Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2008 > USA > Wars > Afghanistan (I)



Illustration: Edel Rodriguez


In Kabul, Shattered Illusions

















Afghanistan mission

close to failing - US

Injection of troops and aid
has not brought stability says intelligence chief


Friday February 29 2008
The Guardian
Declan Walsh in Islamabad and Richard Norton Taylor
This article appeared in the Guardian
on Friday February 29 2008 on p1 of the Top stories section.
It was last updated at 09:04 on February 29 2008.


After six years of US-led military support and billions of pounds in aid, security in Afghanistan is "deteriorating" and President Hamid Karzai's government controls less than a third of the country, America's top intelligence official has admitted.

Mike McConnell testified in Washington that Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control.

The Afghan government angrily denied the US director of national intelligence's assessment yesterday, insisting it controlled "over 360" of the country's 365 districts. "This is far from the facts and we completely deny it," said the defence ministry.

But the gloomy comments echoed even more strongly worded recent reports by thinktanks, including one headed by the former Nato commander General James Jones, which concluded that "urgent changes" were required now to "prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state".

Although Nato forces have killed thousands of insurgents, including several commanders, an unrelenting drip of violence has eroded Karzai's grip in the provinces, providing fuel to critics who deride him as "the mayor of Kabul".

A suicide bomb at a dog fight near Kandahar last week killed more than 80 people. Yesterday fighting erupted in neighbouring Helmand when the Taliban ambushed a police patrol. The interior ministry said 25 militants were killed; a Taliban spokesman said they lost one.

A day earlier, the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation aid agency said it feared that Cyd Mizell, an American employee kidnapped in Kandahar last month, had been killed in captivity.

A big injection of foreign troops has failed to bring stability. The US has almost 50,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and - twice as many as in 2004 - while the UK has 7,700, mostly in Helmand. Another 2,200 US marines are due to arrive next month to combat an expected Taliban surge.

Nato commanders paint the suicide bombs and ambushes as signs of a disheartened enemy. Yesterday, Brigadier Andrew Mackay, commander of the British contingent in southern Afghanistan, said the Taliban were "worn down", running low on fighters, and being ostracised by local communities. "Logistically they are also challenged. The cumulative effect of all of this is that they are having to change their modus operandi, and that is why we are seeing more asymmetric attacks and suicide bombings in places such as Kandahar," he said.

But analysts believe the Taliban is successfully adapting the brutal guerrilla tactics that have served Iraqi insurgents so well. The six British soldiers killed in Helmand over the past three months were victims of roadside bombs. The drugs trade is swelling the Taliban coffers - according to the highest estimates, 40% of profits, or tens of millions of pounds, go to the insurgency. Attacks have made the main road from Kandahar to Kabul too dangerous for foreigners. Afghan truck drivers travel with armed escort.

The insecurity has penetrated the capital. Since an assault on Kabul's Serena Hotel last January, westerners have disappeared from the streets of Kabul. This week Taliban commanders threatened to step up the campaign with more bombs.

The key to the Taliban's success, McConnell said, "is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan". Meanwhile the surge in violence has placed a big strain on Nato. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has agreed to deploy a battalion near Kabul after America has criticised European states for refusing to join the fight in the south and Canada threatened to withdraw its troops from Kandahar next year if reinforcements do not arrive.

An Oxfam report yesterday said international and national security forces, as well as warlords, criminals and the Taliban, were perceived by ordinary Afghans as posing security threats.

Afghanistan mission close to failing - US, G, 29.2.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/29/afghanistan.terrorism






Suicide Attack Kills 36 in Afghanistan


February 19, 2008
The New York Times


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — In the second serious attack in southern Afghanistan in two days, a suicide bomber set off an explosion on Monday as he drove his car near a convoy of Canadian troops on a crowded border town street, killing 36 civilians and wounding 38.

The governor of Kandahar Province, Asadullah Khaled, called the attack a cataclysm for the Afghan people. The blast wounded three or four Canadian soldiers, part of the NATO security force in Afghanistan, but the brunt of the explosion was borne by civilians, mainly street vendors and people selling fruit from pushcarts beside the road, he said. Several shops caught fire in the town, Spinbaldak, which is 60 miles southeast of Kandahar and is the main border crossing to Pakistan, he said.

A day before the attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a dogfighting festival in a district just north of the city of Kandahar, in the worst suicide bombing in Afghanistan since 2001. The death toll from that attack has risen to 100, Mr. Khaled said. Among the dead were 36 local police officers, part of an auxiliary force being trained to help keep the peace in their district.

“The enemy of Islam, the enemy of Afghans, are trying to sabotage the peace process,” Mr. Khaled said while visiting the family of a local police commander, Abdul Hakim Jan, who was killed Sunday. Referring to the insurgents, Mr. Khaled said, “We need to be united and eradicate them at the root.”

