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Rah-e-Haqeeqat (Real Life)

The April 15th coordinated attacks in Kabul were the largest attempted by the Taliban.
They failed because of the quick and valiant response of the Afghan National Police. To many Afghans this was a turning point in terms of how they view their local security forces and Afghanistan solidarity as a whole. The showRa-e-Haqeqat: 27 Amal,Illustrates exactly how these heroes battled the Taliban for Afghanistan.
 

Ra-e-Haqeeqat is launching on Friday at 08:00 pm (once a week) on TOLO

30 October 2013

FEATURE STORY

Comment: The Pashtun practice of having sex with young boys

BUSINESS

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NATION

Taliban Leader Says Peace Talks On Horizon
ECC Receives Complaints from 18 Provinces, Still Some Missing
For Australia in Afghanistan, victory was never an option
Transport Ministry Questions Airlines' Extra Checks For Afghans
Afghans tried to court Pakistani militant seized by U.S.
Five Districts Inaccessible to IEC Due to Security Threats
Don't abandon nation: Afghan ambassador
Australian Troops to Leave Within Two Months
What did we learn from the war in Afghanistan?
Taliban Attacks Afghan Principles, Government Needs New Tactics: Senators
‘Afghan girl’ cameraman tells stories behind pictures
Afghanistan and Pakistan scramble for the favor of Al Qaeda
Indian firms seek to renegotiate $10.8 bln Afghan iron ore deal - Kabul official
Responding to an Insurgent Attack on an Afghan Base
Sharif and Karzai Try to Repair Ties
Pakistan’s Sharif is Under Siege
As U.S. leaves Afghanistan, engineers safeguard roads
Afghan officials to meet Taliban leader Mullah Baradar in Pakistan
80 Afghan police killed every week in 'fighting season'
Insurgent was alive when shot by marine, court martial hears
Afghanistan Withdrawal Puts Programs For Women And Girls At Risk, Top Watchdog Warns
Taliban attacks killed nearly 3000 people in past 7 months: MOI
Latest Afghan Gambit
'Arrogant' sex pest who molested 16-year-old girl will be deported to Afghanistan after his appeal fails
 

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FEATURE STORY

Comment: The Pashtun practice of having sex with young boys

It might not receive much global attention, but rampant pedophilia in rural Afghanistan is real and desperately needs addressing, writes Chris Mondloch.

SBS
By Chris Mondloch
30 Oct 2013

With the looming withdrawal of NATO troops and a persistent insurgent threat, Afghanistan is in a precarious position. Innumerable tragedies have beleaguered rural Afghans throughout the past decades of conflict — perpetual violence, oppression of women, and crushing poverty have all contributed to the Hobbesian nature of life in the Afghan countryside.

While the Afghan government has been able to address some of these issues since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, archaic social traditions and deep-seated gender norms have kept much of rural Afghanistan in a medieval state of purgatory. Perhaps the most deplorable tragedy, one that has actually grown more rampant since 2001, is the practice of bacha bazi — sexual companionship between powerful men and their adolescent boy conscripts.

This phenomenon presents a system of gender reversal in Afghanistan. Whereas rural Pashtun culture remains largely misogynistic and male-dominated due to deeply-ingrained Islamic values, teen-age boys have become the objects of lustful attraction and romance for some of the most powerful men in the Afghan countryside.

Demeaning and damaging, the widespread subculture of pedophilia in Afghanistan constitutes one of the most egregious ongoing violations of human rights in the world. The adolescent boys who are groomed for sexual relationships with older men are bought — or, in some instances, kidnapped — from their families and thrust into a world which strips them of their masculine identity. These boys are often made to dress as females, wear makeup, and dance for parties of men. They are expected to engage in sexual acts with much older suitors, often remaining a man's or group's sexual underling for a protracted period.

Evolution of Bacha Bazi

Occurring frequently across southern and eastern Afghanistan's rural Pashtun belt and with ethnic Tajiks in the northern Afghan countryside, bacha bazi has become a shockingly common practice. Afghanistan's mujahideen warlords, who fought off the Soviet invasion and instigated a civil war in the 1980s, regularly engaged in acts of pedophilia. Keeping one or more "chai boys," as these male conscripts are called, for personal servitude and sexual pleasure became a symbol of power and social status.

The Taliban had a deep aversion towards bacha bazi, outlawing the practice when they instituted strict nationwide sharia law. According to some accounts, including the hallmark Times of London article "Kandahar Comes out of the Closet" in 2002, one of the original provocations for the Taliban's rise to power in the early 1990s was their outrage over pedophilia. Once they came to power, bacha bazi became taboo, and the men who still engaged in the practice did so in secret.

When the former mujahideen commanders ascended to power in 2001 after the Taliban's ouster, they brought with them a rekindled culture of bacha bazi. Today, many of these empowered warlords serve in important positions, as governors, line ministers, police chiefs and military commanders.

Since its post-2001 revival, bacha bazi has evolved, and its practice varies across Afghanistan. According to military experts I talked to in Afghanistan, the lawlessness that followed the deposing of the Taliban's in rural Pashtunistan and northern Afghanistan gave rise to violent expressions of pedophilia. Boys were raped, kidnapped and trafficked as sexual predators regained their positions of regional power. As rule of law mechanisms and general order returned to the Afghan countryside, bacha bazi became a normalized, structured practice in many areas.

Many "chai boys" are now semi-formal apprentices to their powerful male companions. Military officials have observed that Afghan families with an abundance of children are often keen to provide a son to a warlord or government official — with full knowledge of the sexual ramifications — in order to gain familial prestige and monetary compensation. Whereas bacha bazi is now largely consensual and non-violent, its evolution into an institutionalized practice within rural Pashtun and Tajik society is deeply disturbing.

Pedophilia and Islam

The fact that bacha bazi, which has normalized sodomy and child abuse in rural Afghan society, developed within a deeply fundamentalist Islamic region of the world is mystifying. According to a 2009 Human Terrain Team study titled "Pashtun Sexuality," Pashtun social norms dictate that bacha bazi is not un-Islamic or homosexual at all — if the man does not love the boy, the sexual act is not reprehensible, and is far more ethical than defiling a woman.

Sheltered by their pastoral setting and unable to speak Arabic — the language of all Islamic texts — many Afghans allow social customs to trump religious values, including those Quranic verses eschewing homosexuality and promiscuity. Warlords who have exploited Islam for political or personal means have also promulgated tolerance for bacha bazi. The mujahideen commanders are a perfect example of this — they fought communism in the name of jihad and mobilized thousands of men by promoting Islam, while sexually abusing boys and remaining relatively secular themselves.

Tragic Consequences

The rampant pedophilia has a number of far-reaching detrimental consequences on Afghanistan's development into a functional nation. The first — and most obvious — consequence of bacha bazi is the irreparable abuse inflicted on its thousands of victims.

Because it is so common, a significant percentage of the country's male population bears the deep psychological scars of sexual abuse from childhood. Some estimates say that as many as 50 percent of the men in the Pashtun tribal areas of southern Afghanistan take boy lovers, making it clear that pedophilia is a pervasive issue affecting entire rural communities. Many of the prominent Pashtun men who currently engage in bacha bazi were likely abused as children; in turn, many of today's adolescent victims will likely become powerful warlords or government-affiliated leaders with boy lovers of their own, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

A second corrupting, and perhaps surprising, consequence of bacha bazi is its negative impact on women's rights in Afghanistan. It has become a commonly accepted notion among Afghanistan's latent homosexual male population that "women are for children, and boys are for pleasure." Passed down through many generations and spurred by the vicious cycle created by the pedophile-victim relationship, many Afghan men have lost their attraction towards the opposite gender. Although social and religious customs still heavily dictate that all men must marry one or more women and have children, these marriages are often devoid of love and affection, and are treated as practical, mandated arrangements.

While the Afghan environment has grown more conducive to improving women's social statuses, the continued normalization of bacha bazi will perpetuate the traditional view of women as second-class citizens — household fixtures meant for child-rearing and menial labor, and undeserving of male attraction and affection.

The third unfortunate consequence of bacha bazi is its detrimental bearing on the perpetual state of conflict in Afghanistan, especially in the southern Pashtun-dominated countryside. Because pedophilia and sodomy were, and remain, a main point of contention between the Islamist Taliban and traditional Pashtun warlords, the widespread nature of bacha bazi likely continues to fuel the Taliban's desire to reassert sharia law. The adolescent victims are vulnerable to Taliban intimidation and may be used to infiltrate the Afghan government and security forces.

The resurgence of bacha bazi since the Taliban's defeat and the significant percentage of government, police, and military officials engaged in the practice has put the United States and its NATO allies in a precarious position. By empowering these sexual predators, the coalition built a government around a "lesser evil," promoting often-corrupt pedophiles in lieu of the extremist, al-Qaida-linked Taliban. Going forward, the strong Western moral aversion to pedophilia will likely erode the willingness of NATO and international philanthropic agencies to continue their support for Afghanistan's development in the post-transition period. As Joel Brinkley, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, asked: "So, why are American and NATO forces fighting and dying to defend tens of thousands of proud pedophiles, certainly more per capita than any other place on Earth?"

Looking Forward

Despite the grave nature of the child abuse committed across Afghanistan, this tragic phenomenon has received relatively little global attention. It has been highlighted mainly in sporadic news articles and one Afghan-produced documentary, while other Afghan issues such as women's rights and poverty are center stage.

From a human rights perspective, the pervasive culture of pedophilia deserves substantial international consideration due to its detrimental effects — the immediate and noticeable effects on the young victims, as well as the roadblocks it creates towards achieving gender equality and peace.

The only way to tackle both bacha bazi and gender inequality is to modernize Afghanistan's rule of law system. Afghan officials have been scrutinized in multiple reports by the United Nations' Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict for their failure to protect children's rights. Although Afghan officials formally agreed to outlaw these practices in response to U.N. criticism in 2011, the government's ability and willingness to internally enforce laws protecting children has been non-existent.

If a future Afghan government can achieve a balance between the Taliban, who strictly enforced anti-pedophilia laws but harshly oppressed women, and the current administration, which has put an end to the hard-line Islamic subjugation of women but has allowed bacha bazi to reach shocking levels, Afghanistan's dismal human rights record may improve.

An additional strategy for combating bacha bazi is to attack the issue from an ethno-cultural standpoint. Identifying key tribal elders and other local powerbrokers who share the West's revulsion towards such widespread pedophilia is the first step in achieving lasting progress. As is true with women's rights, understanding Afghanistan's complex social terrain and bridging its cultural differences is necessary to safeguard the rights of adolescent boys.

The Afghan government's acknowledgement of bacha bazi and subsequent outreach into rural Pashtun communities, where the legitimacy of the government is often eclipsed by the power of warlords and tribal elders, will also be critical. The most important breakthrough, of course, will come when the Afghan government, police, and military rid themselves of all pedophiles. If the central government can ensure its representatives at the local level will cease their engagement in bacha bazi, the social norms are bound to change as well.

