Wednesday, December 30, 2009

US War Update: Blast Kills Occupation Troops in Afghanistan; Casualties Reports, etc.

Powerful blast kills five US troops in Afghanistan

Wed, 30 Dec 2009 16:55:27

A blast has reportedly hit a NATO convoy in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least nine troopers including five American soldiers.

On Wednesday, five US troops and four Afghan soldiers were killed in the blast that hit near a US military base in the eastern province of Khost.

The US military has confirmed the deaths and says the cause of the blast is still under investigation. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack.

More than 506 foreign forces were killed in Afghanistan this year, 310 of which were US troops.

The United States currently commands over 110,000 US and foreign troops in Afghanistan and plans to deploy another 40,000 soldiers to the Central Asian nation.

Afghan probe says NATO fighting killed children

By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writers

KABUL – The head of a presidential delegation investigating the deaths of 10 people in eastern Afghanistan concluded Wednesday that civilians — including schoolchildren — were killed in an attack involving foreign troops, disputing NATO reports that the dead were insurgents.

Asadullah Wafa, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, told The Associated Press by telephone that eight schoolchildren between the ages of 12 and 14 were among the dead discovered in a village house in the Narang district of Kunar province.

A NATO official has said initial reports from troops involved in the fighting on Sunday indicated that those killed were insurgents — all young males.

Civilian deaths are one of the most sensitive issues for foreign troops in Afghanistan, especially now when some additional 37,000 U.S. and NATO troops are being deployed to the war-ravaged country. Although far more civilians are killed by the Taliban, those blamed on international forces spark widespread resentment and undermine the fight against militants.

Several hundred Afghans protested the deaths Wednesday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad and in the capital of Kabul. In Jalalabad, they burned President Barack Obama's effigy and an American flag, chanting "death" to Obama and Karzai.

In Kabul, protesters chanted, "Unity, unity, death to the enemy of Islam!" and a protester with a bullhorn called on Obama to "take your soldiers out of Afghanistan."

Wafa said he was convinced all those killed in the Kunar incident were innocent civilians.

"I have talked to the principal of the school in the village and he gave us details about the killed children," Wafa said. "The schoolchildren cannot be al-Qaida. I confirm they are innocent people killed by mistake. I talked to Karzai about the findings."

The bodies had already been buried by the time Wafa's team arrived. A joint Afghan-NATO probe will continue to investigate what happened.

Wafa said the villagers demanded from the 10-member delegation of government officials and lawmakers that informants "who gave the wrong target to the Americans must be found and punished by a court."

Karzai said in a statement Wednesday that he talked to the relatives of the Kunar victims to express his condolences and pledge to bring to justice those responsible for the attack.

Col. Wayne Shanks, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said at a news conference Wednesday the allegations were being investigated together with Afghan authorities.

He said the force takes all such allegations seriously and goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

"In fact, you can see that our enemy, the insurgents, have very little regard for the Afghan people," he said. "We have noticed a very dramatic increase in civilian casualties caused by roadside bombs, by attacks that insurgents have on the Afghan people."

The latest figures released by the United Nations show that 2,021 civilians died during clashes in the first 10 months of this year, up from 1,838 for the same period last year. Taliban insurgents were blamed for 68 percent of the deaths this year — three times more than NATO forces, according to the U.N.
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Kabul contributed to this report.

Afghanistan War Reports

Editor's Note: According to official accounts 941 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the invasion and occupation began in October 2001. An additional 4,434 US troops have been wounded. 1555 so-called "coalition" forces have been killed.

12/30/09 AAP: Diggers find Afghan weapon caches

Australian and Afghan troops have uncovered what defence force officials say is a series of significant munitions caches. During a 24-hour period the troops discovered six caches containing rifles and ammunition, along with a considerable number of rocket-propelled grenades.

12/30/09 Xinhua: Explosion blasts against NATO troops in S Afghanistan

A powerful explosion blasted against NATO-led forces in Dand district of Kandahar province, south Afghanistan on Wednesday evening, causing panic among the locals, Xinhua's scribe in Kandahar said.

12/30/09 Reuters: U.S. pledges $16 bln to train, equip Afghan army, says Kabul

The United States has pledged $16 billion to spend on training and equipping Afghanistan's army and air force, but the country needs more to build a force that can guarantee stability, an Afghan army official said on Wednesday.

12/30/09 WaPo: Civilian, military planners have different views on new approach to Afghanistan

Two days before announcing the deployment of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, President Obama informed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal that he was not granting McChrystal's request to double the size of the Afghan army and police.

