Les anglonautes

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

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2012 > USA > War > Afghanistan (III)




Cpl. Keaton G. Coffey's father, Grant Coffey,

pulls together the his son's pallbearers for a hug

after a memorial service at Willamette National Cemetery,

June 4, 2012, in Happy Valley, Ore.


Coffey, 22, of Boring, died May 24

while conducting combat operations

in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.


Photograph: Faith Carthcart/The Oregonian


Boston Globe > Big Picture > June 8, 2012















Suicide Bomber

Kills 3 Afghans in Attack on U.S. Base


December 26, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber killed three Afghans on Wednesday in an unsuccessful attempt to enter an American military base in eastern Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials said.

The attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman, located at an old military airfield just outside the city of Khost, came almost exactly three years after another suicide attacker succeeded in entering the base and killed eight people, most of them C.I.A. employees, in the deadliest episode for the agency in the course of the Afghan war.

Gen. Abdul Qayum Baqizoi, the police chief of Khost Province, said the attacker drove a minivan packed with explosives toward the front gate as civilian workers gathered to enter at the start of the day, but was stopped by an Afghan guard. He detonated his explosives and killed the guard, as well as two civilians, General Baqizoi said.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force confirmed the incident but said the three victims were all Afghan guards. He stressed that the security perimeter of the base had not been breached.

Seven civilians were wounded in the attack as well, General Baqizoi said.

A statement e-mailed to journalists by a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the attack. “According to credible information there were up to 250 national enemies queuing in front of the gate to get inside and serve the Americans in return for dollar salaries and by doing so they were playing with their country, religion and dignity,” Mr. Mujahid said in attempting to justify the attack.


An employee of The New York Times

contributed reporting from Khost, Afghanistan.

    Suicide Bomber Kills 3 Afghans in Attack on U.S. Base, NYT, 26.12.2012,






Motive Unclear

in Killing by Woman in Afghan Force


December 25, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — Sergeant Nargis went to work Monday with murder on her mind.

By the end of the morning, she would succeed, becoming responsible for this year’s 62nd insider killing, in which Afghan security forces have killed American or other coalition personnel. Such killings have greatly increased this year, but Sergeant Nargis’s killing of an American police adviser, Joseph Griffin, 49, of Mansfield, Ga., ranks among the strangest.

Was she an Iranian agent, as Afghan officials suggested on Tuesday after they found her Iranian passport at home? Was she mentally ill, as some police interrogators said privately and other Afghan officials speculated publicly?

The first theories, that she was either a jilted lover or a Taliban infiltrator, were firmly rejected by the authorities on Tuesday, but even her interrogators were left perplexed by her motives.

Making the case even stranger was her job: a uniformed police officer attached to the Interior Ministry’s legal and gender equality unit, what would normally be seen as a plum job, one that is entirely underwritten by international aid, both American and European, earmarked specifically for women’s rights issues.

All she would tell her interrogators was that she went to work aiming to kill someone important, and that she did not much care who, officials said.

“I was myself asking her, trying to make her talk about what could make her do such a thing, and all she would say was she wanted to kill a high official,” said Gen. Mohammad Zaher, the director of the criminal investigation division of the Police Department in Kabul Province, who attended her interrogation after her arrest on Monday. What she would not say, however, was why she had done it, he said. “We just don’t know.”

Her first stop was the Interior Ministry compound in downtown Kabul, where her own office was. General Zaher said she had told questioners that she prowled the compound looking for someone important enough to kill.

“She saw two foreign women on the grounds of the M.O.I., and thought of killing them,” he said. They were foreign aid workers who had been gathering warm clothing for refugee children and were looking for police assistance in distributing it. “She said she thought they were not worth killing.”

So instead she went down the street and around the corner, about half a mile away, to the sprawling compound that includes the Kabul police headquarters and the Kabul governor’s office.

There, according to Afghan officials and to what they said was her own confession, she gained access by hiding her weapon on her body — women are searched much less thoroughly because of cultural norms, and only by other women, who are often in short supply. As an official of the gender unit at the ministry, she probably had experience carrying out such searches herself and would know how to evade them.

Afghan security officials themselves have a well-founded fear of attacks by their own forces — “green on green,” or Afghan on Afghan, attacks have been even more common lately than attacks on foreign forces, with at least 14 Afghan police officers killed in such episodes in the past week. So even a uniformed police officer could not easily gain access to a building where she was not assigned.

According to the general’s account, she first went to the restroom inside police headquarters, where she removed the gun from under her clothing and put it in her uniform pocket, where it would be more accessible. She then tried to get into the Kabul governor’s office, but was turned away by guards there because she had no appointment. Next she tried the Kabul police chief’s office, and again was turned away. She told interrogators she had wanted to kill either of them.

Sergeant Nargis went downstairs to the ground floor, determined to kill someone immediately now that her gun was no longer hidden and she would be caught with it if she tried to leave.

That was when she encountered Mr. Griffin, an employee of DynCorp International who had been working with the Afghan police as a trainer since July 2011. Afghan officials said he had just bought an Afghan flag at a canteen in the police headquarters, for some sort of ceremony.

According to police accounts, she went up behind Mr. Griffin and shot him in the head at close range without any warning. Although he died at the scene, Afghan officials said, he was taken by medical personnel to an American base.

As more detail about Sergeant Nargis emerged, it did little to shed any light on her motive.

Afghan officials at a news conference produced a copy of her Iranian passport, which showed she was 33 years old and, as with many Muslim women in conservative areas, had only one name of her own.

She was a native of Iran, the officials said, and married an Afghan refugee in Tehran 10 years ago before moving to Afghanistan with him. He got a job as a low-level employee — a tea boy, or servant — at another department of the Interior Ministry. (Some officials said on Monday that he was a police officer, though that proved untrue.) Sergeant Nargis joined one of the first classes of female police recruits in 2008, and would have had a much higher income than her husband.

Officials produced no evidence that Sergeant Nargis had any recent connection with the Iranian authorities, though there was plenty of innuendo, and some Afghan news outlets ran with the theory that she was an infiltrator. Blaming neighboring countries for atrocities in Afghanistan is a common refrain here, not less so because it sometimes proves to be true.

She and her husband, whose name had not been released, have three children, the eldest a son in his final year of high school, the authorities said. The husband was being detained as a witness but had not been charged with any crime.

Intriguingly, Sergeant Nargis returned to Afghanistan less than a month ago from a monthlong police training program in Egypt. While on that course with other female officers, she disappeared for two days without ever giving a satisfactory explanation for her movements, according to a police official who spoke to other police officers who had been with her. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information about the case.

The only thing Afghan officials seemed to be certain of was that Sergeant Nargis was not a Taliban infiltrator. Even the Taliban did not claim as much, in a statement issued by the group quoting a spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, and reported by the monitoring organization SITE Intelligence Group on Monday. But Mr. Mujahid did add that such attacks had been on the increase not only by Taliban infiltrators, but also by “Afghan soldiers who have an awakened conscience and feeling against the occupation forces.”

That last theory resonated with one police commander close to the case. Either that, he said, or “she was just nuts.”


Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting.

    Motive Unclear in Killing by Woman in Afghan Force, NYT, 25.12.2012,






U.S. Civilian Is Killed

at Police Post in Kabul


December 24, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — A police sergeant shot and killed an American civilian adviser at police headquarters in Kabul on Monday, Afghan police officials said, breaking a relative lull in the so-called insider killings that have strained the relationship between Americans and Afghans here.

The American victim was identified as Joseph Griffin, 49, of Mansfield, Ga., who had worked for DynCorp International as a police trainer since July 2011, according to a DynCorp spokeswoman, Ashley Burke.

Afghan officials identified the suspect as a woman named Nargis, a 33-year-old sergeant in the national police force who worked in the Interior Ministry’s legal and gender equality department, and whose husband is also a member of the police force.

A person at Kabul police headquarters, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information, said the attacker had shot the American adviser in the head at close range with a pistol and then was immediately arrested by other Afghan police officers. The person added that both American and Afghan officials were questioning her, and he said she was distraught. The police said they did not believe the attack was related to terrorism and that the suspect had no known connections with insurgents.

The Afghan news station TOLO cited Afghan officials as saying that the woman, who had crossed multiple police checkpoints before she fired her gun, had graduated from the national police academy in 2008, in one of its first female classes.

The effort to recruit and train female police officers has been fraught with difficulty. Eupol, the European police organization active in police training here, says there are only 380 female police officers in Kabul, and even fewer in the provinces, despite a goal by the Interior Ministry of recruiting 5,000 by the end of 2014.

Insider attacks, in which members of the Afghan security services have turned against their foreign allies, have greatly increased in the past year, with 61 American and other coalition members killed, not including the episode on Monday, compared with 35 deaths the previous year, according to NATO figures.

Monday’s attack — the first insider attack known to be committed by a woman — came after a lull in insider shootings after the military instituted a series of precautions meant to reduce them. The most recent episode was on Nov. 11, when a British soldier was killed in Helmand Province.

American and Afghan officials have been struggling to figure out how large a factor Taliban infiltration or coercion has been in such attacks. Although insurgent contact has been clear in some cases, many of the attacks have seemed to come out of personal animosity or outrage, attributed to culture clash or growing Afghan anger at what they see as an unwelcome occupation by the United States and its allies.

“The loss of any team member is tragic, but to have this happen over the holidays makes it seem all the more unfair,” Steven F. Gaffney, the chairman of DynCorp, said in a statement.

The company also released a statement attributed to the victim’s wife, Rennae Griffin. “My husband was a thoughtful, kind, generous and loving man who was selfless in all his actions and deeds,” it said.

In other violence on Monday, a coalition member was killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, and an Afghan Local Police commander killed five fellow officers at a checkpoint in Jowzjan Province in the north. Dur Mohammad, the commander at the checkpoint, shot and killed five officers under his command, according to Gen. Abdul Aziz Ghairat, the provincial police chief. He said the commander fled after the shooting. General Ghairat did not offer a motive, but said that Mr. Mohammad had connections with the Taliban in the area.

The Afghan Local Police program, which seeks to bring armed elements — including some former insurgents — into government service, has drawn criticism because of a series of episodes in which the armed elements have switched allegiances, sometimes repeatedly.

    U.S. Civilian Is Killed at Police Post in Kabul, NYT, 24.12.2012,






Car Bomb Kills at Least 17 in Pakistan Tribal Region


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A powerful car bomb exploded near government offices in a town in the northwestern tribal belt on Monday, killing at least 17 people and wounding dozens, local officials said.

The car bomb attack in the Khyber tribal agency followed a Taliban assault on the nearby international airport in Peshawar over the weekend that left at least 15 people dead, 10 of them militants, underlining the continued potency of Islamist fighters in the area.

In Monday’s attack, officials said that a vehicle loaded with an estimated 90 pounds of explosives was detonated by remote control in Jamrud, close to Peshawar, which borders the tribal belt.

Although the blast occurred near the offices of a senior government official, its immediate force ripped through the women’s waiting area of a bus stop, said Jahangir Azim, a senior official in the Khyber agency. The dead included four Afghan women and three children, he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which damaged shops and vehicles across a wide radius. The dead and an estimated 44 wounded people were taken to hospitals.

Khyber is home to several Islamist militant groups, some of which are affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, while others are fighting both the Taliban and the government.

Officials said they were unsure whether Monday’s attack was aimed at the government offices or at members of the Zakakhel subtribe, which has recently sided with the government against the Taliban. One bus stop in the vicinity of the blast is used by the Zakakhel to travel to their home area of Tirah Valley, which has recently seen fighting between members of a government-sponsored tribal militia and two rival Islamist groups.

“At the moment we are not in position to allege someone for the blast or to tell exactly what was the motive behind the attack by the perpetrators,” Asmatullah Wazir, a local government official, said by telephone.

In the Taliban attack against the Peshawar airport, five militants died during a failed attempt to break through the airport’s perimeter wall on Saturday night, while another five died during a shootout with security forces at a nearby house on Sunday morning.

At least five other people, including three civilians and two police officers, died in the attack, which was the first concerted attack on the Peshawar airport. Although the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, officials identified several of the attackers as Uzbeks, suggesting that Qaeda-linked elements had also participated.

Together, the two attacks killed at least 32 people and wounded more than 80, highlighting the challenges facing the security forces in the run-up to general elections that are due in the next six months.

    Car Bomb Kills at Least 17 in Pakistan Tribal Region, NYT, 17.12.2012,






10 Afghan Girls Killed in Old Mine Blast;

Car Bomb Kills One in Kabul


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives targeted the compound of a private military contractor on the eastern outskirts of Kabul on Monday, killing at least one person and injuring at least 15 others, including foreigners, the police said.

In a separate episode, 10 girls were killed in a rural district of eastern Afghanistan on Monday when a roadside bomb exploded while they were collecting firewood, the Afghan police said. The office of the governor of Nangarhar Province said the girls were all between 9 and 11 years old. The Ministry of Education said some were as young as 6.

The Kabul explosion sent a large plume of smoke above the capital on the Jalalabad road, a main thoroughfare leading east out of the city lined with shops, yards and industrial units.

The target was a company called Contrack International, said Gen. Mohammed Dawood Amin, Kabul’s deputy chief of police. Officials said Contrack was a construction maintenance company that provided logistics services for the Afghan Army and police and NATO coalition bases.

“There was a blast, a boom and a wall fell down,” said Roheen Fedai, 19, who said he worked in the company’s call center. Shortly after the blast, he was wandering close to the compound with his hand in a bandage and blood on his face from an eye injury.

The car exploded in a small lane between the company and another compound housing a carton-making factory, blasting down walls and destroying a two-story office.

Barialyia, a security official for Contrack, said the company’s country director was wounded in the explosion. He said five American and South African citizens were among the injured.

Mr. Fedai said Contrack was an American-owned supplier to the Afghan military. Officials here also said the company was American-owned, but the company could not be reached to confirm this or other details about the attack. Its Web site says its headquarters are in McLean, Va., and shows that it has provided services for the United States military in the past.

The compound is close to a NATO base, Camp Phoenix, and other NATO installations. The Taliban claimed responsibility, but a coalition spokesman in Kabul, Lt. Col. Hagen Messer, said the attack did not affect the NATO bases, and there were no coalition casualties.

In the blast in eastern Afghanistan, Hazarat Hussain Masharaqiwal, a spokesman for the police chief of Nangarhar Province, said that the children discovered the unexploded bomb near their village, and that it went off when they hit it with an ax. The explosion also injured a boy who was with them.

The local police said the bomb probably dated from the civil war or even the Soviet occupation of the country.

The United States-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said the explosion was caused by the accidental triggering of an old land mine, quoting the governor of Chaparhar District in Nangarhar.

In a statement, Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of American and international forces in Afghanistan, said he was saddened by the girls’ deaths. “Over three decades of conflict, Afghanistan became one of the most heavily mined countries on earth,” he said.

Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Khalid Alokozai from Nangarhar.

    10 Afghan Girls Killed in Old Mine Blast; Car Bomb Kills One in Kabul, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Where War Still Echoes, Recalling Earlier Battles


December 11, 2012
The New York Times


HERAT, Afghanistan — For a country disfigured by decades of conflict, it seems fitting that Afghanistan should have a place set aside for reflecting on war.

The Jihad Museum on a forested hillside in the western provincial capital of Herat is many things: a temple to the mujahedeen heroes who battled the Soviets in the 1970s and ’80s, and a memorial for the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who were slaughtered or fled the fighting.

It is also, for many Afghans, a not-so-veiled portrayal of a likely future: they review the museum’s dioramas of historical violence with clenching knots in their stomachs, fearing that the scenes may play out again soon, after the end of the NATO combat mission here in 2014.

