Our troops in Kandahar cost 1.3M a day.
Fire! Artillery shells go into service at $150,000 a shot.
Why the Afghan Taleban feel confident
By David Loyn
In Afghanistan, the Taleban now claim to have influence across most of the country and have extended their area of control from their traditional heartland in the south.
They are able to operate freely even in Wardak Province, neighbouring the capital Kabul, as a BBC camera crew who filmed them recently found.
One of their commanders in Wardak, Mullah Hakmatullah, said they do not control the roads nor the towns, but they hold the countryside and have increasing support because of the corruption of the administration.
"The administration do not solve people's problems. People who go there with problems have to give a lot of money in bribes and then they get stuck there," Mullah Hakmatullah said.
'Much better now'
Support from villagers is essential to their ability to continue operations through the winter months.
Local people said that they were willing to help the Taleban because they supported their brand of justice.
In one of the villages under their control, people willing to come forward and talk to the BBC said that security was much better now that the Taleban were there.
One of them, Gul Wazir, said that the Taleban were prepared to try to resolve small problems.
"Even if it's a minor thing, the Taleban will sort it out. Before (when the government of President Karzai was in control) it was not like that. They did not pay attention to us and the poor people were ignored."
The Taleban group showed off weapons, including a heavy machine gun they said they had captured from government forces.
They test-fired them in broad daylight, apparently not fearing retaliation from government nor international forces.
They were armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Nearby the burnt-out wreck of a government vehicle was left from a recent confrontation with Afghan national forces.
Orders from the south
The overall military commander of the Taleban in Wardak, Mullah Rashid Akhond, claimed to have 2,000 active fighters.
He said that he was operating an administrative system with orders coming from Kandahar in the south, just like during the days of the Taleban government that fell in 2001.
He said that the Taleban were running their own courts. "People are taking their cases away from the government courts and coming to us. Now there is no robbery in our area."
Many of the suicide bombers who go to Kabul come from this area, just an hour's drive away. Mullah Akhond justified them, saying that most of the attacks are now carried out by Afghans themselves, not foreign fighters.
Six years ago the Taleban found it hard to recruit. They put their increasing success now down to official corruption, the slow pace of reconstruction and the presence of foreign troops.
Speaking in London, the former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said that the rise of the Taleban was caused by weakness in the central government.
"I think it is a major threat. What moves people is not ideology, but an unstable environment among the existing networks of clans, tribes, aggrieved people, drug traffickers, opportunists, and unemployed youth.
"It is the kind of problem that can be solved only with the establishment of good governance."
Mr Jalali is a potential presidential candidate in next year's election, as President Karzai faces increasing international pressure to deliver swift results.
But if anything, the battle for Afghanistan is harder now than it was after the Taleban were first forced out of power in Kabul.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/02/01 13:02:31 GMT
Corruption eats away at Afghan governmentthe corruption that is rooted deeply in the Western-backed Afghan government and its appointed officials.
When Afghans are forced by uniformed men to pay large sums of cash in order to travel safely on provincial roads, as they are daily, when their colleagues are arrested and beaten in exchange for ransom payments, when they learn that people pay $150,000 for the job of district police chief in parts of Kandahar province, when entire aid shipments or thousands of police salaries are seized for private use, when world-record heroin exports take place under police watch, everyone in Afghanistan knows where to look.
On heavily guarded streets on the edge of every Afghan city and in the centre of Kabul are the large, wedding-cake houses, surrounded by walls and guards and filled with luxury goods, built in a style popularly known as "narcotecture."
Inside live the senior officials with top roles in Afghanistan's government, some of whom have amassed fortunes of hundreds of millions of dollars. Some are governors of provinces, like Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid, reported by Canadian diplomats to have committed torture. Some are top cabinet ministers.
Others wield power through family ties to the President. The man considered by many observers to be the most powerful and feared figure in the Afghan south is not the Kandahar governor but rather Ahmed Wali Karzai, appointed by his brother, President Hamid Karzai, to represent Kandahar province in Kabul.
A U.S. government document leaked to ABC News two years ago accused him of being the central figure in the region's vast opium-export market, which produces the majority of the world's opium and heroin. This week, senior U.S. and British officials said in interviews that they believe he enables, and likely profits from, opium shipments across southern Afghanistan to Iran, and prevents opium crops of those who support him from being eradicated. He has repeatedly denied such accusations.
