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January 6, 2010 

U.S. wants Karzai, parliament to agree on cabinet
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States would like to see Afghan President Hamid Karzai and parliament reach agreement soon on a new cabinet so steps can be taken to better govern the war-torn country, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Karzai to Try Again on Jan. 9 for Afghanistan Cabinet Approval
By Eltaf Najafizada
Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai will present a new list of cabinet nominees to Parliament on Jan. 9, a week after lawmakers rejected 17 of his 24 picks, including a powerful warlord, a top official said.

Rejected Afghan minister says MPs betrayed him
Reuters 01/05/2010
KABUL - An ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday he was betrayed by lawmakers who promised to back him as economy minister but turned on him and others in a parliament vote which rejected two-thirds of cabinet nominees.

Cabinet nomination rejection a blow to Karzai, but not that big
by Zhang Ning, Abdul Haleem
KABUL, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of the parliament, on Saturday in a surprise move refused 17of the 24 ministerial nominees presented by President Hamid Karzai.

2009 worst year for children - rights watchdog
KABUL, 6 January 2010 (IRIN) - Armed conflict killed hundreds of children and adversely affected many others in 2009 - the deadliest year for Afghan children since 2001 - an Afghan human rights group has said.

U.S. Boosts Number of Civilian Experts in Afghanistan (Update1)
By Bill Varner
Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration is tripling the number of civilian experts in Afghanistan to about 1,000 early this year to spur economic development and counter the influence of Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents, a U.S. envoy said.

Afghanistan asks UN to ease some Taliban sanctions
By John Heilprin, Associated Press Writer – Wed Jan 6, 2:13 pm ET
UNITED NATIONS – Afghanistan asked the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to lift sanctions on elements of the Taliban that renounce violence and agree to support the government, signaling a new strategy against the militants.

U.S. believes 1 in 5 ex-detainees joining militants
By Adam Entous And Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A classified Pentagon assessment shows about one in five detainees released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay has joined or is suspected of joining militant groups like al Qaeda, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

Holbrooke to visit Afghanistan, Pakistan next week
By Sue Pleming – Wed Jan 6, 3:28 pm ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, plans to visit both countries next week as part of "routine" consultations with their governments, said a spokeswoman for his office.

UN envoy urges reconciliation in Afghanistan
Wed Jan 6, 3:33 pm ET
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The outgoing UN special envoy to Afghanistan on Wednesday urged peace and reconciliation between the Kabul government and the Taliban insurgency.

Taliban issue demands for release of French journalists
Wed Jan 6, 1:55 pm ET
KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban kidnappers holding two French journalists have demanded the release of a militant commander held by the United States and a cash ransom in return for freeing the hostages, an Afghan security official said.

3 Taliban militants including commander killed in N Afghanistan
KABUL, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Three Taliban militants including their commander were killed as foreign troops raided a compound in Afghanistan's northern Kunduz province Tuesday night, local police said Wednesday.

Afghan official: blast kills 2 children
By Jim Heintz, Associated Press Writer – Wed Jan 6, 5:24 am ET
KABUL – Two Afghan children and a policeman were killed and at least three U.S. soldiers were wounded Wednesday when an explosion tore through a group of civilians and foreign service members in eastern Afghanistan, officials said.

Renegade former Afghan policeman captured: police
Wed Jan 6, 4:10 am ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) – Afghan security forces have captured a former police officer who defected to the Taliban and fought for them wearing police uniform and using stolen weapons, an official said Wednesday.

US forces in Afghanistan ‘should expect up to 500 casualties a month’
Tom Coghlan The Times (UK) January 7, 2010
US forces in Afghanistan should brace themselves for up to 500 casualties a month this year, a senior retired American general has warned.

Afghanistan CIA suicide bomber 'fooled family'
Tuesday, 5 January 2010 BBC News
The Jordanian suicide bomber who carried out the worst attack against the CIA in decades in Afghanistan tricked his family, the BBC has learnt.

Confusion grows over how bomber infiltrated CIA base in Afghanistan
The Jordanian double agent had never been to the base before the attack that killed seven CIA employees waiting to receive hot tips on Al Qaeda.
By Greg Miller The Los Angeles Times January 6, 2010
Reporting from Washington - The bomber who killed seven CIA employees at an agency forward base in Afghanistan had never been to the compound or met with agency operatives before the attack, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Coalition urged to revamp intelligence gathering, distribution in Afghanistan
The Washington Post - Nation By Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The highest-ranking U.S. military intelligence officer in Afghanistan has called for a major restructuring of the intelligence gathering and distribution in that country, arguing that the present system "is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy."

Loss of seven CIA agents in Afghanistan: any lessons learned?
The CIA agents killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber must have known the dangers of working with a double agent. Yet a large group gathered in one room to hear him.
Christian Science Monitor By Peter Grier Staff writer January 5, 2010
Washington - For the CIA and other espionage agencies, double agents can provide a rich trove of intelligence. Who is better postioned to provide crucial information about an adversary than someone whom that adversary already trusts?

Officials: Suspected US drones kill 13 in Pakistan
By Rasool Dawar, Associated Press Writer – Wed Jan 6, 2:46 pm ET
ISLAMABAD – Suspected U.S. drone missile strikes killed 13 people in Pakistan's volatile northwest Wednesday, the latest of five such attacks in the past week targeting an area believed to be a hideout for militants

Slow Start for Military Corps in Afghanistan
New York Times By ERIC SCHMITT January 5, 2010
WASHINGTON - The military's effort to build a seasoned corps of expert officers for the Afghan war, one of the highest priorities of top commanders, is off to a slow start, with too few volunteers and a high-level warning

India's Afghanistan dilemma
The Guardian By Eric Randolph 01/15/2010
When Obama proclaimed an 18-month deadline for his Afghan "surge", he had two purposes. One was to assuage the concerns of the anti-war constituency back home. The other was to provide a wake-up call to

Afghan women set themselves on fire to escape brutality: Foreign Affairs report
By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - More Afghan women are choosing suicide to escape the violence and brutality of their daily lives, says a new human-rights report prepared by Canada's Foreign Affairs Department.

Afghan girls flourish in new school
Marines rebuild a chance to learn The Washington Times - Sports By Richard Tomkins Wednesday, January 6, 2010
NOW ZAD, Afghanistan | Zarmina and Sharifa have very big dreams for very little girls.

Afghanistan cemetery holds memories of foreigners
The cemetery memorializes soldiers and others who lost their lives in 'the graveyard of empires.' The British adopted it after the fall of the Taliban, putting on salary a faithful groundskeeper.
By Tony Perry The Los Angeles Times January 6, 2010
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan - The heavy wooden gate to the British Cemetery is kept locked. To get inside, the curious must bang their fists and shout their intentions over the sounds of boys yelling in the streets,

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U.S. wants Karzai, parliament to agree on cabinet
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States would like to see Afghan President Hamid Karzai and parliament reach agreement soon on a new cabinet so steps can be taken to better govern the war-torn country, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

The unexpected stand-off has extended a long period of political uncertainty in Afghanistan that began with a fraud-tainted election in August, which took months to resolve.

Countries with troops fighting in Afghanistan hope to turn the page on months of drift and confusion with a London conference on January 27, called to outline a path of reform that would allow the Western military contingent to begin withdrawing.

"It's probably a sign of some progress ... as odd as that may sound, that there is a healthy give and take between branches of government in a democratic Afghanistan," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told a news conference.

"That said, we obviously would like to see this process move along as quickly as possible, because governance in Afghanistan is something that needs to improve quickly, and the longer there is limbo, the more difficult that becomes," he added.

Parliament stunned Karzai last week by rejecting more than two thirds of his choices for the cabinet, including one powerful former guerrilla commander and several allies of other ex-commanders who backed the president's reelection.

Karzai met members of parliament on Wednesday in the hope of persuading them to confirm a cabinet in time for an international conference at the end of the month.

Karzai will submit a new list of cabinet nominees within days and will include several of the same candidates rejected by parliament last week, but will name them to different portfolios, spokesman Wahid Omar said.

(Reporting by Adam Entous; Editing by Steve Gutterman)
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Karzai to Try Again on Jan. 9 for Afghanistan Cabinet Approval
By Eltaf Najafizada
Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai will present a new list of cabinet nominees to Parliament on Jan. 9, a week after lawmakers rejected 17 of his 24 picks, including a powerful warlord, a top official said.

Karzai, re-elected for a second term in an August poll marred by allegations of fraud, is under pressure from the U.S. and other nations to reduce corruption. He will probably unveil his new line up “on Saturday, including the foreign minister,” Siamak Herawi, Karzai’s deputy spokesman, said in an interview in Kabul today.

Lawmakers on Jan. 2 rejected nominees viewed as Karzai’s political cronies, those believed to be under the influence of warlords and others deemed unqualified, Associated Press reported. The nomination of Ismail Khan, a guerrilla commander in Herat province during the 1990s, as water and energy minister was narrowly defeated.

