This file was started in January 2006
Latest JANUARY 31st 2012

AUG 09 2009: Much has happened since then, but not one thing to alter the simple truth that if the International Community of states that at least pretend to some kind of civilization, rule of law, and the reaching of domestic policy by governments subject to elections and free speech, does not support the struggle of a peaceful majority against a murderous minority that would deny all reasonable human rights (including the right of women to education) and who murder, loot and destroy all who disagree and their property, then the future of humanity is bleak.

Yesterday, the incoming Chief of the UK General Staff, the head of the British Army, stated that our task in Afghanistan, though evolving, would last for 30 to 40 years The leader of the opposition Conservative Party said that we could not afford such a committment. He appears to have been thinking in financial terms, apparently unaware that in matters of global significance, the International Community does not have any financial restrictions that apply to priority operations. This is not a British National operation. It is a NATO operation on behalf of all civilzed nations. Contributions from NATO members are expected in terms of finance, troops, equipment and every sort of logistical, medical and intellectual support. If the contribution of the UK becomes disproportionately high, then others will have to contribute more. However, providing the financial burdens are shared between the major trading and industrial nations there need be no difficulty in providing the funding. The one thing that cannot be afforded financially is the collapse of confidence in the rule of law and constituions that uphold it subject to the will of electorates free to educate themselves from all the wealth of human experience we now have at our disposal. A social contract is only valid if enforced by the sovereign power.

The Afghan Hi-jack Refugees

MAY 12th 2006
Sometimes I fear for the nation's sanity as shown to us by the media. Just what is the problem over the case of the Afghan refugees who hi-jacked an aircraft to get here? They were arrested and tried. Due to a technical error the case against them failed - I imagine there could have been a deliberate spanner put in the works there by someone, as this was not an easy case on humanitarian grounds, but let that pass, we do not know. They were not given asylum, as to have done so would indeed have condoned the hi-jacking. They were given temporary leave to remain - that was a correct decision. They have appealed now against their return to Afghanistan and a judge has refused to accept the Home Office has treated them correctly over the past several years. He said their human rights have been abused and the Home Office has not acted according to the law. This may well be true because there are conflicting laws and rights as there are bound to be in an evolving global and European situation. The Home Office will now appeal the latest decision and it will be sorted out somewhere before or in the House of Lords. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?. I cannot imagine a better way any of this could be dealt with anywhere at any time than it has been here.

If the government wants to change the law, it can, after a proper debate and vote.

As for Afghanistan and the Taliban absolutists they were escaping from, who can say? There was a time when the only good thing to be said for the Taliban was they might have controlled the opium trade and even reduced it. Now they are using it for their aims against the establishment of a modern, democratic state, The diary below gives cause for hope, but then we get a dose of reality:

 Jan 11 2006 - OCT 7th 2011
This file starts with the next, dangerous stage of the effort to ensure Afganistan does not return to a terrorist state, an anarchic state, a Taliban or Al Qaida stronghold. Why? Because if it does, the world cannot handle the result. Quite apart from it being a base for terror there would be an endless flood of refugees as all those who could would try to escape from persecution. But there is a lot to do if the people of Afghanistan are to be able to live in peace and adequate security.

Afghans reject bin Laden, want more peacekeepers : poll

Wed Jan 11, 2006   12:42 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Huge majorities of Afghans reject Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, approve the US military role in their country and are grateful to international bodies like the United Nations.

The survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland also found strong support for President Hamid Karzai.

"Clearly this (poll) is a positive portent for the struggle against extreme fundamentalism," said Steven Kull, director of PIPA.

Eighty-one percent Afghans polled think Al-Qaeda is a negative influence in the world, with only six percent saying Osama bin Laden's terror network has a positive impact.

Osama bin Laden himself, once sheltered by the Taliban militia ousted with the help of a US-led coalition in 2001, has even lower ratings, with 90 percent of those polled saying they had an unfavourable view of him.

Eighty-eight percent said they had an unfavorable view of the Taliban.

The poll, conducted across ethnic groups including Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbek and Hazara communities, also found large support for the US military presence in Afghanistan.

Eighty-three percent said they had a favorable view of "US military forces in our country."

International agencies pouring aid into Afghanistan were also popular -- 93 percent gave the United Nations favorable ratings, for instance.

Afghans also appear to favour further expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with 89 percent of those asked in favor.

The survey was conducted among a sample of 2,089 Afghan adults from between November 27 and December 4.



UK more than doubles Afghan troops

  Thursday January 26, 2006   04:53 PM
LONDON (Reuters) - The government announced on Thursday it will send 3,300 troops as part of a major new three-year mission to bring NATO peacekeepers to southern Afghanistan, without waiting for European allies who have so far failed to commit.

The deployment, announced in parliament by Defence Secretary John Reid, will take Britain's total force in Afghanistan to 5,700 after it assumes command

of the NATO mission there in May.

The new force will bring NATO's ISAF peacekeepers into the dangerous south of the country for the first time. Canada has promised 2,200 troops, but the Dutch parliament has yet to approve a promise of about 1,200.

Until now, NATO has operated in the north and west, while the more volatile south has been patrolled by the United States outside NATO. The announcement of the British mission to the south has been expected for months but Reid held it up while London waited for a commitment from the Europeans.

Reid said he had spoken to his Dutch and Danish counterparts earlier on Thursday and expected the Dutch would come through with their offer, but NATO would find other troops if they did not. Britain will not be asked to send more.

"Over and beyond the troop numbers I have mentioned, no, we are not going to plug any gaps for others," he told parliament.


The government acknowledges that the mission to the south, where American troops have fought Taliban guerrillas, is more dangerous than the existing NATO mission. But as Washington's main ally, it wants other European countries to share the risk.

"The risks are nothing when compared to the dangers to our country of allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the clutches of the Taliban and international terrorism," Reid said.

He wanted the new British mission to be operational by July. The British and Canadian troops in the south will initially be under the command of the Americans for a few months before they join the command structure of the NATO peacekeepers, he said.

A NATO spokesman in Brussels said it was taking slightly longer than some had suggested for NATO to assume command of the force that was moving into the south, but predicted it would happen between June and September.

"This (expansion) is a very complicated thing to do in terms of force operation and actually setting up the operation," James Appathurai told a regular briefing.

European NATO allies have sought assurances that their peacekeepers will not become entangled with the U.S. anti-terrorism mission, Operation Enduring Freedom, which will continue to operate mainly on the Pakistani border.

That conflict has grown more intense in the last few months.

Reid described a British force with Apache attack helicopters and elite paratroops that packs more punch than the NATO forces in the north. But he said their orders -- to aid reconstruction -- will be different from those of Americans who are hunting down and killing militants.

The 3,300 new troops are in addition to about 1,000 Britain has promised for the ISAF headquarters in Kabul, about 1,000 in place already in the country and hundreds of others going temporarily to help set up the new bases.

The British force will form part of a NATO force that will expand to more than 18,000 troops, including about 9,000 in the new mission in the south, Reid said.

The United States now has about 18,000 troops in the south, but expects to reduce their number as NATO forces move in.


JANUARY 27th 2006

From the Independent

Minister admits 'real danger' in Afghan troop deployment

By Kim Sengupta

Published: 27 January 2006

More than 5,700 British troops will be sent on a three-year mission to Afghanistan at a cost of a billion pounds, the Government has announced.

Five years after the Afghan war, a British force - larger than the one in that campaign - will be back on the frontline of an intensifying conflict, which has seen a resurgent Taliban and al-Qa'ida carry out waves of attacks, including suicide bombings.

The deployment to Afghanistan , mainly centred on Helmand province, is almost three-quarters of the strength of the British forces in southern Iraq.

Government plans for a substantial withdrawal from Iraq before sending forces to Afghanistan have been shelved because of continuing turbulence. But John Reid, the Secretary of State for Defence, insisted yesterday that carrying out both operations simultaneously was "manageable".

Critics have accused the US and Britain of failing to stabilise Afghanistan before moving the "war on terror" on to Iraq. Following the Afghan war, Tony Blair declared, "this time we will not walk away" - a reference to the way the West backed Afghanistan in the Cold War against the Russians, but left the country to the anarchy of feuding warlords.

Ministers maintain that the mission will primarily help with reconstruction and the training of Afghan government forces. However, it was acknowledged that British troops are likely to come under attack.

As well as infiltration by Islamist fighters from Pakistan, the Helmand province has the largest concentration of opium cultivation, controlled by warlords.

The International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, said: " The indiscriminate killing of teachers and aid workers in Helmand shows the very real danger ... we go into this with our eyes open." But the Government stressed that action was essential to help the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.

Mr Reid said a failure to act would result in further terrorist attacks like those of 11 September 2001.

The task force will include paratroopers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade and the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, supported by Apache helicopter gunships.

They will be supported by a recce squadron of Scimitar and Spartan armoured vehicles from the Household Cavalry, a battery of light guns from 7th Parachute Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, and Desert Hawk unmanned aerial drones from 32 Regiment, Royal Artillery.

An RAF Harrier detachment, based in Kandahar, will provide a report before being replaced by planes of the Netherlands air force.

The British force will form the core of a 9,000-strong Nato brigade taking over from the US in south-east Afghanistan. The Dutch parliament is still to ratify the deployment of 1,400 troops due to join the British force.

From the 24th January, we find this in the Independent

World Bank accuses West of undermining Karzai

By Kim Sengupta

Published: 24 January 2006

The system used to channel Western aid to Afghanistan is undermining the government of Hamid Karzai and damaging development prospects, the World Bank has warned.

Donor countries including Britain and the United States are engaged in often wasteful projects outside the control, and sometimes the knowledge, of the Afghan administration, says a report by the Bank's economists.

Article Length: 474 words (approx.)

On the 27th Jan comes this reply from Hilary Benn

Our support for the Afghan government

Sir: I was surprised that Kim Sengupta's article "World Bank accuses West of undermining Karzai" (24 January) identified the UK as a donor engaged in "wasteful projects outside the control, and sometimes the knowledge of the Afghan administration".

In fact, over 70 per cent of the Department for International Development's £100m aid budget for Afghanistan this year is going directly to the Afghan government. The UK is the largest donor to the government's core budget and we have committed unearmarked funding to support Afghanistan's own development efforts for three years (with strict financial and monitoring controls).

This is exactly what the Afghan government wants - and the World Bank advocates. Indeed, the World Bank's report on improving the effectiveness of aid in Afghanistan explicitly praises the UK's approach. I strongly support the warnings given by the World Bank that the 75 per cent of aid currently not going through the Afghan government damages development prospects and undermines the government. At the London Conference on Afghanistan next week, the UK along with the World Bank, will be supporting the Afghan government in making this point.


A further update from The Independent

Fears for British troops as Taliban launch new attack

By Justin Huggler, Asia Correspondent

Published: 04 February 2006

Heavy fighting has been reported in the province of Afghanistan where thousands of British troops are about to be deployed.

Yesterday, the deputy governor of Helmand province and 100 Afghan troops were surrounded by more than 200 Taliban fighters, and only escaped after 200 more soldiers arrived to rescue them.

At least three Afghan police and 16 Taliban fighters were killed. The fighting continued late into the day and the local governor, Ghulam Muhiddin, said: "We are expecting there will be a lot more dead bodies."

This is the front line where 3,300 British troops will be deployed over the next few months. The deployment is part of an effort to bring security to southern Afghanistan. The International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, admitted last week there was "real danger" for British troops in Helmand.

Yesterday's fighting began as a police convoy sent to hunt down Taliban rebels in Helmand's Sangin district was ambushed by around 30 insurgents. When reinforcements were sent to help, they were ambushed by a bigger force lying in wait for them.

The deputy provincial governor, Mullah Mir, was travelling in another convoy that was also pinned down for some time by the Taliban, before reinforcements came to his rescue. In all, four separate attacks were made on Afghan police and troops. American A10 war planes were called in to provide air cover.

"We're sending more reinforcements. The fighting is still going on," Mullah Mir said last night.

The attacks come only days after the Afghan government said that militants from Iraq are coming to Afghanistan and importing tactics from the insurgency there. Earlier this week, an Iraqi man was arrested crossing into Afghanistan from Iran, together with three Pakistani Kashmiris. Afghan police said they were planning to carry out bomb attacks. British forces are being deployed to the south to take control of security, assist with reconstruction, and help the Afghan authorities rein in the opium trade. Helmand is a centre for opium poppy cultivation. It is also part of the Taliban heartland.

Until now, British troops in Afghanistan have been stationed in Kabul and the north, where they have been welcomed by ethnic minorities. But Helmand is Pashtun territory, where the Western presence in Afghanistan is unpopular.

British troops will not be directly responsible for hunting down Taliban remnants: that is being done by US forces. But it appears likely the Taliban will seek out the British.

A wave of tactics have been imported from Iraq in the south over the past year, including suicide bombings and assassinations. But yesterday's fighting was a return to earlier tactics by the Taliban.

US bases in the south have come under repeated attack from Taliban insurgents who have tried to storm them without success. There have been fewer such attacks in recent months because, many believe, the Taliban sustained heavy casualties. Instead, Helmand and the neighbouring province of Kandahar, where a smaller number of British troops will be deployed, have been plagued by suicide bombings. Government officials and clerics loyal to the President, Hamid Karzai, have been dragged from their homes and killed.

* A British soldier was killed in a road accident in Iraq on Thursday evening, the third UK armed forces death in a week and the 101st since the 2003 invasion. The soldier, who was with the 9th/12th Lancers, was killed on the outskirts of the southern city of Basra. The Ministry of Defence said that it did not suspect "hostile involvement".


FEBRUARY 23rd 2006 - BRITISH TROOPS WILL NOT BE INVOLVED WITH OPIUM CROP according to this report in The Independent

British Army helpless as Afghan drug crop doubles

By Kim Sengupta in Lashkar Gar, Helmand

Published: 23 February 2006

The enormity of the problems in tackling Afghanistan's massive opium crop has become apparent as the first wave of British troops are deployed in one of the most dangerous parts of the country.

British Government ministers had repeatedly declared that one of the primary tasks of the 5,700- strong expeditionary force was to help end Afghan heroin production, which supplies 90 per cent of the narcotic in Britain. But the commander of the British forces in southern Afghanistan insisted yesterday that his troops would play no part in destroying poppy fields, while senior British civil servants cautioned that ending cultivation may take years.

"After all, it took 30 years to end opium production in Thailand under much more benign circumstances," said Nick Kay, the United Kingdom's regional co-ordinator for southern Afghanistan. "Considering the problems in Afghanistan one can see it will not be an easy process."

Col Gordon Messenger of the Royal Marines said that British troops deploying to Helmand, the biggest centre of heroin production in the biggest heroin-producing country in the world, would not be involved in a process being considered by President Hamid Karzai's government of eradicating poppies.

"There will be absolutely no maroon berets with scythes in a poppy field," he said.

British forces will not even directly stop vehicles suspected of smuggling the drug. The main role of the British forces will be to enable the Afghan police and army to establish control over areas which have remained outside their reach and allowed a resurgent Taliban and drug lords to gain ascendancy, said Col Messenger.

Even if the policy were changed to allow British involvement in poppy eradication, the troops would not be in a position to take part in such programmes, said Col Messenger, who won a DSO in the 1990-91 Iraq war.

Helmand, the biggest and the most lawless province in Afghanistan, accounts for 25 per cent of the opium produced nationally. It is the most important conduit for trafficking the drug to the West through Iran and to the rest of Asia through Pakistan.

According to British and Iraqi officials, the size of the crop is due to double next year, negating any gain made elsewhere in Afghanistan.

However, the yield from heroin has risen almost 1,000 per cent from seven Afghanis (around 8p) a kilo to 300 Afghanis (£3.44) in just two years.

Amir Mohammed, the district governor of Chemtal, west Mazar-I-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan , said: "We are trying to stop the problem, but people are poor and they are, of course, tempted by so much money."

The United Kingdom is giving aid of £20m a year in efforts to stop opium cultivation. However, farmers will not get monetary compensation matching the amount they will lose if they agree to abandon poppy cultivation.

Mr Kay said that a whole series of measures being implemented, including the establishment of law and order, and job opportunities, would eventually lead to a fall in opium production.

British officials are keen not to repeat the "mistakes" made in Iraq. "There has been criticism that in Iraq the military was deployed and aid did not follow," said Wendy Phillips, the Department for International Development's development adviser. "We are being very careful not to do this here. Here the British troops are working in full co-ordination with other agencies. This is not just a military matter."

But military matters are concentrating the minds of British commanders as a massive build-up takes place in southern Afghanistan. Lt-Col Henry Worsley, a senior British officer in Helmand, said: "Inevitably there will be opposition because there are more soldiers here now. If I were a Taliban commander I would want to have a go. But we will have quite a potent force and they will only get away with it once."

The RAF is already involved in attrition, with Harrier jets based in Kandahar repeatedly taking part in raids. Last Sunday they carried out strikes with CRV7 rockets in the province of Oruzgan.

But the Taliban and their al-Qa'ida allies are lethally active in Helmand, with an attempted suicide bombing targeting the province's governor, teachers being beheaded for providing education for girls, and the murder of aid workers, including the shooting of one while he was praying at a mosque.

Engineer Mohammed Daoud, the governor of Helmand, stresses that the revenue from opium is fuelling the insurgency. " You cannot separate instablity and drugs in this province," he said. "The smugglers and drug dealers have very close connections with the Taliban and both support each other."

It will be interesting to see, say Afghan officials, how the British forces will fight this insurgency while refusing to get drawn into opium eradication.

* A bomb exploded near a Nato peace-keeping convoy in northern Afghanistan yesterday, killing one Afghan civilian and wounding 12 people, including a German peacekeeper.

FEBRUARY 28th 2006
This BBC News report is essential reading. The mismanagement of aid is the bane of western foreign policy. Usually we accuse the recipients. Now it is time to get our own house in order.

Critical voices, such as Mr Ghani's, have helped ensure that in future Afghanistan's own government and people will gain greater control over how aid money is spent.

MAY 12rh 2006
A dose of depressing reality -

MAY 25th 2006
The heat is rising. There are going to be some brutal conflicts and collateral damage.

JUNE 6th 2006

NATO chiefs to declare Afghan plan on track

By Mark John Tuesday June 6th

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -NATO defense ministers who meet in Brussels on Thursday will declare the alliance's plans to nearly double peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan on track despite mounting violence there, officials said.

The 26-nation body expects to raise troop levels to some 17,000 from 9,000 and move into the perilous south by late-July, giving Washington the scope to cut its forces in the existing U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) operation there.

"It comes as no great surprise that NATO forces will be challenged in the south. We are creating the conditions for stability there and a number of people don't want that," NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy and Planning John Colston told a news briefing on Tuesday.

"Defense ministers are confident they have the right plan, the right forces properly equipped and the right rules of engagement to undertake the job," he said, adding there were no plans to review existing military planning for the expansion.

Recent months have marked the bloodiest period in an insurgency that has been raging since U.S.-backed forces ousted a Taliban government in 2001.

Some 400 people were killed last month alone, as the Taliban stepped up attacks in the south in an apparent attempt to weaken the resolve of NATO governments.

Three U.S. soldiers were wounded on Tuesday in an attack by a teenage suicide bomber on their convoy in southeast Afghanistan. Also on Tuesday a roadside bomb killed two soldiers in the U.S.-led coalition in eastern Afghanistan, according to a U.S. military spokeswoman.


Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are due to lead the deployment to the south, which includes Afghanistan's main opium-growing region and most dangerous territories.

The expansion will allow the United States to withdraw some of the estimated 3,000 U.S. troops in the south. But the U.S envoy to Afghanistan insisted it will keep a strong presence, with around 20,000 of a total 33,000-35,000 foreign troops.

"We will be the largest and we will remain involved in the south in a variety of combat support levels," Ronald E. Neumann told journalists in Kabul on Monday.

Separately, a senior NATO diplomat said the United States had proposed taking over the command of ISAF next February after the current British-led command finishes.

NATO is already present in the capital Kabul, the west and north of the country and expects to extend its coverage to the east by the end of the year, putting it in charge of all peacekeeping operations.

However diplomats said there was still no agreement on when exactly that could happen, with many allies wanting to see how the expanded mission in the south went.

Defense ministers will also review NATO efforts to reform itself from Cold War giant to a nimbler security organization able to respond to crises in troublespots at short notice.

European allies will be pressed to set aside more troops for a flagship NATO rapid-reaction force due to be fully operational from October this year with a total force strength of 25,000.

The United States in recent weeks pledged to reserve almost 6,000 troops for the so-called NATO Response Force but diplomats said its headcount was still short

JULY  03 2006
The British task in Afghanistan is again the subject of debate. Do we have the forces and equipment to do the job?
If we have consistent international support, and keep relations with the Afghan government on track, then we can do our part if we have the political will. But it is a hugely complex situation that needs all the skills we can muster in communications, know-how and resolve. is a relevant link.
I have to say the conditions and climate are tough on our aviators and their equipment, and when there is dependency on air support things can get very hairy if it is not there in time. The British troops are right at the start of their particular task here, and the Taliban attacks have been severe, but the argument that therefore the world must leave Afghanistan to its fate is not a worthy one.

JULY  31
KABUL (Reuters) - NATO forces took over security from a U.S.-led coalition in restive southern Afghanistan on Monday, embarking on one of the alliance's biggest ground operations in its history.

Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest phase of violence since the ouster of the Taliban government in 2001, with most attacks occurring in the south.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is currently made up of 37 countries from NATO and non-NATO states. They will take over security in six provinces in the south, a stronghold of Taliban insurgents.
Full article

AUGUST 10th 2006. Here is the unvarnished truth from the NATO Commander.

BBC NEWS - Last Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2006, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK

UK general warns of Afghan threat
British soldiers in Helmand Province in Afghanistan
British soldiers face "days and days of intense fighting", it is claimed
UK troops in Afghanistan face fighting which is more intense and prolonged than any other conflict in the past 50 years, a British general has claimed.

Some British soldiers will be withdrawn from lawless parts of Helmand province and replaced with Afghan troops, said Lieutenant General David Richards.

He is commanding the Nato force in the country and has described the threat as "persistent low-level dirty fighting".

Extra helicopters and equipment were required to cope, he said.

"This sort of thing hasn't really happened so consistently, I don't think, since the Korean War or the Second World War," he told the BBC World Service.

"It happened for periods in the Falklands, obviously, and it happened for short periods in the Gulf on both occasions. But this is persistent low-level dirty fighting."

Lt Gen Richards said he was proud of his troops and the battle was worth the problems.

Lieutenant General David Richards
In one sense what they're doing is days and days of intense fighting, being woken up by yet another attack and they haven't slept for 24 hours
Lieutenant General David Richards on British soldiers

"We can't afford for this country to go back to what it was," he said.

"We will soon feel the result of that when London gets attacked from a firm base where [enemy fighters] can do what they want."

But as a result, British soldiers were enduring "days and days of intense fighting, being woken up by yet another attack, and they haven't slept for 24 hours", he added.

His remarks came as the chairman of the Commons all-party defence committee revealed his concerns that the British operation in Afghanistan "was being done on a shoe string".

Conservative MP James Arbuthnot told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was a feeling "that we are not spending enough money on the troops we are putting into danger, and that we are asking [them] to do extremely difficult things on our behalf".

The committee warned of a similar situation in Iraq. It called for patrol vehicles to be strengthened to provide greater protection, and for additional helicopters to be supplied.

Defence Secretary Des Browne has insisted that British forces were "stretched, but not overstretched".


NATO seeks reinforcements for south Afghanistan

By Mark John 15 minutes ago

MONS, Belgium (Reuters) -

NATO's top commander of operations, General James Jones, acknowledged on Thursday the alliance had been taken aback by the level of violence in south Afghanistan and urged allies to provide reinforcements.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer joined his appeal, urging alliance members to come to the support of the British, Canadian and Dutch troops leading the fight against Islamist Taliban guerrillas in the south.

"Those allies who perhaps are doing less in Afghanistan should think: Shouldn't we do more? ... There are certainly a number of allies who can do more," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Brussels.

Neither singled out individual NATO members. Diplomats say Germany, which leads the NATO mission in the relatively calm north, is under pressure to offer reinforcements for the south.

A German Defense Ministry spokesman played down prospects of Berlin redeploying any of its 2,700 troops southwards, saying: "It is still the case that our focus is on the northern region."

Several NATO soldiers have been killed in fierce fighting with the Taliban since the alliance extended its peacekeeping mission to the south a month ago.

Jones said commanders of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) sought several hundred additional reserve troops, more helicopters and transport aircraft.

"We are talking about modest reinforcements," he told a news briefing at NATO's European military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, after both he and de Hoop Scheffer returned from a three-day trip to Afghanistan.

Jones said he would use a meeting with national military chiefs in Warsaw starting Friday to plead with NATO nations to remove the restrictions, known as caveats, on how and where their country's troops can be used.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, which has about 360 soldiers in Afghanistan, told reporters his country had no plans to send more troops and had received no such request.


"While some of it (violence) is predictable, we should recognize we are a little bit surprised at the level of intensity, and (the fact) that the opposition in some areas are not relying on traditional hit-and-run tactics," Jones said.

"It's something akin to poking the bee hive and the bees are swarming," he said of the Taliban resistance in the south.

NATO is taking over security responsibility, alongside the Afghan army, from a U.S.-led force that invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow a Taliban government that was sheltering al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.

British NATO troops in outlying outposts have come under siege from Taliban fighters. But Jones said he was confident the violence could be contained quickly.

"It is my feeling that ... certainly before the winter, we will see this decisive moment in the region turn favorably to the forces that represent the (Afghan) government and the efforts we are trying to achieve," he said. Winter starts in the southern highlands around the end of October.

The rising death toll among Canadian NATO soldiers in Afghanistan has prompted calls for the Ottawa government to rethink its military mission in the war-torn country. Some Dutch and German lawmakers have also voiced fresh misgivings.

Jones said ISAF had lost 21 dead in fighting this year with 80 wounded. That did not include 21 deaths and 37 injuries in non-battle incidents such as the crash of a British spy plane.

He criticized the progress of international efforts to help reconstruct Afghanistan, in particular the fight against narcotics smuggling and surging opium production.

"Right now in my view, it plays a large role and we are not effective yet in finding a solution to that problem," he said.

SEPTEMBER 24th 2006
The fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan has reached unprecedented levels, with the UK and Canadian forces taking the brunt of the burden. There is no doubt the Taliban are defeated in every series of encounters, but NATO is not without casualties.
The strain has brought out some exceptional if unrepresentative explosive comments and internal criticisms in the British military in the front line. All those who find the idea of life under the Taliban utterly unacceptable will hope beyond all that our officers, soldiers and airmen can put this recrimination behind them and realise that this is a difficult task where mistakes will be made,

Airmen hit back at army after 'useless in Afghanistan' claim

Mark Townsend, defence correspondent
Sunday September 24, 2006
The Observer

Bitter recriminations broke out among British forces in Afghanistan last night as factions of the RAF and infantry rounded on each other amid continued combat in Helmand province.

Evidence of a split surfaced in the wake of comments by Major James Loden of 3 Para that the RAF had been 'utterly, utterly useless' during operations against the Taliban. A series of fractious emails emerged yesterday from furious service personnel, provoking fears that morale was at risk of collapsing. Further concern came with fresh evidence that the psychological fallout of Afghanistan may prove far greater than that from Iraq, while the number of UK casualties from Helmand was said to have caused British-based medical centres to be 'absolutely overrun'.

In one angry email to colleagues, a pilot operating in Sangin claimed that decisions taken by some senior infantry officers had put the lives of RAF crew at risk. He wrote: 'I take it was not this major's [Loden] troops I was picking up in Sangin whilst being RPGed? [attacked by rocket-propelled grenades]. Should I call his troops utterly useless when they lit up a landing site with a strobe for the second time because they forgot to switch it off and risk the lives of four blokes and 25 million quid plus the life of other casualty we were trying to pick up?'

Members of the infantry responded in kind. One soldier admitted that he had become so frustrated with an RAF crew who had landed at the wrong airfield that he could have resorted to physical violence. 'If I could have gotten hold of the pilot I would have kicked seven bells of shite out of him,' he said.

Another claimed that the RAF in Afghanistan 'is ... poor at identifying targets and timid about engagements'. One even alleged that some airdrops actually ended up supplying Taliban forces. The claims drew a stinging response from RAF crews supporting ground troops in southern Afghanistan. One email said that all their 'airdrops were bang on target. I know this because I've been involved in them!!!!!'

Many discussing Loden's comments on army messageboards praised the RAF for their support in Afghanistan and said the only result of Loden's criticism would be to 'hand a dollop of morale-boosting syrup to the enemy'.

Yesterday, the country's top soldier agreed, dismissing Loden's comments as 'irresponsible', while praising the RAF as 'exceptional'. The Chief of General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, added that mistakes were 'understandable in the fog of war and the heat of battle'.

The spat arrived amid fresh developments over a separate, but equally bitter, row over the true level of official information released by the government on the level of British casualties. Although the MoD will not reveal data on the number of British troops being treated for psychological illnesses following fighting in Helmand, The Observer has learnt that troops are being evacuated back to Britain after suffering combat stress in Afghanistan at a much higher rate than from Iraq.

Combat Stress, the charity that provides help for veterans with mental health problems, said the number of referrals from Helmand was already running into 'double figures'. By contrast, the group is helping 120 personnel from Iraq, three-and-a-half years after operations began there. Evidence has also emerged that the number of casualties is running higher than the MoD has so far publicly admitted.

The MoD is expected to release last month's casualty figures this week. Dannatt yesterday denied there was any attempt to cover up casualty figures in Afghanistan.

Latest from The Guardian 25th Sept 2006

After the fighting, a battle for hope
September 25: Nato's anti-Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan is now entering its mopping up phase.

The untold story from the battlefields of Afghanistan
September 25: A reporting ban from London is damaging the morale of our soldiers on the ground. Says Channel 4's Alex Thompson.

SEPTEMBER 30th 2006
Relevant reading - critical of the political approach to the management of the western military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Tim Garden has been talking frequently in the media. As I have too rarely browsed the Internet (not had broadband till recently) I did not know he had a web site.
It's here:

One thing is certain, the Will Self approach to life is not a viable alternative foreign policy. I entirely agree that the heroin problem in the UK is something we need to deal with in the UK, not at the production end, and we made a big mistake if we thought that drug crop money would not fund huge Taliban support in Afghanistan. I assumed that American money had bought some peace and to follow that with 'tough love' and attempted law-enforcement would cause a failure of the economic model, which would need replacement. But handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban is not an option. It is not British Colonial conceit to take responsibility there. There is no way Afghanistan can now do anything without huge international support. If other countries do not help that is still no reason for those who are trying to give up. The Will Selfs of this world have absolutely no idea how the society in which they have the freedom to express their thoughts on a working TV system was created or how it can be sustained. A trivial use of primitive logic can seem powerful when things go pearshaped and people wish they could stop the world, and applause is cheap.

Blair defends Nato's Afghan role
People in Afghanistan have "suffered" as a result of military action against the Taleban but Nato's presence remains "absolutely critical", Tony Blair says.

"We do not want al-Qaeda and the Taleban back in power in Afghanistan, using it as a training ground for terrorism," the prime minister said.

He added the situation was better than under the last regime, despite a report that 90,000 people had been displaced.

Currently there are about 32,000 troops under Nato control in the country.

"Sure there are people in Afghanistan who are suffering as a result of the fighting that's taking place," Mr Blair said after a meeting in Downing Street with his Finnish counterpart, Matti Vanhanen.

"But they suffered a lot more under the Taleban."

The Nato mission in Afghanistan was "absolutely critical for global security" and was backed by a UN resolution, he added.

'Caught in middle'

Nato has now taken charge of the country's eastern provinces, which have been under the control of US forces since the Taleban were ousted five years ago.

The alliance's International Security Assistance Force already commands troops in the north, west and south of Afghanistan, as well as Kabul.

It means that some 12,000 US soldiers have now come under the command of General David Richards from the UK.

But the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has claimed up to 90,000 Afghans have been displaced by the fighting in the south of the country.

"These are people who just don't want to be caught in the middle," the commission's spokesman Peter Kessler told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"They don't want to be caught up in the conflict, and they feel insecure or their homes have been destroyed or damaged, their crops have been damaged.

"The actions by the Nato forces have had their effects." .

OCTOBER  7th 2006

UK troops 'need more helicopters'

UK forces fighting the Taleban in Afghanistan need more troop-carrying helicopters to carry out their mission, the British commander there has said.

Brigadier Ed Butler requested more Chinook helicopters in response to a promise by Prime Minister Tony Blair of whatever extra resources were needed.

Mr Blair praised troops' courage during a "very tough" operation.

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the Army was overstretched, and was already waiting for promised supplies.

Mr Blair's comments came in an interview on British Forces TV and Radio to mark the fifth anniversary of operations in Afghanistan.

He acknowledged that the south of the country, where most troops were based, was still "lawless", and pledged "every support and every protection" for the British force.

They are working very hard and there's been some phenomenal flying from the pilots
Brig Ed Butler

In response to Mr Blair's offer of resources, Brig Butler, the outgoing commander of the troops in the southern Helmand province, said helicopters had always been his top priority.

"They are working very hard and there's been some phenomenal flying from the pilots in very difficult and dangerous conditions," he said.

"If we had more, then clearly we could generate a higher tempo, not just offensive operations but also to crack on with the reconstruction and development.

"Clearly, helicopters can't be grown overnight, nor can some of the other machinery - so there's a prioritisation that will have to be taken."

The Ministry of Defence said it was not aware of a specific request for extra helicopters from Brig Butler.

"The commanders have what they need to do the mission, Obviously, if they had more they could do more with it. That is what Brig Butler has always said," am MoD spokesman said.

The BBC's correspondent in Kabul, Alistair Leithead, says the question of extra helicopters has been raised again and again - with other Nato units also wanting more.

'Long haul'

Meanwhile Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, stressed troops were fighting a "fierce battle" and were in the country for "a long haul".

He said that while British commanders felt they had all of the equipment they needed, they would like more support from some other Nato countries which were not "punching their weight".

In September alone, seven soldiers died in Afghanistan as a result of hostile action and 14 died when a RAF Nimrod crashed after a suspected technical fault.

In all, 40 British soldiers have been killed since September 2001, and there have been high casualties in the past three months.

On Sunday, it emerged a Nato soldier had been killed in an attack on a patrol in the southern province of Kandahar. Nato did not reveal the soldier's identity or nationality.

31,000 troops now on ground in Afghanistan, including 10,000 coalition troops moved under Nato command
37 nations contributing
8,000 US-led troops continue training and counter-terrorism separate from Nato force
*Contribution figures may differ from exact numbers on the ground

Mr Blair said it was "frustrating" that some people did not recall the circumstances of the original deployment.

"It came about as a result of 11 September, as a result of the need to drive the Taleban and al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan," he said.

Mr Fox said Mr Blair's offer of more help was meaningless.

"When the prime minister says 'whatever they want they will get', it's now several months, for example, since the government promised to fit fuel-retardant foam into all the Hercules aircraft, and yet it hasn't been happening.," he said.

"And when the prime minister says that we will send as many men as our commanders require, where are we going to get them from?"

Good question raised by Mr Fox - let us hope that the PMs speech was the answer to that, and that he means the funds are forthcoming, now, and the Chinnoks awaiting upgrade can be finished.. Of course it is also possible that other NATO members can and will supply helicopters and pilots. See Chinook Factfile

NOVEMBER 17th 2006
Where are we now?
After a period of violent confrontation in the Hellmand province and Kandahar, relative quiet has descended as winter sets in. The Taliban are no doubt planning their spring political, psychological and military offensive, with perhaps an unpleasnat Christmas or New Year surprise.

The country as a whole has what is being descrined as a framework of democracy with no substance, plagued by corruption. That is because the substance of institutions, skills and any traditional integrity and civilisation that mighet have been inserted in this framwork has been laregly destroyed over the past decades.

There is traditional resistance to women's liberation and the example set by female tourists in the 60s and 70s did nothing to diminish this resistance. But none of these difficulties mean there is any better way forward than the one we are pursuing. The Taliban were not all savage obscurantists but neither were they able to lead a programme of acceptable development for this century.

The crises in all these underdeveloped countries are due to the plague of modern weaponry and technology from the developed world. If we in the west had had this stuff in the days of the 100 years war, our civil wars and all the rest, we would have been in deep doodoo even though we had developed very sophisticated social instituions, many of which had their origins in ancient Greece, Persia, Rome, Jerusalem, Babylon etc.

So there is little alternative now to supporting, through the UN and NATO, forces to help local democratically elected governments to hold the lid on and build till understanding and education and the transfer of training and knowledge can generate communities that can populate and run the countryside and the towns on a mutually self-supporting basis. The call from comfortable liberals back at home that this is cultural imperialism, and that we should just pull out and go home, is tempting but not good enough as a policy. Not is this century, when the planet has to be coherent and cooperate on using its resources and saving its environment. Success is not guaranteed, nor could it be in any universe that made logical sense, but it is up to us to work for it.

The PM's meeting today/tomorrow with Pakistan's President Musharraf confirms what has been seen  for some time as undisputable fact: that although Pakistan is a country of widely dispersed cultures and levels of development, and Musharraf himself dependent more on the support of the military than any one political or regional constituency, Musharraf is a man of deep understanding of his own people and of the the world. A man of great courage and great diplomatic skill who faces the facts and for the moment offers his people the best hope of stability, security and progress possible.  A strong leader but not a ruthless one, who could have give the USA some useful tips on what not to do when doing what has to be done, and how not to not do it.  There are those who accuse Pakistan of supporting the Taliban. Musharraf is clearly taking all steps possible within the law to prevent insurgency and terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and across the border, and in preventing the schooling and training of terrorists.

NOVEMBER 19th 2006
This transcript of BBC Radio 4's ANALYSIS Programme is definitely worth a careful read.

NOVEMBER 20th 2006
The PM's meeting with President Karzai presumably centred on the reasons why Musharraf's point that only development and economic assistance can keep the country out of the hands of the Taliban was not so easily put into practice. The situation has a parallel in Iraq to the extent that where law and order and security cannot be achieved, construction and development cannot take place.. It is not that the Taliban are against all schools and all construction, but the Taliban will fight to the last man to destroy buildings and organisations that are not their buildings and their organisations run on their rules. In Pakistan, Musharraf can spend the international aid he receives. In Afghanistan, this is possible in some areas but not yet in some others.  Karzai blames Pakistan for harbouring the insurgents, but that is a simplistic view. As Spike Milligan said - everybody has to be somewhere. The question is how to deal with them.

We are faced with a situation where a Taliban that refuses to surrender, ever, has to be isolated in an area where they can live by their own rules, on their own. That used to be Afghanistan, but their captive population quite rightly tried to escape and their only immigrants were world terrorists looking for a camp. The first gave the world an unacceotable refugee problem, the second gave it 9/11 and the threat of worse. So that is why we are where we are. The developed nations must work together to see it through. There is a lesson to be learned on all sides. If it were not for the restraints of Global Warming and the limitations of material resources to fuel our habitual growth pattern, we could easily finance the way out of these matters. it would be business as usual. But the world's natural system is now insisting on an evolutionary change in the human race. We have to move to a new mode of thinking. The 'Western World' needs to actually solve a few problems, not just 'roll them over' as we have always done. It's a big moment.

NOVEMBER 29th 2006

Disembowelled, then torn apart: The price of daring to teach girls

By Kim Sengupta in Ghazni, Afghanistan

Published: 29 November 2006 in The Independent

The gunmen came at night to drag Mohammed Halim away from his home, in front of his crying children and his wife begging for mercy.

The 46-year-old schoolteacher tried to reassure his family that he would return safely. But his life was over, he was part-disembowelled and then torn apart with his arms and legs tied to motorbikes, the remains put on display as a warning to others against defying Taliban orders to stop educating girls.

Mr Halim was one of four teachers killed in rapid succession by the Islamists at Ghazni, a strategic point on the routes from Kabul to the south and east which has become the scene of fierce clashes between the Taliban and US and Afghan forces.

The day we arrived, an Afghan policemen and eight insurgents died during an ambush in an outlying village. Rockets were found, primed to be fired into Ghazni City during a visit by the American ambassador a few days previously.

But, as in the rest of Afghanistan, it is the civilians who are bearing the brunt of this conflict. At the village of Qara Bagh, the family of Mr Halim are distraught and terrified. His cousin, Ahmed Gul, shook his head: "They killed him like an animal. No, no. We do not kill animals like that, it would be haram. They took away a father and a husband, they had no pity. We are all very worried. Please go now, you see those men standing over there? They are watching. It is dangerous for you, and for us."

Fatima Mushtaq, the director of education at Ghazni, has had repeated death threats, the notorious "night letters". Her gender, as well as her refusal to send girls home from school, has made her a particular source of hatred for Islamist zealots.

"I think they killed him that way to frighten us, otherwise why make a man suffer so much? Mohammed Halim and his family were good friends of ours and we are very, very upset by what has happened. He came to me when the threats first began and asked what he should do. I told him to move somewhere safe. I think he was trying to arrange that when they came and took him," she said.

The threats against Ms Mushtaq also extend to her husband, Sayyid Abdul, and their eight children. "When the first letters arrived, I tried to hide them from my husband," she said. "But then he found the next few. He said we must stand together. We talked, and we decided that we must tell the children. So that they can be prepared, but it is not a good way for them to grow up."

Ms Mushtaq is familiar with the ways of the Taliban. During their rule she and her sister ran secret schools for girls at their home. The Taliban beat them for teaching the girls algebra.

ALSO in The Independent:

Call for unity among Nato in Afghanistan

By Stephen Castle in Riga

Published: 29 November 2006

Nato nations have dropped some of the restrictions on the use of their troops in Afghanistan after the alliance set a deadline of 2008 for handing over elements of security work to local forces.

Urged on by President George Bush, Nato countries set aside around 15 per cent of their "caveats" which restrict the deployment of soldiers. Officials at Nato's heads of government summit in Riga said that the concession was the equivalent of making available an additional 2,000 troops.

Seeking to reinforce the alliance's commitment to Afghanistan, the Nato secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, also pressed leaders for a firm commitment that, whatever restrictions are in place, their soldiers would go to the aid of other Nato forces in an emergency.

However Mr De Hoop Scheffer also sent out a strong signal that the load on the alliance would lighten over time.

He said that the alliance's "exit strategy will depend on Afghanistan having its own security forces". By 2008, he added, Nato would have made "considerable progress" with "trusted Afghan security forces gradually taking control". While that may have reassured nations like France and Belgium, which are nervous about the Nato mission, leaders were left in no doubt that, until local security forces have been trained, Nato nations would have to rally around. Mr Bush argued that, "for Nato to succeed, its commanders on the ground must have the resources and flexibility to do their job". The Nato secretary general said it was unacceptable that allied forces in south Afghanistan were 20 per cent below the required strength.

Despite the show of unity, Nato's first summit on former Soviet territory was marred by a diplomat fracas over an invitation to President Vladimir Putin to Riga. Not invited to the summit, the Russian leader had threatened to upstage the alliance's meeting by making his first visit to Latvia since its independence tonight.

Ties with Moscow have been scarred by Russia's increasingly assertive foreign policy, buoyed by its new economic power as an energy giant. Western governments are also alarmed by the apparent slide from human rights under Mr Putin and incidents such as the poisoning of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, in London.

Such worries were swept aside by Jacques Chirac, celebrating his 74th birthday today, who has made a point of cultivating the Russian leader and of keeping President Bush at arm's length.

In a statement, the Elysée said: "The President of Latvia, Mrs Vaira Vike-Freiberga, let us know that she would take the opportunity of the Riga summit to wish, along with the other heads of state and government present, a happy birthday to the President of the Republic.

"In addition, President Putin wanted to come to meet the President of the Republic to present his good wishes, as he has done with other heads of state or government. As the President of the Republic was in Riga for the Nato summit, the idea was put forward by Russia of a dinner for three following the summit, at which Mrs Vaira Vike-Freiberga would be the host." However the Kremlin later made it clear that the meeting would not go ahead.

Earlier Mr Bush had sent an uncompromising message of encouragement to nations such as Georgia and Ukraine to join Nato. The Kremlin resents the expansion of Nato into what it considers to be its sphere of influence. Praising the government in Georgia, Mr Bush also sought to encourage pro-Western forces in Ukraine, arguing: "As democracy takes hold in Ukraine and leaders pursue vital reform, Nato membership will be open to the people if they choose it."

DECEMBER 15th 2006

Britain leads major Afghan operation

Reuters Friday December 15, 11:26 AM
ARGHINDAB RIVER VALLEY, Afghanistan (Reuters) - British-led armoured columns of NATO troops swept into southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province on Friday, launching one of the biggest operations in months.

Hundreds of British, Estonian and Danish troops, backed by scores of armoured vehicles, crossed through the night from their base in neighbouring Helmand province and set up a desert camp north of the Arghindab River valley, which commanders say is a haven for Taliban guerrillas.

"We're here on an intelligence-led mission against the Taliban," said operation commander Lieutenant-Colonel Matt Holmes. "You can tell by the size of our presence that we mean business."

The offensive is one of the largest by NATO forces since the Canadian-led Operation Medusa in another part of Kandahar province in September, and the largest by British troops since heavy fighting in northern Helmand in the summer.

Royal Marines from Britain's 42 Commando were digging holes to sleep in at their new forward operating base in muddy desert, after camping under ponchos in rainstorms that hit the area as they moved east through the night.

They are joined by Estonian, Danes and British Light Dragoons in Scimitar light tanks.

The camp is in a wide desert and north of the Arghindab, a river surrounded by fertile irrigated croplands.

It is the first time such a large British-led force has been dispatched from Helmand to Kandahar, the Taliban heartland where several Canadian soldiers have been killed in some of the fiercest fighting of the year.

The NATO troops pushed into in southern Afghanistan this year as part of their takeover of security for the country from a U.S.-led coalition. NATO has about 32,000 soldiers in its mission and the U.S. about another 8,000 under a separate command.

The British Marines seemed excited by their mission.

"All right, let's party," said Marine Taff Blower as members of Lima Company, 42 Commando, set out in their Viking armoured personnel carriers overnight.

Afghanistan going to plan - Hoon
Foreign office minister Geoff Hoon has responded to claims British forces in Afghanistan are "overstretched" and said the mission is going as planned.

Mr Hoon, defence secretary in the 2001 invasion, said the resistance curently being faced in the south had been anticipated and "always...planned for".

Tory MP Sir John Stanley had told MPs in a Westminster debate that UK troops were "more than pulling their weight".

But, he said, they were undermanned and lacked vital equipment.

Sir John, who visited Afghanistan six weeks ago with two other members of the Commons foreign affairs committee, told MPs during the Westminster Hall debate that Britain was "right" to be in the country.

"We are right to have removed the Taleban, we are right to be there, but we have got to do more in terms of deploying resources there to make certain we win on security grounds and we have got to be prepared to be there for the long haul."

'Thinly spread'

And he warned: "Unless we get on top, satisfactorily, of the security situation in Afghanistan we are not going to be able to achieve long-term stability for that country."

There is very serious, and I think it would not be no exaggeration to say, all-pervasisve corruption within the Afghanistan government
Sir John Stanley

British, American and Canadian forces were "more than pulling their weight", he told MPs.

But Nato forces were too "thinly spread" in the south, putting them in "constant vulnerability of finding themselves significantly outnumbered" by Taleban fighters.

He called on the government to exert more pressure on other Nato countries deployed in Afghanistan to lift their restrictions on sending troops to the south of the country.

But he also criticised UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who he said had failed to deliver on his promise to give British troops all the equipment they wanted.

"There is little doubt that the present government's reductions of the size of the British army and an insufficiency of operational aircraft, particularly helicopters, is producing profound overstretch, as between Iraq and Afghanistan," said Sir John.


There were too many troops in Iraq, in the context of what they could realistically achieve, and not enough in Afghanistan, he added.

He also called for greater efforts to fight corruption in the Afghanistan government.

"There is very serious, and I think it would not be no exaggeration to say, all-pervasisve corruption within the Afghanistan government," Sir John told MPs.

Labour MP Paul Flynn also highlighted "endemic corruption" in the Afghan government, with the exception, he said, of president Hamid Karzai.

He called on British troops to be withdrawn from Helmand province, in the south of the country, as they faced an "unattainable" mission.

Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said the coalition's aim of handing control over to the Afghan police and army by 2010 was "vastly over-optimistic".

'Key institutions'

In reply, Mr Hoon said MPs were being too pessimistic about progress in Afghanistan and he praised the way Afghans had "effectively rebuilt their nation from scratch" since 2001.

The "key state institutions are now in place" the economy was growing rapidly, five million children, 37% of them girls, were in school and "much of Afghanistan is at peace", Mr Hoon told MPs, but he conceded "challenges remain".

"We cannot win in Afghanistan through military action alone.

"There is a need to extend the rule of law and the writ of the democratically elected Afghan authorities across those parts of the country where there are still challenges.

"The Afghan government wants and needs to take responsibility for the security of its country and its people as soon as it can.

"But until a new Afhgan national army and a reformed Afghan national police force have been trained and equipped and are fully deployed, international forces will need to remain in Afghanistan."

'Major challenge'

Asked if there were enough troops in Afghanistan, the Europe minister insisted military operations were going to plan.

"We always anticipated that the resistance, particularly of the criminal and terrorist elements in the south, would be one of the most difficult problems, so it is not surprising that we are facing those kinds of attacks in the south.

"That was always anticipated and it was always planned for."

But he conceded corruption in the country's government "remains a major challenge".

JANUARY 26th 2007

At least US Intelligence does not appear blind to the obvious in this instance

U.S. warns of bloody Taliban spring fightback

KABUL (Reuters) - The United States, stepping up its commitment to Afghanistan and pushing European allies to follow suit, on Friday warned the country faced a bloody and dangerous spring offensive from an emboldened and strengthened Taliban.