Eliminating this truly damaging practice will finally occur when a pedophile-free Afghan government is able to more closely connect the country's urban centers to its rural countryside. Only then will a progressive social code be established. And if this evolved social code can incorporate the tenets of Islam with social justice and effectively marginalize the archaic and abusive aspects of Pashtun and Tajik warlord culture, there is hope for Afghanistan yet.

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NATION

Taliban Leader Says Peace Talks On Horizon

TOLOnews.com
By Shakeela Abrahimkhil
29 October 2013

Mutasem Agha Jan, the head of Taliban Political Committee, said on Tuesday that peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban would recommence soon, signaling the first major sign of hope for a process that has been stalled since June.

With President Hamid Karzai away in London to participate in trilateral talks with Britain and Pakistan launched for the purpose of getting peace negotiations with the Taliban back on track, Agha Jan's statement on Tuesday came as a welcomed surprise.

Many experts have

grown doubtful of any reconciliation deal being struck between the militants and Kabul before the spring elections or the withdraw of foreign troops in 2014. However, Agha Jan leant credence to his claims by asserting that his authority to move the peace talks forward came on behalf of the Taliban's supreme leader, the reclusive Mullah Omar.

The High Peace Council (HPC) was highly positive about the announcement, suggesting it was reliable signal that tangible gains in the peace process were soon to come.
"He doesn't only speak for himself, he talks on behalf of the Taliban's top commander Mullah Omar, and Omar is the leader of the Taliban group, so it's really positive and we support it," said HPC spokesman Maulavi Shahzada Shahid.

Agha Jan said the Taliban's renewed willingness to come to the negotiating table was based on their desire to bring the country out of crisis and establish longstanding peace in Afghanistan.

"Taliban are ready for a ceasefire, we don't support war," he said. "All, including the Taliban, have paid a major price in the war."

The Taliban political leader's comments fly in the face of the fears of many Afghan and foreign officials and experts who have suggested the insurgent group is looking to derail the upcoming elections. Nevertheless, those fears are based on the observation of action, like the recent assassination of the Kunduz IEC Chief and abduction of five IEC officials in Faryab province. For now, the Taliban's commitment to peace remains rhetorical.

That does not mean Agha Jan's announcement on Tuesday was not a major break for the process that has been stagnant since an attempts at talks floundered in Qatar nearly five months ago. As the HPC's remarks indicate, a statement of willingness and expectation that talks will begin soon is a major step.

Over the past months, the Afghan government has been focusing on making inroads with Pakistan in hopes of getting it to help get the peace process rolling. Those efforts have not seen much success, as Karzai's request to have Taliban leader Mullah Baradar released from prison was agreed to by Islamabad, but then never carried through.

That issue was expected to be an item of discussion this week between Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London.

Members of the Afghan government and their unofficial delegates have reportedly been engaged in backroom communication with the Taliban in hopes of kick-starting the peace process. Whether or not that behind-the-scenes dialogue played a part in Agha Jan speaking up on Tuesday is uncertain.

One of the major reasons Karzai government officials have been so eager to make progress on the peace process, other than the fact that Karzai will not be in a position to do so after the election in April, is that the NATO combat mission ends in December of 2014. The departure of coalition troops from Afghanistan has led to a significant amount of hand-wringing about a potential security vacuum that could mean a death blow to the still fledgling Kabul regime that has been in place since 2003.

Although not likely in favor of a continued presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, Agha Jan also expressed concerns about the stability of the country in the coming years.

"We have major concerns, and history shouldn't be repeated," he said. "Afghanistan should not slide back into a chaotic era as we witnessed following the collapse of President Najbullah when various groups engaged in bloody wars and Afghanistan was devastated."

Incidentally, the Taliban was the group that brought that era of "blood wars" to an end.

Agha Jan served as the Minister of Finance during the Taliban regime. He was blacklisted by the U.S. two years ago. Around that time he was injured and left Afghanistan for Turkey to seek medical treatment. He has been residing there ever since.

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ECC Receives Complaints from 18 Provinces, Still Some Missing

TOLOnews.com
By Saleha Sadat
29 October 2013

Officials of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) on Tuesday said the complaints against candidates registered in its satellite offices in 18 provinces had been successfully transferred to the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) office in Kabul. Yet still complaints from other provinces remain unmoved.

The announcement came after ECC officials have repeatedly complained of setbacks to its complaint review process, with the IEC being for the most part the culprit implicated.

After the three-day delay in the announcement of the preliminary list of candidates started the ECC's hearing process off behind schedule on Saturday, the bumps in the road kept coming as it acknowledged that nearly half of the 474 registered complaints had still not come in from the provinces.

It wasn't until Monday, reportedly, that the complaints submitted in 18 provinces were brought to the ECC office in the capital in Kabul. While the ECC will begin reviewing them right away, it still awaits all those from other provinces that still haven't come in.

"We will do our best to transfer the remaining complaints to Kabul as soon as we can," assured IEC Spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor.

ECC officials confirmed the reception of the complaints, and reiterated that it had already completed the review of all complaints that were registered in Kabul.

Although specifics about the nature of complaints already reviewed were not provided of ECC representatives, reportedly, many of the objections involve claims against the literacy of certain Provincial Council candidates. Both Presidential and Provincial Council candidates are required to be fully literate.

ECC officials also noted on Tuesday that they had received all the documents of the candidates from the IEC, after having only received those of disqualified candidates as of the day before.

The IEC cut 16 out of 26 Presidential and nearly 400 Provincial Council contenders from its preliminary list of candidates last week. Objections were heard from many of those disqualified in the following days, accusing the IEC of methodological mistakes as well as political bias.

Although disqualified candidates are allowed to challenge the IEC's decisions through the ECC, officials have said they would prioritize complaints against candidates who made the preliminary list over challenges from eliminated ones.

Spokesman of the ECC Nader Mohseni said complaints were being investigated by the Commission as efficiently as possible.

But given the time crunch caused by the series of delays in the past week, and the substantial workload the ECC has on their plate, the scheduled date for the announcement of the final list of candidates – November 16 – has been called into question.

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For Australia in Afghanistan, victory was never an option

Tony Abbott has declared the conflict over, but what did it achieve? Not victory, but a society in a fairer and more capable state, and with the potential to develop

The Guardian
By Rodger Shanahan
29 October 2013

From the time that George Bush committed hundreds of thousands of troops, hundreds of billions of dollars and the focus of Washington’s military and political brains to invading and occupying Iraq and left a relatively small number of forces to conduct a holding operation in Afghanistan, any possibility of victory flew out the window. Technology is wonderful but mass has its own attractions, and except for a brief period during the surge, the coalition never had sufficient mass to address the multiple problems that beset Afghanistan.

But in Afghanistan, the opposite of victory is not defeat. The Afghanistan of 2014 will be different to that of 2001. It won’t be a model of democracy and was never going to be. Government control is not going to reach to every corner of Afghanistan and never was. Corruption is not going to go away and it was unrealistic to even begin to assume that it was. But government control can be exerted over the major population centres; the Taliban’s focus on ordering society at the expense of developing a state has been replaced by a developing state operating in a conservative society; an urbanised middle class is emerging fitfully; and education and health care have improved dramatically over the decade of the coalition presence. Most importantly the initial aim of the mission, to deny terrorist groups free use of Afghanistan as a planning, training and staging area for attacks against the West has largely been achieved. They have re-emerged in other areas, but they are fractured and on the defensive. Not a victory for sure, but a long way from a defeat.

Perhaps that is the nature of modern conflict, and a lesson that Australia and the West should learn. It may be time, after more than a decade of war in far-off countries, to change our expectations of what we deem to be victory. Victories and defeats will be relative, rather than absolute measures. Victory is no longer measured in total surrender, but in leaving a society in a fairer and more capable state of governance than it was before military operations commenced and with greater potential to develop. Not a guarantee of development but a potential. By that measure Iraq could be deemed a failure and Afghanistan a success. After all, Kabul today looks positively tranquil compared to Baghdad or Damascus.

Australia played the role of a fitfully but increasingly engaged military partner. For a long time reluctant to take command of Uruzgan lest we get left holding the baby, Australia finally realised that it was possible that everyone could leave at more or less the same time. The province was neither the most, nor the least dangerous in Afghanistan as the deaths of 40 soldiers and wounding of hundreds of others attest. Late in the piece Australia saw the potential for a more holistic governmental approach and hopefully the knowledge we have gained from this experience will be used to better inform these processes for future contingencies. Uruzgan has had significant development aid expended on it, schools and clinics built which are all positives. But unless the Afghan government mans those schools with teachers and the clinics with health workers, our legacy will be that we built in, but didn’t develop the province.

In terms of alliance management, our Afghanistan experience will have been more of a positive than Iraq. While the US was keen for any partners in its largely diplomatically orphaned Iraq venture, Australia was keen to provide embedded headquarters personnel and trainers but chose the safest province when it finally agreed to dispatch a task group. In Afghanistan our risk acceptance grew as focus shifted there. A decade of operations has meant that the army in particular is better equipped and operationally experienced than it has been for decades. It also has a generation of officers and soldiers experienced in operating in a complex society within a coalition environment. Hopefully this generation will have learnt that victory and defeat are now relative terms.

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Transport Ministry Questions Airlines' Extra Checks For Afghans

TOLOnews.com
By Shahla Murtazaie
29 October 2013

The Afghan Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation on Tuesday demanded an explanation from Air India and Pakistan International Airline (PIA) officials regarding reported extra security precautions being taken for Afghan passengers at Kabul International Airport.

According to Dr. Daoud Ali Najafi, the Transport and Civil Aviation Minister, Air India And PIA conduct their own body searches of passengers during the boarding process of their flights leaving the Kabul airport. In addition to reportedly causing undue nuisance for passengers, the most controversial aspect of the issue with the procedures of Air India and PIA is that the secondary checks have only reportedly been done for Afghan passengers.

Najafi maintained that Kabul airport is equipped with all the security technology and trained professionals needed for proper checks and the procedures being used by these airlines were unnecessary.

"We have received complaints and we told Air India and PIA that after this they must not repeat the checks and trouble passengers," said Najafi. "When the passengers go through our check it is enough and when a plane lands from Delhi or Islamabad in Kabul we also rely on your country checking."

Nevertheless, according to Najafi, the two airlines have argued that within their contract with the airport it is permitted for them to take their own security precautions if deemed necessary.

Najafi said if this was the case, then the contract should be reviewed and renegotiated.

Meanwhile, a number of MP weighed in on the issue and asked that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs get involved to resolve the dispute. They also proposed mimicking the procedures taken by the two airlines for Afghan passengers and doing redundant searches of all Indians and Pakistanis as a last option.

"We want the Ministry of Transport to first talk with them and solve the issue and then the second step should be to follow the same behavior as they are following with our passengers," said Mirdad Khan Nejrabi, the Chairman of Parliament's Security Committee.

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Afghans tried to court Pakistani militant seized by U.S.

Reuters
By Phil Stewart
Oct 29, 2013
WASHINGTON

The U.S. apprehension of a Pakistani Taliban commander last month came during a failed attempt by Afghan officials to form an alliance with his militant group, a Western official said on Tuesday, confirming some details in a New York Times report.