The parliament did approve Karzai’s decision to stick with the incumbent defense, interior and finance ministers.

A rival in August’s election, anti-corruption campaigner Ramazan Bashardost, said Karzai would be forced once again to include allies of the regional powerbrokers who helped him win a second term, threatening further rejections from legislators.

“Those people who were successful in their jobs will be introduced again for other posts, and there will also be some new faces,” said Herawi.

Parliamentary rules prevent those rejected by lawmakers from being nominated again for the same post.

While Karzai was “unhappy” over parliament’s rejection of his initial choices, “he respects the democratic process,” said Wahidullah Omar, another Karzai spokesman.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul at enajafizada1@bloomberg.net.
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Rejected Afghan minister says MPs betrayed him
Reuters 01/05/2010
KABUL - An ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday he was betrayed by lawmakers who promised to back him as economy minister but turned on him and others in a parliament vote which rejected two-thirds of cabinet nominees.

Anwar-ul Haq Ahadi, who served as finance minister under Karzai for four years until last spring, was one of 17 of 24 prospective ministers vetoed by the Afghan parliament in a secret ballot on Saturday in a rare show of political muscle.

Among the others who were blocked were several Karzai allies, powerful former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan and the only female candidate.

"It was a real, real surprise for me to get such a low vote because many members of parliament had assured me they would vote in favor of my appointment," Ahadi told Reuters.

He said he had been assured he would get about 170 votes in his favor. He secured just over half that number.

Ahadi was one of the first failed candidates to speak out about the unexpected rebuke to Karzai, which condemns several key ministries -- including energy, commerce and public health -- to weeks or months of policy uncertainty.

UNDERMINES PRESIDENT
"This is a real blow to President Karzai's government. Replacing 17 people will take a long time and this country cannot afford not to have a functional government," he said, adding several of those voted out had vital experience.

"They were highly qualified, fit for the jobs. This is going to hurt Afghanistan."

It also undermines the president at a time when Afghanistan needs strong leadership to battle rising corruption and violence at the highest levels since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

"We are in a state of crisis, the international community is pressing the government for action, and yet in practical terms there is no government," he said.

Ahadi said his rejection was not due to ethnic resentments in a country that often splits along those lines, because as a Pashtun he was supported by representatives from the Hazara and Uzbek minorities, among others.

Instead he hinted at behind-the-scenes political machinations in a parliament where the lack of dominant parties allows complicated webs of political interest and favor to affect decision-making.

"There have been some individuals working against some of us not to succeed, apparently they have influence over some parliamentarians," he said.

Some of the new faces, although there were few of them, may have been voted out for other reasons, he added.

Karzai's nominations left many technocrats in their old positions, which satisfied some Western backers but frustrated many others who felt he was paying off election favors and recycling old names when the country needed new ideas.

Ahadi will meet Karzai later on Sunday to discuss his political future and plans for the next round of nominations and said he expected a decision to be settled in the next few days.

(Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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Cabinet nomination rejection a blow to Karzai, but not that big
by Zhang Ning, Abdul Haleem
KABUL, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of the parliament, on Saturday in a surprise move refused 17of the 24 ministerial nominees presented by President Hamid Karzai.

Local analysts viewed the rejection as a blow to Karzai but not as big as western media bragged about.

The law makers seemed to use their rights to say no to the president merely to show off the power of democracy, as they themselves would not be able to come up with a more reasonable list.

Karzai's chief spokesman Wahid Omar a day later on Sunday told local media that the president "was surprised by the rejection of the nominees."

While a source close to Karzai who insisted on anonymity said the president was not as astonished as some expected.

Western governments suspect that Karzai is keen to use cabinet posts as payment for those who supported him in last August presidential election, which was tarnished by frauds.

Karzai presented the list to the parliament including Ismail Khan, a notorious warlord who was accused by human rights groups of war crimes.

However, it was not that difficult for Karzai to foresee the reaction from the parliament, said the source, adding that the president just needs the parliament to play the role of bad guy to the warlord.

"The president is going to present his real list later on," said the source.

In the meantime, the parliament successfully proved to the western community that it is not a robber stamp, a victory which could also be seen as Karzai's achievement.

In talks with media, Omar, Karzai's spokesman, said, "This is the beauty of democracy. We are exercising democracy."

Surely this is so. It was a win-win situation for both Karzai and the parliament.

On the list, the three key posts of defense minister, finance minister and interior minister were passed, which will help maintain the administration in a not so effective yet relatively stable way.

The 17 undecided posts will acted by deputy ministers.

Omar, the president's spokesman, noted, "Of course it is not good in terms of the functioning of the government, but we will have to respect it."

Omar said that Karzai would soon introduce new nominees to the parliament.

The rejection of the cabinet nominees took place while the Afghan government is preparing to attend an international conference on the Afghan issue, which is slated to be held later in January in London.

Afghanistan, experts believe, would have little achievement if it attends the London conference in the absence of a functioning administration.

That is the reason why Karzai failed to nominate a candidate for the foreign minister.

Local analysts said the president likes the current Foreign Minister Rangin Spanta to stay on but fears that Spanta would not got passed over corruption rumors.

Karzai thus will keep the nomination vacant until Spanta wrap up his London tour.

Karzai, who was sworn in as president of Afghanistan for the second five-year term on Nov. 19 through the fraud-tainted August presidential election, has vowed to eliminate corruption in his next government.

However, experts are of the view that fighting corruption and bringing reforms in government departments in lack of a functioning and efficient setup is impossible.

Meanwhile, Kai Eide, the special envoy for United Nation Secretary General to Afghanistan, according to media, was surprised over the rejection of the cabinet nominees, noting that "the rejection would delay the efforts for establishing a functioning government that can focus on badly needed reform."

"It's a setback and it's a commotion," head of the world body's mission in Afghanistan said.

The parliament was supposed to go for winter vacation on Dec. 6but the leave was postponed due to delay in presenting the cabinet nominees.

Haseeb Nuri, director of the media department of the Woelsi Jirga, in talks with Xinhua confirmed that the lower house asked the president to introduce new nominees including the one for foreign minister on Saturday.

After more than 40 days since Karzai took office, the cabinet has not been formed and seems not to be formed anytime soon. But in the war-torn nation, failure of a cabinet forming would not be seen as such a big blow. Blows could be always go beyond people's imagination here.
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2009 worst year for children - rights watchdog
KABUL, 6 January 2010 (IRIN) - Armed conflict killed hundreds of children and adversely affected many others in 2009 - the deadliest year for Afghan children since 2001 - an Afghan human rights group has said.

About 1,050 children died in suicide attacks, roadside blasts, air strikes and in the cross-fire between Taliban insurgents and pro-government Afghan and foreign forces from January to December 2009, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) a Kabul-based rights group, said in a statement on 6 January.

“At least three children were killed in war-related incidents every day in 2009, and many others suffered in diverse but mostly unreported ways,” Ajmal Samadi, ARM’s director, was quoted in the statement as saying.

Security incidents increased 65 percent in the last quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, according to a report of the UN Secretary-General entitled The Situation in Afghanistan and its Implications for International Peace and Security.

A sharp rise in the civilian casualties of war in 2009 has also been reported: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 784 conflict-related civilian casualties between August and October 2009 - 12 percent up on the same period in 2008.

“Both male and female children have been the increasing victims of war and criminality in Afghanistan but the government has not done enough to alleviate their hardship and to reduce their deprivation,” Hamida Barmaki, a child rights officer at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), told IRIN.

ARM said it recorded at least 2,080 cases of grave violations of child rights in 2009. These included the recruitment of children as suicide bombers and foot soldiers, murder, rape, forced labour, and the denial of essential services by warring parties and criminal groups.

Insurgent attacks on schools, aid workers and facilities also deprived thousands of children - boys and girls - of access to education and healthcare, it said.

ARM has reported sexual abuse and the recruitment of children by police and private security forces, and has accused the Afghan government of doing little to stop unlawful practices.

Kunar incident

It has called the killing of eight teenager students in the eastern province of Kunar on 26 December “an appalling act of crime against civilian people” by foreign forces and their Afghan supporters.

On 30 December NATO said in a statement that its soldiers returned fire and killed nine individuals in Kunar Province who possessed “assault rifles, ammunition and ammonium nitrate used in bomb-making”.

An Afghan government-appointed fact-finding team, however, said all nine victims were civilians - eight of them students and none with links to armed groups.

Child rights groups have asked the Afghan government and its international supporters to enhance and expand efforts to minimize the impact of war on children, and provide support servicers for war-affected children.

“Critical juncture”

“We are now at a critical juncture. The situation cannot continue as is if we are to succeed in Afghanistan,” said the UN report.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a “change in mindset” in the international community and in the government of President Hamid Karzai in order to reverse the prospects of failure in the country.

