Unfulfilled promises haunt Afghanistan
By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Kabul
Gone are the days when the Afghan summer was the season of plenty.
Quote:Where are the roads, clinics and reconstruction that were promised to us?
Haji Baz Mohammad
Haji Baz Mohammad
Now, as the snow melts off the Afghan peaks, a sense of foreboding hangs in the air. The summer in Afghanistan is fighting season.
Over a traditional Afghan dinner of rice, lamb and delicious Afghan bread, a senior Afghan official in his Kabul mansion admits he expects Taleban attacks to rise, but insists that they will not win.
"They can't take over any place," he says, as he struggles with a bony piece of meat.
After a few seconds he forgets the food and repeats in a serious tone the Afghan government line that continuing Taleban suicide bombings shows their "weakness".
But he says the fighting is at stalemate and blames alleged outside support.
"We are fighting a war whose very source is based outside of Afghanistan, inside of Pakistan. As long as the Taleban has a base, we won't be able to win this war."
While the doubts about the fight against the Taleban continue, so too do the doubts among ordinary Afghans about life since the Taleban were toppled in 2001.
One morning I took an early tour of Kabul.
At 0700 there was already a chaotic traffic jam at Charahi Malak Azghar in the heart of the city.
Land cruisers belonging to the United Nations, warlords and government officials sit alongside taxis and vehicles belonging to common Afghans.
All of these vehicles are competing for space. There are no traffic lights, and no traffic rules. Street children and beggars were gathered along the main road.
Saqib Baghlani, 43, a high school teacher, sits on his old Chinese bicycle.
He welcomes the demise of the Taleban. "Afghanistan has made remarkable progress compared to its pre-war and Taleban days," declares the tall, confident, blue-eyed teacher.
But he says the failures of his government are unacceptable.
He insists that President Hamed Karzai should fire corrupt officials and provide people with basic services, such as health care and clean drinking water, as this could bring peace.
"Go and see who owns these expensive houses in (the suburb of) Wazir Akbar Khan and who is driving land cruisers," he says. "Karzai should ask these officials how they got so rich overnight, instead of making empty promises again and again."
He castigates government ministers. "We are not asking for skyscrapers. The demands of our people are simple. Millions of dollars are going towards land cruisers and salaries. Everyone is corrupt."
What puzzles poorer Afghans is why so many basic problems haven't been solved, despite the billions of dollars of international aid.
A short walk from the affluent neighbourhoods of Wazir Akbar Khan and Shari Naw, in the streets of downtown Kabul, Afghanistan's unemployed are gathered in their hundreds.
Most say they have to wait for days, hoping to find one day's work to feed their entire family.
Kabul is considered the safest spot in the country, but basic services such as clean drinking water, electricity, and sewage systems remain unavailable to most people.
Waiting outside one of Kabul's main government hospitals is Haji Baz Mohammad. He has accompanied a patient from his home province in northern Afghanistan. He is busy praying and is visibly sad.
''We are not politicians or people who have the aid money," he says. "Where are the roads, clinics and reconstruction that were promised to us?''
Climate of mistrust
Driving through west Kabul, you can still see the destruction wrought during the factional infighting between warring Mujahideen factions in 1992, which left at least 70,000 Kabulis dead and the Afghan capital destroyed.
One of the most pervasive problems in post-Taleban Afghanistan is corruption.
Cabinet ministers and parliamentarians vow to fight it at every level. President Hamid Karzai has established several anti-corruption offices.
But, for Afghans like Ajmal Haidary, 42, a shopkeeper in West Kabul, this is another empty promise. "Every night, I hear ministers and MPs talk about corruption; this is all talk."
One aide to President Karzai admits the government has failed and that it needs to attend to the plight of the people.
But he says you have to remember the strains on Kabul, a city originally built for 400,000 that is now home to almost four million people.
"From traffic jams to corruption to a lack of electricity, it's a failure that needs to be fixed before it is too late," he says. "However, don't forget the improvements we have achieved."
One judicial official warns that there is a culture of impunity in Afghanistan now that creates a climate of mistrust among common Afghans.
Seven years after the Taleban were removed from power, the worry is that for many Afghans the promises of a better future seem to be becoming a distant dream.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/06/13 16:05:01 GMT
UN to urge revamp of Afghan aid ( AGAIN ? )
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kabul
The UN's envoy to Afghanistan is set to outline a new plan on spending foreign aid, amid concerns that millions of dollars have been wasted.