Huge fortunes are being earned by many of these officials, Western sources said. It is customary to charge a 20-per-cent commission on imports or exports brought through their provinces, including opium exports valued at more than $800-million. That means hundreds of millions can be earned each year in a country where many families live on less than a dollar a day.
And there are other avenues for corruption. Last fall, U.S. military officials discovered that in one region of eastern Afghanistan only a third of the 3,300 police officers supposedly serving in the region actually existed; the salaries from the 2,100 "ghost officers" were going straight into the pockets of politicians and senior police figures. This practice is thought to be commonplace across Afghanistan, with as many as 60 to 80 per cent of officers in some districts being "ghosts."
Indeed, Western-funded programs designed to end corruption can have the opposite effect. British officials said that the governor of Kandahar has used poppy-eradication funds, designed to eliminate the opium-poppy crops of wealthy traffickers at the top of the drug economy, to target his political enemies, usually people who are not on the list for eradication.
"There's a lot of belief among Afghans that when [the West] turns off the taps, it's going to go back to 1989, so these warlords are building war chests, big piles of money for guns, tanks, whatever," a British official said.
Getting to the bottom of the corruption in Afghanistan is nearly impossible. The country does not have conspiracy or racketeering laws, which would allow prosecutors to investigate them. Nor does it have more than a rudimentary banking system, so that ill-gotten funds are difficult to find. U.S. officials said, however, that some moves are being made in this direction, and some senior officials may soon be placed on no-fly lists.
Western officials are becoming increasingly frustrated with the power of such well-connected strongmen as larger areas of Afghanistan fall under Taliban control and the millions in Western spending produces few signs of a sustainable economy.
When Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier made the mistake of telling reporters in Kandahar city last month that Canada had been pressuring President Karzai to have Mr. Khalid, the Kandahar governor, removed from office, it represented the tip of an iceberg of diplomatic and political pressure being put on Mr. Karzai by Western governments.
Quote:mr. bernier was promptly chastised by the canadian government for speaking the truth !!!
"It's our biggest single problem, bigger than the Taliban, bigger than poverty," a senior British official said.
Mr. Karzai's close relationship with some warlords and distrusted leaders, possibly including members of his own family, has been a well-known problem since he became President in 2004. But now, as jockeying begins toward a 2009 presidential election and Western officials are increasingly anxious to bring stability to Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai's acquiescence to violent and deeply corrupt men is increasingly considered unsustainable.
"I think there is an issue of corruption in this government, accepted by everybody, to include President Karzai," General Dan McNeill, the U.S. commander of the NATO coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said in an interview. "Corruption, in my view, is the symptom, the disease is greed, and that works against what we're trying to do here."
But in the run-up to the election, President Karzai appears increasingly unwilling to take action.
"Unfortunately, the corruption now has reached even the highest-ranking elected officials, and that is becoming a constant problem. What I see in Afghanistan is a weak and corrupt government, and the Afghan people have to deal with this, not the international community," said Yunus Quanooni, the Speaker of Afghanistan's parliament and a potential presidential challenger. "The President sees them as an instrument for re-election himself, so he doesn't dare touch them."
And when he does touch them, it can be in unhelpful ways.
Last summer, Haji Zahir, the commander of the Nangarhar province border police, was caught shipping 123.5-kilograms of heroin across the Pakistani border. He was removed from his post, but never charged.
In March, after years of international pressure, Mr. Karzai ousted Asadullah Wafa from his job as governor of Helmand province amid allegations that he had profited from that province's enormous opium exports and enabled large-scale organized crime. Mr. Wafa had expelled two British officials from the province after they had launched a program to get Taliban leaders to surrender. After being fired, Mr. Wafa was promptly appointed last month to a new position: head of the complaints department in the national-security branch of Mr. Karzai's office.
Indeed, the current pressure by Canadian and other officials to remove the Kandahar governor from office seems almost identical to a similar campaign, begun five years ago, to get his predecessor, the former mujahedeen fighter Gul Agha Sherzai, removed from the same office.
Mr. Sherzai had admitted to receiving $1-million a week from his share of import duties and from the opium trade, and was considered violent and dangerous.
He was immediately made governor of U.S.-led Nangarhar province in the east, where U.S. officials say he has been a useful ally in ending opium-poppy production and establishing law and order. U.S. officials said that they believe he has a net worth of $300-million from his time running Kandahar, but that his level of corruption is fairly minor now. Nevertheless, they hope to see him gone some day.
