In rare victory for Afghanistan, cricket team qualifies for ICC World Twenty20

Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan’s cricket team, the ultimate underdog, is competing with the world’s best at the ICC World Twenty20 opening today in Guyana. Afghanistan faces heavyweight India on Saturday.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

Two years ago, Tim Albone began shooting a documentary about what seemed like a charmingly hopeless cause: the Afghan cricket team’s attempt to qualify for the cricket World Cup.

No matter that the best cricket facilities in war-torn Afghanistan were barely on a par with the baked earth strips where most of the players had learned the sport in Pakistani refugee camps.

They still haven’t made it to the World Cup, but the underdog team is lining up with the world’s best at another major international championship: the ICC World Twenty20 in Guyana. The 12-nation tournament opens today, with Afghanistan facing off against heavyweight India on Saturday. The story represents a stark contrast from much of the grim news out of Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghanistan war: Taliban escalates violence with Kandahar blasts

Christian Science Monitor

The Taliban appear to be making good on a promise to escalate violence in Kandahar, where NATO is planning to launch what it sees as the next major offensive of the Afghanistan war.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

Three explosions rocked Kandahar on Monday morning as the city slid deeper into violence. The southern Afghan city is where NATO is planning to launch what it sees as the next major offensive of the Afghanistan war.

The blasts, two of which apparently targeted Kandahar’s deputy police chief, killed two civilians and prompted the United Nations to say it was scaling back operations there. The aid community already has a far lighter footprint there than in other parts of Afghanistan.

Residents sound increasingly fatalistic about their prospects this summer, with the Taliban apparently making good on a promise to escalate violence in the city in response to NATO’s plans to restore central government authority to a city that, in as much as it is controlled by anyone, is in the hands of a murky nexus of local powerbrokers and gangsters. Read the rest of this entry »


Julius Cavendish: Taliban and the mafia: a terrifying combination

The Independent

The faded prettiness of its old town used to belie the fact that Kandahar was a city gripped by fear. Unlike Kabul, the rising tide of violence was less frequently used as an excuse to smother the colonnades and tree-lined boulevards in reinforced concrete. That has changed now. Suicide bombers targeted the jail and police headquarters in February, leaving 35 dead and over 50 wounded. A Canadian photographer in the city on the night of that attack said that people were “genuinely scared. These men hear explosions every third or fourth day and they were shaken. The fear was really palpable that all hell was breaking loose and nothing was going to stop it.”

As a result, roads are now shut and the drab march of blast barriers has begun. It is just one sign that things are getting worse. Foreigners cannot walk down the street or stop in the bazaar to gauge the local climate. Meetings invariably take place in private rooms deep inside fortified compounds. Yet for some reason, Kandaharis continue to risk talking to journalists in the knowledge that what they say might get them killed.

“Yes, I’m scared,” Haji Mohammad Zahir, a villager who moved to Kandahar to work in construction, told The Independent. “When I was coming in I was scared because the insurgents are watching. Maybe some of them looked at me, and will call tonight asking why I am meeting with foreigners.” Read the rest of this entry »


Mosque murder leaves Kandahar on the edge

The Independent

Deputy Mayor’s assassination is latest in series of bloody attacks in city by Taliban as Nato prepares offensive

Assassins killed the deputy mayor of Kandahar yesterday as violence in Afghanistan’s second city continued to spiral out of control before a planned Nato offensive.

Gunmen entered a mosque where Azizullah Yarmal was bowing his head in prayer and shot him at point-blank range, according to a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar.

It was the latest of a string of attacks in Kandahar City which has killed dozens of government employees. Hours earlier, a donkey laden with explosives was remotely detonated, killing three children from a prominent pro-government family. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghanistan war: US leaves remote outpost of Korengal

Christian Science Monitor

The remote Korengal Valley has been the scene of some the most intense fighting in the Afghanistan war. US troops have pulled out as part General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

It became known as “Enemy Central,” a small, isolated slice of eastern Afghanistan synonymous with violence, a dogged adversary and, increasingly, futility. More than 40 US soldiers have died there after being drawn into battles of attrition for questionable return. In the worst such incident, 16 American troops on a special forces mission were killed when their helicopter crashed under enemy fire.