At a news briefing later in the day in the city of Kandahar, Mr. Khaled lashed out at Canadian forces, saying they had patrolled in crowded places when there was a known suicide bomb threat in the area.

He said that the Afghan security forces had received information that a suicide bombing had been planned and had warned the Canadian military.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr. Ahmadi said the bomber was named Abdul Rahman and was from Kandahar Province. He denied that the attack had wounded or killed any civilians.

Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Carlotta Gall from Islamabad, Pakistan.

    Suicide Attack Kills 36 in Afghanistan, NYT, 19.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/world/asia/19afghan.html






At Least 80 Killed

in Afghan Suicide Bombing


February 18, 2008
The New York Times


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber blew himself up in a large crowd gathered at a dogfighting festival just outside this city in southern Afghanistan, killing some 80 people and wounding nearly 100 more in the country’s worst single bombing since 2001.

According to witnesses and officials, the bomber killed a local police chief, Abdul Hakim Jan, a number of his guards and scores of villagers attending the event in the district of Argandab, just north of Kandahar city.

The governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khaled, said the dead numbered 80 and the wounded over 90. A spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Kabul, Dr. Abdullah Fahim, said the Kandahar hospital had received 67 bodies. But some families had taken bodies straight home for burial from the scene of the blast, he said.

“This is the action of the enemies of our country,” said Mr. Khaled, the governor. “They do not let Afghans enjoy their lives and have a peaceful life.”

A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, denied that the Taliban had carried out the attack and suggested it was the result of internal fighting within the Afghan government. “We did not carry out this blast in Kandahar, we strongly reject that,” he said in a telephone call.

Kandahar, a former stronghold of the Taliban, has been the scene of some of the country’s worst suicide attacks over the last two years as Taliban insurgents have tried to undermine the government of President Hamid Karzai. The district of Argandab, a rich agricultural valley north of the city, had long kept the Taliban at bay under the leadership of a powerful tribal chief, Mullah Naquibullah, but the district has become a target of the militants in the months since his death.

Hours after the explosion, pale and shaken survivors were still at the scene. Abandoned shawls, shoes, caps and bits of human flesh were strewn on the bloodied field. Five vehicles, including police cars, had been badly damaged. The body of a man the police said was the bomber lay mangled.

Muhammad Khan, 25, said he had been knocked over by the blast. “I couldn’t hear or speak or walk,” he said. “My whole body was numb, and I thought I was injured, but my heart is working. Luckily my brother rushed and picked me up and poured water over my head. Thank God, I am fine.”

People had traveled miles to watch the dogfights, a pastime that was banned by the Taliban when they were in power because it entails gambling. But the fights, involving huge Afghan mastiffs, have returned to much of the country, often sponsored by local commanders and landlords. In Argandab, they take place every Sunday during the winter, and huge crowds gather, attracting street vendors who hawker food and drinks.

Noor Muhammad, 32, said he survived because he was sitting down and a dog in front of him blocked the force of the explosion. The police chief, who was nearby, was killed along with five of his bodyguards, he said.

He said he believed many more people were killed in the attack.

“I counted 30 vehicles carrying the dead bodies; in each car there were seven to eight dead bodies,” he said. “Thousands of people were watching the dogs fighting, including young children and old people. Some people were selling things like oranges and tea and other food from stalls. People had come from different parts of Kandahar Province.”

Hospital officials in Kandahar said there were children and teenagers among the wounded, and that about 15 patients were critically hurt. Police officials, soldiers and local residents were lining up outside the hospital to donate blood. The Health Ministry put medical units in neighboring provinces on alert in case they were needed in Kandahar, Fahim said.

The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 after the United States led an invasion in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but their insurgent movement has been gathering strength, particularly in the south, and suicide bombings attributed to them have been increasing in the last few years.

In November, a suicide bomber attacked a parliamentary delegation visiting the normally quiet northern province of Baghlan from Kabul, killing more than normally quiet northern province of Baghlan killed more than 50 people, including at least 18 schoolchildren.

After that attack, President Hamid Karzai said that Taliban insurgents had committed 116 suicide bombings in 2007.

Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Carlotta Gall from Islamabad, Pakistan.

    At Least 80 Killed in Afghan Suicide Bombing, NYT, 18.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/18/world/asia/18afghan.html






80 Said to Be Killed

in Afghan Suicide Attack


February 17, 2008
Filed at 4:29 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- A suicide bombing Sunday at an outdoor dog fighting competition killed 80 people and wounded dozens more, a governor said, in what appeared to be the deadliest terror attack in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

More than 300 people had gathered to watch the event on the western edge of the southern city of Kandahar, including several Afghan militia leaders. Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said 80 had been killed. Abdullah Fahim, a Health Ministry spokesman, said about 90 people were wounded.

