India PM Inaugurates Parliament House

New Afghan Parliament House donated by the people of India…

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by Koushik Das

InSerbia Network News

Dec. 26, 2015

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On his way back to India from Russia, Prime Minister Modi arrived in the Afghan capital to inaugurate the new Parliament House. Upon his arrival in Kabul, the visiting premier received a warm welcome, as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was present at the airport. Before inaugurating the new House, Modi and Ghani held delegation-level talks at the Afghan Presidential Office, popularly known as Dilkosha Palace, to discuss different aspects of bilateral ties. Later, Prime Minister Modi addressed the Afghan Parliament.

The Indian premier said it was unfortunate that the construction work of the Parliament building, which was started in 2009, missed three completion deadlines since 2011 and went over-budget by double the original costing of USD 45 million. Meanwhile, he assured the Afghan parliamentarians that India would always back the war-ravaged country’s effort to ensure peace. At the same time, he said that Afghanistan “will succeed only when terrorism no longer flows across the border”. The PM told the House: “We must support Afghanistan without timelines because a new cloud of extremism is rising, even as the old ones continue to darken our skies.”

Prime Minister Modi also sent a strong message to Pakistan that is often accused by Afghanistan of sponsoring the Taliban insurgency, saying: “There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister design in our presence here. But we are here because you had faith in us.”

Modi further assured Afghanistan that India, which has invested around USD 2 billion in aid and reconstruction in the country and trained scores of Afghan officers, would continue providing financial helps to Afghanistan in the coming years. Addressing the Parliament, he announced 500 scholarships for children of martyrs of Afghan armed forces. “Afghanistan with abiding faith in tradition of Jirga has chosen democracy against challenges that would have defeated lesser people,” he told the House.

For his part, President Ghani called the friendship between India and Afghanistan “antiquated and bound by a thousand ties”, stressing that Kabul would always be grateful to New Delhi for its “valuable assistance” as his country weathers “hard times”. “I am pleased to welcome Prime Minister Modi to Kabul. Though, India and Afghanistan need no introduction, we are bound by a thousand ties. We have stood by each other in the best and worst of times,” added the Afghan president.

Later, the Indian PM also held separate talks with Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan Dr Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai. Incidentally, Modi arrived in Kabul just a couple of days after India delivered three of four Russian Mi-25 helicopter gunships to Afghanistan.

On Friday evening, the Indian PM also made a surprise visit to Pakistan. After landing in Kabul from Moscow, Modi called his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to wish him Happy Birthday. Sharif told Modi: “Why don’t you drop by since you will be flying over my country?” Modi readily agreed and reached Lahore at around 5pm (local time). At the airport, the Indian premier was received by Prime Minister Sharif with a warm hug. They took a helicopter to reach Sharif’s ancestral home “Raiwind Palace” in Jati Umra, where his granddaughter’s wedding was on. The two PMs discussed different bilateral issues and agreed to continue and enhance contacts, and work together to establish good neighbourly relations. After spending one hour at Sharif’s residence, Modi left for India and reached New Delhi at 7:30pm (local time). Prime Minister Sharif, too, accompanied Modi back to the Lahore airport to see him off.

Upon his arrival in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi tweeted: “Spent a warm evening with Sharif family home. Nawaz Sahab’s birthday and his granddaughter’s marriage made it a double celebration”. Apart from Premier Sharif, two big leaders from both countries had their birthday on December 25. Tenth Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was born on December 25, 1924 in Gwalior, while Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was born on December 25, 1876. Jinnah, the lawyer-turned-politician, died on September 11, 1948.

Different Pakistani political parties have welcomed Modi’s surprise visit, as he, in a dramatically spontaneous gesture, becomes the first Indian PM to visit Pakistan since Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2014. However, the Indian opposition parties have raised a serious question – Can Modi’s unorthodox brand of diplomacy lead to lasting peace? We have to wait to see how surprise plays its role in Prime Minister Modi’s Pakistan policy.

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http://inserbia.info/today/2015/12/indian-pm-inaugurates-new-afghan-parliament-visits-pakistan

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The Colonel’s Teepee

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by Rawclyde!

