Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

LDESP Afghanistan-Pakistan News Update – 23 October 2012


Disclaimer: Articles are taken from established and diverse professional periodicals, news articles, and editorial commentaries from different countries, reflecting a range of political views/biases, that are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. External links may expire at any time depending on the archiving policy of the particular news agency. News summaries may highlight only a portion of an article that is relevant to the readers and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Opinions expressed in the articles, commentaries and features do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP staff.


Afghanistan: Governance & Civil Society

Afghan Vote Plan Raises Tensions

The Afghan government’s plan to issue biometric ID cards ahead of the 2014 presidential election is raising tensions with international donors, who are concerned the ambitious project could tarnish the vote instead of eliminating fraud. As part of its preparations for the election, the Afghan government decided last month [September] to issue to all Afghans an electronic national ID card, known as e-tazkira, which includes scanned thumbprints. The plan is expected to cost $115 million, most of it from Western sources, U.S. and international officials say. However, some senior Afghan officials say it is virtually impossible to register most Afghans in time for the election, which is set to pick President Hamid Karzai’s successor. “Time is running out,” warned Fazal Ahmad Manawi, the chairman of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission. He said he wasn’t sure if Afghan government ministries “can run this project based on the time that we need.” A Karzai spokesman declined to comment. The 2014 election–coinciding with the planned withdrawal of most U.S. and international troops–is critical for Afghanistan’s stability. While Mr. Karzai isn’t allowed to run again under the constitution, Western diplomats expect him to try to put in office a relative or a close ally who could protect the extended Karzai clan and its vast business interests. Officials from donor countries say any fraud perpetrated by Mr. Karzai could reignite the civil-war fault lines of the 1990s and could threaten foreign aid. Officials from some Western donor countries say their governments have threatened to cut off some aid if there were massive fraud in the election. (WSJ)

Afghanistan Will Not Return to a Taliban Regime: Khalili

Afghanistan will not return to a situation like that of the Taliban regime, the Second Vice-President Karim Khalili told reporters in Bamyan province on 12 October. Khalili stressed that while there are some weaknesses in the system now, they will be resolved and the Afghan forces will be fully capable of defeating insurgents after 2014. “We support the past 11 years achievements and our security forces will be able to hold security after the withdrawal of foreign forces. There are some problems within the security organs which would be tackled soon,” Khalili said. “Afghanistan will not turn back to Talibanism,” he added. Khalili urged insurgents to renounce violence and join the Afghan peace process. “We urge the armed opposition groups to renounce violence and join the peace process. They shouldn’t make the presence of foreign troops a reason [for insurgency] as they leaving by the end of 2014. If they want to use force against us, even with support of foreign countries, the Afghan Forces and people will chase them,” he added. The Afghan security forces will take over the responsibility of securing the country from foreign forces by the end of 2014 as concerns over the economic and military crisis are mounting in the country. (TOLOnews)

Afghan MPs Criticise Zardari ‘Delay’ of Insurgent Raid

Afghan lawmakers on 22 October criticised Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari for saying that a big military operation against insurgents required a “national consensus” including parliament approval, describing his comments as a delay tactic. The Afghan MPs who spoke to TOLOnews believe that Zardari could be using such statements as an excuse for Pakistan to delay the launch of a military attack as such a move should not require approval from the parliament. (…) Fellow MP Shir Wali Wardak said Zardari’s comments are consistent with the country’s past lack of action to combat insurgents on its soil. (…) Zardari was reported by Dawn News as saying on 21 October that before Pakistan launches any military operation against the militants, the country’s governing bodies must agree on it after assessing the country’s capacity to deal with an insurgent retaliation. (…) This comes as US special envoy to the region Marc Grossman finalised in high-level meetings with officials in Pakistan the formation of a bilateral body to negotiate with the Taliban militants. (TOLOnews)

Karzai Warns Nato Troop Immunity May Not Be Granted

President Hamid Karzai has warned there might be no immunity from prosecution for foreign troops after 2014 if the insecurity in Afghanistan does not come to an end and the country’s borders are not properly protected. Karzai discussed the matter with visiting NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on 18 October, saying that the Afghan people may not allow the government to allow the foreign soldiers this leniency if poor security continues, according to a presidential statement released on 20 October. Afghans might “not permit their government to grant immunity… if the war and insecurities continue in Afghanistan, Afghan borders are not protected, and the immunity for foreign forces comes on top of these issues”, the statement said. Karzai’s stance was criticised by MPs on both sides of the fence. Supporter of a foreign exemption rule, Daikundi MP Nasrullah Sadeqizada Nili said Saturday that the security problems cannot be blamed only on the foreigners and the failure to exempt the foreign soldiers may impact on NATO’s mission in the country. “All the burden of security should not be left to the foreigners. We have responsibility as well. These statements will affect NATO’s mission,” he said. Herat MP Saleh Mohammad Saljuqi, who is against the exemption, saw Karzai’s statement as a bid for more money, saying it should not be a matter of money. “Any financial assurance should not be linked with exemption of law. There will not be a good outcome in the future if this is done so,” said Saljuqi. Some analysts have linked Karzai’s statements to an attempt to push the US and NATO to pump more money into Afghanistan as a sweetener to allow the exemption. In Iraq, the US pulled out all its troops after Baghdad refused to allow the soldiers to be exempt from local prosecution. (TOLOnews)