“I think the worst days are yet to come,” said Obaidullah Esar, 51, a former fighter, who was touring the museum one recent afternoon.

The museum is a blue, green and white rotunda covered on the outside with the names of hundreds of victims from the war, all set in a watered garden of flower beds and fountains.

It boasts captured Soviet weaponry like tanks, a MIG fighter jet and helicopters. It has a portrait hall of fame of mujahedeen commanders.

The star attraction is a graphic diorama showing models of Afghan villagers rising up in a hellish wartime landscape to cudgel the heads of Soviet oppressors, in a triumphant if rather rosy narrative arc: Soviets commit heinous acts against poor villagers, farmers besiege Soviet tanks with sticks, Soviet soldiers are throttled, Soviet soldiers are shot. At the end, the army of the mujahedeen marches home victorious.

Still, if its view is more triumphal than strictly historical, it is one of the few accounts of the era that is easily accessible here.

“Since most Afghans are uneducated and we don’t have good historians to write our histories, our children don’t know who the Russians were, why the Afghans fought against them and what was the result of their resistance,” said Sayed Wahid Qattali, a prosperous 28-year-old politician and businessman who is the son of a former jihadi commander. Mr. Qattali’s father established the museum with the help of Ismail Khan, a mujahedeen warlord and former governor of Herat.

Mr. Qattali says one of the motivations for building the museum is the reluctance of the country’s official history books to address the painful events of the past four decades. In an attempt to depoliticize the history of a country pulled in so many different ways by ethnic tensions, school textbooks tell Afghanistan’s history in depth only up until about the 1970s, skipping over major events since then like the Soviet invasion, civil war, the Taliban’s reign and the American-led invasion and military presence.

Mr. Qattali wants the museum to fill that void, in particular telling his version of the mujahedeen’s exploits — before time moves on and the next chapter of history is inevitably written.

His family has profited during the relative calm of the past 10 years, with interests from chicken farms to a security firm that guards NATO fuel convoys, and he runs his own television station.

Recently, he toured the garden of the museum, showing off the mujahedeen’s trophies, like the MIG jet.

“Afghans have very bad memories of this,” he said, shaking his head, before strolling past an 82-millimeter light-rocket launcher perched in the grass. Near a Soviet helicopter, behind some bushes, Mr. Qattali hunched his shoulders and grew even more morose. “A lot of people were killed by this kind of helicopter,” he said. “We lost a lot of relatives and loved ones. Of course, we fought to the end.”

Inside the hushed museum, shoeless feet — visitors are required to remove their shoes — shuffled past glass cabinets of centuries-old rifles seized from British soldiers in earlier conflicts. The British were repelled, too, and the guns were used against the Soviets, showing an Afghan knack for taking whatever weapons invaders bring and turning them to their advantage.

A museum visitor might reflect that the arsenal of weaponry currently being supplied to Afghanistan by the American-led coalition could one day be piled here, too.

After the guns, a long corridor is lined with more than 60 iconic portraits of mujahedeen commanders who made their names during the fighting against the Soviets and, later, the Taliban: men like Ahmed Shah Massoud and Abdul Haq.

Though they share a hallway, the warlords hardly were united.

After the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, the jihadists fought ferociously among themselves, wreaking their own devastation. That sad story is not told here, though a facet of it is implied: In the Jihad Museum, the portraits of warlords allied with Mr. Khan appear proudly front and center, while the mujahedeen of rival parties like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are bestowed only grudging prominence, virtually hidden as an afterthought in the corner.

Even as the faces of factionalism haunt this museum, they also loom over the present-day politics in the capital, Kabul. Many of the same men and their supporters uneasily share space in the halls of government. When Afghans sketch out their fears about a coming civil war, those are also the men they envision leading it.

After the hall of fame, stairs rise to the museum’s most dramatic offering — the painted landscape of chalk figurines, tanks and villagers, consumed in an inferno of war around Herat, this province where some of the early resistance to the Soviets and the Soviet-backed government came together. A loudspeaker pipes in the terrible booms and rattles of war.

The clear message here is to remind that war is horrifying, and that if it comes again it will bring destruction and force people to flee to lives of exile in Iran and Pakistan, as many in older generations did, Mr. Qattali said. He concedes, though, that there is also a message encoded for the Taliban here: If the ordinary folk of Herat once again faced an invading oppressor, they would fight.

Indeed, Mr. Khan is already rallying his followers in this region, stirring controversy by urging them to prepare to fight alongside the Afghan Army against the Taliban after the international troops are gone.

“The Afghans will ultimately face the truth — and that is, after the Americans leave and the Taliban come back, they don’t have a choice but to fight the Taliban if they want to protect what we have achieved in the past 10 years,” Mr. Qattali said.

    Where War Still Echoes, Recalling Earlier Battles, NYT, 11.12.2012,






Pentagon Says Afghan Forces Still Need Assistance


December 10, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As President Obama considers how quickly to withdraw the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan and turn over the war to Afghan security forces, a bleak new Pentagon report has found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners.

The report, released Monday, also found that violence in Afghanistan is higher than it was before the surge of American forces into the country two years ago, although it is down from a high in the summer of 2010.

The assessment found that the Taliban remain resilient, that widespread corruption continues to weaken the central Afghan government and that Pakistan persists in providing critical support to the insurgency. Insider attacks by Afghan security forces on their NATO coalition partners, while still small, are up significantly: there have been 37 so far in 2012, compared with 2 in 2007.

As bright spots the report identified the continued transition by Afghan security forces into taking the lead on most routine patrols throughout the country and a decline in violence in populated areas like Kabul, the Afghan capital, and Kandahar, the largest city in the south.

The assessment, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” is required twice a year by Congress and covers the six-month period from April 1 through the end of September. Although the problems in the report have been familiar for years to national security officials in Washington, the report’s publication comes at an important juncture in the war.

American officials say that Gen. John R. Allen, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, wants to keep a large majority of the 68,000 troops in Afghanistan through the fighting season next fall so that Afghan forces have as much support as possible as they move out on their own by 2014. But military officials anticipate that the White House may push for a more rapid withdrawal to cut losses in an increasingly unpopular war.

More than 2,000 American service members have died in the war, which has cost the United States more than $500 billion since 2001. More than 1,200 American service members have died in Afghanistan from the beginning of 2010 to the present, which is roughly the period of the surge.

Obama administration officials have said that progress in the war in large part depends on whether the Taliban could rebuild after the hammering it took during the surge, when American forces, with 33,000 additional troops, aggressively pursued insurgents and drove them from critical territory in the south.

But the report was blunt in its assessment of the Taliban’s current strength. “The Taliban-led insurgency remains adaptive and determined, and retains the capability to emplace substantial numbers of I.E.D.s and to conduct isolated high-profile attacks,” the report said, using the term for homemade bombs. “The insurgency also retains a significant regenerative capacity.”

The report said that although the insurgents had less capability to directly attack American and Afghan forces, they had increasingly resorted to “assassinations, kidnappings, intimidation tactics, encouraging insider attacks and strategic messaging campaigns.”

A defense official who briefed reporters at the Pentagon sought to offer a more positive picture of the Afghan security forces’ abilities than the report would suggest. Acknowledging that the progress of the security forces had been “incremental,” the official said that many of the forces patrol and carry out some operations independently, without help from NATO. “They often don’t rely on any assistance from us at all,” said the official, who declined to be named under ground rules imposed by the Pentagon.

But the official said there were nonetheless broad problems with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, which together number 350,000 personnel. The security forces still depend over all on American air power, communications, intelligence gathering, logistics and leadership. That is true especially at the level of a brigade, which typically is composed of 3, 000 to 5,000 troops.

The official acknowledged that it would be a “challenge” to have the security forces ready to defend their own country by the end of 2014, when most American troops are to be out of Afghanistan. The White House is debating how many American forces should be left in the country after 2014 and it has opened negotiations with the Afghans on what their mission should be.

The defense official said that the rise in violence in Afghanistan — measured by what the report termed “enemy initiated attacks” — was a result of Afghan security forces pushing into Taliban-dominated areas, forcing the Taliban to fight back. The official cited three volatile districts in Kandahar Province — Maiwand, Panjwai and Zhari — as highly contested, violent areas.

Although the report did not provide month-by-month specific numbers of enemy-initiated attacks, it plotted them on a bar graph that showed, for example, that in July 2012 there were slightly more than 3,000 enemy-initiated attacks. In July 2009, before the surge began, the graph showed some 2,000 enemy-initiated attacks.

The official said it was a sign of progress that the report found that enemy-initiated attacks had declined in the city of Kandahar by 62 percent from a year ago.

The report found many problems with the Afghan government that American security officials have been aware of for years. The government, the report said, suffers from “widespread corruption, limited human capacity, lack of access to rural areas due to a lack of security, a lack of coordination between the central government and the Afghan provinces and districts, and an uneven distribution of power among the judicial, legislative and executive branches.”

One area of improvement, the report said, was the American relationship with Pakistan, which has been acrimonious in recent years. The report noted that the Pakistanis had agreed to reopen their country to trucks transporting matériel for the war in Afghanistan. However, the report said that “tensions remain” over insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan and cross-border attacks.

The report had been due to be released in early November, before the presidential election, but was delayed. The Pentagon did not give a reason for the delay.


Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting.

    Pentagon Says Afghan Forces Still Need Assistance, NYT,10.12.2012,






Taliban Bombers Attack Air Base in Afghanistan


December 2, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban suicide bombers assaulted a large coalition airfield in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, sparking a two-hour gunbattle that drew in helicopter gunships and resulted in the deaths of numerous attackers, a handful of the base’s Afghan security guards and as many as four doctors whose car was caught in the crossfire, Afghan officials and witnesses said.

By late morning, the main approach to the base on the edge of Jalalabad was strewn with blood, bodies and the remains of bombers who had been blown apart by their own explosives or the heavy ammunition used by base’s defenders, said Haji Niamatullah Khan, the governor of the Behsood district, where the airfield is located.

He put the total number of attackers at 11, though he acknowledged that he could not say for certain given the chaotic scene at the entrance of the base and American efforts to limit access to the area.

The Taliban took credit for the attack, claiming to have killed “tens” of foreign soldiers. The insurgents routinely overstate the effectiveness of their attacks, and on Sunday, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said medical evacuation helicopters could be seen ferrying dead and wounded American soldiers away from the scene, “which shows that heavy casualties were inflicted” by the attackers.

He also claimed that a Toyota sport utility vehicle packed with explosives had leveled a guard towers at the base, and added that some of the attackers were wearing “foreign” military uniforms, a tactic the Taliban have employed in previous assaults on coalition bases.

The base, known as Forward Operating Base Fenty, is primarily American, and is one of the larger airfields in eastern Afghanistan. Like other large coalition bases in the country, Fenty has been attacked before. The assaults have, in most cases, been repulsed before insurgents could fight their way inside the bases, and coalition casualties have been minimal, as appears to have been the case on Sunday.

But the Afghans who work or live near the base have not been so fortunate. Mr. Khan, the district governor, said up to four doctors were killed when their car was riddled by gunfire about 50 yards from the base. The doctors had been on their way to work in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, Mr. Khan said, adding that there may have been other civilian deaths as well.

In addition, at least three private security guards who man the outer perimeter at the base were killed in the attack, he said.

An official from the American-led coalition was still assessing what had taken place at the gates of the base and was tracking reports of civilian casualties. “We’re aware of the reporting that there have been civilian casualties, but it is just too early for us to be certain,” said the official.

There were no reports of coalition service members killed or seriously wounded in the attack.

The official said at least two of the suicide bombers appeared to be what the military calls “vehicle borne,” though the official could not yet say whether the explosives were packed into cars or carried on motorcycles. A third suicide bomber, presumably traveling on foot, was also believed to have taken part in the attack on Fenty, the official said.

The coalition was still trying to determine the exact number of attackers who had taken part in the assault, said the official, who asked not to be identified because details about the attack were still coming in and could change.

    Taliban Bombers Attack Air Base in Afghanistan, NYT, 2.12.2012,






Army Seeks Death Penalty in Afghan Massacre


November 13, 2012
The New York Times


JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — A military prosecutor on Tuesday said the evidence against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, presented over the last week here in a pretrial inquiry into the killings of 16 Afghan civilians, was so damning that the case should go forward as a capital crime.

“Terrible, terrible things happened — that is clear,” said the prosecutor, Maj. Rob Stelle. “The second thing that is clear,” he added, “is that Sergeant Bales did it.”

But a lawyer for Sergeant Bales, Emma Scanlan, making the defense team’s final argument, said the lingering questions about the crime, and especially the defendant’s mental and physical state, were far too great to proceed with anything but caution.

“Alcohol, steroids and sleeping aids,” Ms. Scanlan said, citing the prosecution’s own evidence about what Sergeant Bales, an 11-year Army veteran, may have had in his system in the early morning hours of March 11 when two villages in Kandahar Province were attacked. What would a cocktail of substances like that do to a man’s mind, Ms. Scanlan asked the court, in the “kinetic and high-pressure” environment of a combat zone?

“We don’t know,” she said.

The Army has charged that Sergeant Bales, 39, who was serving his fourth combat tour, walked away from his remote outpost in southern Afghanistan and shot and stabbed members of several families in a nighttime ambush in the villages. At least nine of the people he is accused of killing were children. In the decade of military conflict since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 2001, it was the deadliest war crime attributed to a single American soldier, with consequences that rippled through relations between the American and Afghan governments.

The hearings here, called an Article 32 investigation, beyond offering the first open-court airing of the evidence, are also intended to provide a sort of road map for where prosecutors might go from here in seeking a military trial. The investigating officer who presided over the inquiry, Col. Lee Deneke, said on Tuesday that he would have a written opinion by the end of the week. Higher-ups in the Army, in making a final determination, are not bound by the colonel’s findings, however. The military has not executed a service member since 1961.

In the end, Sergeant Bales, who did not testify, and has not entered a formal plea, remained enigmatic. His own words, as reported by other soldiers who testified about what he said on the night of the killings — that he had “shot up some people,” as one witness recounted — were used against him. And he had blood from at least four people on his clothes when taken into custody, a lab examiner testified.

“It’s bad, it’s bad, it’s real bad,” Cpl. David Godwin, testifying for the prosecution, quoted Sergeant Bales as saying after he returned to the base.

Statements like that, Major Stelle said in his closing remarks, “demonstrate a clear memory of what happened and consciousness of guilt.” He said that the “heinous, brutal, methodical, despicable” nature of the crimes, especially the murder of small children, elevated the case to death-penalty significance.

But some of the most damning evidence, including the “real bad” quote, came from soldiers who Ms. Scanlan suggested in her final remarks were not particularly believable. Two men who reported hearing Sergeant Bales make incriminating comments, including Corporal Godwin, also admitted drinking with him earlier in the evening on the base, in violation of Army rules, and testified under immunity from prosecution. Ms. Scanlan urged Colonel Deneke to evaluate that testimony carefully.

“They drank a ton and they were all drunk,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Bales family, Stephanie Tandberg, the sergeant’s sister-in-law, read a statement urging people who have followed the case in the news not to “rush to judgment.”

“We want to make sure this American soldier, citizen, husband and father has a fair trial with the due process that is guaranteed to all Americans,” she said. “We in Bob’s family are proud to stand by him.”

A claim before the hearings by another lawyer for Sergeant Bale, John Henry Browne, that his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, went largely unexplored in the proceeding, and Ms. Scanlan, in comments to reporters after Tuesday’s adjournment, said the defense was still investigating those issues. Before the hearings began, she entered into the record a formal objection that the defense had been given insufficient time to prepare.

