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 »


“Bin Laden’s code name was ‘Binoculars’…” – a Taliban judge in his own words

Here’s a partial transcript of an interview with a Taliban judge conducted just after Osama bin Laden was killed. His nom de guerre is Khanjari, and he operates in Pana in Giro district in Ghazni province.

We sleep in the mountains at night, in the hills, in caves, and by day we’re moving from village to village. It’s a hard life. In our own country. Sometimes when we go home there are choppers in the sky. Sometimes we stay an hour and go. Sometimes we stay a night or two nights or three… high-ranking Talibs are lucky to see their families once every three months. We have comrades who haven’t seen their families for years because too many villagers know them, know who they are, know what their motorbike looks like. They can be easily identified and detected. So that’s why they stay away. I’ve seen my mother twice since last autumn. She came to my uncle’s house, which is as far from here to Maidan Shah, and I have a secret cellphone number, which she has. If I have network coverage she’ll call me and I’ll answer and we’ll meet. When I first joined the Taliban I was able to live with her and my father but now she knows that if go back home, I couldn’t live there, even if I surrendered, abandoned the war and my job. Each time we meet she cries. Sometimes she says forget about leaving your job. She knows even if I give up I can’t live there anymore. Read the rest of this entry »


First, Take Nuristan: The Taliban’s New Afghan Plan

Time.com

Historically, Nuristan province has been key to power in Afghanistan, and the militants and their non-Afghan allies are slowly taking control there

Every morning at 8, Maulawi Zahir heads into Waygal district center, a remote mountain village of stone houses stacked almost vertically up granite slopes. As the undeniable man in charge of the Afghan village, the Taliban leader is there to hear and settle disputes. But despite his group’s ascendancy, he struggles to burnish his credentials among his constituents, even in an area where loathing for NATO and the Afghan government runs deep. “People aren’t happy, but they pretend to be,” says one local trader. “They dislike the Taliban as much as they dislike government.”

Zahir’s attempt at daily dispute resolution is important in one respect: for the first time in almost a decade the Taliban are administering an Afghan district unmolested. In fact, Waygal has been almost completely abandoned by NATO for the past three years. For the insurgents — and their non-Afghan militant allies from Pakistan and Arabic-speaking countries — it is the most visible step in a longer term strategy to turn Nuristan, itself virtually given up by the alliance since 2009, into a militant hub and a staging post for attacks on strategic targets, including the capital, Kabul. Read the rest of this entry »


Why the Taliban Won’t Miss bin Laden

Time.com

The goals of Afghanistan’s insurgency are national, and even many Taliban leaders resented al-Qaeda’s presence on their turf

As the sun rose, the men from the raiding party chanted verses from the Koran, spread their checkered scarves on the dirt and prayed for Osama bin Laden’s swift passage to paradise. It was a ritual they’d performed a hundred times for their fallen comrades. But there were no outbursts of grief or pledges of vengeance. Bin Laden had been a good Muslim, said the small, wiry Taliban judge leading the ritual. Bin Laden had surrendered a life of luxury for one of hardship, and his “death on the battlefield” was befitting. Beyond that, as far as the Taliban are concerned, “his death had no impact,” said the judge, who goes by the nom de guerre Khanjari (and whose identity was confirmed by a member of Afghanistan’s security service).

“Every member of my group is as brave as Osama,” Khanjari continued. “The only difference is he had more money … My friends mean more to me than him. Any one of us would take a bullet for each other.” For the Taliban, bin Laden’s death has been far less important than some in the West may have hoped. Read the rest of this entry »


Will the Taliban Re-Take the Most Dangerous Place in Afghanistan?

Time.com

Courageous elders have managed to broker a deal to allow some fighters to come in from the cold. But will the Taliban negate those gains as the spring approaches?

The men came for Badar Agha before dawn, opening fire on the grizzled, turbaned elder as he set out for the local mosque in January. A senior figure in the Alokozai tribe, Badar Agha’s offense was to yearn for peace in his native Sangin, a bucolic slice of farmland and river that U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates described as perhaps the most dangerous place on earth. Cutting a peace deal here is perilous business and common sense dictated that Taliban gunmen would try to kill him. Amid the snap, snap, snap of passing bullets, Badar Agha fired back with the Kalashnikov he was carrying. Though wounded, he managed to squeeze off enough rounds to put his attackers to flight.

Days later, “Badar Agha is fine and back in Sangin,” a fellow elder from his village said — and still trying to broker peace. Two local rebel commanders known to be sympathetic to a détente were less lucky. Riza Gul and Pahlawan disappeared soon after the attack on Badar Agha and are presumed dead by members of their community. “Everyone says they’ve been killed [by the Taliban],” the elder says. Individually their deaths might seem like small change in Afghanistan’s grim arithmetic. But they are significant casualties in a desperate fight-back from the Taliban as years of intrigue and skulduggery come to a head. Read the rest of this entry »


Taliban ‘killing their own’ in bid to wrest back control in Sangin

The Independent

Taliban gunmen have begun assassinating their own rank and file in a desperate bid to stop a remote mountain valley sliding from their grasp, as well as bringing in new commanders to oversee their fightback in Sangin, Afghanistan’s most violent district, The Independent can reveal.

