its long-term troop levels, likely to be a "light footprint" of about 10,000 American troops, officials hope Downing Street could be in a position to announce its plans during the traditional ministerial visit to Afghanistan around Christmas.

This would give British forces in Helmand province a much-needed fillip at the end of a year in which military efforts have been overshadowed by a series of so-called green-on-blue attacks, in which members of the Afghan army and police have shot their allies. Fifty-four Nato troops have been killed in such incidents this year, including 13 Britons.

"A number of scenarios will be looked at and it will be down to the prime minister to make the decision," a Whitehall source said. "We have to be in a position to be able to align ourselves with our international partners, particularly the US."

A second national security council meeting next month will give the government a chance to review and refine its plans. The Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence said they could not give details about Tuesday's NSC meeting, but officials confirmed that discussions about the size of the UK's footprint in Afghanistan had been under way for some time.

The hold-up was due to the US presidential election and the Obama administration's unwillingness to take any decisions about the 66,000 American troops still in Afghanistan before polling day three weeks ago. However, the outgoing commander in charge of Nato troops in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has prepared detailed advice for the president, and the UK is among nations privately urging Obama to decide as soon as possible.

"We have been waiting almost a year to hear what they want to do," said another British official. "The Americans have the largest force in Afghanistan by far and to a certain extent we have to wait on them, otherwise the pullout could become very disorderly. But it would be fair to say people are getting a little fed-up with the waiting game."

Despite the green-on-blue attacks, British commanders have been positive about the progress made in Helmand, and their advice to ministers has changed over the past six months. Instead of seeking to keep as many troops for as long as possible, they have told ministers that a more gradual "conditions-based withdrawal" is now viable, and in some ways preferable.

In an interview with the Guardian in September, the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, said 52 British military bases and checkpoints had already been closed. He added: "There may be some scope for a little bit more flexibility on the way we draw down, and that is something commanders on the ground are looking at very actively. Talking to senior commanders, you get a clear sense that their view of force levels is evolving in light of their experiences."

The Treasury is known to be pushing for a speedier retreat from Afghanistan, and Cameron could decide to start the timetable next spring, if commanders on the ground agree. The military would be wary of pulling out too many people at the start of the fighting season, but the prime minister has already made clear he does not want a "cliff-edge" withdrawal.

"As Afghan troops take a bigger role we will be able to reduce troop numbers further next year," Cameron said in July. "I don't want to see some cliff edge. I'm confident we are going to have a staged reduction and deliver a safe and secure situation."

In a speech on Monday, Brigadier Doug Chalmers, who has been on four tours to Afghanistan and commanded Task Force Helmand over the summer, said the Afghans were now leading the fight against the Taliban, not the British.

"On this tour it was very much about enabling the Afghan security forces to fight the counter-insurgency," he told an audience at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "They have very capable commanders with significant combat experience."

One of their best officers, he said, was the Afghan army general Sherin Shah. "He is a strong tactical commander who understands the Afghan insurgency in a way that we [the British] simply never will. I often used to joke about who was the adviser because the roles were often switched."

Chalmers said he knew the insurgents' campaign "had failed tactically because we could hear their conversations … and the local nationals were almost oblivious to it". But he admitted the green-on-blue attacks had taken their toll. "It was the greatest challenge that we faced. They were the hardest blows to bear … they were the hardest letters to write."

Since 2001, 438 British soldiers and civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, the vast majority since the UK sent troops to Helmand in 2006.

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How Long Will it Take to Leave Afghanistan?

New York Times (blog)
November 26, 2012

There’s a lot to consider in today’s article about the United States military’s plans to withdraw from Afghanistan, and we’ll have more to say about it on our editorial page soon (here’s our last editorial on the issue).

But there was something in the article that jumped out at me. We now know how long the military thinks it would take to safely remove approximately 66,000 American troops from Afghanistan: about a year.