The envoy, Kai Eide, wants international aid money to be spent through the Afghan government, in return for a crackdown on corruption.
Mr Eide says that too much aid money is spent on salaries and goods in the countries that provide it.
Last month, 80 countries pledged a further $22bn (£11bn) for Afghanistan.
Now the donors and the Afghan government are being told to deliver - to get schools, clinics, agriculture and electricity to the people who need it.
Millions in development money has notoriously gone to waste in the seven years since the fall of the Taleban.
Many countries spend a chunk of their aid through the government, or on a trust fund set aside to fund National Solidarity Programmes in more than 22,000 districts in Afghanistan.
But Mr Eide, the UN special representative to Afghanistan, believes more should be spent this way.
In Kabul on Sunday, he will outline to the government and donors that they have got to be more co-ordinated and to deliver development more effectively and efficiently.
"I think first of all that we spend too much of our money in our home countries instead of spending it in Afghanistan," he said.
"We also have to see how we can spend our money in a way that builds Afghan capacity. We see how weak the institutions are - that we have to make sure we correct."
Corruption is a major issue and the words auditing and accountability will be buzzing around the room at the first monitoring board meeting since the Paris conference.
Quote:if we were to re-visit this topic in another 2 - 5 - 10 years , will anything have changed for the better of the afghan people ?[/[/color]
The promises have been made and the UN head here is now trying to take control of an aid effort that many think has been missing the mark, when winning people over to the government, and keeping the Taleban at bay, is so vital for the future.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/07/06 01:36:57 GMT
© BBC MMVIII
Alarm over Afghan civilian deaths
At least 250 Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded in insurgent attacks or military action in the past six days, the Red Cross says.
It has called on all parties to the conflict to avoid civilian casualties.
Nato said separately that more than 900 people including civilians had died in Afghanistan since the start of 2008.
On Monday a suicide bombing in Kabul killed more than 40 people, while officials say two coalition air strikes killed dozens at the weekend.
The issue of civilian casualties is hugely sensitive in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly urged foreign forces to exercise more care.
The statement released by the International Committee of the Red Cross say that civilians "must never be the target of an attack, unless they take a direct part in the fighting".
The organisation's chief representative in Kabul, Franz Rauchenstein, made his findings public following Monday's suicide car bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and reports that a US-led coalition air strike had killed members of a wedding party in the east of the country.
"We call on all parties to the conflict, in the conduct of their military operations, to distinguish at all times between civilians and fighters and to take constant care to spare civilians," Mr Rauchenstein said.
His report said that parties to the conflict "must take all necessary precautions to verify that targets are indeed military objectives and that attacks will not cause excessive civilian casualties and damage".
The statement also expressed concern "about the reportedly high number of civilian casualties resulting from the recent [coalition] air strikes in the east of the country".
The Taleban has denied involvement in Monday's bombing, which killed 41 people, while the US-led coalition has disputed claims that its recent airstrikes killed civilians.
Mr Karzai has ordered an investigation into one of the bombings, in eastern Nangarhar province. Locals there said at least 20 people had been killed on Sunday at a wedding party.
US forces rejected the claims, saying those killed were militants involved in previous mortar attacks on a Nato base.
The UN said recently that the number of civilians killed in fighting in Afghanistan had jumped by nearly two thirds compared to last year.
Half of all British servicemen say they want to quit
Bearing brunt of two wars is hurting family life
The research involved more than 24,000 military personnel
Michael Evans, Defence Editor
Britain's ability to sustain campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan was called into question last night as it emerged that almost half of all military personnel are ready to quit.
The first survey to assess attitudes across the Armed Forces reveals unprecedented levels of concern over equipment, morale and pay.
The research was conducted by the Ministry of Defence and involved more than 24,000 military personnel.
It found that the sense of overcommitment means that 47 per cent of soldiers and army officers think regularly of handing in their resignations.
Patrick Mercer, Conservative MP for Newark and a former commanding officer, said that the findings reflected the duress under which military personnel were operating. "I think the tempo of operations has produced such a level of stress on the families that it is no wonder so many are thinking of leaving," he said.
The report highlights the pressures on the Armed Forces of enduring two medium-scale military campaigns simultaneously. Returning for second and third tours, particularly in Afghanistan where the Taleban are in resurgent mood, has had a significant impact on families.