"I think we will face a strong offensive and will have a difficult and dangerous and bloody spring," U.S. assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia Richard Boucher told the BBC, calling the guerillas virulent and tough. "But we are also better set up to deal with it."

Last year was the bloodiest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. More than 4,000 people, a quarter of them civilians, were killed and more than 160 foreign soldiers.

A tough winter, with snow blocking mountain passes, has contributed to the annual lull in fighting, but analysts warn the Taliban, bolstered by drug money and safe havens in Pakistan, will fight back strongly after the thaw in a few months.

"The Taliban phenomenon is largely a southern phenomenon. Now, it's very virulent. It's tough. But we're dealing with it," Boucher said.

"They're actually under pressure -- they're under pressure from all sides. Not only from NATO and the Afghan army, but also to some extent from Pakistan as well."

Washington this week extended tours of duty for some of its troops in Afghanistan, effectively boosting troop levels by 2,500 for the next few months, and is asking Congress for an extra $10.6 billion for security and reconstruction.

At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels called by the United States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday pushed European nations to do more in the embattled country.

Nato 'to step up Afghan support'
Nato foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have agreed to step up their military and economic assistance to Afghanistan, officials have said.

The decision came as the US pledged an extra $10.6bn (£5.4bn) to bolster its Afghan effort and retain troops there.

On the even of the meeting, the US made it clear it expected other Nato members to bolster their commitment too.

Nato's top commander meanwhile has said his forces will mount a spring offensive against the Taleban.

Officials from the alliance have warned they expect Taleban fighters in Afghanistan to intensify attacks when the weather begins to warm up.

Separately, Nato said it may have killed a "senior Taleban leader and his deputies" in southern Helmand province.

'Increased pledges'

The BBC's Rob Watson in Brussels says the announcement of the new US aid package for Afghanistan was clearly intended to challenge Nato's European members to do more as well.

The strategy appears to have had some success, he says.

According to Nato officials, foreign ministers have signalled a willingness to provide more money and support for Afghanistan.

I think we will face a strong offensive and will have a difficult and dangerous and bloody spring
Richard Boucher
US assistant secretary of state
"Allies are going to step up their civilian, military and economic efforts, with increased pledges for funding... and more forces on the ground," AFP news agency quoted Nato spokesman James Appathurai as saying.

Speaking after the meeting, Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he was "relatively optimistic that other nations will step up to the plate".

US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told the BBC the Taleban were expected to intensify their attacks in the coming months.

"I think we will face a strong offensive and will have a difficult and dangerous and bloody spring," he said.

"But we are also better set up to deal with it."

However Nato's top commander, Gen John Craddock, said the alliance planned to take the initiative against the Taleban.

"This year we can expect an Isaf [International Security Assistance Force] spring offensive. The preparation activities are ongoing right now... that will place Isaf in a very favourable position," the Associated Press news agency quoted him as saying.

'Leading Taleban killed'

On her way to Brussels, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters the US planned to spend an additional $8.6bn on security, including training and equipping Afghan forces, while $2bn would go towards reconstruction.

It is a big funding increase over the $14bn the US has spent in Afghanistan since 2001.

Earlier the Pentagon said 3,200 men of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division would remain in the country for an extra four months after their tour of duty was meant to end next month.

There should be more commitment and it should continue until the Taleban are a distant memory

The US has 24,000 troops in Afghanistan - more than other Nato nations put together.

Just under half the US force are part of the 32,500-strong Nato peacekeeping command - the rest are on a separate mission to hunt down al-Qaeda fighters.

Meanwhile Nato said a "senior Taleban leader and his deputies are believed to have been killed" in an air strike in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province on Thursday.

It has not named the man but said "precision-guided munitions impacted the target, completely destroying the compound".

Also on Friday a suicide bomber triggered explosives outside a US-funded aid office in Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, killing himself and wounding at least one policeman, provincial officials said.

There are 32,500 Nato-led troops in Afghanistan
Main troop contributors: US, (11,800), UK (6,000), Germany (2,700) Canada, (2,500) Netherlands (2,000), Italy, (1,800) and France (975)


Afghanistan: A job half done

By Lyse Doucet
BBC Afghanistan analyst

In December 2001, a new future for Afghanistan was mapped out at an international conference in Bonn, beginning with an interim government to replace the Taleban. This week we look at how much has changed since then.

Five years ago, on a cold winter's day in Kabul, news broke that a new Afghan leader had been chosen thousands of miles away in the German city of Bonn.

I reached for a satellite telephone to call Hamid Karzai, still battling against Taleban forces in their last redoubt in the south.

"Am I the new chairman?" he shouted on a crackling line. On a morning when he had come under fire from misguided American aircraft, Hamid Karzai still had not been told officially.

"That's nice," was his unassuming reply.

Afghans have, in some ways, made an impressive journey since a hastily assembled group of Afghans and foreign envoys forged what became known as the Bonn process.

With some difficulty and delay all the ambitious targets were met: a traditional assembly, or loya jirga, approved a new government in 2002; a second loya jirga came up with a constitution; and presidential and parliamentary elections were held for the first time in decades.

We are too late, too bureaucratic, and frankly we spend too much money on ourselves rather than developing the skills of Afghan
Lakhdar Brahmini, former UN envoy

But for many Afghans it is a job half done.

"We reached the quantity of targets, but the quality is still missing," says Nader Nadery, an observer at the Bonn conference who is now a Commissioner at Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.

Afghanistan is still a place awash with guns, where commanders and local officials can impose their will with impunity, where many Afghans say their lives have changed little.

Most startling of all, the Taleban have made a comeback in the south, fighting with unexpected ferocity and firepower.

There is no doubting some progress, but why did billions of dollars in aid and thousands of foreign troops not make more of a difference?

I have put this question in recent weeks to many of the players who helped shape Afghanistan over the past five years.

Former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani insists the world's aid agencies simply were not equipped for state building in an impoverished country emerging from a quarter century of war.

Even Lakhdar Brahimi, who presided over much of this process as the UN's senior envoy, offers a scathing verdict on the performance of the UN and donors.

"The way we are doing it is really lousy. We are too late, too bureaucratic, and frankly we spend too much money on ourselves rather than developing the skills of Afghans," he says.

Most critically for Mr Brahimi and many others, countries who vowed to "stand by Afghanistan for the long run" didn't send enough troops in 2002 to start rebuilding, including disarmament, across the country.

Only 5,000 soldiers were sent to Kabul while 8,000 US troops concentrated on rooting out remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

Mr Brahimi speaks of a "great deal of bitterness" that resources were then suddenly found for a war in Iraq.

"In 2002, the warlords and commanders were shaking in their boots fearing they were going to be disarmed or cast aside," recalls Francesc Vendrell, the former UN envoy who is the now the EU's man in Kabul. "Now it's much more difficult."

Five years on, Afghanistan's powerful regional leaders no longer command private armies but in province after province, men with guns now have access to state resources and positions of power.

Huge cracks have been exposed in this state building exercise. including the failure to focus enough attention on rebuilding institutions like the judiciary and police.

"Ten good police are better than 100 corrupt police and 10 corrupt police can do more damage to our success than one Taleban extremist," explains Lt General Karl Eikenberry, the senior US commander.

He has now put police reform at the top of the US military's agenda after years of a German-led effort which concentrated mainly on training.

Government failings also fuel the rise of Taleban and other opposition forces.

President Karzai is often blamed for making poor choices when it comes to appointing provincial governors and police chiefs.

'Big tent'

In an interview at his heavily guarded presidential palace, he admits "there are things I would have done differently".

But he rejects criticism that he still relies too heavily on advice from former mujahideen factional leaders blamed for the destruction of Kabul during the civil war of the 1990s.

His political signature has been "the big tent" approach. But what Mr Karzai views as a wise strategy to bring everyone on board, others see as a sign of weakness.

Many express regret over other missed opportunities.

Lakhdar Brahimi worries that he and others were wrong not to bring the Taleban into the political process as early as 2002.

Former US envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told me he wished more attention had been paid to Taleban "sanctuaries" across the border in Pakistan.

Five years on, there is consensus on an urgent need to get a grip on the situation.

It is more difficult now with the emergence of a new "mafia": a nexus of drug smugglers, criminals, and in some provinces Taleban, filling a vacuum left by the government.

Nato forces are now acutely aware their fight is also about jobs and reconstruction. As General Eikenberry puts it: "Where the road ends, the Taleban begins".

As another harsh winter closes in, long cold nights without electricity, even in Kabul, concentrate Afghan minds.

Spring must bring not just a reprieve from winter's icy blast, but clear signs that their government, backed by Nato forces and major donors, is heading in the right direction.

From The Independent

Inside Afghanistan: The battle for Kajaki

The war in the open spaces of Afghanistan is very different from the one being waged by the Americans in the streets of Baghdad. But for British Royal Marines engaged in daily firefights with the Taliban, it is no less dangerous

By Kim Sengupta in Kajaki, Afghanistan

Published: 28 January 2007

Royal Marine Andy Mason, on Sparrow Hawk ridge, sighted his heat-seeking Javelin anti-tank missile and squeezed the trigger. Eight seconds later it smashed into the target, a large house from which Taliban insurgents were firing at British forces.

Half a dozen insurgent fighters jumped off the first-storey balcony just before it disintegrated. Others in the compound were trying to flee when air strikes were called in. A Tornado GR7 dropped a 1,000lb bomb, leaving the building a pile of rubble and billowing smoke.

This encounter took place on Friday night in Kajaki, one of the most ruggedly beautiful parts of Afghanistan, but also the most dangerous, with daily fighting between Royal Marines and insurgents. Just before our helicopter landed from Camp Bastion, the main British base in southern Afghanistan's troubled Helmand province, the Taliban had begun shooting at the British position, starting a firefight that went on into the night.

While violence has ebbed away at other flashpoints in northern Helmand such as Sangin and Now Zad, and a truce of sorts holds at Musa Qala, it has escalated at Kajaki. Flanked by mountains and a deep-water lake, the area has become a symbolic and logistical prize for both sides. At its heart is the Kajaki dam, the biggest United States aid project in Afghanistan, which, when fully operational, will supply power to the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

The US construction company Lewis Berger has refused to begin work until a 6km safety zone has been established around the dam. That is what the Marines of 42 Commando are creating, in attritional warfare across some of the country's most inhospitable terrain.

In one week, starting on New Year's Day, British forces said they had killed more than 120 Taliban. One Marine and one member of the Parachute Regiment have been killed, and around half a dozen injured.

"I could see the guys on the balcony in my sight when I fired the Javelin", said 27-year-old Marine Mason, from Harlow, Essex. "They had received fire from us and would have known what to expect. All they would have seen was a flash. They jumped off the balcony and the Javelin followed them down. These are awesome weapons, but it's a sobering thought that each time you fire them it is costing £65,000. We come in constant contact with them, but we have firepower they can't match."

From three vantage points - Sparrow Hawk, Athens and Normandy - the Marines attempt to control and then expand into the valleys. They live and fight from old Soviet positions where one still comes across the debris of a lost war - twisted artillery wreckage, spent shells and also personal items like spectacles and books, abandoned when Soviet forces left in a hurry. Down below, groups of men, suspected insurgents, can be seen moving along the narrow tracks and a deep wadi between walled compounds. British convoys leaving Kajaki come under frequent Taliban fire.

Resting on sandbags next to his heavy machinegun, Corporal Steve Machin, a 34-year-old from Rotherham with 15 years' service, said: "I have seen a bit of action. I took part in the Iraq war, and I have been back there. I have also spent a lot of time in Northern Ireland. But this is the scariest place I have been to. I have never had so many bullets whizzing past at such a rate. And this is constant. One of our busiest days was at Christmas - for some reason they opened up and just kept going."

Captain Anthony Forshaw, acting commander of M Company, 42 Commando, said: "We can track their communications, and we can also track down where they are by their firing positions. That is how we got the men in the balcony building. They have been well trained in military fashion - I don't really want to speculate by which country. We have watched them carry out patrols, and it is pretty professional. We have identified some of their commanders, and we know the ones we have killed."

It was not an easy mission, said the officer, but he was firm on one point: "I think we are winning."

As the British troops and Taliban fight it out, it is the Afghan civilians who are caught in the middle. Swathes of farmland around Kajaki are uncultivated because of the conflict.

Visiting the market at Lashkar Gah, farmer Shah Mohammed said: "We have gained nothing from this. The British bombed the place because the Taliban were there, and the Taliban drive us out of our homes. It is the poor who suffer.

"I have had friends killed and neighbours killed, and they are leaving behind their families. All we want is peace."

JANUARY 20th 2007                This was the policy suggested by many, including myself, years ago.
                                                  So long ago I have now forgotten why it was not adopted. But there are reasons.
                                                  In the long run though, heroin addiction  is a problem caused by users, not growers.
Afghan opium 'should be licensed'
Afghan opium poppies should be used to make pharmaceutical products such as diamorphine rather than be destroyed, the Conservatives have said.

Lord Howell told the House of Lords licensing farmers could stop their poppies being used to make heroin.

But Labour peer Baroness Amos said Afghanistan's central government had no mechanisms to set up such a system.

The UK has a diamorphine shortage, but the main problem is with manufacturing, rather than supply of raw materials.

Diamorphine, also known as heroin, is used to relieve pain after operations and for the terminally ill.

'Impossible' task

Lord Howell told the Lords the "very dangerous" policy of eradication was "just not working".

"The more we try to eradicate, the more poppies seem to get grown," he said.

Alternative ideas such as controlled licensing of poppy growing for pharmaceutical products needed to be tried, he said.

He suggested targeting traffickers instead of the farmers.

"Trying to stop poor farmers growing poppies to survive and live and feed their families is going to be almost impossible," he said.

Lords Leader Baroness Amos, a government spokesman on international development, said an integrated strategy was needed.

She admitted "eradication on its own will not solve the problem" but said alternative crops were being encouraged.

She said licensing production would mean traffickers would still be "free to continue to exploit the illicit market".

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, of the British Medical Association, said doctors were "extremely concerned" about the shortage of diamorphine in the UK.

"It is vitally important that the manufacturing issue is resolved so that sufficient diamorphine supplies are available."

FEBRUARY 10th 2007

McCain criticizes Europe on Afghanistan

By Kristin Roberts 

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Senator John McCain, a Republican contender for the White House in 2008, chastised Europe on Saturday for failing to supply the troops and money to win in Afghanistan and said NATO's future was at stake.

In tough comments that singled out specific countries, McCain told NATO allies to move beyond the "false debate" over security and development priorities in Afghanistan -- a dispute that dominated a defense ministers' meeting earlier this week.

Instead, Europe should follow Washington's lead and put more forces and resources into the war effort.

"Military recommitment must begin with NATO countries providing an adequate number of troops for the fight," McCain told the Munich Security Conference of senior world politicians, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"... Yet the international community still falls far short in meeting its prior pledges and in committing the resources Afghanistan needs to avoid failure," he said in prepared remarks.

The senator's comments were more pointed in their criticism of Europe than other public statements from President George W. Bush's administration.

But they reflected growing frustration among some U.S. officials and others in Washington over what is seen as Europe's unwillingness to pay its fair share for involvement in Afghanistan.

Germany and Italy were singled out in McCain's speech. He said Germany must significantly increase police trainers in Afghanistan and Italy, responsible for judicial reform in the country, should raise more funds internationally for reform efforts he said were needed to curb government corruption.


More than five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, NATO and U.S. forces face revived Taliban forces vying for control of parts of the country. It is exploiting the porous, undefined border with Pakistan, using the region as a safe haven and recruiting soldiers from refugee camps.

"Failure in Afghanistan risks a reversion to its pre-9/11 role as a sanctuary for al Qaeda terrorists with global reach, a defeat that would embolden Islamic extremists, and the rise of an unencumbered narcostate," McCain said.

"...The future of our alliance is directly at stake ... If NATO does not prevail in Afghanistan, it is difficult to imagine the alliance undertaking another 'hard security' operation -- in or out of area -- and its credibility would suffer a grievous blow."

NATO defense ministers closed a meeting in the Spanish city of Seville on Friday without making major commitments to fill gaps in military capabilities identified by the alliance's top commander, U.S. General Bantz Craddock.

Craddock and U.S. officials stressed the NATO meeting was not meant to secure troop commitments for Afghanistan.

But they also said allies needed to deliver quickly to ensure NATO could launch an effective early year offensive against the Taliban.

FEBRUARY 18th 2007
While all sorts of initiatives may be under weigh to reboot the Afghan infrastructure, including microfinancing (which I think is imaginative and practical) agriculture must in my opinion remain a key grass-roots occupation and industry. There is a legitimate market for the produce of the opium poppy. It is hard to imagine that Afghanistan is not the country with the most capability and right to frow this crop. Why should we in the West, who live by the market economy and the philosophy of choice as the means to develop stable democratic societies, make our problems the reason to forbid this crop to all the farmers of Afghanistan. If we look at the problem globally, it is clear that what is required is the regulation of poppy growing. Opium Poppies are to Afhganistan what grape vines are to France. We might as well try to prevent binge drinking in Manchester by ploughing in the grapes of Burgundy. That is not to say that some popy areas should not be ploughed in and the land put to other agricultural or rural use. But opium popies should form part of the Afghan economy. ***BUT SEE APRIL   02 2007 and COMMENT APRIL 25 2007

Unsung heroes of Afghanistan
By Paul Adams
BBC Diplomatic Correspondent, Afghanistan

Nato forces are preparing for a new wave of fighting in Afghanistan. But away from the battlegrounds, local and international schemes are attempting to break the country's cycle of conflict and poverty.

"Would you like to see the Taleban's last stand?" the lady asked.

Well, thanks. Yes. That would be great.

I confess I had not expected anything so conclusive quite so early on in my trip.

Wondering what she could possibly mean, I followed, along one of the wide, dusty tracks that pass for roads in Kandahar's sprawling airbase.

It was not a withering display of firepower, of course, but simply a gaping hole in one of the base's older buildings, caused by an American guided bomb back in 2001.

It had been one of the final acts of the war, destroying what was then a Taleban stronghold in their spiritual heartland.

Violent times

When I visited this same base almost two years ago, the Americans told me the Taleban were on their last legs.

And now, on his last visit to the south before handing over the reins of his Nato command, General David Richards was saying something similar. Not, to be fair, that the Taleban would disappear in 2007, but that they would cease to pose a strategic threat.

Well, we will see.

With the Taleban and Nato both promising a spring offensive - a war of words with just a touch of playground bravado - it is a reasonable assumption that some bloody times still lie ahead.

But looking for something different, we took off for other parts: from the freezing, snowy wastes of the central highlands, to the sun-drenched slopes towards the Khyber Pass.

Escaping poverty

As a bit of tourism, I must say it was not bad.

One day, the splendid mud ramparts of the ancient fort at Ghazni, rising out of the snow and still bearing more than a passing resemblance to the place attacked by British forces in 1839.

Another day, breathtaking shafts of early morning light penetrating the rocky abyss of the legendary Silk Gorge, where three years after Ghazni, a retreating British garrison, and thousands of camp followers, were cut to pieces in the snow.

It is a cautionary tale often repeated by those who warn that Nato is heading for a similarly ignominious fate.

But what we saw along the way were efforts - Afghan and international - to try to make sure the country breaks out of its cycle of poverty and war.

In a dingy room in Charikar, north of Kabul, I watched as women in identical blue burkas sat patiently on the floor, clutching pieces of pink paperwork. They had all joined a Bangladeshi microfinance scheme, receiving loans to set up small businesses, and getting free healthcare and education for their children.

The room was tiny, as was the tailoring shop set up nearby. But across the country, there are 160,000 scheme members, almost all of them women.

Poppy 'threat'

In Ghazni and Jalalabad, I met American officers committed to running effective provincial reconstruction teams, proud of the roads and bridges they had paid for. And they argued, with quiet conviction, that they had important stories to tell.

Countering narcotics remains one of Afghanistan's most contentious issues
Beyond Jalalabad, in the foothills of the snowy peaks that mark the border with Pakistan, we were taken to see poppy seedlings being ploughed under in a village where eradication had never taken place before.

In the course of an impromptu Jerga, or meeting with village elders, the governor's son, also an employee of the Ministry of Counter Narcotics, explained why this vital source livelihood had to be abandoned.

The villagers turned out en masse and watched, with a mixture of fatalism and concern, as the tractor did its work, ploughing under the tiny plants.

Countering narcotics remains one of Afghanistan's most contentious issues, with no clear consensus about how best or whether to proceed, but an understanding that the humble poppy - the corruption and the conflict it engenders - still threatens to wreck the country's efforts to recover.

Of course, sometimes it seems the country is struggling simply to deal with the consequences of previous conflicts.

Mine clearance

Rounding a corner, on the dramatic drive down from Kabul to Jalalabad - a drive, by the way, which since December takes just two-and-a-half hours, not six, thanks to a fine road built by the Chinese with money from the EU - we suddenly spied a dotted white grid picked out on the rocky mountainside up ahead.

Across the barren slopes, tiny figures moved slowly, metal detectors hovering just above the ground.

As they methodically cleared the deadly crop of Soviet land mines, laid more than two decades earlier, they splashed white paint on the rocks.

The Afghan team of 70, paid for by the UN, had been here almost a month, uncovering just nine mines. Five days earlier, one member had lost a leg.

And so, while the country braces itself for someone's spring offensive, the clearing up, the eradication, the rebuilding and empowerment go on.

A lot of it is unsung. It is undoubtedly not enough. And if the fighting and the corruption continue unchecked, it could all still come to nought.

FEBRUARY 23rd 2007
More UK soldiers for Afghanistan
More than 1,000 extra British troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, the BBC has learned.

Defence Secretary Des Browne will give details of the new deployment to the House of Commons on Monday.

The UK has been reluctant to add to its 5,600-strong force there, as it has reinforced several times already.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the move showed that British forces were too "overstretched" to carry out duties in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The move comes as the government announced that about 1,600 troops would be withdrawn from Iraq.

It is thought that some of the soldiers will come from the Household Cavalry. On Thursday it was announced that the regiment's Blues and Royals unit, in which Prince Harry serves, is being deployed to Iraq.

British forces are in Afghanistan as part of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

Revamped operations

Mr Fox said the government had failed to persuade its Nato allies to take their share of the burden in Afghanistan.

"Too many of our European partners are now pocketing the Nato security guarantee, leaving UK taxpayers and the UK military to carry the cost," he said.

"It's clear now that our army's so overstretched that we can't carry out two conflicts."

Britain has recently revamped its operations in Afghanistan to put most manpower into Helmand province in the south, where the fighting is at its most fierce.

Nato and British commanders have said for some time that more resources are needed if the Taleban are to be defeated.

But until now the government has argued that countries like France and Germany should contribute more.

BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood says commanders on the ground are "screaming for more troops" to deal with the Taleban's expected spring offensive, but Monday's announcement is still likely to be controversial.

He said the governor of Helmand province recently said another 700 Taleban fighters had crossed the border to confront British troops.

"The appeal went out to other Nato nations - such as the Germans up there in the safe part of Afghanistan in the north," our correspondent said.

"Yet it is the British troops once again who are having to reinforce - the third or fourth reinforcement."

The Liberal Democrats said Britain needed to focus on Afghanistan and withdraw troops from Iraq.

Thomas Withington, from the Centre for Defence Studies, explained that the south-west of Afghanistan was proving to be a "stubborn nut to crack".

He told BBC News: "Many answers lie in deploying more troops and having more equipment on the ground, but they also lie in securing the border areas.

"And I think what really is required is a two-pronged strategy, to ensure those two things can become a reality."

FEBRUARY 25th 2007
I rather doubt that Ming Campbell knows what he is talking about, but his opinion here seems to be based on advice of 'senior commanders' in the field. [But see the next 2 days entries - my views are shared by the military it turns out] My view is that in the long term, the achievement of any stability will depend not on military success, which I am sure we can achieve temporarily, but on the self-renewing potential of the Taliban and how it can be discouraged. By self-renewing potential I man how many male children in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be born and brought up dedicated to the Taliban doctrine and come of age with no other peer group or commercial structure to absorb and employ them. Civilisation hangs by a thread in even the most advanced of countries. Those who do not understand the science and mathematics of breeding, culture, education and society are in for a brutal shock in the coming decades.

We have some of the best and most aspirational in the young generations at home and abroad, yet at the same time we have on the one extreme a remorseless breeding of the dispossessed, the untutored and unmentored, and on the other hordes of replicating fundamentalists. The gangs formed by either are just as deadly to any nation attempting to develop a liberal democratic secular society. While the military commanders acknowledge, of course, that only political achievement can bring peace, paramilitary activity and suicide bombing have no orthodox counterforce. No society can defend itself from itself. 

The alternative to the International Community taking steps to help a failed state to recover and take up normal international relations is to abandon it and seal it off, allowing no asylum, trade or travel. So far, that option has not been seriously suggested, the last Iron Curtain having fallen to the forces of technological globalisation. However, for what it is worth, below is the miltary assessment of the leader of the Liberal party. Whether those promoting the policies of his party would ever be capable of taking the political advantage of a military victory is extremel doubtful, since his party policy is against even establishing an identity system in the UK, let alone supporting the tough measures that will be needed for years in managing the domestic affairs of most other countries.

Afghanistan 'winnable' - Campbell
The military campaign in Afghanistan is "winnable", Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell has said.

Speaking on BBC's Sunday AM, he said it was a difficult situation, but the country could gain stability.

He spoke after news that Britain's 5,600 troops in the country were due to be boosted, possibly by 1,000.

Deployment in Afghanistan had had a "clear set of political objectives," but resources were needed to fulfil military objectives, Sir Menzies said.

The British troops are part of Nato's International Security Assistance Force.

Defence Secretary Des Browne confirmed last week more troops would be sent, but added a statement would be made in the Commons on Monday.

'Ferocious' fighting

The increase comes days after Prime Minister Tony Blair announced troops in Iraq would be reduced this year by 1,600.

Sir Menzies said Afghanistan was difficult, with "ferocious" fighting, and that some people said it is was dangerous as the Korean War.

"But there is no doubt that this is in a different category altogether from Iraq and it is somewhere where we should be putting resources to bring about, as far as we can, a successful conclusion," he said.

He added: "I think it is winnable: that's the judgement of the senior commanders.

"But there's no doubt that there is a clear set of political objectives. What we need are clear military objectives but also, of course, fundamentally we need adequate resources so we can achieve both these military and political objectives".

Southern focus

After Mr Browne confirmed more troops would be sent to Afghanistan, the Tories said it showed British forces were too "overstretched" to carry out duties in both there and in Iraq.

Britain has recently revamped its operations in Afghanistan to put most manpower into Helmand province in the south, where the fighting is at its most fierce.

The 1,300 troops currently in Kabul will come out of that region shortly.

The majority of those will go south to Helmand, except for about 400 who will leave Afghanistan.

The remaining 5,200 troops in the country will be bolstered by the expected extra 1,000 troops, making the UK force in Afghanistan 6,200-strong.

FEBRUARY 26th 2007           As I pointed out yesterday, Taleban can breed and train in Pakistan. If it's going to be a numbers game, we had better do our arithmetic properly. It may need some algebra. I do not think General Musharraf is a supporter of the Taleban, but that may not make much difference, and Iron Curtains, as we have agreed, are no longer a reality barring the development and implementation of completely new forms of the ID and location tracking of private citizens..

February 24, 2007

The border post where bribes buy an easy entry for Taleban

The border town of Spin Boldak is a dangerous place. Men in black turbans zip around on motorbikes, smugglers rub shoulders with the Taleban, the border police are corrupt and weapons and drugs are everywhere.

The town is dusty, smoky and rugged, like a Wild West frontier town. The difference is that there is no alcohol and fortunes are made smuggling heroin, not prospecting for gold.

“Just nine miles (15km) over there is a Taleban training camp,” Muhammad Nasim, 27, the head of the Afghan border police, told The Times pointing into Pakistan to a cluster of mud buildings.

“The Taleban have no problem crossing the border . . . they are trained by Pakistan.” The ease with which Taleban fighters can pass through an official border crossing is certain to concern British troops in Helmand province, which borders Kandahar.

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Intelligence reports suggest that Taleban fighters are massing in Quetta, across the border, for a spring offensive and it is feared that Britain’s 5,000 troops in Helmand will bear the brunt of it.

Pakistan has given repeated assurances that it is clamping down on Taleban insurgents after accusations by Afghan and Western officials that they get training, finance and a safe haven in the neighbouring province of Balochistan. President Musharraf of Pakistan has said he will mine and fence known insurgent crossings.

The picture on the ground is very different: here at the main border crossing guards were seen taking bribes in a way that would allow smugglers, Taleban fighters or even suicide bombers through checkpoints unchallenged.

“It’s all bulls**t that Musharraf is trying to stop them. He supports the Taleban. They [the Pakistanis] give them weapons and training,” said Khaliq Daad, 32, a fierce-looking, one-eyed smuggler who lives in Chaman on the Pakistani side of the border.

“We have to pay bribes every day to the Pakistanis so that they don’t search our vehicles,” said Zadar Muhammad, 30, another smuggler from the town of Chaman.

For less than the equivalent of £1, a man with no passport can pass through Pakistani and Afghan checkpoints without so much as a frisking; for £25 a driver can get his truck through without documents.

The road is paved from Spin Boldak to Quetta, capital of Balochistan, and about 50,000 people cross the border every day. It is believed that among the masses are Taleban fighters and suicide bombers who use Quetta as a training ground and a place to rest during the winter months.

When The Times visited the border post, Pakistani guards could clearly be seen taking bribes and allowing people through without searching them. It is not just Pakistanis who take bribes, however.

“Both sides are asking for bribes,” Akhtar Muhammad, 28, the second-in-command of the Afghan police force in Spin Boldak, told The Times with alarming honestly.

What makes the border so tricky to police is that many of the local tribes don’t recognise it as a border at all. The Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan was drawn up by the British in 1893 to split up the fierce Pashtun tribesmen who inhabit these parts. The border split families up and tribesman still cross the border for tea with a relative.

“The world should realise we don’t recognise this as a border. It’s difficult to tolerate as we are one people and one nation,” Akhtar Muhammad said.

FEBRUARY 27th 2007

Well that's a relief in a way. I am glad to see the UK military agree with me in essence and in detail (see entries 25th Feb above and on), so Ming Campbell was talking rubbish as usual.

Britain switches tactics to undermine the Taliban

Richard Norton-Taylor
Tuesday February 27, 2007
The Guardian

Britain has launched a "reconciliation" drive to undermine support for the Taliban after Whitehall strategists concluded that a decisive military victory in Afghanistan cannot be won, the Guardian has learned.

In a significant shift in tactics, senior British officials have stopped talking about winning a war. "We do not use the word 'win'," one said. "We can't kill our way out of this problem."

The admission came as Des Browne, the defence secretary, announced a larger than expected 1,400 increase in British troops deployed in southern Afghanistan, with extra armour, artillery, and aircraft. It brings the total number there to 7,700, more than there are in Iraq.

Officials say the new tactics are to identify "Talibs who are sick of fighting" and persuade them to rejoin their tribes and benefit from the human rights laws and state structures being set up in the country. Captured fighters may also be offered alternatives to incarceration, while more deals will be sought with tribal elders.

They hope increasingly to damage the Taliban without relying on a shooting war, a tactic which has often proved counter-productive in the past, notably when Nato air strikes kill civilians. "We are convinced most people do not support the Taliban and want to take a route through it," said one source. British officials distinguish the Taliban from al-Qaida, describing it as a "more fluid" organisation.

Contrasting the Taliban with al-Qaida, a one said: "Al-Qaida's operations are more sophisticated than the Taliban and al-Qaida is very choosy about who they work with."

An official familiar with British policy on Afghanistan described the difference this way: "The Taliban is not a homogenous group. It is a mixture of characters - criminals, drug dealers, people out of work. There is a wide variety of different people. The Taliban pays them to carry out these attacks so there are ways to tackle the problem, to split off the disillusioned."

He pointed to Hakim Munib, the governor of Oruzgan province in southern Afghanistan, as an example of a former Taliban figure who had left the movement.

British officials are worried about the consequences of US proposals to eradicate Afghanistan's opium poppy harvest, which include spraying the crops from the air, a policy it adopted in Colombia.

The fear is that tough anti-narcotic measures now would alienate poor farmers who have no alternative livelihood and drive more Afghans into the hands of the Taliban. Such a policy would further endanger British troops, military commanders say. "The Americans are more impatient than we are," said one official, adding that the immediate priority should be to target and disrupt "convoys and laboratories and medium value drugs traffickers".

Mr Browne told the Commons yesterday that Britain would deploy four more helicopters and four more Harrier jets to the country, more Warrior armoured vehicles, and multiple-launch rocket systems.

Military officials predict an increase in Taliban attacks this spring in southern Afghanistan, and what they called "western buildings" in the capital, Kabul.

They added that the Taliban were also recruiting more suicide bombers.

Good!  There is no guarantee that the new policy will succeed, but without the attempt there was certainty of getting nowhere except making more and more enemies.

MARCH 02 2007

NATO general: more Afghan help needed from allies

By Kristin Roberts Fri Mar 2, 12:12 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - NATO allies are failing to tackle the drug trade that has funded the Taliban resurgence and the alliance still faces military shortfalls as the Afghan insurgency begins to ramp up springtime attacks, NATO's top commander said on Friday.
Supreme Allied Commander John Craddock, a U.S. general, said allies had offered another 7,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan, including commitments from the United States, Britain and Poland.

But NATO still needs another one or two battalions, Craddock said. A battalion can include 300 to 1,000 troops.

"We still need full sourcing," he said. "We still need some maneuver units, we still need some enablers, to do what we were told to do -- secure and stabilize the country."

His comments come as NATO prepares for an expected Taliban offensive when the snow melts in spring. Asked if the offensive had begun, Craddock said NATO had seen a slight increase in suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

"There's been an increase in suicide bombings and IEDs we've seen in the past few weeks, a slight increase. That would be the only indication I'm aware of right now," he said.

Craddock noted improvements in only one area of the Afghanistan operation -- security. He said NATO was not winning the narcotics war, improvement was needed in reconstruction and Pakistan must put greater effort into border control.

Afghanistan's opium production hit a record high in 2006, according to the State Department, which said narcotics trade was undermining security in the country.

"Are we winning in counternarcotics? At this time, I'd say no," Craddock said.

He said allies should not try just to eradicate poppy cultivation and opium production but also target transit networks and drug demand coming out of Europe.

Craddock pointed to a lack of cooperation among U.S. agencies, including the State Department, the Agency for International Development and the Agriculture Department for weaknesses in border control, reconstruction and drug interdiction.

For example, he said 30 to 40 percent of the 25 provisional reconstruction teams set up throughout the country suffer a shortfall in staffing from one of those three agencies.


Craddock also called on Pakistan to get control of the lawless region along the border with Afghanistan -- an area the Taliban has used as a safe haven and training ground and where it has found recruits among millions of Afghan refugees.

Pakistan has refused to take blame for the Taliban's resurgence, and says it has taken many steps to get control of the unmarked border.

Craddock, however, said more effort was needed.

Pakistan, he said, should set up inspection points to check cargo crossings and a border control system that allows the government to know who is crossing through the region.

"It's enforcing your sovereignty, essentially," he said.

MARCH 07 2007
One Taliban leader and bomb-maker caught. But the collateral damage over the last year has been considerable and development progress does not reflect the amount of money spent.

Burqa-clad Taliban leader caught as NATO attacks

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan soldiers have captured a Taliban leader who tried to flee a security operation in the south dressed in a burqa, NATO said on Wednesday.

Tuesday's capture in Kandahar province came as NATO launched a major offensive in neighboring Helmand to secure a key hydroelectric dam and combat the opium trade.

The man was named as Mullah Mahmood and described as an expert bomb-maker. U.S.-led coalition forces also detained five more suspected militants in eastern Khost this week.

Fighting is expected to be heavy in 2007 after the bloodiest year since the Taliban's ouster in 2001. The Taliban warn they have thousands of suicide bombers ready for action.

More than 4,000 people died in fighting last year, including about 1,000 civilians. Suicide bombings jumped to 139 from 21 as insurgents copy tactics from Iraq and shy away from pitched battles that saw them suffer heavy losses.

Operation Achilles in Helmand will eventually involve about 4,500 NATO troops and 1,000 Afghan security personnel in what the alliance says is its biggest operation.

NATO says the operation's main purpose is to create enough security for sorely needed reconstruction and development.

"We will continue our operations on enemy forces to defeat and confuse the Taliban leadership and their narco-trafficking associates and establish the conditions for reconstruction and development," NATO spokesman Colonel Tom Collins told reporters.

Many Afghans are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of development and failure to create jobs, complaining billions of dollars in aid money are being wasted or seeping out of the country through aid agencies and foreign contractors.

MARCH 23 2007

Marine unit ordered out of Afghanistan

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON - Marines accused of shooting and killing civilians after a suicide bombing in Afghanistan are under U.S. investigation, and their entire unit has been ordered to leave the country, officials said Friday.

Army Maj. Gen. Francis H. Kearney III, head of Special Operations Command Central, responsible for special operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, ordered the unit of about 120 Marines out of Afghanistan and initiated an investigation into the March 4 incident, said Lt. Col. Lou Leto, spokesman at Kearney's command headquarters.

APRIL 02 2007     


Opium for the people: Extraordinary move to legalise poppy crops

The 'IoS' can reveal Tony Blair is considering calls to legalise poppy production in the Taliban's backyard. The plan could cut medical shortages of opiates worldwide, curb smuggling - and hit the insurgents

By Francis Elliott

Published: 01 April 2007

The buds of millions of poppy flowers are swelling across Afghanistan. In the far southern provinces bordering Iran, the harvest will start later this month. By mid- May the fields around British military camps in Helmand will be ringing to the sound of scythes, rather than gunfire.

And this year's opium harvest will almost certainly be the largest ever. In the five years since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, land under cultivation for poppy has grown from 8,000 to 165,000 hectares.

The US wants to step up eradication programmes, crop-spraying from the air. But, desperate to win "hearts and minds" in Afghanistan and protect British troops, Tony Blair is on the brink of a U-turn that will set him on a collision course with President George Bush.

The Prime Minister has ordered a review of his counter-narcotics strategy - including the possibility of legalising some poppy production - after an extraordinary meeting with a Tory MP on Wednesday, The Independent on Sunday has learnt. Tobias Ellwood, a backbencher elected less than two years ago, has apparently succeeded where ministers and officials have failed in leading Mr Blair to consider a hugely significant switch in policy.

Supporters of the measure say it would not only curb an illegal drugs trade which supplies 80 per cent of the heroin on Britain's streets, but would hit the Taliban insurgency and help save the lives of British troops. Much of the legally produced drug could be used to alleviate a shortage of opiates for medicinal use in Britain and beyond, they say.

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed last night that Mr Blair is now considering whether to back a pilot project that would allow some farmers to produce and sell their crops legally to drugs companies. His change of heart has surprised the Foreign Office, which recently denied that licit poppy production was being considered. A freedom of information request has revealed that the Government looked carefully at proposals to buy up Afghanistan's poppy crop as early as 2000, under the Taliban. The removal of that regime - justified to both US and British voters partly in terms of a victory in the "war on drugs" - has made it politically difficult to financially reward poppy farmers.

But the links between drug warlords, terrorism and the Taliban are clear. Traffickers hold poor farmers in a form of bondage through the supply of credit, paid back in opium. Many of those fighting British troops during the winter months will return to their villages to harvest poppy crops in the spring and summer. The traffickers' huge profits help to fund the fight against Nato troops.

The White House has consistently rejected the idea that opium could help to solve Afghanistan's chronic poverty. But there are clear signs of a shift in international opinion towards allowing a legal trade. Pervez Musharraf, the President of Pakistan, has said that "buying the crop is an idea we could explore". He added: "We would need money from the US or the UN. But we could buy the whole crop and destroy it. In that way the poor growers would not suffer."

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, who has opposed the idea in the past, is said privately to have changed his mind - as long as the international community takes on any licensing scheme.

Campaigners who have been agitating for the change in policy point out that the opium, rather than being destroyed, could alleviate a worldwide shortage of medicinal opiates. Ministers recently admitted that the NHS is running short of diamorphine and codeine. Many developing countries, particularly in Africa, do not have adequate stocks of basic pain relief; campaigners refer to a "global pain crisis".

Britain leads the £1bn-a-year international operation to wipe out poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. This country alone has spent almost £200m over the past four years on efforts to eradicate poppy fields and persuade farmers to grow other crops.

Meanwhile, in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, poppy production rose 169 per cent last year alone, according to official UN figures. Some 400,000 Afghans are thought to be engaged in the trade, which dwarfs the country's official GDP. Last year Afghanistan produced 92 per cent of the world's opium, worth almost $3bn. Counter-narcotic operations by the Afghan government are considered at best ineffective and at worst corrupt, as local politicians order the destruction of rival crops and the protection of their own. Only 43,000 acres of poppy were destroyed last year.

Britain has resisted US pressure to spray poppies from the air, fearing a widespread destruction of poor farmers' livelihoods would simply drive more of them into the hands of the Taliban. Last year, troops stationed in Helmand were plunged into some of the fiercest fighting experienced by British soldiers since the Korean War, despite carefully avoiding destroying local poppy crops.

Opponents of the proposal to buy up crops or license growers claim that it could simply drive up the price of opium, making it yet more attractive to farmers. The US State Department doubts that the Afghan government can be trusted to keep legally produced narcotics separate from the illegal product. While Turkey diverted production successfully from the black market to legitimate medicinal supplies, Afghanistan, it says, has neither the infrastructure nor the security to make legal poppy production economically viable or safe.

Efforts to foster alternative crops could also be at risk. Britain, with others, has ploughed tens of millions of pounds into persuading farmers to grow pomegranates, potatoes and mint.

But Mr Ellwood, a former officer in the Royal Green Jackets and now MP for Bournemouth East, became convinced of the need for a pilot project to test the idea of licit production on one of his frequent trips to Afghanistan. He believes it would be possible to use the profits from the trade to build up the infrastructure and, once controlled by the government rather than the drug barons, farmers could gradually be weaned off poppies and on to alternative cash crops.

He delivered a presentation to the Prime Minister and Foreign Office officials on Wednesday, suggesting an intermediaryco-ordinate the efforts of government agencies and NGOs . He proposed that Britain oversee a pilot project in Helmand.

A spokesman for No 10 said that Mr Blair agreed to consider the idea, and would reply before Easter, adding: "The Prime Minister did note there were doubts about the capacity of the Afghan government in this regard."

Mr Ellwood said: "It is ironic that the world, including Britain, experiences a shortage of diamorphine and codeine, but we choose to prevent the fourth poorest country in the world from producing it. Instead we are destroying the crops, alienating communities who then seek support from the Taliban. Five years since the invasion, peace remains a distant hope. Until the issue of poppy crops is solved, the fragile umbrella of security will never be strong enough for long-term reconstruction and development initiatives to take root."

The precious harvest that can kill or cure

Every year tens of thousands more hectares of Afghanistan are given over to illegal poppy production. President Hamid Karzai has called the opium trade his country's 'cancer'. This year's harvest starts within weeks.

Tony Blair has become the latest figure to consider whether it is possible to divert the raw product grown in fields throughout Afghanistan to legal outlets.

The legal route

Village elders are given responsibility for ensuring that licensed farmers grow only enough poppies to fulfil their yearly quotas and also grow other, edible crops.

Farmers are allowed only to supply poppy straw, the basic ingredient of opium, which is then taken to local, regulated plants to make the narcotic.

Legitimate drugs firms buy the licensed opium from Afghanistan and make medical opiates to alleviate the pain of patients in hospitals all over the world.

The illegal route

Opium traders hold farmers in virtual bondage through the supply of huge loans that enable families to survive through the winter, but in summer they are paid in opium.

Farmers make their own opium, which is handed to traders. They pass it up the chain of command to drugs warlords who process it into heroin.

After being trafficked through Iran and the Balkans, the Afghan heroin hits the streets - and the veins of Britain's addicts - for about £50 a gram

APRIL 25 2007
It seems that the plan to license and legalise opium production in Afghanistan is just not a runner. The growing takes place is parts of the country where proper supervision and regulation is as yet quite beyond control. There is no infrastructure that can make sense of such a policy according to our ambassador out there. That is not to say that one day this might not be possible but at the moment it is just not the solution to Afghanistan's problems. Opium for medical production as morphine can be done far more efficiently in any country where there is a rule of law such as Australia or France. So in Afghanistan, it is not, as I once thought, part of the solution at this stage. It is part of the problem and part of the fnancing if terrorism. That does not remove the hard truth that it is consumers who buy heroin who are the problem, not farmers who grow it to live. It is demand that drives.

APRIL 27th 2007

Taliban take over south Afghan district

By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer 

KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban militants have seized control of a district in eastern Afghanistan after an hours-long clash that killed five people, including the local mayor and his police chief, a senior official said Friday.
The Taliban takeover is an embarrassment to the Afghan government and its foreign backers, and shows how vulnerable remote areas remain despite the presence of some 47,000 U.S. and NATO troops.

Militants launched the attack Thursday evening on the Giro district of Ghazni province, setting fire to several buildings and cutting communication lines, said provincial deputy governor Kazim Allayer.

The district mayor and four policemen, including the police chief, were killed in a battle that lasted several hours, Allayer said. Police reinforcements have been sent to the area, Ghazni's deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said.

Giro is about 200 miles east of northern Helmand province, where a large NATO operation is under way.

"Giro collapsed last night, captured by the Taliban after heavy fighting between the police and the Taliban," said Gen. Murad Ali, deputy regional corps commander of the Afghan army.

The Afghan army sent troops early Friday from Ghazni and Paktika to assist, Ali said.

NATO and the U.S.-led coalition said they were aware of the incident.

"The details are very sketchy right now. We're tracking it closely," said Maj. William Mitchell, a spokesman for the coalition.

After a winter lull in attacks, the Taliban have stepped up bombings and attacks in recent weeks, as NATO-led forces push forward with their biggest ever offensive in southern Afghanistan to root out militants in the opium-producing heartland of Helmand province.

Meanwhile in eastern Khost province, gunmen assassinated a criminal investigation policeman as he was driving Friday in Tani district, said provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub.

A relative in the car also was killed, and the driver was wounded, Ayub said, adding that two suspects have been arrested. It was not immediately clear if it was a personal conflict or an insurgency attack.

In southern Uruzgan, Taliban militants ambushed a police convoy patrolling late Wednesday night, and the ensuing clash left four policemen and six Taliban dead, said provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Qasim Khan.

30th April 2007
From Andrew Marr's excellent "Start the Week" on BBC Radio 4
When Britain and America went into Afghanistan in 2001, they claimed that the liberation of women would be one of their main priorities. Did they deliver? Award-winning Pakistani journalist and documentary filmmaker, SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY, finds out what life is like for the women behind the burqa. She argues that the liberation of Afghan women is mostly theoretical, despite the advances in Kabul where there are female journalists and politicians. Tribal customary codes still rule supreme and the position of women is dire and unchanged. Her documentary for Dispatches, Afghanistan Unveiled, is broadcast on Thursday 17 May at 9.00pm on Channel 4.

The most significant point made by Sharmeen was that Afghan (and other muslim) women wore the burkha veil for their own protection. Most men in the societies they lived in were (a) unable to control themselves and (b) regarded women as the equivalent of property, slaves or food, not as independent humans in their own right. The point was made in the discussion that while institutions could be changed in a decade or less, changing what went on in human brains takes very much longer.

MAY 13 2007
Afghan Taleban commander killed
The Taleban's top military commander in Afghanistan, Mullah Dadullah, has been killed in fighting in the south.

His body was shown to reporters in Kandahar, and Taleban sources confirmed the death, after initial denials.

Nato said Dadullah died in a clash with Afghan and Western forces in Helmand province.

Mullah Dadullah "will most certainly be replaced in time but the insurgency has received a serious blow" the Nato-led security assistance force (Isaf) said.

Isaf and Afghan troops have been engaged in a major operation in Helmand province since early March.

But the Taleban commander was killed in an operation by the separate US-led coalition supported by Isaf, news agency AFP said.

Suicide bombers

Mullah Dadullah's name has been linked with the beheading of suspected spies, controlling the guerrilla war in Helmand Province, dispatching suicide bombers and the kidnapping of Westerners, including an Italian journalist and two French aid workers, both of whom have since been released.

Key Taleban military leader
Brutal and extreme leader
Lost a leg fighting in Kabul in 1996
Thought to be in his 40s
Hero in eyes of Taleban rank and file

Mullah Dadullah recently told the BBC that he had hundreds of suicide bombers awaiting his orders to launch an offensive against foreign troops.

The BBC's Afghanistan correspondent, Alastair Leithead, says the commander has produced videos showing beheadings of foreign hostages.

Previous reports of his death or capture had proved untrue, but officials displayed the body to confirm the killing.

For many years Mullah Dadullah has been known to be one of the most brutal and extreme Taleban leaders.

He was the ruler of the Taleban, and it will affect the Taleban influence in the south, for sure
Faisal Karimi
Herat resident

In the last 12 months he has become perhaps the most significant military commander in Afghanistan, certainly in the south where the close quarters fighting has been most intense, our correspondent says.

But it is difficult to assess the impact of his death on the insurgency, our correspondent says, because the Taleban's command structures are loose and fighters often operate in small, self-contained units.

'Top commander'

Residents of the city of Herat, in western Afghanistan told the BBC commander's death was significant.

One man, Rahib Mohtasadzadagh, said: "I think the murder of Mr Dadullah, the commander of the Taleban, has lots of effects on the Taleban troops.

"But I think another person will replace him, so in the future they will organise another person for that."