The United States this month confirmed the arrest of Latif Mehsud, a trusted deputy to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, during a military operation that heightened tensions with the Western-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The Times reported on Tuesday that the United States staged the operation to seize Mehsud after being tipped off about the plan by Afghan intelligence officials to try to work with the Pakistani Taliban and later use that as leverage against Pakistan.

It quoted two Afghan officials saying that they had struck a tentative deal with Mehsud: Afghanistan would not harass Pakistani Taliban fighters along the border if they did not attack Afghan forces.

"Publicly, the Afghan government has described Mr. Mehsud as an insurgent peace emissary. But according to Afghan officials, the ultimate plan was to take revenge against the Pakistani military," the Times wrote.

The Afghan embassy in Washington declined comment.

The Afghan government and the United States accuse Pakistani intelligence services of ties to militant groups fighting across the border in Afghanistan.

Asked about the Times report, a Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, broadly confirmed Afghan efforts to form an alliance with the group but did not provide further details.

Karzai called the U.S. capture a violation of Afghan sovereignty and public disclosure of the incident comes as Afghanistan considers whether to approve a security pact with the United States to keep U.S. troops in the country once NATO wraps up its combat mission at the end of 2014.

The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban, is believed to have trained Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad in bomb-making techniques and funded his plot to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square in 2010. The device failed to explode and was defused by a bomb squad. The TTP seeks to topple Pakistan's government.

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Five Districts Inaccessible to IEC Due to Security Threats

TOLOnews.com
By Aazem Arash
29 October 2013

The newly established Election Security Commission (ESC) acknowledged on Tuesday that insurgents had a dominant enough presence in five districts that authorities remained unable to transfer critical election materials to them.

The news was provided by Muhammad Salim Ehsas, who was appointed the head of the ESC earlier this week. The Commission was created by a Decree from President Hamid Karzai, and is intended to oversee security operations for the Presidential and Provincial Council elections and all related personnel, including candidates.

The new commission arrives at a time when many inside and outside the government have been increasingly worried about security threats to the election process. One of the chief concerns of officials surrounds isolated areas throughout the country that remain particularly out of reach for security forces, which has prevented the Independent Election commission (IEC) from being able to open up voter registration offices in a number of districts.

The announcement made on Tuesday that important election materials such as ballots and ballot boxes were not able to be transferred will add to anxieties about the vulnerability of the election preparation process to persisting insecurity issues.

"Electoral materials haven't been sent to Alasai district of Kapisa province, two districts in Helmand province, Nawah district in Ghazni province, and Dai Chopan district in Zabul province," said Ehsas. "There are serious security threats in these districts."
However, the ESC head said that some success in transporting election materials from Kabul to areas with security concerns was had when air travel was utilized. He did not say whether or not this option would be pursued for the aforementioned districts.

Connectivity between the election authorities in headquarters of the nation's capital and outlying provinces has been a perpetual issue in the lead up to the spring elections. Last week, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said nearly half of the 474 complaints that were submitted against candidates faced delays in being moved from the provincial IEC offices where they were registered to Kabul, which was where they would be reviewed.

Although Ehsas assured that security would be in place and the elections would be held according to schedule on April 5 of next year, he also noted that over the past few months the Taliban carried out over fifty suicide attacks in thirty provinces, indicating the group's persistence and reach. He said he believed the Taliban would try to derail the elections, despite their claims to the contrary.

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Don't abandon nation: Afghan ambassador

Brisbane Times
By David Wroe
October 30, 2013

Afghanistan aid

There's speculation that Australia will cut its aid to Afghanistan, but former Chief of Army Peter Leahy argues that would be a mistake.

The Afghan ambassador to Australia has warned that the Taliban would be strengthened by mooted cuts to future foreign aid to his country as coalition forces begin to pull out after 12 years of war.

With the Abbott government understood to be considering cutting aid to Afghanistan as part of broader international development reductions, retired military leaders also spoke out against any cuts.

Former chief of army Peter Leahy branded any cuts ''regrettable''. Former commander in the Middle East John Cantwell said it could exacerbate what will be an inevitable backward step for Afghanistan in coming years.
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Ambassador Nasir Ahmad Andisha said Australian officials had assured him there would be no substantial cuts this financial year, although no undertakings had been given for next year and beyond.

''We all understand that abandoning Afghanistan is not an option at all,'' he said. ''When you cannot deliver services service schools and clinics and all those things, it will increase people's disenchantment with the government and who will benefit from this? Of course, the Taliban.''

Development aid to Afghanistan rose steeply in recent years, reaching about $180million this financial year. Of the $8 billion Australia has spent in Afghanistan, just over $1 billion has been on aid. The Labor government signed up at a 2012 conference in Tokyo to continue that funding.

However, in its search for about $4 billion in foreign aid cuts over the next four years, the Abbott government is understood to be eyeing closely the pot of money for Afghanistan, from which the majority of Australian troops are set to withdraw by Christmas.

Visiting the main base at Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan province, on Monday, Mr Abbott said Australia would continue to fund Afghan development. But a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the aid program was being reviewed ''consistent with the government's policies and priorities by focusing Australian assistance on our region, and consolidating aid efforts to reduce fragmentation and improve efficiency''.

Ms Bishop is set to speak at a conference of the Australian Council for International Development on Wednesday evening, but it is understood she has asked that the media be barred from the event.

Professor Leahy, who is now director of national security at Canberra University, said any reduction in aid would undermine the Afghan security forces and government.

''What should be happening now is that the developmental aid should be increased to reinforce the legitimacy of the government and their ability to deliver economic support, health and education to the population,'' he said.

Mr Cantwell said: ''It is going to go backwards at some point or another - let's not kid ourselves - but it would be a shame to increase the likelihood of that and undermine some of the things we've done.''

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Australian Troops to Leave Within Two Months

TOLOnews.com
By Geeti Mohsini
29 October 2013

The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday where he met Australian soldiers stationed in southern Urozgan province. Abbott announced to applause from the troops that Australia's combat mission had ended and they would all be sent home within two months.

The unexpected visit and announcement that came with it come over a year before the NATO combat mission ends in December of 2014. Although most coalition countries are gradually withdrawing troops in the lead up to then, as Afghan forces assume increasing responsibilities, the Australian government has opted to pull its 15,000 remaining servicemen from Afghanistan in a swifter fashion.

Speaking to his troops at a base in Tirin Kot District of Urozgan, however, Prime Minister Abbott assured that Australia would be committed to continuing to provide support to Afghanistan despite the conclusion of its combat mission and troop withdraw.

He said the aim of the Australian combat mission had been to safeguard Afghanistan from being used as a safe haven by the al-Qaeda terror network, though he did not elaborate on whether or not he believed this mission had been fully accomplished.

"We pay tribute to the efforts made by our soldiers in Afghanistan, we are deeply saddened about the victims and we are proud of their achievements," said Abbott.

A number of Urozgan lawmakers responded to the announcement and expressed concerns about the withdraw of Australian soldiers..

"The evacuation of Australian troops from Urozgan is really concerning...they were contributing to security in the province and there could some challenges that follow from their withdraw," said Urozgan MP Raihana Azad.

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What did we learn from the war in Afghanistan?

The Age
By James Brown
October 30, 2013

Australia, unlike other countries, has not publicly reviewed its military mission. It's time to ask critical questions about how we fought the war.
Afghanistan, the 'set and forget' war

Former Chief of Army, Peter Leahy, says the PM should call an inquiry into successive governments' oversight of the Afghanistan war to avoid a repeat of the 'set and forget' approach of recent years.

The learning really starts when the war is over. As Australia's 12-year-long Afghan campaign draws to a close there are still big questions to be answered.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that Australia's mission in Afghanistan is at an end, but which mission? Australia has had a few.

Throughout the decade, Australia's overarching objective has been to support our ally the United States in its effort to reduce the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan. Within this, Australian military forces were tasked with constantly meandering missions. In 2001 the mission was relatively simple - defeat al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power.

Illustration: John Spooner.

Four years later when Australian Special Forces were sent back to southern Afghanistan, the mission was to make a noticeable contribution to coalition operations.

By 2007 the reconstruction of Oruzgan, Afghanistan's poorest province, had become a priority. Though as Australia's reconstruction commander at the time pointed out, not much had been constructed in Oruzgan in the first place. By late 2008 the crux of Australia's mission in Oruzgan seemed to be to fight those who would do our forces harm.

The final mission, from 2009, was to train Australia's replacements in Tarin Kowt - the Afghan National Security Forces.

Some will ask why Australians went to fight in the graveyard of empires - but that's the wrong question. The Taliban were effectively issuing passports to terrorists who had demonstrated both the intent and capability to wreak destruction and attack our friends. Our closest ally, the US, judged that an invasion of Afghanistan was necessary to reduce this threat. In 2001, Australia needed to be involved in that fight.

Others will ask whether now is the right time to leave Afghanistan - but that's the wrong question, too. The Australian Defence Force is leaving because the US military is leaving. This exit strategy has been decided in Washington, not in Canberra.

The critical question is should we have fought this war differently?

Australia's strategy in this war has been hesitant and often contradictory. To be fair, setting Australia's own strategy among the machinations of NATO, the Pentagon, and Foggy Bottom was always going to be difficult.

Until early 2009 Iraq inordinately distracted the US from thinking through sound strategy on Afghanistan. The year before, Australian prime ministers were refused access to critical NATO meetings setting the future course of the Afghanistan campaign.

At several points, Australia's strategic decisions faltered and were then reversed. In 2007 the Australian Defence Force advised that the mission in Oruzgan was not combat focused, but within a year Special Forces were mounting lengthy missions to combat insurgents.

In 2008 Australia demurred requests from US officials to contribute more combat forces, only to increase troop contributions by more than 40 per cent six months later.

When the Dutch left Oruzgan in 2010, Australia shrank away from the responsibility of commanding operations in the province. Instead, a US colonel commanded a combined headquarters in which the majority of troops and assigned forces were Australian. As it turned out, two years later Australia decided to take command anyway.

Restrictive geographic boundaries on Australian operations were introduced and then removed, prohibitions on targeting the nexus between insurgents and the lucrative narcotics industry were enforced and then years later quietly abandoned.

This strategic vacillation became most apparent whenever politicians tried to explain the war to Australians. Though only a handful of parliamentarians disagree with the cause, none could convince Australians that fighting in Afghanistan was the right thing to do.

A Lowy Institute poll this year found nearly two in three Australians thought a decade of fighting was not worth it. Convincing Afghans to support our military has been even harder.

Australia has not publicly reviewed its military operations and strategy in Afghanistan, unlike the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. When, and if, we do, three lessons from the conflict will emerge.

First, tactics are important, but strategy is vital. Australians - in and out of parliament - have been overly focused on the tactical actions of our troops in Afghanistan at the expense of the strategy that put them there. Knowledge of military strategic issues is so low among our parliamentarians, it borders on negligence.

Second, alliance management is much harder now than it was a decade ago. Contributing small niche military forces to coalition operations may not always meet the interests of the US military, or our own.

Third, luck in wars can breed complacency. For six years Australia fielded troops in Afghanistan with very few casualties; only when casualties started to mount was Australia's military campaign comprehensively and critically assessed.