HPC Welcomes New Pakistan-US Negotiation Body

The Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) on 22 October welcomed the finalization of a Pakistan-US commission to negotiate with the Taliban, dismissing suggestions that Afghanistan has been pushed to the side. Despite Afghan and US officials repeatedly saying that Afghanistan should take the lead in the negotiations with the Taliban, the HPC’s international relations adviser Mohammad Ismael Qasemyar said he sees the committee as something positive. “We are cautiously optimistic because without cooperation from Pakistan and the United States, reaching a sustainable peace will be difficult,” Qasemyar told TOLOnews on Monday. “Afghanistan is not being pushed to the sides of the talks,” he added. The new committee was finalized during the visit of Marc Grossman, US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Pakistan on Sunday after months of discussion on the matter. Details on the committee were not disclosed but Paksitani newspaper The Express Tribune reported sources saying it “will identify [insurgent] groups for reconciliation and facilitate smooth transition of power following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan”. The failure of Kabul in doing enough to bring the ‘armed opposition groups’ to the negotiating table has been frequently criticized and is what one political analyst says is the reason the Afghan government is being left out of the committee. “Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s delays and failure to follow-up the peace programs has led to their attempts having no outcomes,” Jawid Kohistani told TOLOnews. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)

Pakistan: Governance & Civil Society

‘Mullah Radio’ believed to be behind attack on Pakistani schoolgirl

The Taliban leader who apparently ordered the assassination of a Pakistani schoolgirl may not be well-known outside the remote, picturesque Swat Valley. But there he is infamous for his long campaign against female education. Mullah Fazlullah, the 30-something leader of a local Taliban branch, is also well-known to a very different set of people: U.S. troops who have been gunning for him since he fled into neighboring Konar province in Afghanistan three years ago. Because of his long record of violence and civilian executions, he is considered a priority target for NATO forces, according to analysts. “He’s on everyone’s target list,” said Jeff Dressler, senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, who has assisted the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Dressler’s assessment was shared by U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Fazlullah is also known as “Mullah Radio” for his use of a roving transmitter to broadcast lyrical rants against the central government in Pakistan, music, education and the polio vaccine. He married into militancy when he wed the daughter of the founder of the Swat-based branch of the Taliban, known as the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Sharia, or TNSM, its Urdu acronym. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, he led his men there to fight American troops. But he rose to prominence only in the mid-2000s, through his broadcasts. Fazlullah is considered a charismatic preacher, recruiting not only suicide bombers but also village women, who have donated their precious jewels and other valuables to his cause, experts say. Fazlullah formed an alliance with other Taliban factions, and together they laid siege to the Swat Valley between 2007 and 2009. His fighters blew up hundreds of schools, beheaded villagers, flogged women, killed dozens of soldiers and policemen, forced the exodus of more than a million residents and advanced to within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad. His followers ultimately grew to 10,000 and used their strength to force the Pakistani government into three peace deals. Fazlullah and his men established training camps and allowed al-Qaeda members to join them in battle. “He could marshal thousands of troops,” said Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, who has been following Fazlullah for years. But by 2009, the Pakistani army had had enough and pushed the TNSM out of the valley. Since then, the group’s members have floated across the ill-defined border between Konar in Afghanistan and the Bajaur tribal area in Pakistan, according to counterterrorism experts. (Washington Post)

Pakistanis Divided on Army Offensive After Attack

Despite widespread outrage over the Taliban shooting of a female teenage activist, Pakistani leaders and opinion makers are divided over whether the government should respond by targeting the militants’ last major sanctuary along the Afghan border. The U.S. has long pressed Pakistan to launch an operation in the remote and mountainous North Waziristan tribal area, home to enemies of Islamabad as well as to militants fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The recent attack on 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai has given new momentum to the debate. One side argues the government should harness anger over the shooting to build public support for a push into North Waziristan. The other claims more fighting isn’t the answer and would trigger a violent backlash. They recommend peace negotiations and ending Pakistani support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. (…) Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had said that the government was considering a military operation in North Waziristan, although he backtracked a few days later. (ABC News, AP)


EU Withholds Some Aid, Citing Lack of Reform

The European Union told the Afghan government it was withholding millions of euros in aid because of a failure to reform the judiciary–signaling that future international funding will become increasingly dependent on Kabul living up to its promises. The EU decision comes amid heightened tension between President Hamid Karzai’s administration and the West over issues that range from insider attacks on coalition troops to Western concerns that the next presidential election, scheduled for 2014, will be even more fraud-ridden than the previous vote. An international conference on assisting Afghanistan, held in Tokyo in July, affirmed that pledges of billions of dollars in foreign aid for Kabul are conditional on “the Afghan government delivering on its commitments” on issues such as good governance, corruption and human rights. One of these commitments has been to present to donors one of several so-called National Priority Programs, or NPPs, that in this case outlines how Afghanistan will depoliticize its judiciary, largely controlled by Mr. Karzai, and ensure the rule of law. No agreement on this NPP has been reached so far between the government and international donors, prompting the EU to inform Afghan ministers in recent days that Brussels is delaying the implementation of a previously agreed commitment for €20 million ($26 million) for the sector. Given the billions of dollars allies are spending in Afghanistan, the sum itself is relatively insignificant. The decision, however, was meant as a warning of future aid cuts should the Afghan government keep stalling reforms. “It is a signal that with Tokyo things have changed, that there is no more business as usual,” a Western official said. Other donors, such as the U.S., have not yet held back funding, officials say. (WSJ)