Witnesses reported gunfire after the blast from bodyguards. It was not immediately clear if the bullets killed anyone.

Kandahar -- the Taliban's former stronghold and Afghanistan's second largest city -- is one of the country's largest opium poppy producing regions. The province has been the scene of fierce battles between NATO forces -- primarily from Canada and the United States -- and Taliban fighters over the last two years.

Dog fighting competitions are common around Afghanistan and are considered as popular entertainment. They can attract hundreds of spectators who cram into a tight circle around the spectacle.

Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai and the president of Kandahar's provincial council, said the target of the attack was Abdul Hakim Jan, the leader of a local militia whom Karzai said was killed in the attack.

Faizullah Qar Gar, a resident of Kandahar who was at the dog fight, said bodyguards of militant commanders opened fire on the crowd after the bombing.

The previous deadliest bomb attack came in November in the northern city of Baghlan, when a suicide bombing and subsequent gunfire from bodyguards killed about 70 people, including six parliamentarians and 58 students and teachers.

In eastern Kunar province, militants ambushed an Afghan army convoy, and several militants and a soldier were killed in the ensuing battle, the Defense Ministry said Sunday.

The clash occurred Saturday while the soldiers were on patrol in a mountainous area near a military camp in Kunar province's Kandagal area, the ministry said.

    80 Said to Be Killed in Afghan Suicide Attack, NYT, 17.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Afghan-Violence.html






Top Taliban Commander Captured


February 12, 2008
The New York Times


PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A senior Taliban commander was wounded and arrested by Pakistani forces as he tried to slip across the Afghan border into Pakistan with a small band of men, the military spokesman’s office said Monday.

The commander, Mansoor Dadullah, is the brother of one of the Taliban’s most prominent and brutal operational leaders, Mullah Dadullah, who was killed last year, but is not of the same stature within the Taliban. His arrest may indicate greater vigilance by Pakistani border units who clashed with the group and wounded Mr. Dadullah and his five followers.

In separate violence ahead of Feb. 18 national elections in Pakistan, a candidate for an opposition party, the Awami National Party, was among ten people killed in a suicide attack in the tribal region of North Waziristan Monday.

The same party, which opposes the militants and has campaigned strongly against them, was attacked by a bomb blast on Saturday at a rally in northwestern Pakistan. The death toll in that explosion has risen to 29 people, the leader of the party, Asfandyar Wali, said.

The state news agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan, said Mr. Dadullah was critically wounded in an exchange of fire with a unit of the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force deployed along the Afghan border. The clash happened at Gaddal Post in the district of Qila Saifullah, which runs along the Afghan border just west of the town of Quetta, which the Taliban leadership has long used as a base and sanctuary.

The arrest of Mr. Dadullah may be more of a propaganda blow to the Taliban than a practical one. In December, the Taliban announced through a spokesman that Mr. Dadullah had been removed from his post of commander of the south because he had been ignoring the rules and regulations of the movement. Mr. Dadullah denied he had been removed at the time.

Pakistani forces have appeared to be doing more to track Afghan Taliban figures in the last year, and have cooperated in capturing or killing several senior commanders including Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Osmani, who was tracked crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan in Dec. 2006 and killed in an American airstrike.

The former Taliban defense minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund was also arrested in Pakistan in March 2007.

Mullah Dadullah was killed in a special forces operation in Helmand Province of Afghanistan in May 2007. In July, a Pakistani militant, Abdullah Mehsud, who led a large number of fighters into Helmand Province to fight NATO forces, was killed when Pakistani forces surrounded a house in Zhob, a district south of the tribal areas in the province of Baluchistan in Pakistan.

    Top Taliban Commander Captured, NYT, 12.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/12/world/asia/12taliban.html






Gates Defends

NATO Mission in Afghanistan


February 8, 2008
The New York Times


VILNIUS, Lithuania — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, continuing his self-described effort to nag allies for more troops in Afghanistan without alienating them, said Thursday that NATO was not in crisis and that the Afghan mission was not failing.

“I don’t think that there’s a crisis, that there’s a risk of failure,” Mr. Gates said. “My view is that it represents, potentially, the opportunity to make further progress faster in Afghanistan if we had more forces there.”

Those comments, during an informal session of NATO defense ministers here, came one day after he warned Congress that the Atlantic alliance risks becoming a “two-tiered” organization divided between “some allies willing to fight and die to protect people’s security, and others who are not.”

Mr. Gates said he was continuing to press NATO nations for more troops, as well as asking some to lift restrictions on the types of combat missions their troops could undertake. He said he was also urging them to allow their soldiers to be moved from peaceful areas in the north to fight insurgents in the south.