The bulk of Australia's troops will return home in the coming months with only 400 or so left in advisory and logistical positions from 2014. Our new government's challenge is to help explain to Australians what the military achieved in Afghanistan. A strategic review would help them articulate the answers.

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Taliban Attacks Afghan Principles, Government Needs New Tactics: Senators

TOLOnews.com
By Rafi Sediqi
29 October 2013

Following the deadly roadside bombing of a wedding party bus in Ghazni province on Sunday, a number of Afghan Senators spoke out against the Taliban, arguing they're war was not just against Afghans, but Afghan principles. The Senators also urged the government to adjust its strategy toward fighting the militancy.

The comments followed an incident in Andar District of Ghazni province at the beginning week in which a bus full of men, women and children traveling to a wedding celebration was blown up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The explosion killed 19 passengers, 16 of which were women and children.

"The enemies of the Afghanistan have assaulted our principles and killed innocent people," said Senator Amanullah Azimi. "They do not respect the people."

The Senators condemnations echoed remarks issued by President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan Ulema Council and United Nations in the wake of the incident. The Afghan public reacted with similar shock and disdain when news of the attack spread across social media on Sunday night.

In addition to expressing their horror at the nature of the bombing, and their unflattering take on the Taliban, Senators urged the government to reassess its tactics in combating the insurgency.

"The government should change its policy against the Taliban as Pakistan is it's base of operations, but they do not focus outside our border where the attacks are planned," said Senator Daoud Asaas.

Regarding operations inside Afghanistan, Senators criticized the government's take-and-leave approach to Taliban-ridden areas of the country and urged security forces to be more sustained in their presence.

"The plan that the Afghan forces have has failed yet spent immense amounts of money," said Senator Mahaiuddin Munsif. "The forces clear an insecure area, but leave once it is cleared and the insurgents just come back."

Ahead of the 2014 elections, however, it is unclear whether Afghan security officials plan to implement a new strategy toward counterinsurgency or simply ramp-up operations in the same style it has conducted them in over the course of this year.

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‘Afghan girl’ cameraman tells stories behind pictures

AFP
30 October 2013

Photographer Steve McCurry remembers exactly how he got his famed 1983 shot of two Pakistani waiters passing a tea tray precariously along the outside of a moving train.

“I leaned out the window and someone was holding my legs but I was thinking, ‘Oh no this is not going to end well’,” he said, recalling the photograph he took one morning three decades ago as breakfast was served between Peshawar and Lahore.

Hanging perilously from hand rails between the dining car and first class, the waiters dressed in white uniforms and green and gold turbans were passing the tray along the outside of the carriages because the connecting doors had been locked for security reasons.

McCurry, 63, whose many memorable images have earned him a reputation as one of the foremost photographers of his generation, says he weighed up the risk and decided it was worth it.“I’d rather take the risk than not take the risk and then always wonder if I should have. I think there’s nothing worse than being timid,” he told AFP in an interview in Paris.

“Sometimes you just have to evaluate the risk and say ‘you know what, I have to do this’,” he said.

It’s just one of many stories behind the photographs recounted in McCurry’s latest book, “Steve McCurry Untold.”

In it, he revisits not only some of his best-known images but also decades’ worth of notes, letters and other ephemera such as tickets and receipts.

Packed away and forgotten in drawers and cupboards after returning from assignments over the years, they give a sense of the planning and technical difficulties involved in capturing such pictures.

“It’s almost like archaeology, things, layers, stacks of things accumulated as years and decades passed,” he said.

“Documents and pictures that were not part of the story, that were never published, but were still a piece of the puzzle,” he said.

McCurry’s career has taken him all over the world but he says the majority of his time has been spent between Afghanistan and Burma and in Sri Lanka and Tibet.

Arguably his best-known image is that of the young “Afghan girl” he photographed in 1984 in a refugee camp in north-west Pakistan at the time of the Soviet occupation.Camps had sprung up along the Afghan-Pakistan border and many refugees had been living there for years in conditions of great hardship. Between August and November 1984 McCurry visited most of the 30-odd camps.

It was on a visit to one of these that he encountered the girl, whose name he later learned to be Sharbat Gula, and whose photograph appeared on the front cover of National Geographic magazine in June 1985.

Coming across her in a class at a camp school, he immediately noticed her piercing green eyes and set about taking her portrait.

“For a few seconds everything was perfect, the light, the background, the expression in her eyes,” he recalled in the book.

In fact, that photograph nearly did not make the front cover as another of the same girl had been selected.

But the magazine’s editor in chief made a habit of viewing the photographs that had been considered and discarded for the cover and was immediately struck by his other shot.

The image prompted an immediate reaction from readers and was later voted the most recognized photograph in the magazine’s history.

McCurry says he has always gravitated toward portrait photography.

“I love portraits, I love examining the human face,” he said.In 2002, without even knowing her name — the photographer went back to Pakistan with a film crew to try and find Gula.

In the intervening years her image had come to symbolize the suffering of the Afghan refugee but her life in Afghanistan had been hard and she was unaware of its impact.

The family did not ask for money but McCurry and the magazine made it clear they wanted to help.

Over the subsequent years they were able to ensure in various ways — such as medical treatment and a pilgrimage to Makkah — that she and her family also shared in photograph’s success.

McCurry said meeting people in such conditions of suffering or hardship and then leaving without being able help them materially or change their plight was something all photographers and journalists had to grapple with.

“It’s a terrible thing and it probably affects you deeply,” he said.

“But the only way we really know what is happening in the world is by people reporting on it... so I guess we just have to think ‘how can I contribute?’.

“And the way I can contribute is by photography and raising awareness so people are informed,” he said.

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Afghanistan and Pakistan scramble for the favor of Al Qaeda

As the US military presence winds down, Afghan leaders are hedging their bets, looking to protect themselves. Like allying with the very groups the US ousted in 2001. Messy? You bet.

The Christian Science Monitor 
By Dan Murphy
October 29, 2013

The US war in Afghanistan could turn into a pumpkin as soon as the middle of November.

That's when a national meeting of tribal leaders and other notable Afghans will hold a so-called loya jirga and vote on whether to meet the Obama administration's terms for keeping troops in the country beyond the end of 2014.

If they vote no, it will all be over but the packing, shipping, and destroying of military infrastructure. Whatever the Afghans decide about an extended US presence, the US involvement in offensive operations is sure to decline, just as its role in "nation building" is winding down. That means Afghans have gaps to fill when it comes to influence and power projection.
As the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the US-installed and -supported Afghan government is wasting little time. The plan? Make friends with the Pakistani Taliban and what's left of Al Qaeda's network in Pakistan.

According to the article, which cites unnamed US and Afghan officials, the government of President Hamid Karzai is courting the Pakistani Taliban, who are close to what's left of Al Qaeda in region, as a way to counterbalance the Pakistani military's support for the Afghan Taliban.

The story began with the US military's arrest of Latif Mehsud, a senior Pakistani Taliban member. At the time the arrest was announced earlier this month, the Karzai government put out the story that Mr. Mehsud was in Afghanistan to negotiate a prisoner swap. There were also suggestions that he was being approached as go-between for peace talks.

But the Times story says the actual purpose of Mehsud's visit was to promise aid to the Pakistani Taliban in their fight. It's a cheap way for Afghanistan to project force and influcence inside Pakistan and, in theory, make Pakistan more amenable to Afghan positions at future negotiations.

Now, not content to be merely the target of a proxy war, the Afghan government decided to recruit proxies of its own by seeking to aid the Pakistan Taliban in their fight against Pakistan’s security forces, according to Afghan officials. And they were beginning to make progress over the past year, they say, before the American raid exposed them.

Although Afghan anger over the raid has been an open issue since it was revealed in news reports this month, it is only now that the full purpose of the Afghan operation that prompted the raid has been detailed by American and Afghan officials. Those officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss secret intelligence matters.

The story is thoroughly plausible. Karzai's fear about Pakistani designs in Afghanistan has been one of the issues in the drawn-out negotiations over an extended US military presence. Karzai has been pressing for US security guarantees with respect to the Pakistanis. While talks have not really gotten anywhere yet, Karzai and others in the government have been more than happy to reach out to the Afghan Taliban, recognizing them as a political force and military force that aren't going away. Earlier this month Karzai said he'd like to bring the Taliban into a power-sharing government in Kabul.

America's and Karzai's interests haven't been aligned for years. The US said it wanted to establish a democracy in Afghanistan, but what's resulted has been rigged elections awash in drug money and the halls of parliament filled with warlords.

Even so, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better illustration of the futility and dysfunction of the current US effort than the Afghan government up to a direct Al Qaeda ally. The Pakistani Taliban have sought to hit US interests abroad: the US government has accused the group of being behind a failed car-bomb attack on New York's Times Square in 2010, and has also claimed that Mehsud was personally involved.

The stated purpose of the US war against the Taliban following Al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 was to remove the Afghan government that had given safe-haven to Al Qaeda and replace it with one that would never harbor a movement bent on attacking the US again. Now, the Afghan government, installed on the back of US tanks, is negotiating a friendship with precisely those sorts of people.

To be sure, it all makes a certain amount of sense from an Afghan perspective. They'll seek advantage in their tough and violent neighborhood wherever they can find it. Looking to Pakistan, they probably find few reasons not to.

During the long US-led war in Afghanistan, Pakistan's military has provided aid and occasionally direct support to Taliban units who were killing US troops, yet the flow of US military aid to Pakistan - and intelligence cooperation on going after militants inside Pakistan - was unabated. When the US determined that Osama bin Laden was hiding it in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, a short distance from the country's capital, it couldn't trust Pakistan enough to inform them of a pending raid. Yet doubts about possible Pakistani military assistance to Bin Laden have not curtailed the relationship with the US.

So Karzai's bet is that there wouldn't be much in the way of repercussions for working with the Pakistani Taliban. Going on the history of the last decade, he's probably right.

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Indian firms seek to renegotiate $10.8 bln Afghan iron ore deal - Kabul official

Reuters
By Jessica Donati
Oct 29, 2013
KABUL

A consortium of Indian companies led by Steel Authority of India is seeking to renegotiate the terms of an iron ore deal in Afghanistan worth up to $10.8 billion, a senior official at the Ministry of Mines said on Tuesday.

The situation arose after India's finance ministry refused to help finance the consortium without a detailed study about the commercial viability of the project.

Investment in Afghanistan's mining sector is considered one of the greatest hopes of the country attaining economic independence and the halt will add to concern that it will not be able to support itself economically as aid flows shrink.

"The negotiations are suspended for some reason ... (but) they haven't withdrawn from this process," the official told Reuters, asking for his name to be withheld because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

An Indian official with knowledge of the matter said the finance ministry had told the consortium to draw up a fresh viability study, adding that the studies submitted by the companies dated back to the 1950s and 1960s.

"They are asking for government funding. But that cannot be done without first evaluating the profitability of the project," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

India's economic slowdown has hit the country's finances, forcing the ministry to consider spending cuts to prevent a budget blow-out. However, the official said the initial proposal was not rejected to trim expenditure and that the project would be looked at again once the consortium improved its pitch.

The Steel Authority of India and the two countries' mine ministries were not immediately available for comment.