Faisal Karimi told the BBC that the killing would have a "very positive effect on security in the country".

"He was the ruler of the Taleban, and it will affect the Taleban influence in the south, for sure. The Taleban will face defeat, and their attacks in the south will decrease."

Mullah Dadullah was a member of the Taleban's 10-man leadership council before the US-led invasion in 2001.

He has been called "Afghanistan's top Taleban commander" by Nato officials, and was high on the US list of most-wanted people in the country.

Mullah Dadullah lost one of his legs fighting in Kabul in 1996 and has since used an artificial limb.

He had the reputation of a fearless man.

Despite his disability, he fought and led major battles for the Taleban against the rival Northern Alliance forces during the 1990s.

He was one of the first Taleban commanders to organise attacks against US-led coalition forces after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

And he was the first Taleban commander to give interviews to print and electronic media after the fall of the regime.

Unlike other Taleban leaders who never allowed themselves to be photographed for religious and security reasons, Mullah Dadullah did just the opposite, correspondents say.

MAY 21st 2007

NATO chief in Texas for talks with Bush on Afghanistan

by Laurent Lozano

US President George W. Bush welcomed NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at his Texas ranch for talks focused largely on fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

Bush himself drove a pickup truck Sunday to meet De Hoop Scheffer's helicopter as it landed at the president's sprawling ranch here, where discussions are expected to cover the recent strong showing by Taliban insurgents and civilian deaths in Afghanistan, which threaten to erode support for US and NATO troops backing the Kabul government.

Bush is expected to seek reinforced allied commitments to participating in the US "war on terror" campaign in Afghanistan, if not Iraq.

Also likely on the agenda are Kosovo, expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the US effort to position a strategic anti-missile defense system in Europe, according to the White House.

De Hoop Scheffer arrived amid heightened tensions driven by Russia's objection to the anti-missile shield's expansion to Central Europe.

"I wouldn't be surprised if those issues came up," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

Bush and the NATO diplomat were to have a working dinner with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates late Sunday, and further meetings early Monday.

Afghanistan could dominate the discussions, due to the recent surge in attacks by Taliban forces and a spike in civilian deaths in the fighting.

About 37,000 NATO-led troops are in Afghanistan, including 15,000 US soldiers. Another 12,000 US soldiers operate separately under their own command in the country.

Bush wants allies to provide more manpower and equipment in Afghanistan and to lift restrictions some impose on their troops engaging in battle as the Taliban pursue their spring offensive, which has generated some 1,500 deaths this year, most of them rebels but including scores of civilians and nearly 60 foreign soldiers, according to an AFP estimate based on reports.

On Sunday a man strapped with explosives blew himself up in a crowded market place in the town of Gardez, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Kabul, killing at least 10 people in the second major suicide bombing claimed by the Taliban in two days.

The attack followed one in the northern city of Kunduz on Saturday that killed six Afghans and three German soldiers.

But concern about mounting civilian casualties has also focused on the increased use of air power by US and NATO troops.

Over the past month, Afghan officials reported 50 civilians killed in US air strikes in fighting in the western province in Herat, and another 21 in south central Helmand province.

The deaths have drawn criticism from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and sparked concerns among NATO members.

Last Monday German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said he had complained to NATO about the increasing civilian casualties.

"We must ensure that operations do not develop this way. It would not be a victory to set the (Afghan) people against us," Jung said, after talks between EU defense ministers in Brussels.

"We have to be very concerned about it," said Fratto Sunday.

"It's tragic that in the effort to provide peace and security in a country that non-combatants, children, become killed or injured in these activities, and so it's a very high priority for us."

"We don't want to see any erosion of support in the civilian population in Afghanistan."

But he pinned the blame for the civilian deaths on the Taliban: "I think it's important for everyone to understand that this is a clear express tactic of the enemy in Afghanistan to put civilians in harm's way."

Another subject likely to come up is the future of Kosovo, where NATO peacekeeping troops have been based since 1999, and which is generating more tensions between the United States and Russia.

Fratto said that Rice will probably talk about her recent Moscow visit during dinner

may 27TH 2007

Taliban launches new Afghan operation

By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer

The Taliban has launched a new operation targeting government and foreign forces in Afghanistan, a spokesman said Sunday, as two policemen died in an ambush in the volatile south.

Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the group's leaders announced the beginning of operation "Kamin," or "Ambush."

"In this operation, we will target our enemies and use our tactics — suicide bombs, remote-controlled (roadside bombs) and ambushes — against occupying forces and the government," Ahmadi said by satellite phone from an undisclosed location. "We start this operation today in all of Afghanistan."

After a winter lull in violence, militant attacks and military operations have surged. NATO and the U.S.-led coalition stepped up operations in the early spring, hoping to pre-empt a spring offensive by militants that threatened the already-shaky grip of President Hamid Karzai's government.

In Kandahar, the Taliban ambushed a police convoy on Saturday, and the ensuing one-hour gun battle killed two policemen and wounded three others, said Shah Wali Kot district chief Obaidullah Khan. He said the Taliban also suffered casualties, but he had no details.

In neighboring Zabul province, a roadside bomb exploded Saturday as an Afghan army vehicle passed, wounding two soldiers, said Gen. Rahmatullah Raufi, the regional army corps commander.

Meanwhile, five children were killed in eastern Ghazni province Saturday when a bomb they were playing with exploded, said provincial police chief Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadzia. He said they were 5 to 12 years old, and two other children were wounded.

The explosive was "planted by the enemy at the side of the road in Andar district," Ahmadzia said.

Afghan police and coalition forces, acting on a tip, raided a compound and detained a suspected Taliban cell leader Saturday night in Ghazni's Andar district, a coalition statement said. It said no shots were fired and no Afghan civilians were wounded.

The coalition said the suspect was responsible for planting roadside bombs and recruiting suicide bombers. He also was believed to be behind rocket attacks on the Sardeh Band Dam complex, the coalition statement said.

JUNE 19th 2007

The news from Afghanistan is good and also very bad. Many more children are in education, many more women taking part in the life of the community. But corruption infects society, warlords run parts of the country and the economy including the drug business, and the Taliban use children as human shields to protect themselves when they assault and take over a village. Though the Taliban are hated, having your children killed by US air strikes does not win hearts and minds either, for obvious reasons. To get a proper picture we need statistics. I do not have them. But it is impossible and wrong to cede this country to the Taliban.

JUNE 20th 2007

Well well well.... We have a new man in Afghanistan and he has spoken up. This morning on the BBC's Today programme he put the abominable Humphry's chatter to one side, politley but firmly. Our ambassador managed to speak to the public without interruptions and questions loaded with assumptions and misquotations from from the prima donna's confused cerebellum. Here from another part of the BBC is some news and comment. I doubt that Sir Sherard finds it helpful to be described in advance as a 'big hitter', but he is evidently a man who understands (i) what has to be done and (ii) that if do not do it, nobody else will.  As long as those two points are clear and understood in Westminster and Downing Street, then we are not wasting our time.

UK 'in Afghanistan for decades'
The UK presence in Afghanistan will need to go on for decades to help rebuild the country, British ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles has said.

"The task of standing up a government of Afghanistan that is sustainable is going to take a very long time," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He added that the Afghan people wanted the UK presence to help resist the Taleban and develop the country.

Extra diplomatic staff are being deployed to Afghanistan this year.

"The message we are getting, the message I had only last week down in Helmand from the people of the villages there, was, 'Please protect us from the Taleban,'" said Sir Sherard.

This week, BBC News is taking an in-depth look at the challenges facing Afghanistan's people and the peacekeepers.
Stories include: the state of the Taleban; corruption; the drugs problem; and attacks on schools.
"Their worry isn't about us staying, it's about us going; about us not finishing the job of standing up the police, standing up the security forces, standing up the judicial system, putting schools and hospitals in place."

He added: "They remember the Taleban - they have had a test-drive of Taleban rule and if there is one thing they are clear about it's that they do not want to return to the dark days of medieval Taleban rule."

'Huge commitment'

The BBC learned in January that the government planned to send as many as 35 extra diplomatic staff to Afghanistan.

The priorities would be to combat corruption, help build government institutions in the south and to tackle the production of opium, the Foreign Office said.

The UK troop numbers in Afghanistan are also being boosted to about 7,700 this year, mainly based in the volatile Helmand province, where they have been fighting the Taleban.

It's a marathon rather than a sprint
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles

BBC world affairs editor John Simpson said the British embassy in Kabul was likely to become the UK's biggest anywhere.

"It's a huge commitment," he said.

"The fact that Sir Sherard is here as ambassador is itself a sign of the Foreign Office's determination to upgrade its whole representation in Afghanistan.

"He's a big hitter in the diplomatic service."

But our world affairs editor added: "There is real concern in the Foreign Office in London that the new government of Gordon Brown will take a short-term view of Afghanistan, rather than the long-term view that the Foreign Office thinks is needed."

Sir Sherard said: "We are going to win this, but it's going to take time.

"It's a marathon rather than a sprint - we should be thinking in terms of decades."

JUNE 23 2007

British fight Taliban to build crucial bridge link

By Terri Judd in Garmsir, Afghanistan

Published: 23 June 2007   The Independent

The high-walled Taliban compound surrounded by trees looked a picture of serenity in the dawn light. The women and children who usually inhabit its mud homes had disappeared, leaving behind a virtual ghost town.

Suddenly a man appeared from an irrigation ditch. It was the opening signal for a battle that would rage for hours.

Mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire burst on to the British Scimitar tanks in front. The muzzle flash of assault rifles shone out from gaps in the wall.

Lieutenant James Kayll heard the thud of the bullets on his Scimitar before the first mortars landed. "You could see the bullets dancing in the dust. Then there was a huge crack and a thump and I ducked down (into the hatch) fairly quickly. They continued with accurate small arms fire and RPGs from our right flank," said the 25-year-old leader of 5th troop, B Squadron, The Light Dragoons.

Nearby, 2nd Troop, led by Lieutenant Charlie Rotheram, were also coming under attack. "To be honest, me and the gunner laughed at each other in the turret," explained Corporal David Gray, 35. "Our adrenaline was going. I don't think we really realised exactly what had happened. You could see them popping their heads up. Then they would come up again and fire."

The battle was just one of several in Garmsir yesterday as 12 Mechanised Brigade tried to break the Taliban's stranglehold in the south of Helmand Province.

The Taliban and their sympathisers have operated with impunity here, in a district believed to be hiding foreign fighters and what the Army call Tier One Taliban, the more fanatical element of the insurgents.

Intelligence suggests that new fighters pass over the border to be "blooded" at Garmsir - where the British district centre and eastern checkpoint have been attacked daily - before moving on to the key towns in Gereshk and Kajaki.

While the Ministry of Defence are at pains to downplay the strength of the opposition, the men in this part of Helmand are under no illusion as to the determination of the fighters they face.

For months they have operated almost unchecked in an agricultural centre criss-crossed with canals, each compound, in the words of Squadron Sergeant Major Dave Bettney, was like a castle surrounded by a moat.

In the early hours of yesterday, Royal Engineers completed an ambitious plan to build a bridge - the first such combat build for half a century - across a canal, giving Nato troops a foothold in the territory.

At the same time, B Squadron, the Light Dragoons were tasked with drawing the insurgents away by attacking a known Taliban stronghold north-east of the crossing.

They met with a ferocious and undaunted opposition that continued to fight long after American F15 fast jets dropped 500lb bombs and Apache attack helicopters fired hellfire missiles into the compound.

The "short, sharp raid" turned into a ferocious four-hour battle - the longest his unit has encountered in three months. One of the youngest drivers, Trooper Harrison Trevor, 18, said: "They were using big mortars, 82mm. You can hear the thump and look round to see a mushroom cloud of dust. You think 'this is real'."

The distinctive whoosh of the Javelin anti-armour missile was heard before it ripped into the area from which the mortars had emanated. Overhead, three Apache helicopters circled, waiting for orders.

The Scimitars and Spartans let forth ferocious fire, but the squadron's Desert Hawk UAV (unmanned air vehicle) spotted women and children in the compound below, ending all plans for artillery fire.

There were suspicions as to whether it was yet another deception plan. Only the night before, 5th Troop had watched a tractor apparently loaded with women being driven from the area. As they reached their right flank, they ripped off their burkhas to reveal they were armed men.

Suddenly the roar of jets could be heard overhead. Without ever appearing to the naked eye, the F15s dropped three 500lb bombs on to another compound.

Inside the Scimitars and Spartans of B Squadron the men sweltered. One had to be rushed to a nearby ambulance, having collapsed from heat exhaustion and toxicity poisoning from the sheer weight of ammunition fired in the turret.

Despite heavy fire and bombs, momentary silences from the compound were soon shattered as the Taliban popped up once again.

After more than four hours, and with the bridge now in place, the British fired a smoke cover on to the battlefield to extract their vehicles.

RPGs fired from the compound and the Apache helicopters were called in. "Good strike, good strike," came the call over the radio. The battle was over.

Yesterday, B Squadron estimated that they had faced around 40 fighters, many of whom were killed. But they know that their places will be filled by others sooner rather than later.

The British emerged with one minor casualty - a gunner who hurt his back when the Scimitar lurched out of the way of mortars.

Captain Kieron Atkinson the Squadron's second in command, added: "The lads did a extraordinary job."

JULY 7th 2007

Airstrikes kill scores of Afghan civilians: officials

By Sayed SalahuddinSat Jul 7, 9:19 AM ET

NATO and U.S. airstrikes have killed scores of Afghan civilians this week, residents and officials said on Saturday, deaths likely to deepen discontent with foreign forces and the Western-backed Afghan government.

NATO-led and U.S. forces said there were heavy clashes in Farah province in western Afghanistan and Kunar province in the east, and that troops in both places had called for air support.

Several residents and the head of a district council in Farah said an air attack in the Bala Boluk area had killed 108 civilians.

"Women and children have been killed and 13 houses destroyed," said Bala Boluk council head Haji Khudairam. "In the bombing, in total, 108 civilians have been killed."

"We are asking the government to send a delegation to see for itself the civilian deaths," said Faizullah, a resident.

The governor and police chief for Farah province both declined to confirm or deny the reports of civilian deaths.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the separate U.S. force in Afghanistan to coordinate more closely with his troops to curb a spate of civilian deaths from airstrikes.

But Western unwillingness to accept casualties among their own soldiers and a shortage of ground troops means commanders often turn to air power to beat the Taliban, and that almost inevitably leads to civilians deaths, military analysts say.

Casualties are also boosting Taliban numbers, analysts say.


Afghan troops backed by coalition soldiers defeated an attempted Taliban ambush in Farah on Saturday, a U.S. statement said. The troops "killed over 30 insurgent fighters with accurate small arms fire and precision air strikes," it said.

"All fires were directed by the ground force commander who carefully evaluated risk of collateral damage against the military necessity," the statement said.

Eleven Afghan police were also killed in the fighting in Farah, said a provincial official who declined to be named.

Residents of Kunar and provincial officials said airstrikes there killed three dozen civilians.

Eleven civilians, including nine family members of a man called Mohammad Nabi, were killed in an airstrike on Thursday after two U.S.-led troops were killed in a clash with the Taliban, residents and officials said.

Then 25 more civilians were killed in another airstrike on Friday while they buried the bodies of those killed on Thursday.

"In total from two days of bombing, 36 civilians have been killed," said Shafiqullah Khatir, a Red Crescent employee.

Abdul Saboor Allahyar, a senior police officer in Kunar, said airstrikes killed 25 civilians and wounded 14.

ISAF said airstrikes killed "a number" of guerrillas in Kunar on Friday, but denied there were any civilian casualties.

"Contrary to some press reports, at this time there is no reason for us to believe that there are any civilian casualties of any type," said ISAF spokesman Major John Thomas.

The Afghan Defence Ministry said 37 "terrorists" were killed in Kunar in a joint operation by Afghan and coalition forces. It said initial reports indicated all those killed were armed men, but it was checking reports of civilian deaths.


More than 300 civilians have been killed by Western air strikes in Afghanistan this year, according to Afghan officials and international aid groups.

U.S. and NATO military officials say their tactics minimize civilian casualties and accuse the Taliban of using villagers as human shields and sheltering from raids in people's homes.

Taliban mortar bombs landed in a civilian compound in a village in Helmand province on Saturday. "Extremists have continued to show a disregard for the safety of Afghans," a U.S. spokesman said.

As well as the danger of alienating Afghans, the other major threats to Western forces are suicide and roadside bombs, against which they have few defenses.

A suicide car bomber wounded four Canadian troops near the southern city of Kandahar on Saturday, a Canadian army spokesman said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

(Additional reporting by Finbarr O'Reilly in Kandahar)

JULY 15th 2007

Failure in Afghanistan risks rise in terror, say generals

Military chiefs warn No.10 that defeat could lead to change of regime in Pakistan

Nicholas Watt and Ned Temko
Sunday July 15, 2007
The Observer

Britain's most senior generals have issued a blunt warning to Downing Street that the military campaign in Afghanistan is facing a catastrophic failure, a development that could lead to an Islamist government seizing power in neighbouring Pakistan.

Amid fears that London and Washington are taking their eye off Afghanistan as they grapple with Iraq, the generals have told Number 10 that the collapse of the government in Afghanistan, headed by Hamid Karzai, would present a grave threat to the security of Britain.

Lord Inge, the former chief of the defence staff, highlighted their fears in public last week when he warned of a 'strategic failure' in Afghanistan. The Observer understands that Inge was speaking with the direct authority of the general staff when he made an intervention in a House of Lords debate.

'The situation in Afghanistan is much worse than many people recognise,' Inge told peers. 'We need to face up to that issue, the consequence of strategic failure in Afghanistan and what that would mean for Nato... We need to recognise that the situation - in my view, and I have recently been in Afghanistan - is much, much more serious than people want to recognise.'

Inge's remarks reflect the fears of serving generals that the government is so overwhelmed by Iraq that it is in danger of losing sight of the threat of failure in Afghanistan. One source, who is familiar with the fears of the senior officers, told The Observer: 'If you talk privately to the generals they are very very worried. You heard it in Inge's speech. Inge said we are failing and remember Inge speaks for the generals.'

Inge made a point in the Lords of endorsing a speech by Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, who painted a bleak picture during the debate. Ashdown told The Observer that Afghanistan presented a graver threat than Iraq.

'The consequences of failure in Afghanistan are far greater than in Iraq,' he said. 'If we fail in Afghanistan then Pakistan goes down. The security problems for Britain would be massively multiplied. I think you could not then stop a widening regional war that would start off in warlordism but it would become essentially a war in the end between Sunni and Shia right across the Middle East.'

'Mao Zedong used to refer to the First and Second World Wars as the European civil wars. You can have a regional civil war. That is what you might begin to see. It will be catastrophic for Nato. The damage done to Nato in Afghanistan would be as great as the damage done to the UN in Bosnia. That could have a severe impact on the Atlantic relationship and maybe even damage the American security guarantee for Europe.'

Ashdown said two mistakes were being made: a lack of a co-ordinated military command because of the multinational 'hearts and minds' Nato campaign and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom offensive campaign against the Taliban. There was also insufficient civic support on, for example, providing clean water.

Ashdown warned: 'Unless we put this right, unless we have a unitary system of command, we are going to lose. The battle for this is the battle of public opinion. The polls are slipping. Once they go on the slide it is almost impossible to win it back. You can only do it with the support of the local population.

'There is a very short shelf life for an occupation force. Once that begins to shift against you it is very very difficult to turn it round.'

The warnings from Ashdown and the generals on Afghanistan will be echoed in a report this week by the all-party Commons defence select committee. MPs will say that the combination of civilian casualties, war damage and US-led efforts to eradicate lucrative poppy crops risk turning ordinary people towards the Taliban.

Stepped-up reconstruction efforts are essential, the MPs will suggest, in order to ensure local residents understand the longer-term aim of the British-led Nato mission - a point echoed, during the committee hearings on Afghanistan earlier this year, by returning British commander General David Richards.

The report is also expected to criticise some Nato members for failing to provide sufficient troops or other support for the Afghan mission.

Adam Holloway, a Tory member of the committee who is a former Grenadier Guards officer, said: 'We are getting to the point where it will be irretrievable. That's where we are now. We are in danger of a second strategic failure [after Iraq], which we cannot afford.'

JULY 17 2007
A UK Parliamentary committee has warned that
unless the other NATO members take a more positive role in Afghanistan the situation is going to deteriorate.

Here as a reminder is the timeline of recent Afghan history.

JULY 18...
Nato faces Afghanistan 'problems'
Defence Secretary Des Browne has said UK-led Nato forces are facing "problems" in Afghanistan but there was no question of troops being pulled out.

He warned it would be a "potential nightmare" for the west if Afghanistan was allowed to become a terrorist "training ground" as it was before.

Mr Browne was responding to a report by a committee of MPs which called on Nato countries to commit more troops.

It highlighted equipment shortages and fears the Taleban are gaining strength.

But its main focus was troop numbers, with MPs saying they were "deeply concerned" that some member countries were reluctant to contribute troops.

The Commons defence committee said the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was still two battalions short of the requirement set by Nato commanders.

The government agreed that challenges in Afghanistan were "considerably greater" than some admitted.

Other problems identified in the wide-ranging report include a lack of training for Afghan police and an unclear policy on eradicating the country's opium poppy fields.

Britain, which leads NATO forces in the Helmand province in the southern Afghanistan, is one of the largest contributors to the Isaf mission, with 7,100 troops.


In its report, the committee said some Nato members were continuing to impose restrictions on where their troops could operate.

Isaf currently has almost 37,000 troops in Afghanistan, but a far larger force - backed by increased development aid - was needed to stabilise the country, it added.

This report has many positive elements in it
Des Browne, defence secretary

The report said: "We remain deeply concerned that the reluctance of some Nato members to provide troops for the Isaf mission is undermining Nato's credibility and also Isaf operations."

James Arbuthnot, the committee's chairman, said Nato countries all had their own national reasons for not giving the same levels of commitment.

Taleban 'exaggeration'

He added: "The fear that we have as a result of this is that this deployment itself is at risk of failing, and if this deployment fails then Nato's existence is under threat."

The committee also warned that Nato appeared to be falling behind the Taleban in the "information campaign".

It warned that "exaggerated" claims of enemy casualties risked handing a propaganda weapon to insurgents.

Meanwhile, civilian casualties caused by Isaf were undermining support for the Nato mission and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and fuelling the insurgency.

The committee said that, while progress had been made in training units of the Afghan National Army working with Isaf, they were still "some way off operating independently".

'Potential nightmare'

The report said British forces still needed more helicopters and that the level of helicopter operations was "not sustainable at the present intensity".

Defence Secretary Des Browne welcomed what he described as a balanced report, adding in a statement that he agreed with its assessment "that Nato nations should do more to meet the shortfalls in requirements".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This report has many positive elements in it.

"There are significant challenges; this is a complex environment. There are 37 countries with troops in this country and there are many billions of pounds of aid.

"Quite specifically this report says that the ISAF mission is bringing tangible improvements to the people of Afghanistan."

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the report was "a severe indictment of the government's handling of the situation in Afghanistan".

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: "This is an operation that Nato can ill-afford to lose and yet co-ordination between international actors remains poor."

AUGUST 8th 2007
This article in The Independent makes sense. However in one sense we are bound to lose the country - indeed if it is to stand on its own feet we need to lose it....

David Cameron: We still don't have a proper plan for Afghanistan

If we carry on as we are, we could end up winning the war but still lose the country

Published: 08 August 2007

Landing in an RAF Hercules at Camp Bastion, our desert fortress deep in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, you are struck immediately by the intensity of the British military effort. Helicopters land and take off, personnel move briskly about their business, the field hospital stands ready to receive casualties as our troops advance in furnace-like heat up the valley.

Our forces are performing daily acts of heroism in the toughest of combat environments. The amount of ammunition used testifies to the ferocity of the fighting. Forty-five soldiers have been killed in action. And yet several soldiers I spoke to felt they were taking part in a forgotten campaign.

We need to wake up to what is happening in Afghanistan. As the cradle of 9/11, preventing a relapse into Taliban control matters fundamentally to Britain's national security.

Due to the campaign over the past year, the military position has shifted away from the Taliban. In a conventional military sense, the insurgents are on the back foot. And yet our commanders are the first to say that military force alone will not bring stability. If we carry on as we are we could end up winning the war in Afghanistan, but still lose the country.

A year ago, General David Richards, then the British Commander of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), warned of the risk of failing in Afghanistan. To avoid this we now need to make some urgent course corrections. First, we must be realistic about what we are aiming to achieve, and the timescale. As our ambassador has said, this is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to avoid giving the impression that we can impose fully fledged Western notions of democracy and liberalism in a society that is deeply traditional. We must work with the grain of Afghan society.

Second, we need to promote local security solutions. Up to now, it has been too easy, once international forces have left an area, for the Taliban to slip back in. We need to give overriding priority to training up the Afghan army, as well as the police, whose reputation - in contrast to the army - is patchy. We should also look at how we can persuade shuras and tribal elders to help shore up local security.

Third, we need to change the way the international effort is run. It maximises confusion and duplication. It lacks the most basic pre-requisites essential in counter-insurgency and stabilisation operations: unity of purpose and unity of command.

On the military side, there are no fewer than seven chains of command. Isaf and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom operate in parallel, one focusing on long-term peace and stability, the other on al-Qa'ida and terrorist networks. There is a strong case for merging the two, or dual-hatting Isaf's commander.

Nato, for its part, needs to raise its game. It is too bureaucratic and unwieldy. The lack of helicopters is constraining operations. If Nato cannot provide more helicopters - astonishing, given the hundreds which allies have on paper - then why can Nato not contract helicopters for ferrying cargo, and free up military helicopters for urgent frontline tasks?

Things are no better on the civilian side. There are at least 100 agencies in Afghanistan with more than $100m (£50m) to spend. No one has the authority to co-ordinate this sprawling effort. The time has come to appoint a senior, high-profile individual to provide leadership, much as Paddy Ashdown did successfully in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I raised this idea in Kabul a year ago: the need for such an appointment is now acute. That individual should have the authority of key capitals, as well as the UN and EU, to co-ordinate the effort on the ground.

Finally, we should look at extending the tours of our senior commanders to allow them to use to the full the contacts they make with tribal leaders and Afghan army officers. Any such change would have to be accompanied by alterations to welfare arrangements. Conversely, there may be a case for reducing the tours for fighting troops to four rather than six months - moving closer to the rotational model which we employed successfully in Northern Ireland.

Here at home, people are entitled to a clearer understanding of the Government's commitment in Afghanistan. The scale of the mission is daunting, and it is set to last many years. We must avoid repeating in Afghanistan the mistakes of Iraq. Foremost amongst these was the absence of a proper plan. It is still not evident that we have a proper plan in Afghanistan.

For the sake of our forces who are performing magnificently, for the sake of Britain's security, for the sake of Afghanistan and its neighbours, Gordon Brown needs to level with the public about the challenges we face, and put in place a plan to meet them.

The writer is Leader of the Opposition

AUGUST 10th 2007

Day of bloodshed in Afghanistan mars 'peace jirga'

by Waheedullah MassoudFri Aug 10, 1:57 PM ET

Fresh fighting across Afghanistan left at least 45 people dead Friday, including a British soldier, as a council of Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders debated ways to end extremist violence in the region.

On a day of bloodshed which marred the "peace jirga" in Kabul, Taliban militants ambushed a joint Afghan and NATO army convoy, sparking a firefight that killed seven Afghan soldiers and 20 militants, the defence ministry said.

Five "important" Taliban commanders were among the dead, including the rebel movement's commander for western Badghis province, defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi told AFP.

"The militants ambushed our convoy," said Azimi, adding that the army called in NATO warplanes to bomb militant positions after the attack.

"We called in friendly forces' air power. Seven Afghan soldiers were martyred in the ambush and 20 enemy elements were also killed," he said.

Eight Afghan army vehicles were destroyed, he said.

Elsewhere in western Afghanistan on Friday, tribal villagers repelled an attack by Taliban fighters in a battle that left five rebels and two civilians dead.

Dozens of Taliban attacked the village of Nal in the western province of Farah, but the locals resisted, provincial police chief Abdul Rehman Sarjang told AFP.

"Five Taliban and two villagers were killed in the clash. We have sent a delegation down there to investigate the incident," he said.

Fighters for the Taliban, the Islamic extremists who governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, regularly try to overrun remote areas of the country and already control several districts in the south.

Meanwhile, a British soldier serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed while on patrol in southern Afghanistan's flashpoint Helmand province.

Another British soldier was wounded in the incident, the British defence ministry said.

The soldiers were part of a patrol checking on a local irrigation project near Jusyalay, northeast of Sangin in the volatile southern province when they came under fire from Taliban fighters.

"It was during this engagement that two soldiers were injured. An emergency response helicopter was requested, but sadly one of the soldiers was pronounced dead at the scene," the ministry said in a statement.

"The injuries sustained by the second soldier are not life threatening," it added.

The latest death brings to 129 the number of international troops killed this year, according to an AFP count, most of them in action as the Taliban insurgency has intensified. More than 190 were killed last year.

The US-led coalition earlier announced that air strikes and ground battles between soldiers and insurgents in Helmand on Thursday had killed at least 10 rebels, with many more believed dead or wounded.

Intense clashes have taken place in recent days in the south, a stronghold of the resurgent Taliban, who are seeking to overthrow the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The fighting comes as about 700 Afghan and Pakistani tribal elders, religious clerics, parliamentarians and other figures -- many from the troubled border area -- met for a second day Friday on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda threat.

The four-day meeting is expected to come up with a common approach to rooting out the extremists, although analysts say it is unlikely to have much impact.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who abruptly called off an appearance at the opening day of the jirga on Thursday, has now agreed to address the closing session of the conference, his foreign ministry said late Friday.

About 50,000 international troops, more than half of them Americans, are deployed in Afghanistan.

AUGUST 12th 2007

Pakistan and Afghanistan agree on fighting militants

By Sayed Salahuddin Reuters

KABUL (Reuters) - The presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan pledged on Sunday to work together to combat the common security threat of Taliban and al Qaeda militants.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf addressed the closing session of a gathering, or jirga, of Afghan and Pakistani politicians and tribal elders in the Afghan capital Kabul aiming to bring the two often-feuding U.S. allies closer together.

"The joint peace jirga strongly recognises the fact that terrorism is a common threat to both countries and the war on terror should continue to be an integral part of the national policies and security strategies of both countries," said a declaration agreed by jirga delegates.

"There is no other option for both countries other than peace and unity, trust and cooperation," Musharraf told the jirga. "There is no justification for resorting to terrorism."

Afghan officials have frequently accused Pakistan of harbouring Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to weaken its neighbour.

Pakistan denies the charge, but Musharraf acknowledged militants were operating from Pakistani tribal areas largely outside government control along the Afghan border.

"There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil. The problem that you have in your region is because support is provided from our side," he said.

Both countries pledged not to allow any sanctuaries or training centres for militants on their soil.

Musharraf pulled out of a commitment to attend the opening of the four-day jirga on Thursday, citing engagements at home.

Musharraf's appearance at the end of the conference will have gone a long way to make up for his original failure to show up. His absence was seen as a blow to a meeting already hit by a boycott by some Pakistani tribal elders.

"It is a very happy event that the jirga between two countries was convened," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a short speech. "It is ending with good results, achievements and a message for both countries."

Analysts and diplomats warned against expecting too much from the jirga, saying it was only a first step towards a unified approach to combating militants who threaten security in both countries.

A second jirga to be held in Pakistan at an unspecified date may yield firmer results, they said.

A jirga is a traditional meeting among the Pashtun tribes that live on both sides of the border, where elders use consensus to try to peacefully settle disputes.

AUGUST 26th 2007  


Six Afghans wounded after operation in south

By Abdul Qodous  REUTERS

Six Afghans, including two women and a child, were wounded, the head of a local hospital said on Sunday, after a military operation supported by Western air power in southern Afghanistan.

Residents of the area, controlled by Taliban insurgents, said dozens of civilians, including women and children, had also been killed in aerial bombing.

But there was no way of independently verifying the reports and the U.S. military denied any civilian casualties.

The fighting came late on Saturday in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province, a long-time bastion for Taliban guerrillas and the biggest drug-producing region of Afghanistan.

At least six wounded civilians were brought to a hospital in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand.

They belonged to the family of villager Ghulam Mohammad and included three men, two women and a child, said Rahmatullah Hanafi, the head of Emergency Hospital where the group was treated. All had shrapnel wounds and one of the women was in a critical condition.

Mohammad said eight of members of his family, including children, were also killed in the attack, which he said went on for several hours.

"So far between 60 killed and wounded people have been recovered and there are people who are trapped under collapsed houses," Mohammad told Reuters outside the hospital.

"It was a quiet evening and the bombardment began all of a sudden. Cattle have also been killed," said a family member of Mohammad, called Haji Saeed Mohammad.

"We can't do anything, can't stay in our villages and can't go anywhere ... it is best for us to be killed all at once than being killed every day," he added.


But the U.S. military gave a different version of events.

It said an Afghan army patrol, advised by members of the U.S.-led coalition force, was ambushed crossing a dry river bed 26 km (16 miles) south of the town of Musa Qala late on Saturday and fought off the ambush with small arms fire and grenade-launchers.

As more Taliban insurgents arrived to reinforce the fight, the patrol "called in aircraft to destroy additional enemy fighters," a U.S. military statement said.

"No bombs were dropped during the engagement," it said. "Twelve enemy fighters were killed in the engagement ... There were no Afghan civilian injures reported."

Musa Qala was the scene of intense fighting last year between British troops and besieging Taliban insurgents.

British troops then withdrew from the town in October in an agreement with tribal elders who pledged to keep the Taliban out. But the deal broke down in February this year and Taliban forces moved in. Since then, the immediate area has remained largely quiet with few of the daily clashes seen elsewhere in Helmand.

But the U.S. military signaled Afghan and foreign forces who have steadily gained ground elsewhere in Helmand were starting to push towards Musa Qala.

"This operation is designed to strike into the heart of the insurgents' safe haven," coalition spokeswoman Captain Vanessa Bowman said in a statement.

"We expect that as we maneuver deeper into this area, the Taliban will raise more and more inaccurate claims of non-combatant casualties," she said.

Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue for President Hamid Karzai's government and the Western troops under the command of NATO and the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Already this year, more than 350 civilians have been killed in operations by Western troops in Afghanistan, according to aid groups and Afghan officials.

Karzai has repeatedly urged Western troops to coordinate operations with Afghan forces and avoid civilian casualties.

SEPTEMBER 23rd 2007

Operation Groundhog Day: the final assault on a stubborn enemy

'If Operation Palk Wahel fails, many other things will fail.' Raymond Whitaker on the campaign to break Taliban resistance in a key area of southern Afghanistan

Published: 23 September 2007 - The Independent

British forces are spearheading an offensive this weekend aimed at driving the Taliban out of a strategically vital area of southern Afghanistan. The battle could also decide whether other Nato members are willing to continue fighting in the country.

Some 2,000 British troops, including Gurkhas, are taking part in Operation Palk Wahel ("sledgehammer blow") in Helmand province, the largest for several months. The assault began on Wednesday with a bridge being thrown across the Helmand river to get at Taliban strongholds close to the Kajaki dam, which could supply hydro-electricity and irrigation water to a large area of southern Afghanistan if it is restored. Another 500 American, Estonian, Czech, Danish and Afghan soldiers have joined the offensive, supported by helicopters, attack aircraft and the first large-scale use of Warrior armoured vehicles.

Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Eaton, the spokesman for Task Force Helmand, told The Independent on Sunday that Palk Wahel continued a series of operations since early summer which aimed to free areas from Taliban interference, supply security and create the conditions for governance and development. But Christopher Langton, an Afghanistan expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the latest offensive was the most significant.

"With winter approaching, there are only another three to four weeks to secure the area," said Mr Langton, a retired colonel. "The Taliban will do their best to retain a foothold near Kajaki, which is the centre of the whole British strategy. There is a lot riding on this: if the offensive fails, many other things will fail. If it succeeds, many other things will succeed."

The most important outcome, he said, could be the effect on crucial decisions being taken in other Nato countries on whether to continue their missions in Afghanistan. The Dutch cabinet is expected to decide early next month on extending the mission of the country's 1,300 troops in Uruzgan province, only a few miles from Kajaki, when it expires next summer. Australia, which has more than 500 soldiers in the province, has indicated that they would leave if the Dutch pulled out, while Canada, which has 2,500 troops in Kandahar province, bordering Helmand, is also debating its role.

The Canadians have suffered proportionally heavier losses than any other contingent – 70 soldiers and one diplomat, compared to 81 British deaths among a force three times larger – and the public is split between continuing to fight or opting out of combat, like several other Nato countries. The minority Conservative government is resisting calls for an early vote on whether to extend the combat mission beyond February 2009.

Canada and the Netherlands are expected to call on other Nato countries to share the combat burden at an informal ministers' meeting late in October, but numerous previous appeals have fallen on deaf ears. While Britain has stressed that it is in Afghanistan for the long haul, the weaker commitment of other members of the alliance could mean that British forces are pressed to take an ever-wider role.

Recently the commander of the Canadian task force in Kandahar, Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, was quoted as saying that each new deployment of soldiers found themselves having to recapture the same ground as their predecessors. "We essentially have to start from scratch," he told a Canadian newspaper. "Everything we have done in that regard [holding two strategic districts bordering the Kajaki area in Helmand] is not a waste of time, but close to it, I would say."

Alain Pellerin, director of Canada's Conference of Defence Associations, told the IoS that ground was lost last year because "we had to improvise". Troop shortages meant the Afghan army was pressed into service before it was ready. "It is improving all the time, but it won't be able to take over in Kandahar until 2010 or 2011," said Mr Pellerin, a retired colonel. "If we abandoned the province in 2009, the Afghan mission would be finished."

Mr Langton said repeated announcements of British offensives in one narrow area, the Helmand river valley between Gereshk and Kajaki, had also created an impression of "small tactical successes, then steps backward".

The Ministry of Defence has announced the start of at least eight operations along the upper reaches of the Helmand river this year, the main one being Achilles, in March, followed by several sub-operations and smaller offensives. But few details tend to emerge afterwards, apart from the circumstances in which service personnel have been killed. At the end of April the MoD said that Operation Silicon, a component of Achilles, was launched to drive the Taliban out of the town of Gereshk, a key location in the development zone Britain is attempting to set up in central Helmand.

This was the first indication that the insurgents controlled the town. In June the Taliban was said to have been cleared "throughout the Upper Sangin Valley, between Sangin and Kajaki", but two more operations have since been launched in the same area.

The situation is also unclear in the Garmsir district further south, where there has been a smaller concentration of British losses amid repeated clashes with Taliban recruits coming over the border from Pakistan.

Lt-Col Eaton said the fighting had "ebbed and flowed", but progress had been made. "Sangin [town] has changed hands on a number of occasions, and when we recaptured it in the spring, it was deserted," he said. "But since then people have gained enough confidence to return. Crops have been planted and the market has reopened. That's what we are seeking to achieve – to spread our influence, like an inkblot on the map. The areas we have targeted this time will not be left vacant for the Taliban to return."

Nato forces have killed several senior Taliban figures in Helmand, including Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, commander in southern Afghanistan, and the provincial commander, Mullah Dadullah. He was replaced by his brother, Dadullah Mansour, who may also be dead. "The heavy attrition on the Taliban is significant in sapping the morale of the 'part timers' – farmers who pick up a gun," said Lt-Col Eaton. "If that continues, it is going to prove a powerful incentive to come over to our side."

Further reading: 'Battlefield Afghanistan', by Mike Ryan, published by Spellmount (£12.99)

* * *

Nations seek greater U.N. role in Afghanistan

By Patrick Worsnip Reuters 23 Sept 2007

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Key countries involved in Afghanistan urged the United Nations on Sunday to expand its role there, but Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said continuing violence kept the world body from operating in some areas.

An 18-nation meeting at U.N. headquarters also pressed Afghan President Hamid Karzai, heading Kabul's delegation, to promote national reconciliation through an "inclusive political dialogue" with the country's turbulent factions.

Ban called the meeting of foreign ministers and top diplomats from Afghanistan's neighbours and key NATO countries to seek increased backing for Afghan and U.N. efforts to bring peace and stability after years of intermittent fighting.

Since U.S.-backed forces overthrew Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in late 2001, Karzai's government has struggled to keep control, faced with a resurgent Taliban, independent-minded warlords and rising drug production.

About 50,000 foreign troops are deployed there, including a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, and separately led U.S. forces.

Ban told reporters the three-hour meeting had heard a "request and strong desire on the part of member states that the United Nations do more ... (and) increase its role there."

He said the number of U.N. offices in Afghanistan had been recently increased by nine to a total of 17.

But in an opening address to the delegates Ban said there were areas -- a reference to fighting with the Taliban in the South -- where "security concerns would not allow me to justify a (U.N.) presence".

"In order to carry out such efforts, we need a reasonable level of freedom of movement and security," he said.


Ban also acknowledged that some countries want a higher profile special U.N. representative with greater authority to assist Karzai in peace-making efforts after the current envoy, Tom Koenigs, leaves his post at the end of this year.

The present U.N. mission supports and advises the Afghan authorities on economic and political development, justice reform, humanitarian aid and anti-drug programs.

Diplomats at the meeting said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had also suggested appointing an international figure who would represent foreign nations in Afghanistan on assistance and other issues. Ban admitted there was a problem coordinating the many aid and other groups represented there.

Ban said the meeting also agreed that "there should be more efforts by President Karzai and Afghan leaders in promoting inclusive political dialogue for national reconciliation."

Karzai told reporters his government was attempting to "bring back to the fold" Taliban supporters who were not part of what he called terrorist networks. "We are working hard on that," he said.

An Afghan presidential spokesman said last week Kabul was ready for peace talks with the Taliban but would not accept preconditions demanded by the Islamist rebels, such as the withdrawal of all foreign troops.

A communique on Sunday's meeting said it was vital to break the link between drug production from Afghanistan's abundant poppy fields and the financing of "terrorist" activities.

Participants would support Afghan efforts to fight poppy cultivation in areas where it had increased, reward districts where poppies were not grown and arrest and prosecute drug traffickers and corrupt officials, it said. It gave no details.

The lack of security in Afghanistan was dramatized by reports that two Italian soldiers were believed to have been kidnapped there. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, attending the U.N. meeting, said he raised the issue with Karzai, Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

SEPTEMBER 26th 2007

Clashes and airstrikes kill 165 Taliban

By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer

U.S.-led forces used artillery and airstrikes to kill more than 165 insurgents and repel massed assaults on coalition troops in two strongholds of Taliban militants and Afghanistan's rampant drug trade, officials said Wednesday.

The battles in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces came shortly before President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met in New York to discuss worsening fighting in Afghanistan and growing opium production, insisting progress was being made.

Nearly six years after a U.S.-led offensive toppled the Taliban regime for sheltering Osama bin Laden, violence related to the insurgency has escalated. More than 4,500 people, mostly militants, have died this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.

The two latest battles came amid a spike in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and as the military makes a last big thrust against insurgents before colder weather forces a lull in fighting in the mountainous nation.

"Heading into the winter season, the (Afghan army) wanted to ensure that the Taliban know there are no safe havens," said a U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Chris Belcher.

One of the battles was an assault by several dozen insurgents on a joint coalition-Afghan patrol near the Taliban-controlled town of Musa Qala in Helmand early Tuesday, which the U.S.-led coalition said set off a daylong fight that drew in more Taliban insurgents.

The coalition said its troops responded with artillery fire and attacks by fighter-bombers that killed more than 100 militants. One coalition soldier was reported killed and four were wounded. The coalition reported no civilian casualties.

The Taliban have held Musa Qala since February after British troops left following a peace agreement under which Afghan elders were made responsible for security.

Situated in the north of Helmand, Musa Qala and the region around it have been the front line of the bloodiest fighting this year. It is also the heartland of Afghanistan's illicit opium poppy farms.

The coalition said the second battle was in neighboring Uruzgan province, where more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked a joint Afghan-coalition patrol from multiple bunkers near the village of Kakrak and set off a six-hour fight Tuesday night.

Artillery fire and air strikes on the Taliban positions killed more than 65 insurgents, the coalition said. Three civilians were wounded in the crossfire and taken to a military medical facility, it said. No Afghan or coalition soldiers were hurt.

The battle took place near Deh Rawood, where more than three dozen insurgents were killed six days earlier as they prepared an ambush, the coalition said.

"As with our forces near Musa Qala, this operation is intended to deny the enemies of peace the use of Deh Rawood as a safe haven," Belcher said.

Karzai and Bush talked on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Despite the rise in opium production and the surge in Taliban activities, Bush said Afghanistan is becoming a safer, more stable country because of Karzai's efforts.

"Mr. President, you have strong friends here," Bush told the Afghan leader after they met for about an hour at a hotel. "I expect progress and you expect progress and I appreciate the report you have given me today."

Karzai said that "Afghanistan has indeed made progress," citing improvements in basic services such as roads and education.

This year has been the most violent since the fall of the Taliban, and opium poppy cultivation is also at a record high, fueled by the insurgency and corrupt government officials, the U.N. said last month. The country produces nearly all the world's opium, and the Taliban are believed to share in the profits.

Military operations and militant violence have killed at least 600 Afghan civilians this year.

About 400 villagers blocked a major highway Tuesday to protest the purported killing of two civilians by foreign troops during a search operation in the Zhari district of Kandahar province.

Spokesmen from both NATO and the U.S.-led coalition said they had no reports of any search operations or civilian deaths in Zhari.

Habibullah Jan, a lawmaker from Sanzari village, said NATO troops surrounded the village and killed a man and his son. He warned that if such things keep happening, "people will take up arms against the government and NATO."


Associated Press writer Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

SEPTEMBER 28th 2007

NATO's Afghanistan gains could be lost


LONDON (Reuters) - Hardfought gains by NATO troops this year could be lost in coming months if Afghan forces fail to hold ground seized from the Taliban, the NATO commander in Afghanistan said in an interview broadcast on Friday.

U.S. General Dan McNeill, who commands the alliance's 35,000-strong force, said NATO had scored successes this year in driving Taliban fighters from mountain valleys in the southern Helmand province, an opium-producing Taliban heartland.

The NATO forces in the area are mostly British troops who arrived in large numbers only last year. They say they have recaptured much of the Helmand River valley from the Taliban over the past six months.

But McNeill said Afghan troops had not yet performed as well as hoped in holding the ground after it was cleared, and there was a chance the Taliban could regroup and return.

"We are likely to have to do some of this work again," he told the BBC radio in an interview.

"I think there is some chance of that because the Afghan national security forces have not been as successful in holding as we would like them to be."

"It would nice if the Afghan national security force could hold it, then there's less of a chance we'll have to do it again."

OCTOBER 2nd 2007

U.N. says Afghan violence up 30 percent

By JASON STRAZIUSO and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writers 

Violence in Afghanistan has surged nearly 30 percent this year and suicide bombings are inflicting a high toll on civilians, a new United Nations report says.

The report said Afghanistan is averaging 550 violent incidents a month, up from an average of 425 last year. It said three-fourths of suicide bombings are targeting international and Afghan security forces, but suicide bombers also killed 143 civilians through August.

"Suicide attacks have been accompanied by attacks against students and schools, assassinations of officials, elders and mullahs, and the targeting of police in a deliberate and calculated effort to impede the establishment of legitimate government institutions," according to the report, which was released in New York last week.

A suicide attack Tuesday on a police bus in western Kabul killed 13 officers and civilians, including a woman and her two children who boarded the vehicle seconds before the explosion, the Afghan government reported. It was the second bombing of a bus in the capital in four days.

The U.N. report didn't give any other violence-related numbers.

An Associated Press count of insurgency-related deaths, meanwhile, reached 5,086 in the first nine months of this year. AP counted 4,019 deaths in 2006, based on violent incidents reported by Western and Afghan officials. That was the first year AP compiled such figures.

The AP tally for this year includes more than 3,500 militants killed and more than 650 civilians dead from either insurgent violence or U.S. or NATO attacks.

Almost 180 international soldiers have been killed. That includes 85 U.S. military personnel, nearing the total of 98 American deaths reported by the Pentagon for all of 2006.

Insurgents have staged a record number of suicide attacks this year — more than 100, including the two bus bombings in Kabul since Saturday that killed 43 people between them.

Four children were among the 13 people killed in Tuesday's suicide attack by a man wearing a pakul — an Afghan hat commonly seen in the country's north — and a shawl around the upper half of his body called a chador, said Amin Gul, who owns a metalworking shop next to the blast site.

"When the bus came, an old man got on, then a woman with two children, then the guy wearing the chador entered, and then a big boom," said Gul, who witnessed the attack.

The seats in the front of the bus were covered in blood and small body parts, and workers washed blood from nearby trees after the attack. Ten people were wounded in the bombing, Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi said.

Ahmad Saqi, a 20-year-old mechanic, said he helped put seven people in vehicles for runs to the hospital, and that several of the wounded had no legs.

"One woman was holding a baby in her arms, and they were both killed," Saqi said. "Half of the woman's face was blown off."

The blast killed eight police officers, the mother, her baby and another child, as well as two unaccompanied children who had been heading to a special school for handicapped students, Fatemi said. The children ranged in age from 2 to 8.

"The woman's husband is working at the Health Ministry. How do we tell the father his wife and two kids are dead?" asked Fatemi. "This attack goes against all of Islam. There is no reason to blow up Muslims, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. My message to these people: Please stop killing Muslims."

Tuesday's explosion is the third attack in four months against police or army buses in Kabul.

On Saturday, a suicide bomber wearing an army uniform blew himself up in an army bus, killing 30 people. In June, a bomb ripped through a bus carrying police instructors in Kabul, killing 35 people in the deadliest insurgent attack since the 2001 invasion.