The article also said the military wants to withdraw as slowly as possible (no surprise) and keep as many troops in Afghanistan for as long as possible (even less of a surprise), so they want to end 2013 with about 60,000 troops, and then presumably pull them all out before the end of 2014.

It seems unlikely that President Obama will go for that kind of back-loaded withdrawal schedule, if only for political reasons. But why not just start now? If all it takes is a year, then the United States could plausibly be out of Afghanistan by this time next year (though the debate would remain over whether there should be a residual force left behind for intelligence gathering, counter-terrorism and training Afghan troops, but at least the major combat forces would start leaving).

That way, the United States would not be tempted to hang around in 2014 to provide security for Afghanistan’s next presidential election – at best a thankless task and at worst an operation that risks giving the stamp of approval to what could be yet another crooked vote. And it would mean one less year of American casualties on the battlefield – and one less year spent trying to make the Afghan army into a real fighting force (that targets the Taliban and al Qaeda, and not American and other NATO forces).

It’s not clear when the military is supposed to give Mr. Obama all the withdrawal options that today’s article reports he has requested. In fact, it’s not at all clear why that has not happened before now.

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Another IMU 'weapons facilitator' captured in northern Afghanistan

Long War Journal
By Patrick Megahan & Bill Roggio
November 26, 2012

Afghan and Coalition forces captured a "weapons facilitator" from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan during an operation in Kwajah district in Afghanistan's Takhar province yesterday.

The International Security Assistance Force reported that the facilitator "is believed to have purchased rifles, machine guns, mortar systems and fertilizer for building IEDs to conduct attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces" in Takhar province. ISAF also told The Long War Journal that the detainee was "an Afghan national of Uzbek descent." ISAF would not disclose where the IMU facilitator was obtaining the weapons and explosive materials.

This is the third reported capture of an IMU "weapons facilitator" this month, and the 36th raid targeting IMU this year, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The vast majority of these raids have been conducted in northern Afghanistan, a hotbed for IMU operations.

The last reported raid took place on Nov. 11 in Kunduz province, when ISAF captured a senior IMU "weapons facilitator." That raid followed five days after the capture of another IMU operative, which occurred during the first raid targeting a member of the al Qaeda-linked group in almost a month.

ISAF underreporting of Coalition raids?

A Long War Journal study of ISAF raids targeting al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Afghanistan over the last two years finds that both the number and the frequency of raids decreased between 2011 and 2012. There were 52 reported raids targeting IMU members or insurgents associated with the group from January 2011 to November 2011, compared with 36 raids so far this year. This decrease in reported raids between 2011 and 2012 stands in contrast to an almost unchanged number of Enemy-Initiated Attacks (EIA) and an increase in civilian casualties during the same time period, based on ISAF data.

The discrepancy between increased civilian casualties and decreased ISAF operations targeting the IMU could reflect a number of factors. These factors could include the withdrawal of Coalition forces, leaving less available forces to conduct raids; or a decrease in IMU activity, minimizing potential targets. However, statements suggest that ISAF is not reporting all of the raids targeting the group.

When asked last week by The Long War Journal about a month-long gap in reported raids between October and November of this year, ISAF responded that "[f]or reasons internal to ISAF there were no operational reports issued during that time period."

"That does not indicate there were no missions executed, just that there was not a release issued," ISAF continued. ISAF would not disclose the reasons for not issuing the press releases on raids against al Qaeda and allied groups.

A large gap in ISAF reports on raids against al Qaeda, IMU, and other terror groups in Afghanistan occurred once before in the past year. Between Dec. 8, 2011 and Jan. 29, 2012, ISAF did not report on any raids against the al Qaeda-linked groups. At that time, ISAF told The Long War Journal that the lack of reporting on raids against al Qaeda and the IMU "should not be misinterpreted as lack of operational rigor against those entities," but would not disclose whether any raids against those groups had occurred during that time period.

