Showing posts tagged as "afghanistan"

Showing posts tagged afghanistan

7 Apr
Apathy and Fear of Taliban Combine to Keep Rural Voters Away From the Polls | Azam Ahmed
While polling centers across Kabul and other Afghan cities were celebrating record turnouts on Saturday, Tahir Khan, a tribal leader in rural Nangarhar Province, experienced a very different Election Day.
“It was a dead zone,” he said, referring to the eastern province’s Shinwar district. “All the polling centers were closed, and people hardly left their homes.”
The truth in Shinwar, and in some other rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan where the insurgency is strongest, is that the Taliban did not have to pick up their rifles to disrupt the vote on Saturday.
In some districts that were still nominally open for polling, residents were too frightened about the Taliban’s threat to punish voters, too dubious about the security forces’ ability to protect them or too disenchanted with the national government in general to turn out to vote.
FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)
Photo: Helmand PRT, Lashkar Gah/flickr

Apathy and Fear of Taliban Combine to Keep Rural Voters Away From the Polls | Azam Ahmed

While polling centers across Kabul and other Afghan cities were celebrating record turnouts on Saturday, Tahir Khan, a tribal leader in rural Nangarhar Province, experienced a very different Election Day.

“It was a dead zone,” he said, referring to the eastern province’s Shinwar district. “All the polling centers were closed, and people hardly left their homes.”

The truth in Shinwar, and in some other rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan where the insurgency is strongest, is that the Taliban did not have to pick up their rifles to disrupt the vote on Saturday.

In some districts that were still nominally open for polling, residents were too frightened about the Taliban’s threat to punish voters, too dubious about the security forces’ ability to protect them or too disenchanted with the national government in general to turn out to vote.

FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)

Photo: Helmand PRT, Lashkar Gah/flickr

31 Mar
Hamid Karzai’s tangled legacy: inept failure or anti-Taliban hero? | Jason Burke
Amid the dust and traffic of today’s Kabul, three things remain almost as they were a decade or so ago. In winter, and when the wind clears the smog that is a side-effect of years of economic boom, the blue sky above the snowcapped peaks that ring the city is as impressive as ever. Then there is the Arg, the sprawling palace at the city’s centre and the apparently calm eye of a turbulent storm of a country. The complex is home to the third element that has remained constant since the end of the Taliban’s grim regime in 2001: Hamid Karzai, now in his 13th year of power.
However, Karzai, 56, will soon be gone. He is constitutionally barred from contesting next weekend’s elections and soon this theatrical, mercurial, complex man will have to find a new occupation. Many, particularly in Washington, will be relieved.
Once, the prospect of Karzai losing power would have provoked a different reaction. Back in the chaotic days of late 2001, as the Taliban regime crumbled under the US assault launched in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Karzai was seen as a the man of the hour. He was the head of a major tribe, of Pashtun ethnicity like the apparently defeated Taliban and around 40% of his compatriots, but moderate, educated and pro-western. Officials in Washington, Kabul and London enthused about their new-found Afghan hero. Few are as gushing now. If, as three western ambassadors to Afghanistan told me during their respective terms in the Afghan capital, the relationship between US policymakers and Karzai was “like a marriage, with its ups and downs” this union has ended in definitive, and acrimonious, divorce.
FULL ARTICLE (The Guardian)
Photo:  U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/flickr

Hamid Karzai’s tangled legacy: inept failure or anti-Taliban hero? | Jason Burke

Amid the dust and traffic of today’s Kabul, three things remain almost as they were a decade or so ago. In winter, and when the wind clears the smog that is a side-effect of years of economic boom, the blue sky above the snowcapped peaks that ring the city is as impressive as ever. Then there is the Arg, the sprawling palace at the city’s centre and the apparently calm eye of a turbulent storm of a country. The complex is home to the third element that has remained constant since the end of the Taliban’s grim regime in 2001: Hamid Karzai, now in his 13th year of power.

However, Karzai, 56, will soon be gone. He is constitutionally barred from contesting next weekend’s elections and soon this theatrical, mercurial, complex man will have to find a new occupation. Many, particularly in Washington, will be relieved.

Once, the prospect of Karzai losing power would have provoked a different reaction. Back in the chaotic days of late 2001, as the Taliban regime crumbled under the US assault launched in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Karzai was seen as a the man of the hour. He was the head of a major tribe, of Pashtun ethnicity like the apparently defeated Taliban and around 40% of his compatriots, but moderate, educated and pro-western. Officials in Washington, Kabul and London enthused about their new-found Afghan hero. Few are as gushing now. If, as three western ambassadors to Afghanistan told me during their respective terms in the Afghan capital, the relationship between US policymakers and Karzai was “like a marriage, with its ups and downs” this union has ended in definitive, and acrimonious, divorce.

