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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread June 2010

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Articles found June 13, 2010

Pakistani agents 'funding and training Afghan Taliban'
Article Link

Pakistani intelligence gives funding, training and sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban on a scale much larger than previously thought, a report says.

Taliban field commanders interviewed for the report suggested that ISI intelligence agents even attend Taliban supreme council meetings.

Support for the Afghan Taliban was "official ISI policy", the London School of Economics (LSE) authors suggest.

Pakistan's military denied the claims.

A spokesman said the allegations were "rubbish" and part of a malicious campaign against the country's military and security agencies.

The LSE report comes at the end of one of the deadliest weeks for Nato troops in Afghanistan, with more than 30 soldiers killed.
'Double game'

Links between the Taliban and Pakistan's intelligence service have long been suspected, but the report's author - Harvard analyst Matt Waldman - says there is real evidence of extensive co-operation between the two.

"This goes far beyond just limited, or occasional support," he said. "This is very significant levels of support being provided by the ISI.

"We're also saying this is official policy of that agency, and we're saying that it is very extensive. It is both at an operational level, and at a strategic level, right at the senior leadership of the Taliban movement."

Mr Waldman spoke to nine Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan earlier this year.

Some alleged that ISI agents had even attended meetings of the Taliban's top leadership council, the so-called Quetta shura. They claim that by backing the insurgents Pakistan's security service is trying to undermine Indian influence in Afghanistan.
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Head of British military to leave job early as new government reassesses Afghan strategy
By: The Associated Press 13/06/2010
Article Link

LONDON - The British government said Sunday it is shuffling its top military team as it grapples with the unpopular conflict in Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the head of the armed forces, Air Chief Marshall Jock Stirrup, will leave his job in the autumn, about six months early. His term had not been due to end until April 2011. The top civilian defence official will leave at the same time.

Fox told the Sunday Times newspaper that the two men had been in their jobs "longer than they needed to be."

Stirrup was appointed in 2006 by the Labour government, which lost power in May to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday the two men were not being punished for the rising death toll in Afghanistan. He told the BBC they were leaving at "a natural time to have a change of personnel."

Some officers and defence officials have accused the previous government of underfunding front-line troops.

Hague said some aspects of defence policy "hadn't been run as well as it might have been," but that responsibility lay with politicians, not civil servants.
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Canadian troops tread fine line on village patrols
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By Michael Georgy South Asia

KANDAHAR PROVINCE Afghanistan (Reuters) - Canadian soldiers with night vision goggles slowly navigate through grape fields, wary of triggering booby traps planted by Taliban insurgents.

The Taliban, who have fought NATO forces for nine years, are masters of the terrain, so they could have the advantage. Militants may be hiding a few feet away in irrigation ditches as deep as eight feet.

After hours of heavy hiking, the Canadians reach a hamlet of mud-brick huts they have never previously visited, seeking intelligence that is becoming more critical by the day as NATO troops push to stabilise Afghanistan before a gradual U.S. pullout in 2011.

A cell phone battery is discovered on a young man, immediately raising suspicions. Batteries are often used to trigger improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have killed more NATO soldiers than any other weapon in the conflict with insurgents.

Questioned through a translator about why he is carrying a battery and no cell phone, the Afghan responds: The Taliban don’t allow us to have them. They would arrest me and hold me for 15 days.

The Taliban frequently ban cell phones in areas where they operate to prevent being informed on.
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Fighting for basic rights in Afghanistan with laws and books
By Terry Glavin, Calgary Herald June 13, 2010 2:02 AM
  Article Link

Mohammed Ishaq Faizi is a courageous, tightly-wound, bantamweight human rights' activist from the small village of Dara, just north of Kabul.

Faizi grew up fatherless and desperately poor. He worked his own way through university, and he's still only 29, but he's already a key figure in Afghanistan's agonizing constitutional experiment in reconciling sharia law with international human rights law.

Faizi is the Afghanistan program director for the Washington, D.C.-based Global Rights organization, a network of human rights activists and jurists in 17 countries from Brazil to Bosnia-Herzegovina. He's also a lawyer and a teacher.

In the struggle for the rights of Afghan women, Faizi is not for flinching. He takes on controversial domestic-violence prosecutions and has helped women gain divorces from violent husbands. In 2008, he helped lead a Global Rights report on violence against women in 16 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

He made enemies. But that hasn't slowed him down.
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World Cup rivalry on Afghan frontline
By Daphne Benoit (AFP) – 5 hours ago
Article Link

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — They are brothers in arms on the Afghan front line, but US and British troops were in opposing camps as they gathered under the stars to see their teams draw a tense World Cup clash.

Far from the packed bars flowing with beer back home, these fans in their camouflage fatigues, popcorn and mineral water bottles in hand, watched the game on a giant screen in the middle of their NATO camp in Kandahar.

"On Facebook I said I wish I had a nice lager tonight. But this isn't bad, at least they play the game here," said British sergeant Steven McNally, watching with three compatriots and surrounded by about 50 Americans.

Football is far from the main sporting interest in Camp Nathan Smith, principally because the mainly Canadian contingency, huge hockey fans, do not have a team to follow in the World Cup.

Americans are generally not referring to the sport beloved of the rest of the world when they talk about "football".

"I didn't know there was a World Cup of football" one US soldier said, evidently confusing his domestic sport of gridiron with the festival of soccer watched by billions across the globe every four years.

Just before kick-off, a message on the American Forces Network TV channel for US military deployed abroad rallied the troops with the call: "Whether you're English or American, your country needs you now."

England scored just a few minutes into the match and the British soldiers whooped jubilantly, remonstrating in front of their largely silent US comrades.

"That hurts," said one GI.

Others could not pick sides.
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Karzai seeks support for Kandahar operation
AP, June 13
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hvWEqwq3CrRvaQCmt21MfoYhjZJQD9GA82M02

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought support Sunday for the NATO campaign to ramp up security in the key southern city of Kandahar and increase his government's influence in a Taliban stronghold rife with violence, crime and corruption.

Karzai flew to Kandahar for only his second trip in recent years to the city — the biggest in the south and spiritual birthplace of the Taliban.

Karzai, who was born in the outskirts of Kandahar, is to have two meetings — one with about 50 tribal and provincial leaders and another with several hundred area residents. Many of them are skeptical of the campaign, which has already begun in the area.

Insurgents have responded with a rash or attacks against those who support the government and its international partners.

So far this month, at least 39 international troops have been killed in Afghanistan, including 27 Americans. Six Afghan police officers and three NATO service members died Saturday in separate roadside bomb blasts. The six police were killed near Kandahar, according to the Interior Ministry.

In addition, 39 insurgents were killed Saturday in two operations — one in Kandahar province and the other in Uruzgan province, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

On the eve of his visit, Karzai met in the capital of Kabul with Afghan security officials and the top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who accompanied the president to Kandahar. Aides described the Saturday meeting as a "decision brief" where the president was briefed on all aspects of the Kandahar security campaign.

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said the president was expected to announce a few development projects for Kandahar in a move to gain public support for his government.

NATO and Afghan officials have taken pains to avoid describing the Kandahar operation as a military offensive [emphasis added], a term that has made the half million residents wary about what was to come...

Poland wants NATO to plan an end to Afghan mission
Ap, June 12
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i4tHHi0gqZ1hw5eGeRZQXyYf9PnwD9G9SJL00

WARSAW, Poland — Poland's prime minister says he wants NATO to develop a timetable to end its mission in Afghanistan.

Donald Tusk said Saturday that he plans to raise the issue at the alliance's next summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in November.

His comments came after a Polish soldier was killed earlier in the day by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Poland has some 2,600 troops there, making it the seventh largest troop contributor to NATO's mission...

Michael Yon's War
The Atlantic, June 1 (usual copyright disclaimer)
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/06/michael-yons-war/57483/

It began with a bridge. On the morning of March 1, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated on Tarnak River Bridge near Kandahar, Afghanistan, killing multiple civilians and one American soldier. While the destruction of a single bridge might ordinarily pose a mere inconvenience to the U.S. war machine, in the oppressive terrain of Afghanistan it became a logistical chokepoint, halting ground-based operations for days.

War correspondent Michael Yon sought the answer to an uncomfortable question: who was responsible for the security of that bridge?

Yon is no ordinary reporter. A former Green Beret with U.S. Army Special Forces, he has spent more time embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other journalist. His dispatches have produced some of the most memorable combat narratives of the war, and a large share of its most iconic images. Make no mistake; Michael Yon is not a dispassionate observer of the Columbia J-School variety. When writing about U.S. forces, he says "we." When writing about insurgents, he calls them terrorists or Taliban. And when reporting failures in the war effort, he names names. This has earned him both the respect and ire of senior military staff. In the case of the Tarnak River Bridge, the name most repeatedly mentioned as responsible for its security was Daniel Menard, the Canadian brigadier general in charge of Task Force Kandahar. Yon went public with this information.

In an effort to divert the finger of blame from a valued coalition partner, the military reeled and offered instead a bewildering explanation of which task force was responsible for the tiny bridge, and when. In an email reproduced by Yon, one officer summed the situation up as "a messy gray area that has changed hands a few times." Yon doubted the veracity of the official story, and dug in with continued criticism of General Menard, ultimately demanding his firing. While the bridge incident passed, Menard remained in Yon's crosshairs, and when the Canadian general accidentally discharged his weapon on post soon thereafter, Yon reported it as a symbol of the officer's incompetence. (General Menard was later found guilty of negligence in a court martial.)...

Yon believes the war can still be won, but that a change of command is in order. At this level of warfare, he says, "McChrystal is like a man who has strapped on ice skates for the first time. He might be a great athlete, but he's learning to skate during the Olympics." Yon adds that publicly denouncing the commanding general of a war is not an easy thing for him to do, especially considering it means crossing swords with General Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, two men he greatly admires. Indeed, if anyone can turn this war around, Yon believes it is General Petraeus. He concedes such a return to the battlefield is unlikely, and suggests another general whose name fewer people have heard. "General James Mattis from the Marines.  I get a good feeling about Mattis but I don't know. General Petraeus is a known entity and he is solid gold."

Short of that, Yon's outlook is bleak. "Even if the President commits more forces [next year], they will not be effective until 2012.  By that time, more allies likely will have peeled off, requiring us to commit even more forces to cover down. We lost crucial time in building the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army and so forth, and today we are paying the price. This is not to mention that the Afghan government is sorry at best and criminal at worst."..

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Canada's role shrinking in Kandahar; U.S. to take over command of the city
CP, June 13, by Murray Brewster
http://news.sympatico.ca/canada/canadas_role_shrinking_in_kandahar_us_to_take_over_command_of_the_city/3e3d68db

OTTAWA - The influx of thousands of fresh U.S. troops into Kandahar is prompting a major reorganization of NATO's southern command in Afghanistan this summer, The Canadian Press has learned.

The biggest change is expected to see Canada give up authority for Kandahar city and be reduced to commanding a brigade-sized unit south and west of the provincial capital. It's another sign of Canada's shrinking role in the Afghan province that it has defended for four years.

A Canadian general currently oversees the Canadian battle group of infantry, artillery and tanks, as well as three U.S. infantry battalions stetched around Kandahar in what's been described as a ring of stability. That the Pentagon has trusted the Canadian army with so many American soldiers - roughly 2,600 - has been a point of pride for Ottawa.

But as more U.S. troops arrive, the command structure will see Kandahar carved up into what's expected to be three distinct brigade-sized formations - all of them reporting to NATO's southern command...

At the end of the reorganization, the Canadian battle group and only one U.S. battalion will remain in Canadian hands, likely the 1st Cavalary, 71st U.S. Regiment [emphasis added].

American airborne units fighting in the troublesome districts of Zharey and Argandaud, to the north of the city, will be grouped together as one combat unit.