“Unity of effort and greater attention to key priorities are now a sine qua non,” the report said.
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U.S. Boosts Number of Civilian Experts in Afghanistan (Update1)
By Bill Varner
Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration is tripling the number of civilian experts in Afghanistan to about 1,000 early this year to spur economic development and counter the influence of Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents, a U.S. envoy said.

“For truly sustainable progress, our troop increase must be matched by stronger civilian efforts,” Rosemary DiCarlo told the United Nations Security Council in New York today. “Economic growth is critical to Afghanistan’s future, both to undermine extremists’ appeal in the short term and to provide sustainable economic development over the long term.”

President Barack Obama, who decided in December to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year, faces increased pressure from UN officials for an equally strong economic commitment. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called this week for more coordinated international aid aimed at civilian projects to build loyalty to President Hamid Karzai’s government.

“Most of our focus has been on the number and activities of military forces,” Kai Eide, the departing UN envoy to Afghanistan, told the Security Council. “The political strategy is too often shaped as an appendix to military thinking. What we need is a strategy that is politically and not militarily driven.”

Eide said 80 percent of aid to Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 has bypassed the government in Kabul. As an example of the mismatch between military and civilian assistance, he said Afghan provincial governors earn $70 a month and have operational budgets of $15 a month.

Harboring al-Qaeda

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon, American forces ousted the Taliban from power for harboring al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. As the U.S. military’s attention shifted to Iraq, the Taliban made their biggest inroads in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Taliban influence has spread recently to the north and center of the nation, Eide said, because of imbalances in development efforts.

“Before leaving for New York, I asked a number of Afghan politicians why the insurgency has spread,” Eide said. “One element mentioned by all was the neglect of stable provinces in the allocation of development resources. For that neglect we now pay a high price.”

DiCarlo said the U.S. backs recommendations by Ban and Eide to strengthen UN assistance to Afghanistan, including through the appointment of a senior civilian official within the military command.

More Coordination

“We strongly echo the secretary-general’s call for strengthened coordination,” DiCarlo said. “To help reverse the Taliban’s momentum, we are focusing our reconstruction effort in areas where we can quickly create jobs, especially agricultural ones. Rebuilding Afghanistan’s once-vibrant agricultural sector will sap the insurgency not only of foot soldiers but also of income from narcotics.”

Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN, while endorsing UN proposals for better coordination of aid efforts, said trust in progress toward development targets is “wearing thin.” Further steps should only be taken in the direction of Afghan “ownership” of economic and political work, he said.

“We are not questioning the intention of the Obama administration, but any attempt toward bringing together civilian and military activities should avoid creating new parallel structures that would weaken our efforts,” Tanin said.

Tanin also asked the Security Council to review Taliban members on the list of terrorists subject to UN sanctions so that insurgents who pledge allegiance to the Afghan government can be deleted.

He said his government isn’t ready to suggest any names. The idea is to forge agreement on the principle of delisting and create an atmosphere of “trust” in the event any Taliban leaders decide to abandon the insurgency, Tanin said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Varner at the United Nations at wvarner@bloomberg.net
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Afghanistan asks UN to ease some Taliban sanctions
By John Heilprin, Associated Press Writer – Wed Jan 6, 2:13 pm ET
UNITED NATIONS – Afghanistan asked the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to lift sanctions on elements of the Taliban that renounce violence and agree to support the government, signaling a new strategy against the militants.

Meanwhile, the United States said it is tripling its civilian experts in the nation to almost 1,000 — in a complementary effort to the additional 30,000 U.S. troops President Barack Obama has ordered to the Afghanistan.

At a Security Council debate, Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin proposed allowing his government to recommend names of Taliban members "willing to renounce violence and join the peace process," so that they would no longer be subject to asset freezes, travel bans and arms embargoes if the council's sanctions panel approves.

Tanin said Afghans are ready to take over their own security and defense, but military efforts cannot bring peace and stability without "reconciliation" among all citizens and "integration" of former combatants.

"Afghanistan's government has opened its door to all Afghans willing to participate in the stabilization and the construction of their country, in line with the Afghan constitution, and with respect for human rights," he said. "But while reconciliation is an Afghan-led effort, it cannot be achieved by the Afghan government alone."

Council members said they support the aims of the Afghan government, but expressed concerns about the plan.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his nation favors Afghan reconciliation but "the possibility of agreements with Taliban leaders and other terrorists and extremist organizations should not be seriously considered."

"Dialogue is possible only with those who have laid down their weapons, recognized the government and constitution of Afghanistan, and broken their ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist structures," he said.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said "one key element" of the United States' political strategy is "to support Afghan-led efforts to reintegrate Taliban members who renounce al-Qaida, lay down their arms, and engage in the constitutional political process."

She said the number of U.S. civilian experts in Afghanistan will grow to 920 by the end of January and "just under 1,000 civilians shortly thereafter," more than triple the 320 Americans on the ground at the end of January 2009.

Norway's Kai Eide, in his final remarks to the council as outgoing head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, warned the overall situation could become "unmanageable" without a better strategy for returning power to Afghans from international military and aid donors.
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U.S. believes 1 in 5 ex-detainees joining militants
By Adam Entous And Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A classified Pentagon assessment shows about one in five detainees released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay has joined or is suspected of joining militant groups like al Qaeda, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The disclosure comes amid revelations that former Guantanamo detainees had joined al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- a Yemen-based group believed to be behind a failed plot to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on Christmas Day.

Under pressure to increase safeguards, President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that he had suspended the transfer of additional Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, citing the deteriorating security situation in the country.

But Obama said the suspension would not prevent him from closing the prison, which was opened in early 2002 by the Bush administration to house terrorism suspects.

More than 560 detainees from Guantanamo have been released, the vast majority of them by the Bush administration.

An Obama administration official said the White House had received "no information that suggests that any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the fight."

Six Yemeni detainees were sent home days before the December 25 attempted bombing. There are 198 detainees left at Guantanamo, which once held 750, Pentagon officials said. Among those still being held there, roughly 91 are Yemeni.

The Guantanamo facility has been condemned internationally because detainees were denied due process for years and for harsh interrogations conducted there.

A previous Pentagon assessment last April showed that 14 percent of former detainees had joined or were suspected of joining militant groups, up from 11 percent in December 2008.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the revised Pentagon assessment showed that percentage had grown to about 20 percent.

'INEXACT SCIENCE'

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell declined to comment on the latest figures, saying they remained classified, but told reporters, "The trend hasn't reversed itself."

Morrell said the vetting process for releasing detainees was an "inexact science," adding: "You know, we are making subjective calls based upon judgment, intelligence. And so there is no foolproof answer in this realm. That's what makes this so difficult."

The Obama administration official said steps had been taken to improve detainee reviews.

A special Guantanamo task force was created by Obama "to conduct the thorough work that had not been done before: to review the relevant information about each detainee, including the threat they pose, to determine whether they should be prosecuted, detained, or transferred," the official said.

Critics have long accused the Pentagon of exaggerating the threat posed by detainees.

"This is more scaremongering," Clive Stafford-Smith, director of the UK-based legal charity Reprieve, which represents several detainees at the facility.

"If the Pentagon was honest about its numbers, it would publish the names of those who have 'gone back to the fight' and the allegations against them. ... Let's have this discussion in the open and stop deceiving people," he added.

Obama has encountered various complications in trying to close the Guantanamo facility and has acknowledged he will not be able to meet a self-imposed one-year deadline to close it that he promised when he took office last January.

Just last month, Obama's aides announced the U.S. government would proceed with buying an Illinois prison and is bolstering security there so a limited number of Guantanamo detainees can be transferred to it.

But Congress has yet to provide the military the authority or funding to transfer inmates to Illinois and Republicans have argued moving them there posed an unnecessary security risk.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, and William Maclean in London; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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Holbrooke to visit Afghanistan, Pakistan next week
By Sue Pleming – Wed Jan 6, 3:28 pm ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, plans to visit both countries next week as part of "routine" consultations with their governments, said a spokeswoman for his office.

En route to the region, Holbrooke will stop over in Abu Dhabi for meetings with other special envoys ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London on Jan 28, said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified.

The U.S. diplomat returns later on Wednesday from London, where he also held preparatory meetings this week for the conference, which will focus on future strategy in Afghanistan in light of the U.S. plan to send in 30,000 more troops to stem the insurgency.

Conference participants will also seek commitments from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to do a better job in fighting corruption, and from troop-contributing nations to find ways to improve civilian-military cooperation and coordination, said a European diplomat, who asked not to be named.

"Military and civilian coordination is something which is not working very well at the moment," said the diplomat.

In his meetings with Karzai and others, Holbrooke is expected to focus on preparations for the London conference as well as discussions on building up the Afghan national security forces, a key component of the U.S. strategy.

Karzai has been battling to get his country's parliament to confirm a new cabinet in time for the London conference, seeking to end months of political uncertainty that began with the fraud-ravaged election in August.