Now the last US troops have pulled out of the Korengal valley on the grounds that they can be better used somewhere else. “This repositioning, in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, responds to the requirements of the new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy,” Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, joint commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement on NATO’s website. “The move does not prevent forces from rapidly responding, as necessary, to crises there in Korengal and in other parts of the region, as well.”

Part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategy is to pull troops back from remote mountain outposts and concentrate them in the towns and villages where more of the Afghan population lives. By putting the emphasis on protecting civilians instead of killing Taliban fighters, he hopes to drive a wedge between the two, isolating and alienating the insurgents. Read the rest of this entry »


In Afghanistan war, government corruption bigger threat than Taliban

Christian Science Monitor

Warlords and government corruption may destabilize the country even more than the Taliban, say Afghan and NATO officials. The city of Kandahar reflects this central problem of the Afghanistan war.

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

Over the past month in Kandahar CityTaliban death squads have killed dozens of people in drive-by shootings. Yet many living in this southern Afghan city say the insurgents are the least of their worries. Far more pernicious is the murky nexus of warlords and corrupt government officials whose rule some compare to mob bosses.

Indeed, the fear and corruption they perpetuate undermine efforts to build a stable government and help the Taliban win support among locals, say Afghan and NATO officials, private citizens, analysts, and local journalists. The trend echoes a pattern from the 1990s, when violence among competing warlords gave rise to the Taliban and their brutal ways of imposing law and order.

The concern was repeated in more than a dozen recent interviews: The biggest problem is not the Taliban; it is the gangster oligarchs looming over the city. Read the rest of this entry »


Anyone for headless goat rugby…?

The Independent

Genghis Khan’s favourite sport is huge in Afghanistan, and if its fans have their way could soon be coming to Britain

A sport best described as “mounted goat rugby from hell” could soon be transported from northern Afghanistan’s dusty plains to the green turf of Twickenham, or even New York’s Yankee Stadium, if enthusiasts have their way. Buzkashi, a game supposedly devised by Genghis Khan, pits men and horses against each other in a ferocious struggle for possession of a headless goat. Now the director of buzkashi at Afghanistan’s Olympic committee thinks it is time to unleash this spectacle on the world.

Haji Abdul Rashid is looking for a Western partner to promote the sport overseas. “We want the people of Europe and America to see our game and learn to play it,” he said. “So we are looking for a company to help us show our game.”

Any impresario willing to underwrite a match would make a handsome return, Mr Rashid says. Ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and TV rights could generate enormous sums of money. Read the rest of this entry »


US military offers sheep in apology for Afghanistan deaths

Christian Science Monitor

Vice Adm. William McRaven traveled to the village of Khataba to offer personal apologies for the five Afghanistan deaths in a botched special forces raid there in February. The US military acknowledged its involvement in the killings earlier this month.

KHATABA, AFGHANISTAN

A top US Special Forces commander visited the village of Khataba in eastern Afghanistan today to apologize for a night raid that went terribly wrong. It was here on Feb. 11 that a Special Forces team gunned down an Afghan police chief, a prosecutor, and three unarmed women, infuriating locals and drawing a sharp rebuke from politicians in Kabul.

Flanked by dozens of Afghan soldiers, Vice Adm. William McRaven, head of Joint Special Operations Command, spent an hour at the scene of the killings. “I am the commander of the men who accidentally killed your loved ones,” Admiral McRaven told Haji Sharabuddin, the family patriarch. “I came here today to send my condolences to you and to your family and to your friends. I also came today to ask your forgiveness for these terrible tragedies.”

It was a remarkable turnabout for the US military, which for two months after the killings declined to say what units had been involved or otherwise take responsibility for the deaths. Afghan investigators have claimed that Special Forces tried to cover up their involvement in the Afghanistan deaths, though that’s a charge the US has denied. Read the rest of this entry »


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