And Kandahar city will become the responsibility of specialized U.S. brigade...

See earlier at this thread:
http://forums.milnet.ca/forums/threads/49908/post-943567.html#msg943567

Allies Make Way for U.S. Troop Influx in Afghanistan
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703302604575293880767637918.html

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ARTICLES FOUND JUNE 14

Afghan insurgency will dissolve rather than be broken: new Canadian commander
CP, June 13
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/breakingnews/afghan-insurgency-will-dissolve-rather-than-be-broken-new-canadian-commander-96246939.html

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The insurgency in Afghanistan may remain for years to come but it will wither away into irrelevancy if NATO's counterinsurgency operations this summer are successful, Canada's new top soldier in the war-torn country says.

Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance said Afghanistan could find itself co-existing with a small, ineffective insurgent element as other countries do while still being able to deliver public services and security to its people.

"It is absolutely not an effort that will have a cataclysmic effect on the insurgency," Vance said of NATO's operations.

"The insurgency will succumb to this over time. Insurgencies are rarely broken. They dissolve."

Vance spoke to several Canadian journalists Sunday at Kandahar Airfield in his first interviews since returning to resume command of Canada's 2,800 military personnel in Afghanistan...

Vance's more nuanced view of the Taliban marks a shift from the past vision of "breaking the back" of the insurgency.

He said the influx of American soldiers into Kandahar city has freed the Canadian military to concentrate on maintaining stability in the urban centre's outlying rural regions — a continuation of his so-called "model village" approach that he employed last year to much praise from NATO allies.

Over the next couple of months, the Canadian military will relinquish command of troops in Kandahar city, Zhari and Arghandab to the United States and focus its efforts in the rural districts of Panjwaii and Dand [emphasis added].

[Dand:

US Army Cavalry Patrols In Kandahar Province
http://www.life.com/image/102034494 ]


The planned operation in Kandahar province has taken longer than originally anticipated because of a lack of support among locals and Afghan security forces that weren't fully prepared.

Afghans had expressed fears of an eruption of urban guerilla warfare in city streets — a scenario that Vance said was not in play.

Hopes that the surge would result in the swift elimination of Taliban members and establishment of security were ambitious, Vance said.

"I think we probably all knew that that was aspirational, but then you got to get into the detail and that time table can slip," he said.

"It's not a disaster that it slides. It's better to do things right than to do things fast.

"It's very difficult I think sometimes for ... our own population to understand that, because we're not on a war schedule that says we're going to cross this line at this time."

Vance exuded confidence that the Afghanistan government would be able to restore trust with a public [emphasis added] that has become jaded after three decades of war, namely because he said it promises an alternative that the insurgents don't...

U.S. Backs Karzai on Security
Afghan President Urges Local Leaders to Support Allied Operation in Kandahar

WSJ, June 14
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704067504575305002887026426.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_news

WASHINGTON—Senior U.S. officials continued to publicly back Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, despite his ousting last week of two top Afghan security officials who had the backing of U.S. military leaders.

People familiar with U.S. policy making, however, said the dismissals, coupled with remarks from one of the ousted officials asserting that Mr. Karzai has lost confidence in the American-led war effort, again raised questions about the kinds of deals that the Afghan leader might strike to try to consolidate his own political power ahead of U.S. troop withdrawals next summer.

David Axelrod, an adviser to President Barack Obama, said Sunday that Mr. Karzai has disputed the comments by Amrullah Saleh, the highly regarded former head of the Afghan intelligence service, in an interview with the New York Times. He suggested that Mr. Saleh might have been trying to undermine his former boss.

"Mr. Saleh was fired by President Karzai," Mr. Axelrod said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "So, you know, that may help color some of his interpretations."

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Mr. Karzai "remains a very important partner of the United States," adding that allegations that Mr. Karzai has given up on the war effort are "mistaken, if not fallacious."

"Our understanding, and what we hear every day, is that President Karzai remains committed to his partnership with the United States and NATO," Ms. Rice said on "Fox News Sunday."

Mr. Karzai over the weekend voiced support for the coming U.S. operation in Kandahar [emphasis added], the southern Afghan birthplace of the Taliban, and he traveled to the city on Sunday to urge local leaders to back the allied campaign, parts of which have already begun. "We need your cooperation with this operation," Mr. Karzai said during a meeting with tribal elders and religious leaders, according to news agencies. "I don't accept any excuse for not cooperating."..

Afghanistan: beginning of the end
David Cameron will today set out a hard-headed new approach to Afghanistan that will raise hopes that British troop numbers in the country will be reduced in little more than a year.

Telegraph, June 13
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/defence/7825581/Afghanistan-beginning-of-the-end.html

The Prime Minister will tell MPs that the Government was trying to accelerate the process that will allow forces to start coming home.

Government insiders said Mr Cameron was keen to start winding down a war he inherited from Labour.

His Commons statement today comes after ministers removed Britain’s most senior military commander from his post amid frustrations at the way the war was being conducted. The early departure of Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, allows Mr Cameron to choose a new chief to oversee his strategy [emphasis added].

Sir Jock’s early retirement later this year was announced yesterday by Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, who said it would allow ministers to put the “appropriate” commander into the top military post.

Sir Bill Jeffrey, the senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, will also step down.

Ministers are risking a row with Whitehall chiefs by considering replacing him with Bernard Gray, a procurement expert from outside the civil service. Jeremy Haywood, a senior Downing Street official, is also a contender.

The candidates to replace Sir Jock are Gen Sir David Richards, the head of the Army, and Gen Sir Nick Houghton, Sir Jock’s deputy. The successor will have a two-year term to oversee a shift in the approach to Afghanistan.

The new “national security-driven” approach includes:

    * Increased Government efforts to persuade voters that the Afghan mission is succeeding and showing that Afghan government forces can secure the country.

    * Lowering the criteria for success from a fully stable country to “some stability”.

    * A clear commitment to a US-led review of the Afghan war that assumes troop withdrawals from next July.

Underlining the changing mood, Dr Fox said yesterday that ministers “don’t want to be in Afghanistan for a day longer than necessary”.

Rhetoric over Afghanistan has changed in recent days. Sir David last week said Britain was engaged in a “war”. Mr Cameron followed that up by referring to “a war of necessity, not a war of choice”. The previous government had referred to it as a conflict [emphasis added].

Mr Cameron will today tell MPs that he will not set an “artificial timetable” [emphasis added] for troops to return from Afghanistan.

But he will make clear that Britain is fully committed to an American-led process that will reassess the Afghan mission later this year and start a reduction in troop numbers from July 2011...

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan
NY Times, June 13
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/world/asia/14minerals.html?ref=todayspaper

WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion...

...American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth [emphasis added], which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said... 

With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully [emphasis added]...

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Articles found June 15, 2010

COP Tombstone: an outpost in the Wild West of Kandahar province
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Janis Mackey Frayer, South Asia bureau chief, CTV News

Date: Wednesday Feb. 24, 2010 1:51 PM ET

HAJI BABA, Afghanistan — The patrol set out along a graveled road and changed course to the lumpy paths worn into the fields. As they did most days, the soldiers of Delta Company headed toward the tree line to the southeast. The tree line is where they fall from sight and beyond it is where trouble begins.

"Everything here is IEDs," said Warrant Officer Bill Grady as he watched the patrol grow more distant. "Nobody is really shooting at us here but we're playing IED dodgeball."

What Grady calls "here" appears on most Canadian military maps as Combat Outpost (or COP for short) Shakir in the village of Haji Baba. It is a mud and grass-walled compound that belonged to a drug lord before the Taliban acquired its coveted view of a coalition operating base down the road.

When the soldiers of 1PPCLI took over the compound in November they instead dubbed it ‘COP Tombstone'. That the front lawn is the village's sprawling graveyard is only part of it. This district, Nakhonay, is shaping up to be the Wild West of Kandahar province. Only hundreds of metres from the Canadian post is where Taliban territory begins.

"This is where I'm planning to fight the insurgents during fighting season," said Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, the commander of Canadian Forces. "It will be at my time, my place."

That Menard plans to rout insurgents from known sanctuaries in Kandahar province is no secret. The new NATO strategy of openly advertising its battle plans was tested with Operation Mushtarak, the offensive to reclaim the Taliban bastion of Marja in central Helmand. Long before some 10,000 troops launched the assault, fliers warned residents of what was to come and military officials did not hesitate to telegraph that its forces were idling.

Marja, in a way, is a trial run for an offensive in Kandahar that promises to be similar in size and scale. More troops may actually be required to accomplish the same task of clearing Taliban safe havens and holding ground as insurgents are more spread out and enjoy better integration among Kandahar's farming villages and hard-scrabble towns.

As a war prize, Kandahar City, of nearly a million people, is deeply symbolic. Long a seat of political power, it is home to the family of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It is also the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban and served as its cradle under founder Mullah Omar during its reign.
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Rural outreach to Afghans snags on technology and fear
Article Link

Afghanistan (Reuters) - Mortally wounded after setting off an improvised bomb, the boy might have survived. But rather than use the hotline provided them by Canadian troops, fellow villagers carried him out for treatment.

World

By the time they reached the Canadian outpost, using a wheelbarrow as a gurney, the 5-year-old was dead. A couple of days later, the soldiers were back in the Afghan hamlet of mud-brick huts to try to persuade its residents to be more forthcoming.

"While there is a system in place, it has deficiencies," said Major Austin Douglas, the company commander.

He was referring mainly to a telephone line set up to allow local Afghans to summon help or provide tip-offs about Taliban insurgents, with six translators on hand to pass on the calls.

The initiative has been stymied by logistics, and fear.

Cellphones are relatively rare in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas like Kandahar province, where the Taliban insurgency against U.S.-led foreign troops is at its most potent.

The Taliban regard cellphone users as potential spies, and Afghan service-providers have been known to turn off antennas at night -- when insurgents prefer to operate -- out of concern their own facilities could come under attack.

"They will just kill us if we speak to Western forces," said Abdul Wahab, a 25-year-old farmer.

Another man recalled an ugly encounter with the insurgents.

"They took me once for a long time and beat me and said if I talk with the Canadians they will behead me," he said with a throat-cutting gesture.
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Britain must prepare for casualty spike in Afghanistan, Cameron warns
Article Link
June 15, 2010

Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor

David Cameron warned yesterday that there would be more British deaths in Afghanistan this summer but said that the threat to Britain of an al-Qaeda attack from the region had dropped.

Delivering his first statement to Parliament on the war since taking office as Prime Minister, he pledged that British troops would not remain in Afghanistan a moment longer than was necessary.

“This is the vital year,” said the Prime Minister, who visited Afghanistan last week to speak to President Karzai and elements of Britain’s contingent of more than 10,000 troops, largely based in the southern province of Helmand.

“We have the Forces needed on the ground. We have our very best people, not just military but leading on the diplomatic and development front as well, but I do not pretend that it will be easy.
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Insurgency will dissolve rather than be broken: Vance
Article Link

Updated: Mon Jun. 14 2010 04:39:46

The Canadian Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The insurgency in Afghanistan may remain for years to come but it will wither away into irrelevancy if NATO's counterinsurgency operations this summer are successful, Canada's new top soldier in the war-torn country says.

Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance said Afghanistan could find itself co-existing with a small, ineffective insurgent element as other countries do while still being able to deliver public services and security to its people.

"It is absolutely not an effort that will have a cataclysmic effect on the insurgency," Vance said of NATO's operations.

"The insurgency will succumb to this over time. Insurgencies are rarely broken. They dissolve."

Vance spoke to several Canadian journalists Sunday at Kandahar Airfield in his first interviews since returning to resume command of Canada's 2,800 military personnel in Afghanistan.

He was deployed when his predecessor, Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, was relieved of duties and recalled from the base two weeks ago over an alleged affair with a female subordinate.