"I think you're going to see less and less of the Sherzai-type figure; he's a transitional type," said Alison Blosser, an official with the U.S. State Department involved with provincial reconstruction in Nangarhar.
Indeed, many of the current corruption problems date back to the early months of the Afghan war, in 2001, when U.S. Army Special Forces and CIA agents gave millions of dollars to regional fighters such as Mr. Sherzai to battle the Taliban, and then, after the Taliban had been ousted, allowed them to become the de facto government.
They displaced both the traditional system of tribal elders and the emerging national government. Mr. Karzai relied on them to extend his influence beyond his family's own tribe.
Despite their alarm at some of these developments, officials from the United States, Britain and Canada all say they are maintaining their support for Mr. Karzai. This is partly because they see no viable alternative. None of the dozen-odd prospective presidential challengers seem strong enough to hold the country together.
And it is also because, certainly in the case of Canadian officials, they believe that some progress is being made toward installing non-criminal leadership in key branches of the government, even if it's happening slowly.
Much of the Canadians' faith is in the newly created Independent Directorate of Local Governance, or the IDLG, which was created by Mr. Karzai to oversee the appointment of regional and state leaders.
Since it was created last August, the IDLG has fired the governors of eight of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. And in an interview at his Kabul office, IDLG head Barna Karim, who is widely respected by Western and Afghan leaders, said that he hopes to see at least six more governors replaced in the near future.
But his office only has the authority to recommend changes to Mr. Karzai, and the President has lately seemed less interested in ousting officials, perhaps because of the looming election.
"We just have to curb them as much as we can, slowly and surely," Mr. Karim said. "In those provinces where we changed governors, it wasn't easy."
And some officials are still considered untouchable. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President's brother in Kandahar, is said to be beyond the reach of any government body.
Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, the Interior Minister, said in an interview that he does not consider the Karzais to be appropriate subjects of investigation. "The President of Afghanistan has sent an official decree to all the offices of the Afghan government, stating that we should not spare any members of his family from investigation," he said, adding that he therefore did not consider it necessary to look into any such allegations.
Afghan soap opera dispute deepens
The Afghan government has asked prosecutors to investigate two private TV stations that have not complied with a ban on Indian soap operas.
The authorities say the popular Indian programmes conflict with Afghanistan's Islamic values.
However, Tolo TV and Afghan TV say the ban is illegal.
The Indian serials often show men and women together and feature what some Afghans consider to be immodestly-dressed women.
The ministry of information and culture said it had referred the two stations to the attorney general.
They were supposed to have stopped running the programmes on Tuesday.
"Tolo has not stopped the broadcast of the said series by the set date and Afghan TV, despite repeated telephone contacts, has not officially assured they would stop its series," the ministry said in a statement.
Tolo has been told to pull two Indian soaps, Tulsi and Kasuati Zindagi Kay.
Afghan TV has been told to pull Thief of Baghdad.
Two other stations are believed to have complied with the ban which was announced last month.
Conservative Muslim clerics in the country argue that the serials, which show dramatic and passionate love stories featuring the elite of Bombay, are immoral.
They often show men and women together, and what some consider to be "immodestly" dressed women.
President Hamid Karzai has given his support to the ban: "These television programmes, which contradict the daily life of Afghans and which our people do not accept, must be stopped."
Afghan law forbids publishing material "contrary to the principles of Islam", and clerics argue that the soap operas fall into that category.
Quote:[i assume that if the soap operas would show corruption by government officials , they would be considered acceptable ]
Tolo TV first showed the soap operas in 2005.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/05/01 16:29:54 GMT
$1.3 million a day (for room and board), that is what it costs Canadian taxpayers to have troops in Afghanistan. It is mind-boggling to see our money being wasted for no good reason.
Solving Afghanistan's poppy problem
The drug war yields the wrong kinds of casualties I attended a press briefing by Colonel Abdullah Talwar of the Afghan National Police, whom the Americans have placed in charge of stopping the poppy harvest. Midway through, he offered a little anecdote: "Last week, I saw a man sitting next to his poppy crop and crying," he said. "He told me that he'd been paid in advance for his poppy, and how can he possibly pay it back now that it's been eradicated? He told me, 'I have no choice, but I have a 14-year-old daughter who I have to give to a smuggler as payment.' "
Mr. Talwar then continued talking of quotas and goals. Finally, someone stopped him and asked what had happened to the poor farmer and his daughter. He shrugged: No idea. Like countless other failed farmers, the guy presumably had given up his daughter for chattel slavery or prostitution.