"ISAF continues to conduct combat operations against the spectrum of insurgent forces through-out Afghanistan year-round," ISAF stated on Jan. 30. [See LWJ report, Afghan, ISAF troops kill IMU leader in north, for more details.] After the inquiry in January, the reports of raids against the terror groups picked up.

Background on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a key ally of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and supports operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as plots attacks in Europe. The IMU is known to fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and has integrated into the Taliban's shadow government in the north. [For more information on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, see LWJ report, IMU cleric urges Pakistanis to continue sheltering jihadis in Waziristan.]

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters often serve as bodyguards for top Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. The IMU fights alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has stepped up attacks in Central Asian countries as well. In September 2010, the IMU took credit for the Sept. 19 ambush that killed 25 Tajik troops, and also threatened to carry out further attacks in the Central Asian country.

The IMU has claimed credit for numerous suicide assaults in Afghanistan, including the May 19, 2010 attack on the US military airbase in Bagram, the Oct. 15, 2011 assault on the Provincial Reconstruction Team base in Panjshir, and the Oct. 29, 2011 suicide attack that targeted an armored bus in Kabul.

The IMU has been a prime target of special operations forces in Afghanistan. So far this year, special operations forces have conducted at least 36 raids against the IMU; in Badakhshan, Baghlan, Faryab, Logar, Helmand, Kunduz, Takhar, and Wardak, or eight of Afghanistan's 34 provinces; according to ISAF press releases compiled by The Long War Journal.

In October, the US Treasury Department added Qari Ayyub Bashir, the "head of finance" for the IMU, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Bashir also serves as a member of the group's shura, or executive council. Identified as an Uzbek national, Bashir is based out of Mir Ali, in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. As the IMU's lead financier, he provides financial and "logistical" support for IMU operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and fundraises from outside the region.

This spring, ISAF killed the two previous IMU leaders for Afghanistan, in raids just a few weeks apart in Faryab province. [See LWJ report, Special operations forces kill newly appointed IMU leader for Afghanistan, for more information.]

Additionally, the US has targeted the IMU's leaders and network in Pakistan's tribal areas. US drones have killed the last two emirs of the IMU. On Aug. 4, the IMU announced that its emir, Abu Usman Adil, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan, and named Usman Ghazi as the new leader of the al Qaeda-linked terror group. Adil succeeded Tahir Yuldashev, the co-founder of the IMU, who was killed in a drone strike in September 2009.

Adil is credited with increasing the IMU's profile in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the death of Yuldashev, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Whereas Yuldashev had been content with confining the group's operations largely to Pakistan's tribal areas, Adil pushed to expand operations in northern and eastern Afghanistan, as well is in the Central Asian republics.

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250 Isaf Bases Handed Over to Afghan Forces
By Azim Harash
Monday, 26 November 2012

More than half the remaining Isaf bases in Afghanistan have been handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) as the Nato-led coalition reduces its troop numbers, according to an Isaf spokesperson.

Around 250 bases out of 400 have been entrusted to the local forces with more expected to be transferred in the future, Gen. Gunter Katz said in a Kabul press conference on Monday.

The handover primarily refers to the physical structure of the base and not necessarily the weapons and equipment used to defend the bases.

"Of handing over bases to the Afghans, I would be very cautious in saying [it includes] all the equipment. It's basically just what's been used to run the infrastructure – this doesn't include weapons or stuff like this," Katz said.

Most of the Isaf military bases remaining will be destroyed or given to ANSF by the end of 2014, according to decisions made by the commission founded for this purpose under the Afghan Ministry of Finance.

On the topic of the peace process, Katz said that to date more than 5,600 insurgents have joined the Afghan governments reconciliation programme.

"I can tell you today that we have more than 5,600 former Taliban who cut their links to the insurgency, who have given up violence, who acknowledged [they will] obey the laws and are willing to be reintegrated in their villages, in their homes, in their society," Katz said.

"Every Taliban has a choice: he can be reintegrated and come home in dignity or be captured or killed by the ANSF and international troops," he added.