"My reaction was, 'OK, let's get on with this,' and I got here as quickly as I could," Vance said. "I wasn't happy about the circumstances, but it's an honour to serve here."
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Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance steps back into the battlefield
Will lead Canadian troops in a make-or-break moment after sex scandal took down predecessor

Toronto Star, June 15, by Paul Watson, Arctic-Aboriginal Affairs

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/afghanmission/article/823333

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, AFGHANISTAN—Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance likes to finish what he started. He feels good to be back in the fight...

During his first stint as commander in 2009, Vance won high praise from U.S. and other NATO commanders for an effort to weaken the insurgency by strengthening security and development aid for Afghans caught in the middle.

His successor’s misadventures have given Vance a rare second shot at making a crucial mission work against long odds. If he succeeds, a war increasingly written off as a lost cause could turn out to be a historic triumph...

Vance’s focus on rebuilding villages and neighbourhoods is not a propaganda battle for hearts and minds. He’s just acknowledging a simple truth: insurgents can only thrive in populations that are frightened, deprived and insecure.

When U.S. commander General Stanley McChrystal saw the success of Vance’s strategy in Deh-e-Bagh village, south of Kandahar, last August, he called it “a new paradigm for ensuring security and development.”

“This is exactly the approach we will pursue in the coming years,” added NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

At the end of his 10-month tour in November, Vance expected a long, hard slog for Ménard and his troops, whom Vance praised for making good progress against insurgents determined to stifle it.

He saw it first hand Monday in Arghandab, north of Kandahar, where the general said he was pleasantly surprised by community leaders meeting in a traditional council, called a shura.

A year ago, few Afghans felt safe enough, or had sufficient faith in the system, to show up to such meetings...

Vance commands 2,800 Canadian troops and slightly more U.S. forces in and around Kandahar, the Taliban’s heartland. They are central to a military campaign that is on a tight deadline to show results.

The Canadian commander will have his hands full with an increasingly sophisticated, and brutal, surge of attacks on Western forces, their Afghan allies and civilians as insurgents try to show foreign troops can’t protect them or significantly improve their lives.

But the struggle to break a bloody stalemate before the clock runs out, and Canadian troops begin a planned withdrawal a year from now, is just one of the general’s troubles...

Time is fast running out. Vance, and many of the men and women he leads, know that back home, the feeling is growing that if the war can’t be won in a decade, it’s time to throw in the towel [emphasis added].

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said Canadian combat troops will start leaving Afghanistan a year from now and all will be gone by the end of 2011.

It’s only been a year since McChrystal publicly embraced Vance’s strategy. Progress is slowing, in part because of setbacks in places like Marjah, in Helmand province [emphasis added]...

NATO Struggles to Train Afghan Army, But Officials Cite Progress
VOA, June 14
http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/news-analysis/Training-Building-Afghan-Army-Key-to-NATO-Exit-Strategy--96283978.html

The sound of gunfire and yelling punctures the air as Afghan soldiers run through a recent exercise at the Kabul military training center. Firing blanks from their rifles, they advance on an identified enemy position as their NATO trainers watch.  While thousands of young Afghans are being run through their paces, this class may be one of the most important, because it is training the new leaders of the Afghan army.

Building a credible Afghan army is one of NATO's main tasks in Afghanistan and a pillar of its exit strategy. It is a massive undertaking, and the current lack of mid-level leadership experience leaves a big gap in the force.  But Afghans will have to learn more how to fight. They need the skills to maintain a functioning and effedtive military - everything from engineering to logistics, a task made more complicated by widespread illiteracy.

British Sergeant Major John Penney is training alongside the young recruits, who says will become the backbone of the future army.

"While this army is going to take over the security from ISAF of Afghanistan, they need to have these young officers in place, trained, confident, in the ability that they can carry out their role and duty on the front line," Sergeant Penny said.

But more than a decade of civil war and Taliban rule mean there is a lack of mid-level officers with experience. To augment this, the army is recruiting former mujahadeen fighters who battled the Soviet-backed army. The head of the training center, Brigadier General Aminullah Patyani, once fought against the mujahadeen, but now he is glad they are here and hopes former Taliban fighters will be as well...

Setbacks Cloud U.S. Plans to Get Out of Afghanistan
NY Times, June 14
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/world/asia/15military.html

WASHINGTON — Six months after President Obama decided to send more forces to Afghanistan, the halting progress in the war has crystallized longstanding tensions within the government over the viability of his plan to turn around the country and begin pulling out by July 2011.

Within the administration, the troubles in clearing out the Taliban from a second-tier region and the elusive loyalties of the Afghan president have prompted anxious discussions about whether the policy can work on the timetable the president has set. Even before the recent setbacks, the military was highly skeptical of setting a date to start withdrawing, but Mr. Obama insisted on it as a way to bring to conclusion a war now in its ninth year.

For now, the White House has decided to wait until a review, already scheduled for December, to assess whether the target date can still work. But officials are emphasizing that the July 2011 withdrawal start will be based on conditions in the country, and that the president has yet to decide how quickly troops will be pulled out.

Even if some troops do begin coming home then, the officials said that it may be a small number at first. Given that he has tripled the overall force since taking office, Mr. Obama could still end his term with more forces in Afghanistan than when he began it.

“Things are not looking good,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a regional specialist at the Brookings Institution who helped formulate the administration’s first Afghan strategy in early 2009. “There’s not much sign of the turnaround that people were hoping for.”..

Concern on Capitol Hill about Afghanistan war grows
Washington Post, June 15
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/14/AR2010061405553.html

A series of political and military setbacks in Afghanistan has fed anxiety over the war effort in the past few weeks, shaking supporters of President Obama's counterinsurgency strategy and confirming the pessimism of those who had doubts about it from the start.

The concerns, fed largely by unease over military operations in southern Afghanistan that are progressing slower than anticipated, spurred lawmakers to schedule last-minute hearings this week to assess progress on the battlefield and within the Afghan government.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the Central Command, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Mich?le A. Flournoy are to appear Tuesday in the Senate and Wednesday in the House to answer questions about the offensives in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, and about what many see as the continuing erratic behavior of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"I think we are all concerned," said Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who visited Afghanistan last month.

"The hearing is an attempt to find out what is going on in Kandahar," said a Senate Armed Services Committee aide, adding that Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the panel's chairman, "is particularly focused on whether there has been a change in strategy or timetable for the Kandahar campaign."

The White House said it welcomes the opportunity to explain. "We anticipated that as we increased our resources in this effort, that it would be increasingly difficult as well," said Denis R. McDonough, the chief of staff of the National Security Council. "It's absolutely understandable and absolutely justifiable for Congress to ask additional questions."

Much of the pressure for results stems from the timeline that Obama set, and that the military agreed to, when he announced his Afghanistan strategy and the deployment of about 30,000 additional troops in December. U.S. troop strength will be about 100,000 by the end of August; a report on overall progress in the war is due in December. Troops are scheduled to begin withdrawing in July 2011.

The military has clearly announced each major operation, including a Marine offensive in Helmand province launched in February and a combined civil-military campaign in Kandahar that officials said last spring would be fully underway by this month. Strong Taliban resistance and lagging Afghan government participation have slowed progress in Marja, a district at the center of the Helmand campaign, creating the image that things have not been going as well as anticipated.

That image was compounded last week when Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the military operations in Kandahar would not begin in force until September [emphasis added]...

Pakistan rejects report saying nation's intelligence agency aids Afghan Taliban
Washington Post, June 15
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/14/AR2010061405056.html

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Pakistani officials on Monday angrily dismissed a report published this weekend alleging that the nation's primary intelligence agency finances, trains and at least partially controls the Afghan Taliban insurgency.

The report, issued by the London School of Economics and based on interviews with Taliban commanders and former Taliban officials, concludes that it is official Pakistani policy to support the rebellion as a bulwark against Indian influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan is an ally of the United States, which leads coalition forces fighting the Taliban.

Pakistan has long-standing ties to the Taliban, and some Western officials and Pakistani terrorism analysts allege that elements of the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency continue to foment the movement. The new report asserts that links remain so deep that ISI representatives are "participants or observers" on the Taliban's leadership council, the Quetta Shura.

The ISI's role in the Afghan insurgency remains one of the biggest sources of mistrust between the United States and Pakistan, and the report could heighten those tensions. Although Pakistan's army has gone after militants who attack inside Pakistan, it has resisted U.S. pressure to attack Afghan Taliban havens on its soil, saying it is overstretched.

Pakistan has long denied that it provides support to the Afghan Taliban, although ISI officials say they still have lines of communication to some of the movement's leaders. On Monday, a military spokesman dismissed the report as a "malicious" account with little solid evidence. "If there is great turbulence on the other side, it directly affects this side of the border," said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army spokesman. "Nobody would be more interested in seeing a more peaceful, more stable, more friendly Afghanistan than Pakistan itself."

According to the report, written by Harvard University fellow Matt Waldman, the ISI provides Taliban leaders with sanctuary in Pakistan's border region but maintains control over them with threats of arrest. Taliban commanders interviewed said the ISI provides ammunition and funding and supports training camps where militants learn to lay roadside bombs, among other skills.

"Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," the report says...

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Helmand: anatomy of a disaster
Foreign Policy, June 15
http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/06/15/helmand_anatomy_of_a_disaster

As U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Mills takes over command of Helmand - Afghanistan's most violent province -- from the British this week, Britain's Conservative-led government of David Cameron is busy in London wrestling with the question: just what has been going wrong?

The shake-up of NATO command structures in Afghanistan -- which spins off a new divisional headquarters, Regional Command South West -- from the British-led Regional Command South in Kandahar, now places almost all of Britain's combat troops in Afghanistan rather uneasily under the leadership of an American.

With a force now of nearly 10,000, the Brits have been fighting in Helmand since the summer of 2006 and lost more than 290 troops. While it is perilous to consider the province's woes in isolation from the entire country's downward spiral, there is a need to ask why things have gone particularly badly in Helmand.

For the British, it is a matter of national reputation. Not is only is there a small matter of the British Empire's three previous Afghan wars thought (wrongly, as it happens [emphasis added]) to have been disastrous failures. There is also the widespread view, shared by a majority of the British Army itself, that the U.K. tarnished its reputation for counterinsurgency operations by getting wrong its campaign in Basra, Iraq, and requiring an embarrassing bail-out by the Americans in Operation Charge of the Knights in 2008.

Is Helmand another case of waiting for the Yanks to come?

As Prime Minister David Cameron attempts a review of the strategy, among the first to face the music are the most senior officers. On Sunday it emerged that the chief of the defense staff, an RAF man, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, is to be axed, presumably in favor of a man in khaki. The most obvious candidate is General Sir David Richards, a former NATO commander in Afghanistan, and currently head of the Army.

As painfully described in an investigation published last week by the Times of London, the charge against military top brass, and those like Stirrup who talked endlessly of constant progress on the ground, is of filtering complaints from field commanders and junior soldiers so that politicians under the previous Labour administration got spared the full picture of how badly things were going in Helmand and the many shortfalls, for example, of war-winning military equipment and in basic welfare for the troops and their injured. Britain went into Helmand, the article described, with its "eyes shut and fingers crossed."..

... if the principal cause of British failure has been the routine of taking a given resource and spreading it as thinly as possible to the point of being ineffective, then the U.S. surge shows signs of adopting the identical rule-of-thumb. As battalions dig in across the country in new towns and villages, it has to be asked if the offensive comes way ahead of a meaningful plan to make their inevitable sacrifice worthwhile.

As General McChrystal has made plain, the key is to adapt to an approach geared to the roots of rebellion and the security of the population. As my recent experience on the ground indicates, putting all that into practice is proving as difficult now for American troops as their British cousins...

