Thursday, July 30, 2009

Afghanistan-Pakistan War Update: Taliban Urges Boycott of Elections; Casualties Mount Among Occupation Forces

Taliban urge Afghan poll boycott

The Taliban have called on people in Afghanistan to boycott next month's presidential and provincial elections.

In a statement on a Taliban website, the movement ordered fighters to block roads on the eve of the elections and stop voters going to polling stations.

The statement said that participation in the vote would be a show of support for "invading Americans".

Afghanistan has seen a rise in violence ahead of the poll and there are grave concerns about security on the day.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul says this is the most specific threat yet made by the Taliban in the run-up to the elections on 20 August, but it is not an unexpected move.

The Taliban have always maintained they want foreign forces to leave the country and have made general calls for election boycotts before.


"How could Afghans consider this an Afghan process when, contrary to all their national traditions... it is planned by the Americans, financed by the Americans?" the statement says.

The Taliban message goes on to urge fighters to launch attacks against "enemy centres" and "prevent people from attending the elections and one day ahead of elections they must block all roads and highways for government and civilians vehicles".

It said that people should free Afghanistan through resistance and holy war.

In the past week alone there have been two attacks on Afghan election campaigns.

On Tuesday a campaign manager of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah was badly hurt after his vehicle was attacked in Laghman province. Two days earlier there was an assassination attempt on Mohammed Qasim Fahim, a running mate of President Hamid Karzai.

Elections are due to take place amid tight security on 20 August when Mr Karzai is hoping to secure a second term.

About 40 other candidates are challenging him for the presidency.

Fragmented militants

The Taliban statement also comes days after the Afghan government announced it had agreed a truce with Taliban insurgents in the north-western province of Badghis for the elections.

Although Taliban militants later denied any deal, our correspondent says it served to underline the disjointed and complex nature of the insurgency - with many different groups operating under a Taliban banner.

In June the US and the UK launched an offensive in the south of the country where the Taliban insurgency is at its fiercest, in a move aimed at shoring up security for the vote.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/07/30 10:57:01 GMT

UK Afghan casualty rate hits high

British forces in Afghanistan suffered their highest injury rate this month since the mission began in 2001, new Ministry of Defence figures show.

A total of 57 UK troops were wounded in action in the first two weeks of July alone, compared with 46 in the whole of June and 24 in May.

Of the injuries in the first 15 days of July, 16 service personnel were seriously or very seriously wounded.

July has also seen the most deaths - some 22 - since operations began.

An anti-war group said the rising casualty rate underlined how "unwinnable" the war in Afghanistan was becoming.

The rise in injuries and deaths came as coalition forces completed the first phase of their heaviest offensive yet - Operation Panther's Claw - against the Taliban ahead of elections on 20 August.

Along with 38 UK personnel who were admitted to field hospitals suffering from disease or a non-battle injury in the first two weeks in July, there have now been some 2,650 casualties in Afghanistan since the start of MoD records in 2006.

This year, 61 have been "seriously" or "very seriously" hurt, compared with a total of 65 for the whole of 2008.

The figures on casualties provided by the MoD do not include deaths, which are tallied separately.

A military surgeon told the BBC that treating the dying and wounded resulting from Operation Panther's Claw had proved a "very challenging" time for army medical teams.

Lt Col Nigel Tai said: "We have certainly seen a surge in casualties. It is difficult to see young, fit guys who may have to have multiple amputations.

"We try to salvage limbs, but at the same time we have to preserve life."

A spokesman for the Stop the War campaign said government assertions about the success of anti-Taliban operations were rendered "absurd" by the rising casualty figures.

"The British military under-estimated the strength of the Taliban forces opposing them when they launched this offensive," he said.

"These figures show just how unwinnable this war is."

The campaign group was due to accompany a serving soldier - L/Cpl Joe Glenton of the Royal Logistic Corps - to Downing Street on Thursday, where he planned to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister protesting against the conflict.

The Yorkshire soldier is facing a preliminary court martial after saying he would not return to Afghanistan.

'Possible mistake'

Earlier, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said it had "possibly" been a mistake for the government to seek to reduce payouts made by a pensions appeal tribunal to two wounded servicemen.

But he told the BBC the case had to be brought to clear up confusion over compensation payments.

Mr Ainsworth said: "In isolation, it possibly was [a mistake], but we had to clarify the situation that we were left with with the tribunal.

