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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread June 2010

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ARTICLES FOUND JUNE 21

U.S. eager to replicate Afghan villagers' successful revolt against Taliban
Washington Post, June 21
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/20/AR2010062003479.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

GR2010062003458.jpg


GIZAB, AFGHANISTAN -- The revolt of the Gizab Good Guys began with a clandestine 2 a.m. meeting. By sunrise, 15 angry villagers had set up checkpoints on the main road and captured their first prisoners. In the following hours, their ranks swelled with dozens of rifle-toting neighbors eager to join.

Gunfights erupted and a panicked request for help was sent to the nearest U.S. troops, but the residents of this mountain-ringed hamlet in southern Afghanistan held their ground. By sundown, they managed to pull off a most unusual feat: They kicked out the Taliban.

"We had enough of their oppression," Lalay, the one-named shopkeeper who organized the uprising, said in recounting the late April battle. "So we decided to fight back."

U.S. diplomats and military officials view the rebellion as a milestone in the nearly nine-year-long war. For the first time in this phase of the conflict, ordinary Afghans in the violence-racked south have risen on their own to reclaim territory under insurgent control.

It is a turnabout that U.S. and Afghan officials were not certain would ever occur. One U.S. commander called it "perhaps the most important thing that has happened in southern Afghanistan this year."

Although Gizab had long been used by the Taliban as a rest-and-resupply area for fighters traveling to battlegrounds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, losing access to the area represents at best a tactical blow for the insurgency. It will not, by itself, change the course of the war. There is no indication that the defeat will have any immediate effect in violence-plagued areas such as Marja or the city of Kandahar...

Gizab, about 100 miles north of Kandahar, sits at the apex of a capillary-like infiltration network that connects western Pakistan's lawless tribal regions to key parts of southern Afghanistan. It is part of Daikundi province, a place U.S. and NATO commanders consider so insignificant that fewer than 50 international troops are stationed there [emphasis added]. Unlike the rest of Hazara-dominated Daikundi, Gizab is made up primarily of ethnic Pashtuns, as is the Taliban.

But the Taliban began to wear out its welcome over the past year. Its fighters commandeered the health clinic, destroyed the school and started seizing trucks along the road, often to steal cargo or levy taxes... 

...as soon as the villagers set up the first roadblock and captured the first two insurgents, they sent a messenger to the detachment asking for help. A flooded river prevented the American troops from coming that day, so a team of Australian special forces soldiers was sent in by helicopter [emphasis added]. When the soldiers landed in Gizab, they found Lalay and his men in a full-on firefight with Taliban fighters.

The Australians were soon joined by a different U.S. Special Forces detachment...

...Lalay and other local leaders warn that the peace here remains fragile because of uncertainty about how his force will be funded and equipped. The Afghan government has authorized only a 53-man police force for the entire district. U.S. officials are working with the Afghan Interior Ministry to deputize the others as members of a "public protection force," which would enable them to wear uniforms and draw salaries. But Gizab leaders say the compensation -- $60 a month -- is not enough.

"It does nothing for our families," said Safiullah, one of Lalay's deputies. "When the people heard that, they said they'd quit."

For now, the police chief in neighboring Uruzgan province and the leader of a private militia there
[this one?
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/world/asia/06warlords.html ]
have sent money and weapons to the force, but Gizab residents also are waiting on a decision from the central government to allocate permanent funding for the force...

Diggers die in Afghan chopper crash
Three Australian Commandos and a US soldier have been killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

ABC (Australia), June 21
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/21/2932888.htm

The diggers were among 10 Australians from the Special Operations Task Group on the coalition forces helicopter when it went down in rugged terrain in Northern Kandahar.

The chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said the crash at 3:39am (Afghanistan time) was not the result of enemy action.

He said the seven other Australians on board the helicopter are being treated for their wounds.

"Two are very seriously wounded with one undergoing surgery and one is in intensive care at an ISAF medical facility," he said.

"These soldiers, along with one of the less seriously wounded, will be moved to the US military hospital in Bagram later today once their condition stabilises."..

"These three soldiers were members of a very impressive group of soldiers who were highly skilled and highly motivated," he said.

"Just last week they were involved in an operation at Shah Wali Kot which dealt a major blow to Taliban insurgents in Northern Kandahar province [see below]."

The crash was Australia's deadliest single incident in the nearly nine-year conflict [emphasis added]...

ADF says Diggers inflicted 'substantial' losses to insurgents in Shah Wali Kot district
The Australian, June 16
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/adf-says-diggers-inflicted-substantial-losses-to-insurgents-in-shah-wali-kot-district/story-e6frg8yo-1225880528346

AUSTRALIAN special forces troops say they inflicted "substantial" losses [emphasis added] in battles against the Taliban during a joint operation with Afghan forces in northern Kandahar province.

The five-day offensive in the Shah Wali Kot district involved heavy fighting in which a significant number of insurgents died, said the Australian Defence Force, which released new photos from the clashes.

An Australian soldier and an Afghan officer were wounded.

The recent operation came as NATO forces in Afghanistan suffered their bloodiest week of the year, with 30 soldiers killed in clashes with an increasingly emboldened insurgency.

NATO operations have recently been focused on districts surrounding Kandahar that are used as a base for the insurgency, and at cutting insurgents' access to the city...

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ARTICLES FOUND JUNE 22

White House summons top Afghanistan general McChrystal
Reuters, June 22
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100622/pl_nm/us_usa_afghanistan_mcchrystal

The White House has summoned the top U.S. general in Afghanistan to Washington to explain controversial remarks critical of the Obama administration, U.S. military and Obama administration officials said on Tuesday.

The move comes a day after General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, apologized for comments by his aides insulting some of President Barack Obama's closest advisers in an article to be published in Rolling Stone magazine...

An Obama administration official said McChrystal had been directed to appear in person at Wednesday's Afghanistan meeting at the White House "to explain to the Pentagon and the commander-in-chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues."

The military officials said McChrystal would be returning from Kabul on Wednesday, but did not give any more details.

The Rolling Stone article, to be published on Friday, also quoted an aide describing McChrystal's "disappointment" with his initial one-on-one meeting with Obama last year.

'POOR JUDGMENT'

"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened," McChrystal said in a statement on Monday.

The Rolling Stone article, which quoted several McChrystal aides anonymously, portrays a split between the U.S. military and Obama's advisers at an extremely sensitive moment for the Pentagon, which is fending off criticism of its strategy to turn around the nearly nine-year-old Afghan war.

It quotes a member of McChrystal's team making jokes about Vice President Joe Biden, who was seen as critical of the general's efforts to escalate the conflict and who had favored a more limited counter-terrorism approach.

"Biden?" the aide was quoted as saying. "Did you say: Bite me?"

Another aide called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a "clown" who was "stuck in 1985."

McChrystal was quoted as saying he felt "betrayed" by the leak of a classified cable from U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry last year. The cable raised doubts about sending more troops to shore up an Afghan government already lacking in credibility...

U.S. indirectly paying Afghan warlords as part of security contract
Washington Post, June 22
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/21/AR2010062104628.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

The U.S. military is funding a massive protection racket in Afghanistan, indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars to warlords, corrupt public officials and the Taliban to ensure safe passage of its supply convoys throughout the country, according to congressional investigators.

The security arrangements, part of a $2.16 billion transport contract, violate laws on the use of private contractors, as well as Defense Department regulations, and "dramatically undermine" larger U.S. objectives of curtailing corruption and strengthening effective governance in Afghanistan, a report released late Monday said.

The report describes a Defense Department that is well aware that some of the money paid to contractors winds up in the hands of warlords and insurgents. Military logisticians on the ground are focused on getting supplies where they are needed and have "virtually no understanding of how security is actually provided" for the local truck convoys that transport more than 70 percent of all goods and materials used by U.S. troops. Alarms raised by prime trucking contractors were met by the military "with indifference and inaction," the report said.