FULL ARTICLE (The Guardian)

Photo:  U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/flickr

21 Mar
Kabul Taliban Hotel Attack Will Hurt Democratic Process in Afghanistan: Analyst | Sasha Nagy
The brazen attack by Taliban fighters at a Kabul hotel Thursday that killed two Canadian aid workers could have a detrimental effect on the coming general elections, a prominent Canadian security analyst said Friday.
Roshan Thomas, a Vancouver woman who started a school in Kabul, has been identified as one of the Canadians killed in the attack.

Graeme Smith, an award-winning former journalist with the Globe and Mail who is in Kabul working with the International Crisis Group, said the attacks will make it difficult for international election observers to stay in Kabul and conduct first-hand inspections of polling sites. One of the of the victims, he said, worked as an election observer from the National Democratic Institute.
FULL ARTICLE (The Huffington Post Canada)
Photo: US Army/Flickr

Kabul Taliban Hotel Attack Will Hurt Democratic Process in Afghanistan: Analyst | Sasha Nagy

The brazen attack by Taliban fighters at a Kabul hotel Thursday that killed two Canadian aid workers could have a detrimental effect on the coming general elections, a prominent Canadian security analyst said Friday.

Roshan Thomas, a Vancouver woman who started a school in Kabul, has been identified as one of the Canadians killed in the attack.

Graeme Smith, an award-winning former journalist with the Globe and Mail who is in Kabul working with the International Crisis Group, said the attacks will make it difficult for international election observers to stay in Kabul and conduct first-hand inspections of polling sites. One of the of the victims, he said, worked as an election observer from the National Democratic Institute.

FULL ARTICLE (The Huffington Post Canada)

Photo: US Army/Flickr

"We’re not just returning to the peak levels of violence witnessed in 2011 - we’re seeing a big shift toward direct confrontation between insurgents and government forces, with some battles dragging on for weeks. My best guess is that this escalation will continue."

—Graeme Smith, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Afghanistan, on the future of Afghanistan. Read his full interview with the Hill Times.

13 Mar
Graeme Smith: Canada leaves ‘a lot of unfinished business’ in Afghanistan | Kathryn Blaze Carlson
Graeme Smith, a former Globe and Mail foreign correspondent and author of The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, works as a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Kabul. He discussed his book and Canadian involvement in Afghanistan with the Globe and Mail.
FULL INTERVIEW (The Globe and Mail)
Photo: isafmedia/flickr

Graeme Smith: Canada leaves ‘a lot of unfinished business’ in Afghanistan | Kathryn Blaze Carlson

Graeme Smith, a former Globe and Mail foreign correspondent and author of The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, works as a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Kabul. He discussed his book and Canadian involvement in Afghanistan with the Globe and Mail.

FULL INTERVIEW (The Globe and Mail)

Photo: isafmedia/flickr

11 Mar
Taliban threatens to disrupt Afghan presidential election | Michael Edwards
The Taliban has called on its fighters to carry out attacks on electoral workers and officials during the Afghan presidential election next month. It has targeted every election since being driven from power in 2001 but this is its first explicit threat against this year’s vote. And whoever is elected will oversee Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban without western military assistance. 
LISTEN HERE (Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Radio)
Photo: United Nations Photo/flickr

Taliban threatens to disrupt Afghan presidential election | Michael Edwards

The Taliban has called on its fighters to carry out attacks on electoral workers and officials during the Afghan presidential election next month. It has targeted every election since being driven from power in 2001 but this is its first explicit threat against this year’s vote. And whoever is elected will oversee Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban without western military assistance. 

LISTEN HERE (Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Radio)