Major Stelle said the evidence revealed a man who knew exactly what he was doing when he left the base intent on mayhem. Eyewitnesses and victims who testified through a video link from Afghanistan over the weekend, in extraordinary night sessions here at the base where Sergeant Bales was stationed, about an hour south of Seattle, described a figure in the dark, illuminating his victims with a bright light before shooting them.

Ms. Scanlan said the prosecution’s portrait of a steely-cool killer conflicted with the strange and anything-but-standard item of clothing that witnesses said Sergeant Bales was wearing when he returned to the base early on the morning of March 11: a cape.

“Why in the world is somebody who is supposedly so lucid wearing a cape?” she said.

    Army Seeks Death Penalty in Afghan Massacre, NYT, 13.11.2012,






Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan

Is Linked to Petraeus Scandal


November 13, 2012
The New York Times


PERTH, Australia — Gen. John R. Allen, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has become ensnared in the scandal over an extramarital affair acknowledged by David H. Petraeus, a former general. General Allen is being investigated for what a senior defense official said early Tuesday was “inappropriate communication” with Jill Kelley, a woman in Tampa, Fla., who was seen by Mr. Petraeus’s lover as a rival for his attentions.

In a statement released to reporters on his plane en route to Australia early Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that the F.B.I. on Sunday had referred “a matter involving” General Allen to the Pentagon.

Mr. Panetta turned the matter over to the Pentagon’s inspector general to conduct an investigation into what a defense official said were 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents, many of them e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley, who is married and has children.

A senior law enforcement official in Washington said on Tuesday that F.B.I. investigators, looking into Ms. Kelley’s complaint about anonymous e-mails she had received, examined all of her e-mails as a routine step.

“When you get involved in a cybercase like this, you have to look at everything,” the official said, suggesting that Ms. Kelley may not have considered that possibility when she filed the complaint. “The real question is why someone decided to open this can of worms.”

The official would not describe the content of the e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley or say specifically why F.B.I. officials decided to pass them on to the Defense Department. “Generally, the nature of the e-mails warranted providing them to D.O.D.,” he said.

Under military law, adultery can be a crime.

The defense official on Mr. Panetta’s plane said that General Allen, who is also married, told Pentagon officials he had done nothing wrong. Neither he nor Ms. Kelley could be reached for comment early Tuesday. Mr. Panetta’s statement praised General Allen for his leadership in Afghanistan and said that “he is entitled to due process in this matter.”

But the Pentagon inspector general’s investigation opens up what could be a widening scandal into two of the most prominent generals of their generation: Mr. Petraeus, who was the top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan before he retired from the military and became director of the C.I.A., only to resign on Friday because of the affair, and General Allen, who also served in Iraq and now commands 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

Although General Allen will remain the commander in Afghanistan, Mr. Panetta said that he had asked President Obama to delay the general’s nomination to be the commander of American forces in Europe and the supreme allied commander of NATO, two positions he was to move into after what was expected to be easy confirmation by the Senate. Mr. Panetta said in his statement that Mr. Obama agreed with his request.

Gen. Joseph A. Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps who was nominated last month by Mr. Obama to succeed General Allen in Afghanistan, will proceed as planned with his confirmation hearing. In his statement, Mr. Panetta urged the Senate to act promptly on his nomination.

The National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said in a statement on Tuesday that Mr. Obama also believes that the Senate should swiftly confirm General Dunford.

The defense official said that the e-mails between Ms. Kelley and General Allen spanned the years 2010 to 2012. The official could not explain why there were so many pages of e-mails and did not specify their content. The official said he could not explain how the e-mails between Ms. Kelley and General Allen were related to the e-mails between Mr. Petraeus and his lover, Paula Broadwell, and e-mails between Ms. Broadwell and Ms. Kelley.

In what is known so far, Ms. Kelley went to the F.B.I. last summer after she was disturbed by harassing e-mails. The F.B.I. began an investigation and learned that the e-mails were from Ms. Broadwell. In the course of looking into Ms. Broadwell’s e-mails, the F.B.I. discovered e-mails between Ms. Broadwell and Mr. Petraeus that indicated that they were having an extramarital affair. Ms. Broadwell, officials say, saw Ms. Kelley as a rival for her affections with Mr. Petraeus.

The defense official said he did not know how General Allen and Ms. Kelley knew each other. General Allen has been in Afghanistan as the top American commander since July 2011, although before that he lived in Tampa as the deputy commander for Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East.

The defense official said that the Pentagon had received the 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents from the F.B.I. and was currently reviewing them.

The defense official said that at 5 p.m. Washington time on Sunday, Mr. Panetta was informed by the Pentagon’s general counsel that the F.B.I. had the thousands of pages of e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley. Mr. Panetta was at the time on his plane en route from San Francisco to Honolulu, his first stop on a weeklong trip to the Pacific and Asia. Mr. Panetta notified the White House and then the leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

General Allen is now in Washington for what was to be his confirmation hearing as commander in Europe. That hearing, the official said, will now be delayed.

After arriving in Perth Mr. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia for a United States-Australian security and diplomatic conference. Asked by a reporter while pausing for photos with Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Gillard if General Allen could remain an effective commander while under investigation, Mr. Panetta said nothing.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also in Perth for the defense meetings and had no comment on the investigation of General Allen. “I do know him well and I can’t say,” General Dempsey said of General Allen late on Tuesday after returning from an official dinner with the Australian officials, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Panetta.


Scott Shane contributed reporting from Washington.

    Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Linked to Petraeus Scandal, NYT, 13.11.2012,






Afghan Warlord’s Call to Arms Rattles Officials


November 12, 2012
The New York Times


HERAT, Afghanistan — One of the most powerful mujahedeen commanders in Afghanistan, Ismail Khan, is calling on his followers to reorganize and defend the country against the Taliban as Western militaries withdraw, in a public demonstration of faltering confidence in the national government and the Western-built Afghan National Army.

Mr. Khan is one of the strongest of a group of warlords who defined the country’s recent history in battling the Soviets, the Taliban and one another, and who then were brought into President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet as a symbol of unity. Now, in announcing that he is remobilizing his forces, Mr. Khan has rankled Afghan officials and stoked fears that other regional and factional leaders will follow suit and rearm, weakening support for the government and increasing the likelihood of civil war.

This month, Mr. Khan rallied thousands of his supporters in the desert outside Herat, the cultured western provincial capital and the center of his power base, urging them to coordinate and reactivate their networks. And he has begun enlisting new recruits and organizing district command structures.

“We are responsible for maintaining security in our country and not letting Afghanistan be destroyed again,” Mr. Khan, the minister of energy and water, said at a news conference over the weekend at his office in Kabul. But after facing criticism, he took care not to frame his action as defying the government: “There are parts of the country where the government forces cannot operate, and in such areas the locals should step forward, take arms and defend the country.”

President Karzai and his aides, however, were not greeting it as an altruistic gesture. The governor of Herat Province called Mr. Khan’s reorganization an illegal challenge to the national security forces. And Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, tersely criticized Mr. Khan.

“The remarks by Ismail Khan do not reflect the policies of the Afghan government,” Mr. Faizi said. “The government of Afghanistan and the Afghan people do not want any irresponsible armed grouping outside the legitimate security forces structures.”

In Kabul, Mr. Khan’s provocative actions have played out in the news media and brought a fierce reaction from some members of Parliament, who said the warlords were preparing to take advantage of the American troop withdrawal set for 2014.

“People like Ismail Khan smell blood,” Belqis Roshan, a senator from Farah Province, said in an interview. “They think that as soon as foreign forces leave Afghanistan, once again they will get the chance to start a civil war, and achieve their ominous goals of getting rich and terminating their local rivals.”

Indeed, Mr. Khan’s is not the only voice calling for a renewed alliance of the mujahedeen against the Taliban, and some of the others are just as familiar.

Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, an ethnic Tajik commander who is President Karzai’s first vice president, said in a speech in September, “If the Afghan security forces are not able to wage this war, then call upon the mujahedeen.”

Another prominent mujahedeen fighter, Ahmad Zia Massoud, said in an interview at his home in Kabul that people were worried about what was going to happen after 2014, and he was telling his own followers to make preliminary preparations.

“They don’t want to be disgraced again,” Mr. Massoud said. “Everyone tries to have some sort of Plan B. Some people are on the verge of rearming.”

He pointed out that it was significant that the going market price of Kalashnikov assault rifles had risen to about $1,000, driven up by demand from a price of $300 a decade ago. “Every household wants to have an AK-47 at home,” he said.

“The mujahedeen come here to meet me,” Mr. Massoud added. “They tell me they are preparing. They are trying to find weapons. They come from villages, from the north of Afghanistan, even some people from the suburbs of Kabul, and say they are taking responsibility for providing private security in their neighborhood.”

Still, there have long been fears about the re-emergence of the warlords, after more than a decade of efforts by Afghan officials and their Western allies to build up an inclusive national government and co-opt some of the factional leaders’ influence by bringing them into it.

One senior Western official in Kabul saw Mr. Khan’s actions as the start of a wave of political positioning before the 2014 transition and said it bore close watching. The allies want to avoid any replay of the civil war in the ’90s that led hundreds of thousands of Afghans to flee. A renewed civil war would undo much of what the West has tried to accomplish.

Mr. Khan is one of the towering figures of the resistance against the Soviets and the Taliban, and his power base in Herat Province, along the border with Iran, has remained relatively thriving throughout the war, despite a recent rise in kidnappings and militant attacks.

After years of consolidating power in the ’80s and early ’90s, he was forced to flee Herat after the Taliban took the city. After the northern coalition and American-led invasion drove out the Taliban in 2001, he was restored as governor of Herat. But he was removed by President Karzai in 2004, prompting violent demonstrations among his supporters.

He continues to exert strong influence in the western regions today, and he clashes regularly with the current governor, Daud Shah Saba, Western officials say.

Mr. Khan called a gathering of thousands outside Herat city on Nov. 1, in a district called Martyrs’ Town, which he established in the ’90s to give free housing and land to the families of slain mujahedeen. A video clip of the meeting, attended by many influential regional figures, featured Mr. Khan criticizing the international coalition for disarming the fighters but then failing to make Afghanistan secure.

“They collected our cannons and tanks and they turned them into a pile of garbage,” he told the crowd. “In return, they brought Dutch, German, American and French girls, they brought white soldiers from Europe and black soldiers from Africa in the hope of securing Afghanistan, but they failed.”

After the public criticism that he was creating an armed opposition to the government, Mr. Khan insisted at his news conference in Kabul on Saturday that he was not rearming his followers or opposing the security forces, but rather wanted the mujahedeen to work with the army and the police as a sort of reserve force, warning them, for example, if they saw signs of Taliban infiltration.

“This does not mean we are rebelling against the government,” he said. “We are struggling for 30 years to build this government, and we are not allowing this government to be toppled.”

Still, such an auxiliary role is exactly what was envisioned for the Afghan Local Police, organized and trained at great cost by American Special Operations forces in recent years.

In Herat, Mohammed Farooq Hussaini, one of the region’s most prominent mullahs, said that people were looking to their traditional leaders to protect them, and still possessed weapons if they ever had to fight.

His own family told a story of spreading Taliban influence, he said: his son-in-law, a pharmacist, recently joined the insurgency. “There are two to three weapons in each house in Herat and other provinces, and not only men but also women are ready to fight against the Taliban and other terrorists,” he said.

A mujahedeen fighter, Saeed Ahmad Hussaini, a member of the provincial council in Herat, said that if the United States had not yet recognized its failure in Afghanistan, the Afghan people certainly had.

“We have rescued this nation twice from the hands of invaders and oppressors, and we will rescue it once more if needed,” he said. “People cannot tolerate the whippings and beatings of the Taliban.”


Habib Zahori and Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Herat, Afghanistan,

and an employee of The New York Times from Kabul.

    Afghan Warlord’s Call to Arms Rattles Officials, NYT, 12.11.2012,






Pretrial Hearing Starts

for Soldier Accused of Murdering 16 Afghan Civilians


November 5, 2012
The New York Times


JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — A military prosecutor on Monday laid out a chillingly flat recitation of the government’s case against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the Army officer who is accused of murdering 16 civilians this year in Afghanistan, as a pretrial hearing began in one of the nation’s worst war crimes cases in decades.

“He was lucid, coherent and responsive,” Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, the Army prosecutor, told the court in describing Sergeant Bales’s demeanor on arriving back at an Army post in Kandahar Province with blood on his clothes that, the prosecutor said, had seeped all the way through to the sergeant’s underwear.

Local families in a poor area with no electricity, Colonel Morse said, awoke early on March 11 to find a figure cloaked in darkness inside their homes, firing a weapon with apparent intent to kill. Children were shot through the thighs or in the head, he said. In one place, 11 bodies — mostly women and children, the prosecutor said — were “put in a pile and put on fire.”

Sergeant Bales, 39, an 11-year-military veteran, could face the death penalty if found guilty of the most serious charges, and the decision is specifically made to advance the case as a capital crime.

The hearing that began Monday, here at the base where Sergeant Bales was stationed, about an hour south of Seattle, was the first step in the military justice process. An Article 32 Investigation, as it is called, is roughly the equivalent of a grand jury inquiry in civilian law, aimed at determining whether sufficient evidence exists to continue to a full court-martial.

At least 35 witnesses are expected to testify, some through live video uplink from Afghanistan, over the investigation, which could last two weeks or more. The presiding officer, Col. Lee Deneke, will then make his recommendation to superiors as to the next steps, including the question of whether the death penalty should be considered, as the prosecution has requested.

Sergeant Bales’s defense lawyers on Monday reserved their opening comment for later.

If the Kandahar killings sent a shudder through U.S.-Afghan relations and through the military itself this spring as the horror of the case emerged, it seemed clear from the day’s opening testimony — and the sharp cross-examination by Sergeant Bales’s defense team — that the Article 32 hearing itself could continue the aftershocks.

One of the first witnesses, for example, Cpl. David Godwin, testifying under immunity from prosecution, told the court he had violated Army rules on the night of the killings by drinking alcohol with Sergeant Bales and another soldier.

Under direct examination by prosecutors, Corporal Godwin said the three had a couple of drinks — Jack Daniel’s, concealed in a water bottle — in one of the soldier’s rooms while watching a movie, “Man on Fire,” about a former intelligence operative who seeks violent revenge after a girl’s kidnapping. Using a word that Colonel Morse had used in outlining the case, Corporal Godwin repeatedly said that Sergeant Bales was “coherent,” and that neither Sergeant Bales nor the other soldier, as far as Corporal Godwin could tell, was intoxicated.

One of Sergeant Bales’s defense lawyers, Emma Scanlan, suggested in her cross-examination that Corporal Godwin underestimated the alcohol use and misread Sergeant Bales’s state of mind when the sergeant returned to camp in bloody clothes just before 5 a.m. Under her questioning, Corporal Godwin admitted that he had exchanged perhaps five or six sentences with Sergeant Bales outside the camp gate at the sergeant’s return, as the unit hurried to respond to reports of civilian casualties and a missing soldier.

That brief exchange, she said, is the “basis of saying he was coherent.” Sergeant Bales was also wearing a cape when he returned to the unit, and Ms. Scanlan’s questions suggested that this also indicated something odd.

“Is that normal behavior?” she asked the witness.

“No,” Corporal Godwin said.

“Do you wear a cape?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

Another of Sergeant Bales’s lawyers, John Henry Browne, has said Sergeant Bales suffered post-traumatic stress. Mr. Browne, who was en route to Afghanistan to be there for witness testimony this week, said in an interview over the weekend that issues of Sergeant Bales’s hospitalizations, for a foot wound and a head wound, and his previous deployments — three in Iraq, the fourth in Afghanistan — would also be explored in the Article 32 inquiry.