A coalition soldier was killed by gunfire Tuesday morning while conducting combat operations in the northeastern province of Kunar. Three other soldiers were wounded, the coalition said in a statement. The nationalities of the soldiers weren't provided, but most soldiers in eastern Afghanistan are American.

Militants in Kunar attacked a border security post, killing three police, said Zargun Shah Khaliqyar, a spokesman for the provincial governor. It was not clear if the two incidents in Kunar were related.

Canadian troops in Kandahar shot and killed a 35-year-old man and wounded a child in what NATO's International Security Assistance Force called an "accidental discharge" by a weapons system.

The Afghan Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said Afghan and coalition soldiers battled insurgents in Uruzgan province on Sunday, killing 26 of the militants. There was no way to independently verify the claim.


Associated Press writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.

OCTOBER 26th 2007
The UK is committed to the "long-term success" of Afghanistan and will not allow the Taliban to regain control, the PM has said.

In a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Mr Brown said that the UK's efforts in Afghanistan were a "top foreign policy priority" and that he was determined that the country "should never be a failed state again".

The PM said:

"Afghanistan is the front line against the Taliban. We cannot allow the Taliban to be back in control of such an important country. The work that has been done in the last six years to build a democracy is an important bulwark against terrorism everywhere in the world.

"We know that the long-term solutions are not simply defence and security. We are determined to work with the Afghan government to make sure the people have a stake in the future of Afghanistan.'' 

Speaking to journalists in the Number 10 conference, the Prime Minister added that "combined efforts" had put the Taliban on the defensive and established Afghanistan as an "important bulwark" against terrorism. He called upon the international community to share the "long-term burden" of making the country a success.

Mr Karzai, who won the presidential election in 2004, echoed the Prime Minister's call for international assistance while promising progress on Afghanistan's drive to take a greater role in security operations.

He said:

"Burden sharing is necessary if we in the international community are to succeed against terror. Is it time to leave Afghanistan? No. Is it time to add more responsibility to the Afghan people? Yes."

Both leaders also stressed the importance of economic reconstruction, particularly projects aimed at bringing electricity and irrigation to rural areas, and the expansion of education to children denied access to schooling under the Taliban regime.

NOVEMBER 6th 2007
Some recent uccess in the south in beating back the Taliban has apparently prompted suicide bombers in the hitherto peaceful north on the occasion of the visit by a parliamentary delegation.

Suicide bomber kills 50 in northern Afghanistan

By Tahir Qadiry - Reuters

A suicide attack on a parliamentary delegation killed at least 50 people in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, a provincial official said, in the worst such blast in the country's history.

Five members of the Afghan parliament were among the dead and the toll was expected to rise among the delegates and schoolchildren who were among the victims.

"We have recorded 50 people dead so far, but there are still bodies on the streets we have not counted and some of the dead have already been taken away by their relatives," Baghlan provincial security chief Abdurrahman Sayedkhail told Reuters.

The attack took place as the parliamentary delegation was visiting a sugar factory in the town of Baghlan. Large crowds greeted the parliamentarians, who were on an economic fact-finding mission.

The bomber was on foot and blew himself up as the delegates entered the factory, Sayedkhail said. Many of the dead were schoolchildren who had lined up to greet them.

"I saw bodies lying in the streets and some of the people were stealing the weapons of the dead soldiers. Children are screaming for help. It's like a nightmare," said local resident Mohammad Rahim. He said the blast had killed his two cousins, both schoolgirls.

Opposition spokesman and former Commerce Minister Mostafa Kazemi and four other parliamentary deputies were among the dead.

"The bomber got very close to the delegation as they were being greeted. He got very close to Mostafa Kazemi and blew himself up," Sayedkhail said. "He was carrying a massive amount of explosives."

Before the attack, the hardline Islamist Taliban had killed more than 200 people in more than 130 suicide attacks this year in their campaign to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject the 50,000 foreign troops from the country.

But northern Afghanistan has escaped much of the violence which has wracked other parts of the country since the Taliban relaunched their insurgency two years ago.

The director of the hospital in Baghlan initially said 90 people had been killed in the attack, but later put the toll at between 60 and 90.

A deputy agriculture minister and prominent woman parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai were among the wounded.

"The president has condemned this in the strongest possible terms," said presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.

"The president has also ordered the Ministry of Defence to send all the necessary help to treat the injured ... and also ordered the Ministry of Interior to conduct an investigation right away."

DECEMBER 3rd 2007

Over 80% of Afghans want the NATO forces to stay, and virtually none want the Taliban back. However the British, who are doing much of the unpleasant work in the south are far from popular due to collateral damage. Meanwhile....

Pentagon chief in Afghanistan as al Qaeda regroups

By Kristin Roberts - Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates landed in Afghanistan on Monday to gauge military commanders' needs as they face a strengthened Taliban and signs that al Qaeda is regrouping in the country.

More than six years after a U.S.-led invasion drove the Taliban from power, Gates said he was concerned about the rising violence but he did not think Afghanistan was moving backward.

"I'm not worried about a back slide as much as I am how we continue the momentum going forward," the Pentagon chief told reporters. "I think that one of the clear concerns that we all have is that the last two or three years there has been a continuing increase in the overall level of violence."

The Pentagon also is worried about signs that al Qaeda is resurfacing in Afghanistan after defeats in parts of Iraq.

"We're seeing real early indicators that there may be some stepped-up activity by al Qaeda," said a senior U.S. defense official traveling with Gates. "Certainly that's something that we're concerned with."

American military officers in Iraq have speculated that al Qaeda would try to return to Afghanistan after losing ground in Iraq, where violence has declined following a security crackdown that added thousands of U.S. troops to the streets.

But the senior official's comments marked the first time the Pentagon has acknowledged seeing evidence that al Qaeda fighters were moving back into Afghanistan. The official stressed, however, that the evidence was still not conclusive.

"The tell-tale signs would be stepped up activities by foreign fighters, finding foreign fighters inside Afghanistan as a result of battle casualties and things like that. We're not seeing enough yet to draw conclusions," said the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Gates' visit to Afghanistan, follows a sharp increase in attacks on U.S. and NATO troops, which have more than doubled in some areas. Suicide bombings have climbed 30 percent, according to U.S. defense and military officials.

Gates has a meeting planned this month in Scotland with defense ministers of countries that have troops in Afghanistan's south, the most violent area of the country.

To prepare for that, he will talk to U.S. and NATO commanders in Afghanistan about the long-standing shortfall in combat troops, equipment and trainers for the Afghan army and national police, according to another U.S. defense official.

Gates also will discuss the possibility of arming local tribes in the Afghan south to fight the Taliban, exporting a strategy used by the U.S. military in Iraq of arming local Sunni groups to fight al Qaeda.

That effort in Iraq has been credited with making Anbar and other former insurgent strongholds hostile to al Qaeda.

"There are some recent new proposals coming through now that have not as yet been adopted but are looking promising," said one of the officials traveling with Gates. "There are proposals to both equip and arm some forces."

Gates also will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and discuss Iran's role in Afghanistan. U.S. officials say Iranian weapons are flowing into Afghanistan, headed for the Taliban, but Karzai regularly refers to Tehran as an ally.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

DECEMBER 10th 2007
This morning we were told that the long battle for Musa Qala was won, that the Taliban had decided not to fight to the last man from street to street, that they had told the inhabitants they were going to withdraw. Since then I have failed to find confirmation. However, we do at least have this:
PM pledges further Afghan support

It is Mr Brown's first visit to Afghanistan as prime minister
Gordon Brown has pledged continued UK support for Afghanistan in fighting the Taleban "for the next few years".

The prime minister visited British troops at Camp Bastion, the UK's largest military base in the country, as part of an unannounced visit.

His visit comes two days after a soldier with the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment was killed in an assault on a Taleban stronghold.

Afghan and Nato forces were fighting to take Musa Qala during the PM's visit.

It is Mr Brown's first visit to Afghanistan as prime minister, but he visited the country when he was chancellor.

It also comes ahead of a statement he will make about Afghanistan to Parliament on Wednesday.

Front line

On this occasion, he travelled from Iraq where he has also been speaking to British troops during a surprise visit.

Speaking at Camp Bastion, Mr Brown told 150 of the UK's 7,000 troops in Afghanistan: "I want to thank all those who have been injured for their service and I want to remember all those who have given their lives in the service of their country."

When I speak of courage, I speak of men and women here who have shown huge bravery in really difficult circumstances
PM Gordon Brown

Mr Brown told members of 40 Commando Royal Marines: "I want to thank every one of you for what you have done in what is the front line against the Taleban.

"This is one of the most challenging of environments, it's one of the most difficult of tasks, it's the most testing of times and it's the most important of missions because to win here and to defeat the Taleban and to make sure that we can give strength to the new democracy of Afghanistan is important for defeating terrorism all round the world."

Mr Brown continued: "When I speak of courage, I speak of men and women here who have shown huge bravery in really difficult circumstances.

"I know this weekend in Musa Qala some of you here have been doing a very important job in clearing the Taleban from that area."

In a speech made while international forces continued to battle the Taleban for Musa Qala, Mr Brown said: "I know that the work you are doing today and in the next few days is important for the whole future in Afghanistan.

"If we can succeed there it will mean we can move forward events in Afghanistan in favour of a more peaceful future for this country.

"People in Britain are incredibly proud of what you are doing."

Musa Qala leadership

Mr Brown then travelled to Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

He praised the leadership role of Afghan forces in fighting the Taleban, stressing that the Musa Qala battle was "led on the ground by the Afghan forces themselves".

"There is no doubt that succeeding in Musa Qala will make a huge difference both to how people see the weakness of the Taleban in the future and the ability of the government to build, not just militarily and politically, but with social and economic progress for the people of the area."

Musa Qala was taken over by the Taleban in February after a controversial peace deal brokered four months earlier between elders and the British, who withdrew after defending the area for months.

Future stake

Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Karzai, Mr Brown said military support would continue, as would support for social and economic development, including building schools, developing healthcare, and creating small businesses.

"I want to give President Karzai my assurance that our support will continue over these next few years to make it possible not only for the security of the Afghan people but also the economic and social development of your country so that people can have a stake in the future."

The Afghanistan visit comes after Defence Secretary Des Browne called for members of the international community to provide more troops to fight the Taleban.

He said the demands set by commanders from Nato's International Security Assistance Force were not being met and that the UK continued to ask countries for "additional support".

DECEMBER 12th 2007
It is now clear that the Afghan Army are patrolling Musa Qala and maintaining security. UK policy is now moving towards the NATO recommendation of long standing that those insurgents, whether Taliban or other, who are resident in Afghanistan and wish to accept the constitution under President Karzai can do so. They will be identified and no longer be treated as enemy. There will be no negotiation with the Taliban as such however - there is no support from the Afghan public for any return of the Taliban to government ever, under any terms. What also has to be envisaged is a model of democracy that is possibly more tribal than that practised in Europe and the US, and that in my view is realistic. The attempt to skip centuries of historical development in a single year has always been daft in my view.

DECEMBER 14th 2007
It appears that reasonable members of the Taliban have indeed been talking to NATO Military commanders and have accepted the idea of an end to insurgency. They have in effect changed sides and have helped in the capture of their more doolally, fundamentalist and violent colleagues. Long may such progress continue. Perhaps we can cease tyhe absurd political correctness and call things by their right names.


NATO-led countries to boost Afghan reconstruction

By Andrew Gray Reuters

Countries with troops deployed in southern Afghanistan agreed on Friday on the need to build on military gains by boosting reconstruction and improving the lives of Afghans.

Following an eight-nation meeting, hosted by Britain's Defence Secretary Des Browne, top U.S. officials were upbeat about recent successes, including the recapture of Musa Qala from the Taliban, but said progress had to be broadened.

"There's tremendous admiration for what the military have done, what the individual soldiers are doing," U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters after the talks in the Scottish capital Edinburgh.

"There's a strong sense that the civilian side ... needs now to be elevated and expanded and made as strategically purposeful as what we see on the military side."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States would now take the lead in drawing up a 3-5 year plan, setting out how reconstruction and development, including the bolstering of the Afghan army, could be combined with better security.

He hoped that within five years the Afghan army, which took the lead in the Musa Qala operation but still required heavy backing from British and American troops and helicopters, would be able to do the lion's share of the work.

"I think it's not an unrealistic hope," he said, adding that the Taliban couldn't win militarily, as Musa Qala had shown.

"The key is ... how do we come in behind that with the kind of civilian support, police support that, once we've driven them out, keeps them out," he said.

Friday's meeting, which drew together the Netherlands, Canada, Estonia, Romania, Denmark and Australia as well as Britain and the United States, was designed to look at ways of sharing the burden in Afghanistan, where around 40,000 troops operate under the leadership of NATO.

Some countries, including Britain and the United States, have borne a large part of the burden, both in terms of financial cost and loss of life, and there is a desire to share out some of the overall burden more broadly.

"We're going to try and look at this more creatively than perhaps we have in the past, where we've basically just been hammering on people to provide more people," said Gates.


Browne, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, appeared less buoyed by the talks, but was still pleased the discussion had drawn agreement on the need to share burdens.

"Could other countries be doing more? Could we do with more? Of course we could," Browne told reporters.

"But...I'm a politician and I'm a realist and I understand the dynamics of alliances that are made up of countries with different political make-ups and governments of different types.

"Some of the governments are there as minority governments -- they have political will but not the political process."

Canada said that while some within the alliance might not be able to provide troops, they could help out in other ways.

"There are certain things that could be done that may be of a less military nature but would free up (others)... enabling them to continue in their efforts without some of the stress and strain," Defence Minister Peter MacKay told reporters.

Insurgent violence is at its highest level in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. This year has been the deadliest for British troops since the war began.

Compared to a year ago, violence overall is up 27 percent and has risen 60 percent in the southern province of Helmand, according to the U.S. military. Poppy growing, used to make heroin and to fund the insurgency, is also on the rise.

Washington and London are leading the push for an international "super envoy" to increase coordination of aid efforts and deepen and broaden Afghanistan's governance.

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Luke Baker; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

DECEMBER 27th 2007
No proper explanation has been offered for the following news so I will offer mine.

Our diplomats were quite rightly talking with Pashtun leaders to see if, now they had realised there was a military stalemate, they were interested in ceasing to try deny NATO control, overthrow the Afghan government  and remain onside with the fanatical Taliban element; OR, were they willing to join in the political process on a peaceful basis. Let us face it, exterminating all current Taliban supporters is both impossible and genocidal. The is no such things as "THE TALIBAN" unless a lot of people say they are. There comes a moment when, without asking for unconditional surrender (that is something only a constitutional government can deliver), we have to suggest some insurgents "pack it in" and bring their followers along a road to peace and prosperity.

So what wnet wrong? I suggest that when they got talking, the Pashtun elders said: "OK, we would like to come in from the cold, but we are not joining up until some of the despicable, crooked, opportunistic, self-serving types who have got themselves into positions of power in the current government are exposed and removed, and hopefully tried and convicted".

"And who might these be, for example?" they were asked.

"Well for starters some of those running the security services and much of the police."

At this point, one of those present who has a foot in both camps (a frequent position in all civil wars for those who want to be on the winning side at the end) leaves the room to have a pee and gets a message back to those who have just been referred to to say: "You guys have been rumbled and unless you put a stop to these contacts you will be for the chop".

So in they come and arrest the diplomats, and there is nothing Karzai can do about it as he is dependent on these guys for his survival.

Anyway, that's my guess, based on no inside knowledge whatsover. If I am right, the next stage is very VERY difficult and dangerous.

Diplomats fly out of Afghanistan
Two diplomats accused of dealing with the Taleban have flown out of Afghanistan after talks failed to stop them being expelled.

One is a high-ranking British UN employee, Mervyn Patterson, the other is acting head of the EU mission in Afghanistan, Irishman Michael Semple.

The Kabul-based pair were accused of posing a threat to national security.

Their visit to Helmand, and a complaint lodged by the governor, has raised the issue of talking to the Taleban.

Return talks

The BBC's correspondent in Kabul, Alastair Leithead, says it has become clear parts of the Afghan government knew Mr Patterson and Mr Semple were in Helmand and had been meeting tribal elders, so there has been some confusion over the government's decision.

As yet, there has been no explanation from the foreign or interior ministries as to exactly why the men were told to leave.

Talks are continuing in the hope the pair, considered two of the most respected and knowledgeable international experts on Afghan affairs, will be allowed to return to the country.

Despite UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's insistence that Britain does not negotiate with the Taleban, local-level talks are seen as a vital part of the strategy to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, our correspondent says.

JANUARY 14th 2008

US envoy meets former Taliban commander

By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer 

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan flew to a town previously held by the Taliban in the heart of the world's largest poppy-growing region and told the ex-militant commander now in charge there that Afghans must stop "producing poison."

Ambassador William Wood on Sunday drank tea and talked with Mullah Abdul Salaam, a former Taliban commander who defected to the government last month and is now the district leader of Musa Qala in the southern province of Helmand.

Wood urged Salaam to tell his people to leave behind "the practice of producing poison," and said poppy production, the key element in the opium and heroin trade, was against the law and Islam.

"In Musa Qala the price of bread has risen dramatically. I won't say why — you know why," Wood said, alluding to farmers' practice of growing poppies instead of needed food.

Southern Afghanistan was the scene of the heaviest fighting in the country in 2007, the bloodiest year since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban militant movement. More than 6,500 people — mostly militants — were killed in violence last year, according to an Associated Press count based on official figures.

Islamist insurgents held sway in Musa Qala for most of last year, until U.S., British and Afghan forces retook it in early December. Wood said he thought the chances were good Musa Qala would remain under government control and said Afghan forces were drawing up a "comprehensive stabilization program" to help ensure it does.

U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne now ring the town, but those troops will pull out of the region within days.

Officials say poppy production and the resulting drug trade help finance the insurgents, and that many Afghan farmers turn to poppies because they are a lucrative source of income. As a result, Afghanistan last year produced 93 percent of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin. Its export value was estimated at $4 billion.

Wood has said officials discovered $500 million worth of heroin in dozens of labs around Musa Qala. He said U.N. and Afghan officials have told him that farmers in Helmand have again been planting a lot of poppies for this season's harvest.

"There is a solution, but it depends on the people of Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have to decide what kind of Afghanistan they want, and we will support them if they choose an Afghanistan of peace, of Islam and of law," Wood told Salaam.

Salaam offered Wood a list of things he said needed to happen immediately for Musa Qala to remain peacefully under government control. Topping the list, he said, was a request to the Ministry of Interior for 200 more police.

"We still have a problem with the police. We need more to come here," Salaam said. "We want the police to be honest and strong, because in the past they have stolen from the people, and because of that the people still don't trust them."

Salaam said he defected to the government in part because "un-Islamic" trials were being carried out in Musa Qala on the orders of Pakistani and Chechen fighters.

"The other reason was that they were calling everyone Taliban who were not real Taliban. They should make a difference between real Taliban and drug users and smugglers," Salaam said. "This place (Musa Qala) was under the control of smugglers, drug dealers, and Islamic law was not implemented here."

The original meaning of the word "Taliban" in Afghanistan means "religious student or scholar" and does not necessarily have the negative connotation of its Western meaning, which is an armed member of the radical militia.

Showing the era he comes from, Salaam told Wood he wanted to thank the United States and Britain for helping Afghans "do jihad" against the Soviets — a reference to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Reflecting the dangers of traveling in the area, the two Black Hawk helicopters carrying Wood's team flew extremely close to the sandy ground, barely skimming over rooftops. The two aircraft, escorted by two Apache helicopter gunships, banked sharply from side to side over populated areas as a defensive measure against any possible incoming fire.

Wood said the situation in Musa Qala is "filled with hope."

"One of the elements of that hope is that a former Taliban commander has now not only agreed to support the constitution and respect the authority of the national government, but as a district governor will defend the constitution and represent the national government," Wood said.

Afghan "Peace Convoy" tries to coax Taliban rebels

By Sayed Salahuddin - Reuters

In a new effort to end the growing Taliban insurgency, a council of Afghan political and tribal leaders hopes to hold talks with elements of the Islamic group aimed at including them in the government.

The Taliban movement, led by the reclusive Mullah Mohammad Omar, has repeatedly turned down peace offers by President Hamid Karzai, saying talks can be held only when foreign troops leave the country.

Made up of provincial governors, tribal chiefs and lawmakers representing four eastern provinces, the council, which calls itself the "Peace Convoy," met with Karzai on Sunday and gained his approval for its peace quest, an official involved in the drive said on Monday.

The council was behind a meeting last year with tribal chiefs from border areas of neighboring Pakistan and the two nations' leaders to discuss cooperation in fighting al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents operating in both countries.

That led to reduction of border infiltration by the Islamic militants and improvement of the uneasy ties between the two countries' leaders.

In its new effort, the council initially will hold talks with local residents and Taliban field commanders in eastern and southern areas, where the al Qaeda-backed insurgents are most active.

More than 10,000 people, including hundreds of foreign troops, have been killed by violence in the past two years, largely in regions bordering Pakistan. It has been the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

"The aim (of the council) is national unity and holding talks with those Afghani Taliban who are upset with government," said Noor Agha Zwak, spokesman for the governor of the strategic eastern province of Nangahar, Gul Agha Sherzai. Sherzai is leading the effort.

"The talks will be with those Taliban who have no links with al Qaeda and (will aim) to include them in the government," the spokesman said.

He said the council would not be reaching out to Taliban leaders such as Omar and other guerrilla figures like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who runs a separate front.

Asked if the council's effort to end the bloodshed could succeed without talking to such top insurgent leaders, Zwak said: "We believe so for if we can persuade the fighters (to try) reconciliation and give them a role in the government, then the leaders will have not much means to keep up the fight."

Taliban officials could not be contacted immediately for comment, but the movement's purported spokesmen in the past have ruled out talks unless foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military pull out of Afghanistan.

Some foreign commanders say the Afghan battle cannot be won militarily and some of the insurgents need to be brought into the political mainstream.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

JANUARY 27th 2008
Paddy Ashdown has told the UN secretary general that he no longer wishes to become special envoy to Afghanistan.

Ashdown's reasons are sound. It is unfortunate, as he would be the man best able to coordinate the international community in its efforts to assist the Afghan government, but internal politics in Afghanistan are complex. He has made the right decision: to withdraw.

JANUARY 29th 2008

Study: Afghanistan could fail as a state

By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer

Afghanistan risks sliding into a failed state and becoming the "forgotten war" because of deteriorating international support and a growing violent insurgency, according to an independent study.

The assessment, co-chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, serves as a warning to the Bush administration at a time military and congressional officials are debating how best to juggle stretched warfighting resources.

The administration wants to re-energize anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaida is regenerating. But the U.S. still remains heavily invested in Iraq, and officials are sending strong signals that troop reductions there will slow or stop altogether this summer.

"Afghanistan stands at a crossroads," concludes the study, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. "The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country."

A major issue has been trying to win the war with "too few military forces and insufficient economic aid," the study adds.

Among the group's nearly three dozen recommendations: increase NATO force levels and military equipment sent to Afghanistan, decouple U.S. management of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, establish a special envoy to coordinate all U.S. policy on Afghanistan, and champion a unified strategy among partner nations to stabilize the country in five years.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was not familiar with the study's findings, but he struck a more optimistic tone on Afghanistan's future.

"I would say that the security situation is good," Gates told The Associated Press. "We want to make sure it gets better, and I think there's still a need to coordinate civil reconstruction, the economic development side of it."

Gates said more troops are needed in Afghanistan, but "certainly not ours." When asked how many more NATO troops might be needed, he said that number should be determined by ground commanders.

Sen. John Kerry said it was "past time for wakeup calls" and that a "comprehensive, thoughtful approach" in Afghanistan was urgently needed.

"The same extremist group which plotted the attacks of 9/11 are reconstituting themselves on the Afghan border and grow more organized by the day, making the stakes higher and higher," said Kerry, D-Mass., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Jones-Pickering assessment, slated for public release on Wednesday, says the U.S. should rethink its military and economic strategy in Afghanistan in large part because of deteriorating support among voters in NATO countries.

If international forces are pulled, the fragile Afghan government would "likely fall apart," the report warns.

The study was a voluntary effort coordinated by the Center for the Study of the Presidency, a nonpartisan organization in Washington, as a follow-on to the Iraq Study Group. That study group was a congressionally mandated blue-ribbon panel hailed as the first major bipartisan assessment on the Iraq war since the 2003 invasion.

While the Afghanistan study has not created the same buzz as the Iraq assessment, the center's latest findings still are likely to wield political clout because of those involved.

Last year, Jones led a high-profile study on Iraq security forces, which was used by lawmakers to challenge President Bush's own assessments. Most recently, the retired Marine Corps general, known for his outspoken independence, was tapped to advise Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on security aspects of the new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Pickering was a longtime U.S. ambassador and a former undersecretary of state.

Panel members include Charles Robb, a former Democratic senator who served on the Iraq Study Group, and David Abshire, who helped organize the Iraq study. Abshire is president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency.

According to the report, the center decided to initiate the study after ISG discussions made clear that Afghanistan was at risk of becoming "the forgotten war."

"Participants and witnesses pointed to the danger of losing the war in Afghanistan unless a reassessment took place of the effort being undertaken in that country by the United States, NATO and the international community," the study states.

Similar problems were identified in two other assessments also due for release Wednesday, including one by the Atlantic Council in Washington, which Jones chairs. A separate study, led by Harlan Ullman, an adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the National Defense University, included specific proposals to rejuvenate Afghanistan's agricultural sector.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was expected to be briefed Wednesday on Afghanistan by intelligence officials. On Thursday, the panel will convene an open hearing, featuring testimony from Jones and Pickering. Also testifying Thursday will be Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia.

FEBRUARY 1st 2008
Condoleeza Rice is headed for London to discuss the crisis in NATO. I have never been a fan of Condoleeza. She should have stuck to the piano. She was totally unqualified and unprepared for the job she was given and has simply acted as an efficient secretary for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others, following stupid policies and trying to excuse their failure.

When it come to the post-cold-war role of NATO, I and others were debating this in the 1980s and the position we find ourselves in today comes as no surprise whatsoever.

We have to decide and lay out for people to see and make up their minds on just exactly what it is we are trying to do and why.

There are those who do not think there should be a coherent International Community that regularly debates and takes responsibility.
There are sound arguments and data to explain why there should be at this time in the development of civilisation on this planet.

There are those who say such an international community should not be responsible for ensuring a rule of law and a stable enough system, not based on tyranny and unaccountable violence, not subject to international law, is maintained in a country such as Afghanistan. These people say such a country can be allowed to behave internally as it likes, act as a source of drugs and a refuge for international terrorists.

The reason for opposing this point of view is based on a lot of science and philosophy, political and economic experience. However in the end it is a choice. It is fashionable these days to say we should be guided by science and factual data, but let me assure you gentle reader, as one who was think this through before many of you were born, that science if properly undertood and presented will offer you a choice. That is the wonderful and quite amazing truth about the material universe and all that therein is. We can choose.

I can tell you that we should accept the responsibilty to work to help the people of Afghanistan, but we cannot do this by deciding where certain disaffected and socially primitive elements who oppose our intervention are collected and bombing the hell out of them, as they are embedded in a society of political innocents simply trying to survive. We in the developed world have made opium the route to financial success. It is up to us to deal with the problem. But there is no doubt that the violence and fundamentalist fanaticism of the Taliban hard core is not something that can peacefully coexist with the rest of society in any nation that forms part of a functioning world comunity in the 21st century.

I note that Rory Stewart, who regrets we ever went into Iraq, is not in favour of abandoning Afghanistan to its fate. This is because Afghanistan's fate would, if we aaccept this course, becomes the world's fate. Please make no mistake about that. While I deplore the utter incompetence with which America has pursued its foreign policy, while I deplore the behaviour of Israel in its deluded interpretation of its national religion which has caused it to ignore the most basic rights of Palestinians, there is no way we can run away from these problems.

I understand the problems faced by Canada and Germany and other NATO members and their discomfort and exhaustion in the Afghan campaign, but NATO must sort itself out and the political heads of the NATO states must speak to both their own and the Afghan people in a clear voice, with an agreed position. It is then a question of 'in or out' of NATO. There are always those who are prepared to stand on the sidelines, benefiting in the protection provided by others. There are those who benefit from the EU without paying the price. There are those who benefit from the military protection of NATO without having a military budget that could afford a single unit equipped with modern weapons. There are those who shelter under a nucear umbrella - and there the whole world approves, as nuclear proliferation is not needed. But let us be clear about aims, objectives and how to support them in all the different ways or different nations can.

Clear? Of course we could back off and let all countries to behave as they like, with no international law. That would end in eventual self defence using lethal force on a massive scale, one of the things most people would like to avoid.

News from Germany, Canada and others below...

Germany rejects US troops appeal
Germany has rejected a US appeal to send more troops to Afghanistan, amid signs of strain in the Nato mission.

The US defence secretary had used a strongly worded letter to urge larger German deployment to south Afghanistan.

But his German counterpart, Franz Josef Jung, bluntly ruled out deploying any German soldiers to the area, which is at the heart of the Taleban insurgency.

In his letter, Mr Gates warned that without reinforcements the Nato effort could lose credibility in Afghanistan.

He urged Germany to consider a new mandate which could allow thousands more troops to be deployed.

Blunt response

But the German response was equally blunt.

I think that we really must keep our focus on the North
German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung

Not only did Mr Jung reject the call for more combat troops to be sent to dangerous parts of southern Afghanistan, he also said Germany had no plans to change its force's deployment in the less violent north.

"We have agreed on a clear division of labour," said Mr Jung on Friday. "I think that we really must keep our focus on the north."

Germany currently has 3,200 troops stationed in northern Afghanistan and around the capital, Kabul.

According to the current parliamentary mandate, 3,500 troops can be sent to northern Afghanistan as part of Nato's 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

'Not up for discussion'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also made clear that the mandate was "not up for discussion", her spokesman said.

German politicians are wary of making a greater commitment as opinion polls show public scepticism about the mission.

And Ernst Uhrlau, the head of Germany's foreign intelligence service (BND), has warned that the security situation in Afghanistan is expected to worsen in the coming months.

Correspondents say the German-US exchange comes amid growing signs of strain in the Isaf mission and in Nato as a whole.

Germany is a part of Nato and is obliged to send in more troops Rob, Wirral, UK

The US has already promised to send an extra 3,000 marines - but is urging other Nato countries to do more amid rising Taleban attacks.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to fly to the UK next week for talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Nato's role in Afghanistan is expected to be high on the agenda.

So far, most Nato members have refused to send significant numbers to southern Afghanistan.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has issued both the US and the UK with an ultimatum - that Canada will end its military mission in the dangerous south of Afghanistan unless other Nato countries send more reinforcements.

Locations refer to International Security Assistance Force (Isaf)
Total contributing nations: 39
Isaf total strength: Approx 41,700

FEBRUARY 5th 2008
Here is a fairly comprehensive rundown on the trouble resulting from the sensible attempts to give Taliban who wished to stop trying to turn the clock back and instead join the modern human race, to do so. Also a link to Whittam Smith's article where he asks a question that was answered when we first went in. Germany didn't want the international community, but we went in and only left when they accepted international limits on internal behaviour. But Whitam Smith is quite right, we don't have to do this. What we have to do, as I wrote on February 1st above, is MAKE UP OUR FUCKING MINDS. The same applies to those Afghans who do not wish the Taliban to run the country once more.

Revealed: British plan to build training camp for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan

The Afghan government says that Britain had a secret plan to train 2,000 Taliban fighters

By Jerome Starkey in Kabul
Monday, 4 February 2008

Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides, intelligence sources in Kabul have revealed. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December.

The Afghan government claims they prove British agents were talking to the Taliban without permission from the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, despite Gordon Brown's pledge that Britain will not negotiate. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 12 December: "Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leaders. We will not enter into any negotiations with these people."

The British insist President Karzai's office knew what was going on. But Mr Karzai has expelled two top diplomats amid accusations they were part of a plot to buy-off the insurgents.

The row was the first in a series of spectacular diplomatic spats which has seen Anglo-Afghan relations sink to a new low. Since December, President Karzai has blocked the appointment of Paddy Ashdown to the top UN job in Kabul and he has blamed British troops for losing control of Helmand.

It has also soured relations between Kabul and Washington, where State Department officials were instrumental in pushing Lord Ashdown for the UN role.

President Karzai's political mentor, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, endorsed a death sentence for blasphemy on the student journalist Sayed Pervez Kambaksh last week, and two British contractors have been arrested in Kabul on, it is claimed, trumped up weapons charges. The developments are seen as a deliberate defiance of the British.

An Afghan government source said the training camp was part of a British plan to use bands of reconciled Taliban, called Community Defence Volunteers, to fight the remaining insurgents. "The camp would provide military training for 1,800 ordinary Taliban fighters and 200 low-level commanders," he said.

The computer memory stick at the centre of the row was impounded by officers from Afghanistan's KGB-trained National Directorate of Security after they moved against a party of international diplomats who were visiting Helmand.

A ministry insider said: "When they were arrested, the British said the Ministry of the Interior and the National Security Council knew about it, but no one knew anything. That's why the President was so angry."

Details of how much President Karzai was told remain murky. Some analysts believe Afghan officials were briefed about the plan, but that it later evolved.

The camp was due to be built outside Musa Qala, in Helmand. It was part of a package of reconstruction and development incentives designed to win trust and support in the aftermath of the British-led battle to retake the stronghold last year.

But the Afghans feared the British were training a militia with no loyalty to the central government. Intercepted Taliban communications suggested they thought the British were trying to help them, the Afghan official said.

The Western delegates, Michael Semple and Mervyn Patterson, were given 48 hours to leave the country. Their Afghan colleagues, including a former army general, were jailed. The expulsions coincided with a row within the Taliban's ranks which saw a senior commander, Mansoor Dadullah, sacked for talking to British spies. One official claimed the camp was planned for Mansoor and his men.

The computer stick contained a three-stage plan, called the European Union Peace Building Programme. The third stage covered military training.

Curiously, the European Union says the programme did not exist and there were no EU funds to run it.

Afghan government officials insist it was bankrolled by the British. UK diplomats, the UN, Western officials and senior Afghan officials have all confirmed the outline of the plan, which they agree is entirely British-led, but all refused to talk about it on the record. President Karzai's office claimed it was "a matter of national security".

The memory stick revealed that $125,000 (£64,000) had been spent on preparing the camp and a further $200,000 was earmarked to run it in 2008, an Afghan official said. The figures sparked allegations that British agents were paying the Taliban.

President Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, accused Mr Semple and Mr Patterson of being "involved in some activities that were not their jobs."

The camp would also have provided vocational training, including farming and irrigation techniques, to offer people a viable alternative to growing opium. But the Afghan government took issue with plans to provide military training, to turn the insurgents into a defence force.

Afghan government staff also claimed the "EU peace-builders" had handed over mobile phones, laptops and airtime credit to insurgents. They said the memory stick revealed plans to train the Taliban to use secure satellite phones, so they could communicate directly with UK officials.

Mr Patterson, a Briton, was the third-ranking UN diplomat when he was held. Mr Semple, an Irishman, was the acting head of the EU mission. Officially, the British embassy remains tight-lipped, fuelling speculation that the plan may have been part of a wider clandestine operation.

A spokesman repeated the line used since Christmas: "The EU and UN have responded to inquiries on this. We have nothing further to add."

But privately, the UN maintains it had no role in setting up the camp. Meanwhile, Mr Semple's EU boss, Francesc Vendrell, admitted he had very little idea what was going on.

Yet the British ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, cut short his Christmas holiday to meet President Karzai and "spell out the Foreign Office paper-trail" which diplomats claim proves his government had agreed. They met twice, but it was not enough to stop Mr Semple and Mr Patterson being forced to leave.

Gordon Brown has also said Britain would increase its support for "community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan arbakai".

Background to the proposal

* December 11

British and Afghan troops take Musa Qala, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand, after President Hamid Karzai reveals that a senior Taliban commander swapped sides.

* December 23-24

The acting head of the EU mission, Michael Semple, and the third-ranking UN diplomat in Afghanistan, Mervyn Patterson, hold talks with local dignitaries and Taliban sympathisers in Helmand. Afghan secret police arrest their colleague, General Stanikzai, and seize a memory stick containing plans for training camps.

* December 25

Semple and Patterson are given 48 hours in which to leave Kabul.

* December 27

The two diplomats fly out of the Afghan capital, despite international appeals to let them stay.

FEBRUARY 8th 2008

GOOD NEWS -  It was time to call it as it is.

Afghan government must improve says NATO chief

by Mary Sibierski  AFP  Fri Feb 8, 3:40 PM ET

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Friday issued a blunt call to the Afghan government to put its house in order and to strengthen its security forces for the fight against the Taliban.

"Governance must visibly improve, so that the Afghan people have trust in their leaders," said Scheffer at the NATO defence ministers meeting in Vilnius.

"The police need robust support to develop and they need it now. The narco-economy must be replaced by a legal, sustainable economy," he said.

"And the Afghan army must get more support from NATO nations and from partners, to stand on its own feet and defend its own country."

Scheffer also urged the United Nations to "name as soon as possible a weighty individual" to lead a UN mission in Afghanistan.

Paddy Ashdown, the former international envoy in Bosnia-Hercegovina, withdrew his candidacy for the post as UN envoy in Afghanistan after it became clear that Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not want him for the job.

But Scheffer insisted the international community was unified on Afghanistan and had shown "a clear commitment that we are in this for the long haul."

US Defense Secretary Roberts Gates meanwhile, flying into southern Germany for Sunday's Munich security conference, warned that failure in Afghanistan would directly threaten European security.

"Afghanistan not only was the source of attacks against the United States in 2001, but it is clear that Al-Qaeda and others in this area have played a role in these attacks that have taken place in Europe, so this is a direct security threat to Europe," he told reporters.

"Part of my speech at the security conference will be oriented at Europeans, not their governments, in an effort to try to explain why their security is tied to success in Afghanistan," Gates said.

"I worry that for many Europeans the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are confused. And what I want to try and focus on is why Afghanistan is important to Europe.

"I think that they (the Europeans) combine the two, many of them have a problem with our involvement in Iraq and project that to Afghanistan and don't understand the very different kind of threat," he said.

"Our standpoint is that Al-Qaeda in Iraq is not just a problem for Iraq."

Gates, who attended the first day of the Vilnius conference Thursday, left having had little luck persuading NATO member states reluctant to commit troops to the fight Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

Germany rejected calls from the United States and Canada to move some of its 3,200 troops in Afghanistan in north to the southern frontline: opinion polls suggest the move would be unpopular with most Germans.

And Poland's Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said in a newspaper interview published Friday that his country would also not move its 1,200 troops in Afghanistan to the fight against the Taliban.

But France indicated that it was ready to support Canadian troops in the south and a Canadian delegation was in Paris Friday for talks on the matter, said Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned NATO allies that Canada would withdraw its 2,500 troops from Afghanistan unless NATO sent 1,000 extra troops plus equipment.

But if the first day of the meeting had been dominated by a dispute over foreign troop levels in Afghanistan, Friday was devoted to discussing international aid for the country.

Representatives from the United Nations, European Union and World Bank, as well as Afghanistan's Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, all attended.

The UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has 43,000 troops from 40 states, but is struggling against the resurgent Taliban. NATO commanders say they need more troops and weapons.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates adopted a pragmatic line on Thursday suggesting that states that could not send more troops because of domestic politics should send equipment or non-combat troops instead.


Car bomb kills 35 Afghan civilians

A suicide car bomber targeting a Canadian military convoy killed 35 civilians at a busy market in southern Afghanistan, a police official said.

At least 28 people were wounded in the attack in Spin Boldak, a town in Kandahar province near the border with Pakistan, said Abdul Razeq, the Spin Boldak border police chief. Two Canadian soldiers were wounded, he said.

The attack comes one day after Afghanistan's deadliest bombing since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. More than 100 people were killed by a suicide bomber outside Kandahar city on Sunday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A provincial governor said Monday he had warned an anti-Taliban militia leader targeted in a suicide attack that militants were trying to kill him. The death toll in Afghanistan's deadliest bombing since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion rose to more than 100.

Afghans buried relatives and friends in the southern city of Kandahar on Monday, a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of men and boys watching a dog fighting competition.

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid told The Associated Press the death toll had risen to more than 100, up from 80. Most victims were killed immediately, though some of the scores of Afghans critically wounded had died, Khalid said. He did not give a precise toll.

The bombing was the deadliest in Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster from power in 2001 and follows a year of record violence and predictions the conflict could turn even deadlier in 2008.

Officials said the suicide attacker targeted a militia leader, Abdul Hakim Jan, who died in the attack, along with 35 of his men. Khalid told mourners at a mosque he had warned Jan about three weeks ago that militant suicide bombers were trying to target him.

The bomber struck in a barren dirt field on the western edge of Kandahar city, as several hundred people watched a dog fighting competition, turning the field a bloody red.

"The contrast between those who take innocent lives so brutally and senselessly and those working with Afghanistan's government and people to build a better future, could not be more stark," a statement from the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday.

Khalid blamed the attack on "the enemy of Afghanistan" — which typically means the Taliban.

A Taliban spokesman denied the militia was behind the attack, though the group typically denies involvement when there are massive civilian deaths. Antonio Giustozzi, a London School of Economics researcher and Afghanistan expert, said it couldn't be ruled out the attack was carried out by one of Jan's tribal rivals.

Jan was buried Sunday night by tribe members and relatives, but others were buried Monday, said Haji Talib Agha, one of Jan's brothers. Around 1,500 people attended the funerals of the 35 fighters from Jan's militia, said Zemeri Khan, the district police chief of Arghandab.

Separately, a NATO soldier was killed and another wounded when their patrol was struck by an explosion Sunday in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said in a statement. The nationalities of the dead and wounded soldier were not released.

Kandahar — the Taliban's former stronghold and Afghanistan's second-largest city — has been the scene of fierce battles between NATO forces, primarily from Canada and the United States, and Taliban fighters the last two years.

The province, one of the country's largest opium producing regions, could again be a flash point in the increasingly violent Afghan conflict this year. Canada, which has 2,500 troops in Kandahar, has threatened to end its combat role in Afghanistan unless NATO countries provide an additional 1,000 troops to help the anti-Taliban drive there.

The U.S., which already has some 28,000 forces in the country, is sending an additional 3,200 Marines in April, most of whom are expected to be stationed in Kandahar during their seven-month tour.

The previous deadliest bombing in Afghanistan killed about 70 people — mostly students — in November, part of a record year of violence in 2007 that included more than 140 suicide attacks.


Associated Press writer Noor Khan contributed to this report from Quetta, Pakistan


MAY 13th 2008
We are still with the basic problem. An Afghan soldier or policeman has to be trained, paid and motivated. A Taliban activist is born and bred automatically amongst the unemployed, the dispossessed and the religiously fundamental in greater numbers than soldiers and police can be formed and uncorrupt businesses can be built. Does this mean all the countries involved here should give up?  See the opening of this file.

MAY 16TH 2008

Hijacker now works at BA office


A member of a gang which hijacked a plane that landed at Stansted Airport now works at a British Airways office building near Heathrow.

Afghan national Nazamuddin Mohammidy, 34, of Hounslow, Middlesex, is employed by a cleaning contractor only a mile from the airport, the company confirmed.

Mohammidy is one of nine men who seized an Ariana plane in February 2000 on an internal flight in Afghanistan and ordered the pilot to fly to Stansted.

They were given asylum despite attempts by the Government to remove them.

His job came to light after he was stopped by police at the airport's Terminal 5. He works about a mile away at a BA office building and training centre.

Mohammidy was held for allegedly breaching the conditions of his bail over charges of assault and criminal damage from December last year.

He appeared in custody before Uxbridge magistrates on Wednesday accused of being in breach of bail after being charged with assault and criminal damage in December last year. He will appear before Ealing Magistrates Court on May 19.

A spokesman for British Airways said Mohammidy did not work inside the airport and did not have an airside pass.

The gang who hijacked the airline have since apologised to the ill-fated passengers for the fear they caused by their actions.

Mohammidy was jailed for 30 months for his part in the hijacking but all of the gang members later had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal, which decided they had been acting under duress as they fled the Taliban.

They went on to win a High Court ruling preventing the Government from deporting them.

The men, who said they had taken enormous personal risks to organise secret schools for girls in Afghanistan, said they considered themselves to be allies of Britain in its struggle against terrorism.

JUNE 2nd 2008
From the OBSERVER, June 1st

The Taliban have been tactically routed in southern Afghanistan, with enemy forces 'licking their wounds' after a series of emphatic defeats, say senior British military commanders.

In one of the most bullish assessments yet of the conflict in Helmand province, Brigadier Gordon Messenger said the Taliban's command structure had been 'fractured' and its fighters forced on to the backfoot.

As British forces continue to consolidate positions throughout the Helmand valley, Messenger said latest intelligence indicated that the ferocious fighting that had defined Helmand for the past two summers was unlikely to be repeated. 'It's become apparent that the Taliban are very much on the backfoot. Their leadership both south of the border [Pakistan] and also their local leadership has been severely dislocated and fractured.

'We are not complacent and suggesting that they do not have the capacity to regenerate, but they are very much off the frontfoot and licking their wounds.'

With the British military having sustained 97 casualties since operations began in Afghanistan in 2001, commanders are hopeful that a less costly campaign lies ahead. Estimates suggest that as many as 7,000 Taliban have been killed during the past two years. In addition, Messenger said that evidence of al-Qaeda or affiliated organised groups was scant in areas where British troops were operating.

Latest intelligence updates indicate that Taliban forces have retrenched in Farah, bordering northwest Helmand, the province where about 8,000 British troops are stationed.

Government officials revealed last week that they are monitoring the Iranian frontier - Farah is on the border - for evidence of weapons smuggling. Concern is mounting among Foreign Office officials that Iran might still be smuggling in components for roadside mines known as EFPs, which fire a fist-sized disc of armour-piercing molten copper that explodes inside military vehicles.

To try to disrupt the cross-border traffic, the focus is intensifying on Taliban elements near the Pakistan border, south of Garmsir. Recently a new expeditionary force of 3,500 US marines entered the region to target remote southern districts. The move was interpreted as placing British forces under pressure to adopt the American counter-insurgency tactics. However, Messenger said the tactic was proving fruitful and would help UK troops further north.

'They are disrupting areas where the Taliban have traditionally held sway', said Messenger, who led 40 Commando Royal Marines during the Iraq war and was recently appointed as an aide-de-camp to the Queen. He said that the 'ink spot' stratgey of securing major towns along the Helmand valley and then spreading stability appeared to be paying dividends.

One enduring area of concern is Helmand's massive heroin trade which links the Taliban with organised crime.

With the Taliban and their followers in effect beaten in conventional warfare, their increasing reliance on suicide attacks was underlined yesterday when a suicide car bomb reportedly killed one Nato soldier and injured six other people in eastern Afghanistan. A local governor said that a car rammed a military convoy in Jalalabad before the attacker detonated the explosives © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

JUNE 3rd 2008

US general becomes NATO commander in Afghanistan

By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer

The American general who led the ground invasion of Iraq took command of the 40-nation NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan took charge of the 51,000-member International Security Assistance Force from Gen. Dan McNeill, who will retire from the U.S. Army after 40 years.

Addressing a change of command ceremony Tuesday, McKiernan said he was "honored to walk alongside our Afghan brothers."

"While today marks a transition in commanders, the mission must continue without missing a beat," he said, listing security, reconstruction and development as the types of support that Afghanistan deserves. "Insurgents, foreign fighters, criminals and others who stand in the way of that mission will be dealt with."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed McKiernan to the country.

"Your task will not be easy," Karzai warned. "But I'm sure as good a soldier as you are, you will serve it well, together with Afghan officers and the Ministry of Defense."

He asked McKiernan and other military commanders to continue to equip and train Afghan security forces so the country can eventually stand on its own.

McKiernan, whose previous assignment was as commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, inherits the largest ISAF force since the international military partnership was created in 2001, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

He takes command during a period of heightened violence and a spiraling opium poppy heroin trade in Afghanistan. More than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks in the country last year, the most since the 2001 invasion.

But McKiernan will also have more Afghan army troops and police — about 130,000 — working alongside ISAF forces than any previous commander.

As a three-star general in 2003, McKiernan commanded the U.S. land forces during the invasion of Iraq.

Around the country, three policemen, a private security guard and at least 10 Taliban were killed in Afghanistan's latest violence.

• In the Murja district of Helmand province, Taliban fighters attacked a police patrol Monday and killed one policeman, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal. Police counterattacked, killing eight Taliban.

• In the eastern province of Khost, gunmen assassinated a district intelligence [chief?]Tuesday, said Mujib Rahman, the district chief of Alishar.

• In the southern Zabul province, Taliban fighters ambushed a NATO logistics convoy and killed one private security guard, said provincial police chief Saridullah Khan.

• U.S.-led coalition forces killed "several" militants during an operation in the Garmser district of Helmand province Monday, the coalition said. Militants attacked the coalition troops while they were searching a compound, and the troops responded with gunfire, mortars and air strikes, killing the militants, the coalition statement said.

U.S. Marines moved into Garmser in early May, and NATO officials say that militants who used to operate there are starting to flee the region.

• In Herat province's Ghoryan district, Taliban attacked a police checkpoint, killing one officer and kidnapping six, said Haji Raouf Ahmadi, police spokesman for western Afghanistan.

JUNE 17th 2008
A seminal moment in the affairs of Afganistan. This Taliban action has to be halted and reversed, at all costs.

Hundreds flee as battle looms in Afghan south

By Ismail Sameem - Reuters

Hundreds of families fled their homes in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday as foreign and Afghan forces prepare to drive out Taliban insurgents who have overrun several villages, officials and witnesses said.

About 600 Taliban insurgents took over several villages in Arghandab district in the south on Monday, days after they had freed hundreds of prisoners, including about 400 militants, after an attack on the main jail in Kandahar city.

