Civilian deaths hit new high as West looks for Afghan exit

The Independent

More civilians are dying in Afghanistan than at any time during the past decade, a new United Nations report says, as the war spreads to previously safe parts of the country and insurgents increase their use of suicide bombers, child soldiers and homemade bombs. Afghanistan’s grim arithmetic for the first six months of the year includes 1,462 civilians killed, 80 per cent of them by insurgent groups, and another 2,144 wounded: a 15 per cent jump on the same period in 2010.

“The rising tide of violence and bloodshed in the first half of 2011 brought injury and death to Afghan civilians at levels without recorded precedent in the current armed conflict,” the UN mission in Kabul said yesterday.

It added that there was every likelihood the true total is higher than reported, because the closure of one of its offices following a deadly attack had left it unable to collect some data. Read the rest of this entry »


Will the Karzai Clan Be Able to Hang On to Kandahar?

Time.com

After the President buried his half-brother, he appointed another sibling to lead their tribe. But will that prevent a rebalancing of power in the troubled province?

They came to bury Ahmed Wali Karzai from Afghanistan and beyond, flying in on charter planes and arriving in armored convoys to pay their last respects to the man dubbed the “King of Kandahar.” Family and friends joined a funeral cortege of thousands as it made its way, under the watchful guard of helicopter gunships, from Kandahar City to the small village 12 miles away, where the Afghan President’s half-brother was born in 1961. Among the mourners were government ministers, parliamentarians and provincial governors, some dabbing their eyes with the silk of their turbans. Shortly after 7 a.m. on Wednesday, President Hamid Karzai slipped off his moccasins and stepped into his half-brother’s grave to bid the Kandahar strongman a last goodbye. Their relationship may not always have been easy, but those close to Karzai say it ran deep, and that the President has been devastated by Ahmed Wali’s murder.

Then the King of Kandahar’s brother was off from the village grave, whisked away in a motorcade of black SUVs before anyone could make another attempt against the Karzai family. (One guest had been less lucky but still fortunate, saved from a Taliban bomb blast as he traveled to the funeral by the reinforced armor of his car.)

Back in Kandahar City at a fortress-like mansion, Karzai’s first task was to anoint a successor to Ahmed Wali as de facto leader of the Popalzai tribe, from which the Karzai family hails. It was from his role as a tribal leader that Ahmed Wali drew much of his power, and Karzai chose another half-brother, Shah Wali Karzai, crowning him with a turban in front of the assembled chieftans. “Tribal leaders have proposed for me to replace martyred Ahmed Wali Karzai with Shah Wali Karzai as your tribal elder,” Karzai intoned. It was the President’s first move to repair the vast tear in Kandahar’s political fabric that Ahmed Wali’s death has left. Read the rest of this entry »


On the campaign trail with AWK

Ahmed Wali Karzai makes a statement immediately after casting his vote at a polling booth in Kandahar City on August 20, 2009. Julius Cavendish second from right (Jonathan Saruk)

Ahmed Wali Karzai makes a statement immediately after casting his vote at a polling booth in Kandahar City on August 20, 2009. Julius Cavendish second from right (Jonathan Saruk)


Killing of Afghan President’s brother leaves power vacuum

The Independent

Politician was vital to Hamid Karzai’s fight against Taliban

Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother to the Afghan President and one of the country’s most powerful politicians, was assassinated by a bodyguard yesterday, leaving a power vacuum in a crucial province as foreign powers prepare to start withdrawing troops.

Mr Karzai was shot in the head and the chest as he met constituents at his home in Kandahar. Witnesses told The Independent that the assailant, a bodyguard and long-term family friend called Sardar Mohammad, interrupted a meeting between Mr Karzai and two other local politicians.

Waving a file and citing personal business, Mohammad asked to speak privately with his boss. Moments after they stepped next door, shots rang out. Guards shot Mohammad and rushed Mr Karzai to hospital but he was dead on arrival. Read the rest of this entry »


What the headlines tell us

There’s an ironic juxtaposition of AFP headlines this morning. First up is:

US-Afghanistan-unrest-Petraeus (10 Jul, 6:26 — 7)

Taliban summer attacks down on last year: Petraeus ATTENTION – ADDS Panetta visit KABUL, July 10, 2011 (AFP) – Insurgent attacks against foreign and Afghan forces in Afghanistan are down this summer, defying projections by intelligence analysts, General David Petraeus said. The top commander in Afghanistan said attacks were down by “a few percent” for May and June, the beginning of the traditional annual fighting season, although he said the number of homemade bomb explosions had risen.

That’s immediately followed by:

Afghanistan-unrest-kidnap (10 Jul, 6:43 — 5)

Seven deminers beheaded in Afghanistan HERAT, Afghanistan, July 10, 2011 (AFP) – Seven of 28 deminers kidnapped in the western Afghan province of Farah last week were beheaded by their abductors and their bodies recovered Sunday by police and tribal elders, police said. The mine clearing workers had been snatched on Wednesday in a district that is the focus of the Taliban insurgency in the province, but no one had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.


Julius Cavendish: It may not be safe yet, but progress was made thanks to aggressive US tactics

The Independent

View from Sangin: A tentative peace accord struck at the start of the year is holding, at least to the extent that it still exists

Seven months ago 500lb bombs were tearing into Taliban positions outside Sangin district centre in Helmand province as the US Marines here launched an aggressive and costly campaign against Taliban insurgents. What was already Afghanistan’s bloodiest district for foreign troops quickly became more so.

The infusion of troops, including US Marines, was part of President Obama’s surge and despite widespread suspicion of Nato’s spin, it genuinely seems that their arrival had an impact, especially in Helmand and neighbouring Kandahar – although neither province is yet safe, nor going to be in the immediate future. The Taliban matched Obama’s surge with their own escalation, knowing full well that tactical defeats matter little, provided they can simply hang-on under the drawdown.

But the gun battles and roadside blasts that once took place in Sangin’s heart have migrated to its fringes – and it’s hard to see that as anything but a vindication of the Marines’ aggressive tactics. Yesterday there was barely a single explosion within earshot of the Marines’ main base. Read the rest of this entry »


The financial scandal that broke Afghanistan’s Kabul Bank

There’s an excellent piece in The Guardian by Jon Boone about the Kabul bank saga that’s a good read for many reasons, not least this description of “the man accused of rivalling only the Taliban in terms of the damage he has done to Afghanistan”:

Khalilullah Ferozi, supposedly under house arrest, settles into a seat and orders a shisha and several plates of rice and kebab. On his wrist sits a diamond-studded watch. As he talks, getting animated, a steady spray of half-masticated kebab flies across the table.

Read the rest of this entry »