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Afghanistan's woeful water management delights neighbors
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Any effort by Afghanistan to improve water management could ruffle neighbors, who benefit from the country's losing two-thirds of its water due to lack of infrastructure.
By Tom A. Peter, Correspondent / June 15, 2010 Herat, Afghanistan

For three springs now Zobair Ahrar has watched helplessly as annual flooding washed away 1,500 square meters of his land – about five percent of his property. A former dam designer turned farmer, Mr. Ahrar estimates it would cost $1 million to build a dam that could control the floods eroding the land in his and a hundred other villages.

Mr. Ahrar approached the provincial Ministry of Irrigation for help. Officials told him they were investing in other places and he needed to fix the problem himself. Unable to afford the dam, he and his neighbors will either get outside help or eventually have to move.

Thirty years of war have left Afghanistan’s irrigation canals clogged and pitted, and farmers are beginning to feel the weight of decades of neglect. Aside from erosion, farmers lack the resources to build the canals capable of irrigating large swathes of land – and this in a country where agriculture employs more than three quarters of workers.

In order to develop, Afghanistan must revamp its water infrastructure, but doing so could spark tension with neighbors who’ve come to rely on excess water flowing from Afghanistan.

“Agriculture is really the economic driver at this stage,” says Allan Kelly, deputy country director of the Asian Development Bank, which has committed $400 million in grant money to irrigation in Afghanistan. “Improving irrigation is critical to agricultural sector growth … [otherwise] we’ll have the continuation of widespread poverty and declining irrigation.”
Most water flows abroad

Afghanistan doesn’t face a water shortage – it’s unable to get water to where it’s needed. The nation loses about two thirds of its water to Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and other neighbors because doesn't harness its rivers. The government estimates that more than $2 billion is needed to rehabilitate the country’s most important irrigation systems.

“The farmers are poor people. They cannot buy some machines to dig the canals,” says Khalil Entezari, head of irrigation in Herat for the Department of Agriculture. “If we don’t solve this problem it will continue to get bigger and bigger and farmers will continue to leave their land.”

One of the biggest attempts to address the problem is under way in Herat Province along the border with Iran, where India is funding the construction of a $180 million dam. The project, called the Salma Dam, will regulate river flow during flood season and reduce the amount of water that flows from the Hari Rud River to Iran and Turkmenistan from 300 million cubic meters per year to 87 million cubic meters.
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ARTICLES FOUND JUNE 16

Taliban attacks on Canadians increasing
Toronto Star, June 15

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, AFGHANISTAN—Struggling to make major progress before pulling out in a year, Canadian troops are coming under increasing attack from insurgents bolstered by fresh fighters.

“It’s going to be a tough summer,” Lt-Gen. Marc Lessard, commander of Canadian forces abroad, told reporters here Tuesday. “Insurgent activity is high. What will it be a month or two from now? I don’t know.

“But we’re maintaining our presence, not only to counter the insurgents, but to keep the link with the population. We have to be seen.”

Hours after the general spoke, the insurgents struck again, killing the chief of a district where Canadian commanders have recently seen glimmers of hope that elders are starting to stand up and make decisions.

Abdul Jabbar, chief of Arghandab district, was executed by a remote-controlled car bomb just outside his compound in Kandahar, to the southeast.

It was another devastating blow to efforts to build up local government, just a day after Canadian commander Brigadier-General Jon Vance visited Arghandab to watch local elders take cautious steps toward cooperation on a traditional council, or shura...

Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, who commands more than 5,000 Canadian and U.S. troops in and around Kandahar city, calls the infiltrators “out-of-area insurgents.”

They come from “elsewhere in the country and elsewhere in the region
[emphasis added],” he added in a veiled reference to neighbouring Pakistan, which has insisted since the war began in 2001 that is not harboring Taliban or other insurgents...

By summer’s end, they will take charge of two Canadian-controlled rural districts and Kandahar city. That will leave Vance’s forces to concentrate on the relatively peaceful district of Dand to the south, and Panjwaii, one of the bloodiest battlegrounds, to the southwest [emphasis added]...

We played vital role, general says
Holding Kandahar will be legacy left by Canadian Forces

Canwest News, June 16
http://www.canada.com/news/Somnia/3160053/story.html

...
Canada still runs the war in Kandahar, directing a large number of American forces, but "everybody knows," that the Canadian footprint will narrow considerably in the near future, Lessard said, referring to a number of published reports about this recently by Canwest News Service and the Wall Street Journal.

A brigade of the U.S. army's 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is to take over leadership responsibility from Canada for Zhari and Arghandab in the very near future. Kandahar, where U.S. military policemen are to remain under Canadian command this summer, is about to become home to a much larger U.S. MP force that will eventually report to a brigade of the 4th Infantry Division coming from Texas.

Yet another U.S. army brigade will also soon be arriving in Kandahar [emphasis added]. A new Afghan army brigade and additional Afghan police are being sent to the Taliban's spiritual homeland.

About 1,000 U.S. combat engineers have already joined the fight as part of what is being called "Force Package II [emphasis added]," according to Lt.-Col. Simon Bernard, who is responsible for future battle plans for Kandahar.

This influx, which is to add about 9,000 troops in Kandahar, will increase troop density two or threefold in key districts and even more so in and near Kandahar. All these moves will inevitably diminish Canadian influence in the province.

On Tuesday, the Arghandab district of Kandahar was the site of a car bombing that killed district chief Abdul Jabar, the second deadly attack there in as many weeks.

The district chief, his son and a bodyguard were killed by the remote control blast, deputy provincial police chief Fazil Ahmad Sherzad said...

In the meantime, Canada will remain responsible for Panjwaii and for a squadron of American troops from the 10th Mountain Division that began operating in Dand and Daman districts in late April [emphasis added].

"The next major step for TFK (Task Force Kandahar) is to responsibly hand off battle space to those new brigades coming in and the AO (area of operations) gets divided up, and rightly so, to U.S. brigades," Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, Canada's task force commander, said in an interview...

Security boss leaves Canadian project in Afghanistan
Toronto Star, June 15
http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/afghanmission/article/824115

WASHINGTON—Another senior security boss has left Canada’s troubled signature project in Afghanistan — and this time the departing sentry is a former British commando with a storied resume that includes bodyguard duty for Michael Jackson, the Beckhams and the Saudi royal family.

Lee McNamara confirmed Tuesday he is no longer involved in the $50-million effort to restore Kandahar’s vital Dahla Dam irrigation project, telling the Toronto Star, “I’m done.”

McNamara’s departure follows a rash of resignations and dismissals in the wake of a Feb. 20 confrontation in Kandahar City between the project’s Canadian security overseers and armed men working for Watan Risk Management, a controversial security firm owned by relatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The confrontation ended with two Canadian security overseers — Curtis Desrosiers and Mike Hill — fleeing the country and returning to Canada in fear for their lives. One day later their boss, Alan Bell, a Toronto-based security consultant with Globe Risk International, resigned his position and also returned to Canada...

McNamara, a former British Royal Marine, is believed to have been on the Afghan side of that confrontation as Dahla Dahla Project Manager for Watan, which in turn is contracted to SNC-Lavalin/Hydrosult, a joint venture hired by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to do the actual irrigation rehabilitation work...

The Star gathered numerous accounts of the Feb. 20 confrontation over the course of a three-week investigation into problems surrounding Canada’s ambitious and multi-faceted project to rehabilitate the vast and battered Dahla irrigation system, which is the lifeblood of agriculturally dependent Kandahar Province.

Not all the versions match up — but each suggested a larger power struggle between the projects Canadian overseers and Afghan contractors with close ties to the ruling Karzai family and its main power broker in Kandahar, the President’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai [emphasis added].
Watan Risk Management, headed by Rashid Popal, a cousin to President Karzai and a former convicted drug felon, has fallen under the scrutiny of U.S. investigators amid allegations the firm may be colluding with insurgents to maximize profits from lucrative contracts to protect NATO supply convoys in Afghanistan. The company vehemently denies the allegations.

U.S. Bolsters Afghan Police to Secure Kandahar
NY Times, June 15
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/world/asia/16kandahar.html?ref=asia

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The American paratroopers climbed down from armored vehicles and spread out along Highway 1, Afghanistan’s main road. An Army engineering team moved behind.

This was a military patrol with an unusual touch. The paratroopers were not hunting the Taliban. The engineers were not looking for roadside bombs. They were taking measurements for a checkpoint to be built for the Afghan National Police.

NATO’s long-awaited summer campaign to secure Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, has begun. In its early stages, it looks little like what was anticipated months ago.

What had been described by military officers last winter as an offensive has instead opened with an effort to expand an Afghan police and government presence. The daily missions for many patrols are oriented not toward fighting but toward trying to extend influence in an area where a sprawling insurgency first took root.

The campaign to date, moving by increments, focuses on civil order.

Western troops, soon to triple in number in Kandahar Province in the last phase of President Obama’s military buildup, are designing new checkpoints and police precincts while encouraging Afghan police supervisors to become more active. At the same time, NATO is training recruits and officers already on duty, hoping to double the strength and improve the skills of the local force.

Thus far that force is tiny. Of the more than 100,000 police officers that Afghanistan claims to have on its books, only roughly 800 to 1,000 officers are here [emphasis added], in a city of at least 500,000 people in the Taliban’s Pashtun heartland...

...The city acts according to its own rules. But it is not, day by day, a combat zone. Normal life continues. Insurgent attacks are sporadic and most days are quiet. One challenge, military officers say, is to keep it that way as forces flow in.

Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the British officer commanding Western troops in southern Afghanistan, describes two different tracks for the months ahead. First, in the city, the emphasis is on establishing the rudiments of a government. Later, in outlying areas, he said, a more military approach will be used.

“The problem in Kandahar city,” he said, “is it’s a lot less about insurgency, and much more about criminality, warlordism, a culture of impunity, bad government or weak government, parallel structures and frankly, something that needs to be properly organized.”...

A ring of checkpoints is being built around the city. More Western forces are arriving. The American military police company and battalion staff members who have been assisting the police will be replaced by five fresh companies.

A unit from the 82nd Airborne Division, Company D of the First Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was moved to Kandahar last month. It escorts Army engineers working on infrastructure projects [emphasis added, see Canwest story above]...

Militant Group Expands Attacks in Afghanistan
NY Times, June 15
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/world/asia/16lashkar.html?ref=world

KABUL, Afghanistan — A Pakistani-based militant group identified with attacks on Indian targets has expanded its operations in Afghanistan, inflicting casualties on Afghans and Indians alike, setting up training camps, and adding new volatility to relations between India  and Pakistan.

The group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is believed to have planned or executed three major attacks against Indian government employees and private workers in Afghanistan in recent months, according to Afghan and international intelligence officers and diplomats here. It continues to track Indian development workers and others for possible attack, they said.

Lashkar was behind the synchronized attacks on several civilian targets in Mumbai, India, in 2008, in which at least 163 people were killed. Its inroads in Afghanistan provide a fresh indication of its growing ambitions to confront India even beyond the disputed territory of Kashmir, for which Pakistan’s military and intelligence services created the group as a proxy force decades ago.

Officially, Pakistan says it no longer supports or finances the group. But Lashkar’s expanded activities in Afghanistan, particularly against Indian targets, prompt suspicions that it has become one of Pakistan’s proxies to counteract India’s influence in the country.

They provide yet another indicator of the extent to which Pakistani militants are working to shape the outcome of the Afghan war as the July 2011 deadline approaches to begin withdrawing American troops...

A recent Pentagon report to Congress on Afghanistan listed Lashkar as one of the major extremist threats here. In Congressional testimony in March by Pakistan experts, the group was described as having ambitions well beyond India.

“They are active now in six or eight provinces” in Afghanistan, said a senior NATO intelligence official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly on the subject.

“They are currently most interested in Indian targets here [emphasis added], but they can readily trade attacks on international targets for money or influence or an alliance with other groups,” he said...