Photo: United Nations Photo/flickr

10 Mar
Voices on Afghanistan: How will the Nato troop withdrawal impact security? | Graeme Smith
I spent about half a year travelling to some of the areas where the insurgency has been really active in Afghanistan in different corners of the country and looking at the effect of troops withdrawals.
I wanted a peek into what happens when you pull out foreign troops.
It’s quite a seismic shift that’s underway. At the peak we had a 130,000 International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) personnel on the ground. And that number is shrinking rapidly.
About 40,000 today. It could get down to 20,000 later this year. And, depending on how the negotiations go for a bilateral security agreement, we could get down to zero by the end of the year. Or some modest number could stay behind.
Either way it’s a dramatic change in the military landscape. I wanted to peek over the parapets and see what the effect is.
And sadly the answer is that the ground held by the Afghan government is shrinking modestly and violence is up. Not only is violence up but the military balance between the Taliban and the Afghan government is precarious.
It’s a hard-fought battle. I worry that if we don’t give enough support to the Afghan government it could tip in favour of the Taliban.
Today, there are roughly almost as many causalities on the Afghan government side as on the Taliban side. Now, as a component of that number, the Taliban are dying a lot more. They have trouble evacuating their causalities from the battlefield versus a lot more injuries on the Afghan government side.
The fact that those numbers are so close gives you an illustration of how tough it is out there.
The Afghan government needs helicopters. The US Congress in November decided to cut off the supply of helicopters that they were buying. And I think that’s silly, to be honest. You can’t just cut off the supply of helicopters to the fledgling Afghan air force and say, ‘Good luck.’
I went to Faryab province in the north-west, which is hundreds of kilometres away from the Taliban heartlands of the south and east and yet still has a growing problem with the insurgency.
There are Taliban there. All foreign troops have been out since September 2012. So it’s an interesting case study. It’s a look at what happens when you have absolutely zero foreign intervention.
And the short answer is violence is up significantly and the government is losing ground.
I also looked at Kunar in the east. Kunar was one of the most famous battlegrounds for US forces. At point, one valley of one district of the province, the Korengal Valley, accounted for about one-fifth of all air strikes in the whole country. And today the Korengal is quiet. Today, that district, Pech, is quiet. Violence is down considerably in those areas. Because the foreigners have departed and the Taliban have quietly taken over or other insurgent groups have quietly taken over areas that Afghan forces just decided not to patrol.
But unfortunately, in the province as a whole, violence remains exceptionally high. There’s been no quieting down of the whole province because the violence has just moved to different areas.
I also went to Kandahar. Kandahar is an interesting metaphor for the country as a whole because the centre is holding. Violence is actually down for the first time in ages in urban areas, in the downtown parts of Kandahar city, where it’s safer to walk around.
There’s been a huge influx of Afghan forces and they’ve done a good job of simply locking the place down. You walk around Kandahar city and you see Afghan forces sitting on the street corners, every single street corner.
But if you go out into the districts, it’s a different story.
They are more violent than they were. Violence continues to rise in Kandahar as a whole.
The last place I went to was Paktia, in the south-east. Paktia was a bright spot on the map. It was the only good news story that I found.
And it’s hard to understand why it’s emerged as a good news story actually. As the foreigners left the violence decreased dramatically. Violence today is a third of what it was a couple of years ago. Lots of people in Paktia simply say when the foreigners left the Taliban didn’t have a reason to fight any more. Because there were no more invading infidels and so the justification for war evaporated.
I would say to them that’s the case in all these other places I visited, where things are worse.
So what is it about this area?
The usual explanation is that the tribal structure is very clear and strong in Paktia.
Different tribes control different districts.
They have support from the Afghan government but the centre of gravity is with the tribes. And they have a long tradition of guarding their own territory. There’s that sense of independence there that maybe isn’t there in some of the other places.
In some ways what we are dealing with is hundreds of little different insurgencies across the country. All being fought simultaneously. But I think it’s important to realise that most of the people who are fighting, whether they are for the government or against the government, most of them have a vision for Afghanistan.
There are nationalists on both sides.
The threat that many people saw of Afghan forces simply giving up or giving up their weapons and going home or cutting quiet deals with the Taliban, happened in only a few places. If you look at the country as a whole the Afghan security forces are still fighting. The number of young men who are willing to sign up to protect the Afghan government and die fighting the Taliban is still really high. It’s going to be a fight.
The Taliban cannot just walk back into Kabul.
COMMENTARY (The National)
Photo: US Army/Flickr

Voices on Afghanistan: How will the Nato troop withdrawal impact security? | Graeme Smith

I spent about half a year travelling to some of the areas where the insurgency has been really active in Afghanistan in different corners of the country and looking at the effect of troops withdrawals.

I wanted a peek into what happens when you pull out foreign troops.

It’s quite a seismic shift that’s underway. At the peak we had a 130,000 International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) personnel on the ground. And that number is shrinking rapidly.

About 40,000 today. It could get down to 20,000 later this year. And, depending on how the negotiations go for a bilateral security agreement, we could get down to zero by the end of the year. Or some modest number could stay behind.

Either way it’s a dramatic change in the military landscape. I wanted to peek over the parapets and see what the effect is.