"What I couldn't have is people with the exact same injury getting different levels of compensation and what I couldn't have is people with the most serious injuries not having that reflected in the payments that were made."

Meanwhile, a plane carrying the bodies of the latest British soldiers killed in blasts in Afghanistan has arrived back at a military base.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Sean Upton, of the 5 Regiment Royal Artillery, and Trooper Phillip Lawrence, of The Light Dragoons, died in separate explosions in Helmand province on 27 July.

Bombardier Craig Hopson, of 40 Regiment Royal Artillery, died on 25 July in a roadside bomb attack.

After the three men's families pay their respects at the chapel at RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire, the cortege is due to drive through the town of Wootton Bassett later.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/07/30 12:53:49 GMT

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
19:07 Mecca time, 16:07 GMT

Pakistan 'rescues' child soldiers

Pakistani officials said that the rescued children ranged from six to 15 years of age

Pakistani security forces have said they rescued dozens of children forcibly recruited by the Taliban as child soldiers in North West Frontier Province.

Officials said the children were being trained to become suicide bombers and warned that hundreds more remained captive by the Taliban group.

"They have been brainwashed and trained as suicide bombers, but the nine who I met seemed willing to get back to normal life," Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed, who heads a special support group tasked with handling the return of people displaced in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas, told Pakistani state-run television.

"It seems that there are some 300 to 400 such children who the Taliban had taken forcibly or who they were training," Ahmed said.

Children abducted

Major Nasir Ali, a spokesman for forces in Swat, said that most of the children who had been rescued were taken from a Taliban training camp during raids, although some had later turned themselves in voluntarily.

"The account we are getting from these boys is that there could be many more such cases, and we believe that most of them have dispersed among the public," he said.

"We have appealed, and we are appealing again and again to people, to parents that if they know any of such case, they should contact us. We promise that we will do our best to rehabilitate them."

Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a North West Frontier Province minister, said that the dozens of children ranged from six to 15 years of age.

"They are prepared mentally. They say that Islam is everything for them. They say they are doing it for Islam. They say they have to carry suicide attacks for the sake of Islam," Bilour said.

He said: "They are brainwashed to such an extreme that they are ready to kill their parents who they call infidels."

Shaukat Ali, a 16-year-old boy, said Taliban fighters abducted him while he was playing cricket.

He said they told him they wanted him to be "a warrior" and offered to pay his family for his services.

At least 15 of the children were undergoing rehabilitation at an army school in the northwestern town of Mardan, Bilour said.

Serious challenge

Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi, Pakistan's minister of religious affairs, released a statement on Tuesday describing the recruitment of youngsters as suicide bombers to be "the most serious challenge before us".

Fakhar Rehman, a political and defence analyst, told Al Jazeera that there are reports registered by the police about other abductions, "not only in Swat but also in North and South Waziristan."

"Recently, when a peace deal was struck between the militants and the provincial government for the implementation of Sharia law, children were abducted and were used as suicide bombers or they [the Taliban] threatened their parents to give up a male child for recruitment." Rehman sai.

Many other children have been reported missing from parents who say their children had been abducted by the Taliban, he added.

"We have yet to see how the government is going to cope with this problem in the future".

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Pakistan in 'secret negotiations' with Baitullah Mehsud

By Emal Khan

Jul. 27- A ground assault against the head of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, has been delayed due to secret negotiations between him and security forces, according to a senior Pakistani official.

The details of the alleged negotiations are unclear but the Pakistan army has delayed launching attacks against Mr Mehsud after having corralled his stronghold in South Waziristan tribal area.

At least six brigades of Pakistani troops have blocked the four main arteries into Mehsud's fiefdom from where thousands have fled bombing raids and missile strikes from US unmanned drone aircraft.

Afghanistan strikes Taliban truce in remote area

By Sayed Salahuddin

Jul. 27- Afghanistan has struck a ceasefire deal with Taliban insurgents in a remote province, a presidential spokesman said on Monday, the first move of its kind amid an escalation of violence ahead of elections next month.

The truce was reached on Saturday in northwestern Badghis province, near the border with Turkmenistan, spokesman Seyamak Herawi said. The government wanted to make similar deals with the Taliban in other parts of the country in a bid to improve security for the Aug. 20 presidential election, he said.

"As long as the ceasefire holds, the government does not have the intention to attack the Taliban (in Badghis). And the Taliban can also take part in the elections," Herawi told Reuters. Violence across Afghanistan this year reached its worst levels since the Taliban's austere Islamist government was ousted in 2001 and has escalated further since thousands of U.S. Marines began a major offensive in southern Helmand this month.