He acknowledged the difficulty, in particular since some NATO nations have minority or coalition governments with little political will for combat missions that risk loss of life in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates also said that he was seeking more creative solutions to troop shortages in Afghanistan, such as asking nations to loan helicopters to those allies willing to take on combat missions. Likewise, those with restrictions on combat roles could take over fixed-site security missions — such as guarding entrances to bases — to free up troops that could take on more aggressive counterinsurgency roles.

Senior aides to the defense secretary said Mr. Gates’s comments here, as well as a speech scheduled for Sunday to a security conference in Munich, were part of an administration strategy to provoke a public discussion within Europe about the importance of the Afghan mission.

Mr. Gates acknowledged that his recent order to deploy an additional 3,200 marines to Afghanistan for a seven-month tour was designed for two purposes: to guarantee security gains in the south and to make a point to allies “and see if they could dig deeper and come up with more troops, as well.”

At the end of his first day of talks here, Mr. Gates said he “came away from the meeting encouraged. Everybody understands the nature of the problem.”

Mr. Gates also squelched early suggestions that the United States would take over command of combat operations in Southern Afghanistan, which has seen a spike in insurgent violence and drop in government control.

“I don’t think that’s realistic anytime soon,” Mr. Gates said. “I have thought about the command structures from the American standpoint. I’ve decided not to make any changes.”

At present, an American four-star general is in overall command of the NATO mission. Moving down the leadership chain, Americans are in command of the regional mission in the east, while a Canadian is in command of the south.

NATO officials are preparing a formal mission statement describing the way ahead in Afghanistan to be publicly released in April at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.

The alliance’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said Thursday that the NATO review — which will be written in a classified and nonclassified form — would not declare a change in NATO strategy for Afghanistan.

But it is expected to describe a comprehensive political-military strategy “to answer for ourselves a number of fundamental questions — to see if we can create benchmarks answering the question: ‘How do we see NATO’s presence and NATO’s role in Afghanistan now and for a longer period?’ ”

The document, looking out three to five years, will be more of a mission statement than a military campaign plan, setting goals and aspirations, NATO officials said.

    Gates Defends NATO Mission in Afghanistan, NYT, 8.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/08/world/middleeast/08gates.html






U.S. Helps Pakistan

Expand Commando Unit


February 6, 2008
Filed at 2:22 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. military advisers are helping the Pakistanis double the size of their elite commando force in an ongoing effort to blunt the rising threat of terrorist groups and anti-government militants operating in the country's unruly tribal areas, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.

The American military presence is fewer than 100 personnel, said Mike Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and is focused on what he called ''targeted training.'' That includes assisting Pakistan's Special Service Group and teaching specialized fighting techniques, such as helicopter assaults.

''It's been ongoing for a while,'' Vickers said during a meeting with reporters. ''They're expanding their capability substantially -- they're essentially doubling their force. So we're helping them with that expansion, and trying to improve their capabilities at the same time. There's also some aviation training. It's been ongoing for several years.''

The number of U.S. forces in Pakistan is a sensitive issue. Many Pakistanis openly support or sympathize with al-Qaida, the Taliban or militant groups and would view a sizable American presence in their country as an unwelcome intrusion.

That means the United States won't conduct military operations on its own inside Pakistan unless President Pervez Musharraf's government requests such direct support.

''We have to be careful conducting operations in a sovereign country, particularly one that's a friend of ours and one that has given us a lot of support,'' Dell Dailey, the State Department's counterterrorism chief, said last month. ''The blowback would be pretty serious.''

U.S. intelligence believes al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is in the tribal area, a large swath of rugged land that runs along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Defense officials told Congress on Wednesday that al-Qaida is operating in safe havens in ''under-governed regions'' of Pakistan -- posing a direct threat to Europe, the United States and the Pakistan government itself. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted in written testimony that the next attack on the U.S. would likely be launched by terrorists in that region.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believes that Pakistan understands the threat al-Qaida poses to its government, but is sensitive to an American military presence. Gates has said the U.S. remains ready, willing and able to provide military support and conduct joint operations with the Pakistanis.

Until Pakistan ''sort of gets on top of the whole situation and what their needs are, I think we're kind of in a standby mode at this point,'' he said.

The top American commander in the region, Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, was in Pakistan in January meeting with senior Pakistani officials, including the new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. Following the meeting, Fallon told reporters that Pakistani officials were more willing to seek U.S. assistance.

Mullen is scheduled to travel to Pakistan later this week, Vickers said.

Echoing testimony delivered to Congress on Tuesday by U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell, Vickers said the unsettled tribal region ''remains a source of sanctuary for the al-Qaida senior leadership.''

Vickers gave the Pakistani military high marks for keeping al-Qaida in check in Pakistan's cities and other ''settled'' locations.