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Col. Sheena Johnson

U.S. Army legend

Sets-up a teepee above Pluckame

High on the mountain ridge

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Here she hones her arrowheads

& prays to St. Joan of Arizona

Her ex-Taliban husband Habibullah

Assists

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Young enchantress Mamoodia

The other Sufi archer of Pluckame

Patrols

Her bow vibrant & arrows a quiver

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Life in a Sufi bubble

Has it’s ups & downs

But mostly it floats

Miracles often occur

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Sheena becomes so angelic

She sprouts wings

Every curve of her body

Softens

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And Habibullah swears

He’s

Gone

To heaven 

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Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II

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Strategic Failure ~ Ignoring Child Rape

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Kevin Knodell

WarIsBoring.com

November 10, 2015

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The Afghan police commander laughed at them. But Capt. Dan Quinn and Sgt. First Class Charles Martland didn’t find anything funny about the situation.

Throughout their deployment, members of the U.S. Army Special Forces detachment under Quinn’s command became troubled by the behavior of the Afghan Local Police forces they were supposed to be mentoring. The team reported several incidents — one involving a police commander who raped a teenage girl — to their commanders and to Afghan authorities.

In each case there was either no consequences or a slap on the wrist.

But late in the deployment, a woman came to the soldiers’ base. She told them an ALP commander chained her son to a bed and raped him, then beat her. She begged the Green Berets for justice.

When Quinn and Martland confronted the ALP commander, he readily admitted to doing it and even joked about it. Furious, Quinn and Martland shoved him to the ground and allegedly beat him.

Not long after, Army brass reprimanded both soldiers and sent them home. Quinn left the Army, while Martland became an Army scuba instructor in Florida where he continued to receive high marks. He previously received two Bronze Stars for valor.

But the incident remained in his files, and the Army decided it was enough to warrant kicking Martland out through its force reduction program. He defended his actions in a January 2011 letter to the Army Human Resources Command, stating he and Quinn “felt that morally we could no longer stand by and allow our ALPs to commit atrocities.”

On Oct. 28 the Department of Defense’s Inspector General Office released an announcement that it will be investigating cases of Afghan officials abusing children, and whether American officials could have — or should have — done more to stop it.

The investigation comes after a series of allegations made headlines, as several American military personnel face discipline for either whistle blowing or taking unauthorized action against predators.

The most high profile case has been Martland’s. Nov. 1 was to be his last day on active duty, but the Army is currently reviewing his case on appeal after a media storm and pressure from congressmen, including fellow Afghanistan war veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter of California.

While the decorated special operations warrior may very well be vindicated, the case remains part of a troubling chapter of America’s longest war.

Many American officials have defended the military’s hands off approach to Afghan forces committing rape, insisting that it’s a cultural issue and a matter for Afghan law. But many of the Afghan police tasked with enforcing that law are in fact guilty of much of the abuse. And they do so while receiving American training, weapons and funds.

Several experts and special operations veterans War Is Boring spoke to argued that allowing rape isn’t merely a moral failure, it’s a strategic one that undermines America’s mission in Afghanistan — and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Afghan culture.

A dishonorable act

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Forms of pederasty involving relationships between influential men and young boys aren’t new and they’ve never been limited to central Asia. “You see this going all the way back to Greece and Rome,” explained anthropologist Thomas Barfield, an Afghan culture specialist at Boston University.

But he said war and weak rule of law have allowed it and other forms of abuse to thrive.

In Afghanistan, the practice of “bacha bazi” — meaning “boy play” — is typically associated with rich and powerful Afghan men, some of whom use it as a means to flaunt their wealth and power. One form of bacha bazi involves concerts in which teenagers and boys dance for older men who then sexually abuse them.

“You cannot try to impose American values and American norms onto the Afghan culture because they’re completely different,” Col. Steve Johnson told the Tacoma News Tribune in August. “We can report and we can encourage them. We do not have any power or the ability to use our hands to compel them to be what we see as morally better.”