"I did my job, I fulfilled my duties and responsibilities," the big, bearded cop explained. Those duties involved only eliminating the poppy crop. "There's no place for growing poppy in our province," he said. "It is my job to stop it."
Quote:swimilarly , canadian troops also have been told by their commanders NOT to deprive the poor farmers of their only income : the poppy crop ; of course , without official sanction by the canadian government
But if a spiral of violence and misery is to be avoided, it's better to trust the economics: Get the warlords out of power and open the roads, and poppy fields will disappear on their own.
Opium isn't a root problem; it's a tragic side effect.
(meaning : DON'T TOUCH THE POWERFUL !)
TheStar.com - SpecialSections - Afghanistan's Untouchables
Quote:300 CHARGED - 0 DETAINED
In a land where corruption is king and justice a mug's game, Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet has found that trying to enforce the law produces only frustration after frustration
May 10, 2008
KABUL-In the past 20 months, Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet has arrested some 300 top-echelon Afghan officials and charged them with corruption.
"Ask me how many of them are in jail."
How many of them are in jail?
There is the chronic malady of Afghanistan in a nutshell. Justice is a mug's game, the rule of law more useless than the paper it's written on.
Not a single authority in the nation, right up into the president's office, has the clout to oppose a powerful alignment of forces that are a law unto themselves: Warlords, ministers, parliamentarians, the military, police, tribal elders and wealthy entrepreneurs who are making a killing in the free-for-all of multi-billion-dollar international aid, a tsunami of cash that has made tycoons out of two-bit larcenists and filchers.
"It is very frustrating," sighs Sabet, running long fingers through a cascading white beard, shaking his leonine head.
He looks like Moses, but his word is not quite law in these parts.
"In theory, I have the power to arrest anyone in this country if he's involved in corruption. But in practice, there are some people who are above the law, unfortunately, and I cannot bring them to justice.
"I call them The Untouchables."
They are in the central government, the provincial governments, the district centres, police stations, army garrisons, the banks, the aid agencies - not a sector of Afghan society is without contamination of corruption.
Even, Sabet admits with a wince, inside his own department.
"I have not even been able to clean my own house," he told the Star in an astonishingly frank interview this week.
"We have a lot of dirty, dishonest prosecutors."
He has lived in Montreal - a wife and three grown children still reside there - spending years in the comparative law department of McGill University before being tapped by the United Nations for a post in post-Taliban Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai appointed him attorney general just under two years ago.
There are some - in the diplomatic community and the media - who have pointed an accusatory finger at Sabet himself.
Last month, during his formal "accountability to the people program" session - a kind of public performance report card - Sabet burst into tears when a journalist inquired about the posh mansion he's building in Kabul's most deluxe neighbourhood, an enclave he'll share with some of Afghanistan's richest drug kingpins.
Sabet - believed by some to covet the presidency - never really did provide an answer, launching into an oration about his office's inability to arrest the super-powerful violators of Afghan law.
The most notorious case involves Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, who flagrantly ignored a warrant issued for his arrest after the Uzbek warlord allegedly attacked a rival - head of the Afghan Turk Association - in his Kabul home recently, beating him so badly that the man was hospitalized.
"At least I was able to suspend him from his job," Sabet told the Star, meekly. "So I have been successful ... a little bit."
Dostum had been chief of staff to the Afghan army commander, a symbolic position.
At the accountability session, 63-year-old Sabet spoke of corruption in a number of ministries, claiming those ministers had secured release of the accused.
He vilified the governors of several provinces for corruption and embezzlement, heaping abuse particularly on the governor of Nangarhar province, an Ultra-Untouchable who Sabet says has misappropriated about $6 million intended for reconstruction projects.
Among those Sabet charged in the last year were deputy governors, chief provincial financial officials, judges, and "a good number of police generals."
All of them waltzed, either buying their way out of jail or using influential friends and tribal affiliations to secure unfettered release.
"It makes me crazy," Sabet mumbles.
Venal parliamentarians are even greasier to the touch, utterly beyond his reach. "Parliamentarians are protected by the constitution."