PAKISTAN TENSIONS

Holbrooke's visit to nuclear-armed Pakistan -- his first since last October when he accompanied U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- coincides with renewed strains in U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Islamabad has recently delayed hundreds of visas for U.S. officials and contractors working in the country, and there have also been tensions over the handling of a U.S. nonmilitary assistance package for Pakistan, amounting to $7.5 billion over the next five years.

"In Pakistan he will call on the leadership to continue dialogue and look for ways to emphasize our assistance and address concerns," said the spokeswoman, without commenting further.

The fragile government of President Asif Ali Zardari is struggling to contain a raging Taliban insurgency and growing instability in the country. A suicide bombing at a volleyball game in a northwestern village last week killed at least 98 people.

The United States sees Pakistan as a frontline state in the fight against the Taliban insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan and would like Islamabad to do more to root out militants who seek refuge in border areas.

But Pakistan has yet to mount concerted action against Afghan Taliban factions in the border enclaves. For its part, Washington has stepped up pilotless drone attacks on targets in Pakistan.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)
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UN envoy urges reconciliation in Afghanistan
Wed Jan 6, 3:33 pm ET
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The outgoing UN special envoy to Afghanistan on Wednesday urged peace and reconciliation between the Kabul government and the Taliban insurgency.

"A peace and reconciliation process must be launched and become an integral part of the political agenda" in the war-torn country, said Kai Eide, who is to relinquish his post in March. "It must be based on the Constitution and must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned."

"If the insurgency agrees to join a peace process, then this will significantly enhance the prospects of (foreign) troop withdrawals," he told the UN Security Council.

But Eide called on the Afghan rebels to "distance themselves from the past and embrace the future as well as the progress which has been achieved in Afghanistan."

He said the world body was ready to promote such reconciliation.

Eide also called for a new transition strategy "which can allow Afghans to be in charge of their own future" based on a "systematic buildup of civilian institutions to enable the government to deliver services and the development of the Afghan economy."

"If we do not take these civilian components of the transition strategy as seriously as the military component, then we will fail," he added.

Eide said the London conference on Afghanistan scheduled for January 28 must agree on a "politically-driven strategy where Afghan ownership and capacity stand at the center of our activities."

He warned that the ongoing military surge by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) "must not lead to an accelerate pressure for quick results in governance and economic development efforts, which could divert resources from a long-term approach to civilian institution building and economic development."

The Norwegian official is to step down as UN envoy after being criticized over his handling of the fraud-marred election in Afghanistan in August.

His tenure has seen the Taliban insurgency reach its deadliest since US-led troops ousted their regime in 2001, spurring international efforts to build democracy and develop the impoverished nation.

NATO and the United States have 113,000 troops in the country fighting the Taliban insurgents, who have spread their footprint over the previously peaceful north and east, inflicting record Western military casualties.

Up to 40,000 more US and NATO troops are to arrive over the course of 2010, backed by thousands of civilians, as the war strategy turns from battleground tactics to development and aid.
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Taliban issue demands for release of French journalists
Wed Jan 6, 1:55 pm ET
KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban kidnappers holding two French journalists have demanded the release of a militant commander held by the United States and a cash ransom in return for freeing the hostages, an Afghan security official said.

Abdul Hamid Hakimi, head of the provincial security center for Kapisa province said on Wednesday that the militants had made contact and conveyed their demands.

The journalists, from France 3 television, were captured in Kapisa last week along with an Afghan driver and a translator. Media have reported that the driver was freed.

Afghanistan's private AINA TV said in a news report that a Taliban commander in the province had claimed to be holding the journalists.

French troops are stationed in Kapisa as part of the NATO operation in Afghanistan. The Taliban as well as followers of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another insurgent leader, operate there.

Kidnapping foreigners for ransom has become a big business in Afghanistan. A British-Iraqi journalist was released last month after being held briefly.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; writing by Peter Graff; editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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3 Taliban militants including commander killed in N Afghanistan
KABUL, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Three Taliban militants including their commander were killed as foreign troops raided a compound in Afghanistan's northern Kunduz province Tuesday night, local police said Wednesday.

"Troops with the U.S. special forces during a search operation raided a compound in Chardara district late last night and killed three militants including their commander Baz Mohammad," Abdul Rahman Haqtash, deputy provincial police chief, told Xinhua.

Three other militants were arrested during the operation, he added.

Baz Mohammad, according to locals, was behind the abduction of two journalists last September.

Kunduz, a relatively peaceful province until early 2009, has been the scene of skirmishes and Taliban-led insurgency over the past several months.
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Afghan official: blast kills 2 children
By Jim Heintz, Associated Press Writer – Wed Jan 6, 5:24 am ET
KABUL – Two Afghan children and a policeman were killed and at least three U.S. soldiers were wounded Wednesday when an explosion tore through a group of civilians and foreign service members in eastern Afghanistan, officials said.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement that the blast in Nangrahar province occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a mine. The ministry called it a terrorist act, implying the mine had been planted by insurgents.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, the spokesman for the provincial governor, told The Associated Press that 15 people were wounded, including three U.S. soldiers. NATO's International Security Assistance Force said nine ISAF soldiers were wounded, but could not clarify their nationalities.

Abdulzai said the soldiers were visiting a road construction project funded by the United States. He said two children and a policeman were killed.

Also Wednesday, at least 13 people were injured in an explosion at a market in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, said Amir Pacha Mangal, director of the provincial health department. Police were investigating the cause of the blast.

The deaths of civilians, especially children, are in an increasingly sensitive issue in the Afghanistan conflict. On Wednesday, the independent human rights watchdog group Afghanistan Rights Monitor said more than 1,050 children under 18 died last year in war-related incidents.

The group said about two-thirds of the young victims died at the hand of insurgents, including several murdered on suspicion of spying. But it also criticized Afghan and international forces, pointing particularly to the alleged deaths of eight children in an operation involving foreign troops last month in Kunar province.

NATO claims those killed in the operation were insurgents, but ARM said in a statement that it "appears to be an appalling act of crime against civilian people."

Aside from outright killings of children, the insurgents are endangering countless others by "widespread and systematic attacks on aid workers, humanitarian convoys and facilities (that) deprived thousands of children from lifesaving services such as food aid and immunization against deadly diseases," ARM said.

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Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah contributed to this report.
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Renegade former Afghan policeman captured: police
Wed Jan 6, 4:10 am ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) – Afghan security forces have captured a former police officer who defected to the Taliban and fought for them wearing police uniform and using stolen weapons, an official said Wednesday.

The renegade officer, Mohammad Qasim, deserted his post as police chief of a violence-plagued district in southwestern Farah province early last year, taking with him some officers as well as uniforms, weapons and vehicles.

He and his men joined militants to fight Afghan and Western forces in Bala Blok district, Farah's deputy governor Mohammad Younus Rasouli told AFP.

When he was captured on Tuesday night Qasim "was wearing Afghan police uniform and using government weapons and (police) vehicles against the government," Rasouli said.

Seven other people, most of them former policemen, were also captured with Qasim, he said.

Under a multi-billion-dollar, internationally-backed programme Afghanistan is rebuilding its security forces, with numbers now around 100,000 for the army and 70,000 police.

The security forces have been fighting a Taliban-led insurgency side-by-side with more than 110,000 foreign troops deployed under US and NATO command.

Despite a strict vetting process, some recruits have turned on their foreign colleagues, raising questions about the selection process, the brief training period and the rush to make up numbers.

On November 4, a policemen killed five British soldiers in the southern province of Helmand, one of the most violent regions of the country.

As the insurgency escalates foreign troop numbers are set to rise to 150,000 over the course of this year, with experts predicting more battles and a higher casualty rate on both sides.

Four militants were also killed in an operation by Afghan and foreign forces in the northern province of Kunduz overnight, an official said.
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US forces in Afghanistan ‘should expect up to 500 casualties a month’
Tom Coghlan The Times (UK) January 7, 2010
US forces in Afghanistan should brace themselves for up to 500 casualties a month this year, a senior retired American general has warned.

The forecast comes from General Barry McCaffrey, formerly the most decorated general in the US Army, who has conducted field assessments of the US military performance in Afghanistan at the request of the US military since 2003.

His assessment projects that US forces can expect to lose between 300 and 500 soldiers a month, either killed or wounded, this year, rising to a peak during the summer months. US military casualties during 2009 were 305 killed and 2,102 injured up to December 20. More than half of those injured have not been able to return to service.

Casualties in Afghanistan tend to peak during the summer “fighting season” between June and October and to dip, particularly in mountainous areas, during the winter.

The anticipated increase would produce around 3,000 American casualties this year, and a total for Western forces in Afghanistan of around 5,000 killed and wounded — the equivalent of seven infantry battalions.

British forces suffered 108 deaths last year, and 464 wounded in action.

General McCaffrey is an adjunct professor at the US Military Academy at West Point. While his assessment is not a government document, it was conducted at the request of General David Petraeus, the commander of US Central Command, and General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, and included comprehensive access to senior Western military officials and diplomats, including British officials.