But while bacha bazi has existed in Afghanistan for generations, Barfield argues that calling it a “cultural norm” is misleading. He said that while powerful men may take part, it’s not something that Afghan culture celebrates.

“If you’re talking to regular people they wouldn’t find it acceptable,” he said. “It violates Islamic law and cultural norms.”

Many special operations veterans who’ve spent time living among Afghans have come to the same conclusion. “When you get to the point where you have to admit that this is something ‘powerful men’ do, you’re automatically admitting this isn’t normal,” said one veteran.

Barfield recalled a murder he learned about during one of his visits as a researcher in Afghanistan. Afghans told him about how an enraged man had killed his brother after learning he was participating in bacha bazi. “The story of these two brothers was considered a family tragedy,” he said. “Afghans have a very strong conception of honor and this is a stain on that honor.”

Barfield said that while some elites will take part in or watch these acts, most would deny taking part. “It’s something people would rarely admit to,” Barfield explained. “It’s actually used as a pretty common insult, to accuse powerful people of bacha bazi.”

Bacha bazi comes in various forms. During his field research, Barfield interviewed what he called “professional bachas,” typically young adults and teenagers who make a living in a seedy underworld often discussed in whispers.

“If you want to go to see a dancing boy concert they’re usually held out in the middle of nowhere,” Barfield explained.

“But in this case what we’re actually talking about is kidnapping,” Barfield said of the scandal that’s rocked the Pentagon.

Decades of war in Afghanistan have given rise to a much more predatory class of pederasts. Barfield explained that for some powerful Afghans, bacha bazi can be a way of demonstrating their might and asserting that rules don’t apply to them.

“[These people are often] warlords and commanders, so these are people who are used to making their own rules,” he said.

Rape and other crimes were hallmarks of both the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and subsequent Afghan Civil War of the 1990s. When the Taliban seized power, its puritanical worldview demanded an end to vices. One of the group’s top priorities was putting an end to bacha bazi. They executed many of the worst offenders, sometimes publicly.

One Special Forces veteran explained in a conversation with War Is Boring that many Taliban fighters were also once raped by older men, and that for some it was huge reason why they joined the movement. “When the Taliban came to power they put a stop to this shit,” he said.

The militants considered it part of their campaign against immorality, particularly a crackdown on gays and lesbians. However, men who partake in bacha bazi don’t typically consider themselves gay. “Most of these men would consider themselves straight,” Barfield explained.

But the Taliban’s moral campaign soon extended much further. The Taliban banned music, women’s education, kite flying, most sports and destroyed anything the group deemed “un-Islamic.” The goodwill the Taliban earned among Afghans from its crackdown on pedophiles and rapists quickly faded as the group’s repressive puritanical rule took shape.

Many welcomed American forces as they ousted the Taliban after 9/11. Schools reopened and kites returned to the skies.

But American troops and operatives often had to work closely with a motley collection of Northern Alliance fighters, Pashtun rebels and other armed groups. The Americans soon learned that not all were as trustworthy as others. And some of them had dark pasts that would soon come to shape Afghanistan’s future.

A symptom of corruption

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Afghan children have long been central to the narrative of the war in Afghanistan. When the Taliban was ousted in 2001, American officials touted the return of Afghan children to schools. Educating the next generation was a major emphasis — the children of today will be the leaders of Afghanistan tomorrow.

But with new opportunities came the return of old problems. Former warlords became military commanders, police officers and politicians. “It reflects that the Americans didn’t know who they were dealing with,” Barfield explained. “They unwittingly allowed some of these bad actors to regain power.”

Barfield said that provincial politicians and warlords would often exaggerate their ties to the Americans and present themselves as stronger than they actually were.

“They’d say ‘do as I say or I’ll send the Americans to burn down your village,’” Barfield explained. “The Afghans didn’t necessarily have the information to know that they were lying … the Americans of course had no idea.”

Corruption has been endemic in the new Afghanistan with aid money constantly going missing or wasted on lavish projects. The quality of Afghan security forces has been inconsistent. Soldiers and police officers often do not receive regular paychecks and must depend on shoddy equipment, a consequence of corruption. There’s also problems with abuse and misconduct.