Mining Contract Details Disclosed in Afghanistan

Enmeshed in a bruising political battle over new mining rules seen as vital to Afghanistan’s economic future, the country’s mining minister on 14 October disclosed about 200 previous mining contracts for the first time, portraying the move as an attempt to bring transparency to a process vulnerable to corruption. In the process, he appeared to take a swipe at a brother of President Hamid Karzai, citing as flawed the award of a contract in 2006 for a cement company in which he was a partner. The action, by Mining Minister Wahidullah Shahrani, was likely to please his supporters in the West, including the United States, who made greater openness in the Afghan government’s financial dealings a condition of billions of dollars in development assistance and aid money pledged earlier this year. But the move also comes at a precarious time for Mr. Shahrani. He is embattled politically and a target of critics for his shepherding of a proposed new mining law, vital to attracting foreign investment, which was blocked by the Afghan cabinet in July with President Karzai’s support. Mr. Shahrani is to resubmit the law in the coming weeks. Developing Afghanistan’s potentially rich deposits of iron, oil, gold, copper, lithium and other natural resources is regarded as crucial to the country’s economic prospects, transforming it into a state that can begin to pay its own way and allowing the international community to cut back its financial and, ultimately, military support. But there are persistent concerns that any resource boom could be jeopardized by corruption, worsening security and political instability. (NY Times)

Culture & Society

80% of Afghan Blindness is Treatable: Officials

More than 3,000 Afghans with severe eyesight failure have been treated through the Ministry of Health’s mobile eye clinics in the past two years, but officials said more needs to be done with 80 percent of those with eye problems believed to have a treatable condition. Marking ‘World Sight Day’ at a conference in Kabul, Health Minister Suraya Dalil said Afghanistan has an estimated 400,000 people who are completely blind and another 25,000 people without sight in one eye. Dalil added that many of those suffering from eyesight failure were not born with the condition, but rather received the disability through violence or other causes. “The Ministry of Health has been able to expand eye care centers throughout the provinces. The mobile clinics are been inaugurated in remote areas which have treated 3,000 people so far,” she added. “They have also distributed classes to those with eye problems for free.” World Health Organisation representative for Afghanistan Ashfaq Ahmad urged at the Kabul conference for Afghan health workers to identify and provide the necessary treatments for the patients with eye issues in order to reduce the level of blind people in the country. “Of 400,000 blind people 80 percent have been identified by WHO to have a treatable condition. I urge the Afghan health workers to provide basic health care services, training, prevention and awareness to treat the eye issue on time in order reduce the problem in the country,” he added. According to the WHO statistics, there are around 285 million people with eye problems around the world – 39 million of them are clinically blind and 246 million have some sight but its poor quality vision. WHO, which is the promoter of World Sight Day, also says that 82 percent of the blind people around the world are more than 50 years old. (TOLOnews)

Afghan Filmmakers Fear for Cinematic History

Afghan director Siddiq Barmak remembers watching helplessly as reel upon reel of film footage was taken outside and burned in the street after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan. He also remembers the effort it took to save other films from destruction after the extremist forces marched into Kabul in 1996. Barmak and other Afghan filmmakers this week warned that efforts to save Afghanistan’s film history were being undermined by government inaction and concerns about security ahead of a planned 2014 withdrawal of US-led forces. “What is worrying all of us now is that the Taliban, the people who tried to destroy our cinema, are being talked about again as becoming part of the government,” said Barmak. “We have seen what they can do and cannot forget this,” he said. Barmak was joined by director Latif Ahmadi and producer Ibrahim Arify, who heads the government-backed Afghan Film organization. The filmmakers attended the Busan Film Festival in South Korea this week for a screening of an Afghanistan National Film Archive program. The six films that comprise “The Rise from the Ashes” include examples of Barmak and Ahmadi’s work, all of which were saved from the wrath of the Taliban. But many more reels remain in need of urgent repair, they say, with time taking its toll on old film stock. “The situation is critical,” said Barmak, winner of a Golden Globe award in 2004 for “Osama.” “We need help or our country’s film history, which is also the history of the country and its people, will be lost.” Barmak was working at Afghan Film, the state-backed company overseeing the national film industry and archive, when the Taliban began to implement its strict rule and attempted to destroy old film footage. Cinemas across the country were closed and the screening of films banned under the Taliban’s enforcement of Sharia law. (TOLOnews)


ACD to Cement Peace in Asia, Hopes Karzai

The Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) could play a significant role in cementing cooperation and peaceful coexistence among different cultures and civilizations in the region, hopes President Hamid Karzai. Addressing the ACD maiden summit in Kuwait City, Karzai thanked host leadership and members of the forum for supporting Afghanistan’s entry, a statement from the Presidential Palace in Kabul said on 17 October. Inaugurating the gathering‚ Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah announced an initiative of two billion dollars for financing development projects in non-Arab Asian countries. Kuwait will chip in with $300 million. The fund will help promote basic infrastructure‚ alleviate poverty and advance healthcare facilities. The amir called for intensifying efforts to promote investment and trade among member states. Launched in Thailand in June 2002, the ACD held its inaugural summit yesterday, with 32 nations from the Asian continent in attendance. The summit covered issues related to energy supply, food security, project financing and foreign investment. In his address, Karzai called the forum’s creation a stride toward forging unity among Asian countries. He welcomed the Kuwaiti leader’s announcement of the fund as a meaningful step and hoped other members would also contribute to the initiative. “I firmly believe Afghanistan’s membership of ACD will provide a good opportunity for strengthening cooperation with efforts at regional development and prosperity,” the president added. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)