The same sense of overstretch is reflected across all three Forces, and 45 per cent of those questioned admitted they were not happy with the level of separation from family and friends.
Asked whether they regularly considered leaving, 47 per cent of soldiers and officers in the Army said that they did. The same percentage of Royal Navy personnel agreed, along with 37 per cent in the Royal Marines and 44 per cent in the RAF.
The Regular Army is already 5,000 soldiers short and experienced young officers are leaving at an increasing rate.
Canada takes notes from failed Soviet warMany of the research findings are lessons that, by 2008, the Canadian Forces, NATO soldiers and Western governments had already gleaned through experience in Afghanistan and other foreign missions.
Researchers said the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is a major hindrance. The mujahedeen used the porous frontier to smuggle arms and resources into Afghanistan in the 1980s and are offering Taliban supporters the same supply route for insurgents and weapons today.
"The movement of insurgents and materiel across the Afghan-Pakistan border is a paramount strategic problem," says a 2007 memorandum by Anton Minkov and Gregory Smolynec titled 3-D Soviet Style: A Presentation on Lessons Learned from the Soviet Experience in Afghanistan.
In a separate memo that year, the same authors warn that NATO forces will never be able to stabilize Afghanistan until the country's economy is sufficiently stable and growing to allow the fledging Afghan government to cover a substantial amount of its own security and welfare bills.
"The main reasons behind the fall of the pro-Moscow regime in Kabul were not defeat on the battlefield nor military superiority of the resistance but the regime's failure to achieve economic sustainability and its overreliance on foreign aid," says a document called Economic Development in Afghanistan during the Soviet Period 1979-1989: Lessons Learned from the Soviet Experience in Afghanistan.
In fact, it says, the Soviets focused too much on security.
"The emphasis on the security situation in Afghanistan compromised sound economic development during the period 1979-1989 The Afghan economy continued to be overly dependent on foreign aid. The study argues that without breaking this dependency, no long-term solution to stabilize Afghanistan is possible."
The authors say Afghanistan should redevelop its petroleum wealth as part of the solution. "Revenues from the sale of natural gas were a substantial part of Afghan state income until 1986. The development of oil and natural gas industries has great potential to benefit the Afghan economy."
Other lessons Defence researchers gleaned from the Soviet period include:
- "Successive battlefield victories do not guarantee strategic success."
- "Engaging and enfranchising local populations and power centres is of critical importance."
- "Building Afghan security forces is vital."
The research was conducted by the Department of National Defence's Centre for Operational Research & Analysis.
The DND said it was unable to make the researchers available for comment yesterday.
Canada has been sending soldiers to Afghanistan continually since 2001, and so far, 880 NATO troops have died in the fight against the Taliban, including 87 Canadians.
The U.S. has recently signalled that it is "deeply troubled" by the Taliban's continued power with a recent Pentagon report saying militias have "coalesced into a resilient insurgency."
Douglas Bland, chair of Defence Management Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, said a key lesson from the 1980s is not to leave in a hurried manner as the Soviets did.
"One of the big lessons for us is, don't beat a hasty uncontrolled retreat because the place then really goes nuts," Prof. Bland said. "The exit strategy has to be some very carefully considered process and based on a strong local security situation."
He said he thinks Canadian soldiers will still be responsible for safeguarding the peace well after 2011, when Canada's troops are supposed to withdraw from combat operations in the country's southern province of Kandahar under a motion passed in Parliament.
"Canadians should be prepared for the fact that Canadian soldiers and policemen and others will be employed in security duties in Afghanistan for a very long time."
He said he thinks the Forces have done other studies of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, but said these may not be publicly available.
Invaders of Afghanistan - THEY ALL WERE BEATEN !
Many foreign forces have attempted to conquer Afghanistan and its predecessor states. Few have succeeded. Here are some examples of those who tried.
Darius the Great: In the late sixth century BC, much of the country was absorbed into the Persian empire of Darius the Great. However, plagued by constant uprisings, the Persians never established effective control.
Alexander the Great: In the third century BC, Alexander the Great invaded. The harsh, mountainous terrain and brutal weather were only part of the challenge. The Afghans themselves were no less formidable. Constant revolts undermined whatever glory he could claim.
Genghis Khan: In 1220, the Islamic lands of Central Asia were overrun by the armies of this Mongol invader. But even Genghis Khan failed to destroy the strength of Islam there. By the end of the 13th century, his descendants were themselves Muslims.