In the charge sheet that is the basis for the hearing, Sergeant Bales faces 16 counts of murder with premeditation, six counts of attempted murder with premeditation, six counts of assault, as well as other charges of impeding the investigation, use and possession of steroids and the consumption of alcohol, which is forbidden to Army soldiers in Afghanistan.

Colonel Morse, the prosecutor, said in his remarks that the blood on Sergeant Bales’s clothes forensically matched the blood of some of the victims, and Sergeant Bales’s own words, documented at the time, would show a “chilling premeditation.”

But witnesses talked about the strangeness they saw that night.

One of them, a soldier in the unit, Sgt. First Class Clayton Blackshear, described Sergeant Bales at one point in the evening as “ghostlike.” Then he shrugged. “There’s no word in the English language,” he said.

    Pretrial Hearing Starts for Soldier Accused of Murdering 16 Afghan Civilians, NYT, 5.11.2012,






As Afghan Forces Kill, Trust Is Also a Casualty


October 20, 2012
The New York Times


SISAY OUTPOST, Afghanistan — There is an Afghan version of this story and a very different American one, but the moral is the same: insider killings of Western troops and civilians by Afghan forces, which have taken 51 coalition lives this year, have broken trust between the two military forces and laid bare the anger and fear each harbors toward the other.

The details of an insider shooting that happened Sept. 29 near this small Afghan Army outpost in eastern Afghanistan underscore the escalating distrust that surrounds interactions between American and Afghan troops. The attack devolved into a rare melee that led American soldiers to shoot at some Afghan soldiers who insisted they were not involved in any insider killing. After 35 minutes of gunfire and grenade explosions, two Americans and, ultimately, four Afghans died; three Americans and two Afghans were wounded; and the coalition had experienced one of the most corrosive insider attacks of the war.

“Something like this is fairly traumatic, and we want to stop it from affecting future operations,” said one senior official with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, commonly referred to as ISAF. “But there’s also the recognition that talk can’t fix everything.”

Afghan soldiers caught up in the fighting say that the relationship between the two forces now seems more starkly distant.

“We cannot be their friends, because they do not speak our language,” said Redi Gul, 28, a soldier whose back was burned raw as he tried to escape from his outpost after it was set ablaze by American gunfire and grenades.

His observation seems as much a metaphor for the chasm between the two as a simple statement of fact.

The fighting unfolded near the outpost, known as Sisay, along a bad stretch of highway near the mouth of the Tangi Valley in eastern Afghanistan’s rugged Wardak Province. The Taliban are never far away here: roadside bombs pit the asphalt every mile or so, and insurgent attacks occur almost daily against army and police convoys and traveling fuel tankers. The bad feelings started here well before the bullets began flying, according to the surviving Afghan soldiers from this outpost and the nearby battalion headquarters. Both sides acknowledge that the strains of an effort by American troops to minimize contact with their Afghan counterparts during the recent epidemic of insider attacks became a factor on the afternoon of Sept. 29.

The seven-man Afghan force had been stationed here awhile, maintaining a security checkpoint on the highway less than 100 yards from the outpost. But on the day of the attack, an American unit drove up unannounced and began taking biometric readings of drivers passing the checkpoint. The impression, the Afghans say, was that they were not trusted enough to do the job or even receive a bit of notice that the Americans would be working with them — an upsetting breach of field etiquette, said Capt. Abdul Khaliq, the Afghan commander here.

“We were newly introduced to this company about seven or eight months ago, but we haven’t sat down together at all,” he said. American officials dispute this and say the two units were acquainted.

One Afghan soldier named Yusuf came down to the checkpoint with a cup of tea for the Americans’ interpreter and then returned to the outpost, according to the Afghan account. Moments later, an Afghan soldier who had already been at the checkpoint, a Tajik from Baghlan Province named Din Muhammad, raised his gun and fired, killing Sgt. First Class Daniel T. Metcalfe, 29, and wounding another American near him, according to the American account of the violence.

American soldiers positioned nearby as guards for the force, known as “guardian angels,” responded, shooting and killing Din Muhammad. They and American soldiers in nearby vehicles then saw a man in an Afghan Army uniform behind the Afghan outpost up the hill. The man began firing, they said, killing an American civilian with the force and wounding two other soldiers.

The Americans soldiers believed that they had wounded that gunman, but that fire was also coming from the Afghan outpost itself, said an ISAF official who described parts of an as-yet-unreleased report on the attack to a reporter for The New York Times.

With five team members down, including their platoon sergeant, the Americans were taking no chances, the ISAF official said.

“They thought, ‘Oh, this is a setup, we’ve been ambushed,’ ” the official said. “You’re going to do whatever you can to neutralize that threat — shooting from the turret, rifle fire, grenades, you’re going to pour as much lead in as possible to save your life.”

For Mr. Gul, who said that he and his Afghan comrades were inside the outpost drinking tea, the first evidence that something was wrong was when a hail of fire struck the base. They were scrambling for their rifles when a grenade set the outpost on fire.

“The post caught fire, we panicked, and we were looking for a way out. The flames blocked our way,” he said. “We didn’t know who was shooting at us and from how many directions, and because of the fire we couldn’t see and fire back.”

He said he managed to claw his way out the back of the outpost, burned but able to function, and crouched by a sand-filled barrier.

He saw Yusuf running past him out of the outpost, but lost sight of him. It was only then that it dawned on him that it was the Americans who were gunning them down. “We did not fire a single shot,” Mr. Gul said. “We didn’t know who to shoot at. A second grenade hit the outpost and blew up. There was some ammo that caught fire and started exploding.”

The Americans saw Yusuf running and shot him, unsure whether he was trying to escape or attack. Then there was more confusion: both the Afghan and American soldiers say that fire began coming from a mountain ridgeline behind the outpost.

The Afghan soldiers said they were caught in a cross-fire, after Taliban fighters seemingly had decided to join the fray. Later, Afghan soldiers said they found bullets from a PK machine gun, a weapon used locally only by the Taliban, embedded in the barriers around the outpost.

After some minutes, the Americans were no longer completely sure whom they were shooting at either, believing that fire was coming from the Afghan outpost and then from the ridgeline. “It became very confused after the initial shooting,” the ISAF official said. Still, the Americans sustained no further casualties after the initial shots that day.

In addition to Din Muhammad, Yusuf would later be counted among the dead, shot by the Americans as he ran. Two more Afghans were killed at the outpost as well, one of their bodies charred by the fire, said Mr. Gul and the company commander, Captain Khaliq.

“Potentially innocent people were killed, the smoke and dust,” made it hard for the Americans soldiers to be sure of Yusuf’s intent as he ran, the ISAF official said. “Who knew why he was running? Maybe someone took him as having hostile intent. Either he was running for self-preservation or shooting at the Americans defensively or participating in the attack.”

In the aftermath, the Afghan officer, Captain Khaliq, is still looking for answers.

“I’ve been in the army eight years, and why didn’t this kind of incident happen in the last eight years?” he said. “The other American teams who came here were very good, they visited with us every three or four days, they solved our problems.” He added that if the American unit, a platoon of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, had coordinated with him ahead of time, perhaps he could have headed off any hard feelings — perhaps even the shooting itself.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, ISAF officials acknowledged the captain’s concerns and confirmed that the checkpoint mission had not been coordinated ahead of time. From the American point of view, the surprise visit was to keep locals from avoiding the checkpoint — and also a tacit acknowledgment that after months of intensified insider attacks, also called green-on-blue violence, things are different in the field.

“These green-on-blue have really driven a wedge,” one official said.

At least in this stretch of Wardak, the Afghan soldiers no longer seem able to imagine trust for their American counterparts. Even if the Americans were to apologize for the shooting, which is unlikely, the Afghans say they would never be able to persuade the families of the dead to believe the condolences. “Well, tens of such attacks have happened on innocent Afghans, and they came and apologized, but what will a single apology do?” Captain Khaliq said of the Americans. “What can we tell the families of those who were killed?”

For his part, Mr. Gul felt profoundly betrayed.

“We used to normally go out with Americans soldiers on patrols, operations and missions with no problem. But we don’t know what went wrong this time, what thing made them go crazy and fire at us,” he said. He acknowledged that the Americans later said that Din Muhammad had fired first, though he and his comrades found even that hard to believe. He added, “God is our witness that we have not even fired a single shot, although we can shoot them — there are more of us than them.”


Sangar Rahimi and an employee of The New York Times

contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

    As Afghan Forces Kill, Trust Is Also a Casualty, NYT, 20.10.2012,






U.S. Abandoning Hopes for Taliban Peace Deal


October 1, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.

The once ambitious American plans for ending the war are now being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement. Military and diplomatic officials here and in Washington said that despite attempts to engage directly with Taliban leaders this year, they now expect that any significant progress will come only after 2014, once the bulk of NATO troops have left.

“I don’t see it happening in the next couple years,” said a senior coalition officer. He and a number of other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the effort to open talks.

“It’s a very resilient enemy, and I’m not going to tell you it’s not,” the officer said. “It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years.”

The failure to broker meaningful talks with the Taliban underscores the fragility of the gains claimed during the surge of American troops ordered by President Obama in 2009. The 30,000 extra troops won back territory held by the Taliban, but by nearly all estimates failed to deal a crippling blow.

Critics of the Obama administration say the United States also weakened its own hand by agreeing to the 2014 deadline for its own involvement in combat operations, voluntarily ceding the prize the Taliban has been seeking for over a decade. The Obama administration defends the deadline as crucial to persuading the Afghan government and military to assume full responsibility for the country, and politically necessary for Americans weary of what has already become the country’s longest war.

Among America’s commanding generals here, from Stanley A. McChrystal and David H. Petraeus to today’s John R. Allen, it has been an oft-repeated mantra that the United States is not going to kill its way out of Afghanistan. They said that the Afghanistan war, like most insurgencies, could only end with a negotiation.

Now American officials say they have reduced their goals further — to patiently laying the groundwork for eventual peace talks after they leave. American officials say they hope that the Taliban will find the Afghan Army a more formidable adversary than they expect and be compelled, in the years after NATO withdraws, to come to terms with what they now dismiss as a “puppet” government.

The United States has not given up on talks before that time. It agreed last month to set up a committee with Pakistan that would vet potential new Taliban interlocutors, and the Obama administration is considering whether to revive a proposed prisoner swap with the insurgents that would, officials hope, reopen preliminary discussions that collapsed in March, current and former American officials said. Those are both seen as long-term efforts, however.

With the end of this year’s fighting season, the Taliban have weathered the biggest push the American-led coalition is going to make against them. A third of all American forces left by this month, and more of the 68,000 remaining may leave next year, with the goal that only a residual force of trainers and special operations troops will remain by the end of 2014.

Bringing Pakistan into the search for Taliban contacts is also an uncertain strategy, American officials said. The details of the new vetting committee have yet to be worked out, and “if we are depending on Pakistan, it comes with an asterisk,” one of the officials said. “We never know whether they will see it through.”

The American shift toward a more peripheral role in peace efforts represents another retreat from Washington’s once broad designs for Afghanistan, where the surge, along with a sharp escalation of nighttime raids by Special Operations Forces against Taliban field commanders, were partly aimed at forcing the Taliban into negotiations, making a Western withdrawal more feasible.

For a brief moment, the strategy appeared to be working: preliminary talks, painstakingly set up throughout 2011, opened early this year in Qatar, in the Persian Gulf.

The effort fell apart when the Obama administration, faced with bipartisan opposition in Washington, could not make good on a proposed prisoner swap, in which five Taliban leaders held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would have been exchanged for the sole American soldier held by the insurgents, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The trade was to be an initial confidence-building measure that would lead to more serious talks. If it is revived by the Obama administration, it would come after the presidential election, most likely leaving too little time to reach a deal before 2014, some current and former American officials said.

In Washington, “the tone of the whole discussion has shifted to a less U.S.-led approach and toward a more Afghan-led approach, but one that will be over a longer term,” said Shamila N. Chaudhary, a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group who served as the director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the National Security Council.

The Americans still hope to play a behind-the-scenes role, she said, but what shape that would take is “not clear.”

“It’s too far in the future,” Ms. Chaudhary added.

Divisions between the Taliban’s political wing and its military commanders represent another obstacle to serious talks. When the discussions first became public, “the military wing of the Taliban was very critical,” said Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, a former Taliban military commander who lives in Kabul.

They were angry to have learned of the talks through President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who was the first official to speak of them publicly. The Taliban have long derided Mr. Karzai as an American puppet, and they have steadfastly refused to talk with his government.

Then the Americans failed to make good on the prisoner swap, leaving the negotiators feeling betrayed, said Mr. Agha, who has played a tangential role in separate Afghan government efforts to open talks.

The senior coalition officer said the insurgents who supported the Qatar process “didn’t do a good I.O. campaign to sell it to their people.” I.O. is military jargon for Information Operations.

When the Karzai government brought it out into the open and the hard-liners balked, “we got they were backpedaling hard,” the officer said. Mr. Agha was adamant that talks were dead. “Peace is not a subject any longer,” he said.

But the Qataris remain willing to host the talks, and one of the Taliban negotiators still in Qatar said the talks could restart if the prisoner swap took place and the insurgents were allowed to open an office in Qatar, as the Americans had agreed to allow.

If those two steps “are implemented and practical steps are taken by the United States of America, talks will resume. There is no other obstruction,” said Sohail Shaheen, the Taliban negotiator, in an interview last month with Japan’s NHK World TV.

The prospects for direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are even murkier.

Mualavi Qalanmudin, a former Taliban minister who now sits on the High Peace Council, the Karzai administration’s separate peace effort, dismissed the notion that the Taliban will never talk to the Afghan government.

“They will continue saying that until the day they sit at the negotiating table,” said Mr. Qalanmudin, who once ran the Taliban’s notorious Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Mr. Agha, however, said he had been asked by the High Peace Council to carry proposals for direct talks to the Taliban and was rebuffed. “They said, ‘Reconcile with this corrupt government? Reconcile with this?’ I had no answer.”


Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Sangar Rahimi from Kabul.

    U.S. Abandoning Hopes for Taliban Peace Deal, NYT, 1.10.2012,






Suicide Bomber on Foot Attacks

Joint Patrol in Eastern Afghanistan, Killing 19


October 1, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber who walked into the crowded center of Khost in eastern Afghanistan on Monday morning as foreign and Afghan soldiers conducted a joint foot patrol killed three international service members and 16 Afghan police officers and civilians, witnesses and hospital officials said.

A spokesman for the American-led coalition forces here said that three international service members and a civilian translator died in a blast in eastern Afghanistan, but he did not specify the location, in accordance with military rules barring the release of information about deaths until the next of kin are informed.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. “A foreign and Afghan force joint convoy was targeted this morning around 9 a.m. in the vicinity of the Khost governor’s office, while the soldiers were dismounted in the area,” the Taliban said in a statement to the news media. “The attack was carried out with a suicide vest worn by one of our hero mujahid, named Shoiab Kunduzi.”

It was the fourth suicide bombing in Khost Province in the last five months and the third in which the targets were in Khost City, the provincial capital, local officials said. Among the others were an attack near the gates of Camp Salerno, the major American base in the area, which is about five miles from the provincial capital, and an attack at a military checkpoint in the city.

The repeated attacks suggest that despite intensive operations over the past several years by the coalition forces, the area remains heavily infiltrated.

According to shopkeepers who were nearby when the attack took place on Monday, the suicide bomber approached the patrol.