Extremism Impossible to Eradicate without Cooperation: Karzai

It is impossible to eliminate extremism without the full cooperation of regional countries, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday at a meeting of leaders from around Asia. Speaking at the 12th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) in the Azerbaijan capital Baku, Karzai emphasized that everyone has to accept that terrorists have safe havens in the region. “We have to honestly accept that terrorists have safe havens in the region. It’s impossible to eradicate them without the full cooperation from regional countries,” Karzai told the conference attendees, adding that the existence of these havens was a threat to all. He pointed to the historic good relations of Afghanistan with ECO member countries, adding that there are plenty of opportunities available to provide a better future for the people of region. “I believe that there are many opportunities for the ECO member countries. If we use these wisely we will overcome most of our problems,” Karzai said. Karzai urged for other countries to respect that the sacrifices of the Afghan people and armed forces were not only protecting Afghanistan but were also preventing the infiltration of terrorists to other Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries. “Terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Eastern Turkistan Movement, and terrorist groups in Chechnya have been in our region for many years now and are being fed and trained to destroy us,” Karzai said. “We want our borders to be peaceful and stable,” he added. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, TOLOnews)

NATO must have U.N. mandate for post-2014 Afghan mission – Russia

Nikolay Korchunov, Russia’s acting ambassador to NATO, did not specify what any halt to Russian cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan after 2014 would mean, but Russia will be an important transit route for NATO as it ships out billions of dollars of equipment from Afghanistan in the next few years. NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels gave military experts the go-ahead on 10 October to begin detailed planning of the post-2014 training and advisory mission that will start after NATO ends combat operations in Afghanistan. “Let’s proceed from the assumption that any such mission should be based on an international mandate,” Korchunov said in written emailed replies to questions sent by Reuters. “It is a pre-condition both for carrying on the operation and for our cooperation with NATO on that issue post-2014.” Korchunov told Reuters that by international mandate he meant a new United Nations Security Council resolution. The current mission of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. But the nature of the mission will change after 2014, when ISAF is due to hand over security duties in the whole country to Afghan forces, possibly requiring a new resolution. The new training and advisory mission is expected to be much smaller, but NATO has given no details yet. Responding to Korchunov’s comments, a NATO official said it would be “helpful” to have a U.N. Security Council resolution in support of NATO’s planned post-2014 mission. Pressed on whether NATO could go ahead with the post-2014 without a U.N. resolution, the official said: “NATO of course takes its decisions autonomously based on the consensus of its allies. All its missions are based and conducted according to the principles of the United Nations charter.” “Clearly it is in the interest of the whole international community and of countries in the region, including Russia, to have a stable Afghanistan with the right training, advice and assistance for the Afghan security forces,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that an invitation from the Afghan government was a “pre-condition” for the post-2014 NATO mission. “And we would want to have a U.N. resolution, a resolution of the U.N. Security Council, too,” he told reporters at the NATO meeting on 9 October evening. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a regular critic of NATO. But he has backed cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan, allowing the use of Russian territory for transit and supplies. However, any wrangling involving the Security Council could prove problematic. International pressure on Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has been curbed after by Russia and China blocking Western-backed draft U.N. resolutions. (Reuters)


Afghanistan Security Forces

ANSF leaders pull no punches in the Pentagon

Afghan National Security Forces leaders from Helmand and Kandahar provinces visiting the Pentagon on 17 October said they understand the seriousness of green-on-blue and insider attacks on coalition forces. But in an exclusive interview with the E-Ring, the Afghan officers also indicated there are two things worrying them more about the future of security in their region. Their first concern is getting enough equipment, logistics and intelligence support to carry on the security mission as tens of thousands of international forces pull out. Their second worry: Pakistan. Through a translator, Maj. Gen. Sayed Malook Akbari, commanding general of the 215th Corps Afghan National Army, said he understood the recent concern over insider attacks, conceding they are having a negative effect in his ranks. But he also argued that the actual insider attacks conducted by enemies were a fraction of the total green-on-blue incidents and should not be taken to represent wider Afghan attitudes. (…) Akbari said to counter the problem, his troops and other security forces are being trained with religious counter-argument instructions that explain murder is against the teachings of Islam. “We are trying very hard,” he said. “We didn’t just leave it to mullahs.” The security leaders have traveled into many local communities to challenge the mullahs directly. “We are getting real positive results out of that, too.” But the officers also said they recognize that they are fighting an enemy who is doing “everything against the laws of human beings,” added Maj. Gen. Esmatullah Dawlatzai, the white-haired commanding general of the 707th Zone Uniform Border Police. Dawlatzai chalked some of the incidents up to depression among some soldiers in his ranks, but he gave assurances that issue is being addressed and that insider attacks will not succeed to drive apart the coalition. (Foreign Policy)

New Afghan Force Expands Its Role

A new Afghan security force hastily assembled from the guards of soon-to-be-banned private contractors began a dangerous new task on Monday: protecting supply convoys driving through the Taliban heartland. The Afghan Public Protection Force was created in recent months, after President Hamid Karzai essentially nationalized the giant private security business that guarded convoys, aid programs and foreign installations. The government-run APPF has inspired little confidence among Western clients—many of whom opposed the ban on private contractors, see the new force as poorly trained and under resourced, and worry about the potential for insider attacks by their new protectors, not all of whom have been screened for Taliban links. Screening of the new Afghan security force is likely to become even more urgent in coming months: Afghans are in the late stages of negotiating an agreement with the U.S. to take over responsibility for guarding the outer perimeter of coalition bases by the spring, U.S. and Afghan officials said. The APPF program coordinator, Afghan Police Lt. Gen. Abdul Jamil Junbesh, said all the guards would be properly screened. “The first thing we do is vet them properly, we check their backgrounds,” he said. (WSJ)