The Afghan official did not give a reason for the suspension, but the investment, at the Hajigak mine, is in the once peaceful province of Bamiyan where increasing insurgent attacks mean it is now only safely reachable by air.

About two months ago, Chinese firms demanded a review of the country's landmark deal to produce copper in Afghanistan, agreed in 2007. [ID:nL6N0GS1ZB] According to the ministry official, the suspension of talks with the Indian firms was partly owed to a Chinese refusal to build a railway as initially planned.

The 900-km railway under consideration was to run from northern Pakistan, through Kabul, and then across the country up to Uzbekistan in the north.

"The Chinese were going to build the railway for the Aynak mine, and now the Chinese company don't want to build this railway, so the question is (how to find) another, alternative way to export iron," the official said.

He added that other issues in the contract that had come up for review included a plan to build a steel plant.

"Maybe within a month or two months we will restart the negotiations," he said.

The Hajigak deposit contains an estimated 1.8 billion tonnes of ore, with an iron concentration of 62 percent, according to the ministry, basing its figures on a survey carried out in the 1960s.

It is located in mountainous Bamiyan, where Afghanistan's world famous ancient Buddha statues once stood in the cliffs before being bombed to rubble by the Taliban.

It was once considered Afghanistan's most peaceful province due to the dominant local Hazara tribe's opposition to the Taliban, who are mostly ethnic Pashtuns and who massacred thousands of Hazara during their austere rule.

But now that foreign combat troops are withdrawing, with plans to exit by the end of 2014, violence is returning to the province and insurgent attacks make its roads dangerous.

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Responding to an Insurgent Attack on an Afghan Base

The New York Times
By MATTHEW KOMATSU
October 29, 2013

At around 10 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2012, 15 heavily armed insurgents penetrated the perimeter of Camp Bastion, a base in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Slipping through a hole in the wire, heavily armed and outfitted in American military uniforms, they wreaked havoc across the northeast flight line, killing two American Marines, wounding nine others, destroying six AV-8B Harrier jets and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. One of the dead was the Harrier squadron’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, who died using only his 9mm handgun against five insurgents.

Late last month, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, released findings from an investigation that found shortcomings in security at the base, despite warnings that such an “outside in” attack was possible. General Amos forced two respected Marine Corps generals, Charles M. Gurganus and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant, to retire because of their culpability in the security failing.

Despite the widespread attention to the equipment damage and lost lives, there have been only a few stories describing the response to the attack by American Marines and British Royal Air Force troopers. And almost none of those accounts have mentioned that United States airmen, including four members of a combat rescue team, including me, also ran toward the sound of the guns that night.

I was deployed to Bastion as the commander of the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron. We flew casualty evacuation and personnel recovery missions on HH-60G Pave Hawks, known to many by the call sign Pedro.

We ran several missions a day, pulling casualties out of hot landing zones. That night I was on a sort of second-line “anything else” kind of alert. “Anything else” didn’t happen much, so I was looking forward to catching up on some administrative work. Around 10 p.m., I took a break from my office in the rescue operations center and walked to the alert tent to check on the men. The guys were doing what they normally did between missions: watching movies, reading e-mail, joking around, cleaning weapons. I wasn’t there more than a few minutes when a strange call come over the radio:

“HC-130 personnel are bunkered down. Taking RPG and small arms fire.” (RPGs are rocket-propelled grenades.)

We looked at one another. Yeah, right. I walked back to the ops center. Everyone was gathered silently around the radio.

“Confirm your last.”

“All personnel accounted for; we are bunkered down. Receiving RPG and small arms fire.”

I peeked outside and

could see an orange glow coming from the hangars. The base went to lockdown: people grabbed their weapons, flak vests and helmets; took defensive positions or headed for the bunkers. While I waited, we received a call from the main Marine headquarters. They had two casualties in a hangar and requested our help. The ops center chief looked at me. “Can you send a team?”

“We’re on it,” I said.

I radioed the men and asked for three guys. Paul, Kyle and Dan volunteered. They grabbed an unmarked white Dodge pickup and loaded up gear.

The intelligence was garbage. Reports were conflicted, and lockdown meant everyone was bunkered down, ready to shoot. We would run the risk of getting shot by our own guys in the confusion. The safest thing to do was wait for better information. But by then, it might be too late. So I shouldered my armor, grabbed my rifle and walked out to the waiting team. “We’re going to take this nice and slow,” I told them in my 60-second brief. “Any questions?”

Perhaps, I thought, this was nothing more than some mortar or rocket hits on the airfield and hangars. Maybe a bit of shooting at the towers, but nothing crazy. Pick up the wounded, get them to the hospital, I figured. In and out in 15 minutes tops.

As we headed to the flight line, several large fires burned bright, creating “blooms” in our night-vision goggles and making it difficult for Kyle to see where he was driving. As we drove south, sporadic gunfire turned into a gunfight, heavy machine guns booming and rocket-propelled grenades streaking across the sky. Attack helicopters were overhead. A fuel farm burned, flames reaching at least 100 feet. Klaxons wailed. Things were far worse than I had expected: Charlie, it seemed, was inside the wire.

“Thank God you’re here,” a British medic said. He told us what he knew: No casualties here. Big firefight over there. That’s all, mate.

We jumped in a small vehicle and headed toward the firefight. There was a small hill on the other side of the burning fuel farm, and I saw a couple of friendly vehicles rocking .50-caliber machine guns at a hidden position. Paul, Kyle and Dan moved ahead on foot. In a moment, Paul returned to brief me: a couple of casualties, enemy holed up about 50 meters to our right. To get to the casualties, we’d have to run to them, uphill, with zero cover. Ugly.

I was in the middle of briefing the team when I heard the volume of fire pick up significantly. I looked up, and Paul was already off and running.

“I guess we’re going,” I said as I slapped Dan on the butt and sent him off. Kyle went next, then me. I could hear gunfire around me, above me, booming through my headset. I couldn’t tell if it was coming or going, but it didn’t matter. There wasn’t time to think or worry. We made it.

Dan and Kyle worked the patients, while Paul and I manned security positions. There was sporadic fire, but the volume was replaced by the shouts of what turned out to be a largely Scottish contingent of Royal Air Force troopers running in and out of cover, grabbing ammunition and passing reports at the top of their lungs in an unintelligible brogue.

Waves of heat from the burning fuel farm buffeted us. Paul came back with a situation report. Kyle and Dan’s casualties were stable, mostly fragmentation wounds. The British were getting ready to assault a cryogenics complex across the road from where they had taken fire. They said they’d appreciate a hand; we were looking for work. So we joined them.

Through my goggles I saw that the large complex was surrounded by protective barriers, including metal shipping containers. In back a tent was burning from an earlier airstrike. Kyle and I were in a small ditch when two figures emerged from behind a barrier, running in our direction. I could tell they were Americans, just by the way they moved. Plus, they appeared to be in their pajamas.

“Friendlies!” called Kyle. “Hold your fire!”

The two guys stumbled into the ditch, and Kyle and Dan were immediately on them, searching and debriefing. One wore boxers and a T-shirt, and I could tell they were shell-shocked. They were pretty sure that Taliban fighters were still in the complex. As we readied for an assault I thought it was a good thing that my team and I had completed a workup in small-unit tactics, including urban operations, close-quarters battle and live-fire exercises in a house. We may ride in helicopters or jump from HC-130s, but we know the work starts on the ground.

We slowly cleared myriad metal shipping containers and heavy equipment filled with places to hide. We were behind a generator when the British troops opened fire with an automatic grenade launcher and heavy weapons. There was no return fire, so I figured maybe all the enemy had been killed.

As the assault team began their attack on a small bunker, there was a large boom, followed by fully automatic gunfire. One of the Taliban had thrown a grenade, but it had bounced backward and blown up in his face. The lead British assaulter was knocked back by the concussion, then fired on full automatic, killing the insurgent inside.

As I ran out from behind the generator, keeping my rifle trained on a dark blob at the rear of the bunker, something didn’t feel right. I looked back in time to see a muzzle flash and a bullet tear into a nearby barrier. I swerved back clumsily to the generator as another team hit the bunker again and finished off the insurgent hidden there.

We continued clearing the complex. Ammunition ignited by the fires was exploding everywhere. The situation was ripe for fratricide. As I cleared around one corner, shouting “Friendly!” I found myself staring down the barrel of a British trooper’s weapon. Inside one office, drawers were pulled open, papers strewn everywhere; the Taliban had ransacked the building before holing up in the bunker.

When we finished the complex, 40 of us regrouped to move north toward the end of the runway. I could see attack helicopters circling above burning Harrier jets, and recalled that earlier that night I had spotted the frequency for Righteous, the Marine Corps attack helicopters. So I pulled out my radio, pulled up the Righteous frequency and gave it a shot.

“Any Righteous, any Righteous, this is Varsity One-Actual,” I called.

My radio came to life. “Varsity, this is Righteous.” Success.

Righteous relayed what he knew: His pilots had eyes on five guys hiding behind concrete barriers and were preparing to attack them.

“Righteous, be advised: we have potential friendlies in the area,” I relayed, having seen British vehicles moving north. “Please hold fire.”
I ran down the line, looking for a British officer, and finally found the platoon leader. I asked if he had a team near the Harriers. He wasn’t sure and asked if I could help. In a few minutes, I confirmed with the British the location of all their forces so we could avoid fratricide. We were good.

“You are cleared hot,” I told Righteous.

At the request of the British platoon leader, I continued to work communications with the aircraft. Two helicopters made multiple attack runs on the Taliban position. Cheers went up and down the line as the helicopters unleashed steady streams of glowing gunfire. Righteous reported four Taliban apparently dead, with one more still moving, a grenade in hand.

Righteous let me know we were clear to move toward the Harrier area. But we were on our own once we went inside the hangars and containers.

At that point, I learned that the Taliban were wearing American uniforms, which complicated things seriously.

We got ready to move north along the road. There would be two elements walking alongside two vehicles on the road, and as we moved into the inky darkness I felt exposed and vulnerable to the enemy and the friendly alike.

When we reached the southernmost end of the Harrier area, tall runway floodlights illuminated the area from hundred-foot poles. But for all we could see, there was a lot we couldn’t. Containers, hangars, blind corners. The lights created as many problems as they solved.

A barrage of small arms fire suddenly ripped through the night. Dan used his night-vision goggles and identified the lone surviving insurgent clutching a grenade. His team unleashed a withering wall of lead on the insurgent.

“Target down,” Dan radioed.

Dan made contact with Marines bunkered down in a small building surrounded by concrete barriers. They had one casualty. Their commanding officer. Colonel Raible, 40. Dead.

“I am really sorry to hear that,” I told the Marines’ executive officer, a slim major. “Do you want me to call in a bird to move him to the hospital?”

The officer shook his head. “I don’t think we’re ready to let him go,” he said.

I walked back up to where Paul, Dan and Kyle waited. I tossed them energy drinks and bummed some chewing tobacco off Paul. We were behind cover, so I took my helmet off and sighed. It had been six hours since we had left our barracks. The men were both excited and sobered. The scale of destruction surrounding us was appalling. Two dead Marines and several wounded. Millions of dollars burned to the ground.