"The findings of this report range from sobering to shocking," Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) wrote in an introduction to the 79-page report, titled "Warlord, Inc., Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan."..

U.S. Said to Fund Afghan Warlords to Protect Convoys
NY Times, June 21
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/22/world/asia/22contractors.html

American taxpayers have inadvertently created a network of warlords across Afghanistan  who are making millions of dollars escorting NATO convoys and operating outside the control of either the Afghan government or the American and NATO militaries, according to the results of a Congressional investigation released Monday.

The investigation, begun last year by the House Subcommittee for National Security, found that money given to these Afghan warlords often amounts to little more than mafia-style protection payments, with some NATO convoys that refused to pay the warlords coming under attack.

The subcommittee, led by Representative John F. Tierney, Democrat of Massachusetts, also uncovered evidence suggesting that American taxpayer money is making its way to the Taliban. Several trucking company supervisors told investigators that they believed the gunmen they hired to escort their convoys bribed the Taliban not to attack.

The warlords who are paid with American money, the investigators said, are undermining the legitimate Afghan government that Americans soldiers and Marines are struggling to build, and will most likely threaten the government long after the Americans and NATO leave.

The source of the taxpayer money is a $2.1 billion contract called Host Nation Trucking, which pays for the movement of food and supplies to some 200 American bases across this arid, mountainous country, which in many places has no paved roads.

The 79-page report, entitled “Warlord Inc.,” paints an anarchic picture of contemporary Afghanistan, with the country’s major highways being controlled by groups of freelance gunmen who answer to no one — and who are being paid for by the United States.

Afghanistan, the investigation found, plays host to hundreds of unregistered private security companies employing as many as 70,000 largely unsupervised gunmen.

“The principal private security subcontractors,” the report said, “are warlords, strongmen, commanders and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority.

“The warlords thrive in a vacuum of government authority, and their interests are in fundamental conflict with U.S. aims to build a strong Afghan government,” the report said.

At the heart of the problem, the investigation found, is that the American military pays trucking companies to move its supplies across Afghanistan — and leaves it up to the trucking companies to protect themselves. The trucking companies in turn pay warlords and commanders to provide security...

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ARTICLES FOUND JUNE 23

Australia may start Afghanistan pullout in 2 years
AP, June 23
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100623/ap_on_re_as/as_australia_us_afghanistan;_ylt=AjbUpECky5Dsdya0Y6vKKWCs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTN2bW03MmtwBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwNjIzL2FzX2F1c3RyYWxpYV91c19hZmdoYW5pc3RhbgRjY29kZQNtb3N0cG9wdWxhcgRjcG9zAzQEcG9zAzEEcHQDaG9tZV9jb2tlBHNlYwN5bl9oZWFkbGluZV9saXN0BHNsawNhdXN0cmFsaWFtYXk-

CANBERRA, Australia – Australia  may start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in two years if its mission to train Afghan soldiers goes as planned, the defense minister said Wednesday.

The timetable, while loose, was the most detailed yet given by Canberra for bringing troops home from an almost nine-year-old war that is increasingly unpopular among Australians. And it added pressure on a U.S. administration struggling to show progress against a stubborn insurgency, while losing key allies along the way.

Most of Australia's 1,550 troops in Afghanistan are in Uruzgan, a southern province with a significant Taliban presence, where they are training an Afghan National Army brigade to take over security and stability.

The mission had been expected to take between three to five years. Defense Minister John Faulkner shortened that Wednesday, saying the latest advice from defense chiefs is it could be completed between two and four years.

"What that means is that at some time in that two-year to four-year timeframe we would see our training mission transition to an over-watch role, and that would obviously mean ... we would start to see a reduction in the number of troops in Afghanistan," Faulkner told reporters.

Faulkner's comments marked the first time an Australian official has offered a possible timetable on plans to begin pulling forces out of the war-torn country...

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Articles found June 24, 2010

General Faces Unease Among His Own Troops, Too
By C. J. CHIVERS Published: June 22, 2010
Article Link

iding shotgun in an armored vehicle as it passed through the heat and confusion of southern Afghanistan  this month, an Army sergeant spoke into his headset, summarizing a sentiment often heard in the field this year.

“I wish we had generals who remembered what it was like when they were down in a platoon,” he said to a reporter in the back. “Either they never have been in real fighting, or they forgot what it’s like.”

The sergeant was speaking of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and the circle of counterinsurgents who since last year have been running the Afghan war, and who have, as a matter of both policy and practice, made it much more difficult for troops to use airstrikes and artillery in the fight against the Taliban.

No matter the outcome of his meeting on Wednesday in Washington over caustic comments he and his staff made about President Obama and his national security team, the general, or his successor, faces problems from a constituency as important as his bosses and that no commander wants to lose: his own troops.

As levels of violence in Afghanistan climb, there is a palpable and building sense of unease among troops surrounding one of the most confounding questions about how to wage the war: when and how lethal force should be used.

Since last year, the counterinsurgency doctrine championed by those now leading the campaign has assumed an almost unchallenged supremacy in the ranks of the American military’s career officers. The doctrine, which has been supported by both the Bush and Obama administrations, rests on core assumptions, including that using lethal force against an insurgency intermingled with a civilian population is often counterproductive.

Since General McChrystal assumed command, he has been a central face and salesman of this idea, and he has applied it to warfare in a tangible way: by further tightening rules guiding the use of Western firepower — airstrikes and guided rocket attacks, artillery barrages and even mortar fire — to support troops on the ground.

“Winning hearts and minds in COIN is a coldblooded thing,” General McChrystal was quoted as telling an upset American soldier in the Rolling Stone profile that has landed him in trouble. “The Russians killed 1 million Afghans, and that didn’t work.” COIN is the often used abbreviation for counterinsurgency.

The rules have shifted risks from Afghan civilians to Western combatants. They have earned praise in many circles, hailed as a much needed corrective to looser practices that since 2001 killed or maimed many Afghan civilians and undermined support for the American-led war.
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Articles found June 25, 2010

Measuring success and failure in Afghanistan
By Michael A Innes
Article Link

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) launched Operation Moshtarak in the Nad Ali and Lashkar Gah districts of Afghanistan's Helmand province in mid-February.

The intent was to wrest it from Taliban control and create a "bubble of security" for local governance, described in an ISAF press release as "an Afghan-led initiative to assert government authority in the center of Helmand province". [1] The operation involved the deployment of 15,000 allied and Afghan troops, among them American, British, Danish, Estonian and Canadian elements from ISAF's Regional Command South, as well as five
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Afghanistan's only golf course: Bring your clubs and AK-47
Article Link

The nine-hole Kabul golf course is the only one in Afghanistan. The greens are petroleum black. The fairways filled with rocks and scrub. But that doesn't stop golf aficionados who play with a ball finder and armed security guards.

After war, a time for golf.

There is nary a blade of grass at the Kabul Golf Club, just outside Afghanistan’s capital. The greens are not green; they are hard-packed brown sand, laced with oil and swept clean to keep the putting surface smooth. The fairways are rock-strewn and scrub-filled.

Ball finders – required, according to course rules – accompany golfers and their caddies, who carry a swatch of artificial turf and tee up each new shot. Without the ball finders to search in all the brush and undergrowth, a round of golf would likely be much shorter here at Afghanistan’s only course. Why? Because most golfers would give up before finishing.

Michael Alexander, a Londoner who has played his way across some of Britain’s best courses, notes that golf at the nine-hole Kabul Golf Club provides moments that playing at St. Andrews can’t.

“The Army checkpoint,” for example, he says. “The free [ball] drop at the Army checkpoint – that was the real difference with St. Andrews,” says Mr. Alexander, tongue in cheek.