Britain: There were three major interventions by the British Army between 1838 and 1919. Each one ultimately failed.
Soviet Union: In 1979, the Soviets rolled in about 115,000 troops. The Afghans responded with an extended guerrilla war, and in 1989 the Soviets withdrew.
Karzai 'impeding Afghan drug war'
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is obstructing efforts to tackle his country's drugs problem, a former US counter-narcotics official has said.
Thomas Schweich said Mr Karzai had protected drug lords for political reasons and tolerated "a certain level of corruption" rather than lose power.
He said the former attorney general had told him the president had prevented the prosecution of some 20 officials.
Mr Karzai has denied the claims, saying his government had cut drug production.
"Nobody has done as well as us in the last seven years in the field of counter-narcotics," he told reporters.
The president said his government had eradicated or greatly reduced drug production in more than half of the country's provinces.
But Mr Schweich, who until June was the US state department's co-ordinator for counter-narcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan, said such claims "ignore reality".
"The poppy cultivation right now is up and around 200,000 hectares - that's the biggest narco-crop in history," he told the BBC.
"The fact that it's become concentrated in five or six provinces doesn't change the fact that you have a massive, massive opium problem."
He added: "The attorney general, who was just fired, told me he had a list of 20 corrupt officials who he was not allowed to prosecute."
Mr Schweich also echoed claims that Nato and US commanders had been reluctant to get involved in fighting drugs, fearing that destroying farmers' crops would alienate tribesmen in the south and increase support for the insurgents.
(imo mr. schweig doesn't seem to have any idea how the "so called" war on drugs should be fought . he seems to think it's the poor farmers in afghanistan should be the victims - smart thinking
"[Mr Karzai] perceives that there are certain people he cannot crack down on and that it is better to tolerate a certain level of corruption than to take an aggressive stand and lose power," he added.
But Mr Karzai denied his supporters were involved in smuggling.
"I don't blame Afghans for drugs smuggling. They may do it due to helplessness and there may be only a few of them," he said.
In an article in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, Mr Schweich also accused the US defence department and military commanders from its Nato ally Britain of obstructing attempts to eradicate the opium crop.
"Some of our Nato allies have resisted the anti-opium offensive, as has our own Defense Department, which tends to see counter-narcotics as other people's business to be settled once the war-fighting is over," he wrote.
Mr Schweich claimed Britain had urged Mr Karzai to reject a US state department plan to stamp out poppy cultivation.
"Although Britain's foreign office strongly backed anti-narcotics efforts (with the exception of aerial eradication), the British military were even more hostile to the anti-drug mission than the US military," he wrote. The claims come as Mr Karzai prepares to run for another term in office in next year's Afghan presidential elections.
Mr Schweich wrote: "Karzai was playing us like a fiddle. The US would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure development; the US and its allies would fight the Taleban; Karzai's friends could get richer off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009 he would be elected to a new term."
The United Nations says that enough opium was produced last year in Afghanistan to make more than 880 tonnes of heroin with a street value of $4bn (£2bn).
A British Foreign Office spokesman said: "Drugs pose a threat to the future of Afghanistan, and the UK is one of the leaders in international efforts to combat the narcotics trade.
"We are committed for the long haul in this challenging endeavour, through a two-pronged approach, to tackle both supply and demand."
A US state department spokesman defended the country's support of President Karzai, saying he was working to help improve the plight of Afghanistan.
Journalist Ahmed Rashid's new book Descent Into Chaos is an investigation into what he describes as the "failure of nation building" in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia and the threat from radical Islam.
'Militancy will not run out of steam'
BBC : Do you see any signs of a developing Afghan nationalism of sorts, where traditionally hostile ethnic groups are ready to bury the hatchet and share power together? After a quarter of century of war, and seven years after the fall of the Taleban this should have happened, don't you think?
Ahmed Rashid : The key to this happening is reconstruction of the country. We have seen that the most successful programmes in Afghanistan have been national programmes, such as the rebuilding of schools and education, health clinics and the national solidarity programme that reaches into villages. Unfortunately, there have not been enough of these programmes and more importantly reconstruction of the infrastructure - that would help kick start the national economy - has been neglected. How can Afghans prosper or unite when only six to 10% have electricity and when you cannot create industry? The Afghan people have had enough of war and are looking for the opportunity to live in peace but that cannot happen without some degree of economic security.