''They have been less effective in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, and that's the problem we face right now,'' Vickers said. ''It's getting worse in Pakistan, I think, it's fair to say.''

If U.S. forces teamed up with the Pakistanis, their support would be ''by, with and through'' the Pakistani troops, Vickers said. The phrase refers to a key tenet of unconventional warfare and underscores the disguised approach the United States would take.

''We have certain capabilities that we can do in a low-visibility manner that can enhance the operations of Pakistani forces,'' Vickers said. Those capabilities could include night vision devices, air transport, and sophisticated gear for gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance.

Vickers, a former Green Beret and ex-CIA agent, took over last year as the Pentagon's top special operations official. He has substantial experience in Afghanistan. In 1984, at age 31, he engineered the clandestine arming of the Afghan rebels who drove the Soviet Union out of their country nearly a quarter century ago in what was the largest covert action in CIA history.

Then, as now, Vickers maintains that success depends not on a large U.S. military presence, but on the right mix of military backing, economic support, and political will.

''Surges of forces create important but temporary effects,'' Vickers said. ''I don't think we're going to defeat the insurgency (in Afghanistan) over the long haul with a large foreign presence. I think substantial foreign assistance and continued engagement is critical. But in the long run it will be the Afghans that do it with our support.''

Army Gen. Dan McNeill, the top U.S. officer in Afghanistan, on Wednesday challenged the widely held view that the insurgency there is worsening.

Vickers had a different view.

''The insurgency has certainly picked up in Afghanistan in the past couple of years, and the link with narcotics has made for a challenge,'' he said, referring to the country's escalating production of opium, the main ingredient in heroin.

Afghanistan cultivated a record 477,000 acres of opium in 2007, a 14 percent increase over the previous year. Total production, spurred by unusually high rainfall, increased even further, by 34 percent, according to a new report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

''Defeating insurgencies takes a period of time,'' Vickers said. ''I am still very optimistic about the long haul in Afghanistan.''

    U.S. Helps Pakistan Expand Commando Unit, NYT, 6.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-US-Pakistan.html






War Costs Next Year Estimated at $685 Billion or More


February 6, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost $170 billion in the next fiscal year over and above the $515.4 billion regular Pentagon budget that President Bush has proposed, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Wednesday.

Mr. Gates gave that estimate in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee after cautioning the panel that any estimate would be dicey, given the unpredictability of war.

“Well, a straight-line projection, Mr. Chairman, of our current expenditures would probably put the full-year cost in a strictly arithmetic approach at about $170 billion,” Mr. Gates said in response to questions from Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is the head of the committee.

So, Mr. Levin pressed, “That would be a total then of $685 billion” in Pentagon spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. “Does that sound right?”

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Gates replied. “But as I indicated, I have no confidence in that figure.”

Mr. Levin has been a persistent critic of the war in Iraq, and he has complained that the Bush administration has been less than straightforward about the financial costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns by seeking supplemental funding outside the regular Pentagon budget. Congress has gone along with the supplemental requests, with members of both parties pledging to give American troops whatever they need.

“While the monetary cost is not the most important part of the debate over Iraq or Afghanistan, it does need to be part of that debate, and the citizens of our nation have a right to know what those costs are projected to be,” Senator Levin said.

Mr. Gates got a relatively friendly welcome, perhaps in part because he has tried to adopt a style less confrontational than that of his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld. Adm. Michael G. Mullen was also welcomed warmly by committee members in his first appearance before the panel as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,

Senator Levin complained, as he has before, about what he sees as the failure of the post-Saddam Hussein government in Iraq. “For years, the Iraqi leaders have failed to seize the opportunity our brave troops gave them,” he said. “It is long past time that the Iraqi leaders hear a clear, simple message: we can’t save them from themselves; it’s in their hands, not ours, to create a nation by making the political compromises needed to end the conflict.”

Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the committee’s ranking Republican and one of his party’s most influential voices on military matters, did not disagree with Senator Levin on Iraq. “I think by any fair standard, that level of progress to date is falling below the expectations that we had hoped,” he said. “Senator Levin quite appropriately observed that the elected officials in Iraq are simply not exercising the full responsibility of the range of sovereignty, and that puts our forces in a certain degree of continuing peril and risk.”

Mr. Gates said in response to questions that he will soon visit Iraq again and confer with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander, on whether and when to reduce American troop strength to the “pre-surge” level of about 130,000.

Also on Wednesday, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, agreed that the international military mission there was “under-resourced,” in particular when compared with deployments to Iraq.

“Afghanistan, land mass-wise, is half again as big as Iraq, for example, if you want to get some relative bearing there,” General McNeill said during a Pentagon news briefing.