A recent charity tournament here brought out 44 golfers, paying $100 each, for the privilege of playing the hard-scrabble course west of Kabul.

The tournament netted $4,000 last year for two local charities, said tournament director Richard Day, a Canadian working in Afghanistan since November 2006. This year’s outing, the third in three years, is expected to donate a like amount to two local nongovernmental groups, the Women of Project Hope and PARSA, which work to assist disadvantaged members of Afghan’s society such as the disabled, widowed, or orphaned.
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War buddies: Petraeus and Natyncyzk face Afghanistan
by John Geddes on Thursday, June 24, 2010
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It’s no surprise that Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, is praising his old friend Gen. David Petraeus as a grand choice to replace Gen. Stanley “Runaway” McChrystal as the new American commander in Afghanistan.

Both Natynczyk and Petraeus hit their strides as soldiers  in Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division out of Baghdad in those days, while Natynczyk, on loan to the U.S. military, served in Baghdad as deputy commanding general of the multi-national corps—even though Canada, as you might recall, officially stayed out of that war.

How much the two generals’ shared understanding of Iraq can be applied directly to the situation in Afghanistan, though, is wide open to debate. Petraeus is the famous strategist who oversaw the U.S. reversal of fortune in Iraq, orchestrating the troop surge and fostering the so-called “Sunni Awakening” partly by paying local Sunni leaders to ally themselves with the Americans and fight Al-Qaeda.

But Petraeus has rightly voiced skepticism about drawing comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan. History teaches that Kabul has only occasionally exerted much control over the country, whereas strong regimes have traditionally ruled from Baghdad. Restoring a central government tradition is surely easier than inventing one.

Petraeus’s counter-insurgency doctrine, which McChrystal had been struggling to implement, calls for winning over the locals, rather than just winning battles. It demands lots of troops and plenty of patience. Yet U.S. President Obama has promised to begin drawing down American forces from Afghanistan next summer, when a complete Canadian withdrawal is also slated to start.
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Police find 11 beheaded bodies in Afghanistan
By REUTERS
Article Link

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The bodies of 11 men, their heads cut off and placed next to them, have been found in a violent southern province of Afghanistan, a senior police official said on Friday.

A police patrol discovered the bodies on Thursday in the Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province, north of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, said police official Mohammad Gulab Wardak.

“This was the work of the Taliban. They beheaded these men because they were ethnic Hazaras and Shi’ite Muslims,” he said.

The Taliban were not immediately available for comment about the incident. The militants usually dispute claims by Afghan and foreign security forces.

Hazaras, who make up roughly 15 percent of Afghanistan’s population of around 30 million, largely follow the Shi’ite sect of Islam, a minority in Afghanistan, rather than the Sunni Muslim Taliban, who are also primarily ethnic Pashtuns.
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Afghanistan: Change of Personnel But Not of Strategy
Conference of Defence Associations' media round-up, June 25
http://www.cdaforumcad.ca/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1277484709/0#0

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Articles found June 26, 2010

Inside a crumbling Afghan coal mine
Friday, 25 June 2010 13:02 UK  By Quentin Sommerville BBC News, Pul-e Khumri, northern Afghanistan
Article Link

The coal wagon rattles along, descending sharply under the hills of Pul-e Khumri, deep into the mine.

At about 100m (328ft) down, the tunnel narrows and it is striking how primitive it all looks.

The roof is held up by bent and twisted wooden stakes which look like they were put in many hundreds of years ago rather than 60 years ago, when the mine was first dug.

It was the Soviets who first discovered Afghanistan's huge mineral wealth: coal, gold, silver, iron and copper ore, and more besides.
Little safety

More recent surveys say it could be worth trillions of dollars.
Mine at Pul-e Khumri Afghanistan has vast mineral resources

But decades of war mean that these vast natural resources have hardly been touched.

And in the Pul-e Khumri coal mine, nothing much has changed since the Soviets left.

Down inside the mine, at 300m below the hills, the miners scrape the coal from the rock, and fill the wagons.

Except for a ventilation fan there is no mechanical or electrical equipment. And there's little safety gear either - everybody is absolutely filthy.

The air is cool, until the shaft takes a turn, then the heat becomes intense.

It is very hard, physical, work but there is no shortage of coal. It glistens in the wall, at times it pours from the rock face.
'Dig by hand'

But Afghanistan has neither the means nor the money to get it out of the ground.
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US airstrike kills 2 in North Waziristan
By Bill RoggioJune 26, 2010
Article Link

Unmanned US strike aircraft killed two "militants" in an attack on a compound in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan in Pakistan.

A Predator or the more deadly Reaper fired a missile at a Taliban safe house in the Mir Ali area, killing 2 terrorists and wounding three more.

"It was a US drone strike," a local intelligence official in nearby Miramshah told Geo News. "The drone fired one missile on a house and the house was completely destroyed."

The town of Mir Ali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an Iraqi national who is also known as Abu Akash. He has close links to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. The Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar also have influence in the Mir Ali region.

Abu Kasha serves as the key link between al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council, and the Taliban. His responsibilities have expanded to assisting in facilitating al Qaeda's external operations against the West.
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Afghan minister vows no corruption over mineral riches
Article Link
(AFP) – 3 hours ago

LONDON — Afghanistan's mines minister has vowed total transparency in the awarding of contracts to exploit vast mineral wealth that could net the war-torn country 3.5 billion dollars a year by 2015.

Wahidullah Shahrani, in London to woo foreign investment in the Hajigak iron ore deposit in the mountains west of Kabul, told reporters Friday the government had taken steps to clean up its reputation for corruption.

It was committed to global mining standards and any revenue would be verified by independent international auditors "to help the government to achieve and to attain the highest degree of transparency", he said.

Shahrani estimated that revenues from mineral, oil and gas reserves -- including 1.6 billion barrels of oil in the Afghan-Tajik Basin -- could wean Afghanistan off aid by 2015.

"After 15 years, the revenue to the government treasury should be 3.5 billion dollars each year," he said.

The minister added: "That will be the time when Afghanistan will be declared a self-sufficient country in meeting all of its expenditure."

President Hamid Karzai said in January that the deposits could help one of the world's most impoverished nations become one of the richest, based on preliminary findings of the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

A recent study by US geologists found Afghanistan had reserves of valuable minerals, including lithium, iron, gold, niobium, mercury and cobalt, on a larger scale than previously believed, worth about a trillion dollars.
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Joint Canadian-Afghan operation leads to 10 arrests
  Article Link

The Canadian Press

Date: Friday Jun. 25, 2010 12:40 PM ET

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canadian and Afghan troops have wrapped up a successful military operation in the Panjwaii district without firing a single shot.

The operation, which ran from June 20-25 involved the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment Battlegroup along with Afghan security forces near the village of Chalghowr.

The mission was to push the Taliban out of the area and to keep the region under government control.

Maj. Mike Blanchette says the village of Chalghowr, about nine kilometres from Kandahar city, had recently seen a rise in insurgent activity which was targeting and terrorizing the local villagers.

He says 10 insurgents were arrested and caches of IEDs and related materials were found and disabled.
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Afghanistan: The 7/11 problem
Article Link
By Charles Krauthammer  Friday, June 25, 2010

President Obama was fully justified in dismissing Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The firing offense did not rise to the level of insubordination -- this was no MacArthur undermining the commander in chief's war strategy -- but it was a serious enough show of disrespect for the president and for the entire civilian leadership to justify relief from his post.

Moreover, choosing David Petraeus to succeed McChrystal was the best possible means of minimizing the disruption that comes with every change of command, and of reaffirming that the current strategy will be pursued with equal vigor.

