How to read Afghanistan

There were a number of great lines in Vanessa Gezari’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times but this excerpt rings particularly true, to me at any rate:

I spent my formative years as a journalist in Afghanistan, and reporting there taught me something that would pass for heresy in many American newsrooms: finding the truth is not just about gathering facts. It is also an interpretive and imaginative effort.


After the US pulls out, will CIA rely more on Afghan mercenaries?

The Christian Science Monitor

Thousands of Afghan mercenaries are believed to be helping America battle Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies. But they’re accused of flagrant human rights abuses.

With his broad cheekbones, hair swept back under a sequined cap, and the gentle manner of a well-to-do Pashtun, Atal Afghanzai might easily pass for a doctor or an engineer.

Instead, his career path led into a cloak-and-dagger world of covert armies and foreign agents, until a rare lethal run-in with an Afghan police chief landed him on death row in Kabul’s most notorious prison.

Young and motivated, Mr. Afghanzai is one of thousands of Afghan mercenaries believed to be working with the CIA to help America battle Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies. His story – confirmed by US diplomats, other Western officials, and Afghan authorities – illustrates the military advantages of this secret war. But, with the US poised to ramp up reliance on paramilitaries like Afghanzai as it pulls out frontline troops, the practice is raising the ire of Afghans who accuse the groups of human rights abuses. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghanistan’s Dirty War: Why the Most Feared Man in Bermal District Is a U.S. Ally

 

Commander Azizullah, Sept 23, 2010 | U.S. Army photo by Sgt Justin P Morelli

Time.com

So-called Afghan security guards have become essential to what NATO calls security in parts of the country. The local populace, however, is terrified

On Nov. 30, 2009, in the shadow of mountains that crumple up 9,000-ft. ridges, an Afghan mercenary bankrolled by the U.S. military and hell-bent on the destruction of Taliban rebels allegedly stopped three men heading home to celebrate ‘Id al-Adha with their families. According to an elder from Bermal, the Afghan district where the incident took place, Commander Azizullah and his men bound their hands. Then, the elder told TIME, Azizullah drew his pistol and shot them. There was no evidence that these men were insurgents, the elder says. “But he killed them anyway.” Read the rest of this entry »


Luring Fighters Away from the Taliban: Why an Afghan Plan Is Floundering

Former Hezb-i-Islami tank driver Naquibullah (L), and brothers Eidmajan (9 yrs), former TTP commander Gulzaman (30), and former TTP fighter Nikzaman (22). Since reintegrating they have been jobless outcasts | Julius Cavendish

Former Hezb-i-Islami tank driver Naquibullah (L), and brothers Eidmajan (9 yrs), former TTP commander Gulzaman (30), and former TTP fighter Nikzaman (22). Since reintegrating they have been jobless outcasts | Julius Cavendish

Time.com

Very little of the money allocated by donors to offer an alternative livelihood to insurgents willing to put down their weapons is actually reaching Taliban turncoats

About 18 months ago, Haji Ismail, an elderly government official in southeastern Afghanistan, received a letter from an old friend. “Whether this peace process, which our elders are discussing with the government, succeeds or fails,” it read, “I want to come in.” It was signed, with a blue-ink ballpoint pen, by Maulawi Sangeen — one of the Taliban’s most dangerous battlefield captains and a deputy to veteran jihadist Jalaluddin Haqqani himself. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghan peace effort in tatters as turban bomb kills ex-president

The Independent

Delegates’ reaction to Rabbani’s role as High Peace Council head was so ferocious that he was forced to flee

A militant detonated a bomb hidden in his turban as he met the former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani yesterday, killing the man given the task of reconciling with the Taliban and further crippling efforts to bring peace to the county.

Two insurgents feigning an interest in coming in from the cold met Mr Rabbani at his house in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave, close to the site of last week’s 20-hour battle between security forces and Taliban-linked militants.