Kandahar Police Detain Mullahs for Anti-Government Stance

Security forces in southern Kandahar province are detaining mullahs who have allegedly trained in neighboring countries and preach anti-government messages, local officials said on 13 October. Kandahar Police Chief Abdul Raziq said at a press briefing that around eight percent of the mullahs in Kandahar had trained in neighboring countries and were propagating anti-government messages in areas near the border with Pakistan. “They promote the wrong message. They propagate against the Afghan government all day in [nearby Pakistan towns] Quetta and Chaman. We request people to discontinue this, otherwise they will be legally detained,” Raziq said. The arrests of such mullahs on Afghanistan’s side of the border began around two months ago and the operation to detain such mullahs is ongoing, he added. Governor of Kandahar’s Dand district said that so far more than 30 mullahs have been arrested, but the head of Kandahar Department of Hajj and Religious Affairs Maulawi Noor ul said he only knew of two arrests. “As far as I know, two Mullahs were arrested by the National Directorate of Security, and the NDS informed the Department of Hajj and Religious Affairs it was arresting these mullahs,” he told TOLOnews. Raziq called on the Religious Affairs Ministry to cooperate with the security forces in identifying the mullahs. (TOLOnews)

Afghan Army’s Turnover Threatens U.S. Strategy

The first thing Col. Akbar Stanikzai does when he interviews recruits for the Afghan National Army is take their cellphones. He checks to see if the ringtones are Taliban campaign tunes, if the screen savers show the white Taliban flag on a black background, or if the phone memory includes any insurgent beheading videos. Often enough they flunk that first test, but that hardly means they will not qualify to join their country’s manpower-hungry military. Now at its biggest size yet, 195,000 soldiers, the Afghan Army is so plagued with desertions and low re-enlistment rates that it has to replace a third of its entire force every year, officials say. The attrition strikes at the core of America’s exit strategy in Afghanistan: to build an Afghan National Army that can take over the war and allow the United States and NATO forces to withdraw by the end of 2014. The urgency of that deadline has only grown as the pace of the troop pullout has become an issue in the American presidential campaign. The Afghan deserters complain of corruption among their officers, poor food and equipment, indifferent medical care, Taliban intimidation of their families and, probably most troublingly, a lack of belief in the army’s ability to fight the insurgents after the American military withdraws. On top of that, recruits now undergo tougher vetting because of concerns that enemy infiltration of the Afghan military is contributing to a wave of attacks on international forces. Colonel Stanikzai, a senior official at the army’s National Recruiting Center, is on the front line of that effort; in the six months through September, he and his team of 17 interviewers have rejected 962 applicants, he said. “There are drug traffickers who want to use our units for their business, enemy infiltrators who want to raise problems, jailbirds who can’t find any other job,” he said. During the same period, however, 30,000 applicants were approved. “Recruitment, it’s like a machine,” he said. “If you stopped, it would collapse.” Despite the challenges, so far the Afghan recruiting process is not only on track, but actually ahead of schedule. Afghanistan’s army reached its full authorized strength in June, three months early, though there are still no units that American trainers consider able to operate entirely without NATO assistance. According to Brig. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, the Army’s desertion rate is now 7 to 10 percent. Despite substantial pay increases for soldiers who agree to re-enlist, only about 75 percent do, he said. (Recruits commit to three years of service.) Put another way, a third of the Afghan Army perpetually consists of first-year recruits fresh off a 10- to 12-week training course. And in the meantime, tens of thousands of men with military training are put at loose ends each year, albeit without their army weapons, in a country rife with militants who are always looking for help. (NY Times)

U.S. & Coalition Forces

Thousands of British troops to exit Afghanistan in 2013

Britain plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan next year, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on 14 October, as pressure mounts to end British involvement in the costly and unpopular war. More than 430 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led intervention in 2001, yet stability remains elusive and violence high, while relations between Western troops and Afghan forces and civilians are increasingly frayed. Some 500 British troops are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of this year, leaving around 9,000 still there. Asked about troop withdrawals next year, Hammond told the BBC: “I would expect it will be significant, which means thousands, not hundreds, but I would not expect it to be the majority.” That would indicate a potential withdrawal of up to 4,500 personnel in 2013. All British combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Britain’s defence budget, like that of other NATO members, is under pressure, forcing the defence ministry to slash spending and cut force numbers and equipment programs. The Treasury, struggling to revive a flagging economy, earlier this year said it would use money once earmarked for the military mission in Afghanistan to fund tax cuts. Ties between Western troops and Afghan forces have also deteriorated after a series of “insider” attacks against NATO coalition troops by Afghan soldiers or by militants wearing Afghan military uniform. (Deccan Herald)