The administration is hoping that Petraeus can replicate his Iraq miracle. This includes Democrats who, when Petraeus testified to Congress about the Iraq surge in September 2007, accused him of requiring "the willing suspension of disbelief" (Sen. Hillary Clinton) or refused to vote for the Senate resolution condemning that shameful "General Betray Us" newspaper ad (Sen. Barack Obama).

However, two major factors distinguish the Afghan from the Iraqi surge. First is the alarming weakness and ineptness -- to say nothing of the corruption -- of the Afghan central government. One of the reasons the U.S. offensive in Marja has faltered is that there is no Afghan "government in a box" to provide authority for territory that the U.S. military clears.
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Kyrgyzstan failure could boost Afghan drug trade, Islamist radicals
Article Link
The recent wave of ethnic violence is Kyrgyzstan's second violent upheaval in five years. A June 27 referendum could bolster the weak government, but lingering security problems may hamper the vote.

A wave of brutal ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, which officials now admit killed as many as 2,000 people, threatens to turn the mountainous Central Asian nation of 5 million into a failed state. A failed Kyrgyztan could destabilize its neighborhood, offer a target for the region's Islamist radicals, and provide a haven for narcotraffickers working the opium pipeline from Afghanistan, experts warn.

The crisis has also pointed up the limitations of the international community – especially Russia – when responding to civic emergencies in that volatile part of the world. While the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalalabad burned, sending almost 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks fleeing into Uzbekistan, Moscow dithered and then sent a few planeloads of humanitarian aid.

"People often frame the discussion about Central Asia in terms of competition between the big powers, but at this point it's not about geopolitical struggle: It's about who will take responsibility for providing regional security," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow foreign-policy journal. "I think just about everyone now hopes Russia will do it, but it is not at all clear that Russia has the capacity or the will to do much."
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Taliban kill 10 Pakistani troops, capture 40 more in northwest
By Bill Roggio June 16, 2010
Article Link

The Pakistani military was hit hard this week by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban operating in Pakistan’s lawless northwest. Ten Frontier Corps troops were killed and 40 more were captured during fighting in Bajaur and Mohmand, two regions where the military has declared victory in the recent past.

The Afghan Taliban captured 40 paramilitary Frontier Corps troops yesterday after clashes along the border between the Pakistani tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand. Major General Athar Abbas, Pakistan's top military spokesman, confirmed the attack and said the Afghan Taliban captured the troops after overrunning a Pakistani military outpost, Reuters reported. The Afghan Taliban released five of the troops at the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, while the 35 other troops are still thought to be in the custody of the Taliban.

The report of the Afghan Taliban capturing Pakistani troops took place just one day after the terror group denied receiving support from Pakistan's government and intelligence services. Interestingly, the Afghan Taliban have not harmed the Pakistani troops despite claiming that Pakistan supports the US in Afghanistan.

Several major Taliban groups, including the Haqqani Network and the Tora Bora Military Front, operate in Nangarhar and are known to shelter and train across the border in Mohmand and Bajaur. Anwarul Haq Mujahid, the commander of the Tora Bora Military Front, and Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the former leader of the Peshawar Regional Military Council, are both said to be in Pakistani custody.
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Pakistan Is Said to Pursue Foothold in Afghanistan
By JANE PERLEZ, ERIC SCHMITT and CARLOTTA GALL. Published: June 24, 2010
Article Link

Pakistan is exploiting the troubled United States military effort in Afghanistan to drive home a political settlement with Afghanistan that would give Pakistan important influence there but is likely to undermine United States interests, Pakistani and American officials said.

The dismissal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal will almost certainly embolden the Pakistanis in their plan as they detect increasing American uncertainty, Pakistani officials said. The Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, preferred General McChrystal to his successor, Gen. David H. Petraeus, whom he considers more of a politician than a military strategist, said people who had spoken recently with General Kayani.

Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.

In addition, Afghan officials say, the Pakistanis are pushing various other proxies, with General Kayani personally offering to broker a deal with the Taliban leadership.
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Gates, Mullen Comment on McChrystal Situation
Article Link
By Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2010 – Judgment and civilian control of the military were at the heart of President Barack Obama’s decision to accept Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s resignation as the NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.Video

Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both said they “fully support” Obama’s decision and his nomination of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to replace McChrystal.

“Like the president, I deeply regret the circumstances that made this decision necessary,” Gates said during a Pentagon news conference. “General McChrystal is one of the finest officers and warriors of his generation, who has an extraordinary record in leading the fight against some of this country’s most lethal enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Gates and Mullen said McChrystal showed poor judgment with regard to the Rolling Stone profile in which he and members of his staff were critical of administration officials. The situation “has made his continued service in that post and as a member of the national security team untenable,” Gates said. “The statements and attitudes reported in the news media are unacceptable under our form of government, and are inconsistent with the high standards expected of military leaders.”

The chairman said he was stunned when he read the Rolling Stone profile.

“I cannot excuse his lack of judgment with respect to the Rolling Stone article or a command climate he evidently permitted that was at best disrespectful of civilian authority,” Mullen said. “We do not have that luxury, those of us in uniform. We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed.”

Military personnel are and must remain a neutral instrument of the government, he said. Servicemembers must be accountable to and respectful of civilian leaders “no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office,” Mullen said.
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Afghanistan: Marjah battle not yet won
Thursday, 24 June 2010 21:19 UK
Article Link

Four months ago, foreign forces in Afghanistan launched a major operation to clear insurgents out of the district of Marjah, in Helmand province. It was a test of the US-led counter-insurgency strategy. But as the BBC's Ian Pannell found on his return to Marjah, the outcome has been far from decisive.
Marjah residents - June 2010 Many Marjah residents say jobs and security are still in short supply

They are interviewing for a new baker in Loy Chareh. The last man to do the job was forced to close down, despite reaping handsome profits from the hundreds of soldiers and police recently deployed to Marjah's district capital.

But the Taliban objected to what they saw as his collaboration by serving bread to "the enemy".

When they threatened to kidnap the baker's son, he closed the business and left town.
Force, fear and religion

Hundreds of other families have also been forced to leave because of the appalling security situation. The Afghan Red Crescent says it has processed more than 200 families in the last month.

Their stories vary but the theme is usually the same. Despite the injection of hundreds of millions of dollars, many residents of Marjah say security has deteriorated.
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Frustrated Canadian soldiers are killing time, more than Taliban
Strict rules of engagement restrict troop tactics: ‘Our mission is not to provide fire support. It is to be prepared to provide fire support’

Toronto Star, June 26
http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/afghanmission/article/828977--frustrated-canadian-soldiers-are-killing-time-more-than-taliban

PANJWAI DISTRICT, AFGHANISTAN—Seconds after the command “Guns! Guns! Guns!” crackled over the loudspeakers, Canadian soldiers were swarming around their howitzers, preparing to open fire.

One shouted coordinates, others cranked hard to get the long barrel up and precisely aimed. Another placed a hand-held computer over the tip of a 155 mm shell to feed blast instructions to a memory chip in the fuse.

Then they loaded the round, weighing close to 45 kilos, into the breech – putting one in the pipe, in soldier slang.

Gunner Alberto Basallo, 26, of Toronto, stood to the side of the hulking weapon with a rope lanyard limply cradled in his hands.

Yanking it tight would send a shell with a kill radius measured in metres hurtling through the desert air with the speed of a rifle shot.

Muscles taut, everyone waited as a forward observation officer’s request for artillery fire, against a group of insurgents spotted to the east, worked its way up the chain of command.

It is a ritual the unit knows too well: Rush to the brink of lethal force, stop short and wait while combat officers, sometimes even military lawyers, study the target from somewhere unseen, weigh the risks of injuring or killing civilians along with insurgents, and make the final call.

Adrenalin pumping, B Troop killed time by the big gun with anxious small talk.