The system demands that before a parliamentarian can even be charged, the prosecutor must send a letter detailing the allegation to the minister of parliamentarian affairs.
That minister then informs the appropriate house - lower or upper - which in turn votes on whether to proceed with an investigation. "But so far that has never happened."
So Sabet takes his triumphs from the "smaller fish" that have been nabbed and convicted in trials held behind closed doors. Few are allowed to witness the incompetence of jurisprudence as practised in Afghanistan.
This, says Sabet, is his primary focus - elevating the quality of prosecutors and judges.
He has about 2,800 prosecutors around the country but few of them have any real legal training, especially in the provinces. In Khost, for instance, out of 74 prosecutors, only four are genuine lawyers, the rest just laymen.
"We had war in this country for 30 years. Educated prosecutors were either forced to leave or they retired. Now, we do not have many educated people to work as prosecutors."
At the Rome conference on the rule of law in Afghanistan a year ago, Afghanistan was promised funding specifically for this purpose.
It hasn't materialized. Italy, which was given the task of working with the justice sector, has taken precisely one candidate - Sabet's own secretary - for legal training in Rome.
Ideally, Sabet would like to implement a three-pronged justice-training program. Long-term: Sending as many prospects to Western universities for solid legal training. Mid-term: A one-year intensive course in Kabul for newly graduated lawyers. Short-term: A two-month crash course for non-lawyer prosecutors from the provinces, "so they can at least learn the basics of law, investigation, collecting evidence."
So far, there isn't the money for any of that.
"The international community makes a lot of promises. But nobody has come up with anything real."
The Americans, however, have indicated they will airlift "some" bright lawyer candidates to the U.S. for training, soon.
They also pay the $27,000 monthly rent on the attorney general's building where Sabet takes petitions from the public three days a week.
In the meantime, Sabet will continue trying to weed out the worst offenders from his own legion of corrupt prosecutors.
"We have corruption in all our law enforcement agencies - police, judges, prosecutors. Now, I would not use this as an excuse for their behaviour, but my prosecutors make only $60 a month.
"That's less than you would pay for a week's parking in Toronto."
Gates wins no promises on Asia trip for help on Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Tue Jun 3, 9:10 AM ET
SEOUL, South Korea - Defense Secretary Robert Gates' Asia trip produced no public commitment from other nations to help the U.S. in the war on terror, especially in Afghanistan.
With many countries under pressure at home to withdraw troops out of harm's way, Gates was forced to change strategies from a similar trip he took a year ago. This time his appeal was more subtle and delivered in private.
At meetings with Asian leaders, during an international security conference in Singapore and in visits to Thailand and Korea, Gates floated some ideas: Maybe the French could send special operations forces, or others could send trainers or medical aid.
"As best I can recall I asked everybody," Gates said, describing his message as "for those who are already engaged, can you do more? And for those who are not engaged, think about what you might be able to do."
Gates has had only mixed results in what has been an 18-month quest to rally more troops, equipment, transportation and other support for the effort in Afghanistan. For much of last year he hammered NATO allies to pony up more resources for the Afghan war and to reduce the restrictions many nations put on the fighting forces they do have there.
So, as Gates returned Tuesday from his weeklong travel to Asia, there was little indication he had come away with any additional commitments.
Many of the leaders he met with talked about the political situations at home.
Taliban Attacks Spike in Afghanistan
by Ivan Watson
Pakistan's top Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, left with cap, tells reporters on Saturday he is sending fighters to battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan as he seeks a peace deal with the Pakistani government.
All Things Considered, May 24, 2008 ·
In Afghanistan, NATO-led troops say recent peace agreements between the Taliban and the government of neighboring Pakistan are already having a negative impact on security on the Afghan side of the border.
NATO officials say over the past three to four weeks, Taliban attacks along Afghanistan's eastern border have jumped from 60 to 100 incidents a week.
A spokesman for the NATO-led coalition in Kabul says the spike in insurgent attacks is the result of decreased activity by the Pakistani army on the Pakistan side of the border.
There, the Pakistan government has been negotiating cease-fire agreements with Taliban militants. Islamabad hopes to bring an end to more then a year of bloody fighting in the country's troubled border regions.
On Saturday, Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander in Pakistan, called for an end to the war with the Pakistani government. But, he told journalists, Islam does not recognize frontiers. Jihad in Afghanistan will continue, he said.
