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 »


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 »


Kandahar Mayor’s Killing Another Blow to U.S. Afghanistan Effort

Time.com

The latest victim in a string of killings of local officials loyal to President Hamid Karzaai, Ghulam Haider Hamidi tried to build good governance against the odds

An honest man in a city of thieves, Kandahar mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi once exemplified hopes that the U.S.-led nation-building effort would leave behind a better Afghanistan. His killing by a suicide bomber on Wednesday, less than two weeks after the slaying of Kandahar’s strongman provincial council chairman Ahmed Wali Karzai, underscores the declining prospects of the Western military mission there.

“More than 50 percent of the violence comes from these corrupt people, the ones who sit with you and smile,” Hamidi told the Washington Post earlier this year. The former accountant had returned to Kandahar in 2007 after 30 years in the United States. Having been invited to serve as mayor by his childhood friend Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Hamidi said goodbye to the comfort of his northern Virginia home and threw himself into the maelstrom of the southern Afghan city’s politics. He initiated a slew of projects — from paving roads to collecting taxes and building schools — intended to revitalize the city, and made a name for himself trying to root out graft and curb the power of local strongmen and warlords on whom he blamed Kandahar’s ills. Read the rest of this entry »


Why Afghans Don’t Bash the Taliban for Bombings

Time.com

The civilian collateral damage of Taliban bombings is enormous, and yet coalition forces never catch a break because of it. Why?

It was carnage. There was a momentary crackle of gunfire and then, as a powerful car bomb detonated in Khost, a city in southeastern Afghanistan, a shock wave splintered trees and scattered body parts across 50 m of parkland and marketplace. Rags from what looked like children’s clothes lay caught on the twisted metal of an axle; nearby, shops’ windows were blown in, and the dirt road was slicked with blood. The iron strut supporting a giant billboard was bent like a paper clip.

Officials say nine people died and more than 30 were wounded in the Feb. 18 suicide bombing, although the toll rose over the course of the day and could still increase, with at least four survivors in critical condition. Among the casualties were women, children and two policemen, according to the public-health director for the province. It was a reminder that although spectacular attacks in Kabul, the capital, garner lots of airtime and column inches, most of Afghanistan’s violence takes place in the provinces, where murderous atrocities can go unreported and don’t attract attention in the way an attack against Westerners does. Read the rest of this entry »


Supermarket Attack: A Dangerous Turn in Kabul

Time.com

The suicide assault on an upscale grocery patronized by foreign residents in the capital may be the beginning of a violent new phase in the war in Afghanistan

A suicide bomber blew himself up in a popular grocery close to the British, Canadian and Pakistani missions in Kabul Friday afternoon in an indiscriminate attack that analysts say could spell the beginning of a new trend in the Afghan capital. Unlike most previous attacks, this one fell on the Afghan weekend and was timed to inflict maximum civilian casualties as predominantly Western shoppers browsed through the store on their day off.

The bomber, a man in his 40s with dark skin and a long beard according to one witness, shot his way into the grocery, threw one or possibly two grenades and then detonated his vest. By late Friday night the death toll had reached nine, including a child and four Filipinos — probably employees of one of the many contractors working in Afghanistan. The nationalities of the other victims, including two wounded shoppers in critical condition, are still unknown. 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 »


Kandahar attacks are a warning to NATO, says Afghanistan Taliban

Christian Science Monitor

An Afghanistan Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated Kandahar attacks Saturday, saying they were a warning to NATO, which will soon focus on securing Kandahar City and its approaches.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

The sudden explosive violence its inhabitants have learned to live with gripped Kandahar City in southern Afghanistan again Saturday as militants launched a series of coordinated attacks in an attempted jailbreak.

More than 35 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in five blasts as Afghanistan Taliban suicide bombers targeted the jail and police headquarters in the Kandahar attacks. Most of the casualties were civilians, including members of a wedding party celebrating near the police headquarters.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they were intended as a warning toNATO, which has promised to focus on securing Kandahar City and its approaches this summer.

Following on the heels of Operation Moshtarak, which saw coalition and Afghan forces seize control of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in neighboring Helmand Province, NATO commanders say the focus of their counterinsurgency campaign will switch to Kandahar City and its approaches. Kandahar is the political, spiritual, and religious capital of the south.