UK to double number of drones in Afghanistan

The UK is to double the number of armed RAF “drones” flying combat and surveillance operations in Afghanistan and, for the first time, the aircraft will be controlled from terminals and screens in Britain. In the new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), five Reaper drones will be sent to Afghanistan, the Guardian can reveal. It is expected they will begin operations within six weeks. Pilots based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire will fly the recently bought American-made UAVs at a hi-tech hub built on the site in the past 18 months. The UK’s existing five Reaper drones, which are used to target suspected insurgents in Helmand, have been operated from Creech air force base in Nevada because Britain has not had the capability to fly them from here. After “standing up” the new XIII squadron in a ceremony on 26 October, the UK will soon have 10 Reapers in Afghanistan. The government has yet to decide whether the aircraft will remain there after 2014, when all NATO combat operations are due to end. “The new squadron will have three control terminals at RAF Waddington, and the five aircraft will be based in Afghanistan,” a spokesman confirmed. “We will continue to operate the other Reapers from Creech though, in time, we will wind down operations there and bring people back to the UK.” (The Guardian)

‘Germany to slash Afghanistan troop numbers in 2013’

Germany is poised to reduce significantly the number of troops it contributes to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan next year, according to a report published on 14 Octoberin Der Spiegel newsweekly. The current upper limit of 4,900 troops will be slashed to “comfortably under 4,000” when the German government asks parliament in January for a new mandate for the force, Spiegel said. It said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defence Minister Thomas De Maiziere had also agreed to ask parliament for a mandate of more than the usual 12 months, so troops could be in place for elections due at the start of 2014. The defence ministry declined to comment on the report saying the size and duration of the mandate had not yet been decided. Germany is the third largest force under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, behind Britain’s around 9,500 troops and the more than 90,000 US troops. It has a maximum of 4,900 soldiers in Afghanistan but another 500 are set to be withdrawn by the end of this year before a complete pullout. Foreign troops have now begun pulling out and all combat forces will be gone by the end of 2014, according to a withdrawal schedule agreed by the US and NATO. (The Lahore Times)

Violence Decreases in Areas Transferred to Afghan Forces: Isaf

The violence in areas transferred to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is decreasing, ISAF spokesman Gen. Gunter Katz said on 23 October. Speaking at a press conference in Kabul, Gen. Katz emphasised the strength of the ANSF saying that the transition is successfully underway and violence has decreased in areas where the transition has already happened. However, he noted that threats from the enemies are still strong but they are under severe pressures from the security forces. “We have a success in our campaign; the transition process is well on the track, all the areas where transition is taking place have a clear decrease of violence, you can actually have the statistics,” he said. “Yes we still have enemy-initiated attacks, we still keep on pressuring them, not in the ordinary areas but in the former safe havens today, there is still a fight going.” The planning of the NATO mission’s draw down in Afghanistan and new mission after 2014 is underway, NATO civilian spokesman Dominic Medley said at the same briefing. “The meeting of NATO and ISAFDefense Minister in Brussels started to plan for that new mission after ISAF [the name of the current mission]. The military planners started working on it now, and early next year we will see the next steps and by the middle or end of next year NATO will expect the final decision to be taken on that new mission,” Medley said. “So the commitment to the new mission is there and the planning is underway but I can’t give you the numbers of trainers involved in that new mission,” he added. The Afghan security forces are expected to peak at 352,000 and more than ninety percent of the forces are being trained by Afghan instructors, Katz said. (TOLOnews)


In Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Dunford is expected to take command of allied forces

A Marine general with extensive combat experience in Iraq who sped up the ranks upon returning to the Pentagon has been nominated by President Obama to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, who has not served in Afghanistan, would replace a fellow Marine four-star general, John R. Allen, who has been selected as the next supreme allied commander in Europe. Both moves, which are expected to occur early next year, require confirmation by the Senate and the North Atlantic Council, the principal decision-making body within NATO. Speaking before a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called Dunford “an exceptionally gifted strategic leader.” If confirmed, Dunford will preside over the war in Afghanistan at a challenging juncture. Although allied forces have improved security in some parts of the country, the Taliban insurgency remains resilient. Efforts by the U.S. military and its NATO partners to train the Afghan army and police have been hampered by a wave of attacks on allied forces by members of the Afghan security forces, many of which are the result of Taliban infiltration. Dunford, who would be the fifth top allied commander in Afghanistan in five years, almost certainly would have to deal with a further reduction of U.S. and NATO forces. The specific number of U.S. troops to be withdrawn next year will depend, in part, on who wins the presidential election next month, but military leaders are expecting a substantial drawdown to meet U.S. and NATO commitments to end conventional combat operations by the close of 2014. The United States has about 68,000 combat troops in Afghanistan. If confirmed, Obama said in a statement, Dunford “will lead our forces through key milestones in our effort that will allow us to bring the war to a close responsibly as Afghanistan takes full responsibility for its security.” (Washington Post)

NATO: Afghanistan drawdown plans unchanged

NATO’s top official said on 18 October that the alliance remains committed to help enable Afghan forces assume full responsibility for the country’s security after 2014, when coalition troops are due to end their combat mission. The statement by visiting Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen comes amid speculation that the U.S.-led alliance could accelerate its withdrawal plans. “Our goal is that Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own feet, but Afghanistan will not stand alone,” Fogh Rasmussen said. NATO’s governing body, the North Atlantic Council, was visiting Kabul for meetings with President Hamid Karzai, coalition military commander Gen. John Allen and commanders of the Afghan government’s forces. The military alliance has also agreed to offer a smaller, post-2014 mission to help the Afghan forces with training, advice and assistance. The strategy agreed between NATO, its partners and Karzai’s government is to enable the Afghans to take over the war against the Taliban and other insurgents by the end of 2014. NATO started drawing down its forces earlier this year. It currently has 104,000 troops in Afghanistan – 68,000 of them Americans – down from 140,000 the alliance had here in 2011. Polls show that the 11-year war remains deeply unpopular among NATO’s 28 member states, most of which are cutting defense budgets at a time of austerity caused by financial crises. There have been calls in the United States and elsewhere to accelerate the drawdown plan. (Seattle Times, AP)