“It was around 9 a.m.; the bazaar was overcrowded,” said a shopkeeper who asked that his name not be used. “We were busy with customers, but I noticed a joint coalition force and Afghan police force on a dismounted patrol; they were approaching our shops. The commanders of both the Afghan and coalition forces were at the front of the column, and the rest of the forces were following them. The first soldiers in the column had just reached the beginning of our lane of shops when we heard a really loud bang, followed by gunfire.”

“A big ball of gray smoke went into the air,” the shopkeeper added. “People in the bazaar started running away from the blast site. We all hurriedly closed our shops and ran away.”

Another shopkeeper, Baburi Gul, was knocked unconscious by the blast. He said he saw the joint patrol pass by his small grocery. “As soon as the last person passed, there was a boom, and I lost consciousness,” he said. “When I regained it, I found myself lying on the ground, and I was bleeding. I looked at the street, and I saw bodies everywhere, American, police and civilians.”

Among the 16 Afghan dead were 6 police officers, at least 3 from the Khost Quick Reaction Force, including the force’s commander. Khost’s governor, Abdul Jabar Naimi, condemned the attack and said that 59 Afghans were wounded in the blast, including 3 police officers. The numbers were corroborated by doctors at the government-run Khost Provincial Hospital and at private hospitals that were also receiving the wounded.

Khost is close to the border with Pakistan near Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, in the ungoverned tribal areas. It is heavily infiltrated with insurgent groups, including the Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami and the Haqqani network, a powerful element of the Afghan insurgency, which is affiliated with the Taliban and which the United States says has ties with Pakistan. While the Haqqanis have their headquarters in Miram Shah, there was no immediate evidence that they were behind this bombing, international military officials said.

Attacks by bombers wearing suicide vests can be especially lethal since they are typically able to get close to their targets, and even the extensive body armor worn by international forces leaves some parts of the body vulnerable, said Maj. Adam Wojack, a coalition spokesman.

“Even though our individuals wear helmets and body armor, so much of their body is still vulnerable,” Major Wojack said. “It’s the shrapnel, more than the blast, the legs, arms, necks, face are unprotected. And suicide bombers on foot can get closer; they can be feet away from their victims.” The vulnerability of Afghan civilians is far greater.

    Suicide Bomber on Foot Attacks Joint Patrol in Eastern Afghanistan, Killing 19, NYT, 1.10.2012,






U.S. Hearings Again Sought for 3 Detainees


September 24, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Lawyers for three men who have been imprisoned by the United States military in Afghanistan without trial for nearly a decade are renewing their quest for hearings in American courts. They say new information has emerged that undermines an appeals court ruling against them two years ago.

That information — which the lawyers are filing as documents in the United States District Court here — includes a letter by the chief of staff to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan declaring that the Afghan government does not want custody of the detainees and that it “favors these individuals having access to a fair judicial process, and adjudication of their case by a competent court.”

The prisoners are two Yemenis and a Tunisian who say they were captured outside Afghanistan and that they are not terrorists. They want a federal judge, John D. Bates, to review the evidence against them and, if he agrees that they are being held by mistake, to order the military to repatriate them. Detainees imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, already have such habeas corpus rights.

There are believed to be about a dozen such men — non-Afghans captured elsewhere — who have been imprisoned for years by the United States military at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.

In 2009, Judge Bates ruled that he could hold hearings for the three, but in 2010 an appeals-court panel unanimously reversed him. It cited an array of factors, including potential practical obstacles to extending Guantanámo-style habeas rights to a prison in a war zone.

The appeals court also said that American courts should be wary of extending constitutional protections to detainees on Afghan soil because it might have negative diplomatic consequences. But Ramzi Kassem, a City University of New York law professor who is helping represent the detainees, said the letter from Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff called that premise into question.

“Our clients, like the prisoners at Guantánamo, should get their day in court,” Mr. Kassem said.

Recently, Mr. Kassem and a colleague, Tina Foster of the nonprofit International Justice Network, asked Judge Bates to rule again that he could hold habeas corpus hearings for their clients. At a hearing in July, Judge Bates told the detainees’ lawyers, “What you have to do is convince me that there’s new evidence that should change the outcome.”

But a Justice Department lawyer, Jean Lin, told the judge at that hearing that nothing had changed since the appeals court reversed him.

The lawyers obtained the letter from Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff during a trip to Afghanistan this month at their own expense. The trip was timed to coincide with hearings before a military panel weighing whether to keep holding or to repatriate several clients.

In a declaration, Ms. Foster said that the detainees, through military officials in Afghanistan assisting them to prepare for the administrative hearings, had reached out to the lawyers about serving as witnesses. When they got to Afghanistan, however, they were told that the Pentagon had decided not to let them participate in person or by phone, despite a rule saying that “reasonably available” witnesses were allowed. Their clients, she said, then boycotted their hearings as unfair.

The lawyers also submitted declarations from a retired Army colonel, Lawrence Wilkinson, who served as a top aide to Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, and also from Glenn L. Carle, a former C.I.A. official. Both Colonel Wilkinson and Mr. Carle have criticized aspects of the second Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. Each wrote that a “likely” motive in bringing detainees to Afghanistan was a desire to evade judicial review of their detention.

At the July hearing, however, the Justice Department argued that courts should be concerned only if detainees who already had habeas corpus rights were taken to a place where they would no longer have them, which they said was not the case with these detainees.

    U.S. Hearings Again Sought for 3 Detainees, NYT, 24.9.2012,






Audacious Raid on NATO Base Shows Taliban’s Reach


September 16, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — An audacious Taliban attack on a heavily fortified base in southern Afghanistan did far more damage than initially reported, destroying or severely damaging eight attack jets in the most destructive single strike on Western matériel in the 11-year war, military officials said Sunday.

While other attacks have caused greater loss of life, the assault late Friday at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, one of the largest and best-defended posts in Afghanistan, was troubling to NATO because the attackers were able to penetrate the base, killing two Marines and causing more than $200 million in damage. “We’re saying it’s a very sophisticated attack,” said a military official here. “We’ve lost aircraft in battle, but nothing like this.”

The complex attack, which NATO officials said was conducted by three tightly choreographed teams of militants wearing American Army uniforms, was a reminder that the Taliban remain capable of serious assaults despite the “surge” offensive against them. Now the offensive is over, and nearly 10,000 American Marines have left Helmand Province, a critical stronghold for the Taliban, over the past several months.

Together with a rash of attacks by Afghan security forces against NATO troops — including two over the weekend that left at least six coalition service members dead — the Taliban have put new pressure on the American withdrawal plan, which calls for accelerated troop pullouts through 2014 while training Afghan forces to take over.

At the same time, tensions with the government flared Sunday as President Hamid Karzai condemned the deaths of Afghan women in airstrikes and criticized the continued American custody of hundreds of Afghan prisoners.

The military investigation into the attack at Bastion is now trying to uncover whether the insurgents had help from inside the camp and whether they were trained or aided by neighboring countries, such as Pakistan or Iran, which have allowed the Taliban to take refuge on their territory. But military officials and Afghan analysts said that the insurgents may well have prepared for their mission in significant measure by studying easily available satellite images on the Internet. “We don’t underestimate the enemy,” the military official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation. “We know the enemy has limited capability to do these, but they are not a whole bunch of yokels running around the country.”

The 15 insurgents conducting the attack lost no time from the moment they blew a hole in the perimeter at one of the closest points to the airfield, military officials said. They then raced toward their targets, shooting and setting fire to parked Navy AV-8B Harrier jets and destroying three refueling stations, even as a quick reaction force was mustering to fight them off, a military official said. “It was a running gun battle for a while, two and a half hours, nonetheless they were able to get to the aircraft before we could intercept them,” a military official said, noting that because it happened at night it was difficult until daylight to be sure that all the insurgents had been killed or captured. All but one was killed; the remaining insurgent is in custody, the military said.

Two American Marines were killed in the attack, and nine coalition personnel, including a civilian contractor, were wounded, the military said in a statement. Prince Harry, the third in line to the British throne, is doing a tour of duty as a helicopter pilot and was stationed at Camp Bastion at the time of the attack, but was not hurt. Camp Bastion is home mostly to British soldiers, while the neighboring camp, known as Leatherneck, has American Marines and other service members.

Six of the jets, which each cost between $23 million and $30 million when they were first acquired by the United States Navy, according to a General Accounting Office report, were completely destroyed and two more were so severely damaged it was unlikely they could be repaired. Also badly damaged were three refueling stations and three soft-skinned aircraft hangars, the military said in a news release.

Determining how it was possible for the insurgents to penetrate and severely damage such a well-defended base, particularly one with clear lines of sight across miles of mostly flat plain, will be important in determining whether this was a unique attack or one that could be replicated either in targeting Western bases or Afghan ones, military experts said.

“The Taliban retain the command and military planning infrastructure to put together complex and sophisticated attacks,” said Stephen Biddle, a professor at George Washington University with expertise in defense studies.

“If this is a clever surprise, it can’t work twice; it tells you the people are clever and can do elaborate planning, using subterfuge and possibly captured uniforms,” Mr. Biddle said. “It would be a different matter if they managed to blow a hole in a heavily defended perimeter — then the Afghan National Security Forces are looking at a big, big problem.”

Wahid Mujda, an Afghan analyst who tracks the Taliban, said that despite the Taliban’s statement that the attack was retaliation for an anti-Muslim video, the video almost certainly had nothing to do with it.

“I do not think that the Camp Bastion attack had anything to do with the anti-Prophet movie,” Mr. Mujda said. “Given the sophistication of the attack one can say with a lot of confidence that the Taliban had been training, rehearsing and preparing for weeks and even months. Everything was not planned and decided overnight.”

He predicted that the Afghan government and the international military forces here would see similar attacks in the future.

“They have experts, strategists, planners and designers, they have a great knowledge of the modern technology,” Mr. Mujda said.

“My sources in the Taliban tell me that every time they want to attack an important target they use Google Maps and other available means for studying and understanding their targets.”

This year’s toll from what are known as insider or green-on-blue attacks — green being American military parlance for indigenous forces, blue for its own — has become one of the most visible signs of the challenges faced by the NATO-led coalition as it nears the end of its role in Afghanistan’s war.

The second attack of the weekend, which was Sunday in Zabul Province, was the deadlier of the two latest incidents, with four coalition service members killed. The coalition said in a terse statement that the attack was “suspected to involve members of the Afghan police” and was under investigation.

Michael Cole, a coalition spokesman, said officials suspected the Afghan police in the attack because a police officer was killed in the firefight that ensued. But Mr. Cole said investigators were not yet certain whether the dead officer was one of the attackers or was caught in the cross-fire.

Afghan officials said they, too, were investigating.

The six deaths brought to 51 the number of coalition service members killed this year in insider attacks. The toll has already well exceeded last year’s total of 35 killed in such violence.

The increase in attacks has prompted coalition and Afghan officials to step up their vetting of Afghan recruits, and coalition officials say the attacks are mostly driven by personal animosity. Still, at least a quarter are believed to be the result of Taliban infiltration or influence over soldiers and the police.


Matthew Rosenberg and Habib Zahori contributed reporting from Kabul,

and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

    Audacious Raid on NATO Base Shows Taliban’s Reach, NYT, 16.9.2012,






Afghan Insurgents Attack Base Where Prince Harry Serves


September 14, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgents using guns and rockets or mortars launched an audacious attack on the largest NATO base in Helmand Province shortly after midnight Saturday morning, killing two American service members, according to a spokesman for the international forces here.

The base, Camp Bastion, is where Prince Harry is serving as a member of a British helicopter unit. Prince Harry was not in any danger, said the spokesman, Master Sgt. Bob Barko. It was not clear whether the attack was meant to be an attempt on the prince’s life, Sergeant Barko said. The Taliban have vowed to kill him.

Camp Bastion is home to the largest number of British troops in Afghanistan, while the neighboring Camp Leatherneck is a mainly American base. A spokesman for the international forces said that the military did not yet have details on the exact location of the attack.

Although rocket attacks on both bases occur periodically, the latest one appears to have been far more serious, and possibly involved more assailants. Sergeant Barko said that because of the early hour, it was “difficult to know much yet,” though a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force confirmed on Saturday that the two service members who were killed were United States Marines.

He described the attackers as using “indirect fire,” a term that can mean rockets or mortars as well as small-arms fire.

The insurgents in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, are overwhelmingly Taliban, but the military in the early stages of its assessment was reluctant to say definitively that Taliban insurgents were behind the attack.

On the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Tuesday, Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, was quoted by British news organizations as saying the insurgents would do everything in their power to eliminate Prince Harry, 27, who is third in line for the British throne.

“We are using all our strength to get rid of him, either by killing or kidnapping,” Reuters quoted Mr. Mujahid as saying.

In further remarks about the prince that appeared in jihadist media, Mr. Mujahid urged the British to spend the money used to send Harry to Afghanistan on the poor.

“The objective behind his coming is to deceive his people more, and in Afghanistan, to give something of a morale boost to the defeated soldiers of his country so they continue until the date of their fleeing to Britain, which couldn’t do anything despite the presence of thousands of its soldiers,” he said. “So what can it do through one soft prince?”

There have been news reports of internal British government discussions about whether a majority of troops will stay through 2014 or whether there might be an accelerated withdrawal.

    Afghan Insurgents Attack Base Where Prince Harry Serves, NYT, 14.9.2012,






U.S. Puts Transfer of Detainees to Afghans on Hold


September 9, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — One of the centerpieces of the hand-over of American control to Afghan authority encountered a last-minute unexpected obstacle on Sunday when the United States paused the transfer of the final couple of dozen Afghan detainees at the Parwan detention facility.

The Afghan government said it was going ahead with what President Hamid Karzai’s office had characterized as a “splendid” transfer ceremony scheduled for Monday at Bagram Air Base, where the Parwan prison is, to mark the shift in detention operations. But the ceremony looked almost certain to take place without all of the roughly 3,000 Afghan detainees having been turned over, which was central to the memorandum of understanding struck between the two countries on March 9.

That agreement, signed at Mr. Karzai’s demand, set out a six-month transfer deadline and reflected rising assertions of sovereignty by the president and the Afghan government.

On Sunday, however, the United States said it was putting on hold the transfer of about 30 Afghan detainees because of doubts about the government’s commitment to other parts of the memorandum of understanding.

“Some 99 percent of the detainees captured before 9 March have already been transferred to Afghan authority, but we have paused the transfer of the remaining detainees until our concerns are met,” Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the American-led coalition in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

The coalition would not say what its concerns were, but some Afghan officials have raised objections to the system of no-trial detention that the United States insisted the Afghan government embrace at Parwan. This system allows the continued imprisonment of wartime prisoners deemed too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release.

The latest frictions seemed to center on a meeting between Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander of the coalition of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Mr. Karzai at the presidential palace on Saturday.

At the meeting, which was also attended by James Cunningham, the American ambassador, General Allen sought assurances from Mr. Karzai that he would honor all parts of the memorandum of understanding. A local news agency, Pajhwok, cited an unidentified official who said a “verbal clash erupted” between the two men.

The United States-led coalition rebutted the report in a statement on Sunday, saying “the unnamed source in the story provided a massive distortion of the reality of what occurred in this conversation between the president and General Allen.”

Immediately after the meeting on Saturday, Mr. Karzai’s office issued a terse statement that seemed to point to at least a forceful exchange about the detainees and the facility, saying, “Any delay in its hand-over is considered a breach of Afghan national sovereignty.”

Another issue of contention between the coalition and the Afghan government has been the hundreds of prisoners detained by American forces since March, who are not directly covered by the memorandum of understanding. In addition, around 50 foreign prisoners, mostly Pakistani, are still under American control at Parwan, but Afghan officials have said that was not a major issue.

Some of the more recently detained Afghans are already being transferred, but many are likely to remain under American control for some time.