In Afghanistan, the population is “estimated to be perhaps as much as 3 million more than Iraq, yet we have, in trying to operate in a counterinsurgency environment, only a fraction of the force that the coalition has in Iraq,” General McNeill added. “So there’s no question it’s an under-resourced force.”

General McNeill said that if the official American military counterinsurgency doctrine were applied to Afghanistan, then well over 400,000 allied and Afghan security troops would be required. He acknowledged the impossibility of fielding a force of that size.

“The trick, then, is to manage the risk that’s inherent in having an under-resourced international force and reaching the level of capacity at which the Afghan national security forces ought to be,” he said, stressing especially the importance of training the local police.

The NATO-led security assistance mission has about 40,000 troops in Afghanistan, of which 14,000 are American. Separately, the United States has 12,000 other troops there conducting counterterrorism and support missions. Mr. Gates in recent days signed a deployment order for an additional 3,200 marines for temporary duty in Afghanistan.

The general also disputed public assessments that the Afghan insurgency was growing, and he cited the number of low- to high-level insurgent leaders who were killed or captured. “That number is significant,” General McNeill said. “Many of those were jihadists who cut their teeth fighting the Soviets. They were good at their skills. They’re no longer on the battlefield. That’ll be very helpful.”

Commenting on a recent public debate about skills of various NATO nations at waging counter-insurgency missions, General McNeill said that “it is probably an incontrovertible truth that if you pull a huge alliance together, that the going-in position of different nationalities of that alliance, or at least their military forces, is somewhat different.”

He acknowledged differences in training, as well as varying political pressures from individual home capitals that affect the capabilities of those forces in Afghanistan.

Looking to the future, General McNeill predicted an exceedingly large opium harvest, and warned that significant portions of narcotics profits would go to Taliban and other insurgent activity.

    War Costs Next Year Estimated at $685 Billion or More, NYT, 6.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/06/washington/06cnd-military.html






Rice Tries to Convince Europe on Afghanistan


February 7, 2008
The New York Times


LONDON — With criticism of the war in Afghanistan increasing on both sides of the Atlantic, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that European governments needed to convince their people that sending troops to Afghanistan — and keeping them there — should remain a priority for NATO.

“I do think the alliance is facing a test here,” Ms. Rice said during a visit to London. “Populations have to understand that this is not just a peacekeeping fight.”

But underscoring the challenge for the United States, which wants Europe to significantly increase its troop strength in Afghanistan, Germany announced Wednesday that it would send only enough additional troops to replace a Norwegian contingent of about 250, a number that United States diplomats consider paltry.

The German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, rejected a sharply worded letter last week from his United States counterpart, Robert M. Gates, asking that Germany send soldiers and helicopters to southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency has increased in ferocity and the heaviest fighting has taken place. Instead, Mr. Jung said on Wednesday that it would deploy only a rapid reaction force in northern Afghanistan in the summer to replace a Norwegian contingent.

“An expansion into the south is out of the question,” Reinhold Robbe, defense commissioner for the Bundestag, said on German television. “That is the consensus in all of the parties.”

As the Taliban insurgency has gathered steam, Bush administration officials have been trying to prod reluctant European allies to send more troops to bolster the United States contingent of almost 30,000. The Pentagon recently announced that it is sending an additional 3,200 marines to Afghanistan.

Germany has come under perhaps the greatest pressure to increase its commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force in Afghanistan. It has roughly 3,300 troops there, making it the third-largest contributor after the United States and Great Britain.

“Partners in an alliance have to also understand the domestic debates in a partner country like Germany,” said Peter Schmidt, a security analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “The Americans quite often show up in Europe and the president tells us, ‘Look I’ll never get that through Congress.’ Something similar is happening here.”

Bush administration officials have been on the defensive about Afghanistan since a critical report released last week by a group whose co-chairman was Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander. The report concluded: “The U.S. and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.”

A United Nations report this week said that opium production, which officials believe has helped to finance the Taliban and Al Qaeda, has increased. And on Tuesday, the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, told a Senate panel that Al Qaeda is gaining in strength from its refuge in Pakistan and is steadily improving its abilities to recruit, train and position operatives capable of launching attacks inside the United States.

Ms. Rice, appearing in a joint news conference with her British counterpart, David Miliband, after meetings in London, said the Taliban and Al Qaeda were increasing their offensives against civilian targets because they had so far failed in their campaigns against NATO and the United States military.

“It doesn’t take much courage to kidnap a teacher or take over a school,” she said.

But Mr. Miliband signaled the growing frustration felt in Europe over the inability, thus far, of the Afghan government to confront the Taliban, or to crack down on opium production. He stressed the need for a “joint effort” between NATO and the Afghan government, and called for “mutual responsibility.”