One marvelled at how a camel spider, its body almost as big as a man’s thumb, with legs as long as fingers, tore apart a scorpion in a cardboard box death match the other night.

The loudspeaker interrupted. The chatter stopped.

“Unload,” ordered the gunners’ commander, Lieutenant Colin McConnell. “End of mission.”

Like air rushing out of a balloon, the unit’s spirit deflated.

“Same old show,” a soldier grumbled as he did the drudge work of standing down, for the nth time.

The gunners and bombardiers in B Troop, D Battery, of the 1st Royal Canadian Regiment battle group, are not hungry to kill. But they do want to win this war against an increasingly aggressive and inventive enemy.

And like many foreign troops putting their lives on the line in southern Afghanistan, Canadian soldiers often feel they’re fighting with one hand tied behind their back...

Petraeus to Modify Afghanistan Rules of Engagement, Source Says
Fox News, June 25
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/06/25/petraeus-modify-afghanistan-rules-engagement-source-says/

A military source close to Gen. David Petraeus told Fox News that one of the first things the general will do when he takes over in Afghanistan is to modify the rules of engagement to make it easier for U.S. troops to engage in combat with the enemy, though a Petraeus spokesman pushed back on the claim.

Troops on the ground and some military commanders have said the strict rules -- aimed at preventing civilian casualties -- have effectively forced the troops to fight with one hand tied behind their backs.

The military source who has talked with Petraeus said the general will make those changes. Other sources were not so sure, but said they wouldn't be surprised to see that happen once Petraeus takes command...

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US to replace Netherlands in Oruzgan
AAP, June 23
http://au.news.yahoo.com/a/-/latest/7446852/us-to-replace-netherlands-in-oruzgan/

The United States will replace the Netherlands as lead nation in Afghanistan's troubled Oruzgan province, heading up a multinational force that includes Australia.

The changes, announced by Defence Minister John Faulkner in Canberra on Wednesday, come as the 1800-strong Dutch task group prepares to withdraw from the region where Australian troops have operated since 2006.

The Dutch had provided a range of key support units including a hospital and artillery.

"The new structure will involve a US-led multinational effort under an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) flag, known as combined Team Oruzgan," Senator Faulkner told reporters.

The US has yet to reveal what forces it will deploy to Oruzgan to replace outgoing Dutch units, but Senator Faulkner said the Dutch role would be more than adequately met by the new Combined Team Oruzgan.

"Our Slovakian and Singaporean partners will continue their involvement in Oruzgan province," he said.

Australia now has about 1550 troops in Afghanistan, most in Oruzgan.

There are no plans to make major changes to the force.

That includes the Special Operations Task Group and teams training the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade.

Slovakia, a member of NATO, has some 300 engineer and infantry troops in Afghanistan, with an expectation its numbers will increase to about 500 [emphasis added].

Singapore has about 40 troops in Afghanistan. In the past it has deployed a surgical team and a weapons-locating radar team to Tarin Kowt.

An 800-strong helicopter battalion from the US 82nd Aviation Regiment is now operating from Tarin Kowt [emphasis added].

Senator Faulkner said Australia would take on a new responsibility by providing a civilian to head the Oruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team, a position previously held by the Dutch.

Australia would also take on an increased role in security for Australian civilian aid activity in the province.

A Year at War
One Battalion’s Wrenching Deployment to Afghanistan

NY Times, June 26
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/world/27battalion.html?ref=todayspaper

...
These are the faces of the new American surge in Afghanistan. For the next year, the First Battalion, 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., will be living, working and fighting in the fertile northern plains of Afghanistan, part of the additional 30,000 troops who will make up the backbone of President Obama’s plan for ending the nine-year war...

In the increasingly restive provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan [emphasis added], the 1-87 will be opening a new front and waging a different kind of war. Its job will be to train the local police, secure a vital highway to Central Asia and expand the shaky writ of President Hamid Karzai’s government in the north.

The soldiers will be living with the police in mud-walled outposts and conducting daily foot patrols alongside them into contested areas. The goal is to build public support for the police — no simple task, given its reputation for corruption and ineffectiveness.

Over the course of the next year, The New York Times will be visiting the battalion to chronicle its part in the surge and explore the strains of deployment on soldiers, many fresh out of basic training, others on their fifth combat tour in nine years.

If their mission cannot succeed in the relatively stable north, the policy seems unlikely to work anywhere in Afghanistan... 

The battalion, which began moving to Afghanistan in March, will be joined by late summer by an aviation brigade with transport and assault helicopters  [emphasis added] that will allow them to conduct missions deep into insurgent strongholds, which fuels talk of a possible offensive by fall...

Overture to Taliban Jolts Afghan Minorities
NY Times, June 26
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/world/asia/27afghan.html?ref=todayspaper

KABUL, Afghanistan — The drive by President Hamid Karzai  to strike a deal with Taliban leaders and their Pakistani backers is causing deep unease in Afghanistan’s minority communities, who fought the Taliban the longest and suffered the most during their rule.

The leaders of the country’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities, which make up close to half of Afghanistan’s population, are vowing to resist — and if necessary, fight — any deal that involves bringing members of the Taliban insurgency into a power-sharing arrangement with the government.

Alienated by discussions between President Karzai and the Pakistani military and intelligence officials, minority leaders are taking their first steps toward organizing against what they fear is Mr. Karzai’s long-held desire to restore the dominance of ethnic Pashtuns, who ruled the country for generations.

The dispute is breaking along lines nearly identical to those that formed during the final years of the Afghan civil war, which began after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989 and ended only with the American invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 100,000 Afghans died, mostly civilians; the Taliban, during their five-year reign in the capital, Kabul, carried out several large-scale massacres of Hazara civilians.

“Karzai is giving Afghanistan back to the Taliban, and he is opening up the old schisms,” said Rehman Oghly, an Uzbek member of Parliament and once a member of an anti-Taliban militia. “If he wants to bring in the Taliban, and they begin to use force, then we will go back to civil war and Afghanistan will be split.”

The deepening estrangement of Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun communities presents a paradox for the Americans and their NATO partners. American commanders have concluded that only a political settlement can end the war. But in helping Mr. Karzai to make a deal, they risk reigniting Afghanistan’s ethnic strife...

Afghanistan’s minorities — especially the ethnic Tajiks — have always been the most reliable American allies, and made up the bulk of the anti-Taliban army that the Americans aided following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

The situation is complicated by the politics of the Afghan Army, the centerpiece of American-led efforts to enable the Afghan military to one day take over. The ethnic mix of the Afghan Army is roughly proportional to the population, and the units in the field are mixed themselves. But non-Pashtuns are widely believed to do the bulk of the fighting [emphasis added].

There are growing indications of ethnic fissures inside the army. President Karzai recently decided to remove Bismullah Khan, the chief of staff of the Afghan Army, and make him the interior minister instead. Mr. Khan is an ethnic Tajik, and a former senior leader of the Northern Alliance, the force that fought the Taliban in the years before Sept. 11. Whom Mr. Karzai decides to put in Mr. Khan’s place will be closely watched...

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Challenges litter path to Afghan victory
[Local] Diplomacy key to securing Kandahar security

Canwest News, June 28, by Matthew Fisher
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Challenges+litter+path+Afghan+victory/3209969/story.html

"We've got be able to close this city down and trap the Taliban," was Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance's blunt message to half a dozen Canadian and U.S. colonels who were accompanying the commander of Task Force Kandahar on a road journey around the provincial capital last week.

But building more than a dozen checkpoints and small outposts on a tight timeline has proven hugely problematic in a city where civilians and government officials come out of the woodwork to claim ownership of the land every time military engineers show up to scope out potential sites.

Even if land-use agreements can be struck, there have been immense challenges finding enough concrete, dump trucks and cranes to carry out an ambitious project that NATO commanders believe is the key to finally bringing security to the city where both the coalition and the Taliban believe their eight-year war will soon be won or lost.