Pakistan arrests cleric who brokered Swat peace deal

By Ayaz Gul

Jul. 26- Pakistan has arrested a pro-Taliban cleric, Sufi Mohammad, for helping militants and undermining the government's anti-terrorism campaign in a northwestern region.

The hard-line Pakistani religious leader, Sufi Mohammad, went missing three months ago when the military launched a major offensive to flush out Taliban militants from the northwestern valley of Swat and several neighboring districts.

In February this year, Sufi Mohammad negotiated a peace deal with the government to end violence in and around Swat.

Movement of US, NATO troops worries Waziristan tribes

Jul. 26- The movement of Afghanistan-based US and NATO troops over the past few days close to North and South Waziristan Agencies has frightened tribesmen, who are already under stress due to the increasing number of drone attacks and a possible military operation by the Pakistan Army.

Official and tribal sources informed The News from the border villages of North Waziristan about the unusual movement of what they termed ìhuge numberî of the US and NATO forces along the Pak-Afghan border.

They said the Nato troops were armed with helicopter gunships, tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) and had started establishing camps and checkpoints along the border.

Seven bombers killed as Taliban switch tactics with attack in east

By Jason Burke

Jul. 26- Taliban fighters wearing suicide vests and armed with AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the main police station in the eastern Afghan city of Khost yesterday. Their assault triggered lengthy gun battles that left seven militants dead and 14 people wounded, officials said.

The attack was one of the most audacious in recent years and took place in an area that it was hoped had been stabilised. Khost is a major provincial centre and the site of one of the biggest US bases in Afghanistan.

The assault signalled a further escalation in Taliban tactics of targeting poorly defended government installations rather than heavily armed international troops. One aim is to drive a wedge between local forces and officials and those trying to protect them. Local forces are attacked directly, international soldiers are struck with remote-controlled bombs.

Revealed: £12bn hidden costs of Afghan war

By Brian Brady and Jonathan Owen

Jul. 26- The soaring cost of Britain's military campaign in Afghanistan is laid bare today, as a comprehensive analysis reveals that the cost of fighting the Taliban has passed £12bn. An Independent on Sunday assessment of the "hidden costs" of fighting since the Taliban was ousted in 2001 reveals that the bill works out at £190 for every man, woman and child in the UK – and would pay for 23 new hospitals, 60,000 new teachers or 77,000 new nurses.

The £12bn directly funded by taxpayers is swollen still further by millions poured into rebuilding Afghanistan every year by British charities and other non-governmental organisations. As the Ministry of Defence announced yesterday that another British soldier had been killed in Helmand province, there was no sign of an end to the spiralling human and financial costs of the campaign.

The Government has signalled its determination to step up its financial support for the UN-led operation, despite British forces enduring their bloodiest month since the start of the campaign. Former British commanders yesterday warned that the effort may have to continue for years more – but questioned the commitment of politicians to see the job through in the longer term.

Mercenary Army May Deploy to Afghan Front Lines

By Walter Pincus

Jul. 26- The U.S. military command is considering contracting a private firm to manage security on the front lines of the war in Afghanistan, even as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says that the Pentagon intends to cut back on the use of private security contractors.

On a Web site listing federal business opportunities, the Army this month published a notice soliciting information from prospective contractors who would develop a security plan for 50 or more forward operating bases and smaller command outposts across Afghanistan.

Although the U.S. military has contracted out security services to protect individuals, military bases and other facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, this contract would award a commercial company unusually broad "theater-wide" authority to protect forward operating bases in a war zone.

Pakistan objects to US plan for Afghan war

By Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez

Jul. 21- Pakistan is objecting to expanded American combat operations in neighboring Afghanistan, creating new fissures in the alliance with Washington at a critical juncture when thousands of new American forces are arriving in the region.

Pakistani officials have told the Obama administration that the Marines fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will force militants across the border into Pakistan, with the potential to further inflame the troubled province of Baluchistan, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

Pakistan does not have enough troops to deploy to Baluchistan to take on the Taliban without denuding its border with its archenemy, India, theofficials said. Dialogue with the Taliban, not more fighting, is in Pakistan's national interest, they said.

The Pakistani account made clear that even as the United States recommits troops and other resources to take on a growing Taliban threat, Pakistani officials still consider India their top priority and the Taliban militants a problem that can be negotiated. In the long term, the Taliban in Afghanistan may even remain potential allies for Pakistan, as they were in the past, once the United States leaves.