NATO Says New Framework Assures Afghan Stability After 2014

Some NATO forces will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, assuring ongoing stability as the alliance moves from a combat role to a training mission, NATO-led ISAF spokesman Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz said in Kabul on 15 October. Addressing fears of rising insecurity once foreign forces leave in 2014, Katz emphasised the ongoing support of the international community towards Afghan security forces. “Afghanistan will stay stable after 2014. The commitment from the international community at the Chicago and Tokyo summit shows that Afghanistan will be supported in the future as well,” Katz said at a briefing in Kabul. NATO civilian spokesman Dominic Medley made similar remarks, saying that the framework for NATO ‘s post-2014 engagement in Afghanistan was decided on last week in Brussels. ” NATO defence ministers and the ministers from potential operational partners concluded the first stage of planning for that new mission. This will guide the military experts as they take the planning process forward. It is expected to agree on a detailed outline early next year, and to complete the plan well before the end of 2013,” Medley said Monday in Kabul. “This new mission will not be a combat mission. It will be a mission to train, advise and assist,” he added. He pointed out that Afghan security forces are already responsible for security of 75 percent of the Afghan people and that they will lead all the military operations by the first half of 2013. “International community and Nato are committed towards Afghanistan and promised billions of dollars to the country. Afghan forces will be supported in the future and their training mission will continue,” Medley added. The NATO office in Kabul also introduced new senior civilian envoy to replace Simon Gass who completed his term last month. Ambassador Maurits Jochems, who is originally from the Netherlands, already held the position of NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan for an interim period in early 2008. For the last two years Jochems has been the Ambassador for the Netherlands to Estonia. (TOLOnews)

NATO outlines Afghan postwar plan

NATO troops will remain alongside their American counterparts in Afghanistan after the White House’s 2014 deadline, according to a plan announced by alliance leaders on 15 October. Top defense ministers in the alliance agreed to a new postwar mission in the country that will focus on training and advising the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) into 2015 and beyond, according to a NATO spokesman. Alliance officials plan to have the details of that postwar plan in place no later than 2013, International Security Assistance Force spokesman Brig. Gen. Günter Katz told reporters in Kabul. Gen. John Allen, current head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is also expected to submit his postwar recommendations to the White House by 2013. The NATO plan, Katz added, will not include combat operations by NATO forces but will be strictly focused on supporting ANSF units in country. Alliance leaders agreed to funnel billions into the plan during NATO’s defense ministers’ conference in Brussels last week. The White House and the Pentagon reached a tentative deal with Kabul in May on what the future U.S. presence would be in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal. The postwar American force will consist largely of U.S. special operations troops backed up by Afghan commando units, known as Kandaks, Allen said back in March. Roughly 32,000 U.S. troops have already been pulled from the country, with the remaining 68,000 Americans drawing down over the next two years. On the NATO side, alliance leaders will begin a “gradual adjustment” in the nearly 100,000-man force NATO currently has in Afghanistan, Katz said. Part of that adjustment will include pulling out all NATO-led provincial reconstruction teams along with front-line combat units by 2014, Katz said. That reconstruction work, along with security operations, will be fully transitioned to the ANSF by then, he added. Afghan forces will be ready and able to handle both of those key missions in the country, Dominic Medley, spokesman for NATO’s civilian force, said during the same briefing on 15 October. The alliance is confident that ANSF can take security reins, because those Afghan units are already shouldering nearly 80 percent of all joint Afghan-coalition operations in country, Medley said. However, the NATO civilian spokesman noted that challenges still remain in completing that transition to the ANSF. (The Hill)


The myth of Mullah Omar

A decade of the US-led NATO war against the Afghan Taliban has done little to erode the influence of one of the movement’s most powerful symbols: the one-eyed, deeply secretive spiritual leader, Mullah Omar. The killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 greatly undermined the global reach and reputation of al-Qaeda. Despite battlefield victories and a $10m reward, the same success has eluded allied forces in their hunt for the shadowy leader of the Taliban. Never seen and barely heard by most Afghans during his five-year rule, Omar was little more than an ever-increasing myth. The perpetuation of that myth today is considered by many a nagging failure of NATO and a uniting factor for the Taliban. The grinding corruption within the government of President Hamid Karzai has led Afghans in parts of the country to whisper his name and reputation for righteousness. “No matter how much money we pour in, how hard I try, these people will stand by Mullah Omar for his perceived justice,” one senior official in Kandahar recalled telling an American general. “They say the Taliban cleaned up this place [Kandahar] from vice; from dog-fighting and bird-fighting and sodomy.” The rise of Mullah Omar is shrouded in mystery, but legends about him are everywhere. According to one account, in the heat of the war against the Soviet Union, Omar continued fighting after shrapnel struck his right eye. The pillaging and chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal tried his patience, it is said, and the raping of a group of travelers by a local warlord in Kandahar led him to gather the ultraconservative force that became the Taliban. Another account claims he was visited in a dream by the Prophet Mohammed, who revealed that Mullah Omar should lead the country out of chaos. “Mullah Omar was a nobody, except for some brief glory from the anti-Soviet days,” said Omar Sharifi, an Afghan anthropologist and historian who has been a close observer of the Taliban from their early days. “He was the most obscure character on the Kandahar political map. The invoking of an old myth was what helped him establish legitimacy.”… (Aljazeera)