The Indian targets are easy enough to find. Since the overthrow of the Taliban government by American and international forces in 2001, India has poured about a billion dollars’ worth of development aid into Afghanistan [emphasis added], including the construction of the new Afghan Parliament and several major electricity and road projects.

It has also revitalized consulates in four of Afghanistan’s major cities — Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar — fueling Pakistani fears of encirclement by hostile neighbors and suspicions that India is using Afghanistan as a listening post for intelligence gathering...

India supported an alliance of fighters in northern Afghanistan against the Taliban when the Taliban — a Pakistan ally — governed Afghanistan, and it maintains close relations with the alliance’s former commanders, Mr. Weinbaum and others noted. The relationship adds to Pakistani fears that India will turn to proxies of its own in Afghanistan once the United States leaves...

“What does an Indian consulate do in Afghanistan when there is no Indian population?” asked a Pakistani intelligence official, who also alleged that the Indians were providing funds, ammunition and explosives to the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas, smuggling it through Afghanistan. The Indians dismiss the allegations...

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Articles found June 16, 2010

UK drug addict tells of Taliban recruitment
Article Link

BBC Asian Network's  Sanjiv Buttoo explains how a Muslim man went from being a drug addict in the UK to a militant fighting for the Taliban.

"They just gave me an AK47 assault rifle and I was taught how to strip the weapon, clean it and fire it as well as how to carry out guerrilla activities - I could not believe this was happening."

Irfan, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, recalls his experience of going to Pakistan and inadvertently being recruited by the Taliban.

His story arose because some Muslim parents in the UK send their children to Pakistan for them to beat an addiction to drugs.

In Irfan's case, throughout his late teens and early 20s he had found himself in and out of trouble with the police, while also being hooked on heroin.

In an attempt to combat his drug addiction, his father took him to Pakistan for help.

"I was taken to a village called Tangir and left in a madrassa [religious school in Pakistan] where they said I would get help to come off the drugs," said Irfan.

"During the first few weeks I was given methadone which helped me withdraw from the heroin.

''After that I started receiving Koranic lessons and was eventually taught how to use weapons and fight.''

Irfan spent 40 days at the madrassa before he was recruited by Taliban militants to go to Afghanistan.

"They chose me because I could speak English and that was useful for them.

''I'm not the only person to be recruited. I'm sure many young Muslims like myself who go to Pakistan for rehab are also being targeted.''
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Afghanistan’s Civic War
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By JAMES TRAUB Published: June 15, 2010

POSTSCRIPT: On June 15, after this article went to press, Hajji Abdul Jabbar, district governor of Arghandab, was killed in a bombing, according to Afghan and United States officials.

Lt. Col. Guy Jones, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Second Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry, is on his fourth tour of Afghanistan. The first time around, in June 2002, when he was a 31-year-old company commander, his job was to find Osama bin Laden. He still has happy memories of working alongside Gul Agha Shirzai, the local strongman in Kandahar, who may have been loathed by the people but could be counted on to deliver American war materiel to anywhere in the region for only $5,000 a truckload.

Now Colonel Jones has returned to the region to fight a very different war. Based in the Arghandab District, just north of Kandahar, he and his troops are at the epicenter of the looming American showdown with the Taliban. This time, he cannot win by making common cause with warlords. He can’t even win by shooting people. “I almost never do kinetic operations,” he said to me one night in April, using military talk for classic operations. We were sitting in an office in the Arghandab District Center — the seat of local government rather than of military operations. Just then his troops were seeking to clear insurgents from some villages to the north. “How do you separate the enemy from the people?” asked Jones, a natural-born pedagogue much given to the rhetorical question. “Well, one way is I can go out and just hang out there. Eventually they’ll get so frustrated that they’ll just leave. And then I know who to look for.”
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Malicious Propaganda of the Western Media
Article Link
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

While Pakistan’s armed forces and intelligence agencies have broken the backbone of the Taliban militants, but still malicious propaganda of the Western media continues against Islamabad in one or the other form.

In this connection, on June 13, this year, a report, of the London School of Economics (LSE) alleged, “the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) not only funds and trains Taliban fighters in Afghanistan but is officially represented on the Quetta Shura, giving it significant influence over operations.” The report also accused President Asif Ali Zardari of visiting “senior Taliban prisoners in Pakistan earlier this year, where he is believed to have promised their release and help in militant operations…support for the Taliban is approved at the highest level of Pakistan’s civilian government”.

The ISPR spokesman Maj-General Athar Abbas has strongly rejected the report of the LSE as baseless. Presidential spokeswoman Farah Ispahani dismissed the allegations in the report as “absolutely spurious”. And Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said, “When the entire world is recognising our efforts against terrorism, allegations against the ISI published in this controversial report are deeply hurting.”

However, Western malevolent propaganda against Pakistan army and ISI continues unabated. In this regard, on May 24, 2010, The Long War Journal, while quoting US military intelligence officials wrote, “The Pakistan-based Haqqani Network carried out suicide attack in Kabul on May 18 that killed a Canadian colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two US soldiers, and twelve Afghan civilians.” The Journal further elaborated, “The US officials disclosed the information that the attack was organized in Pakistan with the help of ISI.” On the same date, The New York Times also reported same allegation in one or the other way.
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ARTICLES FOUND JUNE 17

Taliban Can Keep Weapons Under New Peace Initiative
WSJ, June 17
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703513604575310982874634608.html?mod=fox_australian

KABUL—A new coalition initiative to lure Afghan insurgents away from the battlefield allows the Taliban and other militants to keep their weapons if they sign on to a government peace plan, a senior coalition official said.

Instead of disarming insurgents who agree to stop fighting, the new program would let them keep weapons to provide security for their own communities, said British Maj. Gen. Philip Jones, who directs the reintegration effort for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization...

Gen. Jones said the plan—an Afghan-led initiative that is backed and largely funded by NATO—reflects a "moral dilemma," because it means the coalition is relying on former insurgents to provide security in some parts of the country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to sign a decree launching a reintegration program featuring the weapons initiative after he returns from a trip to Japan that started on Wednesday, Gen. Jones said.

A spokesman for Mr. Karzai declined to comment on the plan.

The decree, coalition officials say, would also establish a "High Council for Peace" to begin a nationwide outreach effort to lure insurgents away from the battlefield. The council would set up local reintegration committees at the provincial level, led by provincial governors...

Lawmakers hear different take on year-end review of Afghanistan war effort
Washington Post, June 17
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/16/AR2010061602860.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

Senior defense and military officials Wednesday played down the importance of an end-of-year review that President Obama has described as crucial to assessing whether his Afghanistan war strategy is working, saying that it would have little bearing on decisions about troop withdrawals scheduled to begin in July 2011.

"I would not want to overplay the significance of this review," Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, told lawmakers. The military, he said, "would not make too much out of that."

Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy said the December assessment would be "a bit deeper" than the regular monthly reviews Obama now receives, but essentially the same. The remarks appeared at odds with senior administration officials' past descriptions of the review as a "proof of concept" moment and a potential turning point in the war effort.

The review has long been scheduled to take place exactly one year after Obama's announcement, in a Dec. 1 speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, that he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. In response to a run of bad news about the war, senior administration officials have repeatedly referred to the assessment to wave off judgments on the strategy -- along with reports that some of them already have doubts about it -- by saying they are only halfway through the trial year.

"You are in the middle of the surge," one official said, "and you can look at a set of data points that say the glass is half full and another that say the glass is half empty. That's what happens when you are halfway through a process."..

...Petraeus said he wanted to make sure that his response to the previous question was "very clear." He said Obama promised the additional troops and set the withdrawal date to convey a sense of "commitment" and "urgency" to the Afghanistan government.

Petraeus also emphasized that he fully supported the strategy. "But it is important," he said, "that July 2011 be seen for what it is: the date when a process begins, based on conditions, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits."

He said it was his "sacred obligation" to give the president unvarnished military advice [emphasis added]. At the close of the morning session, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) asked whether McChrystal thinks he could request more troops between now and July 2011 if he thought they were necessary. "Absolutely," Petraeus said.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday afternoon, Petraeus was asked by Rep. Howard P. McKeon (Calif.), the senior committee Republican, about "the nature of the December review" and whether it "could lead to a strategic overhaul."

Petraeus played down the significance of the assessment, saying: "We do reviews all the time. We're constantly doing assessments."

He added: "I would not want to overplay the significance of this review,"  [emphasis added] which would come only "three or four months" after full deployment and "six or seven months before what President Obama has described as the point . . . of the process beginning, at a pace to be determined by conditions on the ground, a responsible drawdown of the surge forces."..

The Afghan roller coaster
Washington Post, June 17, editorial

...

Gen. Petraeus, who said "we have to be very careful with timelines," carefully described the July 2011 withdrawal date as "the point at which a process begins to transition security tasks to Afghan forces at a rate to be determined by conditions at the time." As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out, that contrasts with the considerably less cautious statement of Vice President Biden, who told Newsweek's Jonathan Alter that "in July of 2011, you are going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it."

Mr. Karzai, who last week fired two cabinet ministers with close ties to the United States, seems to be betting on Mr. Biden rather than on Gen. Petraeus. His former intelligence minister told the New York Times that the Afghan president has written off the possibility of U.S. success and is positioning himself to make a deal with Pakistan and the Taliban. Whether or not that is true, it's clear that the confusion in U.S. policy is damaging the mission. Only one person can fix it -- and that is President Obama. It's time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Obama's mixed Afghanistan messages
Choices are stark: Stick to the timetable and drawdown, or stick it out until the job is done. And so far, he has signaled intent to do both.

LA Times, June 17, by Doyle McManus
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe--mcmanus-column-20100617,0,6252488.story

The news from Afghanistan has been bad lately. The military campaign to win control of Kandahar, the country's second-largest city, has slowed to a crawl. Taliban insurgents have filtered back into parts of southern Afghanistan that U.S. Marines had cleared in the spring. President Hamid Karzai, the erratic leader of Afghanistan's civilian government, has given only halfhearted support to the U.S.-led military effort — and has done little to clean up the corruption that undermines public support for his regime.

Yet when Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. military commander in Kabul, delivered an assessment of the state of the war last week, he said — very cautiously — that he is succeeding at his initial goal: interrupting the Taliban's momentum.

"We see progress everywhere, but it's incomplete," McChrystal said. "It is slow, but it's positive."

In McChrystal's words lies the central dilemma President Obama will face later this year, when he reviews his policy in Afghanistan: The war isn't being lost anymore — but it isn't being won yet, either...

When I visited Afghanistan in March, McChrystal's aides were optimistic about the campaign being launched in Kandahar, the Taliban's historic power base. Describing the strategy as a potential turning point in the war, they confidently showed reporters a timeline that began with a series of town meetings — shuras — to win public support, and culminated in military operations that would sweep the Taliban from the countryside around Kandahar by mid-August, when the holy month of Ramadan begins. "We're going to shura our way to success," one U.S. officer predicted.

But that's not what has happened. Local elders used the shuras to express their doubts about the military campaign. Some simply didn't want U.S. or Afghan troops in their neighborhoods. Others wanted to try negotiating with the Taliban first. The result of the shuras, instead of success, was a stalemate [emphasis added].

The offensive will still happen, just "more slowly than we had originally anticipated," McChrystal said. "It takes time to convince people," he said. "I don't intend to hurry it.… It's more important we get it right than we get it fast."..

When Obama announced his timetable last year, he tried to send a complex message, with different parts aimed at different audiences. To the U.S. military, the message was: Here are the troops you requested, but you can't have them forever and don't come back and ask for more. To American voters, including unhappy antiwar liberals, the message was: We're committed to begin a withdrawal next year. To Karzai, the message was: Here's a chance for you to succeed; seize it.

But Karzai, already distrustful of the Americans, appears to have focused on the wrong part of the message: the withdrawal of U.S. troops beginning in July 2011 [emphasis added]. Administration officials insist that the troop drawdown will be gradual, and will come only as the newly trained Afghan army takes over the war. But Karzai isn't the only Afghan who suspects that Americans are looking for an excuse to leave.