Some Afghan troops and police have been known to engage in extortion, smuggling and kidnapping. In many cases that’s included the kidnapping and sexual abuse of children — sometimes even on U.S. bases. And that was far from a secret before Martland’s case blew up.

In 2012, a 17-year-old Afghan boy kept on a U.S. Marine base by police commander Sarwan Jan got a hold of a weapon and killed three Marines in the base gym. Prior to the killings, junior Marines — including some of those killed — had expressed concerns about Jan. The commander had a long history of corruption and child abuse.

A year later Vice documentary This Is What Winning Looks Like portrayed U.S. Marines candidly telling filmmaker Ben Anderson that the Afghan police they work with regularly kidnap and rape children — and frequently murder them.

The Marines expressed frustration that nobody seemed to take the problem seriously despite their repeated reports.

Johnson, who was a battalion commander with the 1st Special Forces Group at the time Martland and Quinn beat the Afghan policeman, has defended the decision to discipline the two. Johnson asserted the soldiers beat the Afghan commander nearly to death.

However, other Afghans — including a well regarded interpreter — allegedly told officials the injuries were minor and that the commander was walking around the next day.

It’s hard to know exactly what happened. The case was never put through the military criminal justice system and the Afghan police commander later died in a Taliban ambush.

The crux of the arguments against Martland and Quinn is that they acted rashly and potentially could have damaged relations with the Afghans cops — and possibly drive them to join the militants.

One former Green Beret told War Is Boring that the actions of the Afghan police would reflect directly on the advisers. After all, the ALP is trained, paid and equipped by the Americans. According to the veteran, the team had to show the Afghan villagers that they too cared about honor, otherwise villagers might start supporting the Taliban.

“When [Martland] beat the shit out of that police commander, that’s actually something a lot of Afghans would really respect,” Barfield said. “That’s a form of justice that Afghans understand very well.”

Playing by the rules

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“I think this really reflects the state of law and order in Afghanistan as a whole right now,” Barfield said. “After 30 years of war, it’s allowed these sorts of bad actors to thrive.”

In the years since Martland and Quinn left Afghanistan, the military has put more and more emphasis on the ALP. These militia-turned-police played a huge role in the security of Kunduz … as well as its recent fall to Taliban militants.

These militias were responsible for protecting the people of Kunduz and maintaining order. But were also notorious for extortion, theft, assault and of course … bacha bazi. The Taliban took advantage of resentment among the locals to reestablish a foothold in the area before delivering a humiliating blow to Afghan forces this summer.

During an interview with War Is Boring about his book The Tigers And The Taliban in 2013, Danish army veteran Lars Ulslev Johannesen explained how corruption and instability drove many Afghans to sympathize with the militants, even those who disliked their repressive ideology.

“Predictability is important,” Johannesen said. “They know the Taliban rules, and prefer them even though they do not like them, because they know what they need to do in order to survive.”

Since the Taliban fell, there have indeed been strides in education — and Afghan artists and activists have far more freedom than they’ve known in decades. But when police kidnap and rape the children with impunity, it fundamentally undermines the rule of law and the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s fledgling government.

For many of the soldiers who fought there, despite the battles they won, corruption and sexual abuse undermines America’s purpose and reason for being in the country. “We’re not being outfought,” one veteran bitterly remarked during research for this story. “We’re being outgoverned.”

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http://warisboring.com/articles/ignoring-abuse-of-afghan-children-is-more-than-a-moral-failure

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American Spartan

THE PROMISE, THE MISSION, AND THE BETRAYAL

OF SPECIAL FORCES MAJOR JIM GANT

by Ann Scott Tyson

copyright 2014

( excerpts as book review )

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Jim fell hard for the desert civilization code and its ethos of Pashtunwali in 2003, while living with the Mohmand tribe and fighting the Taliban alongside them in Konar Province.  He related to their warrior creed as parallel to the life he’d embraced himself as a Green Beret and one he preached to lead his small band of men into battle.  It resonated with the ancient laws abided by the obedient three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae in 480 BCE.  Honor, strength, and loyalty were not empty platitudes to Afghanistan’s tribes; they were as important to tribal members as were water and wheat.  As important as they were to Jim.  As important as Jim assumed they were to the U.S. military establishment.