At the first stop on the journey, with Abdul Latif Ashna, the province's deputy governor, in tow to help establish who owned what, the general and the engineers were told that their preferred spot was claimed by a family and their second choice was disputed by an individual and the government. So the third option, across the road, was chosen because the government appeared to have clear title to it...

"This is what it is like everywhere we go," sighed Chief Warrant Officer Eli Gerhard, as the lanky U.S. army engineer climbed back into a Canadian armoured vehicle beside Capt. Lou Carielo, a U.S. navy SeaBee whose five battalions of navy and army construction engineers [emphasis added] have been "pulling out all the stops" to build checkpoints and bed down areas for the Afghan and U.S. combat forces that are to man them...

Britain will not defeat Taliban and should open talks, says head of Army
Britain and its allies will not defeat the Taliban with military force and should soon open peace talks with insurgents in Afghanistan, the head of the Army said yesterday.

Daily Telegraph, June 28
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/7857889/Britain-will-not-defeat-Taliban-and-should-open-talks-says-head-of-Army.html

General Sir David Richards said he believed the time had come for negotiations with Nato’s enemies to pave the way for the eventual withdrawal of troops.

The Chief of the General Staff said that while British forces would continue to “punish” the Taliban battle by battle, he was “less certain” that an overall victory could now be secured.

“There's always been a point at which you start to negotiate with each other," Gen Sir David said. In his “private view” there was “no reason why we shouldn't be looking at that sort of thing pretty soon,” he said.

His comments came soon after the death of another British serviceman in the conflict. The soldier, from 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, had been injured in an explosion in Helmand Province on June 10.

It was the 19th British fatality this month, raising the total close to last June’s record of 22. In all 308 British servicemen have now died in the Afghan campaign...

Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, Gen Sir David’s predecessor, told the BBC yesterday that the military must continue to put “maximum pressure” on the Taliban and have the “strategic patience” to clear them out of Afghanistan.

He urged ministers to provide an urgent boost in funding for troops on the ground, at the expense of future projects. “The here and now is staring us in the face,” he said.

He appeared to play down David Cameron’s suggestion that troops should leave in less than five years. He said the Taliban should not be given a timetable to "sit this out for five years, 10 years or whatever".

Yet Gen Sir David later said that while fighting must continue “to make sure that they don't think that we are giving up”, allied politicians and military chiefs should begin talking to the Taliban sooner rather than later...

Corruption Suspected in Airlift of Billions in Cash From Kabul
WSJ, June 25
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704638504575318850772872776.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLETopStories

KABUL—More than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the past three years, a sum so large that U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.

The cash—packed into suitcases, piled onto pallets and loaded into airplanes—is declared and legal to move. But U.S. and Afghan officials say they are targeting the flows in major anticorruption and drug trafficking investigations because of their size relative to Afghanistan's small economy and the murkiness of their origins.

Officials believe some of the cash, if not most, is siphoned from Western aid projects and U.S., European and NATO contracts to provide security, supplies and reconstruction work for coalition forces in Afghanistan. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization spent about $14 billion here last year alone. Profits reaped from the opium trade are also a part of the money flow, as is cash earned by the Taliban from drugs and extortion, officials say.

The amount declared as it leaves the airport is vast in a nation where the gross domestic product last year totaled $13.5 billion. More declared cash flies out of Kabul each year than the Afghan government collects in tax and customs revenue nationwide. "It's not like they grow money on trees here," said a U.S. official investigating corruption and Taliban financing. "A lot of this looks like our tax dollars being stolen. And opium, of course."

Most of the funds passing through the airport are being moved by often-secretive outfits called "hawalas," private money transfer businesses with roots in the Muslim world stretching back centuries, officials say.

The officials believe hawala customers who have sent millions of dollars of their money abroad include high-ranking officials and their associates in President Hamid Karzai's administration, including Vice President Mohammed Fahim, and one of the president's brothers, Mahmood Karzai, an influential businessmen...

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German Defence Minister questions role of Nato in Afghanistan war
Independent, June 29
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/german-defence-minister-questions-role-of-nato-in-afghanistan-war-2013056.html

Germany is arguing for the aims of Nato's operations in Afghanistan to be significantly scaled down and wants the alliance to adopt criteria to ensure that it never commits itself to a similarly open-ended mission in future.

This was the message conveyed by the German Defence Minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, during a lecture at a London think-tank yesterday.

He was speaking after two days of talks with British officials, at a time when operations in Afghanistan are at a crucial juncture and the alliance is engaged in a comprehensive review of its future.

In his remarks on Afghanistan, Dr zu Guttenberg, who is a key member of Angela Merkel's government and one of Germany's most popular politicians, spoke of the difficulties of "selling" the Afghan mission to a sceptical German public, a problem he noted was common to governments throughout the alliance. But in calling for strict criteria to govern Nato missions, he drew lessons from the Afghanistan experience and effectively called into question the wisdom of the whole project.

He set out four criteria, which – he said – should have to be met before Nato embarked on any military operation. First, action should be taken only if there is "great and imminent danger to another Nato member" [emphasis added, Bosnia? Kosovo? Macedonia? Anti-piracy?].

Second, there had to be "a clearly defined political goal". Third, an alliance military campaign should be mounted "only if there is no alternative", and finally, Nato should act "only if the capability for success was provided from the beginning" [emphasis added]. Arguably, none of these criteria were met when the Afghan operation was designated a Nato mission.

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Letter from Afghanistan: Timelines and a centralized Afghan govt. both suck
The Best Defense, June 29
http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/06/29/letter_from_afghanistan_timelines_and_a_centralized_afghan_govt_both_suck

A friend of mine on his 6th combat tour in recent years writes:

"It is violent. More violence than I have seen -- even beyond the 2006-2007 violence in Iraq. It is huge IEDs, serious, complex attacks with weapon systems, etc. We have one INF CO with 10 KIAs and we are into this tour just 3 weeks.

I read and see news about reconciliation, etc but at the tactical level that is not the case. There is no question that the TB has embedded itself in the countryside and shadow governance is at its best.

My take on this is that the TB see their position as one of strength and are reinforcing that strength in certain areas. Why? In my opinion, it is a race for strength to come to the negotiations table. It is Negotiations 101 in college.

We must get away from the verbiage of central governance and openly accept that Afghanistan is quintessentially a decentralized society that is further fractured by decades of conflict, complex tribal relationships and geographic terrain that prevents strong central governance -- particularly when there was never strong central governance in the past. Under the TB, past dynasties, and the Russians, there was never strong governance. Tribal justice reigned and the people were content.

However, we need to openly communicate to 'our world' that we must fight and gain control of the key roads to Kabul in order to open commerce and transportation and in parallel build the capacity and capability of the ANSF to secure and control those key arteries -- and let the rest of the country lie in rest. To uproot traditionalist and isolationist communities and extend governance outwards to harsh terrain can only shift focus away from what we can control -- the roads to Kabul...

...it is violent and I strongly believe we are in a phase that requires bargaining from a position of strength -- and that strength lies in those key lines of commerce or roads, not in the countryside...

The boys and girls here in uniform continue to amaze me. The hardest part seems to be for leaders to demonstrate faith in our mission; yet we try -- the recent hubris over senior military leaders under our civilian authority just made it all the harder. Americans need to believe that the threat to the U.S. and western world is real and we must stay the course focused on the above. It brings an acceptable balance, I believe."

German minister warns against Afghan 'end-date'
AFP, June 29
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gJNQ0zt8haq4wNU2etS5JtNUbl3w

Setting an end-date for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan would play into the hands of insurgents, Germany's defence minister said Tuesday, warning of a "tough summer."