He suggests that the Taleban deserve considerable respect for their tenacity and military capability. “We must guard against arrogance, and US and allied ground combat forces”, he warns, face “very clever fighters” with “ferocious combat capabilities”.

He cites in particular two occasions when small American bases were all but overrun by “battalion-size” Taleban units during 2009: “Only the incredible small unit leadership, fighting skill, and valour of these two small US army units — which suffered very high casualties at [Combat Outpost] Wanat and COP Keating — prevented humiliating defeat.”

Despite the stated desire of the Obama Administration to achieve a discernible improvement in Afghanistan within 18 months, and to begin a military drawdown after that time, General McCaffrey concludes: “We are unlikely to achieve our political and military goals in 18 months. This will inevitably become a three to ten-year strategy to build a viable Afghan state with their own security force that can allow us to withdraw.

“It may well cost us an additional $300 billion, and we are likely to suffer thousands more US casualties.”

A promised “US civilian surge” will not materialise, he believes: “Afghanistan over the next two to three years will be simply too dangerous for most civil agencies.”

He adds that the war can be expected to cost the US Government more than $9 billion (£5.6 billion) a month during the summer of 2010. The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is currently $377 million a day, compared with a constant-dollar equivalent of $622 million a day for the Second World War.

However, his assessment is that the mission’s goals remain possible: “We can achieve our strategic purpose with determined leadership and American treasure and blood.

“We now have the most effective and courageous military forces in our nation’s history committed to this campaign ... Our focus must now not be on an exit strategy — but effective execution of the political, economic and military measures required to achieve our purpose.”
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Afghanistan CIA suicide bomber 'fooled family'
Tuesday, 5 January 2010 BBC News
The Jordanian suicide bomber who carried out the worst attack against the CIA in decades in Afghanistan tricked his family, the BBC has learnt.

Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, 36, killed seven US agents and a Jordanian intelligence officer when he detonated himself at the Khost base last week.

But his friends and relatives had believed the doctor was in Turkey.

A relative told the BBC that the family only realised his whereabouts when they heard news of the attack.

'Double agent'

The BBC's Dale Gavlak, in Zarqa, Jordan, spoke to a family member who refused to be identified after being told to remain anonymous by the Jordanian authorities.

He said Balawi had fooled them all about his intentions and his beliefs, telling his family he was travelling to Turkey to join his Turkish wife and children and continue his medical studies.

Instead, he went to Forward Operating Base Chapman, in Afghanistan, where he carried out the worst attack against US intelligence officials since the US embassy in Beirut was bombed in 1983.

The relative cried as he spoke about Balawi, our correspondent reports. He described him as a devout - if somewhat aloof - Muslim who cared for the poor.

Balawi was reportedly recruited by Jordanian intelligence officials when he attempted to enter Gaza as part of a medical team last year.

According to US media reports, he was a CIA double agent whose specific mission was tracking down al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Neither the CIA or the US government has confirmed these reports.

According to the Washington Post, Balawi had lured the CIA officers into a meeting at the base's gym with a promise of new information on al-Qaeda's top leadership.
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Confusion grows over how bomber infiltrated CIA base in Afghanistan
The Jordanian double agent had never been to the base before the attack that killed seven CIA employees waiting to receive hot tips on Al Qaeda.
By Greg Miller The Los Angeles Times January 6, 2010
Reporting from Washington - The bomber who killed seven CIA employees at an agency forward base in Afghanistan had never been to the compound or met with agency operatives before the attack, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The absence of any previous encounter adds to the confusion over how the attacker -- posing as an informant with valuable information on Al Qaeda -- was able to make it past security with a bomb apparently strapped to his body and lure seasoned CIA operatives to their deaths last week.

A U.S. intelligence official said that the bomber had provided a stream of useful information to the CIA after being presented by the Jordanian intelligence service as an Islamic militant who had switched sides and was now willing to work against Al Qaeda.

But the informant -- a 36-year-old Jordanian physician -- was still seen as an unproven asset by CIA officers, who nonetheless were willing to look past their lingering concerns because they believed that he was poised to deliver an intelligence breakthrough on Al Qaeda's inner circle.

"The asset had a track record, but there were still questions about access and reliability," the U.S. intelligence official said. "But, at some point, especially on a case like this, which appeared to have real promise, you have to go face to face."

The decision to do so in this case precipitated the deadliest attack against the CIA in decades. Agency officers who flew to the remote outpost from Kabul, the capital, to attend the meeting were among those injured. The Jordanian intelligence operative who was the main point of contact with the informant also was killed.

A CIA inquiry is focused on two main questions: why the bomber was not more thoroughly screened and where he received the training and explosives used in the attack.
The bomber has been identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal Balawi, who was known for extremist postings on websites affiliated with Al Qaeda before he was arrested by Jordanian authorities, recruited as a spy and sent to Afghanistan.

CIA veterans who served in the region say they are baffled by the security breach. When meeting informants, particularly those with ties to terrorist groups, "the first thing you do is have two security guys search him," a former high-ranking CIA officer said. "It's one of the basic building blocks" of espionage.

CIA officials have declined to disclose any details about the bombing.

"The CIA is looking at every aspect of the attack," CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said. "The enemy doesn't know everything that went on, and it makes no sense to fill in the gaps for him."

U.S. officials have contested some of the criticism aimed at the agency, particularly speculation that CIA operatives were so eager for a breakthrough on Al Qaeda that they ignored the risks of agreeing to a meeting with an informant they had never encountered face to face.

"That's off-base," a U.S. intelligence official said. "You have to use unsavory individuals to penetrate terrorist groups -- a saint won't get you inside. There's huge risk and danger involved . . . but it's irresponsible for anyone to suggest those hazards were somehow denied or ignored."

The attack occurred at Forward Operating Base Chapman, a CIA facility in Khowst, a region across the Pakistani border from territory controlled by the Haqqani network, a militant group with ties to the Taliban that has carried out a string of suicide bombings.

The base is part of a constellation of CIA outposts whose mission is to disrupt militant networks in Afghanistan, as well as identify targets across the border for the CIA's campaign of Predator drone strikes.

The Haqqani network has been particularly hard hit. Ten of the last 15 drone strikes last year took place in territory controlled by Haqqani, according to the Long War Journal, a website that tracks the Predator strikes.

Current and former U.S. officials have speculated that the Haqqani group may have helped orchestrate the bombing at the Chapman base in retaliation. But officials said the evidence so far is inconclusive.

greg.miller@latimes.com
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Coalition urged to revamp intelligence gathering, distribution in Afghanistan
The Washington Post - Nation By Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The highest-ranking U.S. military intelligence officer in Afghanistan has called for a major restructuring of the intelligence gathering and distribution in that country, arguing that the present system "is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy."

Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, called for a shift from collecting information to help with capturing or killing insurgents, and said more resources should go toward gathering facts about the political, economic and cultural environment of the population that supports the insurgency.

"Lethal targeting alone will not help U.S. and allied forces win in Afghanistan," Flynn wrote in a published report. He said that although the insurgents are worthy objectives, "relying on them exclusively baits intel shops into reacting to enemy tactics at the expense of finding ways to strike at the very heart of the insurgency."

He said little is being done to fully understand the support for insurgents, declaring that U.S. intelligence efforts are "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the power brokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects . . . and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers."

Too often, Flynn said, intelligence analysts are assigned at the regimental and brigade levels, away from the grass roots, where the most valuable information can be gathered. As a result, there are not enough intelligence officers in units close to the population who can accurately assess critical information such as census data.

Flynn praised some Afghanistan-based units that bucked his overall conclusions. He cited a Marine battalion in the Nawa district of Helmand province whose commander used regular riflemen when he lacked enough ground-level intelligence analysts, because he "decided that understanding the people in their zone of influence was a top priority" and was able to create an effective information network. ad_icon

But such instances have been rare. Criticizing the tendency for intelligence to flow from the top down in wartime, Flynn said the process should be reversed in a counterinsurgency. "The soldier or development worker on the ground is usually the person best informed about the environment and the enemy," he wrote.

Flynn reported that when President Obama made his request in the fall for an analysis of pivotal Afghan districts, "analysts could barely scrape together enough information to formulate rudimentary assessments."

He described many intelligence analysts in Kabul, at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa and at the Pentagon as so starved for information from the field that they say their jobs "feel more like fortune telling than serious detective work."

The report focused on Defense Department intelligence activities and was unrelated to other U.S. agencies, such as the CIA, which lost seven employees last week in a suicide bombing by an al-Qaeda double agent who breached a secret intelligence facility in Afghanistan.

Flynn took the unusual step of publishing his report, "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan," through the Center for a New American Security, a think tank co-founded by Michèle A. Flournoy, who is now undersecretary of defense for policy.

Flynn said he did so to reach "not only officers in his command but also other intelligence officials and instructors in the field, including those outside of Afghanistan."

He also directly addressed some of the military intelligence community's shortcomings.