We walked to the dead insurgents behind the concrete barrier. Sure enough, they all wore American military uniforms, complete with patches and ball caps. Several had surgical masks around their necks, and I could see a green pallor to the lifeless skin around their mouths. “I guess they were huffing paint to get high,” Paul said.

They were armed to the teeth: light machine guns, AK-47s, grenades, plenty of ammunition, and RPGs were strewn around the area. Some of the dead men still clutched their weapons. One of them in particular stood out, his head misshapen, more than likely the result of direct hits from the attack helicopters. He was bearded, hair short. His name tape read “Watson.” Filled with anger, I wanted to spit on his body. For the first time in my life, I understood why soldiers disfigure enemy corpses. I muttered a curse instead.

Dan got a flag, climbed up into a truck and placed it on Lieutenant Colonel Raible’s chest and escorted his remains to the hospital. It was our last act of the night.

We were all scheduled for casualty evacuation duty in a few hours, and we would need rest. Driving down the flight line, past the fuel farm still blazing, I struggled for a handle on the moment. It was impossible to make sense of things, but when you buy the ticket you take the ride. That’s all.

This was not the kind of combat scenario we had run countless times, getting ready for deployment. Those scenarios were easy by comparison. Tonight we had marched into a full-on gunfight, risking fratricide along the way. We had then joined up with unfamiliar British soldiers and commenced an infantry action into what had become enemy-held territory. The men had met the challenge and everyone was going home in one piece. It was no small feat.

In the days, weeks and months since, I haven’t gone a day without thinking about that night. I continue to feel an inexplicable connection to Colonel Raible. The attack on Camp Bastion was the worst airfield incursion since the Tet Offensive. Yet Colonel Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, the other Marine killed that night, became just two of the latest names on an ever-growing list of casualties of a nearly forgotten war. Beyond local memorials on the Web, I couldn’t find much about them.

Then, several months ago, I found Colonel Raible’s “Command Guidance,” which he had put out before he died, online.

The memorandum is short and to the point. I had hoped to find something profound, something to justify the way I felt, something that would explain the character of a leader who died for his men.

Instead I found a simple letter outlining his principles for being successful as a Marine Corps attack pilot. Principles like “Hire for attitude; train for skill.” Unadorned, straight talk from a leader to his men. It was an excellent memo, but not what I had hoped to find.

A year ago, I instituted a monthly leadership development session with my officers at my home unit, the 212th Rescue Squadron. I pulled from reading lists published by the Air Force chief of staff, the Marine Corps commandant and military staff college courses Over a year, we worked through the books together. As I began to assemble an idea of how to structure this year’s program, I decided to start with Colonel Raible’s command guidance.

To a man, each participant in the session identified with Colonel Raible’s document. A couple even took lines from it verbatim. We all agreed that it was the best we had seen, simple and clear.

I felt a strange sense of catharsis. It was as if the colonel had spoken to us from beyond Arlington, providing wisdom that he surely never foresaw when he sat down to type that memo.

I count three bosses who have taken the time to mentor me personally as a leader. To that list I can now add Lt. Col. Chris Raible, United States Marine Corps, killed in action on Sept. 14, 2012. Dead before I even knew his name, but, as it turns out, a mentor.

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Sharif and Karzai Try to Repair Ties

The Wall Street Journal
By Nathan Hodge and Nicholas Winning
Oct. 29, 2013
LONDON

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sought to repair their national ties and salvage a fragile peace outreach to Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency.

British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted the leaders Tuesday for talks on the sidelines of the World Islamic Economic Forum.

At the meeting, Mr. Sharif said Pakistan will provide three million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan facilities to vote in the Afghan presidential election scheduled for April, according to diplomats involved in the talks.

Most of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan are ethnic Pashtuns, the majority population in southern and eastern Afghanistan—regions where the Taliban insurgency is strongest. Their participation would boost Pashtun candidates close to Mr. Karzai and could even be a crucial swing factor in ethnically divided Afghanistan.

By providing the refugees with the opportunity to vote, Pakistan would help make the elections more "meaningful," officials said.

The British prime minister's office said the three leaders also engaged in discussions on regional stability. Without military officials from the two sides present, discussion of details was limited. Pakistan's Afghan policy is largely run by its powerful military and its spy agency.

"They discussed economic cooperation and the Afghan-led peace process, to which they all reaffirmed their continuing commitment," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

But the personal dynamic between Mr. Karzai and Mr. Sharif was good, officials said. Pakistan's top foreign-policy official, Sartaj Aziz, who like Mr. Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun, can help connect the two sides by speaking to the Afghans in Pashto, officials said.

The meeting in London comes at a crucial moment in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. U.S. and international combat troops are set to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, raising concerns about violence and instability that could spill across its borders.

The Afghan Taliban use Pakistani territory as a headquarters and recruiting base, with the help of some Pakistani security officials. Meanwhile, Pakistani Taliban—a related militant movement that has links to al Qaeda—increasingly view Afghanistan's mountainous border as a haven, especially in parts of the country from which U.S. troops have withdrawn.

There are also signs that Kabul is playing tit for tat by supporting the Pakistani Taliban. In a recent operation, U.S. forces detained south of Kabul a senior Pakistani Taliban leader who was accompanied by Afghan government officials, prompting rebuke from Mr. Karzai's government.

Afghan officials say Pakistan's influence is essential to bringing the Afghan Taliban leadership to the negotiating table.

Islamabad acknowledges communication with the militant group, but says it has no direct control over the Taliban.

A similar trilateral meeting hosted by Mr. Cameron in February raised hopes for the reconciliation process, as Mr. Karzai and then-Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari pledged to work toward reaching a peace settlement with the Taliban within six months.

But despite public optimism, relations between Kabul and Islamabad deteriorated in the months after that meeting as cross-border clashes and strident nationalistic rhetoric emerged from both sides.

After the February meeting, the two sides committed to holding a conference of Islamic scholars that would condemn suicide bombing. But Pakistani clerics dropped out of the conference and began making statements in support of Afghan Taliban insurgents, infuriating Mr. Karzai.

The construction of a border post on the Pakistani side of the boundary between the two countries also raised tensions this spring. In early May, Afghan troops destroyed parts of the border post following a heavy exchange of fire that caused casualties on both sides.

But the election of Mr. Sharif, who came to power in June after a historic vote in Pakistan, helped reset relations between Islamabad and Kabul. In advance of the meeting, Afghan officials raised expectations that the talks might build on a budding rapport between the Afghan and Pakistani leaders.

In late August, Mr. Karzai unexpectedly extended an official visit to Islamabad after what officials described as a productive series of meetings with the new Pakistani government. Following that trip, officials on both sides described the relationship as more positive.

Mr. Karzai's meeting with Mr. Sharif is part of a five-day stay in the United Kingdom, where he will meet with British officials to discuss the future of international military presence in Afghanistan after the mandate of the current U.S.-led coalition ends in late 2014.

The U.S. and Afghanistan recently came close to hammering out a definitive bilateral security agreement that will pave the way for a post-2014 military presence in Afghanistan, but one major obstacle remains: A traditional Afghan assembly known as a loya jirga must decide whether U.S. troops will be subject to Afghan jurisdiction.

U.S. officials have made clear that Afghan jurisdiction is a deal-breaker, and the collapse of talks between the U.S. and Iraq over a similar issue led to the full withdrawal of American forces from Iraq at the end of 2011.

A key topic of discussion between Islamabad and Kabul is the Pakistani government's recent move to free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani government recently announced it had freed Mullah Baradar to facilitate outreach to the Taliban, but Afghan officials say he remains under strict supervision of the Pakistani authorities.

Aimal Faizi, Mr. Karzai's spokesman, told reporters that the Afghan delegation would press for more information on the whereabouts of Mullah Baradar, so that the High Peace Council, a body set up by Mr. Karzai to facilitate outreach to the Taliban, could communicate with him.

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Pakistan’s Sharif is Under Siege

The Diplomat
By Zachary Keck
October 29, 2013

It’s been less than five months since Nawaz Sharif began his third term as Pakistan’s prime minister, but his honeymoon period is long since over. In fact, PM Sharif finds himself increasingly under siege from all sides, being challenged internally by Pakistan’s security services and the Pakistani Taliban, and externally by the United States, India, Afghanistan and possibly Iran.

One of the central themes of Sharif’s current term has been a desire to improve relations with India. “We want to move toward better relations with India, to resolve the remaining issues through peaceful means, including that of Kashmir,” Sharif said shortly after taking office.

One of the central challenges in realizing this goal was always going to be getting Pakistan’s military and intelligence service on board. Recent weeks have made it abundantly clear that Sharif lacks this support as cross border raids by Pakistani militants into India have skyrocketed. According to some estimates, there have been 150 violations of the Indo-Pakistan ceasefire agreement since 2003. 40 of these have taken place this month alone. The attacks and infiltrations are also affecting areas that have been relatively stable in recent years, such as the southern part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir State. These attacks are almost certainly taking place with the passive and most likely active assistance of the Pakistani military and border patrol.

These attacks couldn’t come at a worse time as India enters into campaign mode ahead of the 2014 general election in that country. The prospect of a crushing defeat for his party by the nationalist BJP at the polls next year leaves Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with little room to maneuver. Although Singh probably genuinely wants to improve relations with Pakistan, he has been forced to take a hardline against these attacks, even singling out Sharif personally for criticism.

Sharif has also hoped to bring some internal stability to Pakistan. As part of his efforts to achieve this, Sharif has made a number of overtures to the Pakistani Taliban. Not surprisingly, Sharif’s efforts to reach out to the militant group have once again only emboldened it. Although the group rhetorically responded positively to Sharif’s call for talks, the last few months have witnessed the Pakistani Taliban increase its assassinations of Pakistani political leaders. The group has also renewed attacks against polio campaign workers, and continues to promise that it will free Pakistan from its anti-Islamic democratic system and impose Sharia law. This leaves little common ground between Islamabad and the militant group.

One of Sharif’s top external goals has been to stop U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan. Earlier on his term he seemed to find some success in this area as Washington began drastically reducing the number of drone strikes it carries out in Pakistan. Still sporadic attacks have continued and Sharif has been increasing his attention on the issue, including raising it at the UN General Assembly last month. Ahead of his trip to the U.S. to meet with Barack Obama last week, Sharif told domestic media outlets that he would raise the issue directly with Obama during their meeting. He made good on his promise.

Unfortunately, the response he received was far from encouraging. While Sharif was still in the U.S. the Washington Post published an explosive article detailing just how involved Pakistan has been in carrying out the drone campaign that it rails against publicly. The timing of the leak was undoubtedly done with the intent to send a clear signal to Sharif that he should reduce the pressure he was bringing to bear on the issue. Notably, the Washington Post article was based partly on Pakistani diplomatic records, suggesting that some elements in Pakistan collaborated with the Obama administration with the leaks.

Indeed, the Obama administration in general has indicated that currently prefers to work with the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies over the civilian government led by Sharif. Shortly before Sharif began his trip last week the U.S. announced it was releasing US$1.6 billion in aid to Pakistan that it has held up after bilateral relations deteriorated in recent years. According to reports, of the US$1.6 billion in aid to be released, US$1.38 billion will be military aid.