McChrystal has already predicted what his December report to Obama is likely to say: slow progress, but incomplete.

So even before July 2011 arrives, Obama faces a stark choice. He can insist on his timetable and its promise of a drawdown — but that will further reduce McChrystal's chances of success and increase the probability of eventual defeat. Or he can adjust his message and tell both Karzai and the American people that he intends to stick it out until the job is done — even if that means slowing the withdrawal. So far, he's sent both messages, and that has only sown confusion.

In Afghanistan, a waiting game to outlast the Obama administration
Washington Post, June 17, by George Will
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/16/AR2010061604171.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

...
The administration will review Afghanistan strategy in December, but last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates, defining success down, expressed the minimalist hope of "making some headway" by then. While the administration boasts of having a "boot on the neck" of BP, Britain wonders whether its severe budget crisis, which is aggravated by the evaporating value of its once largest corporation, should be ameliorated by withdrawing the 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan. Canadian and Dutch combat troops begin withdrawing this summer [emphasis added, I sent Mr Will an e-mail - MC]...

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Afghanistan: “Mixed Signal Surge”
Conference of Defence Associations' media round-up, June 17
http://www.cdaforumcad.ca/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1276794628/0#0

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Articles found June 18, 2010

Army Preps ‘Unblinking Eye’ Airship for Afghanistan
Noah Shachtman June 17, 2010
Article Link

God smiles when the Army spends a half-billion dollars on spy blimps the size of a football field.

I believe that’s the message Northrop Grumman is trying to convey in this illustration accompanying the company’s announcement of a $517 million, five-year contract to build three combat airships for the military.

The military already employs a fleet of blimps to look for enemies and relay communications. But none of them are as big, as high-flying, or as far-seeing as this Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, or LEMV. It’s supposed to float at 20,000 feet for up to three weeks at a time, snooping on absolutely everything below with a variety of sensors.

“Basically what we see it as is an unblinking eye,” LEMV project manager Marty Sargent tells Inside Defense.

Sargent figures it would take as many as 12 of the military’s advanced Reaper surveillance drones “to do the same mission that the LEMV would do.”

The first airship is supposed to be inflated around 10 months from now. Eight months later, the Army hopes to have the first LEMV flying over Afghanistan. On that day, the clouds will part, the sun will shine, and the cherubs will sing as the unblinking eye begins looking for Taliban.
end

Jonathon Narvey: The prospect of wealth in Afghanistan
Article Link

I’ve often attempted to remind readers of the importance of holding the line in Afghanistan for progressive reasons and firm principles: support for the universality of human rights, defense of women and children targeted by the thugs in the Taliban, support for democracy, the institutions of modernity and a better life for people who deserve something more than tyranny.

I’ve noted that this mission is something both in the finer tradition of Canadian interventions on behalf of freedom abroad. It is also a shining example of a United Nations-supported mission that has brought together the brave soldiers, aid workers and resources of dozens of nations in the fight against fascism and darkness.

On this note, the signs coming from Canadian politicians like Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff as well as a growing number of Conservative politicians and commentators about a renewed role for Canada in Afghanistan are very encouraging. Their brave words calling for a public debate on this important issue ought to be heeded by the Prime Minister, and quickly.

But the confirmation of perhaps $1 trillion worth of mineral deposits in Afghanistan changes the equation for some people. With reptilian logic, they will point to a conspiracy of international neo-cons and their shadowy corporate masters being the real reason for international intervention — as though 9/11 never happened and Afghanistan had never served as a safe haven for some of the worst examples of thuggery and terror that this planet has to offer.

As any rational thinking person would, I dismiss these conspiracists out of hand. But their cynical response does certainly beg the question: what precisely is wrong about foreign mining companies making a decent profit and employing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Afghans in good, high-paying jobs that don’t involve the heroin trade or freelance work for the insurgency? And if keeping the insurgency down permanently and avoiding a return of terror bases to Afghanistan also provides some insurance that our trade routes and economies will not be sabotaged into recession, resulting in more financial hardship for both Wall Street and Main Street, what’s wrong with that, either?
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Insurgents Plant Bomb Disguised As Candy in Afghan Neighborhood
1st Lt. Brian MacKey, DVIDS, 06.06.2010 11:12
Article link

Last week U.S. Army combat engineers with the 20th Engineer Battalion took part in the clearance of a shrapnel-laden IED disguised as a bag of candy, located in a neighborhood crowded with children.

The Task Force LUMBERJACK Route Clearance Patrol investigated the device, reported by a U.S. Stryker Unit already on the scene. Using loudspeakers, the platoon was able to keep the villagers clear while they neutralized the device with the support of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team.

In Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, insurgents are using despicable desperation tactics such as these. Task Force LUMBERJACK Route Clearance Patrols are finding and clearing an increased number of IEDs before they can be detonated on civilians or coalition forces. In the past 14 days, insurgents have planted three IEDs in this neighborhood alone packed with shrapnel to target people on foot. They have disguised them as household items; in addition to the candy, they have been found planted in a blanket and a basket ....



Afghan Civilians Help Police Repel Taliban Attack
defense.gov, 16 Jun 10
Article link

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2010 – Afghan civilians helped police to repel an attack by an estimated 50 Taliban fighters against a police checkpoint in Afghanistan’s Daykundi province June 14, military officials reported.

Ten national police officers manning a checkpoint in Kajran came under heavy small-arms and rocket fire just after noon and called for support.

About 250 civilians gathered with personal assault rifles and, along with police reinforcements and International Security Assistance Force aircraft, forced the Taliban fighters to retreat.

U.S. Special Forces soldiers responded and provided medical aid to injured Afghan policemen at the request of the Kajran district security manager. Two of the policemen died of their wounds.

This is the second time this year that residents of Daykundi province have fought the Taliban, officials said. On April 21, residents of Gizab captured several Taliban fighters, and when nearly a dozen insurgents retaliated by attacking the town, the town's local defense force, supported by coalition aircraft, repelled the attack ....

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Gates Concerned About Pessimism on Afghanistan
American Forces Press Service, June 17
http://www.defense.gov/News/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=59687

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is concerned about emerging public pessimism and cynicism regarding the outcome of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today.

Gates says Americans need to remember what was happening in Afghanistan a year ago to appreciate how far the country has progressed since then, Morrell said.

“I don’t know that he’s laying the blame with anyone in particular,” the press secretary said. “It just seems as though there is a great deal of not just skepticism, but cynicism about … our operations there, and an effort to prematurely judge the outcome of the strategy.”

Morrell stressed that last year, the Taliban had increased their control over many areas in the country. The Taliban controlled whole swaths of Regional Command – South and the trend in Regional Command – North was going in the wrong direction.

“In the year since, that growth has been halted, and we are taking back territory from the Taliban,” Morrell said. “Their momentum has been thwarted, but it is still far too soon for us to say it has swung completely in our favor.”

The International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan National Security Forces have regained the initiative and continue to make headway, he said.

“But I would remind you that this new strategy has really only been under way in earnest for a few months now, and the full complement of surge forces are not in theater yet,” Morrell said. “And not all of those that are in theater are yet in the fight. So we need to give, I think, the strategy a chance to work.”

Still, the clock is ticking, Morrell acknowledged. “The American people and those of our coalition partners are growing tired of war,” he said. “After all, we’ve been at this for nearly nine years.”..

Germany's Mission in Afghanistan
Ex-Defense Officials Skeptical of Success

Spiegel Online, June 18
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,700745,00.html#ref=nlint

The belief that things will end well in Afghanistan is dwindling in Germany. An increasing number of security experts recommend an orderly withdrawal and even those who were involved in sending the Bundeswehr on the mission are now voicing doubts about ultimate success.

Former Defense Minister Peter Struck, the man who once declared that Germany's security would be "defended in the Hindu Kush" drives his own car again -- the days of his chauffeur-driven armored government vehicle are over. He also needs a ticket for the parking garage in order to drive his car back out Struck tells the waiter at the Hotel Berlin restaurant on Lützowplatz, where the interior still seems to date from the deepest days of West Berlin behind the Wall, the days when Germany still settled its contributions to international military missions with a checkbook.

Struck is now free of ministerial responsibilities, just as he is free of the government car, the security agents and everything else associated with the office. But the topic of Afghanistan hasn't released its hold on him, not even now that he is for all intents and purposes only waiting to finally become head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, an organization closely associated with Struck's Social Democratic Party (SPD).

'We Thoroughly Deceived Ourselves'

Asked if everything is going well in Afghanistan, Struck bursts out with, "No!" Asked if the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, are where they had hoped to be, he exclaims, "No, of course not!" He can clearly remember the days following Sept. 11, 2001. Struck was chairman of the SPD's parliamentary group when then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder declared Germany's full solidarity with the United States. This statement effectively meant Germany would be going to Afghanistan. "One year, then we'd be back out, that's what we thought back then," Struck says, poking at his fish, before adding, "We thoroughly deceived ourselves."

That is certainly true. After nearly nine years, the Bundeswehr is still deployed in Afghanistan. Germany, along with the rest of the "coalition of the willing," only grows more deeply mired in a mission that looked in the beginning like it could be a simple hit and run job. Now doubts about the point of the mission are piling up far more quickly than success stories. The international coalition has seen 1,822 soldiers die in Afghanistan to date. Just in the past week, at least 16 more soldiers fell in the battle against the Taliban, all killed in bomb attacks and rocket strikes. A supply convoy with 80 vehicles was attacked and went up in flames, leaving seven more dead.

The price is soaring higher and higher, in terms of both human lives and finances. Officially, the mission costs Germany €1 billion ($1.2 billion) per year, but experts place the true costs at three times that amount, which would make it 10 percent of the country's defense budget. Official data has the war in Afghanistan costing Germany over €6 billion so far.

The West is tired of war. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently complained that "the demilitarization of Europe" has become "an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace." But after the Taliban's latest offensive, even the US is growing weary. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander Stanley McChrystal scrapped an offensive in Kandahar planned for this summer, which had been pegged as the decisive factor in gaining the upper hand over the Taliban. With NATO very much on the defensive at the moment, the only remaining military alliance to operate on a global scale is in danger of losing to an opponent that recruits from a small pool of fanatics...

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Articles found June 19, 2010

Child Brides Escape Marriage, but Not Lashes
Article Link

video

The two Afghan girls had every reason to expect the law would be on their side when a policeman at a checkpoint stopped the bus they were in. Disguised in boys’ clothes, the girls, ages 13 and 14, had been fleeing for two days along rutted roads and over mountain passes to escape their illegal, forced marriages to much older men, and now they had made it to relatively liberal Herat Province.

Instead, the police officer spotted them as girls, ignored their pleas and promptly sent them back to their remote village in Ghor Province. There they were publicly and viciously flogged for daring to run away from their husbands.

Their tormentors, who videotaped the abuse, were not the Taliban, but local mullahs and the former warlord, now a pro-government figure who largely rules the district where the girls live.

Neither girl flinched visibly at the beatings, and afterward both walked away with their heads unbowed. Sympathizers of the victims smuggled out two video recordings of the floggings to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which released them on Saturday after unsuccessfully lobbying for government action.

The ordeal of Afghanistan’s child brides illustrates an uncomfortable truth. What in most countries would be considered a criminal offense is in many parts of Afghanistan a cultural norm, one which the government has been either unable or unwilling to challenge effectively.

According to a Unicef study, from 2000 to 2008, the brides in 43 percent of Afghan marriages were under 18. Although the Afghan Constitution forbids the marriage of girls under the age of 16, tribal customs often condone marriage once puberty is reached, or even earlier.

Flogging is also illegal.