Afghan government burns 24 tons of illegal drugs

Afghan counternarcotics police poured gasoline on more than 24 tons of narcotics and other illegal substances, then set the pile ablaze on the outskirts of Kabul on 14 October, officials said. Afghan authorities said the drugs, drug-making chemicals and alcohol were seized in and around the capital during the past nine months. Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, deputy minister of counternarcotics at the Interior Ministry, said the destroyed drugs included 1,772 kilograms (3,900 pounds) of heroin; 2,764 kilograms (6,070 pounds) of opium; and 140 kilograms (308 pounds) of hashish. More than 12,100 liters (3,200 gallons) of alcohol as well as raisins used to make alcohol also were destroyed. “It is a considerable amount of narcotics,” Ahmadi told reporters at the site as a cloud of black smoke spiraled over the burning drugs. “Compared with (a similar burn from a comparable period) last year, it’s a 35 to 45 percent increase.” He said 907 suspects had been arrested in connection with the seizure of the drugs and other materials. The police put the illegal substances into a large pile, mixed in some logs, doused it with gas and then lighted the material as police stood by applauding. Stephen McFarland, coordinating director for rule of law and law enforcement at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and other foreign officials attended the burn in support of the Afghan government’s drug interdiction work. (Yahoo News, AP)


U.S. Winds Down Afghanistan Aid Program

The U.S. military is ending a massive nation-building experiment in Afghanistan, shutting down teams that have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into roads, schools and administrative buildings in the country’s hinterlands. The shutdown, part of the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces over the next year, will mark the end of a hearts-and-minds campaign that has been central to the military’s strategy. As part of an effort to improve the reach and reputation of Afghanistan’s central government, the U.S. and its allies set up over two dozen Provincial Reconstruction Teams around the country to dispense development aid and advise local officials. At least five of these have closed in recent months, and most of the remainder will shut down over the next year. The U.S. agreed to end the program in a partnership agreement reached in May with the Afghan government, which sees the program as undercutting the effectiveness of local institutions. The shift is effectively turning off the money flow to Afghanistan’s provinces. Many U.S. and Western officials say they are doubtful that provincial administrations are ready to fill in the void. “No one has a clue how much is being spent in province A or B” by provincial governments, said a senior Western official. “It’s a serious national-security threat to the country.” Each of the reconstruction teams usually includes some 100 troops, is led by a military officer, and draws on civilian aid expertise, often with representatives from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture. With most U.S. forces slated to leave in 2014, commanders at the remaining PRTs are preparing the drawdown. “We’re pretty much in the business of finishing these projects,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Grant Hargrove, who commands the PRT overseeing Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. (WSJ)

Panetta: Mission on track

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said 10 October the NATO coalition has turned an important corner in Afghanistan, and has come too far and spilled too much blood to let insider attacks or anything else undermine the mission there. While he and other ministers refused to provide details of the expected withdrawal of troops in the coming two years, he said that from mid-2013 onward the United States and its allies would operate from fewer bases and the flow of military supplies and material out of Afghanistan would grow. Panetta also used his time during the closed session of the NATO conference here Wednesday to urge the other defense ministers to help fill the shortfall of military training teams in Afghanistan. The teams, he said, are critical to building the capabilities of the Afghan forces so they can take control of their country’s security by the end of 2014. (Philly.com, AP)

Despite Threats, US Stick to Afghan Strategy: Panetta

The United States and its international partners would stick to their plan for Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday, insisting their strategy remained on the right track. “In Afghanistan, we continue, obviously, to face challenges, but we are steadily moving towards transition there,” Panetta in his speech on the State of the Military in Virginia. General John Allen, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, had put into place a very effective campaign plan that provided for the transition of areas to Afghan security and governance, he said. “It’s not going to be easy. It is a war; we are going to continue to confront challenges because it is a war. But we have a successful plan and we’re going to stick to it,” he the secretary added. Referring to his recent meeting with NATO ministers, he said everybody came together and said they had successful plans. “Yes, we face threats; we’re going to continue to confront those threats; but our goal is to complete this mission, and we will.” He said the Pentagon would face cuts of about $500 billion in projected spending over 10 years as a result of planned cuts known as sequestration. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)

US Wants to Help Minimize Afghan Poll Fraud

The United States on 18 October said the Afghans were responsible for their own elections, explaining it shared the goal of having the strongest possible presidential ballot in 2014. Hours after President Hamid Karzai expressed concern over the presence of foreigners in the Electoral Complaints Commission, a senior US official said the international community would be governed by the Afghans’ wishes. “It is Afghanistan and Afghans who are responsible for their own elections,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters at her daily news conference. She said the US efforts were designed to support what Afghan electoral authorities themselves were leading — trying to build the strongest possible electoral system — to minimize fraud through all kinds of measures. The measures included training, public information, domestic observation and improved ways to identify eligible voters, Nuland added. “So we will obviously be governed by the Afghans themselves in terms of the kinds of support that they need from the international community…” In response to Karzai’s expectation that foreigners would not meddle in the democratic exercise, Nuland said the US just shared the goal of having the strongest possible elections in 2014 when they came around. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)

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