That's an ominous warning to the shaky Western-backed Afghan government and to the NATO-led force of some 70,000 foreign soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan.
NATO's top commander, Gen. John Craddock, says he worries about the border with Pakistan.
"If the safe haven is not taken away," he says, "whenever the insurgents are under duress, then they can leave, reconstitute and come back at the time of their choosing."
The United Nations estimates that more then 8,000 people were killed last year by the conflict in Afghanistan.
Nato 'needs more' in Afghanistan
(the outgoing U.S. general suggests 400, 000 troops are needed in afghanistan if the operation is to be a success !)
The outgoing American general in charge of Nato forces in Afghanistan for the past 15 months says the war against the Taleban is "under-resourced".
Gen Dan McNeill was speaking before handing command of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) to another American, Gen David McKiernan.
Isaf currently has 53,000 troops from 40 countries. But Gen McNeill said more manpower and equipment is needed.
The handover took place at an hour-long ceremony in the capital, Kabul.
It was attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, foreign ambassadors and a host of other dignitaries.
President Karzai warned the new general that his task would not be easy and that more lives would be lost before Afghanistan could stand on its own feet.
It is not clear how Gen McKiernan's command will differ from that of his predecessor.
But he said: "While today marks a transition in commanders, the mission must continue without missing a beat.
"Insurgents, foreign fighters, criminals and others who stand in the way of that mission will be dealt with."
The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Kabul says Gen McNeill's reputation in Afghanistan has been for straight talking and keeping out of politics.
But he had two strong messages as he prepared to handover control of Isaf to Gen McKiernan.
When he took over in February 2007 Isaf had 33,000 troops. Even though there are now 53,000 troops, Gen McNeill said that was still not enough.
"This is an under-resourced war and it needs more manoeuvre units, it needs more flying machines, it needs more intelligence, surveillance and recognisance apparatus," Gen McNeill said.
"I'm not just focused on the US sector, I'm talking about across the country."
He suggested that if counter-insurgency guidelines were strictly followed, 400,000 troops would be needed in Afghanistan. [/size]
Our correspondent says there have clearly been military inroads against the insurgency in the past 15 months.
A number of important Taleban commanders have been killed and the counter-insurgency strategy has developed.
Gen McNeill highlighted the east of the country as an example of success. However there has been an increase of attacks in the area, which he blamed on the situation in Pakistan.
Referring to the current peace talks between the Pakistani government and leading militants there, he said "there appears to be a lack of pressure right now" which had a knock-on effect on Afghanistan.
"You also know we keep a measurement of what occurs and you know of a time when there has been dialogue or peace deals, the incidents [of attacks in Afghanistan] have gone up."
The new commander of Isaf, Gen David McKiernan, oversaw the ground attack that toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
His tour of duty comes at a time of increasing attacks on troops on the 40 nations making up the Nato force.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/06/03 08:04:58 GMT
© BBC MMVIII
Six years after the fall of the Taliban, Nato claims the war is being won. But as Peter Beaumont discovered in his journey across the country, the West is in danger of losing the peace as millions suffer the fallout from social and economic collapse.
AFGHANISTAN: WHAT NEXT?
Afghanistan receives a thorough airing as the number of British troops killed in the conflict reaches 100. The Independent's splash illustrates in stark terms what Nato is up against. Kim Sengupta interviews Shakirullah Yasin Ali, an alleged would-be suicide bomber aged only 14. He tells the paper: "All I know is what the mullahs told me and kept telling me, that the British and Americans were against God."
In a way, British troops are just as determined. In a diary for the Guardian, Corporal Lachlan MacNeil describes in vivid detail the hard conditions in which the troops live and fight. But they are resolute and direct their ire at the media - including the Guardian - for defeatist talk.
"While at Base Delhi I saw a copy of the Guardian. The Pakistan correspondent had come down and done a few interviews and the headline on his story was 'UK forces fighting losing battle' or some rubbish like that. The facts are simple. We are dominating Garmsir [in Helmand province]. We have killed Taliban, taken no casualties and have now pushed and secured further south than any other British unit."
The Times, however, fears that military success is failing to translate into political gains. In its leader, the paper criticises "ill-coordinated armies of NGOs" descending on an unprepared Afghanistan, leading to duplication and wasting money. There are also harsh words for the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, for failing to appoint an experienced coordinator of foreign aid and military efforts and for turning a blind eye to corruption - including, apparently, in his own inner circle.