Sharif’s weakened position has not been lost on others, least of all Afghan President Hamid Karzai. As with India, Sharif has made a valiant effort to improve relations with Kabul. He seemed to get Pakistan’s military on board for this initiative when it was announced last month that Islamabad had released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a moderate member of the Afghan Taliban who is seen as key to peace talks between the Quetta Taliban and the Karzai government.

Baradar has failed to surface more than a month after that announcement, however. The Afghan Taliban are claiming that he remains in Pakistani custody. As Sharif and Karzai got set to meet this week in London with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Karzai and his team have told anyone who will listen that they planned to use the meeting to grill Sharif on Baradar’s whereabouts.

“Mullah Baradar is still under strict supervision” in Pakistan, a Karzai spokesperson told reporters over the weekend. “We will be seeking an explanation from Pakistan on the whereabouts of Mullah Baradar” during the trilateral talks in London.

Karzai’s pressure on Sharif is unlikely to produce Baradar, but does underscore just how powerless the Pakistani prime minister is in a country in which the military continues to reign supreme, especially on national security issues.

As if matters weren’t bad enough for Sharif, he now confronts the possibility of increased tensions with Iran after Pakistani-based militants killed 14 Iranian border guards and injured six others in an attack last Friday. In recent years Pakistan and Iran have seen their relations greatly improve and Sharif has continued his predecessor’s policy of seeking Iranian assistance in alleviating Pakistan’s dire energy shortages. Failing to find outside financing, Islamabad has recently begun pressing Iran to finance the entire proposed natural gas pipeline.

The prospects of Iran agreeing to this now seem dim. Not only is Iran’s energy situation improving, but the recent attacks seem to have greatly angered Tehran. Indeed, Iran has blasted Pakistan for failing to secure its borders, with one Iranian law enforcement official stating: “The Pakistani government has always condemned these attacks, but it brings excuses that it does not have a strong presence along the border with Iran and it cannot, hence, control the border, but these are all excuses and we cannot accept them.” These sentiments were echoed by an MP, who said: “If Pakistanis are unable to take appropriate measures in that regard, they should allow our forces to enter the Pakistani soil to hunt for and pursue the rogue elements.”

Running Pakistan is never an easy task but recent days have been particularly difficult for the Pakistani premier.

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As U.S. leaves Afghanistan, engineers safeguard roads

CBS News
By Charlie D'Agata
October 29, 2013
KABUL

They were just on their way to a wedding when the bomb ripped through their packed minibus. The explosion killed 18 Afghan villagers. Fourteen victims were women. One was a small child.

Nobody needed reminding that roadside bombs are the number one killer in Afghanistan. But dealing with that threat head-on is the reason why U.S. soldiers alone make the final sweep of any road used by American forces. It's one military operation that's not done alongside the Afghan Army.

As tens of thousands of U.S. troops and hundreds of tons of equipment move out of Afghanistan in the next year, U.S. combat engineers will be safeguarding every inch of every road they travel. CBS News joined soldiers of the Army's 8th Engineer Battalion from Fort Hood, Texas, on a route clearance through a volatile province in eastern Afghanistan.

The last time Sergeant Keenan Roberts and his platoon came down this road, they walked straight into an ambush.

"We had been dismounted from the vehicles for a couple hundred meters when we took small arms fire," he said.

Flying bullets strafed both sides of the column of men who were on foot patrol. Roberts said it was a miracle no one got hit. Their training kicked in immediately. They got low and returned fire. A soldier in a nearby vehicle provided cover, blasting the wooded area where the shots came from with rapid bursts of fire from the mounted 50-caliber machine gun.

Roberts said the soldiers never got a good look at the gunmen, who disappeared through the thick reeds and overgrowth in a riverbed.

If you thought all U.S. troops were either packing up and heading home or hunkering down behind the blast barriers and razor wire of their bases, think again. Soldiers go outside the wire every day, and U.S. forces will keep conducting these dangerous operations until the last American truck leaves. You could call them America's exit strategy. They're certainly a big part of it.

Their mission is route clearance, finding and disabling the improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs. It also means combat engineers from route clearance units will be the last ones to leave.

"We're out here looking to flush out the trigger men," Roberts said in a drawl with more than a hint of his hometown of LaFollette, Tenn. "You're looking for 'ant trails,' any disturbed earth, discoloration, for a command wire. Mostly they use lamp cord wire. We call it angel hair."

While this job has to be done on foot -- every moment keeping an eye out for anybody planning another ambush -- specially designed armored vehicles are combing the dirt roads in search for bombs.

They're called MRAPs, or Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Leading the way is an MRAP with mine rollers in front, like rows of steam rollers, designed to trigger bombs before the vehicles themselves roll over them.

The Buffalo is a bulked-up version with a 30-foot mechanical arm and a camera mounted on its claw. That enables it to peek into culverts, the steel or cement structures that allow water to pass under roads, an easy place for the Taliban to hide bombs without having to bury them in the road.

Another vehicle looks like a big bulldozer, but instead of the scoop in front it has a big metal plate, equipped with ground penetrating radar.

Route clearance units are discovering a lot of bombs. One recent patrol discovered 14 hidden bombs on stretch of road less than one mile long.

"Rocket City," Afghanistan: Army thinks outside the box to protect troops at front-line base U.S. troops send message to Taliban ahead of withdrawal U.S.-Afghan officials near a deal on American troops  Commanding officer Captain Andrew Elliott said he worries "like a parent" every time he sends his soldiers outside the base.

"No matter the training, there's still that threat," he said. "No matter how much body armor you're wearing, that bullet, that fragmentation (from a bomb or grenade) can still find its way to those hotspots that aren't covered. So you just worry, period, about your guys and gals that are on the front line, fighting every day."

It's a fight that's becoming more difficult by the day. As U.S. troops and their coalition allies hand over more of the battlefield to Afghan security forces, they're becoming more concentrated in the areas where they still operate.

That's especially true in the hostile mountainous eastern provinces along the border with Pakistan, where there are a limited number of roads American forces can use to move troops and supplies. The Taliban is aware of this.

"We know we're under a constant watch," Elliott said. "They plant hoax IEDs, waiting to for us to misstep that. If we had done that (our search) incorrectly, there would have been a 200-pound bomb there the next day."

Elliot said another tactic Taliban fighters use is what the military calls "reseeding," or planting bombs behind convoys moments after they pass by, knowing that route clearance crews might be returning to base along those same roads.

"Once we don't have eyes on that area, the TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) are for insurgent forces to go right back in and put an IED right in the ground or in a culvert, because they know we've checked it thoroughly," he said. "And unless it's eyes on, it's not deemed safe."

"Route clearance is always in the lead," Elliot said. "But just last month, there was a unit behind us that stopped for a mechanical issue, and within that time frame they actually put an IED right behind us. Within minutes."

But route clearance engineers can't clear every road, and Afghan civilians make up the overwhelming majority of deaths from roadside bombs, like the attack on Sunday that killed 18 people.

The Afghan government has chosen not to release the figures of Afghan security forces who have died in Taliban attacks this year, but as coalition forces pull back from combat missions in some of the most volatile areas, Afghan soldiers and police have suffered heavy and increasing losses.

CBS News was told they're also finding the majority of the bombs.

But for the U.S. military, protecting its own forces is a priority as this long war winds down and comes to a close, now that almost everyone's so close to going home.

"You want everybody to walk off that plane in Texas with all their fingers and toes," Roberts said on patrol. "We want to go back as a group. We don't want anybody getting hurt and going back by themselves."

Part of that means that U.S. route clearance crews make the final sweep of any road used by American forces, regardless if Afghan security teams have checked them first.

"Route clearance will always be in Afghanistan for the long term," Elliott said. "There will always be route clearance and combat engineers leading the way."

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Afghan officials to meet Taliban leader Mullah Baradar in Pakistan

Khaama Press
By Ghanizada
Oct 30, 2013

A delegation of the Afghan high peace council will visit Pakistan in the near future to meet with the senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The presidential palace of Afghanistan following a statement said that the decision was taken during the trilateral summit between Afghan, Pakistani and British leaders.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai met with the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif during he trilateral summit hosted by British prime miniser David Cameron in London.

Presidential media office in it’s statement also added that president Karzai discussed peace process, fight against terrorism and economic cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan during the trilateral summit with the Pakistani and British prime ministers.

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif also accepted an invitation by president Hamid Karzai to visit to Kabul in the coming weeks, the statement said.

Sharif has also vowed to support the government of Afghanistan in terms of security for the upcoming presidential elections, presidential palace officials said.

This was the first meeting of the three countries since Prime Minister Sharif took office. The meeting took place following the World Islamic Economic Forum.

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80 Afghan police killed every week in 'fighting season'

At least 80 Afghan police have died in battles against the Taliban every week during the current fighting season. Afghanistan's fighting season traditionally begins in April or May as snow melts in mountains, and slows in November, when winter sets in.

AFP
Oct 29, 2013

Nearly 80 Afghan police have died every week during the current fighting season, officials said Tuesday, as the national security forces take on the battle against Taliban militants.

The figures, which are in addition to Afghan soldiers killed, reflect a sharp rise in casualties at a time when US-led NATO forces are stepping back from the frontline and steadily withdrawing 87,000 troops by the end of next year.

Afghanistan's fighting season traditionally begins in April or May as snow melts in mountains, and slows in November, when winter sets in.

This year the Taliban launched their annual offensive six months ago on April 27, vowing a nationwide series of multiple suicide bombings, "insider attacks" and roadside bombings.

"Since the Taliban launched their operation, they have conducted 6,604 operations, 50 suicide attacks and 1,704 direct attacks on police," General Salim Ehsas, deputy interior minister, told a conference in Kabul.

"1,273 national police, 779 local police, and 858 civilians have lost their lives."

Around 5,500 police and civilians were wounded in attacks, he said, adding that most Taliban operations were in provinces such as Logar and Ghazni, close to the capital Kabul.

The defense ministry and military have declined to release Afghan army casualty figures this year, but admit that levels have climbed.

In June, Afghan forces took control of security across the country, marking a major milestone as US-led combat troops prepare to end more than a decade of war.

This year's "fighting season" has been seen as crucial to Afghanistan's future, as its much-criticized security forces pitted themselves against the insurgents who have waged a guerrilla war against the Kabul government since 2001.

"The year that passed was a very difficult one... and it was a very dangerous one," defense ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said.

"They wanted to show that Afghan security forces are not able to provide security for the country, but our army, police and other security forces neutralised their plans."

Doubts remain over the ability of Afghan forces to thwart the Taliban, and the NATO military coalition retain an important function in logistics and air support as well as in combat emergencies.

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Insurgent was alive when shot by marine, court martial hears

BBC News
29 October 2013

A badly injured Afghan insurgent was alive when he was allegedly shot at close range by a Royal Marine, a pathologist has told a court martial.

Three marines, known only as A, B and C, are accused of murdering the man in September 2011 in Helmand Province.

Dr Nicholas Hunt said the unknown insurgent showed clear signs of life when a serviceman allegedly shot him in the chest with a 9mm pistol.