"The secretiveness of the intelligence community has allowed it to escape the scrutiny of customers and the supervision of commanders," Flynn wrote. "Too often, when an S-2 [intelligence] officer fails to deliver, he is merely ignored rather than fired. . . . . Except in rare cases, ineffective intel officers are allowed to stick around."
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Loss of seven CIA agents in Afghanistan: any lessons learned?
The CIA agents killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber must have known the dangers of working with a double agent. Yet a large group gathered in one room to hear him.
Christian Science Monitor By Peter Grier Staff writer January 5, 2010
Washington - For the CIA and other espionage agencies, double agents can provide a rich trove of intelligence. Who is better postioned to provide crucial information about an adversary than someone whom that adversary already trusts?

But with the potential of high reward comes high risk. In the end, whom is the agent preparing to betray? Such operations can go wrong, sometimes disastrously so, as demonstrated by the eight people at a CIA base in Afghanistan killed last week by a double agent who turned out to be a suicide bomber.

One of the casualties was a Jordanian spy, and seven were CIA officers. The losses were the heaviest for the CIA since 1983, when eight agency personnel were killed in the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut.

“It's a terrible tragedy for their families and the agency,” says Clare Lopez, a longtime CIA official who is now a vice president of The Intelligence Summit, a nonprofit educational forum. “It's also a great loss of expertise."

On Tuesday US officials confirmed that the suicide bomber was a Jordanian doctor who claimed to have information about Osama bin Laden's second-in-command and who was being recruited as a double agent to infiltrate Al Qaeda.

His name was Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, according to news wire reports. Arrested more than a year ago by Jordanian intelligence, he was thought to have been turned, so that he could be sent back into the field to glean more information about Al Qaeda's activities.

In fact, he was only pretending to have switched loyalties, making him a triple agent. Invited to Camp Chapman, a secure CIA forward base in Khost Province, he was not closely searched, due to the agency's perception of his high value. This allowed him to conceal explosives on his body, which he detonated shortly after a meeting began with debriefers.

That so many people had gathered to hear him may be an indication of how hungry US intelligence is for hard information about Al Qaeda's top levels – and how hard that information is to come by.

“It's extremely difficult to penetrate [Al Qaeda],” says Ms. Lopez. “The only way to be successful is to really immerse yourself in the local culture.”

Yet the agents must have known they were running some risk. To professional spies, double agent operations famously are difficult to pursue.

“The double agent operation is one of the most demanding and complex counterintelligence activities in which an intelligence service can engage,” begins a classic CIA publication on the subject, “Observations on the Double Agent,” written in 1962 and declassified in 1994.

If the US is inheriting the agent from another nation's spies – as it was in this instance, since the bomber was brought to the attention of the US by the Jordanians – it needs to “delve into the true origins of the case,” warns the 1962 document.

Whether US agents heeded that admonition in the recent tragedy remains to be discovered.

The cold-war-era CIA analysis ends with the reminder that double agents, almost by definition, “have a number of traits in common with the con man.” Last week, that turned out to be so.
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Officials: Suspected US drones kill 13 in Pakistan
By Rasool Dawar, Associated Press Writer – Wed Jan 6, 2:46 pm ET
ISLAMABAD – Suspected U.S. drone missile strikes killed 13 people in Pakistan's volatile northwest Wednesday, the latest of five such attacks in the past week targeting an area believed to be a hideout for militants involved in a suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan.

The strikes highlight Washington's growing reliance on unmanned aircraft to control militants staging cross-border attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has pressed Pakistan to crack down on such groups, but the government has resisted, saying it has its hands full battling local Taliban militants waging war against the state.

U.S. military commanders are especially concerned about the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban group with links to al-Qaida which operates from Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area. Analysts suspect the group played a role in the Dec. 30 attack that killed seven CIA employees in Khost province, just across the border from North Waziristan.

Since the attack, suspected U.S. drones have carried out an unusually high number of strikes in North Waziristan, part of a larger trend of President Barack Obama using the aircraft more frequently in Pakistan than had his predecessor.

In the first attack Wednesday, a suspected drone fired two missiles at a house in the Datta Khel region of North Waziristan, killing seven people, said two intelligence officials.

A second strike occurred as people were retrieving bodies from the rubble of the house, killing six more, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Four foreigners, including two Arabs, were among the dead; it was unclear whether they were militants or civilians, according to another pair of intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason. The identities of the others killed were unknown.

U.S. officials rarely discuss the missile strikes but say they have taken out several top al-Qaida operatives.

Mahmood Shah, a former security chief for Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal area, said he believes the drone strikes over the past week are retaliation for the suicide attack against the CIA.

The Americans "have concluded that the Haqqani network is causing major problems in eastern Afghanistan, and they seem determined to hit the network, so we should expect more frequent attacks in North Waziristan," said Shah.

Analysts say it would have been difficult for the suicide attack at the remote CIA base to have been carried out without at least tacit support from the Haqqanis, who control large swaths of Khost province. Any other militants who operate in Khost, including al-Qaida, do so only with the permission or cooperation of the Haqqanis.

The Jordanian man who blew himself up duped agents into granting him entry by leading them to think he would help track down al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, officials have said.

Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a 32-year-old doctor, was allowed to enter without being closely searched and then blew himself up during a briefing, killing seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence agent.

The network targeted in the aftermath of the attacks is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was a respected commander and key U.S. and Pakistani ally in resisting the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Haqqani, believed to be in his 60s or older, is said to be too ill to do much now, and his son Sirajuddin has taken over the network.

Some analysts suspect Pakistan's reluctance to go after the Haqqanis is driven by its desire to use the group as a future asset to influence Afghanistan and stay ahead of its bigger regional rival, India, after the Americans withdraw.

But Shah, the former tribal security chief, said that even if Pakistan wanted to target the Haqqanis, its ability is limited by the shortage of human intelligence in North Waziristan.

Pakistani intelligence officials have said that at least 30 of their operatives have been killed over the past year in North Waziristan.

Shah said the lack of intelligence hampers the effectiveness of the drone strikes by making it more difficult to choose accurate targets.

"Pakistan's intelligence ability is almost zero in the border region because of the high rate of killing spies," said Shah. "In such situations, these attacks are proving counterproductive and producing more militants."

Pakistan's government publicly condemns the drone strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but many analysts believe the two countries have a secret deal allowing them.

A drone strike in August killed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, which have been leading a deadly insurgency against the Pakistani government from their sanctuary in the tribal areas.

The Pakistani army invaded the group's main stronghold in South Waziristan in mid-October, sparking a wave of retaliatory violence that has killed over 600 people.

Growing violence in Pakistan has not been confined to the country's volatile northwest.

A suicide bomber struck an army facility in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir on Wednesday, killing four soldiers and wounding 11 others in an area where such attacks are rare, said the prime minister of the region, Raja Farooq Haider.

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Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.
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Slow Start for Military Corps in Afghanistan
New York Times By ERIC SCHMITT January 5, 2010
WASHINGTON - The military's effort to build a seasoned corps of expert officers for the Afghan war, one of the highest priorities of top commanders, is off to a slow start, with too few volunteers and a high-level warning to the armed services to steer better candidates into the program, according to some senior officers and participants.

The groundbreaking program is meant to address concerns that the fight in Afghanistan has been hampered by a lack of continuity and expertise in the region among military personnel. But some officers have been reluctant to sign up for an unconventional career path because they fear it will hurt their advancement — a perception that top military leaders are trying to dispel as they tailor new policies for the complex task of taking on resilient insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Each military branch has established career paths, and the type of focus envisioned by the program would take people off those routes.

The difficulties with the program came to light when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in an unusual rebuke within the Pentagon's uppermost circle, chided the chiefs of the four armed services three weeks ago for not always providing the best people.

The program — which is expected to create a 912-member corps of mostly officers and enlisted service members who will work on Afghanistan and Pakistan issues for up to five years — was announced with much fanfare last fall. So far, 172 have signed up, and Admiral Mullen has questioned whether all of them are right for such a critical job.

The initiative was championed by Admiral Mullen and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan. It is intended not only to bolster the war effort, but also to signal a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Some military officials argue that it takes time to make such a significant change, and that the program is not lagging at all.

In a memo sent last month to the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, Admiral Mullen expressed concern that the services were not consistently providing the “best and the brightest leaders” for the program's corps, whose members will work in the field and at headquarters.

“In many cases, the volunteers have been the right people for this very critical program,” Admiral Mullen said in the one-page memo, dated Dec. 14. “However, I am concerned that this is not the case across the board.”

Admiral Mullen emphasized to the chiefs that the program was the “military's number-one manpower priority and requires your constant attention.” He stressed that volunteers should be rewarded for participating, and that their involvement should enhance, not hurt, their careers.

The program was conceived as a way to develop a pool of uniformed experts who would spend several years rotating between assignments in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and desk jobs in Washington or other headquarters working on the same regional issues. At the outset, volunteers receive cultural training and 16 weeks of language instruction in Dari, Pashto or Urdu. In time, they are expected to provide a deep bench for assignments that could significantly alter the course of the war.