"There are hundreds of them (Taliban) with sophisticated weapons. They have blown up several bridges and are planting mines everywhere," Mohammad Usman, a taxi driver who evacuated a family on Tuesday from the district, told reporters in Kandahar, the main city in the south.

A Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said the militants were eyeing Kandahar after Arghandab.

"After occupying Arghandab, the Taliban's next target will be Kandahar. But, we will not attack Kandahar with rockets and heavy mortars. We will hit specific targets in the city," Yousuf told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.

The Taliban emerged from religious schools on the Pakistani border in Kandahar in the early 1990s and began their takeover of the country from the province, where they still enjoy support.

Ahead of the operation, the defense ministry said hundreds of soldiers have been sent from Kabul to Kandahar and put the total number of Afghan forces on the ground at several thousand.

Afghan forces will spearhead the operation, which would be backed by ground and air support from NATO-led troops, it added, without giving further details.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of Kandahar's provincial council and a brother of President Hamid Karzai, said about 600 Taliban had positioned themselves in Arghandab district, which lies 20 km (12 miles) to the north of Kandahar city, one of Afghanistan's largest cities.

He did not know if the militants included the 400 set free in the jailbreak.

NATO and Afghan forces have deployed troops to seal off the area to drive the militants from the district, which has an estimated population of 150,000.

NATO troops have dropped leaflets by air warning people to leave the district, fleeing villagers said.


Haji Agha Lalai, a member of Kandahar's provincial council, said 300 families had left and more were leaving their homes.

Witnesses said Afghan troops were stationed in many parts of Kandahar city, the birthplace of the Taliban who U.S.-led troops drove from power in 2001.

Since making a comeback in 2006, the Taliban have briefly taken some district headquarters and villages in the south and east, the militants' stronghold.

Ahmadi said the Taliban were in full control of Arghandab district where there were about 500 militants, including a large number of those who escaped from a prison in Kandahar.

The insurgents had taken control of eight villages in Arghandab, the defense ministry said in Kabul.

The capture of the villages is part of the latest show of power by the militants in Afghanistan, which is suffering its worst spell of violence since 2001.

The flareup comes despite the presence of more than 60,000 foreign forces under the command of the U.S. military and NATO, as well as about 150,000 Afghan forces.

Britain's Defense Secretary Des Browne told parliament on Monday the government would increase its force in Afghanistan by 230, taking the total number of British troops there to more than 8,000.

(Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by David Fogarty)

AUGUST 19th 2008
It has to be said that things are going badly of late in Afghanistan. Two main problems: when NATO troops call in air strikes to support them when under fierce attack for the Taliban, innocent civilians get killed. The attack plans of the Taliban make certain that this is the case. The second problem: NATO is unable to protect civilians at the edge of their control from the Taliban, who are too numerous and self-renewing and have too many sanctuaries to be contained. This war is NOT being won either on the ground or, as a reslt, in hearts and minds.

There is therefore only one solution: to decide to win it in a big way on the ground, in which case the hearts and minds will follow, or to ask Afghnanis if they have an alternative solution such as internal reconcliation. In my humble opinion, I have never been there, the latter seems to be impossible.

Ten French soldiers have been killed in an ambush by Taleban fighters east of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

A further 21 French troops were wounded in one of the heaviest tolls suffered by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced he will travel to Kabul to assure troops of his support.

Kabul's early morning silence was broken last night first by the crunch of rockets exploding in the city, then by the emergency sirens at Nato headquarters warning the officers and generals to head for the shelters.

Taleban claim they control three quarters of Wardak.

Taleban at Kabul's doorstep

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Wardak

It is just an hour's drive south-west of Kabul on Afghanistan's main highway before you start to see dramatic evidence of how the insurgency is closing in on the capital.

The first thing to notice are the holes in the road - the tarmac ripped up by bombs - which the traffic has to carefully veer around.

Then it is the burned-out skeletons of trucks left by the side of the road, or some still standing where they were ambushed and burned - an obvious reminder of how security so close to Kabul has been steadily deteriorating.

Highway One was a triumph for Afghanistan's new found freedom from the Taleban.

Built at record speed with international money, it was an example of what was to follow in the rebuilding and redevelopment of a country at war for almost three decades.

Now it is almost impassable in places as buses loaded high with goods and people, or convoys of containers with supplies for international forces have to negotiate the damage and the debris.

'Valid target'

An hour before we were escorted along the road by a heavily armed police convoy, an Afghan National Army patrol had fought with insurgents after being ambushed.

Every seven or eight kilometres (four to five miles) there is a crater in the road where a hidden explosive device had been detonated as whatever the insurgents decreed a "valid target" had gone past.

Wardak is the neighbouring province to Kabul and in just one month 51 trucks were burned. But the new governor, in place less than a month, thinks he can get a grip on security.

"The government has 100% control in Wardak, and the Taleban are in a very poor condition in this province - they do not have the support of the people," said Mohammad Halim Fidai, the eloquent and well-educated new arrival.

"Some of the incidents that took place on the highways are because we did not have enough Afghan National Police and there is misinformation against us," he said, explaining there were now checkpoints in the areas Taleban fighters "from other provinces" were most likely to strike.

But the men in the hills, just 2km from the road, told a different story of who held power and influence.

A local BBC reporter visited districts close to the main road and to the more remote villages up in the mountains.

Brazen display

He met a Taleban commander who took him to film perhaps two dozen men, all heavily armed and parading on motorbikes, in daylight, within view of Highway One.

"I have 6,000 fighters," the commander said, "and control three quarters of Wardak province."

It was a massive exaggeration, but their brazen display by day was a strong sign of how much influence the insurgents have by night.

That presence and the "misinformation" they spread will help them appear stronger than they are in reality - and fighting an insurgency, that is what counts.

The terror tactics, attacking convoys and leaving bombs, splits the people from a government which does not have a strong enough presence to win the people's backing.

Our reporter spoke to many local people - a lot supported the Taleban, but they would perhaps be afraid to speak out otherwise, given their presence on the ground. Others were critical.

"All the Taleban did was provide security," one young man said with a couched compliment. "Now the Karzai government is building roads and bringing development. Unfortunately they cannot bring security."

Another villager was more upbeat: "In my view this government is better than the Taleban as there was no education, economy or development.

"Now the economy is good and children are going to school - even girls - the Taleban were brutal and took power by force, not democracy."

And it is not just the local people who are suffering - those aid workers trying to rebuild and redevelop Afghanistan are now increasingly unable to work in parts of the country.

'Extremely risky'

A recent statement by 100 aid agencies described the worsening security close to Kabul, and in neighbouring Logar province six landmine clearers were recently abducted - as if it wasn't a risky enough job to begin with.

The UN produces internal "accessibility" maps which colour code areas by level of risk.

A comparison between 2005 and June 2008 shows the dramatic deterioration of security in such a short space of time.

Almost half the country is now "extremely risky" for UN staff - a classification that did not even appear on the map legend three years earlier.

Kabul is ringed by areas classified as a "high risk/volatile environment", previously reserved for only the worst insurgent areas in the east and south.

"Security in itself is a challenge. There are places where our de-miners cannot go because of the security risk," said Dr Mohammad Haider Reza, the head of the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan.

"It's as close to Kabul as Logar and that's of a concern to us," he added, saying the six abducted men had been released but their vehicles and equipment had been taken.

The Taleban's tactics are all part of the war - sowing fear in the minds of the people to turn them against a government that cannot protect them.

But the threat is real and the attacks are getting closer to the capital.

AUGUST 21st 2008
The ISAF view of the situation is not as grim as I have painted above in that they do not see the Taliban a a coherent, growing movement. They attribute the high level of attacks as due to the usual summer insurgent offensive and the participants swelled by foreign al Qaida associates plaguing both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The problem of reconciliation amongst native Afghans is less severe in this interpretation.

Brown visits UK troops in Helmand

Gordon Brown is in Afghanistan on a surprise visit to British troops, en route to the Olympics in Beijing.

The PM told troops at Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand, that they were "the heroes of our country".

He told members of 16 Air Assault Brigade they were in the "front line in the fight against the Taleban".

He also paid tribute to Cpl Barry Dempsey, the latest British soldier to die, before holding talks in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Mr Brown spent 90 minutes at Camp Bastion and visited a field hospital where he spoke to six injured soldiers.

Courage praised

His visit comes as three Nato troops have died in Ghazni province. This week 10 French soldiers died in a Taleban attack.

In a joint press conference with President Karzai later, Mr Brown said the deaths had been a tragedy but the events had only made them "even more resolute ... to defeat the forces of terrorism".

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Gordon Brown addresses troops while in Afghanistan

"We understand that in Afghanistan, the front line against the Taleban, what happens in Afghanistan affects the rest of the world," he said.

Mr Brown said there was still "a long way to go" but progress had been made and said Britain would put more resources into training the Afghan national army, which he said may need to be doubled to 120,000.

'Hearts and minds'

He said work would continue to ensure Afghan police were "corruption free" and to improve local and national government administration - by developing a civil service in Afghanistan and more money would be put into improving education.

And $17m (£9m) would go towards funding a radio station to counter the Taleban's message and win "hearts and minds", Mr Brown said.

Earlier, speaking to troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade, Mr Brown said: "You know that by what you are doing here you prevent terrorism coming to the streets of Britain."

You are truly the heroes of our country
Gordon Brown to British troops

He said their work was part of creating a democratic and "terrorist-free" Afghanistan.

Mr Brown also likened the achievements of the British forces to the UK's Olympic medallists in Beijing.

"This week we are celebrating the Olympics where we have had great success," he said.

"But this week also I believe that our Olympic athletes and everybody else in our country will remember that you have showed exactly the same courage, professionalism and dedication.

"You make our country proud every day of the week and every week of the year. You are truly the heroes of our country. I wish to say how proud I am of you today."

Mr Brown said the Taleban had switched to guerrilla-style tactics, like suicide bombs and roadside explosions, rather than "head on confrontation" with troops and he said British commanders had told him they were making "substantial progress" against them.

He said a summer offensive by the Taleban had been expected after a relatively quiet spring.

Since 2001, 116 UK troops have died in Afghanistan, the latest, Cpl Dempsey was killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand on Monday.

AUGUST 27th 2008
With the coalition government breaking apart in Pakistan, the importance of arresting any momentum gained by Taliban or al Qaida in the region was never more important. At the same time any targetting errors caused by wrong calls from ground observers or airborne cameras are used ruthlessly by the Taliban who will use any tactics to bring them about. Let us hope the operations below were on target.

Nearly 50 Taliban killed in Afghanistan


An air strike killed 30 Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan close to the border with Pakistan and Afghan police killed 18 more militants in the south of the country, officials said on Wednesday.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan this year as the hardline Islamist Taliban have stepped up their campaign of guerrilla attacks backed by suicide and roadside bombs to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

International troops called in the air strike in which 30 Taliban fighters were killed after the militants attacked a convoy of foreign troops and Afghan forces in the Sarobi district of Paktika province near the border with Pakistan on Tuesday, the deputy provincial governor said.

"Only six of our police were wounded in the Taliban attack," Abdul Malik said, adding there were no casualties among foreign troops in the incident.

Also on Tuesday, 18 Taliban were killed in a clash with police in the Nad Ali district of southern Helmand province, one of the main bastions for the Taliban, the provincial police chief said. He said police suffered no losses.

The Taliban could not be reached for comment and independent verification of the deaths was not possible.

Separately on Tuesday, four police died when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in Ghazni province, which lies on the main highway linking Kabul with western and southern regions, an official said.

(Writing by Sayed Salahuddin, Editing by Paul Tait)

SEPTEMBER 2nd 2008
Today, British Troops spearheaded a multinational force and achieved the delivery of the multimillion pound main turbine for the new Kajaki Dam hydro electric plant. Meanwhile we need to clear up the confusion and manipulation of casualty figures that are the result of both misreporting and the deliberate putting in harms way by the Taliban of innocent civilians. There may also be some errors on the part of the coalition, but this needs proper investigation. SEE FURTHER INFORMATION BELOW SEPT 6th

US probe finds fewer Afghan dead

A US military investigation has reported that no more than seven Afghan civilians died in fighting and air strikes last month in west Afghanistan.

The US finding contradicts UN and Afghan government investigations that concluded more than 90 civilians were killed in the 22 August operation.

The US military said 30 to 35 militants died in the operation in Herat.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been increasingly critical of the number of civilians dying in coalition air raids.

'Taleban attack planned'

The US military said it based its findings on video taken during the engagement and of topographic photos taken of the area before and after the fighting, including analysis of burial sites.

Reports from local hospitals were also examined, the military said.

"The investigation found that 30-35 Taleban militants were killed, including evidence suggesting a well-known Taleban commander, Mulla Sadiq, was among them," a US military statement said.

All the men killed in the operation were the employees of the private security company working at the coalition base. So how could they be Taleban?
Mohammad Iqbal Safi, Afghan MP

Five to seven civilians were killed, two were wounded and treated by coalition forces and five militants were detained, the statement added.

The US report said American and Afghan forces came under fire as they neared the village of Azizabad in Shindand district.

The fire was returned and air strikes were called in.

Investigators found evidence that militants in Azizabad were planning an attack on a nearby coalition base, the US report said.

But one of the Afghan investigators, member of parliament Mohammad Iqbal Safi, said all the victims of the fighting were civilians.

"All the men killed in the operation were the employees of the private security company working at the coalition base. So how could they be Taleban," he was quoted as saying by Associated Press news agency.

President Karzai has ordered a review of the use of air strikes following the operation in Azizabad.

The US has offered to conduct a joint inquiry into the incident. It is unclear whether this will appease the Afghan government, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul.

A UN spokesman said it stood behind its conclusion - based on eyewitness reports - that about 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children.

Casualty figures in the Afghan conflict are often manipulated for propaganda and the country's insecurity makes independent verification of any claims difficult, say correspondents.

SEPTEMBER 6th 2008
For crying out loud, why is it so impossible to get at the facts when every sort of means of recording them are available! If tribal rivalries and personal scores are being settled by false intelligence being fed to NATO and US forces to bring air strikes on false targets, it is incredible that after the length of time these operations have been going on that the US has not tumbled to this.

US re-examines Afghan attack that killed civilians

By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer

The U.S. military said Sunday it has "new information" about an American attack that Afghanistan says killed 90 civilians and it is sending a senior military officer to the country to review its initial investigation that concluded no more than seven civilians died.

The military did not say what new information had emerged. But Afghan and Western officials say Afghanistan's intelligence agency and the U.N. both have video of the aftermath of the airstrikes on Azizabad village showing dozens of dead women and children.

An Afghan government commission has said 90 civilians, including 60 children and 15 women, died in the Aug. 22 bombings, a finding that the U.N. backed in its own initial report.

But a U.S. investigation released Tuesday said only up to seven civilians and 35 militants were killed in the operation in the western province of Herat.

A U.N. official who has seen one video of Azizabad told The Associated Press it shows maimed children. The official became highly emotional describing rows of bodies.

A second Western official has said one video shows bodies of "tens of children" lined up and he called the video "gruesome." The two officials spoke on condition they not be identified because the videos had not been publicly released.

Although the U.S. said Tuesday its investigation of the attack was complete, the military at that time appeared to leave open the possibility that photographs or video from the scene could emerge. American officials said privately last week that they were aware photographic evidence apparently existed, but that they did not have access to it.

"No other evidence that may have been collected by other organizations was provided to the U.S. investigating officer and therefore could not be considered in the findings," the initial U.S. report said.

On Sunday, Gen. David McKiernan — the senior U.S. officer in Afghanistan and the commander of the 40-nation NATO-led mission — had requested that an American general travel from U.S. Central Command in Florida to Afghanistan to review the U.S. investigation.

That announcement followed by one day a statement attributed to McKiernan on Azizabad that said:

"We realize there is a large discrepancy between the number of civilians casualties reported" and McKiernan would continue to "try to account for this disparity."

The New York Times reported on its Web site Sunday that one of its reporters had seen cell phone video in Azizabad of at least 11 dead children among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. The Times also said Azizabad had 42 freshly dug graves, including 13 so small they could hold only children.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has for years now warned the U.S. and NATO that it must stop killing civilians in its bombing runs, saying such deaths undermine his government and the international mission. But the Azizabad incident could finally push Karzai to take action.

Shortly after the Azizabad attack, he ordered a review of whether the U.S. and NATO should be allowed to use airstrikes or carry out raids in villages. He also called for an updated "status of force" agreement between the Afghan government and foreign militaries. That review has not yet been completed.

Nek Mohammad Ishaq, a provincial council member in Herat and a member of the Afghan investigating commission, has said photographs and video taken of the victims are with Afghanistan's secretive intelligence service.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, has said a villager named Reza, whose compound bore the brunt of the attack, had a private security company that worked for the U.S. military at nearby Shindand airport.

Villagers and officials have said the operation was based on faulty information provided by a rival of Reza. Aziz Ahmad Nadem, a member of parliament from Herat, has told the AP that the rival is now being protected by the U.S. military.

Afghan officials say U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos raided the village while hundreds of people were gathered in a large compound for a memorial service honoring a tribal leader, Timor Shah, who was killed eight months ago by a rival, Nader Tawakal. Reza, who was killed in the Aug. 22 operation, is Shah's brother.

The U.S. investigative report released Tuesday said American and Afghan forces took fire from militants while approaching Azizabad and that "justified use of well-aimed small-arms fire and close air support to defend the combined force."

The report said investigators discovered evidence that the militants planned to attack a nearby coalition base. Evidence collected included weapons, explosives, intelligence materials and an access badge to the base, as well as photographs from inside and outside the base.

SEPTEMBER 11th 2008
General Petraeus has today commented that operations in Afghanistan are not going in the right direction. I could not agree more. The population is caiught between the Taliban whom they detest and who are killing them, and Americans whom they detest because they are killing them by mistake and failing to protect them from the Taliban. There needs to be some very frank and public talking and if necessary a public referendum amongst the Afghan population, followed by some decisive action on a very large scale. This cannot possibly be allowed to drag on when hearts and minds are actually being lost, no commercial or social progress is possible and the economy is in the hands of lawless people. Throughout human history, law, order and democracy have usually been established through decisive force, but bombing only works when there is a nation to bring to surrender before starting anew. Here it is counter productive because their is no locatable enemy that sits aside from the rest. Positions cleared of Taliban cannot be held because there are not the forces to hold them against a fanatical an primitive native resistance armed and assisted by foreign insurgents. It would seem to me the country needs to be partitioned into areas where there is unquestioned government control and those where there is not. The former can them be advanced and spread by sustainable degrees. If that has already been the plan, it has not worked.

Bush 'approved' Pakistan attacks

President George W Bush has authorised US military raids against militants inside Pakistan without prior approval from Islamabad, the BBC has learned.

An unnamed senior Pentagon official told the BBC the classified order had been made within the past two months.

On Wednesday, the US's top military commander said strategy in Afghanistan was shifting to include raids across the border into Pakistan.

Pakistan has said it will not allow foreign forces onto its territory.

The Pakistani ambassador to the US has disputed the claim, first reported in the New York Times.

"In our bilateral discussions, no such idea has been mooted and will certainly not be accepted by Pakistan," Husain Haqqani told Reuters.

"Pakistan would not accept foreign troops. This is not the best way to pursue the war against terror," he said.

Meanwhile, security officials in Pakistan say they have killed up to 100 mostly foreign militants on the Afghan border. There has been no independent confirmation.

Growing frustration

The US say that Pakistan's north-west tribal areas are being used as "safe havens" by militants preparing attacks on Afghanistan.

But Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said there was "no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border".

He said the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan would be defended at all cost.

A senior Pentagon official told the BBC that Mr Bush gave his approval this summer for cross-border raids into Pakistan.

The order includes the use of conventional ground troops crossing the border into Pakistan to pursue militants there.

An unnamed former intelligence official told the New York Times that the Pakistani government is not told about intended targets because of concerns that its intelligence services are infiltrated by al-Qaeda supporters.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas, in Washington, says it is a sign of growing US frustration with Islamabad's lack of assertive action against the militants.

There is also an increasing concern about the threat such militants pose to Nato troops in neighbouring Afghanistan, and potentially to the US, says our correspondent.

The US has been carrying out regular military air strikes on Pakistan from Afghanistan, but ten days ago US troops carried out a ground assault for the first time.

Pakistan said the raid in South Waziristan was a violation of its sovereignty and summoned the US ambassador to hear a "very strong protest".

Islamabad fears that attacks by US troops could encourage support for the Taleban militants among tribal groups in the border area.

The latest revelation appears to be part of a slow change in US strategy towards Pakistan and will only add to the tensions between the two countries, our correspondent adds.

'Common insurgency'

Officially, the US has stressed the need for co-operation with Islamabad.

On Thursday, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told Congress that the US must continue to work closely with Pakistan.

"In my view, these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them," he said.

"We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan... but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."

The US move to focus efforts on the Afghan-Pakistan border was welcomed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"Change of strategy is essential," said Mr Karzai said at a news conference in Kabul on Thursday.

"It means that we go to those areas which are the training bases and havens - we jointly go there and remove and destroy them."

SEPTEMBER 14th 2008
This is quite beyond belief. That there would be a serious danger of US forces being fed false information in order to get them to wipe out political opponents is something so obvious that it hardly needs mentioning. I made the point a week ago here because it seemed the only possible explanation for the catastrophic errors taking place. It looks like the Peter Principle is working on America as a whole. It is apparent that not only the President but those in charge of intelligence are just not fit for purpose. I will refrain from childish, insulting language, though I find it difficult. We would be better off getting Russia into NATO and throwing the US out till it has a government that is compos mentis.

Afghanistan blames vendetta for civilian deaths

By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer 41 minutes ago

An American military operation that killed up to 90 civilians was based on false information provided by a rival tribe and did not kill "a single Taliban," the president's spokesman said Sunday.

Afghan police arrested three suspects accused of giving the U.S. military false information that led to the bombardment of the village of Azizabad, the Afghan Interior Ministry has announced.

"There was total misinformation fed to the coalition forces," Humayun Hamidzada, the spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, told The Associated Press.

The operation, conducted by U.S. Special Forces and Afghan soldiers, hit Afghan employees of a British security firm and their family members — the reason the military recovered guns during the operation

The Aug. 22 bombing has strained the U.S.-Afghan relationship, Hamidzada said. An Afghan government commission found that up to 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, a finding backed by a preliminary U.N. report.

Full AP Report

OCTOBER 5th 2008
The conclusions stated here by the senior military commander in Afghanistan should come as no surprise. I pointed out in spring 2007 to the senior commanders back in the UK that unless we ourselves were to indulge in genocide, those of the Taleban that could claim to sanity and verbal coherence would have to be negotiated with, since they were breeding and arriving at operational age faster than orthodox, military troops responsible to properly constituted representative government, could be recruited, trained and deployed. And not only faster but at a thousandth of the cost. I will not publish the emails or the replies (which broadly agreed) here for obvious reasons. The ball is, however, in the Taleban court.

Afghan victory hopes played down

The UK's commander in Helmand has said Britain should not expect a "decisive military victory" in Afghanistan.

Brig Mark Carleton-Smith told the Sunday Times the aim of the mission was to ensure the Afghan army was able to manage the country on its own.

He said this could involve discussing security with the Taleban.

When international troops eventually leave Afghanistan, there may still be a "low but steady" level of rural insurgency, he conceded.

He said it was unrealistic to expect that multinational forces would be able to wipe out armed bands of insurgents in the country.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says Brig Carleton-Smith's comments echo a view commonly-held, if rarely aired, by British military and diplomatic officials in Afghanistan.

Many believe certain legitimate elements of the Taleban represent the positions of the Afghan people and so should be a part of the country's future, says our correspondent.

'Taken the sting out'

Brig Carleton-Smith is the Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade which has just completed its second tour of Afghanistan.

If the Taleban were prepared to... talk about a political settlement, then that's precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies
Brig Mark Carleton-Smith

He paid tribute to his forces and told the newspaper they had "taken the sting out of the Taleban for 2008".

But he stated: "We're not going to win this war.

"It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army."

Brig Carleton-Smith said the goal was to change how debates were resolved in the country so that violence was not the first option considered.

He said: "If the Taleban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that's precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this.

"That shouldn't make people uncomfortable."

Since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001, 120 UK military personnel have been killed.

OCTOBER 17 2008
On August 19th I wrote:
"There is therefore only one solution: to decide to win it in a big way on the ground, in which case the hearts and minds will follow, or to ask Afghnanis if they have an alternative solution such as internal reconcliation. In my humble opinion, I have never been there, the latter seems to be impossible."

On September 17th I advocated "some decisive action on a very large scale"

Now at last we hear:

'We need 30,000 more soldiers to beat Taliban,' says general

Exclusive: General Sir David Richards, who will today be named as the British Army's new head, appeals for a dramatic 'surge' in Afghanistan

By Kim Sengupta
Friday, 17 October 2008

A general who believes a "surge" of 30,000 more troops is needed in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban will be appointed as the new head of the British Army today, The Independent has learnt.

General Sir David Richards, who will take over from General Sir Richard Dannatt, is believed to favour sending up to 5,000 more British troops to Afghanistan on top of the 8,000 already in the country. The other 25,000 troops would be made up of US reinforcements and newly trained Afghan soldiers. General Richards also believes that a negotiated settlement may be necessary to end the conflict, but that any talks must take place with the Afghan government and Nato in a position of strength.

Ministers have publicly insisted that despite the impending withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, no further troops will be available for the Afghan mission. However, senior military sources have told The Independent that talks have already been held in Whitehall about possible further deployment next year following a request from General David McKiernan, the head of Nato forces in Afghanistan. The request is understood to be supported by General Richards.

The reshuffle at the top of the Armed Forces means that three commanders with extensive experience in Afghanistan and Iraq will now have key leadership roles in the military. General Richards himself, in his recent post as the head of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, was the first non-American to command US forces since the Second World War.

He will be replaced in his current job as the Commander-in-Chief of British land forces by Lieutenant General Peter Wall, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lieutenant General Sir Nick Houghton, who has served in Iraq, has already been selected as Vice Chief of Defence Staff.

The appointments will be a blow to General Dannatt, who had hoped to be promoted to Chief of Defence Staff, the overall head of the military. It is widely believed he missed out on the job because of the Government's annoyance at his public comments over soldiers' welfare and policy in the Iraq war.

General Dannatt appeared to be increasingly engaged in a confrontation with ministers which, many commanders began to feel, led to the Army losing out to the other two services in the scramble for resources.

General Richards will be working closely with the American commander, General David Petraeus, who is taking over as head of US Central Command. General Petraeus, who has been credited with reducing violence in Iraq through the troop "surge", will now be in overall charge of US military policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

After finishing his stint as head of the Army in the post of Chief of General Staff, General Richards, described as one of the most impressive British commanders in recent times, is expected to eventually move on to the job which had eluded General Dannatt, and become the head of the Armed Forces. The Ministry of Defence has announced that the current Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, will stay at his post for an extra two years. This ended the prospects of Admiral Sir Jonathan Band, the head of the Royal Navy, and the RAF's Air Chief Marshal, Sir Glenn Torpy, from succeeding him, as they are due to retire next year.

General Richards has been most recently in the public eye when he gave evidence at the Old Bailey trial of his translator in Afghanistan, Cpl Daniel James, who has been charged with spying for the Iranians.

Senior officers point out that the Government is mistaken if it thinks it now has a malleable man in place. General Richards has ruffled ministerial feathers by speaking his mind while leading operations in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and East Timor.

There are stlill those who are divided about whether or not to negotiate with 'The Taliban'. The answer is simple. There has to be a massive military effort to control the country, defend the innocent and defeat the Taliban. At any time the door should be open to those of the Taliban who realise they should stop fighting to do so, on a basis of peace and reconciliation. The ball must be put squarely in their court. To do that we do indeed need at least 30,000 and better 100,000 more troops. That gets round the puzzle of who, in The Taliban, to negotiate with. The answer is those who wish to negotiate and make sense and peace.

Naturally there must be development. Security comes first, antocoruption next, then development. In Iraq there was no security and rampant corruption, hence disaster until this was looked at in the right order. Right now, political corruption is something Iraqis and Afghanis must challenge. Corruption amongst bureacrats depends o them being paid to be honest. All these problems have existed in Italy in recent times. People have turned to the Mafia for security land that is the equivalent of turning to the Taliban in Afghanistan. They have paid bribes to get low level justice and permissions from the official law because the bureaucracy was underpaid. It's the same the whole world over.

The coroner referred to below thinks the military commanders in Afganistan should 'hang their heads in shame'. In the same spirit and level of debate, I suggest the coroner, clearly a fool but also a very mouthy, objectionable little prick, should be hung up by his bollocks. These brave soldiers do a terrfic job in Afghanistan, but if called upon to defend Britain, if this coroner represents it, motivation could start to drain away.

Coroner condemns minefield rescue

Those responsible for failings that led to the death of a UK soldier trapped in an Afghan minefield should "hang their heads in shame", a coroner has said.

Cpl Mark Wright, 27, of Edinburgh, died and six were injured in four blasts.

Recording a narrative verdict coroner Andrew Walker criticised the MoD and said it was "lamentable" the UK was not equipped to stage an effective rescue.

He said downdraft from a helicopter had set off the fatal mine. The MoD denies troops are lacking proper resources.

Cpl Wright and fellow marooned troops had tried to wave away the RAF Chinook, which was not equipped with the winch they had requested and which they predicted could set off another explosion.

Six of the other soldiers injured lost limbs during the incident on 6 September 2006.

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said the government had agreed to pay compensation to Cpl Wright's family and were "determined" to learn lessons from the incident.

The inquest verdict listed a catalogue of failures that would make "very difficult reading" for the Ministry of Defence, said BBC correspondent Alex Bushill.

The parents of Cpl Mark Wright said lessons must now be followed

But Commander of Joint Helicopter Command, Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, denied the rescue Chinook had set off the explosion and said he was "confident" current resources enabled British forces to carry out the tasks they faced.

Rear Adm Johnstone-Burt - who is responsible for the provision of all battlefield helicopters and crews in Afghanistan and Iraq - said in addition to UK Chinook, Apache, Sea King and Lynx helicopters, British forces had access to other helicopters provided by allies.

He said all UK helicopters deployed in Immediate Response Team roles in Afghanistan were now fitted with winches, but went on to say they did not expect British forces to use helicopter winches to extract personnel from minefields "because of the lethal risks involved".

He also said: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Cpl Mark Wright GC at this difficult time. The heroic actions of Cpl Wright and those injured in this incident were motivated by a selfless desire to save their comrades."

Commander of Joint Helicopter Command, Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt says the helicopter did not cause the blast

Cpl Wright was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his actions in aiding a colleague and continuing to command the incident despite his own serious injuries.

In a statement from Cpl Wright's family, their solicitor said the coroner had made it clear there had been "really serious systemic failures" in providing the correct training, intelligence and resources for troops to do their jobs.

Mr Walker said that the blast which killed Cpl Wright was caused by the "downwash" from the British Chinook sent to rescue the platoon of Paras who had been stranded in an unmarked minefield.

He said Cpl Wright's death could have been avoided.

"That a brave soldier is lost in battle is always a matter of deep sadness but when that life is lost where it need not have been because of a lack of equipment and assets, those responsible should hang their heads in shame," he added.

The soldiers, who were from the Parachute Regiment's 3rd Battalion, became marooned after one of their snipers strayed into the unmarked danger zone in the Kajaki region of Helmand province.

We are satisfied that Mark did not cause his own death, or contribute to it in any way. This will give us some peace of mind
Cpl Wright's father Bobby

The troops asked for a helicopter with a winch to be sent to pick up the sniper, whose leg had been blown off.

They were told none was available and the Chinook, which was not fitted with a winch, was sent instead. But when it arrived the concerned soldiers tried to wave it away.

As it departed another mine exploded, striking Cpl Wright.

The survivors were rescued some three hours later by two US Blackhawks which were fitted with winches. Cpl Wright died on board one of the American helicopters.

Parents proud

In delivering his verdict the coroner said three main factors contributed to Cpl Wright's death:

• A lack of availability in Afghanistan of appropriate UK helicopters fitted with a winch. The coroner said there was a lack of suitable lighter helicopters with winches that could have pulled the troops to safety

• The downwash from the Chinook helicopter sent to the minefield

• The administrative delay in sending a suitable helicopter.

The narrative verdict is a statement about how the death occurred, used when the coroner believes their conclusions require detailed explanation.

In his statement Mr Walker also criticised a lack of batteries for radios at observation posts, which hampered the ability to communicate, as well as a failure to provide meaningful information to soldiers about the threat of mines in the area.

He also spoke out against the teaching methods used to train soldiers to locate and mark mines.

Speaking outside the Oxford court as the two-week inquest ended Cpl Wright's father Bobby said he and Cpl Wright's mother Jem were "proud" of the courage their son displayed.

"We are also proud to be associated with the courage of his colleagues, both on that day and in coming to this inquest, to relive those events.

"We are satisfied that Mark did not cause his own death, or contribute to it in any way. This will give us some peace of mind."

He said it had been "painful to listen to the catalogue of errors" that led to their son's death and said they did not want other families to experience the loss of a child in similar circumstances.

NOVEMBER 15th 2008

A Useful debate was held at Chatham house 2 days ago and broadcast by the BBC on Radio 4, Eddie Mair in the chair.

Simon Jenkins proposed we should get out of Afghanistan because 'it is not our country, things are getting worse and we have not got the capability to turn it around" and leave it in a stable democratic state.

Rory Stewart proposed we should limit our ambitions in Afghanistan to what we can achieve, though he was not to clear on what that was as it depended on so many things.

The rest of those assembled, in a substantial majority, were for seeing it through, though (naturally) continually adjusting our tactics to what was most effective.

The truth is that we can do whichever we choose, but if we follow Simon Jenkins' advice it would be the end of NATO credibility, the end of any international enforcement of international law, the end (in spite of what a few Taliban on the back foot pretend) of any improvement in women's rights in Afghanistan, and a free-for-all in a number of places. On the other hand if we choose to do what we clearly, obviously and morally should do, then we have to make sure we are the people to do it, that we have the guts to do it, the persistence to do it, the ability to do it and the national cohesion and political will to do it. Quite possibly we do and quite possibly we do not. If it is the latter, then the world will have to look elsewhere for European leadership in these matters. Suggestions by email please - I shall post them here.

As to whether or not taking an active role in international law enforcement makes us more or less vulnerable to attacks by terrorists, I would have though the answer was obvious. In Italy, they murder judges; in Mexico and elswhere, policemen. Internationally minded people with a grudge are not fussy about professions or even nationality, they like geographically defined targets associated with governments who support the UN resolutions they don't like. The situation is, however, confused by the refusal of some who claim to support the UN and its resolutions, to abide by them.

DECEMBER 22nd 2008
Plans for more troops still leave the old dilemmas...

Afghan leader presses US military on strategy

KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai pressed America's top military leader Monday on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and preparations to pour up to 30,000 more forces into the country, reflecting Karzai's concerns over civilian casualties and operations in villages. Karzai asked Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, what kinds of operations the newly deployed troops would carry out and told him that the Afghan government should be consulted about those missions.

The Afghan president, stinging from a series of civilian casualties in U.S. military operations in recent years, said he doubts that sending more American forces into Afghan villages will tamp down the insurgency, and he has questioned a U.S. plan to deploy 3,500 U.S. forces in two provinces on Kabul's doorstep next month.

Karzai told Mullen that U.S. troops must take more care during operations in Afghan villages and stop searching Afghan homes. He asked the chairman to investigate allegations that U.S. forces killed three civilians in a raid last week in Khost province, a reflection of increasing concern about civilian casualties. The U.S. says three militants were killed.

Karzai wants more forces deployed along the Afghan border to combat insurgents infiltrating from Pakistan, where suspected U.S. missile strikes Monday killed eight people in a region where al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are believed hiding.

The identities of those killed in the two attacks — the latest in a stepped-up American campaign in the lawless region — were not immediately known.

During the weekend, Mullen said the U.S. would send an additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by summer — the largest number ever given by a top military leader — in an increase in force that reflects the deteriorating security situation around the country more than seven years after the U.S. invasion.

President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of ending the war in Iraq and refocusing American's military efforts on the Afghanistan region.

But with Karzai casting doubt on how many U.S. troops should operate in the country, it's not clear whether the two leaders will share a similar vision for the direction of the Afghan effort.

Karzai's office said Mullen told the president the new troops would be sent to dangerous regions with little security, particularly along the Pakistan border, to prevent insurgent infiltration.

Mullen told reporters Saturday that NATO and the U.S. have "enough forces to be successful in combat, but we haven't had enough forces to hold the territory that we clear."

But Karzai has signaled he is wary of more U.S. forces operating among ordinary Afghans.

The U.S. next month will deploy around 3,500 forces into two provinces on Kabul's doorstep — in Wardak and Logar, two areas that have seen a massive infiltration of militants in the last year. But Karzai says U.S. troops are not needed there.

"Sending more troops to the Afghan cities, to the Afghan villages, will not solve anything. Sending more troops to control the border, is sensible, makes sense," Karzai told the Chicago Tribune last week. "That is where I need help. I don't need help anywhere else."

Diplomats in Kabul say Karzai, who is running for re-election next year, is making increasing overtures to his base of voters, and it's not clear what statements are for domestic consumption and what are actual demands for the international community to follow.

The U.S. will also send thousands of troops to Helmand province — the world's largest opium poppy growing region and the center of the Taliban resistance. Karzai told Mullen he thinks troops should go there.

The Taliban militia and other militants have gained steam in the last two years and now control wide swaths of territory in the country. A record number of U.S. troops have died in combat this year, and suicide and roadside bombs are deadlier than ever.

Although insurgents have nowhere near enough power to defeat U.S. or NATO troops in battle, the country is too big — and international forces too few — to occupy much territory and keep regions militant-free permanently. Afghanistan's security forces, though growing, are still too small and weak to protect the whole country.

Still, it's clear Karzai is unhappy with the level of coordination between U.S. and Afghan forces.

Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman, said more than 60 percent of U.S. missions are led by Afghan forces.

"We strive to do coordination and consultation to the best of our abilities, given that this is a partnership," he said.

The deployment of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops will raise the number of American forces in Afghanistan to the 50,000 to 60,000 range. Another 30,000 troops from 40 other countries currently operate in Afghanistan, although the bulk of the fighting forces are from the U.S., Britain, Canada, France and the Netherlands.

Violence in Afghanistan has risen sharply the last two years. More than 6,100 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.

Monday's missiles in Pakistan struck about five miles apart just south of Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal area, said local security official Bakht Janan. A house and a vehicle were destroyed in the attacks that killed four people in each site, he said.

The U.S. has carried out more than 30 missile strikes since August in Pakistan's lawless, semiautonomous tribal areas, targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants.

While the missiles have killed scores of militants, Pakistan has criticized them as an infringement of its sovereignty and says it undermines its own battle against extremism.


Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

JANUARY 23rd 2009
Today marks a key moment in this file. The new American President, Barack Obama, has appointed Richard Holbrooke (of Balkans nogotiating fame) as Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is hard to decide which of these countries now reresents the greater danger and challenge to those who prefer a peaceful, non-revolutionary, non-terrorist future for the region. Holbrooke is described by James Bone, writing from New York for the UK Times newspaper as
a hard-charging, big beast in US diplomacy and later as a brash, self-aggrandising New Yorker.

As someone who instinctively dislikes those who fit this description, I still have to say Mr Holbrooke was what was needed at the time in the Balkans and, if he has a plan that makes sense, he may be able to do better than his predecessors in SE Asia including the UN diplomats and the US advisors. It is certain that as things stand, things are going downhill in Afghanistan in spite of the fact that most of the population do not support al Qaida or Taliban aims or policy or tactics. I think it is the right appointment.

FEBRUARY 18th 2009

MAHTER LAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday he expected a reduction in tensions with the United States, a day after President Barack Obama announced plans to send fresh troops.

Karzai said U.S. and NATO forces had agreed to improve the coordination of their operations with Afghan authorities to avoid civilian casualties.

Reuters Report:

There is a lot riding on this. The Taliban are calling the shots in Pakistan near the border, giving their raiders sanctuary. Karzai has lost popularity and control in Afghanistan. An immense effort is now needed on the political and rebuilding fronts as well as a surge to enforce security and bring any reasonable Taliban on-side.

MARCH 9th 2009
Thank God for that. A combination of Obama in the Whitehouse and a coherent US General on the case has made it clear that Karzai's theory of not talking even to redeemable Taliban is busted. We need a strengthed force on the ground; we need to make it clear Afghans are never going to accept Taliban rule, we need to enforce security and we need to get on board a great number of Taliban who know when the game is up. To do that we need to talk to them and give them safe conduct conditions that can be accepted by all.
The final essential ingredient is to get the cooperation of warlords who have fought for Afghan independence in the past, who can appeal to the tribal roots, and take part in ending the corruption that plagues the current regime. It's a huge job but now it is clear we have coherent thinkers in the US administration.

There are those who say there is no way this can work because those Taliban orchestrating the war are not moderates but fanatics or xenophobes who want a withdrawal of all foreign forces. But the latter are understandable and therefore redeemable by the right sort of contact. That is a point of principle that has been proven world-wide throughout history. Let us face it, the right sort of contact is something they have never known. Here is the a summary of the point of view that in my view betrays its own confusion if you read it carefully.

Obama's call on moderate Taliban useless: analysts

KABUL (Reuters) – President Barack Obama's proposal to reach out to moderate Taliban will fail to end the Afghan insurgency as it is inflexible Taliban leaders who are orchestrating the war, not moderates, analysts said.

Obama, in an interview with the New York Times newspaper published on its website on Saturday, expressed an openness to adapting tactics in Afghanistan that had been used in Iraq to reach out to moderate elements there.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed Obama's proposal but analysts were doubtful.

"Obama's comment resemble a dream more than reality," said Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who has written a book on the Taliban.

"Where are the so-called moderate Taliban? Who are the moderate Taliban?" asked Mozhdah, who was an official in both the Taliban and the Karzai governments.

Karzai's pro-Western administration and the growing number of foreign forces in Afghanistan have increasingly come under attack from a resurgent Taliban, with Obama now describing Afghanistan as a top foreign policy priority for his new administration.

"'Moderate Taliban' is like 'moderate killer'. Is there such a thing?," asked writer and analyst Qaseem Akhgar.

Obama did point out that compared to Iraq the situation was more complex in Afghanistan, where nearly 70,000 foreign troops, 38,000 of them American, are due to be joined in coming months by another 17,000 U.S. soldiers.

The number of foreign troops in Afghanistan has risen steadily since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 after they refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The level of violence has also risen, as the Taliban have stepped up their campaign to force out Western troops.

Some Western politicians and military officers now say the war cannot be won by military means alone and a solution will have to involve some form of reconciliation.


The key to ending Afghan violence lay in the hands of the Taliban leaders who are on a U.S. wanted list, Mozhdah said.

"Taliban leaders are behind the insurgency, not the so-called moderates. To put an end to the war, they have to be included in any talks, their views should be heard," Mozhdah said.

"Their names have to be removed from the list because they are the source of the crisis."

Pakistani analyst Rahimullah Yousufzai welcomed Obama's proposal to engage with moderates, saying the United States was finally coming around to the realization there would be no military solution.

But he too was skeptical about the chances of negotiating with the Taliban who have shown no hint of compromise on their main demand -- that foreign troops get out.

"They would like to pacify some elements of the Taliban but I have my doubts about this," he said.

"The Taliban are very rigid in their demands. They actually don't want to talk unless there is some guarantee that Western forces will leave," he said.

Analysts said Obama's proposal to reach out to moderate Taliban was also aimed at splitting the movement, although Karzai has failed to do that with his repeated offers over recent years to engage with moderates.

"I don't foresee much change on the ground ... Over the last eight years, there have been very few Taliban defections," said Yousufzai.

"They have Mullah Omar as their leader. They have to approach Mullah Omar and as we all know he is very inflexible."

In Iraq, the use of Sunni Muslim community leaders to employ their people to patrol their neighborhoods has been credited as one of the main reasons behind sharp falls in violence.

But Ahmad Saeedi, a former diplomat and analyst, said the tactic would not succeed in Afghanistan where arming militias would only become another headache for Kabul and the West.

Obama's call for reaching to moderate elements was aimed at appeasing European countries increasingly disillusioned with what looks like a war without end, ahead of a planned trip there, said Saeedi.

The United States needed to engage countries in the Afghanistan region and take on board their demands for solving Afghanistan's crisis, Saeedi said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel and Jerry Norton)

Former warlord to fight Karzai in Afghanistan polls

Sherzai welcomes Obama's bid to reach out to moderate Taliban elements and end bloodshed

By Jerome Starkey in Jalalabad

Monday, 9 March 2009

MARCH 23rd 2009

U.S. outlines new Afghan strategy to NATO allies

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United States met NATO allies on Monday to outline its strategy review for Afghanistan after President Barack Obama said it would contain an exit strategy and greater emphasis on economic development.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke met NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer before briefing the 26 alliance ambassadors.

"It is to give the broad lines of the U.S. strategy review as it now stands," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

"I don't know that they've arrived at any final conclusions on which President Obama has signed off on, but their thinking is now very close to the conclusion of the process."

Appathurai said he was not aware of a plan, reported in Britain's Guardian newspaper, for Washington and its allies to create an Afghan chief executive or prime minister to bypass President Hamid Karzai, who is widely seen as ineffective by the West.

In an interview with CBS's "60 minutes" on Sunday, Obama said the new U.S. police would contain an exit strategy and include greater emphasis on economic development.

"What we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems," he said.

"So what we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there's got to be an exit strategy ... There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."

Obama has admitted the United States and its allies are not winning in Afghanistan, where insurgent violence at its worst level since the U.S.-led intervention there began in late 2001.

He has ordered deployment of 17,000 more troops on top of nearly 70,000 foreign troops already there.


Holbrooke told a Brussels conference at the weekend the administration was looking at a very significant increase in the size of the Afghan police force.

He also said Washington wanted increased focus on alternative livelihoods to opium farming helping fuel the insurgency and he would seek very significantly expanded funding for agriculture sector job creation.

Among the U.S. ideas are increased focus on counter-terrorism and the training of Afghan forces, a focused counter-insurgency push in the violent south and east and pursuit of a wider campaign to protect civilians.

Hundreds of civilian officials from across the U.S. government would be sent to Afghanistan as part of the new strategy in a sort of "civilian surge."

Holbrook said an initial plan to help boost police numbers from 78,000 to 82,000 was now considered inadequate but called figures cited by the New York Times of a combined goal of about 400,000 Afghan troops and police officers "speculative."

The Afghan government and its international backers have already announced plans to increase the size of the Afghan army substantially to 134,000 soldiers, from 70,000 in mid-2008.

France last week proposed sending European Union gendarmes to train paramilitary police in Afghanistan as part of efforts to step up training of Afghan security forces.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, editing by Ralph Boulton)

MARCH 24th 2009

Analysis: US leaders say Afghan war stalemated

WASHINGTON – When President Barack Obama presents his overhaul of U.S. strategy and goals in the Afghanistan war in the coming days, it's a safe bet that he will not claim America and its allies are winning the seven-year-old conflict.

Almost no one inside the Obama administration makes those claims, a bleak assessment that acknowledges the grinding stalemate the war has become, and its impending plans to change tactics and lower expectations.

Little has gone as planned in Afghanistan in recent months, and Obama's advisers know their program to counter a resourceful insurgency may not work, and will cost many more American lives before they find out.

The cautionary tone coming from Obama and his top military and civilian commanders is a quantum shift from the misplaced optimism that papered over harsh battlefield realities during the Vietnam War and the post-invasion period of the Iraq war.

Obama's mission statement for Afghanistan and Pakistan, expected before he sees NATO allies in Europe next week, is likely to redefine victory in the sprawling, decentralized country. The long-awaited review also will probably acknowledge the shortcomings of military power to win a war of "hearts and minds" — the hoary military catch-phrase left over from Vietnam.

"Even with these additional forces, I have to tell you that 2009 is going to be a tough year," Obama's top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, said after Obama approved 17,000 additional forces to target the spreading insurgency in southern Afghanistan.

McKiernan called the war in the south "at best stalemated," but said the new troops can gain a toehold. The semantic space between losing and "not winning," as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen has said, leaves room for the military turnaround that U.S. leaders hope will come this year or next.

Obama, like his military commanders, has been careful not to say outright that the United States is losing the war.

Asked in an interview earlier this month whether U.S. troops were winning against a resurgent Taliban, Obama bluntly said, "No." He went on to tell The New York Times that the insurgency is finding new ways to stymie U.S. and NATO-led forces. "You've seen conditions deteriorate over the last couple of years," he said.

Southern Afghanistan has become the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, which left some 6,400 people — mostly militants — dead in 2008 alone. Foreign and Afghan troops are the target of daily roadside bombings and suicide attacks.

Vice President Joe Biden was even more to the point in describing the harsh task facing deployed U.S. troops. "We're about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that's been effectively lost," he said last month on CBS' "Face the Nation"

It's very different from the triumphal tone of the Bush administration in the Afghan war's early years, or even its cautiously confident predictions of only a year ago, when then-President George W. Bush said, "We're making progress in Afghanistan."

Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to play down a warning last year from retired Marine Gen. James Jones — now Obama's national security adviser — that the United States risked losing "the forgotten war."

"You're not looking at a traditional military force that I think is a strategic threat to the government," Rice said in February 2008.

The year went on to be the deadliest for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since 2001, with 151 killed, and the deadliest overall for foreign troops, with 286 killed. Biden, among others, has said he expects U.S. casualties to rise as more forces are added and the fight gets more intense this year.

A main goal of Obama's revamped strategy will be to ensure that the insurgency cannot topple the Afghan government. In other words, the insurgency has become the strategic threat that Rice dismissed.