The Sun carries pictures of the British soldiers - a 22-year-old and two 19-year-olds - who died at the hands of a suicide bomber. Standing four-square behind what it calls a "virtuous struggle", a Sun leader trumpets: "It is an essential struggle against al-Qaida fanatics who turned this warrior nation into a breeding ground for organised terror."
Malcom Rifkind, the Tory defence secretary in 1992-95, argues in the Telegraph that a prime objective of western policy is to split the Taliban and encourage its more moderate and realistic elements to work for a political solution acceptable to Afghans as a whole. No **** Sherlock, some might say.
Taleban jail raid frees hundreds
Taleban militants have attacked a jail in the Afghan city of Kandahar and set hundreds of inmates free, reports say.
Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai and Kandahar provincial council president, told the BBC 1,000 inmates were in the jail and all escaped.
Of the inmates, about 350 were believed to be Taleban.
There have been a number of casualties among security forces. A lorry bomb blew open the main gates of the jail and about 40 Taleban stormed inside.
A state of emergency has been declared in Kandahar city.
Police and troops are on the streets and all residents have been ordered not to leave their homes.
Prison chief Abdul Qabir confirmed to Associated Press that hundreds of prisoners had escaped but said some had stayed behind.
An eyewitness told the BBC that the force of the initial blast was enough to blow out windows up to 3km (1.7 miles) from the prison.
This is a major security breach which will be of concern to both the Afghan government and security forces, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul.
Kandahar is one of the key battlegrounds in the Taleban's insurgency against President Hamid Karzai and Nato and US troops.
Last month inmates at Kandahar jail ended a week-long hunger strike after a parliamentary delegation promised to address their demands.
Almost 400 prisoners said they had been denied access to fair trials and some also complained of torture.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/06/13 20:58:27 GMT
From The Sunday Times
June 15, 2008
George Bush arrives in Britain with Bin Laden demand
President George W Bush has enlisted British special forces in a final attempt to capture Osama Bin Laden before he leaves the White House.
As Mr Bush arrived in Britain today on the final leg of his eight-day farewell tour of Europe, defence and intelligence sources in Washington and London confirmed that a renewed hunt was on for the leader of the September 11 attacks. "If he [Bush] can say he has killed Saddam Hussein and captured Bin Laden, he can claim to have left the world a safer place," said a US intelligence source.
The Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have been taking part in the US-led operations to capture Bin Laden in the wild frontier region of northern Pakistan. It is the first time they have operated across the Afghan border on a regular basis.
The hunt was "completely sanctioned" by the Pakistani government, according to a UK special forces source. It involves the use of Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with Hellfire missiles that can be used to take out specific terrorist targets.
Pakistan lodged a strong diplomatic protest last week over what it claimed was an airstrike on a border post with Afghanistan that killed 11 of its troops. The United States declined to accept this version of events. "It is still not exactly clear what happened," said Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser.
Pipeline opens new front in Afghan warTo prepare for proposed construction in 2010, the Afghan government has reportedly given assurances it will clear the route of land mines, and make the path free of Taliban influence.
June 21, 2008
The Taleban can't win in Afghanistan - but nor can we
History teaches us that British defiance always turns to compromise. Why should it be different in Afghanistan?
It has been hard over the past fortnight to avert our eyes for long from Helmand, and from the task facing the British Forces in Afghanistan. As I write there have been nine deaths in the past nine days, and - although perhaps it shouldn't - the fact that one was a woman has only sharpened the media spotlight. Sadly, the battle for Helmand is a good story. The plot is simple, the human tragedies poignant, the pride in victories real, and the photography amazing.
And yet an insistent voice within whispers that we needn't bother about Helmand. I mean this literally: not that Helmand doesn't matter but that we can be fairly confident of holding the line there. We can hold Helmand for as long as we try hard to. As an issue we can forget the ebb and flow of military fortune in southern Afghanistan because, though military fortune will always ebb and flow, there is no way our troops are going to sink.
British commanders in the field are right to say that the Taleban's resort to crude terrorism marks a retreat of a kind: an acknowledgement that it cannot gain victory in set-piece battle. And nor can we. And nor can the Taleban gain victory by terrorism. And nor can we gain victory over terrorism. And nor need the cost in blood deter us: the Boer War took a much crueller toll. And nor need the cost in treasure dismay us; it's a hefty whack we're paying for this but it isn't going to ruin the British economy.