And sadly the answer is that the ground held by the Afghan government is shrinking modestly and violence is up. Not only is violence up but the military balance between the Taliban and the Afghan government is precarious.

It’s a hard-fought battle. I worry that if we don’t give enough support to the Afghan government it could tip in favour of the Taliban.

Today, there are roughly almost as many causalities on the Afghan government side as on the Taliban side. Now, as a component of that number, the Taliban are dying a lot more. They have trouble evacuating their causalities from the battlefield versus a lot more injuries on the Afghan government side.

The fact that those numbers are so close gives you an illustration of how tough it is out there.

The Afghan government needs helicopters. The US Congress in November decided to cut off the supply of helicopters that they were buying. And I think that’s silly, to be honest. You can’t just cut off the supply of helicopters to the fledgling Afghan air force and say, ‘Good luck.’

I went to Faryab province in the north-west, which is hundreds of kilometres away from the Taliban heartlands of the south and east and yet still has a growing problem with the insurgency.

There are Taliban there. All foreign troops have been out since September 2012. So it’s an interesting case study. It’s a look at what happens when you have absolutely zero foreign intervention.

And the short answer is violence is up significantly and the government is losing ground.

I also looked at Kunar in the east. Kunar was one of the most famous battlegrounds for US forces. At point, one valley of one district of the province, the Korengal Valley, accounted for about one-fifth of all air strikes in the whole country. And today the Korengal is quiet. Today, that district, Pech, is quiet. Violence is down considerably in those areas. Because the foreigners have departed and the Taliban have quietly taken over or other insurgent groups have quietly taken over areas that Afghan forces just decided not to patrol.

But unfortunately, in the province as a whole, violence remains exceptionally high. There’s been no quieting down of the whole province because the violence has just moved to different areas.

I also went to Kandahar. Kandahar is an interesting metaphor for the country as a whole because the centre is holding. Violence is actually down for the first time in ages in urban areas, in the downtown parts of Kandahar city, where it’s safer to walk around.

There’s been a huge influx of Afghan forces and they’ve done a good job of simply locking the place down. You walk around Kandahar city and you see Afghan forces sitting on the street corners, every single street corner.

But if you go out into the districts, it’s a different story.

They are more violent than they were. Violence continues to rise in Kandahar as a whole.

The last place I went to was Paktia, in the south-east. Paktia was a bright spot on the map. It was the only good news story that I found.

And it’s hard to understand why it’s emerged as a good news story actually. As the foreigners left the violence decreased dramatically. Violence today is a third of what it was a couple of years ago. Lots of people in Paktia simply say when the foreigners left the Taliban didn’t have a reason to fight any more. Because there were no more invading infidels and so the justification for war evaporated.

I would say to them that’s the case in all these other places I visited, where things are worse.

So what is it about this area?

The usual explanation is that the tribal structure is very clear and strong in Paktia.

Different tribes control different districts.

They have support from the Afghan government but the centre of gravity is with the tribes. And they have a long tradition of guarding their own territory. There’s that sense of independence there that maybe isn’t there in some of the other places.

In some ways what we are dealing with is hundreds of little different insurgencies across the country. All being fought simultaneously. But I think it’s important to realise that most of the people who are fighting, whether they are for the government or against the government, most of them have a vision for Afghanistan.

There are nationalists on both sides.

The threat that many people saw of Afghan forces simply giving up or giving up their weapons and going home or cutting quiet deals with the Taliban, happened in only a few places. If you look at the country as a whole the Afghan security forces are still fighting. The number of young men who are willing to sign up to protect the Afghan government and die fighting the Taliban is still really high. It’s going to be a fight.

The Taliban cannot just walk back into Kabul.

COMMENTARY (The National)

Photo: US Army/Flickr

18 Feb
As Afghanistan Drawdown Looms, Inspector General Warns Of Graft | Matt Sledge
America’s watchdog for Afghanistan is watching the country slip away.
"Every time I visit, I am told by people that we are succeeding," says John Sopko. "I’m not an expert on war-fighting, but I know I can see less of the country every time I go because of security problems."
Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, is looking ahead to a future where his investigators cannot travel to distant provinces to document waste and corruption. That’s a problem that could have big implications as billions of dollars in aid continue to flow to rebuild the country rated the third-most corrupt in the world by Transparency International, 12 years after the American invasion.
As worrying stories trickle out about the state of the Afghan government and military, U.S. government agencies sending billions to Afghanistan — the State and Defense Departments, and the U.S. Agency for International Development — are eager to show that the money is nevertheless being well-spent.
FULL ARTICLE (Huffington Post)
Photo: Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction/flickr

As Afghanistan Drawdown Looms, Inspector General Warns Of Graft | Matt Sledge

America’s watchdog for Afghanistan is watching the country slip away.