BBC : Do you believe that Afghanistan's experiment with democracy is fundamentally flawed because of lack of political parties?
Ahmed Rashid : It is the lack of political parties and the refusal of President Karzai to allow elections to be run by political parties that is one of the main causes why democracy and parliament are not becoming more effective. I hope the government will see sense and hold the next elections under a political party system because without that we only continue political warlordism, the concentration of politics around individuals and the failure to build state institutions.
Taleban at Kabul's doorstep
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Wardak
It is just an hour's drive south-west of Kabul on Afghanistan's main highway before you start to see dramatic evidence of how the insurgency is closing in on the capital.
The first thing to notice are the holes in the road - the tarmac ripped up by bombs - which the traffic has to carefully veer around.
Then it is the burned-out skeletons of trucks left by the side of the road, or some still standing where they were ambushed and burned - an obvious reminder of how security so close to Kabul has been steadily deteriorating.
Highway One was a triumph for Afghanistan's new found freedom from the Taleban.
Built at record speed with international money, it was an example of what was to follow in the rebuilding and redevelopment of a country at war for almost three decades.
Now it is almost impassable in places as buses loaded high with goods and people, or convoys of containers with supplies for international forces have to negotiate the damage and the debris.
An hour before we were escorted along the road by a heavily armed police convoy, an Afghan National Army patrol had fought with insurgents after being ambushed.
Every seven or eight kilometres (four to five miles) there is a crater in the road where a hidden explosive device had been detonated as whatever the insurgents decreed a "valid target" had gone past.
Wardak is the neighbouring province to Kabul and in just one month 51 trucks were burned. But the new governor, in place less than a month, thinks he can get a grip on security.
"The government has 100% control in Wardak, and the Taleban are in a very poor condition in this province - they do not have the support of the people," said Mohammad Halim Fidai, the eloquent and well-educated new arrival.
"Some of the incidents that took place on the highways are because we did not have enough Afghan National Police and there is misinformation against us," he said, explaining there were now checkpoints in the areas Taleban fighters "from other provinces" were most likely to strike.
But the men in the hills, just 2km from the road, told a different story of who held power and influence.
A local BBC reporter visited districts close to the main road and to the more remote villages up in the mountains.
He met a Taleban commander who took him to film perhaps two dozen men, all heavily armed and parading on motorbikes, in daylight, within view of Highway One.
"I have 6,000 fighters," the commander said, "and control three quarters of Wardak province."
It was a massive exaggeration, but their brazen display by day was a strong sign of how much influence the insurgents have by night.
That presence and the "misinformation" they spread will help them appear stronger than they are in reality - and fighting an insurgency, that is what counts.
The terror tactics, attacking convoys and leaving bombs, splits the people from a government which does not have a strong enough presence to win the people's backing.
Our reporter spoke to many local people - a lot supported the Taleban, but they would perhaps be afraid to speak out otherwise, given their presence on the ground. Others were critical.
"All the Taleban did was provide security," one young man said with a couched compliment. "Now the Karzai government is building roads and bringing development. Unfortunately they cannot bring security."
Another villager was more upbeat: "In my view this government is better than the Taleban as there was no education, economy or development.
"Now the economy is good and children are going to school - even girls - the Taleban were brutal and took power by force, not democracy."
And it is not just the local people who are suffering - those aid workers trying to rebuild and redevelop Afghanistan are now increasingly unable to work in parts of the country.
A recent statement by 100 aid agencies described the worsening security close to Kabul, and in neighbouring Logar province six landmine clearers were recently abducted - as if it wasn't a risky enough job to begin with.
The UN produces internal "accessibility" maps which colour code areas by level of risk.
A comparison between 2005 and June 2008 shows the dramatic deterioration of security in such a short space of time.
Almost half the country is now "extremely risky" for UN staff - a classification that did not even appear on the map legend three years earlier.
Kabul is ringed by areas classified as a "high risk/volatile environment", previously reserved for only the worst insurgent areas in the east and south.
"Security in itself is a challenge. There are places where our de-miners cannot go because of the security risk," said Dr Mohammad Haider Reza, the head of the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan.
"It's as close to Kabul as Logar and that's of a concern to us," he added, saying the six abducted men had been released but their vehicles and equipment had been taken.
The Taleban's tactics are all part of the war - sowing fear in the minds of the people to turn them against a government that cannot protect them.