The marines deny the charges at the Military Court Centre in Wiltshire.

Marine A is accused of the shooting, while Marines B and C are said to have been "party".

'Fight to breathe'

The court martial heard the footage was taken in Helmand on 15 September 2011 by Marine B on his helmet-mounted camera.

It allegedly shows Marine A - a sergeant - shooting the injured man, who was covered in blood.

The marines were part of a patrol that was sent to examine the aftermath of an Apache helicopter attack upon the insurgent, who was spotted in an open field near their patrol base.

Dr Hunt said he compiled a report based on watching the film, which was seized by the Royal Military Police.

Dr Hunt said that after the man was shot, his chest could be seen to move and he appeared to be convulsing.

"He was still alive at the point he was shot," he said.

David Perry QC, prosecuting, asked Dr Hunt whether the gunshot could have caused death on its own.

"It depends on what area it strikes," Dr Hunt said. "A shot in that area can prove fatal in its own right.

"It would have caused a catastrophic drop in blood pressure and an increasing fight to breathe."

'Ready and waiting'

The court martial board of seven watched the video footage with Dr Hunt talking them through the injured man expressing signs of life.

The first clip shows the insurgent being dragged from the middle of the field with his eyes opening and closing and he appears to move his arm.

"These are deliberate actions - they are signs that he is not dead," Dr Hunt said.

Three pages of a journal belonging to Marine C, which was seized by the Royal Military Police, were read to the court martial.

The serviceman wrote he was "ready and waiting to pop him with a 9mm", but felt "mugged off" when another marine allegedly shot the insurgent.

"Still the end result was a good one," he wrote.

Marine C claimed he had used the journal as a "mechanism for coping for a stressful environment" and that the diary was "the ramblings of a very scared and angry person".

He said: "I didn't shoot him; I wasn't there when he was shot; I didn't ask or suggest or agree that he be shot.

"Whether I wanted him to be or if I wanted him to die in my own head is irrelevant.

"What I wrote in the journal is like a vent at the end of the day - just like whatever comes out of your head."

The court martial was adjourned until Wednesday.

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Afghanistan Withdrawal Puts Programs For Women And Girls At Risk, Top Watchdog Warns

Huffington Post
By Amanda Terkel
10/29/2013
WASHINGTON

As coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, it will be increasingly difficult to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars intended for reconstruction projects in the country aren't being wasted. And according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the lead watchdog for this effort, programs affecting women and girls are likely to be among those not getting the necessary oversight.

More than 40,000 troops are set to leave, and dozen of bases will close in the next year. As the Washington Post reported on Saturday, without that "protective umbrella," only about 20 percent of the country will be accessible for oversight.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Tuesday, SIGAR John Sopko outlined the challenges he expects to face, including in the area of women's rights.

"[T]here will be fewer opportunities for contracting officers, their technical representatives and other oversight personnel to observe and assess the extent to which female beneficiaries of reconstruction programs are receiving services, protected from the many dangers they face, and consulted in the design and implementation of programs intended to meet their needs," said Sopko, according to prepared remarks.

Similarly, Human Rights Watch states on its website, "Many Afghans feel enormous anxiety as the 2014 deadline for withdrawing international combat forces from Afghanistan looms and warlords and other powerbrokers jockey for position. ... The Afghan government's failure to tackle discrimination and respond effectively to violence against women undermines the already perilous state of women's rights."

In a new report, the International Crisis Group also notes that as the April 2014 Afghan presidential election approaches, many Afghan women "are concerned that the hard-won political, economic and social gains achieved since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001 may be rolled back or conceded in negotiations with the insurgents."

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who previously served as her state's auditor, has made improving oversight of contracts one of her top issues. She told The Huffington Post that Sopko's findings underscore the difficulty that the government will have in keeping watch over contracts moving forward.

"Whether it's a contract to improve women's educational opportunities or build a power plant, we need to act on the hard-learned lessons of the past decade -- that without strong oversight, American dollars will be wasted," she said. "Programs that lack adequate oversight usually fail, and that's not in the best interest of our troops, our mission or the Afghan people we're trying to help.”

The legal status of women in Afghanistan has improved since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. Women now make up 27 percent of Parliament, and girls comprise 40 percent of schoolchildren. Gender equality is enshrined in the constitution, and rape is illegal. But the implementation of these laws is far from perfect, and women and girls still regularly face threats.

"Since the formal transfer of the security lead to the [Afghan National Security Forces] in mid-2013, insurgent threats to women have increased," concludes ICG in its report. "Their rights are also under attack from yesterday's warlords, now powerbrokers both within and outside government. Rearming their militias as a hedge against what may happen in the 2014 elections or after the transition and attempting to consolidate their electoral base, including by demonstrating independence from the West, they could undo women's fragile gains."

As an example of a program that could falter as troops pull out, Sopko highlighted the Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs initiative. It's designed to increase education, training and promotion of women in Afghan society. USAID plans to commit $200 million to the program, which is set to begin in the middle of 2014, toward the end of the withdrawal of troops.

USAID has said that PROMOTE is meant to work within existing Afghan structures and won't be dependent on a U.S. troop presence. But Sopko is worried that USAID's ability to oversee the program will be "limited" because the agency must rely on outside contractors to monitor progress.

While third-party monitoring is common, Sopko is skeptical of how well it can work in Afghanistan.

"SIGAR plans to hold an expert panel on this issue in the coming months and will also initiate an audit next year on USAID's use of third-party monitors in Afghanistan," he told the subcommittee on Tuesday.

Heather Barr, an Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote in August that "the frontline fighters for women's rights in Afghanistan since 2001 have been brave, resilient Afghan women who don't have the luxury of ending their struggle next year."

Sopko said his office will focus on "how the military withdrawal, the decline in donor resources, and the transition to Afghan governance and control of the ANSF will affect reconstruction, including efforts aimed at women and girls."

From fiscal years 2003 through 2010, Congress approved $627 million for the Department of State and USAID to support activities specifically for Afghan women and girls.

According to the Washington Post, at least 15 major reconstruction projects, set to cost more than $1 billion, will likely be beyond the reach of U.S. personnel next year.

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Taliban attacks killed nearly 3000 people in past 7 months: MOI

Khaama Press
By Ghanizada
Oct 29, 2013

Nearly 3,000 people including Afghan police service members and civilians were killed following militants attack during the past seven months in Afghanistan, officials in the ministry of interior affairs said.

Chief of the Afghan police forces in Afghan interior ministry, Gen. Salim Ehsas told reporters on Tuesday that militants carried out nearly 6000 attacks across the country during the past seven months.

Gen. Ehsas said around 1,273 Afghan public order police service members and 779 Afghan local police (ALP) officers were killed in the attack.

He also added around 856 civilians were killed following militants attacks and explosions during the same period, while 5,000 others including civilians and police officers were injured.

According to Gen. Salim Ehsas, Afghan national security forces conducted around 300 independent military operations and over 1,500 joint military operations with coalition security forces during the period.

Gen. Ehsas further added around 2,168 Taliban militants were killed, 549 others were injured and nearly 1,720 others were detained during the military operations.

The figures reflecting Afghan police and civilian casualties comes amid UN report which suggests 16 percent increase in civilian casualties during the past 8 months.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced earlier this month that civilian casualties in Afghanistan has increased by 16 percent during the first eight months of the year.

According to the report, 54 percent increase in violence was noted in volatile eastern provinces of Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces.

Georgette Gagnon, UNAMA Human Rights Director said blamed anti-government militant groups for causing the vast majority of civilian deaths and injures, and are deliberately targeting civilians.

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Latest Afghan Gambit

New York Times
By Bing West
October 29, 2013

A bungled attempt by the Afghan government to cultivate a shadowy alliance with Islamist militants escalated into the latest flash point in the troubled relationship between Afghanistan and the United States.

The Afghan government decided to recruit proxies of its own by seeking to aid the Pakistan Taliban in their fight against Pakistan’s security forces. Tipped off to the plan, United States Special Forces raided an Afghan convoy that was ushering a senior Pakistan Taliban militant, Latif Mehsud, to Kabul for secret talks, and have Mr. Mehsud in custody.

Not only has Washington failed to persuade Pakistan to stop using militants to destabilize its neighbors —but its failure also appears to have persuaded Afghanistan to try the same thing.

Bizarre, desperate, and ill-conceived, this Afghan gambit is sure to anger Pakistan. It also illustrates the degree to which American special forces and CIA have established Afghan links throughout the ranks of Afghan officialdom. Karzai and others are sure to be taking this into consideration as they wrestle with the NATO offer to leave behind a small force. Behind the scenes, the extent of American influence inside the Iraqi forces was resented by Maliki and undoubtedly influenced his decision to place impediments in the way of leaving some U.S. troops in Iraq. Similarly, Karzai’s resentment of Americans, and his unwillingness to trust us while he pursues self-defeating fancies of his own is a powerful factor inside palace politics in Kabul.

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'Arrogant' sex pest who molested 16-year-old girl will be deported to Afghanistan after his appeal fails

The Bolton News
30th October 2013

A sex pest who molested a teenage girl has failed to convince top judges he should not face deportation to Afghanistan after his release from prison.

"Arrogant" Abdul Mehri, aged 26, repeatedly demanded oral sex from a 16-year-old girl before cornering her and trying to put his hand down her pants.

Mehri, of Tildsley Street, Great Lever, was jailed for six months at Bolton Crown Court in January after he was convicted of sexual assault.

Judge Steven Everett also recommended Mehri be deported back to his homeland after serving his term, saying his continued presence in the UK would be of "potential detriment to this country".

Today, three senior judges at London's Appeal Court rejected a bid by the sex attacker to quash that recommendation, saying his challenge had been brought too late.

Lord Justice McCombe said Mehri confronted his young victim in a bathroom and asked her for oral sex repeatedly.

When she refused, he put his hand on her knees and then tried to force himself into her underwear, before she escaped.

The victim eventually told her mother about the attack and police were alerted. Mehri was arrested and refused to answer questions, denying the attack in a prepared statement.

The author of a pre-sentence report said that Mehri, who arrived in the UK in 2005 but spoke limited English, showed "no insight" into the suffering he had caused his victim.

On jailing Mehri, Judge Everett branded him arrogant, telling him: “You saw your victim as an easy target and a way to fulfill your sexual needs without transgressing your religious beliefs."

He said Mehri's attack must have been terrifying for his victim. "The message must go out to you and others like you that, if you take advantage of young women in this way, you will go to prison," he added.

The judge concluded by labelling Mehri's continued presence a "potential detriment to this country" and recommending him for deportation on release.

On appeal, his lawyers argued today that the judge had insufficient information on Mehri's background to rule that ought to be booted out of the UK.

But Lord Justice McCombe, sitting with Mr Justice Wyn Williams and Mrs Justice Patterson, said Judge Everett "was in a very good position" to decide for himself whether Mehri deserved to stay in Britain.

He added that, in any event, Mehri's challenge had simply been brought too late. "In our judgment, no grounds have been been submitted for giving an extension of time. The extension asked for is a long one.

"For these reasons, we refuse this renewed application," the judge concluded.

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