"Winning in Afghanistan is outgoverning your adversary," said Craig Mullaney, who commanded an Army platoon in Afghanistan in 2003 and was an Obama campaign adviser.

Author of a new soldier's memoir, "The Unforgiving Minute," Mullaney describes the frustration of American forces who sometimes couldn't tell friend from foe in Afghanistan. "In a counterinsurgency," he said, "if you're not winning you're losing."

Military analysts have warned that U.S. casualties could double this year. Already, U.S. deaths in Afghanistan increased threefold during the first two months of 2009 compared with the same period last year — numbers that have daunted U.S. officials as they turn their attention from Iraq to the new battle lines in Afghanistan.

"Unlike Iraq and some of the other problems, this is an area where I've been somewhat uncertain in my own mind what the right path forward is," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters last week.

Gates worried aloud "about an open-ended commitment of increasing numbers of troops for a variety of reasons, including the size of our footprint in Afghanistan and my worry that the Afghans come to see us as not their partners and allies but as part of their problem."

The sometimes-startling pessimistic assessments radiating from U.S. leaders also may be a reaction to the cautionary example of Iraq. The killing in that war grew fiercest after Bush proclaimed in 2003 that major combat operations were over. He famously appeared on an aircraft carrier in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

As the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq passed its sixth anniversary last week, Gates was asked whether he thought the mission would be accomplished by the end of 2011.

Gates paused, chuckled and glanced over his shoulder.

No banner. But no misplaced optimism, either — a lesson for both Iraq, and for Afghanistan.

Iraqis now have the chance to govern themselves and live better lives, he noted.

But, in a reminder of his own recent calls for scaling back democracy-building in Afghanistan, Gates added that "the roots of democracy or representative government, if you want to call it that, in Iraq are still relatively shallow."


EDITOR'S NOTE — Anne Gearan covers U.S. national security policy for The Associated Press.

MARCH 27th 2009
This is the only sensible strategy

Obama sets Qaeda defeat as top goal in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama unveiled a new war strategy for Afghanistan on Friday with a key goal -- to crush al Qaeda militants there and in Pakistan who he said were plotting new attacks on the United States.

"The situation is increasingly perilous," Obama said in a somber speech in which he sought to explain to Americans why he was boosting U.S. involvement in the seven-year-old war and expanding its focus to include Pakistan.

The new strategy comes with violence in Afghanistan at its highest level since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 for sheltering al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States. The militia has escalated its attacks, often operating from safe havens in border regions of Pakistan.

"The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al Qaeda operates unchecked," Obama said, stressing that stabilizing Afghanistan required an international effort, not just an American one.

He said the U.S. military in Afghanistan would shift the emphasis of its mission to training and expanding the Afghan army so that it could take the lead in counter-insurgency operations and allow U.S. troops to eventually return home.

Obama plans to send 4,000 more U.S. troops to train the army, along with hundreds of civilian personnel to improve the Afghan government's delivery of basic services. The force will be in addition to the 17,000 combat troops Obama has already ordered sent to Afghanistan ahead of elections in August.

The 17,000 will reinforce 38,000 U.S. troops and 32,000 from some 40 NATO allies and other nations in Afghanistan.

The new strategy also calls for the United States to reach out to Afghanistan's neighbors, including U.S. foe Iran, step up military and economic aid for Pakistan, and ask NATO to send more troops for the election and to train the army and police.

Britain said it was ready to dispatch more troops, while other European Union countries welcomed the new U.S. plans and held out the prospect of more aid and doing more training.

Representatives of the EU, United States, Russia, China and Central Asian states, meeting in Moscow, pledged more help in Afghanistan's fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.


The Afghan government said it welcomed all the major conclusions of the U.S. review of Afghan policy, while Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said the new strategy reflected Islamabad's view that military action alone would not the solution.

Obama said his new strategy had a "clear and focused goal" -- to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Multiple intelligence estimates had warned that al Qaeda was actively planning attacks on the United States from safe havens in the mountainous border regions of Pakistan, he said.

"For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world. But this is not simply an American problem. The safety of the world is at stake."

The plan puts Obama's stamp on a war he inherited from his Republican predecessor George W. Bush, whom he criticized for becoming distracted by the Iraq war and failing to devote enough resources to the military effort in Afghanistan.

By stating that the main mission is to target al Qaeda militants, Obama played down more ambitious goals embraced by Bush and other NATO leaders, who said a year ago the aim was to build a stable, prosperous and democratic Afghan state.

Analysts say the success or failure of Obama's Afghan policy will likely help define Obama's presidency, although it is his handling of the U.S. economic crisis that will be the centerpiece of his term.

"To me it looks like very much the Bush strategy for Iraq in 2006, which focused on kinetic operations to try to kill or capture al Qaeda and handing responsibility to Iraqi security forces, and that ended up with a fiasco," said Christopher Schnaubelt, an analyst at NATO Defense College in Rome.

"It's going to take a lot longer to train up the Afghan army and police than the administration would recognize. They are already having trouble getting volunteers now. How they get new recruits, I don't think they've figured out yet."


Obama set no timetable for the strategy, but he said the United States would not "blindly stay the course" and would set benchmarks for the Afghan government to crack down on corruption and ensure it used foreign aid to help its people.

He said key to defeating al Qaeda was strengthening the weak civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan, where he said al Qaeda and its allies were a "cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within."

The United States would give economic and military aid to Pakistan to help it root out al Qaeda from the tribal areas, but, he added: "After years of mixed results, we will not provide a blank check."

Obama's plan got broad support in Washington from fellow Democrats and opposition Republicans, although some expressed reservations over Pakistan's ability to take on al Qaeda, and whether the plan offered enough help for Islamabad.

In an illustration of the violence dogging Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed 37 people when he blew himself up in a crowded Pakistani mosque near the Afghan border on Friday, government officials said.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Jeff Mason, Matt Spetalnick, Andrew Gray and Thomas Ferraro in Washington, Mark John and David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Christina Fincher in London and Conor Sweeney in Moscow; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

APRIL 4th 2009
Every so often some bright spark repeats the view that with the cold war over, NATO has lost its purpose and can be wound up. They point to its failure to resolve any current problems and question its utility and expense. But I have to say we have been through this argument in advance many years ago. Unless we are to expect one or more superpowers to be the enforcement agents of last resort  for the United Nations, the world needs an organisation that can cooperate in military actions, can agree on the political essentials that justify any such action, and can debate and discuss these things in a rational manner.  President Obama has made it clear that the US cannot be the world's policeman. NATO could be renamed, that is true, but why confuse things. Fix what is broke and polish up the rest.

STRASBOURG, France – European leaders pledged at NATO's 60th-anniversary summit Saturday to send thousands of soldiers and police to train Afghanistan's army and secure its coming elections, but they shied far from matching America's pledge to dispatch a large number of new combat forces.

MAY 6th 2009
Still the same appalling problem, the fog of war, the inability to sort the lies from truth, to know who has died, who has killed, who has been misled, who used as human shield, who the innocent victim of false intelligence. One thing is known: the Taliban will stop at nothing - they will impose their domination or die in the attempt, and take as many with them as they can.

Red Cross: Many Afghans dead after US bombings

KABUL – Calling civilian deaths unacceptable, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he would talk with President Barack Obama on Wednesday about allegations that dozens of civilians died in a U.S. bombing run in western Afghanistan, the president's office said.

The international Red Cross reported Wednesday that its officials saw women and children among dozens of dead bodies in two villages targeted by airstrikes, while the U.S. military sent a brigadier general to the region to investigate.

The first images from the bombings in Farah province emerged. Photos from the site contributed to The Associated Press showed villagers burying the dead in about a dozen fresh graves, while other villagers dug through the rubble of demolished mud-brick homes.

A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross traveled to Bala Baluk district in Farah on Tuesday, where the officials saw "dozens of bodies in each of the two locations that we went to," said spokeswoman Jessica Barry.

"There were bodies, there were graves, and there were people burying bodies when we were there," she said. "We do confirm women and children. There were women and children."

Karzai ordered a probe Wednesday into the killings, and the U.S. military sent a brigadier general to Farah to head a U.S. investigation, said Col. Greg Julian, a U.S. spokesman. Afghan military and police officials were also part of the investigative team.

Karzai, currently in the United States, will raise the issue of civilian deaths with Obama, a statement from Karzai's office said. The two presidents were scheduled to hold their first face-to-face meeting later Wednesday.

Karzai called civilian casualties "unacceptable."

Civilian deaths have caused increasing friction between the Afghan and U.S. governments, and Karzai has long pleaded with American officials to reduce the number of civilian casualties in their operations. U.S. and NATO officials accuse the Taliban militants of fighting from within civilian homes, thus putting them in danger.

Local officials said Tuesday that bombing runs called by U.S. forces killed dozens of civilians in Gerani village in Farah province's Bala Buluk district.

The fighting broke out Monday soon after Taliban fighters — including Taliban from Pakistan and Iran — massed in Farah province in western Afghanistan, said Belqis Roshan, a member of Farah's provincial council. The provincial police chief, Abdul Ghafar, said 25 militants and three police officers died in that battle near the village of Ganjabad in Bala Baluk district, a Taliban-controlled area near the border with Iran.

Villagers told Afghan officials that they put children, women, and elderly men in several housing compounds in the village of Gerani — about three miles to the east — to keep them safe. But villagers said fighter aircraft later targeted those compounds, killing a majority of those inside, according to Roshan and other officials.

A Western official in Kabul said Marine special operations forces — which fall under the U.S. coalition — had called in the airstrikes. The official asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

Villagers brought bodies, including women and children, to Farah city to show the province's governor on Tuesday, said Abdul Basir Khan, a member of Farah's provincial council. He estimated that villagers brought about 30 bodies.

Farah's hospital treated at least three wounded villagers. A girl named Shafiqa had bandages under her chin. Two of her toes were severed in the fighting.

"We were at home when the bombing started," she told AP Television News. "Seven members of my family were killed."

Khan said villagers told him more than 150 civilians had died, but he said he had no way to know whether that claim was true.

Journalists and human rights workers can rarely visit remote battle sites to verify claims of civilian casualties. U.S. officials say Taliban militants sometimes force villagers to lie and say civilians have died in coalition strikes.

But the villagers' claims Tuesday were bolstered by the wounded at Farah's hospital shown on AP Television News. And Khan's account of several truckloads of bodies taken to Farah city added more weight to the claims.

In remarks Tuesday, Karzai alluded to the problem of civilian casualties without mentioning the bombing deaths. He said the success of the new U.S. war strategy depends on "making sure absolutely that Afghans don't suffer — that Afghan civilians are protected."

"This war against terrorism will succeed only if we fight it from a higher platform of morality," he added in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Asked later to clarify, Karzai said, "We must be conducting this war as better human beings," and recognize that "force won't buy you obedience."

An Afghan government commission previously found that an August 2008 operation by U.S. forces killed 90 civilians in Azizabad, a finding backed by the U.N. The U.S. originally said no civilians died; a high-level investigation later concluded 33 civilians were killed.

After the Azizabad killings, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, announced a directive last September meant to reduce such deaths. He ordered commanders to consider breaking away from a firefight in populated areas rather than pursue militants into villages.


Associated Press reporters Heidi Vogt, Jason Straziuso and Fisnik Abrashi contributed to this report from Kabul.

The real problem is that the Afghan people cannot take sides. They will take American money and work with UN and coalition forces when they are there and in conrol, but the next time the Taliban arrive they will work with them. They have no choice, they just have to survive. In a world where there are few clean hands, where the commercial champions of the free world cannot claim their economic model is either sustainable or not destroying the planet, where commercial pig farms are destroying the peasant economies of Eastern Europe in the name of  progress, where generations of traditionalistss have no chance of joining the new world model and keeping their authority and dignity or family structure, there is no simple answer. None of this excuses the utter barbarity of the Taliban fundamentalists, but it means it will take years for this struggle to be outgrown and consigned to history.

On top of all that we have centuries of religious confusion, where nationalism has been mixed with survivalist creeds and genocidal justification. Am I cheering you up dear reader? Just remember their world has been going through this for millennia, but globalisation on the present scale is a new phase. There has to be a result and an emergence. But there has to be a stop to alienating civilians and breeding future terrorists

MAY 11th 2009

US sacks top Afghanistan general

The US defence secretary has asked the country's commander in Afghanistan to step down, saying the battle against the Taleban needs "new thinking".

Robert Gates confirmed Gen David McKiernan would effectively be sacked less than a year after taking command.

He will be replaced by Gen Stanley McChrystal, who is seen as having a better understanding of the conflict.

The change comes as the US boosts troops numbers in Afghanistan and prepares for a change in strategy.

Gen McKiernan's time as US commander in Afghanistan has coincided with a surge in violence.

His successor currently serves as the director of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was previously a director of special operations forces.

Jonathan Beale BBC News, Washington Gen McChrystal was in charge of Joint Special Operations in Iraq. His forces were involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein and the killing of al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Robert Gates has refused to explain why he lost faith in Gen McKiernan. But both he and President Obama have often repeated that the war in Afghanistan will not be won with military strength alone. The inference is that Gen McKiernan was seen as too conventional a military commander. Brilliant at organising a ground war - as he did in Iraq - but less equipped for the complexities of Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal is reported to have adopted an approach of "collaborative warfare" - relying on communication intercepts and human intelligence as well as military force.

Announcing the removal of Gen McKiernan from his role, Mr Gates said new military leadership was needed to go along with a new strategy and a new ambassador.

"This is the right time to make the change," he said.

"Our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders."

He said the decision was in the best interest of US national security and the success of the Afghanistan mission.

It was made after consulting the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and the commander of the US Central Command, Gen David Petraeus.

The change also had the approval of President Barack Obama.

Correspondents say

is a specialist in the kind of counter-insurgency strategy the Obama administration plans to implement in Afghanistan.

Strategic goals

The change comes as President Obama's administration prepares to send thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan, and amid pressure on international forces to reduce the numbers of civilians killed by coalition air strikes.

With plans announced for a phased pullout of US troops from Iraq, Afghanistan was recently confirmed as the primary focus of US military operations.

The US is sending 21,000 additional troops to the country, to join an existing force of 38,000.

However, the new strategy is expected to pair non-military methods and reconstruction with a stronger armed force on the ground.

But relations with President Hamid Karzai's Afghan government have been strained by a recent air strike which some Afghan officials say killed as many as 150 people.

On Sunday, Gen Petraeus said "tactical actions" should not undermine strategic goals.

Gen McKiernan, who will also lose his role as head of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), recently described the situation in the country as a "stalemate".

MAY 16th 2009
Clearly, on the face of it, this strike (analysed in the Reuters report below) was worse than a failure if the war being fought is for a democratic Afghanistan based on popular support.

However, if all the militants targetted were killed, and all the innocent were hostages or families of militants, and suicide
technique is the method of fighting, then this is the method the Taliban choose in order to poison any victory.

This is what is known as 'total war' (as in the last stage of WWII), but at the same time 'asymmetric war'.  There is no way this can look good any more than the bombing of Dresden or nuking Hiroshima can look good. The NATO Coalition cannot prevent bulk suicide tactics or strategy. If this village had been surrounded by 100,000 US troops and they had demanded the Taliban should release the innocent hstages and then come out with their hands up, it is likely at the end of the day they would have refused and all died, with the innocent being shot by the militants so the result would have been the same in deaths and far more painful.

The same thing is going on with the Tamil militants in Sri Lanka. The world is facing the logical culmination of a process whereby technical supremacy of advanced powers is not accepted by the traditional thinking of tribal peoples whose traditions are incompatible with internationaly agreed ideas of modern human rights. They would rather die and take their countrymen and women and children with them than submit to cultural change and the loss of tribal authority and religious fundamentalism. 

U.S. strikes killed 140 villagers: Afghan probe

KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. air strikes earlier this month killed 140 villagers, an Afghan government investigation concluded on Saturday, putting Kabul starkly at odds with the U.S. military's account.

The official death toll, announced by the Afghan Defense Ministry, makes the bombing the deadliest incident for civilians since U.S. forces began fighting the Taliban in 2001, and is likely to worsen anger over the presence of foreign troops.

A copy of the government's list of the names, ages and father's names of each of the 140 dead was obtained by Reuters earlier this week. It shows that 93 of those killed were children -- the youngest eight days old -- and only 22 were adult males.

"No other news makes me as sad and sorrowful as incidents of civilian casualties during military operations," the Defense Ministry statement quoted President Hamid Karzai as saying.

The Afghan government paid the relatives of victims the equivalent of about $2,000 for those who were killed and $1,000 for 25 others wounded, it said.

U.S. aircraft bombed villages in the Bala Boluk district of Afghanistan's western Farah province on May 3 after U.S. Marines and Afghan security forces became involved in a firefight with Taliban militants. According to villagers, families were cowering in houses when the U.S. aircraft bombed them.

The incident has prompted anger across Afghanistan toward Western troops, and caused Karzai to demand a halt to all air strikes, a plea that Washington has rebuffed.


The U.S. military says it believes the death toll was lower than the official Afghan figure, but says it cannot provide a figure of its own because the dead were quickly buried.

It says the Taliban were to blame for deliberately putting villagers in harm's way to create outrage over civilian deaths, and some names in the government's list of victims may be fake. According to the military's version of events, many of the dead may have been fighters, and some civilians may have been killed by militants throwing grenades, rather than by air strikes,

Asked if the dispute over the death toll would cause further difficulties between the troops and their Afghan hosts, U.S. military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian said: "It's something we will discuss."

Julian said two U.S. military investigations were now under way, one ordered by commanders in Afghanistan immediately after the incident and another ordered more recently by U.S. Central Command, responsible for the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

A U.S. general had been sent from outside Afghanistan to head up the second investigation, Julian said. He was not able to say how long either investigation would take to issue findings.

Under new procedures instituted late last year to reduce the anger caused by civilian deaths, the military tries to coordinate its investigations into such incidents with Afghan authorities.

In several smaller cases in recent months the sides have quickly agreed in public about what happened, and U.S. troops have admitted making mistakes and apologized.

But there were immediate signs in the Farah case that Afghan and U.S. officials were not going to agree. A joint U.S.-Afghan statement issued five days after the bombing said only that some civilians were killed, but not how many.

(Writing by Peter Graff, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

JUNE 15th 2009
If McChrystal can manage to improve the coordination of intelligence and airstrikes to the point where it avoids unncessary civilian deaths on sites where the Taliban have already fled, then I have only one question: why not earlier? So much damage has been done to both local and world opinion, hearts and minds. There may be an answer to the question, but to what degree it is technical and what degree management would be nice to know.

KABUL – Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a four-star American general with a long history in special operations, took charge of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Monday, a change of command the Pentagon hopes will turn the tide in an increasingly violent eight-year war.

JULY 11th 2009
Instead of bombing the Talian and risking civilian casualties, the NATO forces including particularly the British forces in Hellmand have taken the ground assault to the enemy. This has resulted in British casualties from hidden explosive devices, hidden with immense skill by Taliban who have anticipated these developments. Operation Panther's Claw is NATO's response to demands to stop collateral damage from bombing.

Fifteen soldiers have died in 10 days in southern Afghanistan as UK troops continue Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther's Claw, a major assault against the Taliban in Helmand ahead of next month's Afghan elections. Taliban deaths are running about 100 times greater.

Troops 'fighting for UK's future'

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has defended the UK's continued military presence in Afghanistan, after eight soldiers were killed in 24 hours.

Some 184 service personnel have died there since 2001, more than the 179 killed in Iraq.

With Britain's role being called into question, Mr Miliband said UK forces were stopping Afghanistan becoming "a launch pad for attacks" by terrorists.

"This is about the future of Britain," he added.

Lt Col Nick Richardson told the BBC from Afghanistan it had been a "hard week" and that the risks had been higher recently because troops had been "taking the battle to the enemy".

"It's the only way to secure a future for Afghanistan and ultimately eliminate the risk posed to the international community that the Taliban and insurgents there bring," he said.

"We ask people to remember 9/11 and 7/7 and ask themselves whether they thought trying to prevent this from happening would be a worthwhile cause."

BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson:

When British troops were first deployed to southern Afghanistan three years ago the then defence secretary expressed the hope that they would complete their mission without a shot being fired.

It has instead been the most high intensity fighting British troops have faced since the Korean War in the 1950s.
To critics, the ferocity of the fighting is proof of how ill thought out the whole mission has been all along.
Defenders of the operation, however, say it was always bound to be difficult and that the casualties while regrettable have been suffered in a worthwhile and winnable cause.
Certainly the deployment to Afghanistan of around 10% of Britain's army has proved a real strain on manpower, equipment and finances.
For now at least though, Britain remains firmly committed to staying the course.

Fifteen soldiers have died in 10 days in southern Afghanistan as UK troops continue Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther's Claw, a major assault against the Taliban in Helmand ahead of next month's Afghan elections.

The deaths have brought the UK's role in the conflict under increased scrutiny.

British forces in southern Afghanistan been joined by about 4,000 US and 650 Afghan troops for the mission.

The Stop the War coalition has announced an emergency protest in London on Monday, calling for British troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan in light of the heavy losses.

A group spokesman said: "The troop surge which was meant to pacify Helmand province has become a nightmare for the British army.

"This unwinnable war must stop now."

However, Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4's Today programme troops were there to "ensure that Afghanistan can not again become an incubator for terrorism and a launching pad for attacks on us".

"This is about the future of Britain because we know that the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been used to launch terrible attacks, not just on the US but on Britain as well," he added.

The mission would not be over until the 65,000-strong Afghan security forces had been increased to the 120,000 needed to defend the nation, he said.

Mr Miliband refuted claims by Conservative leader David Cameron that those fighting on the front line were not properly equipped - particularly with helicopters.

'Physically exhausting'

The foreign secretary said the government had spent £10bn on equipment for force protection - including 1,200 new vehicles - in the last five years.

Former defence secretary John Hutton told the BBC it could be time to "tilt the balance" away from funding high-tech equipment for conflict between nations, towards resources for counter insurgency operations.

BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt said many on the front line talked about helicopters being in short supply.

But she added: "Some say they have better personal kit than they've had before.

"They do complain about the sheer weight of it. It was 45C there two weeks ago... it's physically absolutely exhausting."

The latest deaths include:

  • Five soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles killed in two separate blasts near Sangin, Helmand, on Friday.
  • A member of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment killed near Nad Ali in Helmand on Friday.
  • A soldier from 4th Battalion The Rifles killed in a blast while near Nad Ali on Thursday.
  • Another from Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, attached to 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, killed during an engagement with insurgent forces near Lashkar Gah, also on Thursday.

Col Richard Kemp, who commanded troops in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004, said the losses would have a serious effect on the men's units. 

"You develop immense bonds of comradeship between all ranks, and therefore if one of your number is killed or even seriously wounded... it hits you hard."

But he added that the Taliban were suffering casualties "in the region of a hundred enemy dead for every one of our dead", which were not being reported.

Pte Ben Ford, of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, died in Afghanistan in 2007 when the vehicle he was patrolling in was hit by an explosion.

His mother, Jane Ford, backed the UK's mission.

"It's like in a playground and the bully is the Taliban. He won't come out and fight, and we've got to go and do it for them.

"We've got to say to these lads: 'You're doing a good job'. We are sorry they're losing their lives, it's awful. But if we pull out now, that bully's won."

  • 1: Highest monthly toll with 19 dead including 12 killed when a RAF Nimrod crashes in Afghanistan.
  • 2: British death toll reaches 100. Among the 13 fatalities in June is the first British female soldier.
  • 3: British casualties surge as major offensive against Taliban begins in the south. Many are lost to powerful Improvised Explosive Devices.
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    JULY 28th 2009
    There is a lot of useful analysis in the report below, but the exact proportion of the British public which is for or against cutting and running in Aghanistan is interesting only in what it says about Britain, not about Afghanistan. I can imagine any British government abandoning this job unless the rest of the world were to abandon it as a lost cause. If that were to happen it would be signal that we cannot establish and reasonable code of human rights in South East Asia and a defensive mode would have to be implemented in many areas of foreign policy and international movement and relations. Those who think what we call the 'Taliban' way of thinking, let alone al Qaida is compatible with the privileged status of a planet armend with hi-tech advantages are not focusing properly.

    Voters turn against war in Afghanistan

    By Nigel Morris and Kim Sengupta  - The Independent, July 28, 2009

    Majority thinks conflict is unwinnable and wants troops withdrawn, poll shows

    A majority of the public believes that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and British troops should be pulled out immediately, a poll for The Independent has found.

    The growing opposition to the military offensive emerged as another two UK soldiers were killed, bringing the number of deaths so far this month to 22. Gordon Brown declared yesterday that Operation Panther's Claw – the five-week onslaught on Taliban positions in Helmand province – had been a success.

    But today's ComRes survey suggests that the public mood is switching rapidly against the war – and that people do not believe it is worth sending reinforcements to Afghanistan.

    More than half of voters (52 per cent) want troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan straight away, with 43 per cent disagreeing. Opposition to the military action is even stronger among women.

    By a margin of nearly two-to-one, the public believes that the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily. Fifty-eight per cent view the war as "unwinnable", with 31 per cent disagreeing.

    There is overwhelming agreement – by 75 per cent to 16 per cent – that British troops in Afghanistan lack the equipment they require to perform their role safely.

    Despite that, 60 per cent of people do not think more troops and resources should be dispatched to the war zone. Just over one third (35 per cent) are in favour of reinforcements being sent in.

    The collapse in confidence in Britain's involvement in Afghanistan comes after the numbers killed in the action exceeded those who died in Iraq.

    Mr Brown yesterday announced the first phase of Panther's Claw had been a success, clearing out Taliban insurgents from a wide area of Helmand ahead of next month's Afghanistan elections.

    He acknowledged the "tragic human cost" among UK troops who were killed or injured, but insisted it had not been in vain. "What we have actually done is make land secure for about 100,000 people," the Prime Minister claimed.

    "What we've done is push back the Taliban – and what we've done also is to start to break that chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain."

    The two latest deaths brought the total number of UK fatalities in Afghanistan to 191 since the invasion of 2001. One soldier, from the Light Dragoons, died while on a vehicle patrol in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand. It was the first death in Operation Panther's Claw's second stage, which will focus on holding ground won from the Taliban in recent weeks. The second, from 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, died on foot patrol in Sangin district.

    The American commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is due to present his strategic plan for the campaign this week, emphasising that territory taken from the Taliban must be held. In the past, Western troops have been forced to abandon positions due to lack of numbers, allowing the insurgents to return.

    For British troops the immediate effect of this is that they must now be present on the ground in large numbers in the areas they have captured. However, senior officers point out it also means that UK forces will not be able to mount such an operation on their own in the future without reinforcements, because troops will be tied up guarding the newly secured areas.

    Lt-Gen Simon Mayall, deputy chief of the Defence Staff (Operations), declared: "We cannot afford another Musa Qala." He was referring to the capture of the Helmand town by British troops, who then withdrew after arriving at a deal with local elders. The area turned into an insurgent stronghold from which attacks were planned throughout southern Afghanistan.

    Brigadier Tim Radford, who commanded the British troops in Panther's Claw, said: "I am absolutely certain the operation has been a success. We've had a significant impact on the Taliban in this area – both in terms of their capability and their morale. It has been a very, very hard fight.

    "When I have been on the ground, you look into the eyes of some of the soldiers and they have certainly grown up during this period."

    He refused to confirm how many insurgents were killed in the operation. But he said: "There will be many Taliban who will not be fighting any more."

    Ministers are now backing moves by the Afghan government to draw moderate Taliban fighters into the political process by dividing them from hardcore militants.

    David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, speaking at Nato's headquarters in Brussels, said: "The Afghan government needs effective grassroots initiatives to offer an alternative to fight or flight for the foot soldiers of the insurgency. Essentially this means a clear route for former insurgents to return to their villages and go back to farming the land or a role for some of them within the legitimate Afghan security forces."

    William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, called for a "comprehensive strategy" for stabilising Afghanistan. He said: "It must include clear, tightly drawn, realistic objectives that are regularly reviewed, more rapid development of Afghan security forces and ensuring battlefield gains are swiftly followed by reconstruction."

    ComRes telephoned 1,008 British adults on 24-26 July 2009. Data were weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at

    AUGUST 17th 2009

    Taliban directly threaten Afghan polls

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – The Taliban on Sunday threatened for the first time to attack Afghan voting stations, escalating their bid to derail imminent polls despite deadly government operations against rebels.

    In the final campaign countdown, President Hamid Karzai took part in his first live television debate with two of his main rivals Sunday, promising to restore security after a daring Taliban attack targeted NATO.

    The Taliban threat was made in leaflets, pinned up and dropped in villages in the south, and authenticated by a spokesman who said the militia would accelerate its bloody campaign of violence on the eve of the elections.

    Afghanistan's 17 million voters will go to the polls Thursday to elect a president for the second time in history, as well as 420 councillors in 34 provinces in a massive operation clouded by insecurity and logistics headaches.

    "This is to inform respected residents that you must not participate in the elections so as not to become a victim of our operations, because we will use new tactics," said one leaflet distributed in Kandahar city and seen by AFP.

    Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi confirmed the leaflets were authentic and that commanders were ordering the masses to boycott the vote.

    "We are using new tactics targeting election centres... We will accelerate our activities on election day and the day before," the spokesman said.

    The leaflets marked the first direct threat from the rebels to attack polling sites. Late last month, the Taliban ordered voters to stay away from the polls and join the ranks of the militia in waging holy war to "liberate" Afghanistan.

    Karzai's controversial alliances with warlords came under fire during a first television election debate attended by an Afghan head of state.

    In a 90-minute head-to-head broadcast live, he was criticised by outspoken anti-corruption campaigner Ramazan Bashadorst and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani over the alleged deals, which could see Karzai win the vote.

    The president hit back, pledging the "protection of Afghanistan and national unity and removal of war and guns from Afghanistan".

    The defence ministry Sunday claimed security forces killed more than 30 rebels, including 10 foreigners, in an overnight operation pounding Taliban centres in a bid to secure a troublespot near the Pakistani border before the polls.

    The US military said an air strike and ground clashes killed "approximately 25 militants" when Afghan and US troops assaulted a rebel training camp to stop a commander's plans for a pre-election attack using foreign fighters.

    The overnight operation took place on turf of the powerful militant group controlled by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a hero of the 1980s resistance to Soviet occupation turned Taliban ally, and his son Siraj, an Al-Qaeda cohort.

    US, NATO and Afghan troops have launched multiple operations -- particularly against Taliban flashpoints in the south -- hoping to protect the elections.

    The defence ministry said Afghan and NATO-led troops also wrested a southern district from insurgents, hoisting the Afghan flag over Naw Zad on Sunday. The government said at least eight districts were still outside its control.

    Taliban threats and soaring attacks have raised widespread concern that poor turnout on Thursday could jeopardise the legitimacy of the elections.

    A suicide bombing outside NATO headquarters in Kabul killed seven civilians and wounded 91 others on Saturday, one of the most audacious attacks in months.

    It was a "warning that the Taliban can attack any time," said analyst Waheed Mujda. "The tactics they use make them very difficult to stop."

    There are more than 100,000 foreign troops based in Afghanistan, where US and British fatalities have reached record levels since the 2001 invasion ousted the Taliban regime and installed a Western-backed administration.

    British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted troops were doing a "vital" job in Afghanistan as the British military death toll shot up to 201.

    NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen paid tribute but said that "stabilising Afghanistan to prevent the return of terrorism that threatens us all remains a critical security task".

    AUGUST 19th 2009

    Nato's new approach in Afghanistan

    Ahead of presidential elections in Afghanistan, the American commander of the Nato-led international force there, Gen Stan McChrystal, described the military situation there as "serious".

    He told BBC world affairs editor John Simpson that he was changing the whole approach to the conflict.

    Gen McChrystal is the thinking man's soldier. He can see that things are not going Nato's way here in Afghanistan, and knows that there must be a new strategy.

    As a top American special forces commander, he led the operation to capture Saddam Hussein in 2003 in Iraq. He has been in the job here in Afghanistan for just two months.

    I flew with him by helicopter to the town of Sarobi, east of Kabul, which until recently was one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

    It is held by the French Foreign Legion, and is considerably safer now - though there are dozens of insurgents operating in the mountains nearby.


    The senior French officers who met him and were briefed by him about his new approach to the conflict were enthusiastic about it.

    Afterwards, one told me he had been impressed by Gen McChrystal and felt he was very much on the right lines.

    The general described his approach to me like this: "The situation is serious, and we need to turn the momentum of the enemy. We can do that.

    "What what we need to do is to correct some of the ways we operated in the past. We need show the kind of resolve and the imagination in some cases to do this smarter and to do it right."

    It is clear he wants the Nato troops in Afghanistan to move away from the idea that they are fighting an all-out war - the "body-count approach".

    Instead, he wants them to help the Afghans get rid of the Taliban for themselves.

    We'll win when we connect with enough of the Afghan people, where they have finally said, 'Enough.'
    Gen McChrystal

    Gen McChrystal is a supporter of the way the British operated in Iraq. He is generous in his praise of the professionalism and courage of the British army.

    When he spoke to the French officers he suggested that patrolling without body armour and dark glasses was one way of showing local people that Nato was on their side.

    They responded enthusiastically, though one senior officer said that if he ordered his men to patrol without body armour and one of them was killed, he himself would lose his job.


    Gen McChrystal knows that ordinary Afghans have many complaints about the way Nato troops operate.

    They include the indiscriminate bombing which has killed large numbers of civilians, and the arrest of people who are left languishing in jail without trial.

    In Sarobi the general visited the district governor, Qazi Sulaiman, who put these two complaints to him directly. The general gave him a clear assurance that such things would not continue.

    It would not be an easy promise to keep, he said, but it was essential to do it.

    Afterwards I asked him, if the situation was so serious, was he going to win?

    "We are," he replied. When? There was a faint pause, then he said it was difficult to predict.

    "We'll win it when we connect with enough of the Afghan people, where they have finally said, 'Enough.'"

    Gen McChrystal is planning to apply a new broom to the complicated mess he has inherited in Afghanistan. He has said publicly that he is giving himself from 18 months to two years to see if this new approach works.

    AUGUST 20th 2009
    Today, Afghanistan voted. Anybody not moved to tears by the bravery of these people, young women and frail old ladies amongst them, must be bordering on brain-death. In many places it has been peaceful, but there have also been a few polling stations where vicious attacks have taken place and the stations destroyed, and areas where the Taliban terror has deterred voters. Now we must await the results. UN monitoring has been widespread and complaints against violence and corruption will be investigated.

    AUGUST 21st 2009
    It looks like we will have a comprehensive report on what went well (quite a lot) and what went wrong (quite a lot in some places too, unfortunately). The worst was that Taliban actually did cut the fingers off some who had voted. Perhaps that will convince doubters that these people should not be permitted to run Afghanistan.

    Afghan polling 'marked by fraud'

    A leading group of election observers say there was widespread voting fraud and intimidation during Thursday's presidential election in Afghanistan.

    Stuffed ballot boxes, illiterate voters being told who to vote for and biased officials were cited by Afghanistan's Free and Fair Election Foundation.

    However EU monitors said that despite widespread intimidation and violence, the vote was generally good and fair.

    There have been rival claims of victory but no winner has been announced.

    The chief EU observer said it was still early days in assessing the election.

    The Free and Fair Election Foundation's provisional report also details accounts of multiple voting, underage voting and election officials being ejected from polling stations by representatives of candidates.

  • Counting began after polls closed at 1700 local time on Thursday
  • Votes counted by hand at each of the 6,200 polling stations
  • Polling stations are required to post their results immediately, to prevent fraud
  • Candidates' representatives are also given immediate access to results
  • The counting appeared to be completed by Friday lunchtime, with official returns due over the weekend
  • The group said militants had sliced a finger off two voters in southern Kandahar province.

    "Our observers saw two voters whose fingers, with the ink [a fraud prevention measure], was cut off in Kandahar. This was on election day," the foundation's chairman Nader Nadery was quoted as saying.

    Threats of violence against voters came from local powerbrokers, the Taliban and rival political camps according to the foundation, which sent about 7,000 observers around the country.

    Election officials have estimated turnout at between 40 and 50% which, if confirmed, would be well down on the 70% who voted in the first presidential election, in 2004.

    Thursday's voting passed off relatively peacefully amid threats of Taliban attacks. The EU election observer mission said the election was well organised and was a victory for the Afghan people.

    As official returns are collated, the leading contenders have said they will not incite street protests if they lose.

    The incumbent Hamid Karzai and his main rival Abdullah Abdullah gave the assurance to the US special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.

    Both men have claimed victory.

    Pre-election opinion polls suggested Hamid Karzai was leading the field of candidates but might face a run-off with Mr Abdullah.

    Partial, preliminary results are expected on Tuesday and final results are due to be released in September.

    If neither candidate wins an outright majority of 50%, then the vote goes to a second round in October.

    One of the other 31 contenders and the deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, Mirwais Yassini, told the BBC he believes both main camps practised widespread electoral fraud.

    He has lodged 31 complaints with Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC).

    AUGUST 23rd 2009
    Hamid Karzai must indeed take responsibility for fraud any of his supporters in official positions may have indulged in, even if he strongly disapproved of it. It is usually the supporters of any movement that bring it into disrepute rather than its opponents. The extent of it is now the issue. Let us hope the combined efforts of the different minitoring bodies can get to the facts.

    Afghan commission: fraud filings could sway vote

    KABUL – Charges of fraud in Afghanistan's presidential election are extensive enough that they could sway the final result, the commission investigating the complaints said Sunday.

    The independent Electoral Complaints Commission has received 225 complaints since polls opened Thursday, including 35 allegations that are "material to the election results," said Grant Kippen, the head of the U.N.-backed body. The figures include complaints about both the presidential balloting and provincial council polls.

    Millions of Afghans voted in the country's second-ever direct presidential election, although Taliban threats and attacks appeared to hold down the turnout, especially in the south.

    President Hamid Karzai's top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, accused the president of rigging the vote in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday. Another presidential candidate has displayed mangled ballots that he said were cast for him and then thrown out by election workers.

    Election observers have said the voting process was mostly credible, but are cataloging instances of fraud and violence.

    The most common complaint in the 35 high-priority allegations was ballot box tampering, Kippen said. He stressed that the number was likely to grow. The commission has only received complaints filed at provincial capitals and Kabul so far and is still waiting for complaints that were filed at polling sites.

    The top Afghan monitoring group has said there were widespread problems with supposedly independent election officials at polling stations trying to influence the way people voted. That group, the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, also catalogued violations such as people using multiple voter cards so they could vote more than once, and underage voting.

    The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan said allegations of vote rigging and fraud are to be expected, but observers should wait for the official complaints process to run its course before judging the vote's legitimacy.

    "We have disputed elections in the United States. There may be some questions here. That wouldn't surprise me at all. I expect it," Richard Holbrooke told AP Television News in the western city of Herat. "But let's not get out ahead of the situation."

    Holbrooke said the U.S. government would wait for rulings from Afghanistan's monitoring bodies — the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission — before trying to judge the legitimacy of the vote.

    "The United States and the international community will respect the process set up by Afghanistan itself," Holbrooke said. He has been in Afghanistan observing the vote, following a trip to Pakistan last week.

    The first preliminary results will not be released until Tuesday, and final certified results won't come until next month. If neither Karzai nor Abdullah gets 50 percent of the vote among a field of some three dozen candidates, then they will go to a runoff, probably in October.

    In the interview Saturday, Abdullah said he was in contact with other campaigns to explore the possibility of a coalition candidacy in case none of the 36 candidates won enough votes to avoid a runoff.

    The accusations of fraud against Karzai, which Karzai's spokesman denied, are the most direct Abdullah has made against the incumbent in a contest that likely has weeks to go before a winner is proclaimed. Both Abdullah and Karzai claim they are in the lead based on reports from campaign poll-watchers monitoring the count.

    "He uses the state apparatus in order to rig an election," Abdullah said. "That is something which is not expected."

    Abdullah said it "doesn't make the slightest difference" whether Karzai or his supporters ordered the alleged fraud.

    "All this happens under his eyes and under his leadership," Abdullah said. "This is under his leadership that all these things are happening, and all those people which are responsible for this fraud in parts of the country are appointed by him."

    Abdullah said government officials in Kandahar and Ghazni provinces, including a provincial police chief and a No. 2 provincial election official, stuffed ballot boxes in Karzai's favor in six districts. He also said his monitors were prevented from entering several voting sites.

    Karzai's campaign spokesman Waheed Omar dismissed Abdullah's allegations and claimed the president's camp had submitted reports of fraud allegedly committed by Abdullah's followers to the Electoral Complaint Commission. Omar said losing candidates often claim fraud to "try to justify their loss."

    AUGUST 23rd 2009

    Mullen: Afghan fight 'serious and deteriorating'

    WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military officer described the situation in Afghanistan as "serious and deteriorating," but refused to say Sunday whether defeating a resilient enemy would require more than the 68,000 American troops already committed.

    Adm. Mike Mullen also expressed concern about eroding public support as the U.S. and NATO enter their ninth year of combat and reconstruction operations.

    The comments from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff underscore the challenges that the U.S. and its allies face against a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida fighters who use safe havens in neighboring Pakistan to hide and launch attacks.

    In broadcast interviews, Mullen and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said that last week's presidential election in Afghanistan was historic, given the threats of intimidation voters faced as they headed to polling stations. It could be several weeks before it's known whether incumbent Hamid Karzai or one of his challengers won.

    "We're not sure exactly what the level of voter turnout was," said Eikenberry, a retired three-star Army general. "Taliban intimidation, especially in southern Afghanistan, certainly limited those numbers."

    President Barack Obama's strategy for defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida is a work in progress as more U.S. troops are put in place, Mullen said.

    The situation in Afghanistan needs to be reversed in the next 12 month to 18 months, he said. But Mullen wouldn't say whether more American forces troops would be needed.

    A large number of civilian experts is also required to help bring stability to Afghanistan's government and develop the economy, he said.

    "I think it is serious and it is deteriorating, and I've said that over the last couple of years, that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated," Mullen said.

    Three years ago, the U.S. had about 20,000 forces in the country. Today, it has triple that, on the way to 68,000 by year's end when all the extra 17,000 troops that Obama announced in March are to be in place. An additional 4,000 troops are arriving to help train Afghan forces.

    "I recognize that we've been there over eight years," he said. "But this is the first time we've really resourced a strategy on both the civilian and military sides. So in certain ways, we're starting anew."

    "We're just getting the pieces in place from the president's new strategy on the ground now," he said. "I don't see this a mission of endless drift. I think we know what to do."

    The Obama administration is awaiting an assessment about the situation from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal. That report is expected in about two weeks and will lead to decisions about whether more troops are necessary.

    "His guidance from me and from the secretary of defense was to go out, assess where you are, and then tell us what you need," Mullen said. "And we'll get to that point. And I want to, I guess, assure you or reassure you that he hasn't asked for any additional troops up until this point in time."

    Just over 50 percent of respondents to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this past week said the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting.

    Mullen, a Vietnam veteran, said he's aware that public support for the war is critical. "Certainly the numbers are of concern," he said. But, he added, "this is the war we're in."

    Arizona Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he wants the military leadership in Afghanistan to use the same aggressive approach that Gen. David Petraeus used successfully in Iraq.

    McChrystal should say exactly how many troops he needs in Afghanistan, let the Congress debate it and Obama would make the ultimate decision, McCain said.

    Troops in Afghanistan should "clear and hold" an environment for people so that economic and political progress can be made, he said. McCain said he worries McChrystal will be pressured to ask for lower troop totals than he needs.

    "I don't think it's necessarily from the president," he said. "I think it's from the people around him and others and that I think don't want to see a significant increase in our troops' presence there."

    On the question of what it will take to turn the tide in Afghanistan, McCain echoed Mullen's projection: "I think within a year to 18 months you could start to see progress."

    McCain acknowledged that public opinion on Afghanistan is slipping. But he said that opinion could be reversed.

    "I think you need to see a reversal of these very alarming and disturbing trends on attacks, casualties, areas of the country that the Taliban has increased control of."

    Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama's leadership on Afghanistan to bolstering public support.

    "He really can't just leave this to the Congress, to General McChrystal, and say, folks, sort of, discuss this, after the report comes in," Lugar said.

    Mullen and Eikenberry appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and CNN's "State of the Union." Lugar was on CNN. McCain's interview Friday with ABC's "This Week" was aired Sunday.

    AUGUST 25th 2009

    Karzai, Abdullah at 40 percent in partial returns

    KABUL – President Hamid Karzai and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah both have roughly 40 percent of the nationwide vote for president with 10 percent of ballots counted, the country's election commission said Tuesday.

    The commission said Karzai has 40.6 percent and Abdullah has 38.7 percent in the country's first official returns since the nation voted for president last Thursday.

    The early returns are based on only 10 percent of the country's ballots. The commission plans to release partial results each day the next several days. Final, certified results won't be made public until mid or late September.

    The commission said it had based the count on 524,000 valid votes after throwing out about 31,000. Less than 2 percent of Kandahar votes have been counted, and no votes in Helmand have been counted, the commission said. Karzai would expect to do well in both provinces, suggesting his returns could go higher.

    If neither Karzai or Abdullah gets more than 50 percent of the votes, the two will face each other again in a run-off.

    Karzai supporters have already said that the president won close to 70 percent of the vote, but Abdullah has alleged that massive fraud has been carried out in favor of the president.

    "If the widespread rigging is ignored this is the type of regime that will be imposed upon Afghanistan for the next five years, and with that sort of a system, a system that has destroyed every institution, broken every law," Abdullah said at a news conference just before the results were announced.

    Six Afghan presidential candidates, including one being floated as a potential "chief executive" for the next government, warned Tuesday that fraud allegations threaten to undermine the recent election and could stoke violence.

    Low voter turnout and allegations of fraud have cast a pall over the election. In particular, some worry that supporters of Abdullah could vent fury if he comes in second with no chance at a runoff.


    AUGUS 31 2009

    MP backs more Afghanistan troops

    Sending more UK troops to Afghanistan could save lives, Conservative MP Patrick Mercer has said.

    His comments came after the prime minister announced plans suggesting a greater role for British troops, during a surprise visit to the country.

    Mr Mercer, a former soldier, saw Gordon Brown's announcement as a pledge to send more British personnel.

    He said his former regiment was in Afghanistan "and they tell me that the secret to this is extra manpower."

    Speaking in Helmand province, Mr Brown pledged greater protection for troops from roadside bombs and better equipment, including more armoured vehicles.

    He announced plans for the British to train another 50,000 Afghan troops trained by November 2010, which would enable them to "take more responsibility for their own affairs".

    Improvised devices

    Mr Mercer said: "For at least the last two years, commanders on the ground have been asking for extra troops. That was denied by the government.

    "I don't quite know why Gordon Brown only now is announcing this.

    "With the extra manpower that is now being promised, perhaps so many lives wouldn't have been lost over the last few months."

    The BBC's deputy political editor, James Landale, who was in Helmand with the prime minister, said training that number of Afghans so quickly could require an increase in the number of British troops.

    There are currently 9,000 UK troops in the country, mostly in Helmand. We need better equipment not just more troops [PaulRichard2], Southampton,

    Mr Brown said another 200 soldiers skilled in countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs) would be deployed in the autumn.

    There would also be more unmanned surveillance aircraft, he said.

    The latest death in Afghanistan - a Royal Marine killed on foot patrol in Helmand early on Saturday morning - was announced as the prime minister was flying home.

    He is the 208th member of the UK forces to have died in Afghanistan since 2001.

    Brig Gen Eric Tremblay, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), said the Royal Marine had "sacrificed his life to help secure Afghans living in the south".

    "Like all his fellow Isaf comrades who fell before him in this difficult fight to separate the insurgents from the Afghan population, we shall always remember him."

    This first part of Gen. McChrystal's review does not specify if and how many more troops and civilians will be needed to implement a revised strategy.

    US general sends Afghan war review to Pentagon
    KABUL – NATO says the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan has finished his 60-day strategic review of the war and that it is now being sent up the chain of command to the Pentagon and NATO headquarters.

    A NATO statement released Monday said U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal reports the situation is "serious" but that success is achievable. McChrystal says success demands a revised strategy, commitment and resolve.

    NATO says the assessment was requested by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and NATO headquarters and that it seeks to reduce the capability of insurgents, including al-Qaida.

    NATO officials say the review does not ask for more troops, an issue that will be considered separately.

    THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Police say Taliban militants ambushed a supply convoy for NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, killing an Afghan guard who was escorting the trucks.

    Zabul province police chief Ghulam Jailani Farhai says the militants opened fire on the line of trucks on the main highway from Kandahar province into Zabul early Monday. Private security guards hired to protect the convoy fought off the attackers, but one of the guards died in the battle and four were wounded.

    Farhai also said three militants died while trying to plant a bomb on a road in Zabul's Shamolzai district.

    In Kandahar, meanwhile, an official says three Afghan police were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

    SEPTEMBER 15th 2009

    I am so glad that this is finally understood

    US: Afghan govt failures as dangerous as Taliban

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – The top US military officer said Tuesday that the Afghan people's doubts about their government's effectiveness and legitimacy posed as serious a threat to US goals there as Taliban fighters.

    "I consider the threat from lack of governance to be equal to the threat from the Taliban," Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    US-led forces drove the Taliban from power in late 2001, but the Islamist insurgents have returned and asserted control over parts of Afghanistan because of "the lack of legitimacy in the (Afghan) government at every level."

    Mullen expressed serious concerns that charges of vote-rigging in the war-torn country's recent presidential ballot would only deepen doubts Afghans have about their government in Kabul.

    "There needs to be a level of legitimacy that the Afghan people see in their government, whether it's local to national, and there's a great question about that right now, and so far, the elections are not helping," he said.