But the threat is real and the attacks are getting closer to the capital.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/08/13 16:03:21 GMT
© BBC MMVIII
Afghan militants kill 10 French, strike at US base
By JASON STRAZIUSO and AMIR SHAH " 1 hour ago
SUROBI, Afghanistan (AP) " Insurgents mounted two of the biggest attacks in years on Western forces in Afghanistan, killing 10 French soldiers in a mountain ambush and then sending a squad of suicide bombers in a failed assault early Tuesday on a U.S. base near the Pakistan border.
The audacious strikes suggested a bolder insurgency is now willing to launch frontal assaults on U.S. and NATO troops.
Only months ago, militants shied away from large-scale attacks because of the heavy losses they could incur when jet fighters appeared overhead, NATO and U.S. officials said.
But the Taliban and other militant groups appear increasingly willing to commit large numbers of foot soldiers to onslaughts that attempt to overwhelm small groups of U.S. and NATO troops. Just last month, some 200 militants attacked a small U.S. outpost in Afghanistan's eastern mountains, penetrating its perimeter and killing nine American soldiers.
France to take long look at Afghan mission
By JAMEY KEATEN " 17 hours ago
PARIS (AP) " The death of 10 French soldiers in an ambush by insurgents in Afghanistan has stoked a cry at home for France to rethink its commitment to the seven-year mission led by the United States.
Most French voters want out, and the opposition is ratcheting up the pressure on President Nicolas Sarkozy's government " though analysts say France and other allies will dig in for the fight even as they insist upon a new look at NATO's strategy against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
The word "quagmire" has popped up repeatedly when Afghanistan is discussed in Paris political circles " even in Sarkozy's own party " since Monday's well-planned ambush of a French-led patrol in the Uzbin Valley east of Kabul. It was the deadliest attack on international troops in Afghanistan in more than three years, and the latest sign that the insurgency is growing stronger.
"The pressure is going to be: How do we get this war right?" said Francois Heisbourg, who heads the state-funded Foundation for Strategic Research think-tank in Paris.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has ordered a parliamentary debate and vote on France's role in Afghanistan, part of a new law requiring a lawmaker vote on foreign military missions lasting more than four months. They are expected to take place between Sept. 22 and Sept. 30.
Analysts say there is little chance that parliament " where Sarkozy's conservatives have a large majority " will vote to end France's participation in the Afghan mission.
But Afghanistan is likely to grow in the French public eye.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the defense and foreign ministers will separately face questions from parliamentary panels about the ambush " such as the intelligence failings that led to such casualties in a well-trained French patrol. Aside from the 10 soldiers killed, another 21 were injured.
France has been at the side of the United States in Afghanistan ever since the allied invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban's regime. In April, Sarkozy agreed to raise the French commitment by 700 troops " to 3,300 in the Afghan theater.
The evolution of the war in Iraq " while in many ways very different from the one in Afghanistan " looms large in French minds when it comes to considering their country's future role.
"In the case of Iraq, the Americans had a big strategic rethink about how they were handling it," said Heisbourg. "That kind of rethink is what's going to have to take place with Afghanistan."
Sarkozy's top adviser, Claude Gueant, said the French public has "poorly understood" the "faraway" war in Afghanistan. He said one of the troubles the allies now face in Afghanistan is the return of jihadi fighters from Iraq.
"Now that the situation is changing in Iraq, they are heading to a new front, which is the one in Afghanistan," Gueant told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview set for publication on Sunday.
Sarkozy insists France's commitment to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan "remains intact" " but he is staking at least part of his political capital in the effort to quash a resurgent Taliban.
"They're testing French public opinion," said Douglas Bland, a former colonel and the chair of defense management studies at Queen's University in Canada.
The French debate resonates in Canada,
(canada's military involvement is VERY unpopular with the quebec people , even though many of the canadian soldiers are from quebec . hbg)
which has lost 93 soldiers in Afghanistan since the war began. Canada agreed to keep its 2,500 troops in southern Kandahar province only on the condition " partially met by France's new commitment " that NATO deploy reinforcements. Three Canadians were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Thursday.
The risk for Sarkozy remains that the mission in Afghanistan could erode his popularity over time " much like former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain faced political damage over his commitment to the Iraq war.
"We're not in the Blair kind of situation, but it may come," said political analyst Dominique Moisi.