They are also attacking tribal elders trying to broker a peace deal between disillusioned members of the insurgency – resentful of Taliban commanders from other tribes and districts ordering them about – and government officials eager for peace.

Speaking by phone, a tribal elder in the upper Sangin valley said Taliban gunmen ambushed an elder from the Alokozai tribe called Badar Agha as he left home for morning prayers earlier this month. Aware an attempt on his life was likely, the elder shot back with his Kalashnikov, apparently wounding an assailant before being taken to hospital for medical treatment. Read the rest of this entry »


Nato’s dilemma: how to stop the Taliban’s return

The Independent

Nato and Afghan forces, which this week seized the last Taliban safe haven directly threatening Kandahar City, are drawing up plans to stop insurgents re-infiltrating the area and waging a campaign of intimidation against local inhabitants.

Earlier this week forces stormed the last cluster of villages under insurgent control in the nearby “Horn of Panjwaii” during a night-time helicopter raid. A Nato spokesman said resistance had been “light” but that troops were still clearing the area of home-made bombs.

The assault on Taloqan, a cluster of villages in the middle of the Horn, where inhabitants have typically leant towards the insurgents, is the culmination of months of fighting on the western fringes of the city. Read the rest of this entry »


Nato surge on Taliban stronghold drives civilians into the line of fire

The Independent

As troops step up their attack on the militants’ Kandahar heartland, Julius Cavendish meets the ordinary people caught on the frontline

The first eyewitness accounts of Nato’s assault on the final Taliban sanctuary threatening Kandahar City have begun to emerge, painting a picture of sporadic fire fights, steady progress by Afghan and coalition forces, and flight by those inhabitants wealthy or lucky enough to escape the violence.

Earlier this week, Nato began its final and critical phase of a major offensive designed to clear Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, with hundreds of troops carrying out an air assault on the main insurgent base in the region. In interviews with The Independent, tribal elders, government officials and civilians in Kandahar City provided vivid descriptions of special forces night raids and Nato’s bombardment of the area in the preceding month – designed to damage the local Taliban leadership – and the tactics the insurgents used to cow inhabitants before fleeing in the face of coalition firepower.

Mahmoud Dawood, a 35-year-old farmer from the western tip of the Horn of Panjwaii, the area Afghan and Nato forces are trying to take, described how he was woken last Thursday night by explosions in a neighbouring village. Suddenly the blasts came closer, and the silhouette of an Afghan commando appeared in his open door. “There was a bright white light and a voice said in Pashto ‘Stand up’,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »


Violence, fraud and cronyism keep millions away from Afghan poll

The Independent

Almost as quickly as the international community rushed to praise Saturday’s parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, complaints of widespread irregularities began pouring in, echoing the protracted wrangle over vote-rigging that returned President Hamid Karzai to power last year.

Representatives from the US, UN and EU hailed the bravery of Afghans for heading to the polls on Saturday despite pre-election violence and Taliban attacks on polling day that killed 18 people. However evidence was mounting yesterday of polling stations opening late, intimidation of voters, and the widespread use of fake voting cards. There were also reports that there were not enough ballot papers and that children had cast ballots.

President Hamid Karzai praised “the courage of the people” in voting, saying it was “a positive and major step for strengthening democracy in this country”. Nato’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, applauded voters for turning out “despite the violence carried out by those attempting to deny the people’s most basic democratic right”. But the courage of many ordinary Afghans notwithstanding, what the evidence suggests so far is that power is disbursed across Afghanistan not by universal suffrage but through coercion, bullying, bribery, cronyism, patronage and fear. Read the rest of this entry »


Afghan Taliban hone hit-and-run tactics, assassination campaign

Christian Science Monitor

The Afghan Taliban is waging an assassination campaign against government officials in Kandahar. Their hit-and-run fight marks bid to draw NATO forces into a war of attrition.

At COP Fitzpatrick (Lucian Read)

The high-velocity snap of a bullet passing the lanky sentry from South Carolina was the first sign combat outpost Fitzpatrick was under attack.

Men scrambled for weapons and flak jackets, running up the stairs to the roof of the pink cinder block building that had once been a police station. “Go, go, go!” went the yell to civilians caught in the open. Already soldiers were scanning the lush green foliage for movement. Then snap, snap, snap – more bullets passing by, and the platoon’s first sergeant, Samuel Frantz, was calling for “203s on that tree line over there.” Read the rest of this entry »