Blast barriers prevent jailbreak

Had the Taliban’s attack gone to plan it would likely have boosted the insurgents’ ranks by freeing captive fighters. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s younger brother and chairman of Kandahar’s provincial council, says that blast barriers prevented the attackers from breaching the prison.

These were introduced following a similar attack in 2008 that saw around 1,000 prisoners escape. More than 400 militants were among them.

Taliban to focus on Kandahar City now?

Mr. Karzai predicted that the arrival of thousands of US troops in Kandahar Province would herald a shift in tactics by the insurgents, who would seek to undermine the government by launching more wholesale attacks within the city limits. “They organize this kind of attack in the city to show they are still around,” he told the Monitor. “They will definitely be focusing more on Kandahar City, that’s for sure.”

It’s for this reason that the provincial governor is calling on Kabul to bolster the police and Army presence inside the city, and to liaise better with NATO forces stationed in the districts.

Security in Kandahar has steadily deteriorated over the past few years as a murky nexus of warlords, criminal syndicates, and insurgents has vied for control. The number of bombings and assassinations has spiked in the past two weeks.


Taliban attack UN Kabul guesthouse in attempt to upend Afghan runoff

Christian Science Monitor

Gunmen stormed a Kabul guesthouse popular with UN workers Wednesday in what the Taliban called the first of more attacks ahead of Afghanistan’s Nov. 7 runoff election.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

Taliban gunmen stormed a private guesthouse in the Afghan capital, Kabul, in a bloody predawn attack Wednesday that killed six United Nations staff and signaled a clear intent to disrupt the upcoming presidential runoff.

The United States embassy in Kabul confirmed that at least one of the dead was an American.

The raid, which appeared to be coordinated with rocket attacks on the presidential palace and the luxury Serena Hotel popular with foreigners, was the worst attack the UN has faced in Afghanistan and, like assaults on aid workers elsewhere could prompt some to leave the country.

The Taliban said the attack was the start of a campaign to wreck a runoff vote scheduled for Nov. 7.

Before dawn three militants disguised as police and wearing suicide vests sealed off the road outside the Bekhtar Guesthouse in central Kabul before shooting their way past a security guard. Once inside, they threw grenades and, by some accounts, dragged guests from their beds before killing them. At least one detonated his vest before security forces recaptured the building following a two-hour siege.

Eyewitnesses said that some terrified guests fled over the roof of a next-door building; others were injured jumping from balconies as flames engulfed part of the building. Twelve people were killed in total, with nine more said to be in serious condition.

Attack could scare off aid workers

Kai Eide, the UN head of mission in Afghanistan, said the attack would not deter the organization from its mission but that there would be a review of security measures. A truck bombing of the UN headquarters in Bagdad in 2003 killed 22 people and prompted the organization to pull out of Iraq for several years. Although UN workers have occasionally been targeted in Afghanistan before, Wednesday’s attack had the highest death toll so far.

The attack could have a heavy impact on aid agencies in the country, with security analysts warning that some may pack up altogether while others will definitely scale back their operations. Aid workers due to arrive in the country to help with the second round of voting have been advised to delay their flights.

“I think there’s going to be a bit of an exodus,” says one analyst who asked not to be named.

Aid workers are softer targets than the coalition bases, embassies and government ministries that the Taliban has concentrate its attacks on in the capital up til now.

President Hamid Karzai ordered an urgent overhaul of security around international aid institutions.

Deadliest month since 2001

The attack came as the loss of eight more American soldiers on Tuesday brought total troop casualties this month to 54, making October the deadliest month of the war for US forces since it began in 2001. The casualty rate has shot up sharply since July when thousands of additional US troops were deployed to some of the most volatile parts of the country.

Seven soldiers fell victim to a cluster of roadside bombs in southern Afghanistan, while an eighth was killed in an explosion in another part of the country. Improvised explosive devices, the Taliban’s weapon of choice, are the largest single killer of foreign forces in the country. (Read here about how US troops are trying to counter the IED threat in Afghanistan.)

The rising number of casualties, the high-profile resignation of a highly regarded US Foreign Service officer, and the growing tensions over next week’s Afghan election runoff will intensify pressure on Barack Obama as he edges towards a crucial decision on whether to commit thousands more troops to Afghanistan.


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