In 2010, as Jim prepared to return to Afghanistan, he increasingly realized that the only way to stabilize the country was to empower the desert civilizations, the Pashtuns still living in the rugged lands bordering and inside Pakistan.  It was the pursuit of this honor, through physical courage and battling a common enemy, that Jim believed would allow him to become close to the Pashtuns.  To ally with these proud fighters, to befriend them and help them recover their economies while also giving them the power to defend themselves, would not only take the fight to the Taiban but also draw disgruntled Taliban foot soldiers back to their villages…

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Jim viewed the Taliban’s top leaders ~ Islamic extremists such as the one-eyed Mullah Omar ~ as championing a dogmatic, tyrannical movement that by its very nature threatened to dismantle the millennia-old rule by tribal elders.  If the U.S. military were to convincingly help village elders take back their clans, defend their honor and traditions, and return their tribes to the authority of these egalitarian peer councils, the Taliban would be hollowed out and ultimately destroyed.  The men who left the villages to join the Taliban in the turmoil of the civil wars would come back and take their rightful places inside their tribes.  With no foot soldiers, the Taliban would lose power.  The best way to empower the rough-hewn tribes, Jim believed, was with small teams of Special Forces such as his ODA 316, living among them one warrior to another.  Once one tribe was secure, the team would leave and knock on the qalat of the tribe next door and start all over.  It required little manpower or money, but could help Afghanistan begin to change from a war-torn terrorist haven to a more stable U.S. ally…

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“Why are you Americans here in Afghanistan?” he asked.

“Our country was attacked.  We came here to fight the Taliban and others responsible for this,” Jim replied.  Then he pulled out a laptop and showed Noor Afzhal video footage of the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground on September 11.  “My men and I are warriors.  But we are not here to fight you,” Jim said.  “We want to help you.”

Noor Afzhal was visibly moved.  He was silent for a moment, and took a sip of tea.  Then he spoke again to the young American.  “If you can come all the way to Afghanistan from the United States to help us, then why should I not help you?” Noor Afzhal said.  “We don’t want the Taliban here.”  …

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“If they were doing this all over Afghanistan, the war would be over,” said Drew, the machine gunner.  “This works.  It’s something you have to see to believe.  It’s a different kind of warfare.  Sometimes you use bombs and bullets, and sometimes you need another method ~ relationships.”  …

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Petraeus had championed the initiative at the top levels of the U.S. and Afghan governments for the past year and a half.  The program had taken off rapidly since Petraeus and his subordinate commanders, Brig. Gen. Miller and Col. Bolduc, launched it in the summer of 2010.  With the U.S. military initially choosing the locations, distributing the weapons, and controlling the pay, U.S. Special Forces teams quickly recruited, armed, and trained thousands of local police around the country by early 2011…

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Hard-core insurgent commander Maulawi Basir… was associated with the strict and violent Salafist strain of Islam…

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The tribe’s influence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border held major appeal for Jim.  One of the primary goals of his one-tribe-at-a-time strategy was to leverage the tribes to help uproot the insurgent safe havens in Pakistan that were vital to sustaining the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan.  The Mohmand, Safi, and Mushwani tribes all had large populations on either side of the border…

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But his main message, driven home by his deepening ties with the Safi and Mushwani leaders, was that the tribes held the only key to victory.  He knew it, and the Taliban knew it…

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Often families contained some adult males who were serving in the Taliban and others who worked for the government…

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Afghans living in the high rugged valleys were isolated from the settled towns below.  With no forces to protect them, they had little choice but to provide Taliban fighters with food, water, shelter, and refuge if they needed it, or face beatings or other retribution, and Jalil’s family was no different…

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“When I am up in the Shalay, they say I am working for the government.  When I am down here, they say I am Taliban!” Jalil fumed.  “I just want my family to live safely with no one bothering us.” …

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Buried in the fine print was an abrupt change of mission for Jim’s team:  Tribe 33 was to close down its base in Mangwel no later than January 15, 2012…