"The least helpful thing for us -- both domestically and as an alliance -- is to set an end-date for departure," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told the Financial Times in an interview.

"That plays into the hands of those who wait for such a date. Instead, it is far better to focus on a starting date, when a process of handover of security to the Afghans can begin."

However zu Guttenberg also warned that the German government would be looking for positive results from the nine-year-old mission by the end of this year.

NATO member Germany is the third-biggest contributor of troops to Afghanistan after the United States and Britain, with 4,400 soldiers stationed in the relatively peaceful but increasingly restive north of the country...

Report Criticizes U.S. System for Evaluating Afghan Forces
NY Times, June 29
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/world/asia/29training.html?ref=todayspaper

The system the United States used for the past five years to rate the readiness of Afghanistan’s Army and police force was seriously flawed and there was no reliable way to measure any progress, according to a report by a special inspector general that was released on Monday.

Despite spending by the United States of $27 billion on the training of Afghan security forces since 2002, the report found that even top-rated Afghan units could not operate independently and that the ratings of many security forces overstated their actual capabilities. In addition, the report said some parts of the country were so dangerous that assessment teams could not rate the security forces in those areas at all.

“It basically has not been a dependable system on which to determine the capability of the Afghan national security forces,” Arnold Fields, who leads the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said in a telephone interview on Monday. The office is an independent auditor established by Congress.

The 50-page report, which details drug abuse, heavy attrition, corruption and illiteracy among the Afghan security forces, is the latest setback for the American effort in Afghanistan. Training the Afghan Army and police force to defend their country on their own is at the heart of President Obama’s strategy for the withdrawal of American troops, which is set to begin, if only in modest numbers, by July 2011.

Senior American commanders in Afghanistan, who were shown a draft copy of the report this spring, responded by changing the method of assessing Afghan security forces. The report’s author and senior auditor, Emily Rachman, said it was too soon to know if the new system was working.

Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American commander in charge of training the Afghan security forces, disputed the report’s findings, calling them out of date and inaccurate. In a June 10 letter that accompanied the report, General Caldwell wrote that the report was based on six-month-old data and that it did not “recognize the progress the Afghan national security leadership have made in reversing the adverse trends in the growth and professionalization” of the army and police.

But in another accompanying letter, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the No. 2 American commander in Afghanistan, called the report “accurate” and said that American commanders were already working on its recommended improvements, among them more consistent, systematic and rigorous evaluations...

NATO retools in a key mission: Building an Afghan police force
Washington Post, June 30
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/29/AR2010062904791.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

When Gen. David H. Petraeus begins his new job as top military commander in Afghanistan, his success will hinge in part on a group of green-uniformed Afghan recruits who recently practiced a mock ambush at the country's main police academy in Kabul.

As the men battled wooden props with fake weapons, an Italian instructor called out: "Remember, police are always the victims of the ambush, so they have to react to them." A few yards away, other trainees were searching a truck for a hidden bomb, the cause of many of the nearly 1,600 fatalities among Afghan police officers in the past two years.

The practice sessions were deemed successful, but the crucial test comes weeks from now when the training academy's June graduates take their positions in districts around the country. Based on past performance, at least a quarter will quit or die in the first 12 months.

Plugging the gaps with competently trained police officers -- and persuading them to stay -- is a challenge that has frustrated each of Petraeus's predecessors. But the task has taken on renewed urgency in recent months as NATO prepares to begin drawing down its forces next year.

The alliance is shaking up existing training programs and adding new incentives in an attempt to turn around what has been one of the biggest, most enduring disappointments of the nearly nine-year-old war: the inability to transform the country's 90,000 police officers into a professional force capable of assuming control of local security.

NATO officials touted the changes in advance of the release of an audit by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. The report, released Monday, criticized NATO for overstating the percentage of Afghan security forces -- including police and army -- that are fully capable of performing their missions. The report also said training efforts suffer from a shortage of trainers and mentors.

"The old system was broken. It just didn't work," said Marine Col. Gregory T. Breazile, spokesman for NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, which oversees police and army training. While better instruction is yielding a stronger Afghan army, he said, the police units responsible for local security have been until now "just a mess [emphasis added]."..

The Road to Kabul Runs Through Islamabad
Pakistani leaders are desperate to broker a deal with Karzai and the Haqqani network. Petraeus understands why.
(usual copyright disclaimer)
WSJ, June 30, by Najam Sethi
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704103904575336551084011556.html

Lahore, Pakistan

Last weekend at the G-20 meeting in Toronto, President Barack Obama said that "conversations between the Afghan government and the Pakistan government" that might promote a political settlement in Afghanistan "are a useful step." He added that such conservations should be viewed "with skepticism, but also with openness." So it's official: The road to Kabul likely runs through Islamabad.

The first thing Americans need to understand is that Pakistan is deeply committed to the outcome in Afghanistan. That's because from the perspective of military leaders in Islamabad, India's expanding military capability and regional influence in Afghanistan is a constant threat. Even though India professes to have peaceful intentions, Pakistan's senior military officials believe that "intentions could change at any time."

According to a top military official, Pakistan needs a "stable, peaceful and friendly" Afghanistan—not neutral, but "friendly." This is because India, which is seen as a destabilizing force in Pakistan's Baluchistan province and towards whom the Karzai regime is heavily tilted, cannot be allowed to establish a hegemonic foothold in Kabul. In the past, secular-communist or pro-India regimes in Kabul like Mr. Karzai's have refused to accept the Durand Line as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and have coveted Pakistan's Pashtun areas. This doesn't sit well with Pakistanis...

It's no wonder that Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and head of Interservices Intelligence Directorate, Gen. Shuja Pasha, have been flitting in and out of Kabul recently. They're desperate to broker a deal between beleaguered Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Haqqani Taliban network [emphasis added] that straddles the border between Pakistan's north Waziristan tribal region and Afghanistan...

...Gen. Kayani argues that the solution lies in bringing elements of the Taliban back into government, isolating al Qaeda, and allowing Pakistan to help train Afghani intelligence and security personnel to assist with that country's state-building efforts.

Nothing less than a friendly Afghanistan will please Islamabad
[emphasis added].

Can Pakistan deliver? The clock is ticking for both Gen. Kayani and Gen. Petraeus. The former is scheduled to retire in October. The latter has to urgently contend with President Obama's skepticism of military solutions to the war, and the American public's rising disquiet with the effort. Stay tuned.

Mr. Sethi is editor-in-chief of the Friday Times and Dunya TV in Lahore Pakistan.

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Articles found June 30, 2010

Military restricts use of vehicles vulnerable to IEDs
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON — Top commanders in Afghanistan have further tightened restrictions on the use of vulnerable vehicles after roadside bomb attacks that have killed eight U.S. soldiers since late May.

The new rules come as attacks from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have spiked to record levels and insurgents create ever more lethal bombs.

One of those bombs killed five soldiers June 7 when it destroyed their Humvee in eastern Afghanistan.

The Humvee's fatal flaw, a 2008 Pentagon inspector general's report found, is that its "flat bottom, low weight, low ground clearance and aluminum body" leave it vulnerable to IEDs buried in roads. Military officials had known of that weakness since 1994, according to the report.

At the time of the attack in June, troops needed at least a lieutenant colonel to approve leaving a protected base in a Humvee, according to Maj. Patrick Seiber, an Army spokesman for forces in eastern Afghanistan.

This month, the commander of coalition forces in the region raised the authorization for Humvee use to the level of colonel, Seiber said in an e-mail.