It isn't, in the end, the way each day's skirmish goes that should preoccupy British policymakers. It's what the skirmishing is for, and whether this is achievable, that should trouble British minds, even as we mourn each loss and celebrate each victory.
I'm only 58 years old but I remember through boyhood six huge and sustained campaigns against local insurgencies that have dominated the news in my lifetime, four of them British. They are Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya, Aden, Algeria and Vietnam. And as I prepared to write this column I seemed to remember that in not one of them did military defeat occur; and nor was the fear of military defeat what caused (in every case but one) our withdrawal or that of our allies. The exception was Malaya, which we won, but a key difference there was that most of the insurgents belonged to a minority race.
But as to the others, was my memory correct?
Using the Times Archive, I decided to check. How did this newspaper's leading articles reflect some of these conflicts?
It is absorbing to read those old accounts. The Times took a consistently ambivalent and less hawkish line than The Daily Telegraph, but there is a pattern and it is depressingly clear.
At first we announce that the insurgents must be beaten. We list the reasons, usually headed by a "thin end of the wedge" argument about the network of alliances and commitments upon which security depends. We are confident that the insurgents do not represent the majority of the native population, who approve of our efforts.
As the conflict drags on, we note that the insurgents are resorting to terrorist methods of the most cowardly sort. We observe that this threatens our popularity among the majority population, because of the intrusive methods we need to adopt to keep the terrorists at bay.
Throughout we report successes and setbacks, the dominant tone being guardedly optimistic that the battle is being won so long as we redouble our efforts, send as many troops as necessary, and stay the course. Where the ruling administration is not ours (French or American, for instance) we are more doubtful about the chance of victory. Where we are in charge, the doubt caused by stalemate comes later.
After three or four years of fighting, we start to talk about a "settlement", which we describe as (and genuinely persuade ourselves to be) a progressive and honourable move. We insist, in the immediate, that the military effort must be maintained, but that the battle - a battle for hearts and minds - will not be won by military means. Give-and-take may be necessary.
And in the end we withdraw, never saying (even to ourselves) that we are retreating, and wish everyone well.
December 31, 1964. "[The terrorist] campaign in Aden has been misconceived and mistimed and will misfire, whatever toll of innocent life the terrorists may take, and brag of, at the outset... Any appreciable reduction in the [commitment] is scarcely feasible."
April 4, 1966. "The hope is that [regional delegates to a conference] will agree upon a combined Government with authority to... treat with Britain on the transference of power. Terrorism will then come to an end, because it will have no further purpose."
June 22, 1956. "There are many promising signs... the military drive against Eoka, the Cypriot terrorist organisation, will be continued."
October 11, 1956. "Terrorism can and will be destroyed by military means, but time is needed... Ordinary Cypriots would welcome a new truce offer by the terrorists."
August 4, 1958. "Terrorism in Cyprus has sunk to new depths of foulness. The gunmen who shot Sergeant Hammond, of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, in the back... are murderers of the most cowardly kind."
November 8, 1952. "There have been welcome signs that law-abiding citizens of all races are co-operating with the security forces... there can be no going back on the course which Britain set herself..."
February 17, 1953. "The Armed Forces... have conducted wide and successful sweeps through the affected areas... the volume and accuracy of intelligence reports seem to be increasing."
May 6, 1954. "Some 370 Africans have now been executed by hanging and 150 more are under sentence of death... anxiety cannot fail to be felt at the high number of executions..."
Enough. None of these cases is the same either as each other or as Afghanistan. But militarily we were in every case able to hold our own (or better) until the question "can we?" was replaced with the question "why", as casualties and costs showed no sign of abating and the ingrained nature of our opponent's position looked harder to alter.
In Northern Ireland it was arguably the terrorists, not we, whose acceptance that victory was impossible broke the stalemate.
It is time the "why?" overtook the "can we?" in Afghanistan too. Enthusiasts for staying the course regardless are not without an answer. It is that we are giving a fledgeling democracy under an elected President, Hamid Karzai, the time and space to grow strong. That is the dream, and if it appeared that it was coming to pass I would be with the hawks.
But is it? This, and not the tides of war in Helmand, is the question. This is the story.