    "We need to get through these elections, see what the results are, see who we're dealing with, what's the government look like and move forward accordingly. But that issue of legitimacy is a huge, huge issue," he said.

    The electoral complaints body in Kabul has announced that ballots at 10 percent of Afghanistan's polling stations will be recounted due to indications of fraud during last month's controversial polls.

    With most of the votes from August 20 tallied, President Hamid Karzai leads with 54.3 percent against his main rival Abdullah Abdullah's 28.1 percent.

    But US officials worry that the dispute will further sink US public support for the eight-year-old war, which has dropped to dismal depths even as Washington debates sending more troops there.

    "We could send a million troops, and that will not restore legitimacy to their government. Would you agree with that?" asked Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

    "That is a fact," said Mullen.

    Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine asked Mullen whether corruption in the Afghan government and "the shadow over the legitimacy" of the presidential vote hurts US efforts to present an alternative to the Taliban.

    "There's no question," said Mullen.

    "The Afghan government needs to at some point in time appear to be -- you know, to actually be -- to have some legitimacy in the eyes of its people," he added.

    "And the core issue in that regard is the corruption piece, and in many ways it's been a way of life there for some time, and that's got to fundamentally change. That threat is every bit the threat that the Taliban is," he said.

    SEPTEMBER 21st 2009
    Even more sense is being talked now. But the UK and US public seem to think they can give up, and that when their sons and daughters join the army their lives should not be at risk of a far off country where officials are often corrupt. Wouldn't life be simple if such were really so! Indeed we could play this differently as I have pointed out fequently. I would not advise it. McChrystal has many advisers on the ground and a good head to assess the situation. Whether or not the NATO nations have the will and capability to take a line and follow it through is quite another matter.

    Afghanistan could be lost within a year: US commander

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – The top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan warned President Barack Obama in a confidential report that the war against the Taliban could be lost within a year without more troops.

    In a grim assessment of the eight-year conflict leaked to the Washington Post and published on Monday, General Stanley McChrystal said a new strategy was needed and warned that "inadequate resources will likely result in failure.

    "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible," he wrote.

    The report was presented to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on August 30 and is being reviewed by the White House, with McChrystal widely expected to make a formal request to increase the 62,000-strong US force.

    McChrystal, who assumed command of international troops in Afghanistan in June, said the campaign in Afghanistan "has been historically under-resourced and remains so today."

    This fact risks "a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure," he wrote.

    The 66-page document -- a declassified version of which is published at -- describes a strengthening, intelligent Taliban insurgency.

    McChrystal is disparaging about the corruption-riddled Afghan government and the ineffective strategy by international forces that has failed to win over ordinary Afghans.

    "The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and (the International Security Assistance Force's) own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government," he wrote.

    International forces "have operated in a manner that distances us -- physically and psychologically -- from the people we seek to protect... The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."

    McChrystal said the Afghans' own forces must be boosted over the next 12-18 months to maintain international support. He called for the Afghan army to be increased from 134,000 troops to 240,000, and the police force to be raised to 160,000 officers from 84,000.

    The general also warned that hardline insurgents reach systematically into Afghanistan's bloated prison system for recruits.

    The prisons have become "a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations" against the Afghan government and coalition forces, he said.

    Despite all his criticism, McChrystal maintained a cautious optimism for longterm outcomes in the conflict, insisting: "While the situation is serious, success is still achievable."

    The leak of the report, which was confirmed as genuine by McChrystal's spokesman in Kabul, came a day after Obama defended his delay in making a long-awaited decision about more troops.

    "We're going to test whatever resources we have against our strategy, which is if by sending young men and women into harm's way, we are defeating Al-Qaeda," Obama said.

    "(If) that can be shown to a sceptical audience -- namely me, somebody who is always asking hard questions about deploying troops -- then we will do what's required to keep the American people safe."

    McChrystal's spokesman in Kabul, Lieutenant Colonel Tadd Sholtis, confirmed that the Washington Post had published "an unclassified version of General McChrystal's classified initial assessment."

    The content of the newspaper's version was negotiated between "US government leaders, the White House and the Department of Defense" with input from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, he told AFP.

    Information was omitted from the report "that would have endangered ISAF personnel and operations in Afghanistan," he said, describing the leak as "unfortunate."

    "Broader public discussion of the assessment before there has been adequate time for it to circulate and be reviewed and considered by the large number of officials that oversee ISAF's efforts obviously changes the dynamic of the debate," he said.

    Gates said last week that the president needed time to assess US strategy and should not be rushed over such an important decision. "We need to take our time and get this right," he told a press conference on Thursday.

    SEPTEMBER 25th 2009

    I like this man. Perhaps he can put some backbone into the UK public, a public our soldiers, sailors and airmen are increasingly ashamed of.

    NATO chief to U.S.: Not running from Afghan fight

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The new head of NATO will seek to ease American doubts about the alliance's commitment to the Afghan conflict on Monday, even as European allies downplay chances of major reinforcements after eight years of war.

    Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in his first major U.S. speech as secretary-general, acknowledges the need for more resources to fight the Taliban in the face of mounting Western casualties and fading public support, according to prepared remarks obtained by Reuters.

    But the former prime minister of Denmark, who took over NATO's top job last month, also criticizes those in the United States who belittle the contributions of allies.

    Such behavior is counterproductive, he says, and may leave them "less inclined to make those efforts and those sacrifices" in the future.

    "I'm a little concerned about the doubts I hear these days in the United States about NATO," Rasmussen says in the speech to be delivered at the Atlantic Council in Washington at 5 p.m.

    EDT (2100 GMT).

    "Talking down the European and Canadian contributions -- as some in the United States do on occasion -- can become a self-fulfilling prophesy."

    His comments come on the same day as European defense ministers, meeting informally in Sweden, expressed reluctance to send a significant number of reinforcements.

    "If you look at Europe, I don't hear any voices saying we have an additional five or ten thousand soldiers to send to Afghanistan," said Danish Defense Minister Soren Gade.

    Opinion polls on both sides of the Atlantic show souring public sentiment over the eight-year-old conflict, which the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has warned likely will result in failure without more troops.

    McChrystal is expected to seek 30,000 to 40,000 combat troops and trainers, according to defense and congressional officials.

    European allies are not expected to offer any significant increase in trainers or troops unless the United States takes the lead.

    But U.S. President Barack Obama, who is also working to reduce the U.S. military presence in Iraq, has said he will not decide on further reinforcements for Afghanistan until after a broad review of strategy.

    Senator John Kerry, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged against committing more troops without clear goals or a timeframe.

    "Otherwise, we risk bringing our troops home from a mission unachieved or poorly conceived," Kerry said in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal published on Monday.


    Rasmussen was scheduled to meet Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday and Tuesday, his office said.

    In the speech, Rasmussen points to 9,000 additional non-U.S. troops who have joined the Afghan effort in the past 18 months, saying "the allies are not running from the fight, despite the conventional wisdom."

    The Netherlands and Canada already have set 2010 and 2011 withdrawal timelines. But Rasmussen says NATO "will stay for as long as it takes to succeed."

    He says more resources will be required and stresses the need to rapidly train Afghan forces so they can take the lead in providing security. He adds that "we have to do more now if we want to be able to do less later."

    "None of this will be quick and none of it will be easy," Rasmussen says. "We will need to have patience. We will need more resources. And we will lose more young soldiers to the terrorist attacks of the Taliban."

    McChrystal's leaked assessment included withering criticism of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, saying that troops often lacked basic understanding of Afghan society.

    Rasmussen says he is aware of frustrations in Washington, including restrictions some NATO nations put on their forces and delays in NATO decision-making.

    "I am already working hard to address those very real problems," he says in his remarks.

    The Pentagon said on Monday any additional deployments would not happen until next year, even if Obama approved them immediately.

    "There is a certain amount of train-up that is required to prepare for a particular battlespace and there is a certain amount of logistics in terms of moving equipment," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

    (Additional reporting by Adam Entous in Washington; Mia Shanley and Niklas Pollard in Gothenburg, Sweden and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

    OCTOBER 14th 2009

    Last Saturday there was a discussion at Chataham House broadcast on BBC Radio 4 chaired (very well) by Eddie Mair.

    "Afghanistan: is it Mission Impossible?"

    As President Obama debates whether to send even more troops to the country, and the British death toll there rises, how close is the west to achieving its ambitions in Afghanistan?

    What is its 'mission'? To close down terrorist cells in the country, making the UK a safer place? To introduce democracy, greater freedom for women, more electricity, water?

    Taking part in the debate were:

    Francesc Vendrell, who was the European Union's Special Representative for Afghanistan from 2002 to 2008; before that he was the Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

    Brigadier Buster Howes, who is the Head of Overseas Operations at the MOD.

    Eric Joyce, a former major in the army and now a Labour MP. He resigned as an aide to the defence secretary, calling on Gordon Brown to make clear to the British people that the Afghanistan campaign was 'time limited'.

    Lindsey German, a senior organiser of the Stop the War Coalition.

    Dr John Mackinlay, a counter-insurgency expert from King's College, London.

    I have to say that none of the participants acquitted themselves with honour. I wasvery disappointed in all of them. The were given every chance to put their case for or against the initial involvement, the continuing involvement, an exit strategy, a time limit, a definition of success, an ultimate aim - but they all failed abysmally.

    Brigadier Howes went strongly for the National Interest, failing to point out clearly that in today's world the National Interest is the same as the International Interest. No nation can retire to defend it own interests as defined by its national borders and legitimate rights of passage and trade, ignoring its international duty to participate in the minimal attempt at world government and the application of international standards that is now represented by the UN and its dependent institutions. Every member of the UN should be able to call for assistance from the UN in the face of take-over by violent extremists. Howes did make the point that the people of Afghanistan are massively opposed to the Taliban, but failed to make the case that our involvement was for any purpose other than making the streets of London safer. How wrong he is. Whenever we do our duty as a member of NATO and the UN to prevent another nation from such threats of insurgency or of tyranny, our streets are more dangerous. When we set out to defend Poland and the rest of Europe from the Nazis, London was blitzed to buggery. Any time we do anything in life that is not the line of least resistance, as an individual or as a nation, we put ourselves at risk in the immediate, short and maybe medium term. Gordon Brown makes the same mistake.

    As for Lindsey German, if we followed her ideas, and every other NATO member did the same, the outcome would be quite obvious. We need not spend any more time considering this useless woman.

    Eric Joyce reveals himself as just a pain in the arse, veering between statements of the obvious, political opportunism, and outbursts that indicate he is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

    Dr John Mackinlay came up with nothing to indicate that his 'expertise' in counter insurgency was of the slightest use when it came to application to the current situation other than to give up a task we should not have attempted.

    Francesc Vendrell made a certain amount of sense, seemed to understand the need for International Involvement, but failed to come up with a blue-print that convinced.

    The truth is this: the International Community's intervention in Afghanistan was necessary, but it was carried out in such a way as to invite counter-measures from various elements within and outside the country. Nobody did the math. The Iraq intervention which interrpted it was grossly mishandled as well. The United States bears most of the responsibility for the mishandling, and has borne most of the cost in lives and treasure but, in so doing, has made it increasingly difficult to maintain public support in Europe and the US for an operation which even the people called to discuss the details in public at Chatham House appear to be incapable of explaining. It is enough to drive the member of the armed services, who see quite clearly that international intervention is required to defend any nation that is the target of al Qaida and of terrorist attack by ruthless gangs of fundamentalist fanatics, up the wall.

    Back in the 1980s, as we brought the Cold War to an end, there was much discussion on the future of NATO and how it would be needed for operations like this in the future. There is no possibility of maintaining even the level of civil security we have now unless we keep NATO in top shape and get relations between all the major powers onto a footing that has as its prime directive the identity of national and internation interest. Globalisation is a FACT. I hate to quote George Osborne but: "We are all in this together" and walking away from Afghanistan on the grounds that the election was corrupt is the very converse of logic.

    We, and the rest of NATO, must learn from mistakes and continue with the job to the very best of our ability. That's all. Simples. First, though, we need to wait for the results of the election.

    OCTOBER 18th 2009
    The Obama administration has stipulated that before deciding to commit any more troops to Afghanistan there has to be clarity on the result of the election. In other words NATO needs a government in Afganistan it can work with, that is accepted by the civilian population and the Afghan Army as the legitimate authority.

    Given the results so far, once the suspected and obvious fraudulent votes have been eliminated, it looks like the way to achieve this will require either negotiation between the major electoral contenders or a re-run of the election. The difficulty for a re-run is that of providing security and also electoral fatigue. Nevertheless Obama and his team are right - there has to be a way to establish the legitimacy and effectiveness of the new government before NATO and the International Community can give it full-on support.

    OCTOBER 20th 2009

    Obama cites higher hope for Afghanistan democracy

    WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Tuesday applauded Afghan President Hamid Karzai for accepting election fraud findings that invalidated nearly a third of the votes cast for him in August.

    Obama said the breakthrough offers new hope that a credible Kabul government will emerge to partner with the U.S. and NATO in battling a resurgent Taliban insurgency and blocking al-Qaida's return.

    Obama told reporters that he spoke by phone with the Afghan president after Karzai bowed to U.S. pressure and announced that he agreed to a runoff election Nov. 7, acknowledging that he fell short of a majority in the first balloting.

    The original vote count had put Karzai well above the 50 percent mark he needed to be declared the outright winner, but a U.N.-based investigation determined that hundreds of thousands of his votes were tainted. Until Tuesday it was unclear whether Karzai would accept the findings and agree to a runoff.

    "President Karzai and the other candidates have shown that they have the interests of the Afghan people at heart," Obama said. "This is a reflection of a commitment to the rule of law and the insistence that the Afghan people's will should be done."

    In his remarks at the White House, Obama praised the work of U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was joined in talks in Kabul over the weekend by Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Obama also acknowledged the work of American troops fighting in Afghanistan.

    In an Associated Press telephone interview from Dubai, Kerry said Tuesday that Karzai had felt deeply aggrieved by the pressure put on him to accept a runoff and the implication of Afghan incompetence.

    "President Karzai really deeply believes he had won the election and he felt the process was flawed and he felt that the international community was kind of conspiring to push for a different outcome," Kerry said.

    "He felt very deeply about the flaws of the process. He had people within his government, people within the election commission who felt they were being insulted about putting together a faulty election process. There were a lot of very deep feelings about Afghanistan's right to run its election, its competency in running it and so forth."

    Obama put a positive spin on Karzai's decision.

    "President Karzai's constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan's new democracy," Obama said in a statement issued earlier Tuesday. "The Afghan constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai's decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people."

    In reviewing its strategy for the war in Afghanistan — including contemplation of sending tens of thousands more U.S. troops next year — the White House has publicly questioned whether the Afghan government is too corrupt to serve as a worthwhile partner in the fight against a Taliban insurgency.

    Administration officials on Tuesday appeared to signal that Karzai had taken a step in the right direction.

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed Karzai's announcement as a boost for Afghan democracy. She made no direct mention of the fraudulent Karzai votes that were thrown out, although she referred to "a rough and contentious" election and weeks of "debate over the flaws in the vote."

    "We remain committed to partnering with the Afghan people and their government on our shared objectives of strengthening good governance, tackling corruption, increasing economic opportunities and improving security for all Afghans," she said in a written statement.

    Obama remains under pressure from some Republicans to complete his strategy review and decide on troop levels.

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading advocate of bolstering U.S. troop levels, said Tuesday he was pleased by Karzai's decision and argued that improved security is the key to building a credible Kabul government.

    "It is unrealistic to expect Afghan governance to improve significantly without improved security," McCain said. "That is why it is essential to implement the properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy that Gen. Stanley McChrystal and our senior commanders have called for, and that is why I continue to urge President Obama to provide our military and civilian leaders in Afghanistan with the resources they need as quickly as possible."

    The White House said Obama also called Eikenberry to thank him for his collaborative work with Kerry and to get an update on the election situation. Obama also called Abdullah Abdullah, the former Afghan foreign minister who came in second in the August vote and will face off against Karzai on Nov. 7.

    Eikenberry and Kerry had been deeply engaged with Karzai and other Afghan government officials over the past several days, apparently succeeding in persuading Karzai that he must accept the fraud probe results.

    Kerry, who had met with Karzai at least four times before the announcement, was at the Afghan president's side when the announcement was made in Kabul.

    In interviews over the weekend from Kabul, Kerry said the election process had to be settled before the Obama administration could make a reasoned decision about whether to send additional troops and to commit other resources to stabilizing Afghanistan.

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, said the Obama administration needs to decide on a war strategy and not "sit on our hands" waiting for election results and a government to emerge in Kabul. In remarks to reporters traveling with him to Asia, the Pentagon chief said Obama will have to make his decisions in the context of "evolving" issues.

    White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said it has not been determined whether Obama will wait to announce an Afghan strategy until after the results of the runoff. Gibbs told reporters he still expects that announcement to be made in "the coming weeks."

    Regardless of the election's outcome, Gibbs said, "We've got to make sure we're making progress with a partner in that government." He also said the next U.S. strategy meeting on Afghanistan may be pushed back until early next week because Gates and Vice President Joe Biden are traveling abroad.

    Obama was widely expected to decide on the next steps in Afghanistan before he begins an extended trip to Asia next month.


    Associated Press writers Andrew Miga, Steven Hurst, Lara Jakes and Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.

    OCTOBER 31st 2009
    So now we have to listen to Michael Heseltine on STRAIGHT TALK (BBC News 24) dispensing words of wisdom. "As Mrs Thatcher once said 'Never get into a room until you have worked out how to get out of it!"  Oh what a pearl. What an utterly meaningless pearl of politspeak from one of the most absurd politspeaking wankers of all time. Add added to that: "The presence of our troops is an irritant to the process". What process is the dork referring to. Without the NATO presence there is no process of any description..

    Further comment on this man's prattle (I left the UK in 1974 because it was governed by him and his lot when some of s were trying to make some sense of life) is a waste of time. Yet this is the calibre of person we, as a nation, are forced to listen to still.

    The situation is just as bad as he paints it, maybe worse. And his point is? He does not have one. He is, and always was, a pointless waste of space with too much hair.

    NOVEMBER 1st 2009
    I am not sure why I am posting this non-news excpet to agree with the fact that there is no clarity. The stupidity of Karzai's supporters in trying to win by cheating when they could have won honestly is more evident every day. A deal is now needed to get a government with representation from both main parties.

    Future of Afghan election unclear

    Efforts are under way to resolve confusion over whether the final round of Afghanistan's presidential election will go ahead next Saturday.

    The planned run-off poll was thrown into doubt after opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah withdrew.

    The only remaining candidate, incumbent President Hamid Karzai, has said the Afghan Independent Election Commission should decide the issue.

    The US and UK say it is up to the Afghan authorities to find a solution.

    They had previously supported a run-off vote, following the widespread fraud that marred the first round.

    However the BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says they are now against it, given the danger to foreign and Afghan troops who would have to oversee the poll amid Taliban attempts to disrupt it.

    BBC's Andrew North, in Kabul It is almost certain the second round vote planned for 7 November won't happen.

    Instead, pressure is mounting on the Afghan election commission to call it off and for the Supreme Court to issue a ruling declaring President Karzai the winner.

    Despite calls by some of his supporters for the vote to go ahead, his campaign has now said it will respect any decision by the commission and other legal institutions.

    Much of the pressure has been coming from foreign diplomats - the same diplomats in many cases who insisted on a second round to try to restore some legitimacy to the process because of the widespread fraud first time round.

    But the United Nations as well as the British, American and other governments with troops here are not prepared to risk their lives for a one-man race.

    It will be a deeply unsatisfactory end to the process but at the moment this is seen as the best option. Then will come the decisions on a new Afghan government.

    Our correspondent says efforts are now under way to find a legal means of bringing things to an end, and this could see the much-criticised election commission calling off the run-off, and then the country's supreme court ruling that President Karzai has won.

    Then, he adds, will come the difficult process of forming a new Afghan government.

    Dr Abdullah told the BBC he had made the decision "in the best interests of the country".

    Earlier, he had told supporters his demands for ensuring a fraud-free election had not been met.

    But he stopped short of calling for a boycott of the run-off vote, due to be held next Saturday.

    Mr Karzai had rejected Dr Abdullah's demand that election officials who presided over the first round should be dismissed.

    In a BBC interview, Dr Abdullah said he decided to pull out as "I felt that it might not help the democratic process, it might not restore the faith of the people in (the) democratic process.

    "It was a hard decision and a painful decision for me, but I did it... I thought that it would be in the best interests of the country if I decide not to participate."

    He added that the decision that a run-off should be held had, in itself, "helped restore the faith of the people in the process" after concerns over the conduct of the first round of voting.

    'National unity'

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was up to Afghan officials to decide the next step in the election process.

    "It is now a matter for the Afghan authorities to decide on a way ahead that brings this electoral process to a conclusion in line with the Afghan constitution," Mrs Clinton said in a statement.

    "We will support the next president and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future."

    What President Obama needs to make a decision on future strategy is clarity, what he's got is a mess

    She also urged Dr Abdullah to "stay engaged" and work for peace in Afghanistan.

    British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "Dr Abdullah has pulled out of the election in the interests of national unity."

    He added that he had told Mr Karzai it was now imperative that he formed an "inclusive administration" that could tackle corruption and build up popular local government.

    Hundreds of thousands of votes were discounted from August's first round of voting, which was marred by widespread allegations of fraud.

    An investigation by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) led to Mr Karzai's share of the vote dropping to 49.67% - below the crucial 50% plus one vote threshold needed to avoid a second round.

    Dr Abdullah was adjudged in the end to have won about 31% of valid votes cast.

    Dr Abdullah - a Tajik-Pashtun former eye surgeon - served as foreign minister in the short-lived government headed by the Northern Alliance, and continued as "foreign minister in exile" throughout the years of Taliban rule, which ended in 2001.

    He continued in the role in the government that was formed by President Karzai after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, leaving it five years later.

    NOVEMBER 02 2009
    Logic now dictates that:
    (1) Hamid Karzai is named President for the reasons set out below.
    (2) He takes steps to enhance his acceptance, credibility and legitimacy by cooperating with Dr Abdullah in practical political steps to govern the country.

    Karzai declared Afghan president, run-off scrapped

    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan's election commission declared Hamid Karzai elected as president on Monday after it called off a runoff following the withdrawal of his only rival.

    The run-off, called after the first round in August was marred by widespread fraud, was to have been held on November 7.

    "The Independent Election Commission declares the esteemed Hamid Karzai as the president ... because he was the winner of the first round and the only candidate in the second round," the commission's chief Azizullah Ludin told a news conference.

    Ludin told a packed media conference the decision was made to spare the Afghan people the expense and risk of another election and because a one-candidate race would raise questions about the legitimacy of the presidency.

    Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the race over the weekend, citing doubts about the credibility of the election process.

    "Karzai has lost his legitimacy, he is a very weak president and he cannot govern without reaching out to Dr Abdullah," said Kabul-based political analyst Haroun Mir. "So the ball is in Dr Abdullah's court right now."

    Karzai's camp on Sunday had ruled out a coalition with Abdullah, but he has been under intense pressure from various quarters to bring Abdullah into the government.

    Earlier U.N chief Ban Ki-moon made a visit to Kabul that had not been announced in advance, as diplomatic efforts gathered pace to resolve the prolonged political crisis.

    "We continue to stand by the people of Afghanistan in their quest for prosperity and peace," Ban said.

    The withdrawal of Abdullah from the run-off had cast doubts over the legitimacy of the next government, already under a cloud following the August 20 election marred by allegations of fraud in favor of Karzai.

    A weakened Afghan government under Karzai would be a blow for U.S. President Barack Obama as he considers whether to send up to 40,000 more troops to fight a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

    A spokesman for Karzai's campaign said the president will issue a statement about the election commission announcement later in the day.

    Abdullah had left the door open for future discussions but said no deals had been struck in return for his withdrawal, seen by diplomats as one way to spare the country more uncertainty that discredits the government and can only aid the insurgency.

    Ban ki-Moon met both Karzai and Abdullah, officials said.

    A U.N. statement said the meetings were "to assure them and the Afghan people of the continuing support of the United Nations doubts over the credibility of his government.

    Ban made the visit after five foreign U.N. staff were killed in a suicide attack last week on a Kabul guest-house used by the United Nations.

    The attack was claimed by the Taliban, who have vowed to disrupt the run-off and said the guest-house was targeted because of the United Nations' role in helping organize the Afghan election.

    The run-off was ordered after a UN-led investigation panel found widespread fraud in favor of Karzai in the August 20 election.

    (Writing by Paul Tait and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Jerry Norton)

    This morning on "Start the Week" (BBC Radio 4, Andrew Marr) we heard sense from Clare Lockhart. Why was she not more listened to earlier, or has she too learned on the job?
    I look forward to the discussion on Nov 5th. Clare thinks the situation is not lost in Afghanistan in spite of the errors that have been made.


    “Market building” is a phrase that is often used but perhaps little understood. Clare Lockhart, Director of the Institute for State Effectiveness and co-author of Fixing Failed States, examines how economies can be re-built in post conflict states. She explains the problems that arise when NGOs displace the entrepreneurial spirit of a country by flooding it with aid and how market mechanisms can alleviate humanitarian problems. Drawing on her experiences working in Afghanistan, Clare discusses how the market can work with the State to create employment and secure peace.

    Clare will be taking part in a discussion on 5 November, chaired by General David Richards, with Paddy Ashdown and Mark Kimmett on Stabilization and Reconstruction - The Challenges and How to Meet Them.

    Listen now (28 minutes) to Start the Week

    NOVEMBER 7th 2009
    More deaths of NATO troops in Afghanistan have brough further confusion and doubt to the British public, a majority of which now wish our forcs to be withdrawn. However, opinion polls also reveal that a majority of the public have no idea why we are there in the first place. There are those who say that our intervebtion in that country makes terrorism atacks in the UK more, not less likely. Of course in the short term they are right; but we are not interested in the short term but in the long term. In the long term, NATO, the EU and the UN must stand firm.

    There are those who say: "There is no military solution. This is a war that cannot be won". The flaw in this argument is a glaring one. If NATO and the UN give in, the war will be won - by the Taliban. They intend to win this war militarily, not politically. They intend to win it by asymmetric warfare, by murder, by blowing up civilian offoces and schools, by violence and terror of every imagnable sort. They do not believe the UK or any other NATO country can stand against their terror. So to say this is a war that cannot be won is to say that against such terror tactics the international community is powerless, that Afghanistan must be left to its fate.

    Every social contract must, in the final analysis, be enforced by the sovereign power. If Afghanistan was just a backward country that could take its own time to develop an adequate security system in its own time (as in previous eras some countries were well able to do), without risk to the rest of the world, we could if we are able to live with it leave the women and children of Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Taliban. But the world of the 21st century is changed beyond that point. Pakistan and Afghanistan are at risk of being taken over by some very violent people with very fanatical ideas, with access to the technology of very advanced nations which has now 'gone global'. Pandora's box being open, failed states and violent fanatics with a safe haven from which to terrorise the world are not an acceptable future.

    NATO  and the UK in particular, Canada and the US have sustained casualties, but to liken this to Vietnam is absurd. To quote the Russian withdrawal as a reason for NATO withdrawal is equally absurd. To complain about 'mission creep' is absurd. Of course there is mission creep. Your point is?

    To complain about mistakes that have been made is legitimate and logical. Constructive criticism is welcome.

    NOVEMBER 11th 2009
    At last some clue of the discussion going on behind the scenes is emerging. There is a difference of opinion between the US diplomatic staff in Kabul and the military advisers. It is unclear to me what new understanding has penetrated the diplomatic brain, but it appears they really did not understand that a country that has always functioned on a system of bribery and commissions to get anything done, and which does not have a structured civil service, when reduced to a struggle for survival will be hard to adust to accountability. I cannot see why that affects the decision whether or not to accept Taliban rule as an acceptable option. If it ever was, there could never have been a case for removing them from power. The questionable credibility of the present Afghan government should make the case for a greater UN and NATO commitment, not a lesser one.

    Official: Obama wants his war options changed

    WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

    That stance comes in the midst of forceful reservations about a possible troop buildup from the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, according to a second top administration official.

    In strongly worded classified cables to Washington, Eikenberry said he had misgivings about sending in new troops while there are still so many questions about the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

    Obama is still close to announcing his revamped war strategy — most likely shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends on Nov. 19.

    But the president raised questions at a war council meeting Wednesday that could alter the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and what the timeline would be for their presence in the war zone, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Obama's thinking.

    The president is considering options that include adding 30,000 or more U.S. forces to take on the Taliban in key areas of Afghanistan and to buy time for the Afghan government's small and ill-equipped fighting forces to take over. The other three options on the table are ranges of troop increases, from a relatively small addition of forces to the roughly 40,000 that the top U.S. general in Afghanistan prefers, according to military and other officials.

    The key sticking points appear to be timelines and mounting questions about the credibility of the Afghan government.

    Administration officials said Wednesday that Obama wants to make it clear that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is not open-ended. The war is now in its ninth year and is claiming U.S. lives at a record pace as military leaders say the Taliban has the upper hand in many parts of the country.

    Eikenberry, the top U.S. envoy to Kabul, is a prominent voice among those advising Obama, and his sharp dissent is sure to affect the equation. He retired from the Army this year to become one of the few generals in American history to switch directly from soldier to diplomat, and he himself is a recent, former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

    Eikenberry's cables raise deep concern about the viability of the Karzai government, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with them who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the classified documents. Other administration officials raised the same misgivings in describing Obama's hesitancy to accept any of the options before him in their current form.

    The options presented to Obama by his war council will now be amended.

    Military officials say one approach is a compromise battle plan that would add 30,000 or more U.S. forces atop a record 68,000 in the country now. They described it as "half and half," meaning half fighting and half training and holding ground so the Afghans can regroup.

    The White House says Obama has not made a final choice, though military and other officials have said he appears near to approving a slightly smaller increase than the war commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, wants at the outset.

    Among the options for Obama would be ways to phase in additional troops, perhaps eventually equaling McChrystal's full request, based on security or other conditions in Afghanistan and in response to pending decisions on troops levels by some U.S. allies fighting in Afghanistan.

    The White House has chafed under criticism from Republicans and some outside critics that Obama is dragging his feet to make a decision.

    Obama's top military advisers have said they are comfortable with the pace of the process, and senior military officials have pointed out that the president still has time since no additional forces could begin flowing into Afghanistan until early next year.

    Under the scenario featuring about 30,000 more troops, that number most likely would be assembled from three Army brigades and a Marine Corps contingent, plus a new headquarters operation that would be staffed by 7,000 or more troops, a senior military official said. There would be a heavy emphasis on the training of Afghan forces, and the reinforcements Obama sends could include thousands of U.S. military trainers.

    Another official stressed that Obama is considering a range of possibilities for the military expansion and that his eventual decision will cover changes in U.S. approach beyond the addition of troops. The stepped-up training and partnership operation with Afghan forces would be part of that effort, the official said, although expansion of a better-trained Afghan force long has been part of the U.S objective and the key to an eventual U.S. and allied exit from the country.

    With the Taliban-led insurgency expanding in size and ability, U.S. military strategy already has shifted to focus on heading off the fighters and protecting Afghan civilians. The evolving U.S. policy, already remapped early in Obama's tenure, increasingly acknowledges that the insurgency can be blunted but not defeated outright by force.


    Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Pamela Hess contributed to this report.

    NOVEMBER 16th 2009
    It seems clear the plan is to hand over the control of security in Afghanistan will be progressive, by area, as and when appropriate. That has to be the right way. Meantime Obama has had significant support for his policy of taking time to review all his options before making a decision and an announcement. There is no doubt this also is the right approach, since preparation and coordination throughout NATO has been criticised in the past, even though some criticism has been unjustified.

    In the UK, various elements are orchestrating a public mood to advocate withdrawal itself as a policy, apparently unwaware that claims that a military solution is not possible is tantamount to giving worse than a military victory to terrorists and anarchists, and unaware that although such a policy might look like a relief in the short term, this would soon turn to something very much worse.

    DECEMBER 1st 2009
    It was good to have Bruce Riedel interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme, and explain that it was on the whole a good idea for Obama not to rush his decisions on Afghanistan.
    Good to hear someone talking sense, and approving of Obama's decision and the UK and NATO's support for it.

    President Barack Obama is to tell the American people that US troops will start to leave Afghanistan within three years, a senior official has said.

    He will outline the rough withdrawal plan in a speech to the nation, when he will also announce a rapid six-month deployment of 30,000 extra soldiers.

    DECEMBER 8th 2009
    It is good to see the US administration getting it together.

    Gen. Stanley McChrystal, appearing before the House Armed Services Committee a week after President Barack Obama announced his new surge-and-exit strategy, said he supports the plan. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who had voiced misgivings previously, also endorsed the new approach at the Capitol Hill hearing.

    The new battle plan includes an 18-month timeline before the first U.S troops would begin to come home.

    DECEMBER 31st 2009
    Hardly an auspicious start to the new year.
    WASHINGTON – The CIA said Thursday that seven of its employees were killed and six others wounded in a suicide bombing at a base in Afghanistan. The Associated Press has learned that one of them was the chief of the CIA's post in Afghanistan's southeastern Khost Province.

    JANUARY 11th 2010

    The recent poll showing increasing optimism of Afghans contrasts with the recent polls in the UK that show increasing lack of support for the UK, US and UN efforts in that country. But of course the two are related. The Afghans are cheered by the evident commitment by our forces. They hate the Taliban, and because they now believe in our commitment they believe they can stand up and show that, as we shall not let the Taliban come back to power. The trust Obama and McChrystal and Petraeus to get it right, and the diplomats have fallen into line. But that commitment has cost coalition lives, and too many  in the UK public do not wish to sacrifice our sons in the cause of international solidarity and law. Thank goodness those of our sons who make the sacrifice do believe in it. We should be proud of them

    Afghans optimistic, poll reveals
    By Adam Mynott
    BBC World Affairs Correspondent

    Most Afghans are increasingly optimistic about the state of their country, a poll commissioned by the BBC, ABC News and Germany's ARD shows.

    Of more than 1,500 Afghans questioned, 70% said they believed Afghanistan was going in the right direction - a big jump from 40% a year ago.

    Of those questioned, 68% now back the presence of US troops in Afghanistan, compared with 63% a year ago.

    For Nato troops, including UK forces, support has risen from 59% to 62%.

    The survey was conducted in all of the country's 34 provinces in December 2009.

    In 2009 only 51% of those surveyed had expected improvement and 13% thought conditions would deteriorate.

    But in the latest survey 71% said they were optimistic about the situation in 12 months' time, compared with 5% who said it would be worse.

    The other significant theme which emerges from the figures is growing antipathy towards the Taliban.

    Ninety per cent said they wanted their country run by the current government, compared with 6% who said they favoured a Taliban administration.

    Sixty-nine per cent believed the Taliban posed the biggest danger to the country, and 66% blamed the Taliban, al-Qaeda and foreign militants for violence in Afghanistan.

    Most Afghans appeared positive about the presence of troops from Nato and other countries stationed in Afghanistan.

    The survey also asked if people thought it was good or bad that US forces entered Afghanistan in 2001 to drive out the Taliban. Of those questioned, 83% said it was either very good or mostly good. This compares with 69% for 2009.

    However, more of those questioned believe troops with the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) are now worse at avoiding civilian casualties (43% worse and 24% better).

    There was some ambivalence about how long Isaf forces should remain in the country - 22% said they should leave within the next 18 months, and 21% said they should stay longer than 18 months from now.

    Afghans appear more positive about their general living conditions and the availability of electricity, medical care and jobs compared with a year ago.

    Insecurity and crime were slightly worse, they said, and freedom of movement slightly better.

    Despite a presidential election last year mired in controversy over ballot rigging, 74% said they were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the outcome.

    Also, 72% of Afghans rated President Hamid Karzai as excellent or good - compared with 52% 12 months ago - and 60% rated the performance of the present government as good or excellent, as opposed to 10% who thought it was poor.

    One of the major issues facing Afghanistan is corruption among government officials or the police.

    Of those surveyed, 95% identified it as a problem; 76% said it was a big problem and 19% said they considered it a moderate problem.

    The survey was conducted by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research (Acsor) based in Kabul. Interviews were conducted in person, in Dari or Pashto, among a random national sample of 1,534 Afghan adults from 11-23 December 2009.

    None of the above should make us complacent.

    JANUARY 17th 2010
    Today, a coordinated attack by suiced bombers and gunmen rocked the centre of Kabul
    It did not succeed in its objective. Afghan army forces regained control, the insurgents died.
    But the BBC's correspondent practically gave the defeated insurgents victory with the crassnes of his report.
    On the 6pm news on Radio 4 he was heard to say that although the Afghan forces acted swiftly and bravely and were confident that the Taliban could never succeed, that he (the BBC correspondent) should point out that there was another way the Taliban could win te war, and that was by "convincing the international community that they could strike whenever and wherever they wanted."
    It is indeed the belief of the Taliban that the free world is so lacking in moral fibre that this is indeed the case. That is the basis of the Taliban and al-Qaida's strategy, tactics and recruitment. It is because the BBC appoints correspondents who share this opinion that the Taliban and al-Qaida are confirmed in their belief: that they can FRIGHTEN all countries who would help Afghans denying them a victory by local terror to giving up and going home. The Taliban and al-Qaida hold the west in contempt and are encouraged to do so. They are told as a matter of fact by the BBC that they could win in this way. They know that if they can, they will.

    JANUARY 28th
    Headline in today's Indpenedent: THE NEW AFGHAN PLAN: BUY OFF THE TALIBAN

    To the Editor, The Independent:
    Your headline is an error. There is no possibility of bribing those Taliban who for whatever reason would rather fight to the death than join a government not controlled by them. It would be a mistake to attempt it. On the other hand it is completely unreasonable to expect those who would prefer peace to be able to find employment and a living wage without acceptance, assistance, encouragement, planning and finance until they can earn. This was always understood. The only change is that the moment has arrived to make it clear.

    John Simpson seems to have the same mental problem. Secure BBC employees have little idea what it means to be broke and unemployed and landless.

    FEBRUARY 7th 2010
    In view of the fact that we are giving Taliban a chance to join the Afghan state, it is only right to state clearly in advance that a major operation is coming. The essential difference between a military operation and terrorism is the first is above board, announced in advance and not aimed at civilians or at those terrorists who wish to change. The response may be from many or a few.

    Ainsworth warns of war casualties

    The defence secretary has warned of likely UK casualties as thousands of coalition troops prepare to launch a major offensive in Afghanistan.

    Operation Moshtarak is designed to force Taliban militants from an area surrounding the town of Marja in Helmand province.

    Bob Ainsworth said it "was not a safe environment" and operations could not be made risk-free.

    The offensive will involves British, American and Afghan troops.

    Codenamed Operation Moshtarak - which means "together" in the Dari language - it has been described as a "softening-up operation" to clear the Taliban from its remaining strongholds in the area.

    Casualties are something we have to come to expect when we're involved in these operations
    Bob Ainsworth

    BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said that by publicising the scale of the operation in advance, military commanders were hoping that less committed elements among the Taliban would be deterred from fighting back.

    Our correspondent added that 4,000 UK service personnel were expected to take part in the the offensive - with 15,000 coalition forces in total due to be involved in the operation.

    If the numbers are correct, it would dwarf the largest biggest British military operation so far in Afghanistan - Operation Panther's Claw, which left UK 10 soldiers dead and many others seriously wounded.

    Mr Ainsworth said: "Of course casualties are something we have to come to expect when we're involved in these operations and people have had that brought home to them.

    "This is not a safe environment and it doesn't matter how much kit and equipment we provide for them, we cannot entirely make these operations risk-free.

    "But they are well-planned, there's good provision and we can only wish success for our people."

    He added: "We shouldn't deny or pretend to people that we can provide security and that casualties are not a very real risk on these kind of operations and people have to be prepared for that."

    Taliban talks

    Mr Ainsworth said British forces in Afghanistan were engaged in direct talks with Taliban representatives.

    "There's no need for us to wait until some end point before we start talking to those elements of the Taliban who don't share all of the ideological aims of some of their leaders.

    "Those talks have already been going on, and have been going on for some time. They're led by the Afghan government, and we would encourage them to do so."

    Troops taking past in last summer's Panther's Claw operation - also in Helmand province - aimed to secure canal and river crossings north of Lashkar Gah, and establish a permanent International Security Assistance Force in the area.

    It was one of the UK military's biggest co-ordinated air operations of modern times.

    About 350 troops from the Black Watch, the 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, launched the attack, taking back control of the village of Babaji from the Taliban.

    So far 253 UK forces personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

    FEBRUARY 12th 2010
    Operation Moshtarak has started.

    FEBRUARY 14th 2010

    Isaf Chief Apologises For Afghan Deaths

    The rockets were aimed at insurgents who were firing on Afghan and International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) troops, but they landed 300 metres away from their intended target in the Nad-e-Ali district.

    In an apology to Afghanistan's President Karzai, Isaf Commander General Stanley McChrystal said: "We deeply regret this tragic loss of life.

    "The current operation in Central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan.

    "It's regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost. We extend our heartfelt sympathies and will ensure we do all we can to avoid future incidents."

    A British soldier who died in an explosion during the launch of Operation Moshtarak yesterday has been named by the Ministry of Defence as 25-yr-old Lance Sergeant Dave Greenhalgh, from 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.

    He was one of two British troops killed during the operation.

    Lance Corporal Darren Hicks, from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, also died in an explosion in the Babaji district on February 11 when the offensive was in its preparatory stage.

    Meanwhile a US commander has said it could take up to 30 days before troops secure the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, as forces fight insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

    Operation Moshtarak - the biggest offensive by Nato troops in Afghanistan since the start of the eight-year war - saw US-led airstrikes rain down on Marjah in Helmand province, where up to 1,000 insurgents are believed to be digging in.

    The town of 80,000 people, about 360 miles south-west of Kabul, is the biggest southern town under Taliban control and the lynchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network.

    Marine commander Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said: "That doesn't necessarily mean an intense gun battle, but it probably will be 30 days of clearing.

    "I am more than cautiously optimistic that we will get it done before that."

    Squads of Marines and Afghan soldiers have occupied large areas of Marjah, but they have been hindered by a huge number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

    And where the insurgents were originally carrying out 'hit and run' skirmishes, they are now said to be setting up stronger defensive positions.

    While American troops are trying to clear Marjah, more than 1,000 British troops around the district of Nad-e-Ali are strengthening their positions.

    Sky's defence correspondent Geoff Meade says that despite encountering some small arms fire, British troops have met little resistance.

    Earlier, UK military leaders claimed success just two days into the launch of the operation.

    Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth praised British troops for a job "extremely well done".

    He told Sky News: "This has been a superbly planned and well-executed campaign operation so far and they have met all the objectives that they have set themselves."

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown also hailed the bravery shown by British troops.

    "I'm very proud of the exceptional role that British forces have played... and the amazing bravery that has been shown, the night assault that had to take place, the huge effort that is now being made to hold the land," he said.

    Sky's chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, with The Royal Welsh D Company in Loya Dera, said British commanders were pleased with winning the support of the local population.

    "It remains quiet here but there have been major developments as far as the Army is concerned," he said.

    "They have had meetings with significant, senior members of the local community and these are seen as very big steps, as the reception they have been given so far has been very postive.

    "The question discussed was 'Will you be staying?' and certainly for Royal Welsh D Company that I'm here with they will be here for a very long time and have every intention of building whatever they need to construct and try to bring in government institutions."

    Major General Gordon Messenger, the chief of the defence staff's strategic communications officer, said the first stage of the onslaught against the Taliban had "gone to plan".

    He said "low numbers" of insurgents were killed during the attacks, adding that "nothing has stopped the mission from progressing."

    He said that no artillery had been fired or bombs dropped in the area that British troops are working, but cautioned: "There is no complacency. 

    "It is not unusual for the Taliban to melt away to watch what's happening with a view to coming back at us once they catch their breath."

    At least 20 insurgents were killed in the Helmand operation, according to General Sher Mohammad Zazai, the commander of Afghan forces in the region.

    Troops recovered Kalashnikov rifles, heavy machine guns and grenades from 11 insurgents captured so far, he added.

    Bomb-making equipment and weapons caches were also seized in both Nad-e-Ali and Marjah.

    The MoD said 1,200 British troops were engaged in the offensive - and a further 3,000 were available.

    It added that 1,000 newly trained Afghan police will move into liberated areas in next few days.

    Operation Moshtarak - which means "together" in the Dari language - involves around 15,000 International Security Assistance Force and Afghan National Army troops.

    Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Sky News "a very high degree of planning" had gone into the operation because central Helmand was "the nerve centre of the insurgency and the narcotics industry".

    Asked by Sky's foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall if the operation's initial success could mean soldiers may be able to return home as early as next year, Mr Miliband said: "I think that two days into this operation it's premature to start talking in those terms."

    FEBRUARY 16th 2010
    So, it turns out the Taliban were using their usual methods, surrounding their fighters with children whose lives they held at nought, in order to discredit the NATO forces. Now, the false record of the missed target will remain on web servers used for anti-NATO propaganda for ever. It was clearly right to apologise to the families on the spot at the time, but instant world-wide coverage by the media will once again do the work of the Taliban for them.
    Meanwhile in Marjah, Taliban are firing on US Marines from mosques and people's homes to cause the same problems.

    Afghanistan missile 'hit target'

    A missile that struck an Afghan house killing 12 people hit its intended target, the commander of British forces in the country's south says.

    Maj Gen Nick Carter said the rocket had not malfunctioned, adding that the system responsible for firing the US missile was back in use.

    Officials have said three Taliban, as well as civilians were in the house.

    US forces have faced some resistance around the Taliban haven of Marjah as Operation Moshtarak continues.

    The progress of US troops has been hampered by sniper fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in some areas.

    British and Afghan troops are reported to be advancing more swiftly in the nearby district of Nad Ali.

    A Nato spokesman said they had begun setting up joint patrol bases to provide a permanent security presence.

    'Unacceptable casualties'

    Six children were among those killed when two US missiles struck a house on the outskirts of Marjah on Sunday.

    Intitial Nato reports said the missiles had landed about 300 metres off their intended target. Gen Carter blamed these "conflicting" reports on "the fog of war".

    "The missile arrived at the target that it was supposed to arrive at," he said.

    Gen Carter said that protecting the local population remained at the heart of the operation and that coalition forces were being very careful with aerial-launched missiles.

    By Caroline Wyatt BBC News

    The main military challenge now for coalition and Afghan forces in Marjah and Nad Ali now is dealing with the sheer number of IEDs or roadside bombs laid by the departing insurgents. Maj Gen Nick Carter admitted they had been surprised by the quantity of devices, which in some cases were sophisticated and networked, with a number of major junctions around Marjah lined with "nuisance mines".

    The operation to clear them will take time, but is essential to protect both soldiers and civilians, as well as ensuring clear routes for reconstruction materials to travel down.

    Gen Carter said that two-thirds of Marjah had now been cleared of insurgents and that the operation to clear the rest of the town would take a few days.

    Civilian casualties are particularly sensitive during the joint Nato and Afghan Operation Moshtarak to force the Taliban out of their strongholds in Helmand.

    Nato has stressed that the safety of civilians in the areas targeted is its highest priority.

    Lt Gen Nick Parker, the most senior British officer in Afghanistan, told the BBC it was absolutely unacceptable to have civilian casualties, whatever the circumstances, and that announcing the offensive well in advance had helped save lives.

    Dawud Ahmadi - a spokesman for Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal - said the Afghan National Army and Nato forces were clearing areas around Marjah of mines on the fourth day of the anti-Taliban operation.

    "There is still sporadic Taliban firing from residential areas in the north of the town, but we are not using air power or heavy bombardments to dislodge them because we want to avoid civilian casualties," he said.

    Mr Ahmadi said that 1,240 families had been displaced and evacuated from Marjah - and all had received aid in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

    He said the aim of the operation was to rid Marjah of militancy and drugs traffickers and then hand it over to Afghan police before establishing a civil administration for the area.

    Earlier, Afghan Gen Ghulam Mahaiuddin told Reuters news agency that many Taliban militants had "escaped" and that his forces were now searching houses for weapons and ammunition.

    They were encouraging those villagers who had left the area before the military operation to return, he said.

    But despite Afghan government claims that the insurgents were on the run, small teams of insurgents repeatedly attacked troops and mine-clearing vehicles with rocket, rifle and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

    US Marines have twice unsuccessfully tried to clear a bazaar area in Marjah of enemy positions.

    Lt Josh Diddams told AFP that in some pockets in Marjah, Taliban militants were standing their ground and fighting, or were firing on US and Afghan forces from homes and mosques.

    Marjah resident Haji Mohammed Jan told the BBC the Taliban had tried to stop people leaving, but he and others had managed to escape.

    'Surge' strategy

    Operation Moshtarak, meaning "together" in the Dari language, is the biggest coalition attack since the Taliban fell in 2001.

    The operation is also considered the first big test of US President Barack Obama's new "surge" strategy for Afghanistan.

    Allied officials have reported only two coalition deaths so far - one American and one Briton killed on Saturday.

    Two other Nato soldiers died on Monday in unrelated bomb strikes in Helmand, military spokesman Sgt Kevin Bell said.

    Afghan officials said at least 27 insurgents had been killed so far in the offensive.

    MARCH 18th 2010
    Oops! We don't seem to be able to get these things together

    Taliban arrests halt UN contacts
    By Lyse Doucet
    BBC News, Oslo

    The UN's former envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has strongly criticised Pakistan's recent arrest of high-ranking Taliban leaders.

    Mr Eide told the BBC the arrests had completely stopped a channel of secret communications with the UN.

    Pakistani officials insist the arrests were not an attempt to spoil talks.

    Mr Eide confirmed publicly for the first time that his secret contacts with senior Taliban members had begun a year ago.