The case of Khadija Rasoul, 13, and Basgol Sakhi, 14, from the village of Gardan-i-Top, in the Dulina district of Ghor Province, central Afghanistan, was notable for the failure of the authorities to do anything to protect the girls, despite opportunities to do so.
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In Camouflage or Veil, a Fragile Bond
Article Link

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Two young female Marines  trudged along with an infantry patrol in the 102-degree heat, soaked through their camouflage uniforms under 60 pounds of gear. But only when they reached this speck of a village in the Taliban heartland on a recent afternoon did their hard work begin.

For two hours inside a mud-walled compound, the Marines, Cpl. Diana Amaya, 23, and Cpl. Lisa Gardner, 28, set aside their rifles and body armor and tried to connect with four nervous Afghan women wearing veils. Over multiple cups of tea, the Americans made small talk through a military interpreter or in their own beginner’s Pashtu. Then they encouraged the Afghans, who by now had shyly uncovered their faces, to sew handicrafts that could be sold at a local bazaar.

“We just need a couple of strong women,” Corporal Amaya said, in hopes of enlisting them to bring a measure of local commerce to the perilous world outside their door.

Corporal Amaya’s words could also describe her own daunting mission, part of a program intended to help improve the prospects for the United States in Afghanistan — and also, perhaps, to redefine gender roles in combat.
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Thirsty Pakistan gasps for water solutions
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Experts say country is facing a water crisis that could see it run dry in several decades

Sahar Ahmed

Karachi — Reuters Published on Friday, Jun. 18, 2010 10:15AM EDT

Pakistan is facing a “raging“ water crisis that if managed poorly could mean Pakistan would run out of water in several decades, experts say, leading to mass starvation and possibly war.

The reliance on a single river basin, one of the most inefficient agricultural systems in world, climate change and a lack of a coherent water policy means that as Pakistan’s population expands, its ability to feed it is shrinking.

“Pakistan faces a raging water crisis,” said Michael Kugelman, program associate for South and Southeast Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

“It has some of the lowest per capita water availability in Asia, and in the world as a whole.”

The vast majority - between 90 and 95 per cent - of Pakistan’s water is used for agriculture, the U.S. undersecretary for democracy and global affairs, Maria Otero, told Reuters. The average use in developing countries is between 70 and 75 per cent.

The remaining trickle is used for drinking water and sanitation for Pakistan’s 180 million people.

According to Mr. Kugelman, more than 55 million Pakistanis lack access to clean water and 30,000 die each year just in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, from unsafe water.

“Of the available water today, 40 percent of it gets used,” Ms. Otero said. “The rest is wasted through seepage and other means.”
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NATO asks for Dutch troops in Afghanistan--report
Reuters, June 17
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE65G1VN.htm

NATO renewed a call on the Netherlands on Thursday to keep troops in Afghanistan after a Dutch parliamentary election last week held to replace a government that collapsed over the troop mission.

The Dutch Labour party left the Dutch cabinet in February because it did not want the mission in the Afghan province of Uruzgan to continue beyond August. A new government is being formed after a parliamentary election held last week.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad that his request in February beforethe cabinet's collapse still stood.

"I now want to urge Dutch politicians to think in a positive way how they can remain militarily involved in Afghanistan," Rasmussen was quoted as saying by the paper.

"It could be in Uruzgan but if the geography has become too controversial it could also be somewhere else. We need trainers everywhere. We are 450 short," said.

Three of the four biggest parties in the new parliament -- the majority-holding Liberals, Labour and Christian Democrats -- are now open to a police training mission [emphasis added].

Afghanistan was not an issue during the election campaign, which focused on fiscal austerity measures, but the new government will be able to decide if the Netherlands will keep a presence in Afghanistan...

Pakistan, Afghanistan begin talks about dealing with insurgents
Washington Post, June 19
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/18/AR2010061805638.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead&sid=ST2010061805889

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Afghanistan and Pakistan are talking about how to make peace with insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including one faction considered the coalition forces' most lethal foe, according to Pakistani and U.S. officials.

The discussions reflect the beginnings of a thaw in relations between Kabul and Islamabad, which are increasingly focused on shaping the aftermath of what they fear could be a more abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops than is now anticipated. But one element of the effort -- outreach by Pakistan to the militia headed by the young commander Sirajuddin Haqqani -- faces opposition from U.S. officials, who consider the al-Qaeda-linked group too brutal to be tolerated.

At Pakistan's suggestion, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the chief of Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, made an unprecedented trip last month to Kabul to discuss with Afghan President Hamid Karzai a wide range of possible cooperation, including mediating with Pakistan-based insurgents.

Several weeks ago, Pasha and Pakistan's army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, returned to continue the discussion. There is no agreement between the two nations, but a Pakistani security official said the outreach to insurgents is "not a problem."

The previously undisclosed visits came as the United States, gradually warming to the idea of reconciliation with insurgents, encourages improved relations between the two governments, which have long viewed each other with suspicion. But Obama administration officials have cautioned Afghanistan and Pakistan that they will not support talks with Haqqani's militia.

"We think reconciliation has to have an Afghan face," a senior administration official said in Washington, adding that the United States "understands" the desire to talk. But the United States has made clear, the official said, that "we expect to be treated as full partners and not to be surprised." The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussing frictions with allies.

The talks are a reminder that Afghanistan and Pakistan each has an agenda independent of its relationship with the United States and that they may draw different lines in deciding how and when to make peace...

As U.S. troops focus counterinsurgency efforts on the Taliban's southern hub, Haqqani, who is in his 30s, is expanding the southeastern front through attacks on American forces and through ruthless intimidation of locals, along with deep ties to other militant groups spanning the border. U.S. military officials and terrorism analysts say Haqqani's bold and brutal style embodies the Taliban's vanguard: younger commanders driven more by anti-Western zeal than by the nationalist aspirations of their elders...

Haqqani's fairly autonomous network is the single largest insurgent force, according to some estimates, and is an important bridge between the Taliban and al-Qaeda [emphasis added]. It has expressed no interest in peacemaking, Afghan and U.S. officials say...

...Haqqani has thrived in part by maintaining delicate alliances with the border region's militant factions. Haqqani holds a seat on al-Qaeda's leadership council, analysts say, and receives ample funding from Arab backers. In North Waziristan, where the Haqqanis run religious schools and militant training camps, he has mediated disputes among factions of the Pakistani Taliban, from which he plucks fighters, said Ashraf, the researcher.

Haqqani, who is described by those who know him as soft-spoken, said in an audio recording in April that his group's cooperation with the Taliban and al-Qaeda was "at its highest limits."

Unlike the farmers who make up much of the southern insurgency dominated by Omar's Taliban, Haqqani's forces include foreign fighters and are largely drawn from madrassas, or Islamic schools, and thus tend to be more extreme [emphasis added]. They rely on assassinations, shakedowns and kidnappings-for-ransom but show little interest in politics, military officials said...
 

U.S. military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps
Washington Post, June 19
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/18/AR2010061805630.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

The U.S. government is snapping up Russian-made helicopters to form the core of Afghanistan's fledgling air force, a strategy that is drawing flak from members of Congress who want to force the Afghans to fly American choppers instead.

In a turnabout from the Cold War, when the CIA gave Stinger missiles to Afghan rebels to shoot down Soviet helicopters, the Pentagon has spent $648 million to buy or refurbish 31 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Army Air Corps. The Defense Department is seeking to buy 10 more of the Mi-17s next year, and had planned to buy dozens more over the next decade.

The spectacle of using U.S. taxpayer dollars to buy Russian military products is proving a difficult sell in Congress. Some legislators say that the Pentagon never considered alternatives to the Mi-17, an aircraft it purchased for use in Iraq and Pakistan, and that a lack of competition has enabled Russian defense contractors to gouge on prices.

"The Mi-17 program either has uncoordinated oversight or simply none at all," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who along with Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has pushed the Pentagon to reconsider its purchase plans. "The results have led to massive waste, cost overruns, schedule delays, safety concerns and major delivery problems."

U.S. and Afghan military officials who favor the Mi-17, which was designed for use in Afghanistan, acknowledge that it might seem odd for the Pentagon to invest in Russian military products. But they said that changing helicopter models would throw a wrench into the effort to train Afghan pilots, none of whom can fly U.S.-built choppers.

"If people come and fly in Afghanistan with the Mi-17, they will understand why that aircraft is so important to the future for Afghanistan," said Brig. Gen. Michael R. Boera, the U.S. Air Force general in charge of rebuilding the Afghan air corps. "We've got to get beyond the fact that it's Russian. . . . It works well in Afghanistan."

U.S. military officials have estimated that the Afghan air force won't be able to operate independently until 2016, five years after President Obama has said he intends to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But Boera said that date could slip by at least two years if Congress forces the Afghans to fly U.S. choppers . "Is that what we really want to do?" he asked.

The U.S. military has been trying to resurrect the decimated Afghan National Army Air Corps since 2005, when it consisted of a few dozen furloughed pilots and a handful of decrepit Mi-17s.

Because Afghan airmen had historically trained on Russian choppers, the Pentagon decided to make the Mi-17s the backbone of Afghanistan's fleet. The Soviet Union specifically designed the Mi-17 for use in Afghanistan. U.S. officials say it is well-suited for navigating the altitudes of the Hindu Kush mountains, as well as Afghanistan's desert terrain...

...the U.S. Special Operations Command would like to buy a few Mi-17s of its own, so that special forces carrying out clandestine missions could cloak the fact that they are American [emphasis added]...
 

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Visiting Kandahar doctors hope to return with medical gear
By Katie DeRosa, Victoria Times Colonist June 18, 2010
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VICTORIA — It's difficult to see the victim of a bomb blast rushed into your emergency room, only to realize the hospital doesn't have the tools or staff to save the person's life, says Dr. Mohammad Dawod.

"If you don't have (the right equipment), you're leaving the patient to die."

Dawod, director of Mirwais Hospital in Afghanistan's war-ravaged Kandahar district, and colleague Dr. Mohammad Azid Zahim, are in Victoria this week to share the challenges that hospital is facing, while learning about the medical equipment Canadian doctors have at their disposal.

The doctors toured the Canadian Forces Health Services Centre Pacific at CFB Esquimalt, looking enviously at the state-of-the-art X-ray equipment, physiotherapy room and triage area.

Zahim and Dawod met medical staff who have served in Afghanistan and shared a sombre moment as they passed a memorial for six health-care workers who died during their tours.

Hosted by the Langford fire department, Colwood Rotary Club, University of B.C. and Vancouver General Hospital, the doctors arrived in Canada June 5 and will be here until July 6. They have toured Vancouver General and Langford Fire Department and spoken to Rotarians and local students to raise awareness about their desperate need for better equipment.

Mirwais Hospital lacks a portable digital X-ray machine, ventilator and cardiac monitor, all of which can mean the difference between life and death for patients with severe trauma or in intensive care, Dawod said.
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ARTICLES FOUND JUNE 20

Afghanistan Not Improving, U.N. Says
AP, June 19
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704365204575316152350276886.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_world

KABUL, Afghanistan — A United Nations report released Saturday painted a grim picture of the security situation in Afghanistan, saying roadside bombings and assassinations have soared the first four months of the year amid ramped up military operations in the Taliban-dominated south.

The United Nations' findings appeared at odds with Pentagon assertions this week claiming slow-but-steady progress in Afghanistan — an assessment challenged by U.S. lawmakers during hearings on Capitol Hill.

The report, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitted to the U.N. Security Council this week, said Afghanistan's overall security situation "has not improved" since his last report in March.

Roadside bombings in the first four months of 2010 skyrocketed 94% over the same period of 2009, and assassinations of Afghan officials jumped 45%, mostly in the ethnic Pashtun south, which has become the focus of the war, the report said.

Suicide attacks occurred at a rate of about three per week, half in the restive south. The increase in complex attacks — using a combination of suicide bombers and small-arms fire — pointed to Taliban groups linked with al-Qaida, the report said.