Another major issue is how quickly newly arrested Afghans should be surrendered once they are picked up off the battlefield. At a news conference on Sunday, Janan Mosazai, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said all Afghan detainees would be turned over to the Afghan side “within a maximum of 72 hours” — something that might not be acceptable to American commanders.

In an interview, Mr. Mosazai said the transfer as envisioned under the March agreement would take place in full on Monday despite the statements from the coalition. Asked whether the government supported the system of no-trial detention, he said, “Afghanistan remains strongly committed to responsibly taking over control of all detainees at Bagram in accordance with Afghan law and our international obligations under the Geneva Convention, including Additional Protocol II.” In the past, he has said that protocol authorized administrative detention.

American officials said neither General Allen nor Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, the commander of the American side of the detention facility, would attend the transfer ceremony at Bagram. Instead, General Huber’s deputy, Brig. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson of the Air Force, was scheduled to represent the coalition.

Rachel Reid, a senior policy adviser on Afghanistan for the Open Society Foundations, an advocacy organization that last week published a report on the hand-over of the prison, said the last-minute disagreement was not surprising, given that the two countries had ignored crucial differences in their rush to reach an agreement in March.

“The Afghan government is divided over whether internment is legal, and that is giving the Americans pause,” she said.

She said that the relationship between the two sides was in flux, and that the fact that the Afghan government could raise objections to a previously agreed-upon memorandum of understanding showed that the United States was losing leverage as coalition forces withdrew.

    U.S. Puts Transfer of Detainees to Afghans on Hold, NYT, 9.9.2012,






U.S. to Retain Role as a Jailer in Afghanistan


September 5, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The United States military will maintain control over dozens of foreign detainees in Afghanistan for the indefinite future, even as the two countries prepare to ceremonially mark the hand-over of detention operations to the Afghan government, officials from both countries say.

Further, although thousands of Afghan detainees have already been turned over, the United States will continue to hold and screen newly captured Afghans for a time, ensuring continued American involvement in detention and interrogation activities.

The hand-over deal, signed on March 9 at President Hamid Karzai’s demand, set a six-month transfer schedule and was a reflection of rising Afghan assertions of sovereignty at a time of extreme tensions over American troops’ burning of Korans.

The persistence of American-operated prison buildings, in a section of the main Parwan complex at Bagram Air Base, underscores the complexity of relinquishing control over detainee operations while American troops are still in the field conducting raids and making arrests — including the risk that detainees could be freed only to come back and stage attacks.

Some of the difficulties raised by the non-Afghan detainees, moreover, echo problems that have slowed the Obama administration’s efforts to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It is illegal to repatriate prisoners to countries where they are likely to be tortured or killed, for example, and American officials have also wanted to ensure that other governments are willing and able to keep tabs on any released detainees.

Still, Afghan guards now operate most of the cellblocks at Parwan, and they have taken custody of most of the roughly 3,000 Afghans who were already being held as suspects in the insurgency when the allies signed the transfer agreement. There are many fewer inmates — about 50, officials say — from Pakistan and other countries, while more than 600 Afghans have been taken into custody since the March 9 deal. A major unresolved issue is how quickly newly arrested Afghans should be turned over.

William K. Lietzau, the Pentagon’s top detainee policy official, said in a recent interview that the United States was “on a trajectory to be able to comply” with the Sept. 9 “milestone” in the transfer agreement — he rejected the word deadline. Compliance, he said, meant having transferred all Afghan citizens who were already in custody when the agreement was signed.

So far, Mr. Karzai, who early this year demanded the immediate transfer of prison operations, has not publicly objected to that narrow interpretation of the agreement. He has announced plans for a ceremony on Monday to mark the “full transfer” of the detention center.

Some Afghan officials signaled that the continuing American role was understood and, to a degree, acceptable. “The priority for Afghanistan is Afghan citizens,” said Janan Mosazai, the Foreign Ministry spokesman. “When it comes to third-country nationals, that will be a matter we decide with our international partners at some point down the road.”

In an interview last week, the Afghan official who runs the Afghan-controlled portions of Parwan, Gen. Ghulam Farouk, acknowledged that the Afghan guards were still “in the process of building our capacity.” Three American officials sat in on the interview at his office at Parwan, while in a dusty yard outside his window, a graduation ceremony for about 100 guards unfolded. Behind them, a bus delivered detainees’ families for visits.

While General Farouk said the process of transferring the initial group of Afghan detainees was almost complete, because of delicate relations with a “neighboring country” — a reference to Pakistan — he said it would be best if the United States kept the foreign detainees for now.

“If we keep these people with us in this current situation and deal with them, this will create more problems for us,” he said. “Therefore it is better for the Americans to keep them.”

When transferred, prisoners leave their cells in one of the remaining American-controlled buildings and are taken to new cells in a building controlled by Afghans, but where American personnel will still be present in an advisory role until at least March, under the agreement. An Afghan committee sorts the detainees into two groups: so far, General Farouk said, 1,638 have been approved for criminal prosecution, and 963 have been referred to a review board, which evaluates them and recommends whether to keep holding them without trial as wartime detainees.

The agreement calls on Afghanistan to consult the United States and “consider favorably” its assessment of whether a detainee poses a continuing security threat or should be released, but it is ambiguous about which country has final say. As a practical matter, the United States military still controls the perimeter of the base around the prison complex. To date, officials of both countries say, there have been no disagreements between General Farouk and his American counterpart, Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber.

There are early signs, however, that the Afghans may be more inclined to release detainees than not. General Farouk said that so far the review board had finished evaluating about 600 men and recommended that he release 374. None have yet been freed, and he was vague about how many might be, but suggested it could be a majority.

A major task for American officials has been to declassify as much evidence as possible showing that each detainee may be an insurgent. The dossiers, given to the Afghans when each detainee is transferred, can be used by the Afghan court or its review boards.

To protect intelligence sources, the United States has sometimes withheld information or allowed Afghan officials only to view documents but not take copies. Mr. Lietzau of the Pentagon said that if the United States objected to an Afghan recommendation to release a detainee, the Americans would re-examine the full, still-classified file to see whether there was a way to show the review board more information.

“The bottom line is, we’re not in a war by ourselves against an enemy that is just our enemy,” he said. “We’re in a war where the only way to win is with our alliance.”

Domestic politics are a factor as well. Congress has imposed steep restrictions on transfers from Guantánamo, and the military does not want its hands to be similarly tied in Afghanistan. Republican lawmakers have criticized a decision to turn over to Iraqi custody a detainee accused of helping to kill American troops in the Iraq war. After a report that Iraq may soon release him, they warned the administration “to extend all efforts to ensure that this tragic mistake is not repeated with terrorists currently in U.S. custody in Afghanistan.”

But any sweeping declarations by the United States that it will not allow the release of anyone it deems too risky would undermine Mr. Karzai’s ability to show that Afghans now exercise sovereign control over prisons on their soil. The Obama administration also does not want to provoke American courts into revisiting a 2010 ruling declining to extend the same habeas corpus rights that Guantánamo detainees have to detainees in Afghanistan.

The prisoner transfer policy could also face legal and political pressures inside Afghanistan. The United States insisted, when negotiating the agreement, that the Karzai administration embrace a system of no-trial detention for wartime prisoners deemed too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release. Afghan lawmakers, however, did not ratify the agreement.

Gul Rahman Qazi, the chairman of the independent commission for overseeing the carrying out of the Afghan Constitution, which he helped write, contended that a no-trial detention system “is not acceptable to us” and is “in confrontation with the national Constitution.”

But Mr. Lietzau said that while the war continues, it is lawful and necessary to detain people without trial, both to gain intelligence and to avoid creating any incentive for troops in combat to elect killing over capturing.

“An administrative detention regime is necessary for any morally responsible country in an armed conflict,” he said. “In this case, it was a prerequisite for our agreement with the Afghan government, at least the way combat operations are going right now. That’s something we’re going to have to be watching very carefully as we go forward with this transition.”


Charlie Savage reported from Washington,

and Graham Bowley from Bagram, Afghanistan.

    U.S. to Retain Role as a Jailer in Afghanistan, NYT, 5.9.2012,






U.S. Begins Packing Its Afghan War Gear for the Movers


August 3, 2012
The New York Times


CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — It has taken the United States years to amass the mountains of gear piled up at huge bases like Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan. It is the job of logistics experts like First Lt. Rachel Opperman, 23, to bring it all back home.

As the war here draws to a close and the American military begins to reduce its forces, it also has to send back most of its equipment, an immense logistics effort already under way and spanning half the globe.

Lieutenant Opperman, a Marine from Pittsburgh who is known here as the Queen of the Sort Lot, runs one of the big receiving yards, a dusty, 12-acre lot that is taking in superfluous equipment as bases shrink, close or are transferred to the Afghan forces all over the southwest of the country.

One recent morning here, Marines ranged slowly in the 100-degree heat under her direction, packing piles of supplies into 5-foot-by-5-foot boxes. Forklifts shifted the boxes onto pallets electronically tagged so their journeys could be tracked to Marine bases or depots in the United States and Japan, bringing order to the chaos of a staggeringly complex 24-hour reverse supply chain operation.

There were stenciled racks for axles, fax paper, filters, hoses, sheets of ballistic glass and fenders off mine-protected vehicles.

A wooden sign at the gate kept score: “Recovered to date: $160,937,622. Pallets built: 805. Containers built: 613.”

“We will take almost anything,” Lieutenant Opperman said. “We take it, and we figure out where it has to go.”

The international military mission here still has almost two and a half years before the 2014 withdrawal deadline, and commanders hesitate to discuss openly the details of what is known as the “retrograde” of equipment back to the United States.

The issue is freighted with sensitivities about the United States’ commitment to Afghan security. American commanders do not want to give the Taliban any sense they are already giving up on the fight.

Officials admit that imagery is also a factor. Even as they make decisions about what to pack up, what to leave behind for Afghan forces, or what to abandon or destroy, they want to avoid any echo of the Soviets’ headlong rush out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s, which left the countryside strewed with rusting tanks and guns.

In any case, though, troops are already departing, and military planners are carefully calculating how to extricate the equipment smoothly. In all, officials estimate, they will have to wrangle 100,000 shipping containers of material and 45,000 to 50,000 vehicles like tanks and Humvees from all across Afghanistan.

That is all complicated by the greater expense, and security risk, of shipping things out of Afghanistan, given that fighting is still expected even as the withdrawal takes place.

Col. Jeff Hooks, the senior Marine logistics officer in southwest Afghanistan, said budgetary concerns demanded that the Marines take as much functional equipment back with them as possible. “We have a very, very detailed plan,” he said, slapping a three-inch-thick white binder on his desk called the “Reset Playbook.”

He noted that the Marines’ Afghan withdrawal would be more complicated than their Iraq pullout, even though they had collected less equipment in Afghanistan. The extra difficulty comes largely because of Afghanistan’s special geography: In Iraq, supply routes ran south to Kuwait and the Persian Gulf, but Afghanistan is a landlocked country, and the nearest port — Karachi, in Pakistan — is 600 miles away.

After Pakistan closed its border in November to protest a coalition airstrike that killed 24 of its soldiers, the Marines have mostly flown excess equipment out at a rate of 18 to 24 flights a day. These went directly to the United States or to ports in Kuwait, Oman or elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, from which they continued by ship.

Since Pakistan reopened its borders last month, roads south to Karachi are likely to take the greatest weight of future outbound traffic. Once a backlog of supplies on the route clears north into Afghanistan, about 100 trucks carrying excess equipment are expected to leave Camp Leatherneck daily for Pakistan.

Land routes north through Central Asia and Russia, called the northern distribution network, are likely to be another important exit route for American forces stationed farther north in Afghanistan and for European coalition partners. But the winding road routes, the complicated rail gauges and the greater potential for attack and logjam make them less attractive than the Pakistani route.

In the receiving yards at Leatherneck, other issues involved in the withdrawal were evident. Not far from Lieutenant Opperman’s lot, at the Marine Air Ground Task Force Marshaling Yard, Marines assiduously disassembled a Humvee, cleaning individual parts with rags, air and water so that the vehicle could clear the border agricultural inspection for re-entry into the United States.

Nearby, inside a large tent, green and red folders on tables documented the 30 or so radios stacked across the floor, while outside, mortar tubes and shells were carefully packed into containers.

The Afghan government’s Base Closure Commission takes recommendations from NATO and the Afghan Army to determine which bases to shutter and which the Afghans can run for themselves.

According to a timetable set by President Obama, the United States is to withdraw about 23,000 troops from Afghanistan by October, leaving about 68,000 American troops. There are about 13,000 Marines, down from about 20,000, and the United States has said publicly that this number should fall to around 7,000 by October. Coalition levels in the southwest will be bolstered by the arrival of a second battalion from the Georgian Army.

In the southwest, the number of coalition bases is falling to about 70 from 214 in March.

Out at Delaram II, one of the district bases the United States is shrinking and turning over to the Afghans, troops were pulling up the airfield.

The Afghans said they did not want the base’s airstrip, so First Lt. Carolynn Aranha, a 32-year-old Marine from Oregon, took out about 50 Marines to rip up the 5,412-foot-long area of hard matting, working at night under floodlights to avoid the pounding heat of the day.

Piles of ripped-up mats dotted the camp, and around its edges, bulldozers built a smaller perimeter inside the old four-mile-long fence.

“This all has to go,” Lieutenant Aranha said, pointing to the spot where a big air control tower used to stand. “This will go back to Leatherneck, and back to the U.S.”

A group of Army engineers from Florida was busy dismantling one of the main base headquarters buildings. Corrugated iron roofing was collected in one pile; another comprised mattresses destined to be burned. On the base, there was now only one fire truck left, and most of the camp’s four-wheel-drive trucks had been handed in, so getting around the base was hard. Supplies were such that the Marines even recently had to borrow a bulldozer from the Afghans.

Some of the roughly 2,000 Afghan troops stationed on the base sat in the shade under a tarp, patiently watching the deconstruction going on around them. There have been other observers, as well. In June, apparently testing to see if anyone was still at home, four insurgents crawled up to the outer perimeter to cut the wire. They were shot.

The security situation in the area is still not stable. Farther out from the base, insurgent cells are active, especially along the main east-west highway nearby, where they tend to target commercial convoys, officials said.

The drawdown affects not only the troops, but also the army of civilians who come from all over to find livelihoods at Western bases. Among them is Caleb Amasa, 38, a Kenyan from Nairobi who was emptying the trash near a row of tents at Leatherneck. “If it closes, we will miss it,” Mr. Amasa said. “We want work.”

Though many local Afghan civilians have the same concern, not all will be sad to see the Americans go.

A few miles away in the bazaar in Delaram, a town the Marines once patrolled, Islam Gul, 28, a shopkeeper, said he was glad the Americans were leaving. About a week earlier, a close relative, an engineer, was wounded in the neck by a mine explosion aimed at a joint American-Afghan patrol.

“They are foreigners and infidels,” Mr. Gul said by telephone. “It is good if they hand over the base to Afghan forces. They were not bothering us much, but we are happy to hear they are leaving the area.”


Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

    U.S. Begins Packing Its Afghan War Gear for the Movers, NYT, 3.8.2012,






Military Hazing Has Got to Stop


August 3, 2012
The New York Times


Los Angeles

LAST fall, at an outpost in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Danny Chen, a 19-year-old Army private, was singled out for hazing by Sgt. Adam Holcomb and five other soldiers, all of whom were senior in rank to their victim. They believed Danny was a weak soldier, someone who fell asleep on guard duty, who forgot his helmet. So for six weeks, they dispensed “corrective training” that violated Army policy. When he failed to turn off the water pump in the shower, he was dragged across a gravel yard on his back until it bled. They threw rocks at him to simulate artillery. They called him “dragon lady,” “gook” and “chink.”