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Germany Criticizes Afghanistan's Lack of Progress

Spiegel Online

A new report by the German government says Afghanistan is making little progress towards lasting peace and security. The Taliban remains an operational fighting force, national reconciliation isn't advancing and attacks by Afghan security forces on international troops are a cause for concern, the report reads.

A new report by the German government paints a pessimistic picture of security in Afghanistan. Despite international efforts to train the national army and police force, "hostile forces remain operational," the government writes in its latest 'Afghanistan Progress Report' seen by SPIEGEL.The report says lasting peace will only be achieved if Afghanistan makes progress on national reconciliation. "This hasn't succeeded so far," it writes.

The rise in attacks by Afghan troops on soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is causing particular concern, the report adds, saying that 48 soldiers have died in such incidents this year.

"The German government takes the growing threat very seriously," the report says. It adds, however, that the number of security incidents has fallen. The 48-page report will be approved by the cabinet on Wednesday and submitted to parliament.

Germany plans to pay Afghanistan €430 million ($558 million) per year until 2016 to improve living conditions and governance. It will contribute an additional €150 million to help finance the Afghan security forces.

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Afghan Requiem

The American Spectator
By George H. Wittman

The American fighting man and woman deserve better than the leadership they've had this past decade.

It is a tragic coda to the American presence in Afghanistan that a veteran staff sergeant is on trial for killing sleeping civilian villagers and their children without apparent provocation or purpose. Some have said this incident is reflective of the brutality of the war itself. The soldier involved seems to have become completely unbalanced in attacking without immediate provocation or in reference to a specific incident. That may be a reasonable psychological assessment, but it is not something peculiar to this particular conflict.

What is specific to Afghanistan is the incidence of combat deaths and mutilation that have occurred from passive destruction through the improvised explosive device (IED). The proliferation of these mines is as if snipers were lying in wait just below the surface of every road, village street, and hill trail. But, of course, the snipers sometimes do exist in addition to the IEDs. It's not the typical warfare understood and experienced in the Western world where large and small armies clash in determined battle. These are Taliban tactics passed on from the Iraq war. They were also Viet Cong tactics, North Korean tactics, Malayan Communist tactics and, much earlier, Moro tactics in the Philippines. The list goes on.

The Russians experienced this same form of warfare in the 1980s during which their casualties were much higher than those of the U.S. and NATO since 2001 (14,450 to 3,230 killed). The reporting on Russian psychological casualties was negligible, but the impact of these losses on Russian military confidence was obvious. According to Pakistan's intelligence, the functional capability of the traditional Soviet rifle regiments was substantially reduced.

This methodology of irregular small unit combat can be defeated tactically by imaginative counter-insurgency methods, but it cannot be fought against effectively over an extended period by American troops committed to traditional Geneva Convention-type rules. Decisive victories cannot be expected when the enemy is simply satisfied with inflicting pain, accepting pain, and rarely making the mistake of exposing themselves in traditional efforts to "win the field." Eventually the American, or Russian, or British or any other trooper of the West, will resort to similar tactics. He then is in danger of being charged with losing his internal military discipline and simply becoming a "uniformed killer." The term is unfair, but the danger is real.

In World War II and Korea the GI's would refer to psychological breakdown as "battle-rattle." Sometimes it rendered the serviceman unable to perform his military duties and made him fearful in the face of the enemy. Other times the result of such psychic attacks produced uncontrollable aggression. In the invasion of Normandy a junior officer of the 101st Airborne "went off his rocker" and "tommy-gunned" a group of surrendered and weaponless Germans for no clear reason. A furious captain in the 82nd Airborne, himself badly wounded, cut the throat of an injured German officer for loudly demanding attention and treatment in a crowded aid station.