The study found some encouraging signs, however, including the government's plan to reach out to insurgents and offer economic incentives to leave the battlefield. It also said the U.N. was working with Afghan officials to prepare for parliamentary elections in September.

Nevertheless, the U.N. found the number of security incidents had "increased significantly compared to previous years," in large part because of more military operations in the south early this year [emphasis added]...

Afghan forces' apathy starts to wear on U.S. platoon in Kandahar
Washington Post, June 20
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/19/AR2010061902815.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead&sid=ST2010061902995

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- First Lt. James Rathmann was in a hurry. Five 40-foot containers full of U.S. military gear had been ransacked. There could be Taliban fighters sifting through American uniforms, gear and weapons.

Before he could find what was missing, though, Rathmann would need to battle with an ally, a burden that has become all too common in the country's second-largest city, the latest focus of U.S. military officials struggling to turn the tide on a worsening conflict.

As the U.S. military sets out to secure cities including Kandahar, it is relying far more heavily on Afghan forces than at any time in the past nine years, when the American mission focused mainly on defeating the Taliban in the countryside, rather than securing the population. But the Afghan forces are proving poorly equipped and sometimes unmotivated, breeding the same frustration U.S. troops felt in Iraq when they began building up security forces beset by corruption, sectarianism, political meddling and militia infiltration.

"Can you take us over there?" Rathmann, of Palm Beach, Fla., pleaded as he tried to persuade an Afghan counterpart to accompany the Americans to a nearby lot. Deputy police chief Abdul Naseer shook his head. "Are you afraid?" Rathmann asked. "You don't need permission from the security chief to do your job."

The police commander wouldn't budge. None of his men would be available either, he explained, because their vehicles had no fuel.

As a 31-year-old platoon leader in the military police, Rathmann arrived in Kandahar nearly a year ago, bracing himself and his unit for pitched battles against shadowy bands of Taliban fighters. Instead, their war has become a slog. With a larger American offensive postponed, firefights have been few and far between. Instead, the Americans have been battling more vexing enemies: a corruption-ridden police force, the area's insidious politics and the local government's apparent misgivings about taking on the Taliban...

The rash of violence is sure to hurt U.S. efforts to build up the provincial government. The governor's office has just six employees and subsists on a monthly budget of roughly $20,000.

When Rathmann's battalion arrived a year ago, the city had 600 police officers. It now has 800, and nearly 1,200 recruits will soon start training [emphasis added--"While the U.S. 97th MP Battalion from Fort Riley, Kansas, focuses on the ANP in Kandahar City proper"
http://www.cefcom.forces.gc.ca/pa-ap/fs-ev/2010/03/04-eng.asp ]... 

...When Rathmann's battalion leaves Afghanistan next month, it will be replaced by a larger unit that will more than triple the U.S. military footprint in the city [emphasis added--"Kandahar City, where U.S. military policemen are to remain under Canadian command this summer, is about to become home to a much larger U.S. MP force that will eventually report to a brigade of the 4th Infantry Division coming from Texas.
http://news.globaltv.com/world/Canada+vital+holding+Kandahar+General/3156695/story.html ]...

U.S. Hopes Afghan Councils Will Weaken Taliban
NY Times, June 19
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/world/asia/20nadali.html?ref=global-home

NADALI, Afghanistan — More than 600 men, most of them farmers with weathered faces and rough hands, sat on the ground under an awning, waiting all day to deposit their ballots in plastic boxes. They had braved Taliban threats and road mines to come here to select a district council, part of a plan to strengthen local government in the most unstable parts of Afghanistan.

“The important thing is we are trying to build trust between the people and the government,” said Qari Mukhtar Ahmad, a senior cleric attending the election last month. “This district was under fighting for a long time, but now there is peace and we have to listen to the people and bring them together.”

Peace is a relative term in Nadali, a district in the southern province of Helmand with one of highest levels of roadside bombs per square mile. Government officials still have to fly by helicopter from the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, rather than risk the 20-minute drive.

The district encompasses Marja, a Taliban stronghold where United States Marines have been battling insurgents since February. Marja remains largely ungovernable, but the operation broke the hold of the Taliban in the rest of the district, making it stable enough to try to set up some local representation.

The election here, an exercise in nation-building from the ground up, is part of a pilot program to set up 100 district councils to provide representative government in places where government has largely been absent. But the councils, backed by the British and American governments, also represent a critical element of counterinsurgency strategy: if they succeed, the hope is they will convince people that there is a viable alternative to Taliban rule.

Since the beginning of the year, 35 such councils have begun work in nine provinces, and the American and British governments have pledged financing to establish 100 by July 2011, officials said. The ultimate goal is to have directly elected councils nationwide.

“It is a vital, basic element of administration,” said Christopher Demers, an adviser for the Agency for International Development in Kandahar. “Building a people’s body like this is important; it is giving people an opportunity to speak with the government.”

Military officials in the United States-led coalition have often expressed frustration at the inability of the Afghan government to move quickly into secured areas and start governing. Yet Afghan officials say that it is a lengthy task to build an administration from scratch and gain the trust of a population that has suffered at the hands of predatory officials and repeated military operations by foreign forces in recent years.

In many districts, like Nadali, there is little government presence, often only a district chief and a police chief, both appointed by the central government in Kabul. They have few resources or personnel. Most district chiefs have no official car and an official budget of only $12 a year, the United Nations said last year...

An NCO recognizes a flawed Afghanistan strategy
Washington Post, June 20, by George Will
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/18/AR2010061803760.html

Torrents of uninteresting mail inundate members of Congress, but occasionally there are riveting communications, such as a recent e-mail from a noncommissioned officer (NCO) serving in Afghanistan. He explains why the rules of engagement for U.S. troops are "too prohibitive for coalition forces to achieve sustained tactical successes."

Receiving mortar fire during an overnight mission, his unit called for a 155mm howitzer illumination round to be fired to reveal the enemy's location. The request was rejected "on the grounds that it may cause collateral damage." The NCO says that the only thing that comes down from an illumination round is a canister, and the likelihood of it hitting someone or something was akin to that of being struck by lightning.

Returning from a mission, his unit took casualties from an improvised explosive device that the unit knew had been placed no more than an hour earlier. "There were villagers laughing at the U.S. casualties" and "two suspicious individuals were seen fleeing the scene and entering a home." U.S. forces "are no longer allowed to search homes without Afghan National Security Forces personnel present." But when his unit asked Afghan police to search the house, the police refused on the grounds that the people in the house "are good people."

On another mission, some Afghan adults ran off with their children immediately before the NCO's unit came under heavy small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and the unit asked for artillery fire on the enemy position. The response was a question: Where is the nearest civilian structure? "Judging distances," the NCO writes dryly, "can be difficult when bullets and RPGs are flying over your head." When the artillery support was denied because of fear of collateral damage, the unit asked for a "smoke mission" -- like an illumination round; only the canister falls to earth -- "to conceal our movement as we planned to flank and destroy the enemy." This request was granted -- but because of fear of collateral damage, the round was deliberately fired one kilometer off the requested site, making "the smoke mission useless and leaving us to fend for ourselves."

Counterinsurgency doctrine says that success turns on winning the "hearts and minds" of the population, hence rules of engagement that reduce risks to the population but increase those of U.S. combatants. C.J. Chivers of the New York Times, reporting from Marja, Afghanistan, says "many firefights these days are strictly rifle and machine gun fights," which "has made engagement times noticeably longer, driving up the troops' risks and amplifying a perception that Marja, fought with less fire support than what was available to American units in other hotly contested areas, is mired in blood."..
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/world/middleeast/11marja.html

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Articles found June 20, 2010

Asset list reveals Afghan president earns $525 a month
By DAYED SALAHUDDIN, Reuters  June 20, 2010
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Afghan president Hamid Karzai earns just US$525 a month, has less than $20,000 in the bank and owns no land or property, according to a declaration of his assets on Sunday by an anti-graft body.

Although his modest remuneration is five times the national average, it contrasts sharply with salaries of leaders in the West, where U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron rake in around $400,000 a year.

Karzai's assets were published by the High Office for Oversight and anti-Corruption Commission as part of a decree aimed at providing greater transparency among officials.

Although the Taliban insurgency remains the greatest threat to Afghanistan's stability, graft at almost every level of society remains a major complaint of ordinary Afghans and anyone doing business with the country.

The anti-graft body is registering the assets of at least 2,000 officials - including ministers, members of parliament, senior military and police officers and provincial leaders - and will start publishing them this week.

"This covers assets held by officials, their wives and children below the age of 18," Mohammad Yasin Usmani, the commission's chief, told Reuters on Sunday.

Any official found to have withheld information risked prosecution, he said.

Senior current and former Afghan officials - including two of Karzai's deputies - are believed to own buildings and assets worth tens of millions of dollars - at home and abroad.

Some have also been involved in major contracts awarded by foreign forces, and police have been questioning 17 current and ex-ministers on suspicions of graft.

While Karzai has acknowledged a corruption problem, he says it is exaggerated by Western media and insists the biggest source of graft is poor oversight of billions of dollars in aid contracts that dwarf Afghanistan's budget.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates conceded in March that Washington needed to do more to clean up its contracting procedures.
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Former Blackwater firm gets Afghan security contract
Associated Press June 19, 2010
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Part of the company once known as Blackwater Worldwide has been awarded a more than $120 million contract to protect new U.S. consulates in the Afghan cities of Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, the U.S. Embassy said Saturday.

The United States Training Center, a business unit of the former Blackwater, now called Xe Services, was awarded the contract Friday, embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

The company won the contract over two other American firms — Triple Canopy and DynCorps International, she said. The one-year contract can be extended twice for three months each for a maximum of 18 months.

Under the name Blackwater, the Moyock, North Carolina-based company provided guards and services to the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere but came under sharp criticism for its heavy-handed tactics in those missions.

It has been trying to rehabilitate its image since a 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square that killed 17 people, outraged the Iraqi government and led to federal charges against several Blackwater guards.

The accusations later were thrown out of court after a judge found prosecutors mishandled evidence. The Justice Department has appealed that ruling.
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Afghans go AWOL from U.S. base
17 went missing while training in Texas; some have returned
NBC News and news services Fri., June 18, 2010
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SAN ANTONIO - U.S. military investigators are asking law enforcement nationwide to be on the lookout for some of the 17 Afghan military members who went AWOL while training in Texas over the past 18 months.

Air Force spokesman Gary Emery said Friday the Afghanis disappeared from Lackland Air Force Base one-by-one. The men were vetted by the military and aren't believed to be connected to one another or to any terrorist group, Emery said. All had been studying English at the Defense Language Institute as a precursor to training sponsored by the U.S. and Afghan militaries.

The disappearances were reported to immigration and federal law enforcement when they occurred, but a nationwide alert was issued Wednesday. It wasn't immediately clear what prompted the alert.
end

Next for Afghanistan, the Curse of Plenty?
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. Published: June 18, 2010
Let’s suppose there is $1 trillion worth of minerals under Afghanistan, as senior American officials and a confidential Pentagon memo said last week.
Article Link

Is that a good thing — for either Afghanistan or the United States?

Some experts in mining and in Third World resource politics argue that it is not.

Because it takes up to 20 years for a mine to start earning profits and Afghanistan has been a battleground for 31 years, “no mining company in its right mind would go into Afghanistan now,” said Murray W. Hitzman, a professor of economic geology at the Colorado School of Mines.

The country’s underground treasure “will be good for the warlords and good for China, but not good for Afghans or the United States,” predicted Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Massachusetts and the author of “Resource Wars” and “Blood and Oil.”

History tends to second such skepticism. The great empires of the world were built thanks to gold mines, not atop them. It’s the little mercantile nations with their cohesive political systems and fierce navies that have looted the big feudal ones paved with rubies.
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