More than 150 UK casualties in a week in Helmand

By Richard Norton-Taylor

Jul. 21- Recent fighting in Afghanistan led to a record number of British casualties since the start of the war against the Taliban, with more than 150 badly wounded within a week, defence officials said yesterday.

The figures are in addition to the 17 soldiers killed this month so far. The latest, the victim of a roadside bomb while on foot patrol near Sangin on Sunday, was Corporal Joey Etchells, 22, from 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. It was his third deployment to Afghanistan. He told his local paper, the Oldham Evening Chronicle, last month: "It's a great job and a big responsibility to have out here, but I really enjoy it. I can't see myself ever wanting to do anything else."

His death takes the British toll in Afghanistan since 2001 to 186.

More than 157 soldiers were treated at the field hospital at Camp Bastion in Helmand province last week, according to army medics. Numbers were so high that medics have been forced to break their own rules by accepted more wounded than the hospital is designed to take.

Rising casualties raise doubts abroad on war

By Elaine Ganley and Matt Moore

Jul. 24- Rising casualties in Afghanistan are raising doubts among U.S. allies about the conduct of the war, forcing some governments to defend publicly their commitments and foreshadowing possible long-term trouble for the U.S. effort to bring in more resources to defeat the Taliban.

Pressure from the public and opposition politicians is growing as soldiers' bodies return home, and a poll released Thursday shows majorities in Britain, Germany and Canada oppose increasing their own troop levels in Afghanistan.

Europeans and Canadians are growing weary of the war — or at least their involvement in combat operations — even as President Barack Obama is shifting military resources to Afghanistan away from Iraq.

The United States, which runs the NATO-led force, has about 59,000 troops in Afghanistan — nearly double the number a year ago — and thousands more are on the way. There are about 32,000 other international troops currently in the country.

US stops giving militant death tolls in Afghanistan

Jul. 24- The US military in Afghanistan has stopped releasing figures showing how many militants have been killed in fighting with US-led forces, officials said Friday.

"Indicating the number of insurgents killed has little relevance to impacting the lives of Afghans," Rear Admiral Gregory Smith said in an email to AFP.

"In fact, if that were the only purpose and metric, you would likely only extend the time it takes to bring about an end to the insurgency."

Smith sent an order last month to NATO and US forces blocking the military from releasing details on militant death tolls and providing estimates instead.

"The goal of security operations in an insurgency is to separate the people from the insurgents. Without access to the people, the insurgents lose their main center of gravity," he said.

Smith, who is revamping communications for the US military and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, stressed US-led military operations were not aimed at killing insurgents.

Pakistan: Schooling, food security worry returnees

Jul. 23- While displaced people continue to return from camps to their homes in Swat, Buner and other northwest areas of Pakistan affected by conflict, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) warns that about a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) could remain displaced until December.

"Everybody is hoping people come back to their villages ASAP. But at the same time we also believe it would be prudent to assume that by September one million could have gone back and that we would still have one million displaced through the year," UNICEF emergency office director Louis-Georges Arsenault, who recently visited Pakistan, told the media in Geneva.

Arsenault said about a million children were at risk of not starting school in September, mainly due to the widespread destruction of school buildings by the Taliban in Swat and the fact that 4,000 schools continue to shelter IDPs.

The emergency response unit of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government has said 907 families had returned as of 15 July. Colonel Wasim Shahid of the army's special support group for IDPs said 285,187 people had returned to Swat and 36,792 to Buner district.

Monday, July 27, 2009
17:34 Mecca time, 14:34 GMT

Taliban issues code of conduct

The Taliban code of conduct urges fighters to limit suicide attacks and avoid civilian deaths

The Taliban in Afghanistan has issued a book laying down a code of conduct for its fighters.

Al Jazeera has obtained a copy of the book, which further indicates that Mullah Omar, the movement's leader, wants to centralise its operations.

The book, with 13 chapters and 67 articles, lays out what one of the most secretive organisations in the world today, can and cannot do.

It talks of limiting suicide attacks, avoiding civilian casualties and winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the local civilian population.

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from the capital, Kabul, said every fighter is being issued the pocket book entitled "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Rules for Mujahideen".

The book sheds considerable light on the structure, organisation and aims of the group, he said.

Mullah Omar is quoted as saying that creating a new mujahideen group or battalion is forbidden.

"If unofficial groups or irregular battalions refuse to join the formal structure, they should be disbanded," Omar says.