Sarkozy repeatedly dodged or scoffed at questions this week about a poll in Le Parisien indicating that a majority of French want their country to withdraw from Afghanistan.
He countered that it was time to mourn for those who were killed. Gueant said Sarkozy was "affected" by the deaths " the biggest French troop casualties he has had to cope with since taking office in May last year.
"In military terms, I think we, the French, are pretty tough," said Heisbourg. "Our normal reaction to losing people is not to sit down and cry, and then rush to the exits. That is not the French way."
August 14, 2008
Insurgency’s Scars Line Afghanistan’s Main Road
By CARLOTTA GALL
SAYDEBAD, Afghanistan " Not far from here, just off the highway that was once the showpiece of the United States reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, three American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were ambushed and killed seven weeks ago.
The soldiers " two of them members of the National Guard from New York " died as their vehicles were hit by mines and rocket-propelled grenades. At least one was dragged off and chopped to pieces, according to Afghan and Western officials. The body was so badly mutilated that at first the military announced that it had found the remains of two men, not one, in a nearby field.
The attack, on June 26, was notable not only for its brutality, but also because it came amid a series of spectacular insurgent attacks along the road that have highlighted the precariousness of the international effort to secure Afghanistan six years after the United States intervened to drive off the Taliban government.
Security in the provinces ringing the capital, Kabul, has deteriorated rapidly in recent months. Today it is as bad as at any time since the beginning of the war, as militants have surged into new areas and taken advantage of an increasingly paralyzed local government and police force and the thinly stretched international military presence here.
This district is just 50 miles or so south of Kabul. Farther south, beyond the town of Salar, the road " also known as Highway 1 " is even more dangerous, and to drive beyond that point is to risk ambush, explosions and possible slaughter.
When it was refurbished several years ago, the Kabul-Kandahar highway was a demonstration of America’s commitment to building a new, democratic Afghanistan. A critical artery, the highway quite literally holds this country together.
A Precarious Thread
For the shaky Afghan state, it binds the country’s center to the insurgent-ridden south, and provides a tenuous thread to unite Afghanistan’s increasingly divided ethnic halves: the insurgent-ridden, Pashtun dominated south with the more stable, mainly Tajik, Hazara and Turkic populated north.
For the United States and the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, it is an important supply route for the war effort, linking the two largest foreign military bases in the country, at Bagram and Kandahar, and a number of smaller bases along the way.
But today the highway is a dangerous gantlet of mines and attacks from insurgents and criminals, pocked with bomb craters and blown-up bridges. The governor of Ghazni Province came under fire driving through Salar on Tuesday and two of his guards were wounded, officials said.
The insurgents have made the route a main target, with the apparent aim of undercutting Afghanistan’s economy and infrastructure, said Gen. Zaher Azimi, the Afghan military spokesman.
The road has become the site of extreme carnage in the last six weeks, disrupting supply lines for American and NATO forces and tying down Afghan Army forces. One of the worst attacks occurred in Salar on June 24 when some 50 fuel tankers and food trucks carrying supplies for the United States military were ambushed.
The convoy was set on fire. Seven of its drivers were dragged out and beheaded, said Abdul Ghayur, the commander of the private security force that supplied the drivers. “Those ones who were driving the refrigerated trucks,” which presumably looked more foreign, were singled out, he said.
That attack was followed two days later by the ambush that killed the three Americans and their Afghan interpreter, farther north, near a village called Tangi.
Calling In the Army
The ferocity of their killing, coming amid a sudden spiral of insurgent violence along the road and in the surrounding provinces, forced the Afghan government to send several battalions of the Afghan National Army in July here to Wardak Province, which lies just south of Kabul, to try to secure the road.
Soldiers of Afghanistan’s 201st Corps are now posted in old hilltop positions that the Soviet army used in the 1980s, surveying the road and the green side valleys that provide easy cover for the insurgents.
Since their arrival three weeks ago, the Afghan soldiers say they have been engaged in repeated firefights with insurgents and have surprised several groups trying to lay roadside bombs.
Soldiers from one Afghan unit, which had recently set up camp in a school building in Salar, said they were called out Aug. 1 to reinforce the local police, who were besieged in their own station less than three miles down the road.
The Afghan soldiers ran into an ambush almost immediately and had to battle for three hours before they could relieve the police station, said the commander, Capt. Gul Jan, 42.