12/29/09 CNN: Rocket lands on Afghan ministry grounds

A rocket struck the grounds of the Afghan interior ministry Saturday, but did not cause any casualties, authorities said. The attack took place Saturday night, said Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the defense ministry. He did not offer additional details.

12/29/09 MoD: Rifleman Aidan Howell of 3 RIFLES killed in Afghanistan

Rifleman Aidan Howell of 3rd Battalion, The Rifles...was killed as a result of an explosion that happened near Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge, in the Kajaki area of Helmand Province, during the afternoon of 28 December 2009. He had been on patrol when an improvised explosive device detonated.

12/29/09 citytv: Gunfire Forces Afghan President, Cdn. Ambassador To Flee Ceremony In Kabul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Canadian ambassador Arif Lalani were among the dignitaries forced to take cover Sunday when automatic gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades rained down on a ceremony marking 16 years since the overthrow of the country's Soviet-backed rule.

12/29/09 CNN: NATO acknowledges deaths in Afghanistan

NATO officials on Tuesday admitted that a weekend operation in northeastern Afghanistan's Kunar province killed nine people but would not say whether they were civilians or militants.

12/29/09 BBC: Injured soldier gets new army job

A paratrooper who suffered massive injuries in Afghanistan has been given a new job in the army. Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, 25, from Doncaster, is to take on a desk job with the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery in Colchester.

12/29/09 WaPo: Suicide bomber kills at least 30 amid Shiite observances in Karachi, Pakistan

A day of religious gatherings by Shiite Muslims across Pakistan was violently disrupted Monday when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid thousands of marchers in the southern port city of Karachi, leaving at least 30 dead and 60 injured.

12/29/09 AFP: Afghan civilian casualties up 10%: UN

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose more than 10 percent in the first 10 months of 2009, UN figures showed Tuesday, amid anger over the alleged killing of children in a Western military operation.

12/29/09 Bloomberg: U.S. Soldier Killed in Afghan Shooting, Italian Official Says

A U.S. soldier was killed and two Italians were wounded after an Afghan soldier opened fire in Bala Morghab, Afghanistan, an official at the Italian Defense Ministry said.

12/29/09 AFP: Students among the civilian dead in eastern Afghanistan

AFGHAN president Hamid Karzai yesterday said ten civilians, including eight students, had been killed in fighting involving international forces in the country's remote east. He condemned the deaths and called for an investigation.

12/28/09 NYTimes: Attack Puts Afghan Leader and NATO at Odds

The killing of at least nine men in a remote valley of eastern Afghanistan by a joint operation of Afghan and American forces put President Hamid Karzai and senior NATO officials at odds on Monday over whether those killed had been civilians or Taliban insurgents.

12/28/09 MoD: Soldier from 3 RIFLES killed in Helmand

It is with sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of a soldier from 3rd Battalion, The Rifles. The soldier was killed as a result of an explosion that happened near Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge, in the Kajaki area of Helmand Province, during the afternoon of 28 December 2009.

12/28/09 DoD: Army Identifies Casualty

Spc. Jason M. Johnston, 24, of Albion, N.Y., died Dec. 26 in Arghandab, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

12/28/09 Reuters: 10 Afghan civilians reported killed in airstrip

Villagers in a remote part of northeastern Afghanistan have reported that an airstrike by foreign forces on Saturday night killed 10 civilians, the provincial governor said on Monday.

12/28/09 AKA: Al-Qaeda claims kidnap of Italians

Al-Qaeda's North African branch has allegedly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Italians in Mauritania in mid-December. In an audiotape released on Sunday, The Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb said it had kidnapped Sergio Cicala...

12/28/09 WaPo: 10 killed in Pakistan bombings on anniversary of Bhutto assassination

A pair of bombings on Sunday killed at least 10 people, including a government official, and wounded scores more, Pakistani authorities said.

12/28/09 Quqnoos: 11 Taliban Militants, 2 Police Dead in Afghan Clashes

At least 11 Taliban militants and two Afghan police were killed in clashes in north-western Afghanistan, officials said Monday. Afghan and NATO-led troops launched an overnight operation in Bala Morghab district, a Taliban stronghold, killing eight militants, said Badghes Police Chief, Sayed Ahmad Saami.

12/28/09 BBC: Militants kill Afghan policemen in Badghis province

Two policemen have been killed after militants attacked a checkpoint in north-west Afghanistan, officials say. Three other policemen were missing after the attack which took place in Qadis district in Badghis province.