Every war has stories like these, but Iraq and Afghanistan produced a special brand of breakdown. The enemy asked no quarter and gave none. The American soldier or marine at first responded with similar ferocity. However, as time wore on and America's civilian population became less absorbed by the military aspects of the conflict, their politicians pressed the Pentagon to be "more understanding" of the Afghan people in general and. oddly enough, the enemy combatants themselves. At one point, supposedly to protect innocent civilians, new rules of engagement were posted that required American fighters to withhold fire unless or until an enemy shooter was clearly identified. These rules, introduced by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and further restricted by Gen. David Petraeus, satisfied the politicians even though they left the troops effectively disarmed. Air support and artillery fire were severely limited unless identification of hostile positions was guaranteed.

The war in Afghanistan was transformed into a nation building and rebuilding exercise. As part of this unspoken theme, deals were made with local insurgent leaders, some actually Taliban members. In exchange for providing protection for reconstruction efforts, the tribal leaders of such cooperative combatant groups benefited handsomely. Meanwhile local Afghan officials would have dribbled down to them the end product of the vast corruption that occurred at provincial and federal levels. This was an environment confusingly inconsistent with the ethical standards being preached at the same time by well-meaning civil affairs units.

Back and forth the all-volunteer combat force rotated three-four times or more into and out of the war theater -- and the casualties mounted. Lip service is paid to the deleterious effects of multiple tours in combat. However, the reality is that ten plus years of multiple rotations of units and the personnel therein may reinforce the professionalism of the cadre, but at the same time attrition and combat fatigue reduces the mental stability and effectiveness of core non-commissioned ranks. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales may be an example of this group.

The question must be asked as to whether collateral responsibility should be adjudged by a political and military command that has kept our military forces in the field considerably beyond their effective psychological capability. The American fighting man and woman deserve better than the self-absorbed political and military leadership they have had during the past decade.

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Sindzai Wins First 2 Games at World Snooker Championship
By Mir Sayed
Monday, 26 November 2012

Afghan snooker player Raees Khan Sindzai has won his first two matches at the World Snooker Championship in Bulgaria.

Sindzai beat his Bulgarian opponent 4-1 in his second match after defeating his Kyrgz competitor 3-0 in the first match.

Fellow Afghan Nader Sultani won his second match against the Canadian representative after going down 4-1 against Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Zmarai Ehsas has won his first match against an opponent from Finland 3-0.

More than 100 snooker players from 50 countries are participating in the championship in Bulgaria's city Sofia.

Afghanistan is represented by 3 players, a coach, and a manager.

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Afghan Students Demand Reprieve For Killer Of French Soldiers

November 26, 2012

Hundreds of students in eastern Afghanistan have demonstrated against the death sentence imposed on an Afghan soldier for killing five French troops.

The students blocked a road leading into Jalalabad on November 26 to demand a reprieve for the soldier, Abdul Sabor.

A court found Sabor guilty of killing the French soldiers in January while they were jogging at their base in the eastern province of Kapisa.

He is the first Afghan convicted of carrying out a so-called green-on-blue attack, in which members of Afghan security forces turn their weapons on allied foreign troops.

The students also burned Israeli and U.S. flags in protest at the shelling of the Gaza Strip during eight days of violence earlier this month that left six Israelis and 166 Palestinians dead.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

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Khost Bomb Blast Injures 26 Civilians (Update)
Monday, 26 November 2012

At least 26 civilians have been injured in a bomb blast in eastern Khost province on Monday morning, local officials told TOLOnews.

The blast took place in the Sargardan area of Khost city when a bomb that was placed on a bicycle in a civilian area exploded, according to Khost police.

The provincial governor Abdul Jabar Naeemi released a statement condemning the attack and confirming 26 civilians were injured, not 36 as reported earlier.

All the victims were civilians, Khost police said.

While the target of the attack is still not clear, some witnesses said a police vehicle was nearby at the time which may have been the intended target.

Head of a private local hospital Dr. Babraygull said that they have received 19 wounded civilians including a number of school students.

While the head of government hospital Abdul Majed Mangal said that they had received 6 wounded civilians.

Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied the group was behind the attack saying that they did not carry out attacks in this way.

Police are investigating the blast, security officials said.

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