And he said that Britain had no plans to send any additional troops to Afghanistan. “We’re not there to create a colony,” he said.

Helene Cooper reported from London and Nicholas Kulish from Berlin.

    Rice Tries to Convince Europe on Afghanistan, NYT, 7.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/07/world/europe/07diplo.html?hp






Look at US Troop Levels


January 27, 2008
Filed at 9:35 a.m. ET
The New York Times


A look at U.S. troop levels during 2007 in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, showing end-of-month totals, as well as current and projections.


Iraq 2007:

January -- 137,000

February -- 138,000

March -- 145,000

April -- 144,600

May -- 148,000

June -- 155,300

July -- 156,300

August -- 164,000

September -- 161,200

October -- 166,000 (peaked during the month at 170,000)

November -- 160,000

December -- 156,000





As of Jan. 25 -- 158,000

Projected for July -- 135,000

Unofficial goal expressed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for December 2008 -- 100,000




Afghanistan 2007:

January -- 26,000

February -- 25,200

March -- 24,300

April -- 24,100

May -- 26,500

June -- 23,700

July -- 23,800

August -- 24,000

September -- 24,500

October -- 25,000

November -- 25,000

December -- 25,000





As of Jan. 25 -- 28,000

Projected for March-April -- 31,200



Currently less than 100.

No month-by-month or year-by-year numbers available.

    Look at US Troop Levels, NYT, 27.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Terror-War-Troops-Glance.html






10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight


January 25, 2008
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — At least nine Afghan police officers and a civilian were killed early Thursday in a firefight between American forces and the officers in Ghazni Province, just south of the capital, local officials said.

The American forces were searching houses in a village on the outskirts of Ghazni town and blew open the gates of a house, according to local Afghan officials. District police officers heard the explosion and rushed to the scene, suspecting that the Taliban were in the area, but were themselves mistaken for Taliban and shot by the American soldiers, the officials said. Aircraft supporting the operation fired on one of the police cars.

The killings set off protests in the town on Thursday afternoon, and demonstrators blocked the main highway and prevented a government delegation from reaching the town from a nearby airfield, local officials said.

“Another big cruelty was made by American forces this morning,” said Khial Muhammad Hussaini, a member of Parliament from the province who was among the elders and legislators who had traveled to the town to try to calm people and persuade them to reopen the highway.

Zemarai Bashary, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul, confirmed the shooting and called it a “misunderstanding,” but said he had information on only eight deaths.

The confrontation happened when United States forces were conducting a night raid on the compound of a man suspected of being an insurgent and of organizing suicide bombings, according to Maj. Chris Belcher, the spokesman for the United States military at Bagram Air Base. The soldiers were part of the United States-led coalition that conducts counterterrorism operations, not part of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, he said.

The American soldiers came under fire from insurgent forces and fired back, Major Belcher said. He suggested that those killed were insurgents and said that he had no information on whether they were members of the national police. “I know there were some deaths, but I don’t have a number,” he said.

The Afghan government has repeatedly requested that United States forces coordinate with local authorities and take along Afghan security forces during operations because there have been many instances in which Americans have inadvertently killed civilians or local police officers.

But Mr. Hussaini, the Parliament member, said the American forces involved had not coordinated with any government authority before or during the raid.

Hajji Zaher, an elder in Ghazni town, gave this account: “At 3 a.m., when the Americans were searching the houses and when they blew up the gates, the police rushed to the area thinking that they were Taliban. And at the same time the Americans thought that the police were Taliban and there was a firefight.”

Habib-u Rahman, deputy chief of the Ghazni provincial council, said that nine police officers, including a district police chief, and a civilian had been killed and that four other police officers and a woman had been wounded.

“After the police came under fire, the police officers got out of their vehicle, and their vehicle was shot by a rocket from the plane,” Mr. Rahman said.

Eight people were detained by American soldiers, Mr. Rahman said, but two were from the provincial Education Department.

In other violence on Thursday, a NATO soldier was killed and two were wounded in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, NATO said in a statement.

    10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight, NYT, 25.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/25/world/asia/25afghan.html






Op-Ed Contributor

In Kabul, Shattered Illusions


January 24, 2008
Kabul, Afghanistan


“WELL, at least we’re not in Baghdad,” we used to say when confronted by the vagaries of the Kabul winter. No heat, sporadic electricity and growing disaffection among the population might make us uncomfortable, but those of us living outside the smothering embrace of the embassies or the United Nations had relative freedom of movement and few security worries.

And of course we had the Serena hotel. Its spa offered solace, a gym and a hot shower; we could pretend for a few hours that we were in Dubai.

But a week ago last Monday, Taliban gunmen burst into the lobby, one exploding his ball-bearing vest, one running to the gym and spa area, spraying bullets as he went. Eight people died, and several more were wounded.