"Every time I visit, I am told by people that we are succeeding," says John Sopko. "I’m not an expert on war-fighting, but I know I can see less of the country every time I go because of security problems."

Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, is looking ahead to a future where his investigators cannot travel to distant provinces to document waste and corruption. That’s a problem that could have big implications as billions of dollars in aid continue to flow to rebuild the country rated the third-most corrupt in the world by Transparency International, 12 years after the American invasion.

As worrying stories trickle out about the state of the Afghan government and military, U.S. government agencies sending billions to Afghanistan — the State and Defense Departments, and the U.S. Agency for International Development — are eager to show that the money is nevertheless being well-spent.

FULL ARTICLE (Huffington Post)

Photo: Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction/flickr

7 Feb
Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf launches presidential bid to succeed Hamid Karzai | AP
He has been called a mentor to accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the man who welcomed Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was accused of war crimes and atrocities, and even has an extremist group named after him in the Philippines.
But these days, Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf has refashioned himself as an influential lawmaker, elder statesman and religious scholar — and possibly the next president of Afghanistan.
While Sayyaf is not the only former warlord among the 11 candidates in the April 5 election to succeed President Hamid Karzai, he appears to have sparked the greatest worry among Westerners because he is seen as having a viable chance at winning. Other front-runners include Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother; and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic.
"Afghanistan still depends on the goodwill of foreign donors for nearly all of its government’s budget," said Graeme Smith, senior Afghanistan analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "A Sayyaf win would probably really test those relationships because foreign donors might not be thrilled by some of his positions."

FULL ARTICLE (The Associated Press)
Photo: erwinlux/flickr

Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf launches presidential bid to succeed Hamid Karzai | AP

He has been called a mentor to accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the man who welcomed Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was accused of war crimes and atrocities, and even has an extremist group named after him in the Philippines.

But these days, Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf has refashioned himself as an influential lawmaker, elder statesman and religious scholar — and possibly the next president of Afghanistan.

While Sayyaf is not the only former warlord among the 11 candidates in the April 5 election to succeed President Hamid Karzai, he appears to have sparked the greatest worry among Westerners because he is seen as having a viable chance at winning. Other front-runners include Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother; and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic.

"Afghanistan still depends on the goodwill of foreign donors for nearly all of its government’s budget," said Graeme Smith, senior Afghanistan analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "A Sayyaf win would probably really test those relationships because foreign donors might not be thrilled by some of his positions."

FULL ARTICLE (The Associated Press)

Photo: erwinlux/flickr

5 Feb
Hamid Karzai ‘in secret talks with Taliban’ | Rob Crilly
Hamid Karzai has bypassed his Western allies to hold secret talks with the Taliban in an effort to persuade them to make peace with his government, according to his spokesman.
Clandestine contacts might explain why has toughened his rhetoric towards Washington in recent months as he attempts to convince hardline militant leaders, who want to see the US leave Afghanistan, to come to the negotiating table.
Aimal Faizi told Reuters that the group was willing to join the peace process.
“Contacts have been made and we are also in touch with them,” he said.
This year marks a crucial milestone for Afghanistan more than a decade after the Taliban were ousted from Kabul.
Nato combat troops are due to leave the country and Mr Karzai – who has governed since 2004 – will stand down after elections expected in April.
With the clock ticking towards the exit of coalition forces a deal with the Taliban had been seen as crucial to ensuring the survival of the government.
FULL ARTICLE (Telegraph)
Photo: US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/flickr

Hamid Karzai ‘in secret talks with Taliban’ | Rob Crilly

Hamid Karzai has bypassed his Western allies to hold secret talks with the Taliban in an effort to persuade them to make peace with his government, according to his spokesman.

Clandestine contacts might explain why has toughened his rhetoric towards Washington in recent months as he attempts to convince hardline militant leaders, who want to see the US leave Afghanistan, to come to the negotiating table.

Aimal Faizi told Reuters that the group was willing to join the peace process.

“Contacts have been made and we are also in touch with them,” he said.

This year marks a crucial milestone for Afghanistan more than a decade after the Taliban were ousted from Kabul.

Nato combat troops are due to leave the country and Mr Karzai – who has governed since 2004 – will stand down after elections expected in April.

With the clock ticking towards the exit of coalition forces a deal with the Taliban had been seen as crucial to ensuring the survival of the government.

FULL ARTICLE (Telegraph)

Photo: US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/flickr