12/27/09 DoD: Army Identifies Casualty

Staff Sgt. David H. Gutierrez, 35, of San Fransico, Ca., died Dec. 25 at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his dismounted patrol with an improvised explosive device in Howz-e Madad. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.

Bombs kill 23 in Iraq's western Anbar province

By KATHARINE HOURELD, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD – Staggered explosions Wednesday killed 23 people — 13 of them policemen — and wounded an Iraqi provincial governor, officials said, in the worst violence in months to hit the western province that was formerly al-Qaida's top stronghold in Iraq.

The strategically important Anbar province was once the heartland of support for al-Qaida-linked militants, before many insurgents turned on the terror organization and joined forces with U.S. troops and the Iraqi government. The governor is the most senior Sunni leader to be attacked since then.

While violence in Iraq has dropped considerably since the height of the conflict in 2006 and 2007, a reinvigorated insurgency in Anbar — which is also Iraq's largest province — could pose a serious risk to the country's stability as it prepares for elections in March.

The bombings are also the latest in a string of attacks to target government buildings and installations in the country, as a way to undermine Iraqis' confidence in the ability of the government to protect itself. Insurgents trying to ignite sectarian violence also killed six people at a Shiite mourning event north of Baghdad, officials said.

Police official Lt. Col. Imad al-Fahdawi said two bombs exploded in Anbar's capital of Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad. He says a suicide bomber in a car caused the first blast near a checkpoint on the main road near the provincial administration buildings.

Gov. Qassim al-Fahdawi, the deputy police chief and other officials came to inspect the damage, the police official said, when a suicide bomber on foot detonated a vest full of explosives nearby.

The deputy police chief was killed and the governor and other officials wounded, al-Fahdawi said. Police have put a curfew in place, he added.

Another police official said the provincial police commander was wounded. The police official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A spokesman for the governor, Mohammed Fathi, told the Al-Arabiyah news channel that bombers are trying to prevent the investment and reconstruction that has been going on as security in the region has improved.

"This violence is done by those who want to hamper rebuilding in Anbar," he said.

A doctor at the main hospital in Ramadi, Ahmed Abid Mohammed, said 23 people had been killed and 57 injured. He said the governor had suffered burns on his face, injuries to his abdomen and other areas.

American forces were helping evacuate casualties, establish security and carry out forensic investigations, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Curtis Hill.

Television footage from the blasts showed large black plumes of smoke rising from the scene as emergency and police vehicles rushed to the area with sirens blaring.

There are 18 provincial governors in Iraq. Anbar is primarily Sunni, the minority sect of Islam that at one point ruled the country under former dictator Saddam Hussein. The province was the former stronghold of the insurgency, and the site of some of the war's most intense fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in the key cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

In 2006, many former insurgents began to rebel against al-Qaida, and joined forces with the U.S. military, who paid fighters to participate in the pro-government Sons of Iraq program, also known as the Awakening Council.

The decision by the Sons of Iraq to join forces with U.S. and Iraqi forces to combat al-Qaida about three years ago is considered one of the key reasons for the drop in violence seen in Iraq today. But the Sons of Iraq as well as many Sunni political figures have repeatedly been targeted for their cooperation with the Shiite-led government. Five members of the Awakening Council were killed at a checkpoint Tuesday in central Iraq.

Insurgents targeting government buildings in downtown Ramadi killed 19 people in October of this year.

The Sunni fighters have expressed fears that they will be sidelined by the mainly Shiite government after the American forces leave.

In the town of Khalis, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, a bomb killed six pilgrims taking part in a procession to commemorate the death of a Shiite revered saint, said a Diyala province police spokesman, Capt. Ghalib al-Karkhi. He said the blast also wounded 24 people.

A health official at the town's hospital confirmed the figures. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information.

On Sunday, Shiite Muslims marked the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein. His death marked the split between Sunnis and Shiites. While Shiites are a majority in Iraq, under the former dictator Saddam Hussein the minority Sunnis ruled the country and shows of devotion to the Shiite figure were outlawed.

Since a Shiite-led government came to power following the U.S.-led invasion, Shiites have once again been able to commemorate the occasion publicly. However, the events have often been targeted by insurgents trying to incite sectarian violence.

Iraq War Casualties Report

Editor's Note: Official accounts indicate that 150 United States troops were killed during 2009 in Iraq. The total officially reported deaths of US soldiers since the invasion and occupation began in March 2003 is 4,371 and the wounding of 31,557. The total for "coalition" forces are 4,689 deaths.