It was a rude shock for those of us who used to feel superior to those who cowered behind their reinforced walls, venturing out only in bulletproof glass surrounded by convoys of big men with big guns.

We shopped on Chicken Street for carpets and trinkets, we dined at the shrinking number of restaurants that still serve alcohol. We partied at L’Atmosphere, “L’Atmo” to its friends, the “in” spot for the international crowd, and had our hair and nails done at the Nova salon. And we patted ourselves on the back because we knew the real Kabul.

None of us was prepared for what happened at the Serena. The Taliban are following a new strategy, their spokesman announced. They will go after civilians specifically, and will bring their mayhem to places where foreigners congregate.

So much for L’Atmo.

I am no stranger to the insurgency, having spent three years in Afghanistan and much of the past 12 months in Helmand Province. Helmand, center of opium and Taliban, may be the most unstable region of the country. It is also the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan, with British troops clashing frequently with the rebels.

For the past several months we have been hearing that NATO is winning, that the insurgency is running out of steam. Each suicide attack is a last gasp, a sign that the Taliban are becoming desperate.

As the enemy melts away only to regroup, we are expected to believe that this time, surely, they will stay put in their hideouts. The head of the Afghan National Security Directorate described the Serena attack as a sign of the Taliban’s weakness. “An enemy that cannot hold territory, an enemy that has no support among the people, has no other means than suicide bombing,” the security chief, Amrullah Saleh, told assembled reporters.

But those of us who have covered the steady decline of hope in Afghanistan over the past three years know where the relative strength lies.

Not with the central government, whose head, Hamid Karzai, has largely lost the respect of his people with his increasingly bizarre behavior: weeping at the plight of children in Kandahar, begging the Taliban to send him their address, confessing that he is powerless to control the warlords, auctioning off his silken robe to feed widows and orphans.

Not with the foreign troops, who have been unable to provide security or usher in the development that Afghanistan so desperately needs. Civilian casualties, often hushed up or denied, have made NATO a curse in some parts of the country.

Not with the international assistance community, with its misguided counter-narcotics policies, high-priced consultants and wasteful practices. Out of the billions that have supposedly come into the country, only a trickle has been used to good effect.

The Taliban, under whose brutal regime Afghanistan became an international pariah, are steadily regaining ground. Even those who deplore their harsh rules and capricious behavior welcome the illusion of security they bring in their wake.

The United States Agency for International Development was talking about “relocating” some of its contractors to Dubai, at least temporarily. A Norwegian friend made plans with us for dinner one night, “provided I am not evacuated.”

Soon we will all be living in reinforced compounds, gathering for desperate, Masque of the Red Death parties, with guests being searched at the door.

Not me. I will be back at the Serena as soon as the blood is mopped up and the windows repaired. I’ll try not to fall off my exercise machine every time a door slams or a car backfires.

But I’ll miss Zeenia, the Serena’s sunny massage therapist. She was shot and killed on that terrible Monday.

Jean MacKenzie is the Afghanistan country director for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting.

    In Kabul, Shattered Illusions, NYT, 24.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/24/opinion/24mackenzie.html






19 Killed As Afghan Violence Continues


January 2, 2008
Filed at 4:54 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Roadside bombs and military operations in Afghanistan killed 19 people, including 14 Taliban fighters, as the record violence that Afghanistan saw in 2007 continued into the new year, officials said Wednesday.

Afghan and foreign troops killed eight suspected Taliban fighters Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, while a roadside bomb in the east's Khost province killed two Afghan security guards working for a U.S. military base, an Afghan Defense Ministry statement said.

Five other militants were killed in separate incidents when roadside bombs they were planting exploded prematurely, the ministry said. Taliban militants killed an Afghan army officer and wounded another in Helmand province's Sarkono area, it said.

Police in Khost killed a would-be suicide bomber who was carrying hand grenades as he tried to enter a police checkpoint Tuesday, said Wazir Pacha, a spokesman for Khost's provincial police chief.

A roadside bomb in the south killed two border police in Kandahar province, said Gen. Abdul Razik.

Afghanistan experienced a record level of violence that killed more than 6,500 people in 2007, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

Afghan and foreign troops killed the eight suspected militants in Helmand's Musa Qala area, the statement said. Helmand, the world's largest poppy-growing region, has seen some of Afghanistan's worst violence in the past year.

British, U.S. and Afghan troops forced the Taliban to flee the town of Musa Qala last month. The militants had controlled the town and its surrounding areas for more than 10 months.

The guards were traveling in Khost province's Yaqoubi district when an explosion from the roadside device ripped through their vehicle, Pacha said.

19 Killed As Afghan Violence Continues, NYT, 2.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Afghanistan.html




home Up