Individual Taliban commanders have so far had a fair degree of autonomy, often deciding what operations to conduct and how to run the territory that they control.

Our correspondent said the regulations seem to be an attempt by Mullah Omar to bring all of the Taliban under his control.

"We have in the past had a lot of different groups in Afghanistan operating under the umbrella of the Taliban," Bays said.

"But it says in these regulations that if you find an irregular battalion that is not obeying orders then what you have to do is find that battalion and then disarm them."

Suicide bombing rules

Michael Griffin, an Afghanistan expert and author of the book Reaping the Whirlwind: Al Qaeda and the Holy War, told Al Jazeera: "The Taliban ... is flirting very closely with criminality on a very, very, large scale.

"If you think of the New York Times reporter who was kidnapped in November last year and released for $8m, this was a criminal act and has nothing to do with the Taliban as a political and military force.

"I think [Mullah Omar is] trying to bring all the disparate elements in the Taliban together under one umbrella to somehow isolate and and separate the elements which are simply criminal.

"But this is a difficult cause because there are a lot of people in the Taliban because it pays them."

While the Taliban have repeatedly used suicide bombings across Afghanistan, the book now says that they should be used only on high and important targets."

'Strong guarantees'

"A brave son of Islam should not be used for lower and useless targets. The utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties," the book says.

There are now clear guidelines on how the Taliban will treat its prisoners as well.

"Whenever any official, soldier, contractor or worker of the slave government is captured, these prisoners cannot be attacked or harmed," it says.

"The decision on whether to seek a prisoner exchange or to release the prisoner with strong guarantees will be made by the provincial leader.

"Releasing prisoners in exchange for money is strictly prohibited."

The book further states that if a "military infidel" is captured, the decision on whether to kill, release or exchange the hostage is only to be made by the Imam, a reference to Mullah Omar, or deputy Imam.

'Winning hearts'

The book makes it clear that it is the duty of every fighter to win over the local population.

"The mujahideen have to behave well and show proper treatment to the nation, in order to bring the hearts of civilian Muslims closer to them.

"The mujahideen must avoid discrimination based on tribal roots, language or geographic background."

Our correspondent said the reference to winning over the hearts of the Afghan people is very similar to language used by Nato-led military forces in the country.

"Recently the Nato commander here issued a new tactical directive saying that civilians should not be bombed - almost the same words in these regulations to Taliban fighters," Bays said.

"Both sides [are] trying to win over the civilian population in their area."

The release of the rule book comes less than a month before Afghans head to the polls for a presidential election, which the Taliban has deemed an illegitimate system imposed by foreigners.

The timing may be just a coincidence, however, as rival presidential candidates detail their manifestos and the Taliban makes an effort to win over the Afghan public.

Source: Al Jazeera

Thursday, July 23, 2009
12:16 Mecca time, 09:16 GMT

Taliban say Fazlullah still 'alive'

Pakistani forces have been battling Taliban fighters in northwestern provinces

The commander of the Taliban in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley is alive and has not been wounded in battle, his spokesman has said.

Muslim Khan, speaking by telephone on Thursday from an undisclosed location, told the Reuters news agency: "He [Maulana Fazlullah] is alive. He was not wounded. All of the Taliban leadership is okay."

The Pakistani military, which did not comment on the spokesman's claim, had said earlier that Fazlullah had been seriously wounded.

Reports of Fazlullah being critically injured have circulated since Pakistani troops launched a major offensive in the Swat valley to drive out Taliban fighters from the region.

Fazlullah is the architect of a nearly two-year Taliban campaign to enforce a stricter interpretation of the sharia (Islamic law) in the Swat valley.

He has been on the run since the beginning of the army offensive in late April.


Pakistan has offered a $615,000 reward for information leading to Fazlullah's death or capture.

Fazlullah and his supporters are believed to have beheaded opponents, burned schools and fought against government troops since November 2007.

He is a son-in-law of the pro-Taliban religious leader Sufi Muhammad, who secured a government deal to put three million people in the northwest under the sharia in February.

The agreement later collapsed after Taliban fighters stormed several towns and the government responded by launching the military offensive.

Pakistan's northwestern region has become a stronghold for both al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan following the US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

Baitullah Mehsud, another Taliban leader who allegedly has ties to al-Qaeda, already has a $5m bounty on his head.

The US state department considers him "a key al-Qaeda facilitator in the tribal areas of South Waziristan".

Source: Agencies

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