12/30/09 Reuters: Gunmen wound judge in southeastern Kirkuk

Gunmen shot and wounded a judge and his wife in southeastern Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, on Tuesday, police said.

12/30/09 Reuters: Grenade wounds 2 policemen, civilian in Mosul

A militant hurled a hand grenade at a police patrol, wounding two policemen and a civilian in central Mosul on Tuesday, police said.

12/30/09 Reuters: Gunmen kill civilian in eastern Mosul

Gunmen shot dead a civilian in eastern Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad on Tuesday, police said.

12/30/09 Reuters: Mortar shells seized in Taji

Iraqi security forces seized some 1,200 mortar shells and thousands of mortar parts in Taji, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, the office of Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said.

12/30/09 Reuters: Roadside bomb kills 7 Iraqi pilgrims, wounds 25 others in Khalis

A roadside bomb killed seven Iraqi pilgrims returning from a major Shi'ite Muslim religious festival and wounded 25 others in Khalis, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

12/30/09 AP: Bombs kill 23 in Iraq's western Anbar province

Staggered explosions Wednesday killed 23 people - 13 of them policemen - and wounded an Iraqi provincial governor, officials said, in the worst violence in months to hit the western province that was formerly al-Qaida's top stronghold in Iraq.

12/30/09 NYTimes: Provincial Governor Survives Iraq Bombings

Attacks by two suicide bombers on Wednesday in the city of Ramadi killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 30, a police commander said.

12/29/09 AFP: Iraqi handed $85,000 reward for car bomb tip-off

An Iraqi man was awarded 85,000 dollars for informing security forces of a car bomb in Baghdad, the first such reward after funds were dramatically upped for tip-offs, a military spokesman said Tuesday.

12/29/09 Reuters: 4 wounded in bombing near Baghdad ministry building

Four people were wounded by a bomb that exploded in a parking lot within the Transport Ministry compound in eastern Baghdad, police said.

12/29/09 Reuters: Gunmen kidnap school teacher in Falluja

Gunmen kidnapped a school teacher as she walked to work in Falluja, 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, police said.

12/29/09 AP: Gunmen kill 5 Sunni guards in Iraq

Gunmen killed five Sunni security guards — including one by beheading — in a gruesome pre-dawn slaying Tuesday at a village checkpoint in central Iraq, officials said.

12/29/09 telegraph: Iraqi security adviser describes al-Qaeda threat

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a far smaller force than at its peak three years ago but still poses a threat in the run-up to March's elections, said Safa Hussein, a national security adviser.

12/29/09 KUNA: Gunmen rob salaries of health center in W. Mosul

Iraqi police said on Tuesday that unidentified gunmen carried out an armed robbery on a health center west of Mosul, and looted the salaries of its employees.

12/29/09 Reuters: Three sentenced to death for June Iraq bombing

An Iraqi court on Tuesday sentenced three men to death for a bombing in June that killed at least 73 people, an Iraqi judicial official said.

12/28/09 WaPo: Iraqi Shiites protest Maliki's government

A group of 5,000 Iraqi Shiite demonstrators in the city of Karbala turned the religious observance of Ashura into a political protest against the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday, expressing wide-ranging criticisms as the country prepares for a critical national election in early March.

12/28/09 AFP : Nine bombs defused amid Ashura climax

Iraqi security forces said yesterday they defused nine bombs as millions completed the annual Ashura rituals in Shia shrine cities, free of the massive attacks that have marred recent years

12/28/09 AAP: Security high in Iraq as pilgrims pour in

Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims have descended on Iraq's holy shrine city of Karbala for the climax of Ashura commemorations, despite fears of violent attacks by Sunni extremists.

12/28/09 KUNA: UN says 9,000 Iraqis registered refugees in Jordan now in third country

Some 9,000 Iraqis registered as refugees in Jordan are now resident in third countries, out of 17,000 the UN Refugee Agency recommended be repatriated and out of an overall 53,000 refugees. As reported by Ad-Dustour paper here Monday

12/28/09 middle-east-online: Iraq prepares for parliamentary polls

Iraq prepares for the second general election since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. Around 115,000 US soldiers are still stationed in Iraq, though that figure is set to drop to 50,000 by the end of August as part of a deal between Baghdad and Washington that calls for a full American withdrawal by the end of 2011.

12/28/09 AP: 40 Iranian prisoners in Iraq launch hunger strike

Around 40 Iranians held in an Iraqi prison are on a hunger strike to demand meetings with Iranian officials about their cases, an Iraqi government official said Monday.