Their adversaries include a mix of criminals, insurgents from the mujahedeen group Hesb-e-Islami, and members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and their main aim was to attack government forces and convoys, and kidnap officials and others for ransom, said Maj. Muhammad Gul, a battalion commander charged with guarding the road as far as Salar.
“The Taliban are trying to bring more people in from other provinces because Wardak is closer to Kabul, and definitely, what happens here will affect Kabul, too,” he said.
The deployment of the Afghan Army, which is now equipped with artillery and heavy machine guns, came just in time, residents said.
Haji Muhammad Musa Hotak, a legislator from Wardak Province, says that public confidence in the government has virtually collapsed along with the security situation.
Insurgents and other armed groups in the province have swelled from barely 100 last year to an estimated 500, as villagers have joined the insurgents, either for money or their own protection, he said.
“Dissatisfaction of the people is growing, anger is growing, people are joining the opposition groups,” he said in an interview in his Kabul office.
He has not been able to visit his home district for a month since the kidnapping of a Chinese road construction worker there by the Taliban, not even for the funeral of his grandson, he said. “How can we say the situation will gradually get better?”
In one of the most brazen attacks, on July 6, at Durrani, a large verdant village flanked by craggy mountains, the Taliban seized positions just above the road and fired on a convoy of seven tankers. The explosion set fire to the roadside shops and civilian cars, killing 22 civilians, Mr. Hotak said.
Army Capt. Muhammad Zaman, 41, was sent in with his platoon to set up base in Durrani just after the attack, as other units pursued the insurgents into villages behind the mountains.
The local police were woefully outmanned and outgunned, he said. “If there was no Afghan Army here, it would be too difficult to secure the road for one hour,” he said.
But camping in the open, he had minimal defenses, and no protection against mortar fire, he said. His battalion has served alongside American troops all over Afghanistan, but on this operation the Afghan soldiers are on their own, save for some French troops who were mentoring them. Only one small French team appeared to be present among several hundred Afghan troops.
Coordination with American forces in the area was so poor that a passing American military convoy had fired on his positions just five days before and wounded one of his soldiers, Muhammad Baqer, in both legs.
“I could easily have fired back at them,” he said angrily. Villagers, too, complained that the American troops were firing recklessly.
“The Americans are not looking at us like human beings, but we are also human beings,” said a 20-year-old mechanic, Homayun, who uses one name and works in the bazaar down the road at the town of Saydebad.
“We don’t like either of them,” Homayun said of the Taliban and United States forces. “If they are fighting each other, innocent people get hurt.”
Nevertheless the Afghan Army units here seemed confident they could handle the insurgent threat in Wardak, and said the people were on their side.
“We can beat the Taliban conclusively when we build up our manpower,” said First Lt. Rahmatullah Minallah, who commands a post overlooking the Tangi valley, where the Americans died.
“I have 50 men here now. When I have 100 men, I can leave 50 here and go and clear out the village,” he said.
Some men from the unit were sent in to assist the ambushed Americans soldiers at Tangi, and gave their account of what had happened.
A Deadly Attack
The American soldiers had been traveling in three Humvees, heading east toward the neighboring province of Logar, they said. The United States military later said they were on a combat patrol and died from their wounds when their convoy was attacked by improvised explosive devices, small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
The three were identified as Sgt. First Class Matthew L. Hilton, 37, of Livonia, Mich., of the Michigan Army National Guard; and Sgt. First Class Joseph A. McKay, 51, of Brooklyn; and Specialist Mark C. Palmateer, 38, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., both of them part of a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition unit of the New York Army National Guard, according to a Pentagon news release.
Their Afghan interpreter was 21-year-old Muhammad Fahim from Kabul, who had been working with the Americans for the last three years. His body was burned beyond recognition, his family said.
One vehicle struck a mine, but the convoy of three Humvees apparently kept moving, until a second vehicle hit a mine, said Capt. Haji Rahim, who visited the scene afterward. The Humvee caught fire, and the blaze was so strong the trees around it burned too, he said.
Captain Rahim did not see the bodies but learned from an American officer that one or more had been butchered. “Their bodies had no heads, legs or arms,” he said. A Western official in Kabul confirmed that at least one of the bodies had been cut up. “Organs were removed,” the official said.
Those behind the attack were swiftly identified as a group led by a local man, a former Hesb-e-Islami commander named Mullah Najibullah. Two weeks later United States and Afghan forces tracked him down at his home and killed him and his followers in a siege of the compound, Afghan officials said.