The change by Maj. Gen. John Campbell, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, had been discussed for some time, Seiber said, and was not simply a reaction to the attack June 7.
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This Week at War: The Afghanistan Vortex
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Gen. David Petraeus now has the unenviable task of salvaging the campaign in Afghanistan. In his announcement of Petraeus's transfer, U.S. President Barack Obama stated that there will be no change in the campaign's strategy. With the president reaffirming his administration's analysis of the situation and its strategy for solving the problem, the implication is that success will come with continuity in management, better cooperation among the players, and more resources.
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8 militants killed in gun battle at Afghan airport
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CTV.ca News Staff  Wed. Jun. 30 2010

Militants tried in vain to storm an air field used by Afghan and international forces on Wednesday, using a car bomb to created a distraction and then storming the entrance.

A 30-minute gun battle then ensued with NATO forces, with the militants using light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

When it was over, eight insurgents had been killed. An Afghan solider and one international service member were wounded in the fighting, NATO said.

"They were not able to breach the perimeter. They were fought off by a combination of Afghan and coalition security forces," German Army Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for NATO, told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday.

The incident happened at an airfield on the outskirts of Jalalabad city, in the country's east, near the border with Pakistan.

"This base is guarded by international and Afghan forces," CTV's Janis Mackey Frayer told Canada AM early Wednesday.
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UN vehicle shot in Afghan capital, driver hurt
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The Associated Press

Date: Tuesday Jun. 29, 2010 6:17 AM ET

KABUL, Afghanistan — A UN vehicle was shot up at a busy traffic circle in Afghanistan's capital Tuesday, and at least one person was hurt, witnesses said.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw a white pickup truck with a blue UN logo painted on the side: Its windows were shattered and blood was spattered inside the truck. Police flooded the area around Massoud circle — an intersection near the U.S. Embassy and an American military base.

Two people were in the vehicle, but only the driver was hit, said a man who saw the shooting. He only gave one name — Mirajudin.

Neither UN nor police officials could immediately be reached for comment
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Afghan forces woefully unprepared: report
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CTV.ca News Staff

Date: Tue. Jun. 29 2010 3:44 PM ET

A damning new report says the U.S. has vastly overestimated the capability of Afghan military and police units, calling into question NATO's strategy for winning the war and sending international troops home.

The report by U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Arnold Fields, is the first objective look at the military's rating system, which has been used to judge the effectiveness of the Afghan troops.

A mere 23 per cent of Afghan soldiers and 12 per cent of police can work unsupervised, the report says.

The findings of the report are in strict contrast to a number of upbeat statements by senior military personnel on the effectiveness of the Afghan units.

Auditors also found extremely high levels of absenteeism, corruption, drug abuse and illiteracy among Afghan forces.
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NATO, civilians give two accounts of fatal operation
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The Associated Press

Date: Monday Jun. 28, 2010 12:02 PM ET

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — NATO said Monday that a Taliban commander was among several armed people killed during a search operation in Kandahar, but residents claimed the troops killed eight innocent civilians, including two elderly men.

NATO said in a statement that coalition and Afghan troops went to a compound outside Kandahar city where they immediately came under hostile fire. The troops returned fire in self-defense and killed several armed men, including Taliban commander, Shyster Uhstad Khan, who was involved in the purchase and distribution of roadside bombs, NATO said.

The coalition said the combined force also detained an individual who was suspected of having direct contact with senior Taliban leaders in Kabul and facilitated the delivery of explosive devices to the capital.

Residents describe the search operation differently in Kandahar, where Afghan and coalition forces are ramping up security in hopes of driving out insurgents, gaining the loyalty of residents and bolstering the Afghan government's control of the Taliban stronghold.

Mohmodullah, a relative of some of the victims, told The Associated Press at the scene that eight civilians were killed when troops searched two homes around 2 a.m. Monday near Bagh-e-Pul.

"The NATO force climbed over our wall and shot two of my brothers and my father," said Mohmodullah, who uses one name. "They did the search operation and they didn't find anything in our home so who gave them the authority to do it? If they were Taliban, they need to show us proof. Otherwise, they should be punished for it."

Mohammad Shah Farooqi, head of the investigation unit of the Kandahar police, agreed, saying, "We have no records on these people so it seems to me that they are locals or innocent people." But he said he was still working on a final investigative report to send to his superiors.

Also Monday, NATO reported killing a local leader of the Haqqani group, a Taliban faction with close ties to al Qaeda, in an airstrike the night before in Khost province of eastern Afghanistan. The leader, known only as Satar, was responsible for planting roadside bombs in the area, NATO said.
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Envoy agrees with Afghanistan plan
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Foreign forces must meet obligations before Afghans take control of security

By Jennifer Campbell, The Ottawa Citizen June 30, 2010
Afghan Ambassador Jawed Ludin says the warning issued by G8 leaders last week that Afghan President Hamid Karzai must provide detailed plans on how -- within a five-year period -- Afghans will take responsibility for their own security while also eliminating corruption will not be a problem for his president.

The idea that foreign troops want to withdraw by then is understood, Ludin said. "This is completely consistent with Mr. Karzai's own promise in his inauguration speech after his election last fall, and also with the expectations of the Afghan people who want to take responsibility sooner rather than later," Ludin said.

He stressed, however, that the achievement of this goal would not just depend on Karzai and the people's willingness, but also "to the extent that the international community is prepared to give us the tools whereby we can take this responsibility."
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Captured: Chris Hondros in Afghanistan
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Posted Jun 29, 2010

Chris Hondros has been covering international conflicts since the late 1990s. Hondros spent years photographing the Iraq War and its consequences for both U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians. In Afghanistan, he has spent years accompanying troops on missions, documenting U.S. military hospitals in Afghanistan and the people who live in the regions of conflict. Below is a collection of Hondros’ photographs from late 2009 to the present.
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Afghanistan: “A Winnable War”
Conference of Defence Associations' media update, June 30
http://www.cdaforumcad.ca/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1277918625/0#0

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Articles found July 22, 2010

Canada night watch keeps eye out for Taliban
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By Mike Patterson, AFP July 21, 2010

Silhouettes of jagged, rocky mountains frame the horizon under a moonless Afghan sky as troops from a Canadian reconnaissance squadron begin their nightly watch for militants.

The Milky Way arcs overhead as patrol commander Sergeant Raymond Woodcroft, of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, takes over a surveillance position at a observation post, which keeps an eye on nearby roads and fields stretching across the dusty plain in a corner of restive Kandahar province.

The post is one of a few in Panjwayi district watching out for militant activity ahead of a push further west into the Taliban heartland.

The district, about 35 kilometres (20 miles) southwest of Kandahar city, has been hit by several bombs, one of which killed two Canadian medics on June 26.

Woodcroft scans across the irrigated fields, interspersed with clusters of trees and mudbrick compounds and buildings used to dry grapes into raisins.

A previous patrol found numerous makeshift bombs hidden in walls.

"The main concern for us is to make sure there's no one digging in the roads in the area," said Woodcroft.

"Now they know we're watching everywhere, we've got every area pretty covered up, so they know if they try anything they'll get a flare up in the air to warn them.
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Canada getting ahead of itself in race to escape Kandahar
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Campbell Clark

Ottawa — From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Jul. 21, 2010 10:47PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 22, 2010 8:38AM EDT

Everyone wants to leave Afghanistan, starting soon. So the international community, including Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, rushed to endorse an Afghan government plan to take more control of the country and its security. But Canadian policies don’t fit the plan.

The whole theme of Tuesday’s Kabul conference was exit strategy, and its conclusions argued for something to which Canada hasn’t yet committed: a post-2011 role for training Afghan troops. Politicians who want hundreds of Canadian military trainers to stay in Afghanistan after next summer, both Conservatives and Liberals, believe the conference gives that plan new impetus.

The headline-grabber from Tuesday’s Kabul conference was the international seal of approval on a plan for Afghanistan to start taking the lead on security next year, and be in charge of the whole country by 2014.

British Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t wait a day before saying that means his country can probably start drawing down troops next year; his Defence Minister had just announced British troops will be out by 2014.
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