Finally, Danny could take it no longer. He put the barrel of his rifle to his chin and pulled the trigger. The pain was over.

Earlier this week, a jury of military personnel found Sergeant Holcomb guilty of one count of assault and two counts of maltreatment, for which he was sentenced to one month in jail — far less than the 17 years that he could have received.

When I read about this outrageous token sentence, I had a flashback. On April 3, 2011, my nephew, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, was serving his second year in the Marines in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, when he was hazed for over three hours by two of his fellow soldiers because he, too, fell asleep on duty. At the urging of their sergeant, who told them that “peers should correct peers,” they punched and kicked him. They poured the contents of a full sandbag onto his face, causing him to choke and cough as it filled his nose and mouth. Twenty-two minutes after the hazing stopped, he, too, used his own gun to commit suicide, in a foxhole he had been forced to dig.

His parents and I waited patiently for justice to be served and watched in horror and disbelief as his perpetrators’ behavior was dismissed, with one lance corporal receiving just a month in jail, and the other two Marines found not guilty.

In both cases, military defense attorneys claimed that the perpetrators of hazing had suffered enough.

Our young people make a great sacrifice when they go off to war. They are in mentally tough, physically dangerous situations all the time. We must take every mistake that puts the lives of our soldiers at risk seriously, whether it is falling asleep on guard duty or something else. “Corrective training” is designed to do that. The Army recommends that senior officers create a plan with a soldier who needs improvement, supervise the training and set timelines and targets. But using corrective training as punishment is supposed to be strictly prohibited.

In these two cases, other alternatives were not even explored; abuse was the only “corrective training” offered. Danny was prevented from visiting a nearby base where more senior officers, a chaplain or an equal opportunity officer could have helped him escape his torment. Harry could have been transferred to another unit or out of the military if he failed to meet the standards. Instead, his peers decided to beat him into shape.

Is it necessary for soldiers to be abused and tortured by their fellow troops in order for the military to be strong? In Congressional hearings, the military tells me no.

But are soldiers taught the difference between “corrective training” and abuse? Apparently not.

Is there real punishment when they’ve crossed that line? Apparently not.

Since my nephew Harry’s death, I have found more cases of soldiers who have been victims of hazing, who then took their own lives. Veterans and active servicemen and servicewomen have contacted me about the harassment they suffered in the military. Many of them had never come forward before. They felt helpless, with nowhere to turn and no one to trust.

Hazing has no place in our military. It threatens unit cohesion, undermines our military readiness and deeply scars the volunteers who are forced to endure it.

In public statements, the military’s top brass agrees. But their actions don’t reflect that. Some services don’t have a policy expressly prohibiting hazing. Others don’t offer anti-hazing training. And since the Department of Defense doesn’t track the number of hazing incidents, there’s no way to know how widespread the problem is.

That’s why I introduced the Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act, which asks the military to make hazing a crime, requires the Defense Department to come up with a comprehensive anti-hazing plan, and creates a tracking system for hazing incidents. These provisions passed the House in May as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, but the Senate still needs to act. And the sooner it acts, the better, because we know this is just the beginning of what we need to do to eradicate hazing.

Our military doesn’t have to abuse its own to be strong. We want to have the most capable and most advanced armed forces in the world. But as long as the military allows the young people we send to war to be hazed by their fellow soldiers without consequence, we won’t. The military must make it clear that hazing is absolutely unacceptable and that perpetrators will be severely punished. We must protect those who protect us.


Judy Chu, a Democrat, represents California’s 32nd Congressional District.

    Military Hazing Has Got to Stop, NYT, 3.8.2012,






Sergeant Acquitted of Driving a Suicide


July 30, 2012
The New York Times


FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A military jury on Monday acquitted a sergeant on the most serious charges in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, a Chinese-American from Manhattan who killed himself last year while deployed in Afghanistan, but found him guilty on lesser charges.

The jury determined that the sergeant, Adam M. Holcomb, was not guilty of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat and hazing. Sergeant Holcomb was convicted on two counts of maltreatment and one count of assault consummated by battery.

Prosecutors had sought to convince the jury that Sergeant Holcomb’s treatment of Private Chen, which the prosecutors said included hazing and racial taunts, led directly to his suicide.

The 10-member jury of Army officers and enlisted soldiers reached its verdict after about two hours of deliberations on Monday afternoon. The court-martial began last Tuesday. Sergeant Holcomb was one of eight soldiers charged in the case and the first to be tried.

After the verdict was announced, the court-martial moved into the sentencing phase. The jury heard arguments from both sides and was expected to begin sentencing deliberations on Tuesday. He faces up to two years in prison, officials said.

In testimony during the sentencing hearing, Sergeant Holcomb expressed regret and said he was suffering from symptoms that resembled post-traumatic stress disorder after three deployments to war zones.

He said he had not had a brain scan, but added, “I know there’s issues up there.” Private Chen’s suicide resonated deeply in the Chinese population in New York City and around the country and became a rallying cause for activists and others who have pressed the Army to improve conditions for Asians.

More than a dozen supporters of the Chen family traveled here from New York for the court-martial, which was covered by numerous local and national reporters, including correspondents for at least four Chinese-language media organizations.

Margaret Chin, a New York City councilwoman who attended three days of testimony last week, said Monday that she was “very disappointed” by the mixed verdict.

Private Chen’s death, she said, had called into question the military’s relationship with the country’s Asian population.

“How can we in good faith encourage our young people to join the military,” she said in an interview, “to serve our country when they’re not being protected?”

Private Chen’s mother and father, both working-class Chinese immigrants who testified at the trial, declined to comment.

The trial revolved around what caused Private Chen to take his own life.

Military prosecutors have asserted that Private Chen’s motivations for killing himself took shape after his arrival in Afghanistan last August. Sergeant Holcomb, they said, made Private Chen miserable by subjecting him to racial harassment and hazing.

“You’ve seen the last six weeks of Danny’s life,” Maj. Steve Berlin, one of the prosecutors, told the jury on Monday during closing arguments. “No wonder death seemed like the only option.”

Sergeant Holcomb’s lawyers, however, contended that Private Chen was despondent because of his failures as a soldier and because he had a fraught relationship with his parents.

“Private Chen killed Private Chen,” said Capt. Anthony Osborne, one of Sergeant Holcomb’s lawyers, during closing arguments.

Defense lawyers said Private Chen’s personal troubles were evident before he went to Afghanistan.

Pvt. Bryan Johnson, a soldier in Private Chen’s unit who became a close friend, testified last week that Private Chen was excited to deploy. But he also described an incident in which he found him curled up in the fetal position on his bunk.

Private Chen told his friend that his parents had disowned him because he was about to deploy to Afghanistan. Defense lawyers said Private Chen told at least four other soldiers the same thing.

Though Private Johnson said his friend had rebounded by the next day, defense lawyers argued that this episode revealed that Private Chen’s relationship with his parents was undermining his duties.

Private Chen’s parents testified at the trial that they had never disowned him.

In Afghanistan, Private Chen was “ostracized,” the prosecutor, Major Berlin, declared on Monday.

He was so weak and inexperienced that he was not allowed to go out on patrol, fellow soldiers testified.

He also made frequent mistakes, soldiers said, and was repeatedly subjected to “corrective training.”

Prosecutors argued, however, that Private Chen’s inexperience was normal for someone new and that the problem lay with the way superiors were addressing his deficiencies.

In a pivotal episode several days before Private Chen’s death, Sergeant Holcomb, angry with him, yanked him from his bunk and dragged him across the outpost, soldiers testified. Private Chen’s offense was leaving the shower’s water pump on. The assault count and one count of maltreatment related to the dragging episode. The other maltreatment count related to Sergeant Holcomb’s use of racially disparaging terms.

Several days before his death, Private Chen told a fellow soldier that he was so fed up with the treatment he was receiving at the hands of Sergeant Holcomb and other superiors that he was contemplating suicide, according to testimony.

On Oct. 3, he shot himself while on guard duty in a tower.

According to the doctor who performed the autopsy, a message was scrawled in black on his forearm: “Tell my parents I’m sorry.”

    Sergeant Acquitted of Driving a Suicide, NYT, 30.7.2012,






Militant Group Poses Risk to U.S.-Pakistan Relations


July 30, 2012
The New York Times


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Grinning for the camera, the suicide bomber fondly patted his truckload of explosives. “We will defeat these crusader pigs as they have invaded our land,” he declared as he revved the engine.

The camera followed the truck to an American base in southern Afghanistan, where it exploded with a tangerine dust-framed fireball that punched a hole in the perimeter wall. Other suicide bombers leapt from a second vehicle and swarmed through the breach. The crackle and boom of violence filled the air.

The video, documenting a June 1 assault on Camp Salerno near the border with Pakistan, was released in the past week as a publicity blitz by the group behind the attack: the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate whose leaders shelter in Pakistan.

Even as the United States begins a large-scale troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Salerno attack, acknowledged at the time only in terse official statements, and others like it have cemented the Haqqani network’s standing as the most ominous threat to the fragile American-Pakistani relationship, officials from both countries say.

The two countries are just getting back on track, after months of grueling negotiations that finally reopened NATO supply routes through Pakistan. Pakistan’s spy chief, Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, is scheduled to arrive in Washington this week for talks with the Central Intelligence Agency, in an early sign of a new reconciliation.

But the relationship still has a tinderbox quality, riven by differences over C.I.A. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt, the Afghan war and, most contentiously, the Haqqani network. The arguments are well worn: American officials say the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency is covertly aiding the insurgents; Pakistani officials deny the accusation and contend the Obama administration is deflecting attention from its own failings in Afghanistan.

But a new boldness from the Haqqanis that aims at mass American casualties, combined with simmering political tension, has reduced the room for ambiguity between the two countries. Inside the administration, it is a commonly held view that the United States is “one major attack” away from unilateral action against Pakistan — diplomatically or perhaps even militarily, one senior official said.

“If 50 U.S. troops were blown to smithereens by the Haqqanis, or they penetrated the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and killed several diplomats — that would be the game changer,” he said.

American officials recently considered what that could mean. Days after the Salerno attack, the White House held a series of interagency meetings to weigh its options in the event of a major success by the Haqqanis against American troops.

Salerno had come uncomfortably close. Although just two Americans were killed, the attackers had penetrated the defenses of a major base to within yards of a dining hall used by hundreds of soldiers.

The meetings yielded a list of about 30 possible responses, according to a senior official who was briefed on the deliberations — everything from withdrawing the Islamabad ambassador, to a flurry of intensified drone attacks on Haqqani targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt, to American or Afghan commando raids on Haqqani hide-outs in the same area.

“We looked at the A to Z of how to get the Pakistanis’ attention,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as did other American and Pakistani officials interviewed about the issue.

Yet there were no easy answers. Officials concluded that most options ran the risk of setting off a wider conflict with Pakistan’s nuclear-armed military. “It came down to the fact that there wasn’t much we could do,” the official said. Other senior officials confirmed the broad details of his account; many noted that most contingency plans are never transformed into actions.

At the heart of the conundrum is the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, and its new chief, General Islam.

He is a largely unknown quantity in Washington, and much of this week’s trip is likely to focus on relationship building with American officials, including the director of the C.I.A., David H. Petraeus. But the tone has already been set by Congress: in the past month, both the House and the Senate have passed bills that urge Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to designate the Haqqani network a “foreign terrorist organization.”

“The Haqqani network is engaged in a reign of terror,” said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “Now is the time for action, not simply paperwork and talk.”

The Haqqanis’ formidable reputation comes from a series of “swarm” attacks that have struck at American efforts to ensure a smooth and public transition of power to President Hamid Karzai by the end of 2014. Since 2008, Haqqani suicide attackers have struck the Indian Embassy, five-star hotels and restaurants and, last September, the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the American Embassy.

The headlines created by such violence are disproportionate to their military significance: Haqqani operations account for one-tenth of the attacks on ISAF troops, and perhaps 15 percent of casualties, senior American officials estimate. Other countries do not even consider the Haqqanis to be the most dangerous group sheltering in Pakistan, a mantle usually awarded to the more ideologically driven Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was behind the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.

Yet their success is rooted in the sanctuary enjoyed by Haqqani leadership in North Waziristan, where, at the very least, they are unmolested by the Pakistani military.

That relationship stretches to the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s, when the ISI funneled C.I.A. money and weapons to Haqqani fighters. The Pakistani agency continued to send funds during the 1990s, according to a new report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Today, the ISI admits that it maintains regular contact with the Haqqanis, but denies providing operational support. “Doesn’t the C.I.A. have contacts with the people it is fighting?” said a senior ISI official. “In intelligence work, you need to ingress to find out what the other side is doing.”

American and other Western officials, citing intelligence reports, say the ISI and the Haqqanis do more than just talk. Pakistani intelligence allows Haqqani operatives to run legitimate businesses in Pakistan, facilitates their travel to Persian Gulf states, and has continued to donate money. Senior Haqqani figures own houses in the capital, Islamabad, where their relatives live unmolested.

A Pakistani expert on organized crime, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Said Jan ’Abd al-Salam, a Haqqani supporter listed as a terrorist financier by the American government, lived in Islamabad’s upmarket F7 neighborhood for periods of 2008 and 2009. A Western diplomat said he had seen credible reports that the group’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, dined openly in a city center restaurant this year.

But, officials and some analysts caution, such links do not amount to ISI support for attacks on Americans. They may point to something more subtle: a containment policy that is devised to prevent Haqqani violence inside Pakistan, all the while providing a strategic card to help influence the future of Afghanistan.

“We think the Haqqani network has an ongoing relationship with the ISI,” a senior Obama administration official said. “But I am not convinced there is a command-and-control relationship between the ISI and those attacks.”

One difficulty in determining the truth is the fragmentary nature of Western intelligence: a mosaic of satellite images, intercepted phone calls and human intelligence. “It’s like on the other side of that door there’s a party going on,” said the senior administration official, pointing to his office door. “You’re trying to find out what’s going on by peeping through the keyhole, or holding a glass to the door. But you only get pieces.”

In many ways, the Haqqanis are their own masters. Although they pledge allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, they enjoy financial autonomy thanks to a tribal crime empire based on extortion, kidnapping and smuggling. They draw operational support from other groups sheltering in Waziristan, including Al Qaeda.

In that sense, several officials said, the ISI may be serving the Haqqani agenda more than the other way around. “Their interests are not always aligned,” said an American intelligence official who tracks the Haqqanis closely.

American efforts to kill Haqqani leaders with C.I.A. drone strikes in Waziristan and Afghanistan have met with little success, two senior officials said, partly because Sirajuddin Haqqani surrounds himself with civilians — often women and children — at his base in the town of Miram Shah.

The United States has long pressured Pakistan to attack the Haqqanis in North Waziristan, but the military says its forces are overstretched. “It’s not that we are unwilling to go against them; we just don’t have the resources,” the ISI official said.

But after the Salerno attack in June, the army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, privately told American officials he would launch a three-phase military operation against the Haqqanis over the coming 12 months.

Most American officials, however, say they are not counting on that promise. One remarked with a sardonic touch, “This is the most delayed campaign in the history of modern warfare.”


Declan Walsh reported from Islamabad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting.

    Militant Group Poses Risk to U.S.-Pakistan Relations, NYT, 30.7.2012,






A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away


July 29, 2012
The New York Times


HANCOCK FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. — From his computer console here in the Syracuse suburbs, Col. D. Scott Brenton remotely flies a Reaper drone that beams back hundreds of hours of live video of insurgents, his intended targets, going about their daily lives 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. Sometimes he and his team watch the same family compound for weeks.