    This has to be an Afghan process
    Kai Eide

    He said they involved face-to-face talks in Dubai and elsewhere.

    "The first contact was probably last spring, then of course you moved into the election process where there was a lull in activity, and then communication picked up when the election process was over, and it continued to pick up until a certain moment a few weeks ago," he said.

    Mr Eide said there were now many channels of communication with the Taliban, including those involving senior representatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

    Speaking at his home outside the Norwegian capital Oslo, Mr Eide would not comment on these other channels.

    'Red lines'

    Mr Eide described contacts with the Taliban as being "in the early stages... talks about talks".

    He cautioned that it would take weeks, months or even longer to establish confidence, on both sides, to move forward, and to establish the "red lines" in any process.

    A senior Afghan adviser to President Karzai recently told me that their contacts with the Taliban had also accelerated in recent months. He also said the arrests had affected this process.

    There has been intense speculation about why Pakistan moved against what are believed to be about a dozen leading members of the Taliban movement in recent weeks.

    "The effect of [the arrests], in total, certainly, was negative on our possibilities to continue the political process that we saw as so necessary at that particular juncture," Mr Eide said.

    "The Pakistanis did not play the role that they should have played.... They must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing, and you see the result today."

    In an interview this week, Pakistan's military spokesman, Gen Athar Abbas, denied Pakistan had moved against these Taliban to stop any talks.

    US officials have recently praised what they called a new co-operation by Pakistan.

    'Senior figures'

    Mr Eide was giving his first interview since ending his two-year mission this month.

    Asked how high up his contacts were, Mr Eide said: "We met senior figures in the Taliban leadership and we also met people who have the authority of the Quetta Shura to engage in that kind of discussion."

    The Taliban leadership council, often referred to as the Quetta Shura, takes its name from the Pakistani city of Quetta where senior Taliban are widely believed to have been based. Pakistan denies its existence in Quetta and says Taliban leaders go back and forth across their porous border.

    As for the involvement of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, Mr Eide said: "I find it unthinkable that such contact would take place without his knowledge and also without his acceptance."

    His revelations seem to confirm a growing view that at least certain members of the Taliban movement are now open to discussing a negotiated end to the war. But Mr Eide said he believed there were still disagreements.

    There is also still no consensus among Afghanistan and its foreign allies about if, and how, to engage with a movement many of whose senior members are still linked to al-Qaeda.

    The outgoing UN envoy, whose tenure was marked by controversy over a deeply tainted presidential election, said he hoped the upcoming "peace jirga" called by President Karzai in Kabul would help build the kind of agreement necessary to reach a consensus on the way forward.

    Mr Eide said he believed it was the only way to end the war, and stressed: "This has to be an Afghan process."

    APRIL 6th 2010

    Well now, look what has happened in the past few days. President Karzai has spoken in a fairly tough manner abot the way the US, NATO and Britain have been involved in Afghanistan. While we have accused him of corruption, he has accused the UN of corrupt interference in Afghan affairs and the election. This has been hotly contested. Below are some of the arguments. There has been an hour long phone conversation after Karzai's comments, between him and Hilary Clinton. I suppose it is far better these things are coming out in the open now. Better out than in! We have to talk straight, there is too much at stake to muck about.

    FROM THE NY TIMES on March 30th


    This Time We Really Mean It

    Published: March 30, 2010
    This newspaper carried a very troubling article on the front page on Monday. It detailed how President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had invited Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Kabul — in order to stick a thumb in the eye of the Obama administration — after the White House had rescinded an invitation to Mr. Karzai to come to Washington because the Afghan president had gutted an independent panel that had discovered widespread fraud in his re-election last year.
    The article, written by two of our best reporters, Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler, noted that “according to Afghan associates, Mr. Karzai recently told lunch guests at the presidential palace that he believes the Americans are in Afghanistan because they want to dominate his country and the region, and that they pose an obstacle to striking a peace deal with the Taliban.”
    The article added about Karzai: “ ‘He has developed a complete theory of American power,’ said an Afghan who attended the lunch and who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. ‘He believes that America is trying to dominate the region, and that he is the only one who can stand up to them.’ ”
    That is what we’re getting for risking thousands of U.S. soldiers and having spent $200 billion already. This news is a flashing red light, warning that the Obama team is violating at least three cardinal rules of Middle East diplomacy.
    Rule No. 1: When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. Karzai brazenly stole last year’s presidential election. But the Obama foreign policy team turned a blind eye, basically saying, he’s the best we could get, so just let it go. See dictionary for Vietnam: Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky.
    When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?
    Our envoy in Kabul warned us of this before the election, but in his case, too, we were told to look the other way. On Nov. 6, the ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, wrote to Washington in a cable that was leaked: “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner,” he warned. “Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.”
    One reason you violate Rule No. 1 is because you’ve already violated Rule No. 2: “Never want it more than they do.”
    If we want good governance in Afghanistan more than Karzai, he will sell us that carpet over and over. How many U.S. officials have flown to Kabul — the latest being President Obama himself — to lecture Karzai on the need to root out corruption in his administration? Do we think he has a hearing problem? Or do we think he believes he has us over a barrel and, in the end, he can and will do whatever serves his personal power needs because he believes that we believe that he is indispensable for confronting Al Qaeda?
    This rule applies equally to the Israeli prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. There is something wrong when we are chasing them — two men who live in biking distance from one another — begging, cajoling and pressuring them to come to a peace negotiation that should ostensibly serve their interests as much as our own.
    Which leads to Rule No. 3: In the Middle East, what leaders tell you in private in English is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language.
    When Karzai believes that the way to punish America for snubbing him is by inviting Iran’s president to Kabul — who delivered a virulently anti-U.S. speech from inside the presidential palace — you have to pay close attention to that. It means Karzai must think that anti-Americanism plays well on the streets of Afghanistan and that by dabbling in it himself — as he did during his presidential campaign — he will strengthen himself politically. That is not a good sign.
    As Filkins and Landler noted, “During the recent American-dominated military offensive in the town of Marja — the largest of the war — Mr. Karzai stood mostly in the shadows.” And if Karzai behaves like this when he needs us, when we’re there fighting for him, how is he going to treat our interests when we’re gone?
    We have thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan and more heading there. Love it or hate it, we’re now deep in it, so you have to want our engagement there to build something that is both decent and self-sustaining — so we can get out. But I still fear that Karzai is ready to fight to the last U.S. soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.

    A week later.....

    Karzai defends Afghan fraud claim
    By Lyse Doucet
    BBC News, Kabul
    Published: 2010/04/05 22:46:57 GMT 

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai has defended an extraordinary outburst he made against the West about fraud in his country's presidential election.

    Mr Karzai told the BBC he still believed the US and others played a role in perpetrating the fraud.

    His tirade caused dismay in many capitals, including Washington, where the White House called it "troubling".

    But Mr Karzai denied his comments last Thursday had dented his relationship with his key allies.

    "What I said about the election was all true," he said in his first public remarks since the comments. "It does not reduce from our partnership; it adds to it."

    He said his warning to the West that it could be seen as an invader if it did not change its behaviour was a message to allies that their relationship had to be a partnership between sovereign nations.

    Awkward visit?

    Speaking to the BBC during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar, Mr Karzai said Nato countries were rich and strong, while Afghanistan was poor but with a powerful identity and history.

    He had been visiting Kandahar with the commander of Nato-led forces, General Stanley McChrystal.

    I asked the general if the timing of their visit was awkward. He replied it would have been more awkward if the president had not invited him to come.

    He said it emphasised the need for a partnership.

    "I don't ignore what is written or said, but I try to focus on my lane, as a military commander," he said.

    The general's comments underline that no matter how troubling the president's comments are, his allies know they still need to find ways to work with him.

    Too much is at stake - the president and the general were in Kandahar in the midst of preparations for the next major military offensive in the south against the Taliban

    It is a very sensitive campaign in a very strategic area.

    General McChrystal said if it succeeded, it had the potential to send a huge signal to Afghans across the country.

    MAY 16th 2010
    One might think that anything that reduced Afghan opium production would be a good thing. However, the Taliban have large stocks of opium and the poppy fungus (see below) has caused a price rise in these stocks. Furthemore, although the disease  is of natural origin, the rumour will be spread by Al Qaida and Taliban that NATO has started it. In fact it could even be more plausible that al Qaida/Taliban have started it. I prefer the natural explanation.

    Fungus hits Afghan opium poppies

    A serious disease is affecting opium poppies in Afghanistan, Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has said.

    Mr Costa told the BBC that this year's opium production could be reduced by a quarter, compared with last year.

    He said the disease - a fungus - is thought to have infected about half of the country's poppy crop. Afghanistan produces 92% of the world's opium.

    Mr Costa said opium prices had gone up by around 50% in the region.

    That could have an impact on revenues for insurgent groups like the Taliban which have large stockpiles of opium, he told the BBC's Bethany Bell.

    The fungus attacks the root of the plant, climbs up the stem and makes the opium capsule wither away.

    It was affecting poppies in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of opium cultivation and the insurgency in Afghanistan, he said.

    Nato 'blamed'

    But farmers in Afghanistan are unsure about what is damaging their crops.

    Some believe Nato troops are responsible for the outbreak, but Mr Costa denied that this was the case.

    "I don't see any reasons to believe something of that sort," he said. "Opium plants have been affected in Afghanistan on a periodic basis."

    Farmer Haji Mohammad in Nawzad told the BBC that he had seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of opium he was able to harvest. He described the fungus as an "aerial spray".

    He said that last year he harvested 450kg (990lb) of opium - but this year he had so far only been able to harvest 4kg.

    "[It]... has affected my wheat cultivation and my chickens and other animals as well," he said.

    "The powder sprayed has a white colour and I think it is chemical and if you squeeze it in your hand, water comes out of it."

    A number of farmers in southern Afghanistan told the BBC they observed a white substance on their crops. They also reported extensive crop damage and also that livestock had been affected.

    Opium economy

    Mr Costa said this was an opportunity for the international community to bring in support to try to persuade farmers to turn away from planting opium.

    He said the amount of opium produced by one hectare (2.47 acres) had almost doubled to 56kg (in the five years to 2009.

    "Nature really played in favour of the opium economy; this year, we see the opposite situation," he added.

    Mr Costa said that farmers now grew opium poppies in only five or six Afghan provinces, as opposed to all 34 five years ago.

    MAY 22nd 2010

    KABUL (AFP) – Britain will not set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the foreign minister said Saturday, after arriving in Kabul with a warning that the British government wanted to pull out as soon as possible.

    That seems to me to be the situation as stated frequently before, so no change.

    JUNE 13 2010

    I would like to refer readers to the opening paragraph of this file. It describes the issues which still remain to be dealt with and which are now even more urgent.

    The new UK Coalition government is made up of two elements: the Tory party (which has never understood the principles of global or even European finance, and the Liberals who have never understood the global enforcement of the social contract on which all civilization and the rule of law depends (I absolve notable Liberal politicians such as Paddy Ashdown from this lacuna in their understanding just as I absolve some notable Tories from the aforementioned incapacity attributed to their party).

    The Tories have decided on a program of cuts in government expenditure rather than a program of growth and taxation. The cuts will hit the defence budget. A defence review is now under weigh. When it is finished the current  head of the armed forces, Sir Jock Stirrup, and the senior civil servant at the MOD will step down, which indicates that the government wishes to feel free to change some basic assumptions. However, the pretence that there was some failure in funding in Jock Stirrup's time to get equipment or helicopters to front-line troops is unfounded. The funding went through through the roof in fact, using valid contingency funds as well as the allocated defence budget. No amount of money can produce helicopters fit for the arena and trained pilots out of a hat, and no planner working years before could have justified the programme in advance to those now pretending they should have, and those who complained at a lack of funding over the last five years are now to be responsible for a reduction in the existing funding. What sense does this make? Absolutely none.

    So we come back to the position laid out at the top of this file: if it is agreed that it is the duty of the International Community to ensure that Afghanistan is not left at the mercy of murdering sociopaths who will brook no opposition, but is left in the hands of its elected government, one that however imperfect allows the most basic human rights such as public prosecution of offenders and the right of women to education, then the finance of that operation should be equitably and adequately found. That is a matter that is completely separate from the UK defence budget, but the UK defence budget will directly affect the level to which the UK can contribute to international military operations that may be required by the International Community. Our army is no longer required to defeat a French invasion at Calais. Our Navy is not required to stop our Dutch friends from sailing up the Medway. They are both required, together with our Air Force, to be a vital contribution to UN, European and NATO security and to intervene wherever required.

    Naturally if it is not agreed that there is any global responsibility, that any country can go to hell in a handcart if it can't pull itself together and all we need do is deny access to refugees and leave the problem to sort itself out, then we need not bother with any of this. No nation is likely to invade Britain even if we had no armed forces at all. Why would they? How would they?

    JUNE 23rd 2010
    For crying out loud, McChrystal, if you are going to give access to Rolling Stone magazine to a bunch of your top men in Afghanistan, don't let them use it to parade on their hobby horses and make jokes about the US body politic. You of all men must have known. If you stay on, you will need to punish some of your staff. People don't have to be sacked, they can be disciplined and kept on if they good at the job. Same goes for you. A lot of people trust you and respect you and I guess Obama does too, so lets get back to the job. The Taliban are having a field day with this and having the CIA hit leaders with drones is not the answer, particularly when they surround themselves with innocent, misled countrymen. Noting the state Americans are in domestically at the moment, anything is possible by way of a decision. It must be made clear who round the show and if Obama feels this is not clear, and does not speak the same language as McChrystal, he may go. It may even be his choice that his resignation is accepted. If that is the case, it explains the whole event.

    6:52pm BST
    Well now! McChrystal has been sacked. And Obama has sold it to me, with a very clear address at the Whitehouse. We can thank journalism for this
    problem and we can thank David Petraeus for stepping in. It seems McChrystal was very frustrated with the body politic in Washington, not necessarily with Obama particularly but the whole mindset. It could well be that McChrystal, while being very successful in his plan in Afghanistan, could not get backing for some stages of it that he deemed necessary to break through at this time. Whatever the case it is certain that there has to be unity between the administration and the generals. I would never have believed I could be writing this, but Obama has to be right. These matters have to be sorted out with proper means of debate and pursuasion, and not with leaks and twitters to the press. It's not insubordination so much as incompetence, unrepresentative of McChrystal, but every man or woman has their weak spot. McChrystal was caught between public demands for progress and the inability to be seen to be making it. Maybe he thought some politicians were preparing to make him take the heat while denying him the means to move. And maybe he has contributed all he can and now it is right for Petraeus to take over and coordinate matters better in Afghanistan between the political and military efforts, allowing each to do their job better.

    JUNE 24th 2010
    Thinking about what happened, I am only guessing but could it be that there is disagreement about the involvement of the CIA and extra-judicial killings, which McChrystal believes to be counterproductive and harming his strategy to bring this story to, if not a conclusion, a stable platform to allow some withdrawl, the timing to be conditional. Back in the US the public and the politicians want to put a date on it, and regardless of the hearts and minds. They are not happy with the casualty rate of coalition troops. McChrystal has effectively reduced the collateral damage. He wants to get the social improvements going at his drumbeat, he had a problem waiting for synchronous efforts from the US politicians in Kabul and Washington...

    Americans still believe they can win wars through technology. But their WMD is a deterrent only and the other WMD (Weapons of Minimum Destruction, th targeted drone) has a serious downside. Afghans respect an enemy that defeats them man to man, there is something deep in the blood there, but knocking of their leaders with drones they do not respect. They replace their leaders and it more, vengeful leaders to grow to maturity. Every day teenage Taliban come to manhood faster than either drones  can kill them or recruits can join efficient ISAF forces. Its the mathematics that have to be studied.

    JUNE 27th 2010
    Once again, I assume as result of the McChrystal debacle, the discussion is raised publicly at the top military level of when it is time to talk to the Taliban. What silliness is this? The door is ALWAYS open for any leadership, whether of the whole, a part, or a region of Taliban controlled territory or society. Behind the scenes there are always those with a foot in these doors. But there is nof future the Taliban can offer Afghanistan or Pakistan and that has been established beyond doubt. They know it as well as anyone does. They are fighting for themselves and the way THEY want to live and have reached the point where they fear what would happen, if they stop, to both themselves as individuals and to their families. So when when the military say 'talk to the Taliban' it means to reassure them that if they pack it in, they will have some sort of future out of prison, alive, and with a roof over their heads and a subsistence income at least. Not so easy unless the wealth of the country is harnessed to meet world demand in goods and materials other than drugs, and trade is accounted for on a basis where corruption is contained to levels that permit some equitable participation - a national shareholding that reaches the families of those we now call insurgents.

    As has been stated many times in this file, this process is the responsibility of the International Community, any one member country of which cannot set a deadline or dictate the timing of a particular stage. It has to be done, eventually, that is all there is to say.

    Having now hear the broadacast of the Rolling Stone article I find it an excellent piece of journalism. If I had been Obama I would have accepted it as such, lived with it and told my staff to live with it too. That did not mean agreeing with some opinions expressed in it. It made uncomfortable and difficult reading but the world is sometimes an uncomfortable and difficult place. There are always going to be some people who hold opinions that others find disturbing, unacceptable and unfair. Quite a lot of good might come out of this,  but my overriding feeling is McChrystal was the one guy who did the math on this war and on COIN, which is what I called for from the very beginning. It is tragic that he has to go, though in another way it may be necessary. His plan must be followed.

    JULY 1st 2010
    I could not see the point of Gen David Richards saying that it might be time to 'talk' to the Taliban. They know that the back door is always open and they can pack it in any time they want. Naturally terms of reconciliation are going to be tricky and most of the dyed-in-the-wool leaders reckon they would be condemned for multiple murder so have nothing to lose by fighting on to the death; but the fact remains a halt has to be called or a disengagement organised. As I have stated many times over the years, the mathematics of these struggles for the soul of a community are complex. Centuries ago and less, genocide or partial genocide was the approved method of deciding the future when violent traditionalists refused the rule of what a majority deemed progressive society. That is now ruled out, as is the use of overwhelming force that causes too much collateral damage. Abuse and corruption in established governments constitute a running sore in the minds of the dispossessed. Only the realization that the insistence on justification is a barren field of pursuit, and that the Taliban offer no future - short or long term, sustainable or transient, acceptable to any future Afghan society, rural or urban - can form the basis of peace.

    It is no suprise at all that
    The Taliban in Afghanistan have told the BBC that there is no question of their entering into any kind of negotiations with Nato forces.

    JULY 5th 2010
    Critical is indeed the word.

    JULY 7th 2010
    It is just good military sense to make this change in Sangin, because the Taliban need wrong-footing in an area they know well and have worked out plans and aims to target UK troops and systems. The talk of retreat is misconceived.

    JULY 12th 2010
    At the very beginning of this file you will see the sober assessment that the task in Afghanistan would take 30 to 40 years, and that the Conservative Party, then in opposition, said that this was not affordable. Now we have Conservatives in power, with the Liberals hanging on to them, both unconvinced that we have any responsibility to the International Community and any policy it might have to stabilise any given area or guarantee any minimum level of law, order and civilization.

    A report in the Independent on Sunday claims the whole process on which David Cameron is basing his exit strategy, sold to the British Public as possible in 5 years, is in serious trouble due to corruption, infiltration and drug abuse. I am perfectly prepared to believe this is so. Can we get real please? We have to either take on the responsibilities of globalized politics, economics and environmental imperatives, or throw in the towel. Moaning about it gest us nowhere. Globally, this task is affordable and doable. Financing it cannot possibly be a problem, so long as we have amongst the ISAF countries the personnel who are up for it and the equipment and funding they need. The danger is a given and the courage and persistence needed are considerable, but deep trouble is what we should expect for the moment.

    JULY 13th 2010
    Today we have an example (not the first of its kind) of the depth of the trouble I referred to yesterday. For some this apparently changes things with respect to the mission, the aims and the needs. I am sorry to say it changes nothing. The reason there were refugees from this country over the years is because of the presence within its society of diverse uncontrollable elements of atavistic violence. There are huge tensions surrounding the current operation and I have to say the more pressure is put onto ISAF to recruit and train more Afghans, and do it faster, the greater the risk. I refer readers once again to the start of this file. The world is a complex and dangerous place - it is a possible heaven and parts of it are hell. Everything is conditional. We have to visit the latter and hope to get out. We will be lucky sometimes to experience the former. To those of you who wonder if there is life after death the answer is yes - all life is after death. Yours is, right now.

    JULY 17th 2010

    Afghan army lead major operation in Helmand

    British-trained Afghan army troops have led their first operation in central Helmand against a suspected Taliban stronghold, the MoD says.

    This better news goes some way to counter the sad number of recent deaths of British troops. There were two more today.

    JULY 18th 2010
    This makes sense.
    Britain is to boost spending on aid projects in Afghanistan by 40%, while at the same time reviewing the amount it gives to other countries.

    JULY 20th 2010
    On the other hand I am not sure how much of this (see link below) to take seriously. All of the progress planned here is conditional. The outcome depends on political will and the rallying of this by political leadership. Cometh the hour cometh the men? Do we have them in position now? A lot will depend on the personal relationship and understanding now between those who find themselves there in the hot seats in the UK, the US, other NATO and EU countries and in Afghanistan. If they can make sense and trust each other they can carry their countries and the operation through, no matter what it takes. If they cannot, they will not. For this reason this conference makes some sort of sense providing they face the realities and do not try to sell a false prospectus. This is no time for optimism or pessimism.

    I am very glad to hear Hilary Clinton admit that American contractors have been part of the problem rather than the solution, and I am of the opinion that channelling 50% of the foreign aid in future through the Afghan government is likely reduce corruption both with in the government and outside it.

    JULY 22nd 2010
    Two more of our young men shot today doing their job. We need better planning on thr ground, if there is any way to achieve this.  This is not an armchair military tactics blog... but it is the pressure to move too fast, if anything, caused by misguided public opinion, that may be to blame. There will be casualties but we should not be expecting daily heroism at this stage. This is not a turning point that hangs on a day's success oe tragedy.

    I have to say that Hilary Clinton makes more sense in her public pronouncements on Afghanistan than the confusing road-show of Cameron/Clegg/Hague and Fox. She has made it clear that talking with the Taliban does not for one moment mean accepting their politics or allowing their return to rule the country. There is a cynicism creeping into British diplomatic circles which almost brings me to stomach the emotionalism of the American version. Both are to some extent a refelction of their public opinion and I have little time for either. Each in its own way can put us at a disadvantage when dealing with atavistic fundamentalists, who deride both emotionalism and cynicism and will hold to their belief that it is they who face reality, however brutal.

    JULY 23rd 2010
    Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan, has now added a bit of beef to the debate. He has kindly agreed that UK and US stand shoulder to shoulder and will not be swayed by public opinion from doing what is right.. Well done, Dick - to hell with democracy. I am only joking, it's vital for elections and ensuring freedom of speech etc. but when the stuff hits the fan it is a great mistake to think noisy public opinion and media froth removes from the executive the responsibility for the job they have been given. Hobrooke has also repeated (for the aurally challenged) the importance of stabilising Pakistan as part of the long term plan.

    Here at last is the proper deal for the Taliban
    It's tougher than I suggested, but its tougher on the government too. I approve.

    On the Pakistan front, see Pakistan.

    JULY 26th 2010
    The Wikileaks of classified files on Afghanistan have caused some consternation in official circles, but I think their release is timely. It is time governments stooped trying to massage public opinion and made people faced the facts, that either the international community does nothing at all to prevent any bunch of atavistic loonies to hold their educated public to ransom, murdering those who wish to adopt at least the minimum world standards of humanity, or we engage in what will be a messy and often brutal process, with plenty of mistakes and learning through trial and error, to support the best we can find in failed or disrupted states in their fight to the death against those who would suppress them.
    It has been the policy, in order to minimize the adverse effects of the errors made, not to publicise them; but such has been the length of the operations in Afghanistan and the sheer number of actions undertaken daily over the years, that even a very small percentage of errors has added up to a collective toll of collateral damage and civilian deaths that cloaking it in the name of diplomacy has become more damaging than supportive to the credibility of the motives of ISAF anmd NATO . It is far better to deal with it openly, warts and all.
    That is not to say that all the opinions and accounts in these leaks are authentic or correct. Nor is it an ideal way to move forward to openness. None of that makes any difference in the long run. The facts must be faced, and the Taliban have more facts to face than the rest. The trouble is they would rather die than face them.

    JULY 29th 2010
    The most serious consequence of the Wikileaks is that they may identify a significant number of Afghans who have been supporting ISAF and put them at great personal risk from assassination by Taliban and al Qaida, as well as deterring many others who have been on the point of changing sides.
    Analysis of the broader implications for NATO is here:

    JULY 30th 2010

    Hundreds of British soldiers have launched an operation against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

    Operation Tor Shezada began early on Friday morning in Helmand province in the south of the country.

    The news by the evening is that the operation has got off to a good start

    AUGUST 3rd 2010
    British troops have taken a bomb-making factory, though this may not mean very much. The operation has been going to plan in spite of some late stronger resistance as Taliban refocussed on British troops having been initially draw by an American advance from the opposit direction.

    Anyone who thinks peace should be made with the Taliban based on anything other than disarmament and clear conditions should read this articl on how they treat women.,8599,2007238,00.html
    What Afghans want to know is how we can make sure they never come back.

    AUGUST 7th 2010
    A British aid worker among 10 people shot dead in Afghanistan has been named as Dr Karen Woo, 36, from London.

    This was in a realtively safe part of the country but in a remote region. Please read all the following.

    AUGUST 10th 2010
    The Taliban are going to great lengths to claim responsibility for the murders on the 7th August. The driver who fled the scene has been arrested and Afghan authorities have said he is a suspect, and the attack was robbery. The Taliban spokesman says they were killed for preaching Christianity. But what are we to make of Taliban objections to this report:

    The number of civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan has jumped 31%, despite a fall in the number of casualties caused by Nato-led forces.

    More than 1,250 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2010 and another 1,997 civilians were injured, the latest UN six-monthly report shows.

    The Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for 76% of the casualties, up from 53% last year.

    A spokesman for the Taliban rejected the UN's estimate.

    Surely the Taliban are trying to kill as many as possible, regardless of whether they civilians, police or military, who support the present government. Or are they rejecting the estimate of the death toll because they think it is still too low?

    SEPTEMBER 14th 2010
    Brave men and women. And the ruthless zealots who deny them the right to choose.

    SEPTEMBER 18th 2010
    Flawed or not, and less flawed than the last one, an election (Parliamentary this time) is up and running.

    SEPTEMBER 21st 2010
    Though there will be some charges of vote-rigging, the election has been judged as marking significant progress.
    Meanwhile British forces have handed over Sangin to the Americans in an efficient, seemless transition. It has cost us many lives and there is no doubt in hindsight our strategy and tactics could have been better, but the work goes on and we are wiser now.

    SEPTEMBER 25th 2010           NEVER IN THE FIELD....

    Perhaps the most depressing thing I have read about the International Community's efforts in Afghanistan is that the most obvious thoughts on strategy and tactics are only now rising to the surface of consciousness in NATO thinking. Good grief, Charlie Brown. Once again we are reminded that American millionaires are not psychologically equipped to run operations that involve the lives, needs, fears and passions of the poor, or even average citizen in far countries. I did not realise that the British had been quite so blind or, if not, still unable to influence strategy. Many years on we read they are now considering, as blue sky thinking, what most people assumed was the fundamental planning from day 1. Go Red Team!

    KABUL, Afghanistan – On a NATO base in Kabul, a five-member team is rethinking the war in Afghanistan and questioning some of the basic assumptions behind the effort to clean up corruption and gain the upper hand over the Taliban.

    Among the ideas this so-called "Red Team" is generating:

    • Accept that Afghanistan's entrenched system of graft won't change overnight, so pick your battles.

    • Recognize that for Afghans, some corruption is worse than others, so tackle what affects them day-to-day first.

    • Study how the Taliban won power by exploiting Afghanistan's system of payoffs and patronage in the 1990s, and borrow those tactics.

    Go Red Team!  Or as you should have been called, when you should have been formed over 5 years ago: NATO Afghan strategic planning  committee.

     Never, in the field of human conflict, has so much been buggered up for so long by so few. (see entry below, Oct 27th)

    OCTOBER 9th 2010

    Cameron defends UK hostage failed rescue bid

    Linda Norgrove, from the Isle of Lewis, was kidnapped by armed men in September

    David Cameron has defended a failed rescue attempt by US forces in Afghanistan during which a British hostage was killed by her captors.

    It has to be said that it was the right decision to attempt the rescue. Local leaders advised not to intervene, but that was not based on anything other than the serious risk that they could not rescue her before the al Qaida extremists who held her blew themselves and her to bits. Unfortunately that was what occurred, but such a rescue was the only possible policy to adopt. It nearly succeeded, but she died soon after the rescue from blast wounds.

    OCT 11th update: The American commanders say that on examining the aerial surveillance and other data Lind Norgrove may have been killed by a grenade from the rescue party. This has caused some surprise by those who assume that the only grenades thrown or fired by rescuers would have been stun-grenades, however we should await a full investigation, bearing in mind that Linda's captors would have been intent on assuring she died at the hands of the Americans if at all possible, by one means or another, directly or indirectly. That was their plan from day one. I don't think Linda Norgrove, from what we have heard about her, would approve of the complaints we are hearing from some quarters at the decision to attempt a rescuer her while her location was still known. It was a chance that had to be taken.

    It is hard to go along with the surprise and shock from her friends and family. She was bound to be a target for certain elements in Afghanistan, she must have known that and faced it. If there is anything to be learned about tactics in retrospect about the way such rescues are attempted, sharing it with those intent on repeating such kidnappings is unlikely to be a good idea, yet that is what the UK public appear to wish. Where is the logic in that, and how does it serve anything Linda Norgrove worked and died for? Her kidnappers detested her work and would be gratified by our confusion.

    OCTOBER 27th 2010
    With regard to my entry of September 25th above it was interesting to hear Sir Jock Stirrup say out loud in public today that until 2 years ago he could not get much sense out of Washington on the Afghanistan question due to their total preoccupation with Iraq. His comments on the conditions for success in achieving a withdrawal that leaves the country on its feet and not in the thrall of Taliban or al Qaida are very much to the point. We shall have the benefit of his good advice in the House of Lords.

    Meanwhile Russia is coming in with some help by way of helicopters and training.

    Afghanistan: Russia steps in to help Nato

    By Kim Sengupta in Brussels

    OCTOBER 30th 2010
    Yes....well....somebody's got to do it.

    NOVEMBER 14th 2010
    The CO speaks up:

    The West can only contain, not defeat, militant groups such as al-Qaeda, the head of the UK's armed forces has said.
    (BBC News report)

    Correct but easily misunderstood. If al-Qaida is contained for 30 years, either if will die or evolve into something else. That 'something else' will have to find a home either within the legitimate political environments accommodated in democratic states, or in a state or states hostile to the majority of the international community which, once more, will have to be contained or be the object of UN intervention by a coalition of the willing, hopefully one that has learned from previous mistakes so that we can make new ones only. Containment is sustainable provided that the world's principal military and trading nations can agree how to share the cost in lives and national treasure, and that the containment does not create humanitarian injustice to a degree than prejudices its international support.

    NOVEMBER 20th 2010

    NATO backs security handover plan for Afghanistan

    This plan, made public and agreed by all NATO members, is a necessary condition to removing any excuse from the Karzai Government and its supporters for not cleaning up their act on the one hand, or from the Taliban, al-Qaida or any other insurgents on the other for citing a foreign occupation as the reason for murder, mayhem and destruction.

    However, If the Taliban think that it means they can just wait for NATO to go home before another terrorist take-over in the name of either religion or ethnic or tribal imperatives they will be making a mistake.

    This headline below in The Independent,  makes an assumption I do not agree with. They do know the way to win. The way to win is to to see it through till the passage of time renders the backward-looking Taliban (who already realise they cannot be a government now) are redundant and Afghans will defeat al-Qaida in their own country. Of course if we have not got the will to do that, then we fail for both them and us.

    In Lisbon, they talk. In Afghanistan, they die.

    Christopher Davies, 22, was the 100th British serviceman to die this year in a war that Nato's leaders – gathered today for a crucial summit – have no idea how to win.

    By Michael Savage and Kim Sengupta in Lisbon

    NOVEMBER 23rd 2010

    Violence in Afghanistan has reached an all-time high, with clashes up fourfold since 2007, the Pentagon has said.

    A TALIBAN bomb factory dramatically explodes as SAS soldiers inflict a crushing blow on the Afghanistan insurgents.

    Read more:

    NOVEMBER 26th 2010
    As I have frequently said, managing the world we now live in demands certain disciplines (one of which includes reliable personal identity systems) in all countries that expect its citizens to be treated to current minimum standards of civilized behaviour. Genocide was once an accepted way to deal with national disputes. Today, every chance of peaceful negotiation must be extended even to those who are declared, homicidal enemies bent on your destruction. Naturally it is essential if negotiating to be able to establish not only the rank and status of the individuals involved but that they are not imposters. In Afghanistan we have heard from some excellent and hard pressed military men how they make slow but significant progress in establishing biometric details of people in a country where both literacy and integrity are a mioxed bag to put it politely.

    Now it appears that both Afghans and NATO, including the participation of the CIA and MI5/6, have between them dropped the ball on identifying the Taliban 'representatives' they were negotiating with, presumably since each were assuming the other would have pointed out any obvious anomaly. The embarassment is acute - however at least we are better off embarrassed than continuing with the farce of such negotiations.

    DECEMBER 3rd 2010
    Recent WikiLeaks in which the US Military criticises UK efforts in Helmand are probably more embarrassing the US than the UK. After taking over some areas of Helmand the US lost a record number of soldiers pretty quickly in spite of being very much better resourced than the British. As for Karzai's now leaked criticism of the British it refers to a period when he was in dispute with Britain over some reasonable attempts to negotiate with Taliban.

    Anyone who has heard the accounts from e.g. Lindy Cameron in Afghanistan or read the diaries Lt Col David Wakefield cannot doubt the value, purpose and determination of the current operations in Afghanistan, by Afghans themselves together with ISAF and NATO to bring stability, the rule of law and a better life to Hellmand and the whole of Afghanistan. Nor could they doubt that we can and should succeed, though success is never guaranteed.

    MARCH 16th 2011
    WASHINGTON – The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan insists the military can boost Afghan security forces to fight the Taliban, begin a troop drawdown this summer and fulfill President Barack Obama's goal of a long-term partnership with the Kabul government.

    APRIL 21st 2011

    A very brave lady blown away, but her family remain very proud and resolute.

    MAY 18th 2011
    To be read, marked, learned and inwardly digested.

    Report from: 
    Katie Stallard, West of England Correspondent | Sky News

    A young British soldier has told an inquest how he lay still and "played dead" after being shot by an Afghan policeman who killed five of his colleagues.

    Lance Corporal Liam Culverhouse said he decided "just to lay there, shut my eyes, and hold my breath" during the attack on their checkpoint in November 2009.

    The British soldiers had been helping to mentor members of the Afghan National Police (ANP) in Nad e Ali and had returned from a joint patrol to the relative safety of their base when the shooting started.

    LCpl Culverhouse said they had unloaded their weapons and taken off their body armour when an officer they had been helping to train, named only as Gulbuddin, opened fire on them with an AK47.

    He said: "I saw a flash of red in my injured eye. Due to the nature of my injury I knew I'd been shot.

    "I feel pain first, then my eye went all black, I was blinded straight away. I heard screams and swear words."

    He said he could see Gulbuddin standing in front of him with his gun, wearing civilian clothes of pale dishdash - a traditional Arab robe - and Afghan hat rather than his usual police uniform.

    LCpl Culverhouse had been sitting next to Sergeant Matthew Telford and Regimental Sergeant Major Darren Chant, both of whom were killed in the attack.

    He said: "I saw Sgt Telford standing, with one arm back like he was going to punch him (Gulbuddin). After another burst of gunfire he then dropped to his knees."

    The young soldier said Gulbuddin was screaming in what appeared to be a "war cry" and that he had frozen, unsure whether to approach him or run away.

    He continued: "After he fired another burst at me I promptly decided it was time to get out of there."

    LCpl Culverhouse was then shot at least twice more before deciding to lie still and pretend to be dead.

    He said Gulbuddin came over to check on him before the gunfire changed in pitch as he headed into the accommodation block.

    "All I could hear was gunfire, scream, gunfire, scream, gunshot," he said.

    LCpl Culverhouse then lost consciousness before being woken by the sound of a Chinook helicopter arriving overhead.

    RSM Chant, 40, Sgt Telford, 37, and Guardsman Jimmy Major, 18, from the Grenadier Guards, were killed in the attack alongside Corporal Steven Boote, 22, and Corporal Nicholas Webster-Smith, 24, from the Royal Military Police on November 3, 2009.

    Their commanding officer, Lt Col Charles Walker told the inquest the five men were "the bravest of the brave".

    He said: "It is a singular honour that I have had to have worked with them in Afghanistan. The foundations that they laid continue today.

    "There is prosperity in that region now, and I have no doubt that is down to the work they did in those early days."

    He said his thoughts were with the men's families, who have travelled to the coroner's court in Trowbridge for the inquest.

    The hearing also heard evidence of drug abuse among the ANP, with the suspect Gulbuddin described as "one of the main cannabis culprits".

    LCpl Culverhouse said he had seen him taking drugs on duty and that he may well have been under their influence at the time of the attack.

    MAY 20th 2011
    An appalling attack. There is no gloss that can be put on the situation here.
    Afghan road workers killed in Taliban ambush

    MAY 30th 2011
    International forces in Afghanistan have apologised for an air strike that killed up to 14 civilians in the south-west of the country on Saturday.

    I have to say that calling in this air strike on the grounds that there were no civilians in the buildings seems to me to be making unwarranted. There was no evidence either way, therefore it should be assumed the Taliban had forced their presence on the abode of innocent civilians. I do not understand the way NATO operates. This can do nothing but harm.

    MAY 31st 2011
    NATO Gives it's reply to the above. It is an excellent reply - but it exposes their utterly wrongheaded attempt at public relations up till now.
    In effect, the NATO spokesman said, in reply to President Karzai's declaration that he would ban such air strikes, "There are instances when air-strikes on houses have to be made, even if it results in civilian deaths"
    This came a day after a NATO statement which implied the diametrically converse position, that if there was a chance of civilian casulaties, air strikes would not be used.

    It is a feature of our technologically advanced society that we pretend there is no downside to power of our superior systems. We speak of surgical strikes, while weilding devastating weapons. It is now time to admit that in Aghanistan there is a WAR on. In order to stop Hitler, we had to kill about 84 million people in Germany and we bombed the hell out of parts of France and killed many French civilians, for which we were forgiven. I can tell you that as I visited many of those places in France and met the families who lived there, and I have German friends and business colleagues.

    Every Afghan family should know that if their village or house gets invaded by armed Taliban fighters against their will, they could be at risk if the Afghan Army or NATO or both cannot do the job with ground forces. There is one huge mistake being made in this campaign by some people on all sides. They believe the Taliban MIGHT return in due course as the effective power, and that the International Community MIGHT acquiesce in that. If those people ever get elected to power in the countries of NATO and the current wider alliance, that could be true. But before that could happen we would have to have civil war in practically every country. It is not just that certain cultures are barbaric; it is the blind determination of the practisers of these cultures, to deny the choice of any other, that cannot stand if civilization is to survive and go forward.

    Every Afghan farmer just wants peace. They cannot themselves fight the Taliban, even if the Taliban have no chance or capability of taking power again. The position is odious. Collateral damage is odious. But can we now face the facts and tell it how it is? Let me put it in inescapable logic

    • If fear of collateral damage can prevent actions required for the surrender of the Taliban (imperfect surrender, of course, leaving dissidents to be dealt with by their own or official justice), then the Taliban will use this as their tactic now, and the human shields they use will be be even MORE resentful as time passes and later.
    • If the UK public, including the families of our soldiers, feel we might fail to bring any final stabiity and the lives lost so far are in vain, that can weigh on the same side to undermine resolve.
    The above together can only prolong the agony.

    The UK media must stop 'catering to their readers' by playing both sides and tell the truth. This is war.

    I feel for President Karzai. His position is as painful as it can get. But the way to carry his suffering civilians with him is to let them know they are ALL at war till this is over, otherwise it will never be over for them whether NATO stays or goes. At the moment, the unpopularity of Americans in the Afghanistan countryside is the single most intractable enemy of both winning a war and making a peace. The culture gap is catastrophic. This year will be a terrible experience as a result.

    JUNE 7th 2011
    Having just watched an informative BBC programme filmed in Afgjhanistan on the 'Secret War', describing US special forces and CIA attacks in Afghanistan, it is clear that the time-limit put on NATO's operations by public opinion in the west is causing an approach in which the blustering attitude and occasional mistakes are making more enemies than friends. In short, our soldiers are up to the job, but out people back home are not, and they are not allowing the troops to do the job at the long slow pace it demands. I have no recipe for this. The Taliban are simple, backward, brutal and primitive in their view of human rights; but if they have more belief in themselves and want to carry the fight on for ever, generation after generation, we need to match that with a better will and belief than our muddled and doubtful efforts on the home front so far.

    JUNE 29th 2011
    Nato helicopters have ended an attack by suicide bombers and gunmen on a hotel in Kabul, striking the militants on the roof of the building.

    JULY 5th 2011
    I suppose repeating this for the 100th time does no harm. It was always the case. Any time Taliban want to take the political, non-violent route, they are free to do so. Nothing has changed. They will never be allowed to take power again other than as part of the civil community under a civil constitution and rule of law. If they have issues with corruption, all well and good. They can be part of society that identifies it and brings the corrupt to court.

    JULY 14th 2011
    We were expecting an all-out terrorist extravaganza this summer to counter the position the NATO and coalition forces were aiming at to move towards withdrawal. Make no mistake, the aim is to make withdrawal without humiliation an impossibility. These people hold the West in contempt, so we had better decide who we are, what we are doing and why. We still have a near majority of people in the UK who think it is clever to say 'Never get into a foreign commitment unless you have an exit strategy'. They never had a decent education, or studied cosmology, so they can't really be helped, but they could still drag us all down.
    The current attacks are concentrated abroad for good reasons, but no doubt they will return to UK shores for Christmas.

    In Kandahar, after bumping off Karzai's half-brother, they sent a guy to the memorial with a turban stuffed with explosives, knowing he would not be searched....
     If you wrote this in a novel a few years back nobody would find it credible.

    JULY 17th 2011
    The dangers associated with a scheduled pull-out:
    So what's new, we agreed this in March and most people knew it from 'day 1'.

    James Arbuthnot says that when we first went in we had insufficient troops and insufficient equipment, and this should 'never happen again'. I am sorry, James, you are imagining a dream world and therefore living in a nightmare one. The real one is neither, just tough and it needs to be endured and dealt with. Armies can never have enough troops or equipment to send anywhere, ever, when the need to send them arises from the actions of external forces. We could not have 'created' an army to have the overwhelming force he imagines even if we wanted to. It is true that American forces under the command of "Stormin' Norman" did not move to remove Saddam from Kuwait until they did, but that took time and money and the biggest army, navy and airforce in the world.

    JULY 18 in Kabul....8am

    A senior aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Jan Mohammad Khan, has been killed in an attack on his home in Kabul.

    Lawmaker Hasham Atanwal also died in the attack, said police, as men stormed the house in the capital.

    JULY 20th 2011
    British troops in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province are handing control of the city of Lashkar Gah to Afghan security forces.

    JULY 27th 2011

    The mayor of the volatile Afghan city of Kandahar, Ghulam Haidar Hameedi, has been killed in a suicide attack, officials say.

    The attacker detonated explosives in his turban as the mayor made an address at the city hall, police said.

    Two weeks ago, President Hamid Karzai's influential half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, was killed in the same city.

    Let us be clear. The Taliban and Al Qaida regard this type of attack as the equivalent of a NATO drone attack on one if their own leaders. The suicide bomber is cheaper than a drone and can be even more precise, though collateral damage is also welcome rather than something to be avoided. So, why is one terrorism and the other not? Because the drone attack is part of operations sanctioned after much soul-searching as part of a legitimate action by many states working on behalf of the UN and NATO, invited into Afghanistan by the elected government, to help them defeat an insurgency by a mixture of culturally atavistic indogenous groups and foreign fighters, who can bring peace at any time by renouncing their aim to impose their fundamentalist ideology. Their surrender can be accepted and they can pursue their political aims by normal methods.

    AUGUST 6th 2011
    A US helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan has killed 31 US special forces and seven Afghan commandos

    SEPTEMBER 9th 2011
    Regardless of the timing and amount of withdrawal the war could last 10 years, these guys say. They could be right. It has to be allowed for. But if it is, that might shorten it.

    SEPTEMBER 18th 2011
    The Lebedev interview with Hamid Karzai is essential reading. I doubt that any other military could have tried harder than The UK's in Helmand to defeat the Taliban (Karzai's prime directive) while respecting Afghan's laws and citizens. It's close to mutual exclusivity, so it is not surprising some failures cause him grief. More serious is his assertion that the corruption of which his regime is accused is dwarfed by, and even associated with, the massive funding misuse that dogs all foreign intervention of this kind.

    Will things ever improve for his country? Will Afghanistan achieve the peaceful, liberal democracy that the West seeks? Yes, he says, but only if those nations are "respectful towards our religion, our tradition, and mindful of the state of our society.

    "We want greater co-operation in Afghanistan, to bring partnership between the Afghan people and these international forces, where Afghans will do their work and the international community will do their work... We don't mind their presence, but we want a change in their behaviour."

    He is not unsympathetic to the British forces in Helmand. "They learnt to do better after their initial setbacks ... They have a better cultural understanding of Afghanistan's needs." He adds that "the Prince of Wales is a very good friend of Afghanistan and is helping the revival of Afghan culture."

    But it is no longer just to the West that he looks for support. "Good relationships with the neighbours, especially Pakistan, can contribute greatly to Afghanistan's stability. They could do a lot more. China, too; India, too."

    Does he think Western forces should have left sooner? "The Afghan people would agree to the presence of the Western military in Afghanistan. The Afghan people would not really care about the number of troops. The Afghan people would want a change in their behaviour – the Afghan people don't want them knocking on their doors at night; the Afghan people don't want them breaking into their homes; the Afghan people don't want them taking prisoners from their population."

    It's that lack of respect, he says, that rankles. "The Afghan people want them to respect Afghan laws."

    And does he believe that, after 10 years of death and destruction, the West truly wants the Taliban defeated?

    He pauses. "I hope so," he says.

    It is perhaps his most telling answer of all.

    SEPTEMBER 21st 2011

    Hundreds mourn death of Afghan peace negotiator Rabbani

    It looks as if talks with the Taliban have to be with the right Taliban, this meeting was with a branch that will never make peace.

    OCTOBER 1st 2011

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said his government will no longer hold peace talks with the Taliban.

    He said the killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani had convinced him to focus on dialogue with Pakistan.

    Former Afghan President Rabbani was negotiating with the Taliban but was killed by a suicide bomber purporting to be a Taliban peace emissar

    Clearly Karzai is right. It is no longer possible even to locate and identify Taliban with whom to negotiate.

    A senior leader of the militant Haqqani network, Haji Mali Khan, has been captured in Afghanistan, the Nato-led international force Isaf has said.

    The death of al-Awlaki, a senior al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, marks one of the most significant blows yet to al-Qaeda's global media campaign.

    OCTOBER 7th 2011

    Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Gen McChrystal, who commanded coalition forces in 2009-10 before being forced to resign after a magazine interview, said the US and Nato allies were "a little better than" half way to achieving their military goals.

    The most difficult task would be to create a legitimate government that ordinary Afghans could believe in and that would balance the influence of the Taliban, he said.

    "We didn't know enough and we still don't know enough," he said. "Most of us - me included - had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years," he said.

    NOVEMBER 11th 2010

    A group of armed men have stoned and shot dead a woman and her daughter in Afghanistan's Ghazni province, security officials have told the BBC.

    The officials blamed the Taliban, who they said had accused the women of "moral deviation and adultery".

    The police said two men had been arrested in connection with the murder.

    The attack was only 300m from the governor's office in Ghazni city, which is on a list of places to be transferred to Afghan security control.

    The Taliban really believe they are going to outlast NATO and the UN because our far-away nations will lose public support, particularly now our financial systems are in a mess. A perfect testing time. But we tend to choose conciliators and managers as the heads of NATO and the UN rather than charismatic leaders, and we do not ask them to be political or philosophically inspiring leaders. I believe there is a silent majority who do not accept that we should leave Afghanistan's people to the mercy of the Taliban - for there is none. Who will speak up for them at national and international levels?

    NOVEMBER 28th 2011
    Rage grips Pakistan over NATO attack

    An airstrike called to counter an attack on Afghan and NATO troops on the Afghan-Pakistan border was sanctioned on the highest authority we are told, but it appears to have killed many Pakistan military officers at a recognised checkpoint.

    It looks like this was a disastrous mistake, a wrongly identified target. NATO is promising a full inquiry.

    JANUARY 31sr 2012

    The Taliban in Afghanistan are being directly assisted by Pakistani security services, according to a secret Nato report seen by the BBC.

    But this leaked report is in fact a digest of the opinions expressed by captured, interrogated Taliban and Al Qaida individuals. There are one or two valid perceptions in them but it is a Taliban analysis and does not reflect reality, even if the criticisms of Afghan corruption are valid, though not as general as their perception. The level of support received from some Pakistan elements is well known and just as annoying for other Pakistanis as it is for the rest of the world.

    The Taliban, which as a name applies ony to those who hold the brutal and backward ideas that are well known, will never be allowed back in power by Afghans. If they accept basic human rights and join the political process, they can play whatever part they wish.