According to initial reports, one of them detonated the explosives hidden in his turban, as he hugged Mr Rabbani, killing the politician instantly. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghanistan Reality Check: Taliban Strikes Undermine U.S. Optimism

Time.com

Claims by U.S. officials that the insurgents are on the run are challenged by new attacks in the capital

Four earth-shaking explosions in Kabul on Tuesday signaled the start of the Taliban’s latest riposte to claims by the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan that the insurgents are on the run. After a Sunday truck bombing that had injured 77 American troops, militants stormed a high-rise close to the U.S. embassy and began firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. In hellish scenes replayed repeatedly on Afghan TV, dust swirled on deserted streets as civilians, some soaked in their own blood, fled whenever a letup in the fighting allowed. Under a gunmetal sky, Afghan military Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships flew in to support a rapid-reaction force, unleashing bursts of heavy machine-gun fire back at insurgent positions. “This is not an exercise,” the public-address system at nearby NATO headquarters crackled. “This is an ongoing situation.” Read the rest of this entry »


Militias funded by US accused of rights abuses

The Independent

Militias in Afghanistan funded by the United States are terrorising the communities they were supposed to protect, murdering, raping and torturing civilians, including children, extorting illegal taxes and smuggling contraband, according to a damning new report from Human Rights Watch.

In a 102-page report entitled ‘Just Don’t Call It a Militia’ the group documents how the Afghan government and the U.S. military have provided guns and money to paramilitary groups without adequate oversight or accountability. Because of their links to senior Afghan officials, many of these groups operate with impunity.

Their behaviour fuels support for the Taliban, and creates insecurity rather than decreasing it. But, under U.S. General David Petraeus, who recently left Afghanistan to head up the Central Intelligence Agency, Nato aggressively pursued a strategy of raising militias as a security quick-fix ahead of its departure in 2014. Read the rest of this entry »


The Tangi Valley: site of the SEAL Team Six helicopter crash

The Tangi valley in April 2009. On Saturday a U.S. military Chinook crashed under fire killing 38 people on board, including 22 members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six (Julius Cavendish)

The Tangi valley in April 2009. On Saturday a U.S. military Chinook crashed under fire killing 38 people on board, including 22 members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six (Julius Cavendish)


Hekmatyar’s not-so-quiet diplomacy in Nuristan

Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar was seen out and about in Nuristan earlier this spring. Here’s (maybe) why

Not one to shy away from making trouble, Nuristan provincial governor Jamaluddin Badr did his best earlier this year to discredit one of his subordinates—and rivals—the nominally pro-government Hezb-i-Islami strongman, Maulawi Sadeq, sources have told me.

Sadeq came over to the government last year, and is credited with keeping a lid on things in Kamdesh district. But as Badr tried to turn local elders against Sadeq, everyone began to fear a change of leadership. Enter Hekmatyar. After attending Friday prayers in Kamdesh in late March or early April, he made a point of being seen about town.

“Whether or not that’s what he normally does, it sends a message of support [to Kamdeshis], to show that Hezb-i-Islami has invested there and they’re not going anywhere,” a Western diplomat says. Hekmatyar paid Kamdesh a second visit later in April, presumably for the same reason. Read the rest of this entry »


Turban bomb kills Kandahar mayor – and leaves Karzai bereft of allies

The Independent

As Nato prepares to pull out, the Taliban is positioning itself to step into the vacuum

A suicide bomber has killed the mayor of Kandahar City, depriving the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, of yet another ally in southern Afghanistan just as Nato troops start pulling out of the insurgency-wracked country.

The murder of Ghulam Haider Hamidi, a childhood friend of the Karzai family and a naturalised US citizen, who had returned to Afghanistan at the President’s personal request, comes just two weeks after a trusted bodyguard gunned down Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President’s half-brother.

The hit eliminates one of the leading contenders to become Kandahar’s next governor, leaving the way open for Gul Agha Sherzai, a bear of a man who dispenses patronage like one of Afghanistan’s kings of old. A nominal Karzai ally, Mr Sherzai will almost certainly consolidate lucrative Nato contracts and drugs revenues for his own family if he gets the nod, diminishing Mr Karzai’s influence in the south. Read the rest of this entry »


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