“I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer,” Colonel Brenton said.

When the call comes for him to fire a missile and kill a militant — and only, Colonel Brenton said, when the women and children are not around — the hair on the back of his neck stands up, just as it did when he used to line up targets in his F-16 fighter jet.

Afterward, just like the old days, he compartmentalizes. “I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy,” he said. “I have a duty, and I execute the duty.”

Drones are not only revolutionizing American warfare but are also changing in profound ways the lives of the people who fly them.

Colonel Brenton acknowledges the peculiar new disconnect of fighting a telewar with a joystick and a throttle from his padded seat in American suburbia.

When he was deployed in Iraq, “you land and there’s no more weapons on your F-16, people have an idea of what you were just involved with.” Now he steps out of a dark room of video screens, his adrenaline still surging after squeezing the trigger, and commutes home past fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to help with homework — but always alone with what he has done.

“It’s a strange feeling,” he said. “No one in my immediate environment is aware of anything that occurred.”

Routinely thought of as robots that turn wars into sanitized video games, the drones have powerful cameras that bring war straight into a pilot’s face.

Although pilots speak glowingly of the good days, when they can look at a video feed and warn a ground patrol in Afghanistan about an ambush ahead, the Air Force is also moving chaplains and medics just outside drone operation centers to help pilots deal with the bad days — images of a child killed in error or a close-up of a Marine shot in a raid gone wrong.

Among the toughest psychological tasks is the close surveillance for aerial sniper missions, reminiscent of the East German Stasi officer absorbed by the people he spies on in the movie “The Lives of Others.” A drone pilot and his partner, a sensor operator who manipulates the aircraft’s camera, observe the habits of a militant as he plays with his children, talks to his wife and visits his neighbors. They then try to time their strike when, for example, his family is out at the market.

“They watch this guy do bad things and then his regular old life things,” said Col. Hernando Ortega, the chief of aerospace medicine for the Air Education Training Command, who helped conduct a study last year on the stresses on drone pilots. “At some point, some of the stuff might remind you of stuff you did yourself. You might gain a level of familiarity that makes it a little difficult to pull the trigger.”

Of a dozen pilots, sensor operators and supporting intelligence analysts recently interviewed from three American military bases, none acknowledged the kind of personal feelings for Afghans that would keep them awake at night after seeing the bloodshed left by missiles and bombs. But all spoke of a certain intimacy with Afghan family life that traditional pilots never see from 20,000 feet, and that even ground troops seldom experience.

“You see them wake up in the morning, do their work, go to sleep at night,” said Dave, an Air Force major who flew drones from 2007 to 2009 at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and now trains drone pilots at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. (The Air Force, citing what it says are credible threats, forbids pilots to disclose their last names. Senior commanders who speak to the news media and community groups about the base’s mission, like Colonel Brenton in Syracuse, use their full names.)

Some pilots spoke of the roiling emotions after they fire a missile. (Only pilots, all of them officers, employ weapons for strikes.)

“There was good reason for killing the people that I did, and I go through it in my head over and over and over,” said Will, an Air Force officer who was a pilot at Creech and now trains others at Holloman. “But you never forget about it. It never just fades away, I don’t think — not for me.”

The complexities will only grow as the military struggles to keep up with a near insatiable demand for drones. The Air Force now has more than 1,300 drone pilots, about 300 less than it needs, stationed at 13 or more bases across the United States. They fly the unmanned aircraft mostly in Afghanistan. (The numbers do not include the classified program of the C.I.A., which conducts drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.) Although the Afghan war is winding down, the military expects drones to help compensate for fewer troops on the ground.

By 2015, the Pentagon projects that the Air Force will need more than 2,000 drone pilots for combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day worldwide. The Air Force is already training more drone pilots — 350 last year — than fighter and bomber pilots combined. Until this year, drone pilots went through traditional flight training before learning how to operate Predators, Reapers and unarmed Global Hawks. Now the pilots are on a fast track and spend only 40 hours in a basic Cessna-type plane before starting their drone training.

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said it was “conceivable” that drone pilots in the Air Force would outnumber those in cockpits in the foreseeable future, although he predicted that the Air Force would have traditional pilots for at least 30 more years.

Many drone pilots once flew in the air themselves but switched to drones out of a sense of the inevitable — or if they flew cargo planes, to feel closer to the war. “You definitely feel more connected to the guys, the battle,” said Dave, the Air Force major, who flew C-130 transport planes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now more and more Air National Guard bases are abandoning traditional aircraft and switching to drones to meet demand, among them Hancock Field, which retired its F-16s and switched to Reapers in 2010. Colonel Brenton, who by then had logged more than 4,000 hours flying F-16s in 15 years of active duty and a decade in Syracuse deploying to war zones with the Guard, said he learned to fly drones to stay connected to combat. True, drones cannot engage in air-to-air combat, but Colonel Brenton said that “the amount of time I’ve engaged the enemy in air-to-ground combat has been significant” in both Reapers and F-16s.

“I feel like I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done, I just don’t deploy to do it,” he said. Now he works full time commanding a force of about 220 Reaper pilots, sensor operators and intelligence analysts at the base.

Pilots say the best days are when ground troops thank them for keeping them safe. Ted, an Air Force major and an F-16 pilot who flew Reapers from Creech, recalled how troops on an extended patrol away from their base in Afghanistan were grateful when he flew a Reaper above them for five hours so they could get some sleep one night. They told him, “We’re keeping one guy awake to talk to you, but if you can, just watch over and make sure nobody’s sneaking up on us,” he recalled.

All the operators dismiss the notion that they are playing a video game. (They also reject the word “drone” because they say it describes an aircraft that flies on its own. They call their planes remotely piloted aircraft.)

“I don’t have any video games that ask me to sit in one seat for six hours and look at the same target,” said Joshua, a sensor operator who worked at Creech for a decade and is now a trainer at Holloman. “One of the things we try to beat into our crews is that this is a real aircraft with a real human component, and whatever decisions you make, good or bad, there’s going to be actual consequences.”

In his 10 years at Creech, he said without elaborating, “I’ve seen some pretty disturbing things.”

All of the pilots who once flew in cockpits say they do miss the sensation of flight, which for Colonel Brenton extends to the F-16 flybys he did for the Syracuse Memorial Day parade downtown. To make up for it, he sometimes heads out on weekends in a small propeller plane, which he calls a bug smasher.

“It’s nice to be up in the air,” he said.

    A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away, NYT, 29.7.2012,






Afghanistan’s Economic Challenges


July 20, 2012
The New York Times


As American and coalition forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Afghan government faces a challenge as daunting as the need to take over the fight against the Taliban: assuming responsibility for an economy that has been almost exclusively dependent on outside assistance for more than a decade.

The numbers are staggering. According to the World Bank, an estimated 97 percent of Afghanistan’s roughly $15.7 billion gross domestic product comes from international military and development aid and spending in the country by foreign troops. The economy is already contracting as troops leave, and future growth will be slower, especially in urban areas and areas of conflict.

To increase the odds for a more gradual and manageable transition, the United States and other major donors pledged $16 billion in development aid through 2015 at a conference in Tokyo last week. It was an important and necessary commitment. Now they have to deliver.

The United States and other nations have promised that they will not abandon Afghanistan, which happened in 1989 after the Soviet Union was pushed out. The World Bank has warned that an abrupt aid cutoff could provoke a collapse of political authority, civil war and a greater reliance on opium profits.

The major donors, however, are mired in financial crisis, and they are tired of war and with the corruption and ineptness of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which has failed to build a stable and viable country despite the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars of assistance.

Not all the money has been wasted. Since 2001, many more Afghans have access to health care, schooling and even cellphones. But the country is still one of the world’s poorest and lacks reliable basic services like electricity.

The government has been unable to generate enough revenue to cover more than a fraction of its budget. Billions of dollars have been transferred to Dubai and elsewhere as Afghans with huge caches of cash bet against their country’s future and sabotage its ability to grow.

Transparency International, a watchdog group, says Afghanistan is among the world’s most corrupt countries and getting worse. The group says at least $1 billion donated over the past eight years has been siphoned off.

The Tokyo conference tried to address this issue by requiring, for the first time, the Afghan government to reduce corruption before receiving all of the newly promised aid. Mr. Karzai gave all the right assurances, but he has done that before. If he is serious now, he is fast running out of time.

Just days after the conference, seven top members resigned from the government agency that promotes investment in Afghanistan over what they said was rampant corruption and mismanagement. If Mr. Karzai fails to enact serious reforms and prosecute lawbreakers, the United States and other donors will lose all credibility if they don’t withhold at least some aid. Now is also the time for Afghans and the international community to work to guarantee free and fair elections so a new president can be chosen as called for, in the constitution, in 2014.

Eventually, Afghanistan has to wean itself from its donors. Indigenous businesses are growing, and there is even greater potential. The country has significant mineral deposits. Exxon Mobil has hinted at interest in exploring for oil. A recent conference organized by India drew investors from more than 40 countries. These opportunities will have much better prospects with a transparent, honest, competent and law-based government.

    Afghanistan’s Economic Challenges, NYT, 20.7.2012,






In Video of Execution, Reign of Taliban Recalled


July 8, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — The scene that Afghan officials say was caught on video last month near Kabul was as horrific as it was once common in Afghanistan: a Taliban fighter executing a woman with repeated shots to the back of her head as his compatriots and scores of villagers watch, and then cheer.

The crime the woman was accused of: adultery.

The video, which has begun circulating in Kabul, recalls the Taliban’s five-year reign in Afghanistan, when public executions were advertised on the radio and people accused of crimes were shot in front of crowds that packed the capital’s stadium. Adultery was among the crimes punishable by death.

The execution captured on the video took place in the Shinwari district of Parwan Province, in central Afghanistan, less than a two-hour drive from Kabul. It occurred on or around June 23, said Col. Masjidi, a senior provincial police official. Colonel Masjidi, like many Afghans, uses a single name.

The area was once considered safe enough for foreigners to drive through. But security there has sharply deteriorated in recent years, and now even many Afghans think twice before driving on a main road that passes through the district.

In the video, Taliban members can be heard saying that the executioner is the woman’s husband, though Afghan officials offered conflicting accounts of what transpired in the village, Qol-i-Heer.

Colonel Masjidi said the woman’s real husband was a member of a village militia that had slain a local Taliban leader. The woman was executed in revenge on trumped up charges of adultery, he said.

Roshna Khalid, a spokeswoman for the provincial government, said the woman was killed for having multiple affairs with Taliban fighters. Ms. Khalid said the woman’s name was Najiba, and that she was in her 20s and did not have children.

A third official, Qari Abdul Rahman Ahmadi, a member of the provincial council, said the woman had run off with a Taliban commander, who in turn was accused of passing information to government forces.

He was shot in a nearby village before Najiba was moved to Qol-i-Heer to be executed by her husband, Mr. Ahmadi said.

A Taliban spokesman could not be reached for comment. The American Embassy and the NATO-led coalition condemned the execution.

At the outset of the fuzzy video, which runs nearly four minutes and appears to have been taken by a Taliban member with a cellphone, Najiba is a peripheral figure, seen kneeling in the background. Her body is turned away from the camera, her head is shrouded by a gray scarf.

Taliban fighters mill about in the foreground. A few dozen villagers watch from a hill above the impromptu execution ground. The existence of the video was first reported by the Reuters news agency, and obtained on Monday by The New York Times.

One of the Taliban says the Koran prohibits adultery. Killing the woman is “God’s order and decree,” he says. “If the issue was avenging deaths, we would beg for her amnesty. But in this case, God says, ‘You should finish her.’ ”

He concludes by saying, “It’s the order of God, and now it is her husband’s work to punish her.”

Then someone else says, “Give him a Kalashnikov.”

Armed with the borrowed assault rifle, the man identified as her husband approaches Najiba from behind. Several Taliban fighters can he heard whispering, “Get closer to her.”

He shoots Najiba nine times. The third shot jolts her body backward, leaving it flat on the ground. He keeps shooting.

Someone then says, “Long live the hero of Islam!” The Taliban begin cheering, and the villagers join in. One of the Taliban says, “Take my video, too,” and can be seen smiling, with ammunition strapped to his vest.

The video ends with the executioner shooting Najiba’s body four more times.

Ms. Khalid, the provincial spokeswoman, said Afghan security forces were sent to the village after the execution but most of the Taliban had fled. Those who remained were hiding in the houses of villagers, who were too scared of the Taliban to help the security forces, she said.

But an Interior Ministry official in Kabul said at least some of the villagers were in league with the insurgents. The official pointed to the cheering after the execution as evidence that the villagers supported it.

Kabul and other Afghan cities, where many women work and go to school, is not like the countryside, where reports often surface of women being killed over accusations of adultery or other moral crimes, the official said.

“Villagers are more traditional,” the official said.

On Sunday, the coalition said seven service members were killed in two separate roadside bombings in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Six service members died in the attack in the country’s east, an unusually high death toll for a single bombing.

In southern Afghanistan, at least 18 civilians were killed in three bombings along a stretch of road in Kandahar Province on Sunday. The first hidden bomb exploded after a minibus passed over it, said Jawid Faisal, a spokesman for the provincial government. Men from a nearby village then headed to the scene to help survivors on a tractor, which struck a second hidden bomb. A few hours later another vehicle hit a third hidden bomb.


Habib Zahori contributed reporting.

    In Video of Execution, Reign of Taliban Recalled, NYT, 8.7.2012,






Suicides Outpacing War Deaths for Troops


June 8, 2012
The New York Times


The suicide rate among the nation’s active-duty military personnel has spiked this year, eclipsing the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago, the Pentagon said Friday.

Suicides have increased even as the United States military has withdrawn from Iraq and stepped up efforts to provide mental health, drug and alcohol, and financial counseling services.

The military said Friday that there had been 154 suicides among active-duty troops through Thursday, a rate of nearly one each day this year. The figures were first reported this week by The Associated Press.

That number represents an 18 percent increase over the 130 active-duty military suicides for the same period in 2011. There were 123 suicides from January to early June in 2010, and 133 during that period in 2009, the Pentagon said.

By contrast, there were 124 American military fatalities in Afghanistan as of June 1 this year, according to the Pentagon.

Suicide rates of military personnel and combat veterans have risen sharply since 2005, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified. Recently, the Pentagon established a Defense Suicide Prevention Office.

On Friday, Cynthia Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said the Pentagon had sought to remind commanders that those who seek counseling should not be stigmatized.

“This is a troubling issue, and we are committed to getting our service members the help they need,” she said. “I want to emphasize that getting help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength.”

In a letter to military commanders last month, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that “suicide prevention is a leadership responsibility,” and added, “Commanders and supervisors cannot tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services.”

But veterans’ groups said Friday that the Pentagon had not done enough to moderate the tremendous stress under which combat troops live, including coping with multiple deployments.

“It is clear that the military, at the level of the platoon, the company and the battalion, that these things are not being addressed on a compassionate and understanding basis,” said Bruce Parry, chairman of the Coalition of Veterans Organizations, a group based in Illinois. “They need to understand on a much deeper level the trauma the troops are facing.”

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called suicides among active-duty military personnel “the tip of the iceberg.” He cited a survey the group conducted this year among its 160,000 members that found that 37 percent knew someone who had committed suicide.

Mr. Rieckhoff attributed the rise in military suicides to too few qualified mental health professionals, aggravated by the stigma of receiving counseling and further compounded by family stresses and financial problems. The unemployment rate among military families is a particular problem, he said.

“They are thinking about combat, yeah, but they are also thinking about their wives and kids back home,” he said.


Thom Shanker contributed reporting.

    Suicides Outpacing War Deaths for Troops, NYT, 8.6.2012,




home Up