12/27/09 mercurynews: Stanford program helps veterans who have 'fallen through the cracks'

Ekk Phixitxonh remembers feeling disconnected from life in the Bay Area when he came back from his deployment in Iraq as an Air Force Reserve medic.

12/27/09 NYTimes: Another Peril in War Zones: Sexual Abuse by Fellow G.I.’s

Capt. Margaret H. White began a relationship with a warrant officer while both were training to be deployed to Iraq. By the time they arrived this year at Camp Taji, north of here, she felt what she called “creepy vibes” and tried to break it off.

Somali arrested at airport with chemicals, syringe


MOGADISHU, Somalia – A man tried to board a commercial airliner in Mogadishu last month carrying powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe that could have caused an explosion in a case bearing chilling similarities to the terrorist plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The Somali man — whose name has not yet been released — was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops before the Nov. 13 Daallo Airlines flight took off. It had been scheduled to travel from Mogadishu to the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then to Djibouti and Dubai. A Somali police spokesman, Abdulahi Hassan Barise, said the suspect is in Somali custody.

"We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qaida or other foreign organizations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed," said Barise.

A Nairobi-based diplomat said the incident in Somalia is similar to the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day in that the Somali man had a syringe, a bag of powdered chemicals and liquid — tools similar to those used in the Detroit attack. The diplomat spoke on condition he not be identified because he isn't authorized to release the information.

Barigye Bahoku, the spokesman for the African Union military force in Mogadishu, said the chemicals from the Somali suspect could have caused an explosion that would have caused air decompression inside the plane. However, Bahoku said he doesn't believe an explosion would have brought the plane down.

A second international official familiar with the incident, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to discuss the case, confirmed that the substances carried by the Somali passenger could have been used as an explosive device.

In the Detroit case, alleged attacker Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hid explosive PETN in a condom or condom-like bag just below his torso when he traveled from Amsterdam to Detroit. Like the captured Somali, Abdulmutallab also had a syringe filled with liquid. The substances seized from the Somali passenger are being tested.

The November incident garnered little attention before the Dec. 25 attack aboard a flight on final approach to Detroit. U.S. officials have now learned of the Somali case and are hastening to investigate any possible links between it and the Detroit attack, though no officials would speak on the record about the probe.

U.S. investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen — which lies across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Similarly, large swaths of Somalia are controlled by an insurgent group, al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaida.

Western officials say many of the hundreds of foreign jihadi fighters in Somalia come in small boats across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. The officials also say that examination of equipment used in some Somali suicide attacks leads them to believe it was originally assembled in Yemen.

Law enforcement officials believe the suspect in the Detroit incident tried to ignite a two-part concoction of the high explosive PETN and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive, setting off popping, smoke and some fire but no deadly detonation. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national, is charged with trying to destroy an aircraft.

A Somali security official involved in the capture of the suspect in Mogadishu said he had a 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) package of chemical powder and a container of liquid chemicals. The security official said the suspect was the last passenger to try to board.

Once security officials detected the powder chemicals and syringe, the suspect tried to bribe the security team that detained him, the Somali security official said. The security official said the suspect had a white shampoo bottle with a black acid-like substance in it. He also had a clear plastic bag with a light green chalky substance and a syringe containing a green liquid. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

The powdered material had the strong scent of ammonia, Bahoku said, and samples have been sent to London for testing.

The Somali security officials said the Daallo Airlines flight was scheduled to go from Mogadishu to Hargeisa, to Djibouti and then to Dubai.

A spokeswoman for Daallo Airlines said that company officials weren't aware of the incident and would have to seek more information before commenting. Daallo Airlines is based in Dubai and has offices in Djibouti and France.

Associated Press writer Katharine Houreld reported from Baghdad. Jason Straziuso reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

Yemeni forces storm al-Qaida hide-out, arrest 1

By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press Writer

SAN'A, Yemen (AP) — A Yemeni security official says forces have stormed an al-Qaida hide-out in the country's east, setting off clashes.

A government statement confirmed the clashes and said at least one suspected al-Qaida member was arrested.

The fighting took place in Hudaydah province, a principle al-Qaida stronghold. It was home to most of the attackers who struck outside the U.S. Embassy in 2008, killing 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians.

The security official said forces acted on a tip. He was spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Deputy Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Saleh al-Zawari said forces would continue to strike against al-Qaida until the group's powerful branch in Yemen is eliminated.

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