The military expects to fill all of the positions by the summer of 2011. The first 304 positions — including trainers, military planners and advisers to Afghan ministries — will be assigned in Afghanistan and Pakistan by November 2010.

The first class of volunteers started instruction in November and included 102 people, but the second class, which started Monday, has only 60. Military officials say the smaller second class did not reflect a lack of interest in the program, but was indicative of refinements to the program and a recognition that the first class had grown too rapidly.

But General McChrystal said through a spokesman that the effort had been “understaffed,” and that he had also asked the branches of the military for their top performers. “We have to be willing to break traditional career models; we've literally got to break systems to do this,” General McChrystal said.

So far, the Army has provided 69 volunteers for the 363 positions it has been assigned to fill; the Navy, 30 for 183 jobs; the Air Force, 45 for 225 positions; the Marines, 19 for 63 slots; and civilian agencies, 9 for 78 positions, according to a Pentagon tally.

Admiral Mullen's spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, said his boss, a former chief of naval operations, recognized the challenges faced by each of the armed services in meeting internal personnel needs while also adjusting to the nation's war footing in Afghanistan.

“Since he is asking for the best, he wants to ensure that those people remain competitive throughout their career,” Captain Kirby said. “Again, if left to their own devices, our systems wouldn't necessarily support this.”

Captain Kirby said that Admiral Mullen had consulted with the service chiefs before issuing his memo and “has been very encouraged by the way the services are responding.” The Navy, for example, now includes specific language on its promotion boards that discusses the value of the program, Captain Kirby said.

The Air Force has promised to accelerate its participation. “He has encouraged all to have a sense of urgency,” Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said by e-mail. “I believe his memo conveys that well.”

Indeed, one highly regarded Air Force officer recommended for the program happens to be Admiral Mullen's chief speechwriter, Lt. Col. Timothy R. Kirk. Admiral Mullen approved his transfer, and Colonel Kirk started language training on Monday.
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India's Afghanistan dilemma
The Guardian By Eric Randolph 01/15/2010
When Obama proclaimed an 18-month deadline for his Afghan "surge", he had two purposes. One was to assuage the concerns of the anti-war constituency back home. The other was to provide a wake-up call to countries in the region who will, so the reasoning goes, pay the highest price for continuing instability in Afghanistan.

That call is being answered in India, where officials are starting to fret over what happens in their neighbourhood when the US starts packing up shop. Shashank Joshi recently made a strong case in the Guardian that now is the time to build on India's considerable soft power presence in Afghanistan – which consists of development aid, cultural ties and symbolic projects such as the building of the new parliament building in Kabul – and combine it with an increased hard power posture.

Others have started to flesh out what that might look like: more combat troops in north and west Afghanistan, and large-scale training programmes for the Afghan national army.

There are two problems with all this. The first is that "filling the vacuum" left by the Americans could easily become "leaping into their quagmire". It is very much in Obama's interest to spread the burden, and the difficulties he faces in extricating the US from the Long War ought to be a sobering lesson for those seeking to step up their involvement.

The other problem is Pakistan, whose military establishment dreads the prospect of an India-friendly government on its western flank and may sponsor further militancy against Indian interests in retaliation. Advocates of a bigger Indian footprint in Afghanistan argue that they should not kowtow to the neurotic concerns of a paranoid Pakistani establishment. They are wrong, for it is that very neurosis that is India's real enemy – much more so than the Taliban or even the militant cells seeking a repeat of the Mumbai attacks. India may be able to contribute positively to a more stable Afghanistan, but the starting point for any policy decision must be how it will play with the Pakistanis.

What has somehow been lost in this discussion is the central role of Kashmir. When Obama was still on the campaign trail, he frequently called for a comprehensive regional solution linking Kashmir to problems on the AfPak border. But once in office, things changed. When Richard Holbrooke was appointed special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was notable that his brief did not include India or Kashmir. The reason for the change of heart, it turned out, was that India had intensively lobbied Washington to leave Kashmir off Holbrooke's agenda, incensed at the idea of outside interference. India's wishes have been realised: not once did the word "Kashmir" appear in Obama's Afghan strategy speech at the start of December.

And yet it is common knowledge that Kashmir remains priority number one for the Pakistani military and the main reason for its reluctance to commit fully to the US effort in Afghanistan. The whole point of Pakistan's support for the Taliban during the 1990s – and in a more nuanced fashion to the present day – has been to give it "strategic depth" in its long-term struggle with India.

Having successfully isolated the Kashmir issue, Indian hawks now risk treating Afghanistan as if it, too, were a stand-alone problem. Keen to exert their growing regional influence, they ask: "What can we do to support the government in Kabul and bolster Indian interests there?" when the key question should be: "How will our actions be perceived by the Pakistani establishment and will it encourage them to crackdown on terrorists in their midst?"

Pakistan's neurosis cannot simply be dismissed – it is the hammer that will continue to drive a wedge between the two countries for as long as it exists. No amount of military superiority or regional influence will ever make India truly safe from another terrorist strike while the Kashmir question remains unresolved. Part of the Pakistani neurosis stems from a history of violence between the two, but recent years have surely added an element of resentment to the mix. How easy can it be to watch as India extricates itself in the world's eyes from the old India-Pakistan dynamic – which conjured images of intractable conflict, wasted potential and the threat of imminent nuclear war – to forge a new hyphenation of India-China, which speaks instead of booming growth figures, acceptance into the civil nuclear club, and banquets at the White House? This is how the world increasingly looks on India – as a potential superpower for the 21st century – while Pakistan remains mired in the past, playing out centuries-old b
attles between Shia and Sunni, Mehsud and Wazir, and looking to a future already mortgaged to foreign debtors.

The harsh reality that Indians face is that despite frequently being the victim of aggression in recent years – from the bombing of its parliament in December 2001 to the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 – the impetus for change must come from them. With a landslide election victory last April, its government has the political capital for bold moves that its counterpart in Islamabad lacks.

Reflecting his strong position, the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh took a brave first step towards restarting negotiations (which have been stalled since Mumbai) when he signed a joint declaration on terrorism with Zardari in July 2009. He did so despite the inclusion of suggestions that India has supported separatist insurgents in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, for which there is little or no proof. Inevitably, this did not play well back in India, but the prime minister understood that the aim cannot be one of apportioning blame – the decades have created simply too much on both sides for that to be productive.

Rather, India's goal must be to build a new trust, ease anxieties and find a way for Pakistan to share in some of the benefits that relative stability has brought. This does not preclude India from offering assistance to Afghanistan, but whatever form that takes must be determined with a clear understanding of how it will impact on Kashmir negotiations and the broader anxieties of a neighbour to which it is inextricably tied.
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Afghan women set themselves on fire to escape brutality: Foreign Affairs report
By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - More Afghan women are choosing suicide to escape the violence and brutality of their daily lives, says a new human-rights report prepared by Canada's Foreign Affairs Department.

The 2008 annual assessment paints a grim picture of a country where violence against women and girls is common, despite rising public awareness among Afghans and international condemnation.

"Self-immolation is being used by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides," said the report, completed in November 2009.

The document was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The director of a burn unit at a hospital in the relatively peaceful province of Herat reported that in 2008 more than 80 women tried to kill themselves by setting themselves on fire, many of them in the early 20s.

Many of those women died, the report said.

The frank evaluation of the plight of women was written against the backdrop of international debate last year over the Afghanistan government's so-called rape law.

The legislation, aimed at courting votes in the minority Shiite community, legalized rape within a marriage. It prompted outrage in Canada and many other countries.

The move was an attempt to codify social and religious practises, but the international condemnation forced the government to review the law. It was eventually enacted with some amendments, although the basic tenets remained unchanged.

"Rape is widely believed to be a frequent occurrence, though its true extent is concealed by under-reporting owing to the social stigma attached to it," says the 31-page partly censored document.

The Afghan practice of "honour killings" has been cited as a major problem by both the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department and the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said it has "recorded 76 cases of honour killings in 2008, but the actual number is believed by local embassies and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to be much higher."

A Calgary-based group, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, said Ottawa needs to put more emphasis on the issue as the country approaches the 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of troops.

"Human rights are human rights for a reason. They belong to everyone and they shouldn't be denied to half of the population," said Penny Christensen, the organization's treasurer.

"As Canadians we have a moral and ethical responsibility to support the women of Afghanistan."

She credited the Canadian government for placing special emphasis on improving the lives of women with a series of programs, but said it needs to further encourage the development of Afghan civil society.

The fact the Afghan constitution mandates the participation of women in the country's parliament should be taken as a sign that the situation is not hopeless, Christensen said.

A British study, cited in the Foreign Affairs report, said 87 per cent of Afghan women complained that they were the victims of violence, half of it sexual.

"The report added that 60 per cent of marriages are forced, and 57 per cent of marriages involve girls under the age of 16. Due to both social norms and lack of access to justice, women rarely report widespread abuse against them, particularly rape or sexual abuse."

And there are few places victims can go to escape abuse.

"Some women escaping from domestic violence can only find shelter in prisons, although the creation of women's shelters in some parts of the country now provides an alternative."

There are only 19 women's shelters in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government has sometimes been ambivalent about domestic violence, on the one hand condemning sexual abuse, particularly rape, but then backtracking in some high-profile cases.

President Hamid Karzai personally condemned the August 2008 rape of a 12-year-old girl in Sari Pul province, saying rapists should "face the country's most severe punishment."

But in a separate case he pardoned two men convicted of gang-raping a woman in Samangan province.

The Afghan government has created special police task forces staffed by female officers to investigate family violence and crimes against children.

But the report notes those female officers often complain they're not allowed to do outreach and must wait for victims to show up at the police station.
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Afghan girls flourish in new school
Marines rebuild a chance to learn The Washington Times - Sports By Richard Tomkins Wednesday, January 6, 2010
NOW ZAD, Afghanistan | Zarmina and Sharifa have very big dreams for very little girls.

One of the sisters from the Now Zad district of Helmand province wants to be a teacher; the other wants to be a doctor. And thats understandable. Both saw their first teacher and doctor only recently, and neither had ever imagined before then any kind of life beyond farming, child-rearing, cooking and menial labor.

"Our mother and father told us to come," said Zarmina, who thinks she is about 11 years old. "We didnt go to school before, because there was no school.

"We like this. We are learning things. Its safe, and were not afraid to come here," she said.

The two are among the 100 to 200 children attending classes every day in a school started in an abandoned building by U.S. Marines and their interpreters after Taliban gunmen were expelled from the town in early December.

On the first day, only about 80 children showed up. Five of them were girls, whom the Taliban had forbidden to get an education. On the second day, attendance was nearly 200 children younger than 13 and just two girls. Now the number, although it fluctuates each day, averages more than 100 boys and 20 girls who walk to class from villages as far as four miles away.

"It was chaos on the first day," said Master Sgt. Julia Watson, who handles female engagement for the civil affairs team working with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. "The building was packed with yelling and talking kids. So the first day was instilling discipline and order."

She added, "They are all excited about learning to read and write, and many want to learn English also."

The classroom at Now Zads school is just a large room in what was once the district government center on the edge of town. The school has no chairs for the children, just frayed rugs on the damp and dusty concrete floor. It has no lighting or heat.

The children are divided into four groups. The girls make up their own group in one corner of the building.

"We divided it because we only have four teachers," said Mansur, the newly hired school principal. "The girls are separate because in our culture, we dont do coed activities." Mansur, like many other people in this northern area of Helmand province, uses only a single name.

Mansur said children are taught first-grade-level reading, writing and arithmetic, but he hopes that in time theyll be able to complete lessons up to a fourth-grade level. The few books that the school has came from the United Nations via the Marines. The Marines, with the help of troops' care packages from the United States, provide supplies such as pencils and notebooks as well as bags filled with games and candy.

Teddy bears and other stuffed animals sent to troops from U.S. schoolchildren were given to Zarmina, Sharifa and other girls.

Basic toiletries such as soap, toothbrushes and skin moisturizer are periodically sent home with the children as well.

The Marines interpreters taught the classes at first. Within two weeks, however, four men in the district with teaching experience were located, were convinced that Now Zad was safe and were hired at $6 per day.

"There was no school in Now Zad for four years," Mansur said. "There was no school because there werent even humans here." Now Zad, Helmands second-largest town, was deserted from 2006 until last month. British troops, and later Americans, held an outpost on one edge of town while an estimated 100 to 200 Taliban gunmen at any given time controlled all surrounding areas, U.S. Marines said. Now Zads residential neighborhoods and bazaars were abandoned by Taliban decree, and people moved to surrounding villages.

Since the Marines retook the town in Operation Cobras Anger, people are returning, albeit slowly. The Taliban booby-trapped many homes and seeded improvised explosive devices throughout the area. Although resettlement progress will be slow, Now Zads school is now the fixture in many lives.

According to a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, an estimated 63 percent of rural Afghan men and 90 percent of rural Afghan women are illiterate. In Now Zad, those illiterates are sending their children to school in defiance of threats from Taliban operatives.
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Afghanistan cemetery holds memories of foreigners
The cemetery memorializes soldiers and others who lost their lives in 'the graveyard of empires.' The British adopted it after the fall of the Taliban, putting on salary a faithful groundskeeper.
By Tony Perry The Los Angeles Times January 6, 2010
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan - The heavy wooden gate to the British Cemetery is kept locked. To get inside, the curious must bang their fists and shout their intentions over the sounds of boys yelling in the streets, the call to prayer from the local mosque and the roar of foreign military planes overhead.

Hidden behind its tall wall are memorials to Englishmen, Europeans and even a few Americans -- all of whom came to this war-torn land in the service of their country and lost their lives.

Afghanistan has long been called the "graveyard of empires," and nowhere is that somber designation more real than at this smallish cemetery, with its gravestones marking the fallen, some from forgotten battles that occurred more than a century past, others from deadly incidents that made headlines just weeks ago.

Also known as the White Cemetery, the graveyard was originally a burial site for soldiers killed in Britain's ill-fated colonial adventures in Afghanistan: the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th century.

Among those memorialized is Lt. Cecil Henry Gaisford, killed in 1879 in the battle for Asmai Heights -- "he died like a soldier." And Lt. St. John William Forbes, killed that same year in the battle for a piece of high ground called the King's Throne.

One of Britain's most famous heroes of the Afghan campaign is also memorialized here: Maj. John Cook of the 5th Gurkha Rifles, awarded the Victoria Cross for leading a desperate charge against Pashtun riflemen.

In one mass grave are the remains of 29 members of the 67th Foot Regiment killed from 1878 to 1881.

In all, the remains of about 150 are buried here, some beneath gravestones that are cracked, chipped or no longer readable.

When a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001, a British army unit adopted the cemetery, erecting a plaque that vows, "We Shall Remember Them." Service personnel are no longer buried here, but stone-carved memorial lists are attached to the walls, with the names and ranks of those killed in the struggle with the Taliban.

On two plaques are the names of two dozen Americans who were killed in joint operations with the British: Americans who served in the Special Forces, the 10th Mountain Division and the Utah National Guard; and Army Cpl. Jeffrey Roberson of Phelan, Calif., a member of the 18th Military Police Brigade.

Each November, as part of a Remembrance Day ceremony, British officials, backed by bagpipes, visit the cemetery for speeches, prayers and the laying of red poppies. For security reasons, the ceremony is quick and at an unusual hour -- this year's began at 6 a.m.

For 25 years, the cemetery has been watched over and its greenery tended by Rahimullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name.

During the Taliban years, an angry Mullah Mohammed Omar stormed into the cemetery with his gunmen and demanded to know why a Muslim would guard the graves of Christians. Rahimullah tried to sidestep the Taliban leader's question.

"Because I am illiterate and illiterate people are blind," Rahimullah reportedly told Omar.

For three days Rahimullah remained in hiding, fearing he was marked for death.

After the Taliban was toppled and the British army decided to upgrade the cemetery, Rahimullah's defiance and wrinkled visage made him a minor celebrity in the British press. The British Embassy now pays him $100 a month and has issued a proclamation honoring him for decades of "faithful service."

Under a cold, gray Kabul winter sky, the cemetery has a forlorn look, its trees bare, its rose bushes reduced to sticks with thorns, the patches of grass frozen. Neighbors occasionally hurl trash over the wall.

But Rahimullah's son Einullah said that in the spring, when the roses bloom, the grape arbor is thick, and the apple, almond and cherry trees are full with fruit, the cemetery has a colorfulness that stands in sharp contrast to the drabness of the neighborhood around it.

"It's beautiful," said Einullah, who is tending the cemetery grounds while his father is in the hospital with high blood pressure and other ailments of old age.

The most famous civilian grave may be that of Hungarian-born British archaeologist Aurel Stein, famed for his exploration of the "Silk Road" across Central Asia. For years he was denied permission to enter Afghanistan to study the military campaigns of Alexander the Great. He was finally allowed to enter in 1943, only to die in Kabul, the capital, that year.

Near Stein's grave is buried an American engineer from Ohio who helped build the irrigation canals of Helmand province. And a British family killed in an automobile accident. Some grave markers tell of street murders.

There are German, Polish and even Russian graves; one memorial plaque is to Turkish soldiers killed in a plane crash on their way home.

One of the more recent graves is that of Gayle Williams, an aid worker of British and South African nationality. Williams, 35, was gunned down in October 2008, allegedly by a Taliban fighter who believed that she was spreading Christianity.

In her will, Williams asked to be buried at the British Cemetery.

On her marble tombstone is a citation from Psalms: "How lovely is your dwelling place / O Lord Almighty."
tony.perry@latimes.com
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