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It described the move as part of the overarching U.S. military transition to the Afghan government and security forces in preparation for the withdrawal of most American forces by 2014…

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We agreed that as a strategy, pulling out of the Mohmand tribal area and leaving behind the Afghans who had most steadfastly supported the arbakai program from the very first ~ when the risk was greatest ~ made no sense.  It reflected a catastrophic misunderstanding of the importance of the hard-won relationship with the tribe and the advantages of maintaining that tie.  The Mohmands and Manqwel had set the example that other areas and tribes wanted to follow.  The arbakai in Mangwel and the rest of the district were the most powerful security force in the area.  Jim’s bond with the tribe was what created the potential for expanding the arbakai into other areas and winning over former Taliban.  Reaping those benefits required a long-term commitment.   He knew he could not remain in Mangwel forever, but his team had been in the village just ten months.

Jim and I worked together on a memo that urged Wilson to postpone shutting down the Mangwel base, arguing that it could undermine security in the area and pointing out that the district government was ineffective and corrupt…

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The Safis had dominated the oft-contested Konar Province for centuries.  An uncompromising and war-driven tribe, they were at the center of the last major tribal uprising against the central government in 1947, the first to fight the Soviets in the Konar in the 1980s and the first to stand up to the Taliban there in the 1990s.  It had taken years, dating back to 2003, for Jim to build his relationship with the Safi elder, Haji Jan Dahd…

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The U.S. command could not have devised a better way to sabotage the Chowkay mission and alliance with the Safi tribe than by pulling Jim out in this way…

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“They can think whatever they want,” Dan said of his commanders.  “But you know, and I know, and the people we worked with know, we have been honest with our country and tried our level best to win this war that has gone on for eleven years…”

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Linn advised Jim again of the allegations against him: alcohol and drug use, misappropriation of fuel, misuse of government funds, and an inapropriate relationship with me…

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In April, Jim obtained a copy of Lt. Col. Kirila’s complete Article 15-6 investigation into the alleged misconduct by him, Dan, and the rest of his team…

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The investigation contained facts but also many false or inaccurate statements.  It recognized the achievements of Jim and his team, but also created a sensationalized, tabloid picture of Jim’s misdeeds…

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As charges mounted against Jim, Dan and others who had served under him were being drawn into a widening witch hunt by the command in Afghanistan…

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1st Lt. Thomas Roberts… meanwhile, was hailed by the chain of command as a whistle-blower and paragon of moral courage…

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We learned that the qalat in Chowkay had been abandoned by Capt. Fleming and his team about a month after Jim and Dan were pulled out.  After the team alienated the arbakai, who in turn stopped manning the observation points in the high ground, Taliban attacks intensified again on the qalat.  The team lost critical intelligence on the Taliban that Jim had gained through his relationships with arbakai commander Sadiq and others.  Fleming decided occupying the qalat was untenable, and blamed it on Jim by claiming it was in a poor location…

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One of the documents, found in bin Laden’s quarters, was an English copy of Jim’s paper, “One Tribe at a Time,” with notes in the margins…

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Another document uncovered was a directive from Osama bin Laden to his intelligence chief.  The directive mentioned Jim by name, and said he was an impediment to Al Qaeda’s operational objectives for eastern Afghanistan and needed to be removed from the battlefield…

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editor

Rawclyde

!

No More Mullah

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The death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, could mark a significant blow not only to the militant group’s long-standing insurgency, but to its future as a united and potent force.

The Afghan government’s confirmation that Mullah Omar died in April 2013 in Pakistan comes amid deepening divisions within the Taliban and the growing influence of rival militant groups like the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. Without its reclusive, one-eyed leader, the Taliban will find it difficult to prevent potential recruits from joining IS and other militant groups.

Power Struggle

Even before news broke of Mullah Omar’s death, there was mounting speculation of a power struggle within the Taliban, which has had only one leader since its formation in the early 1990s.

The leadership struggel centers on two competing commanders: Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur and Mullah Omar’s eldest son, Mullah Mohammad Yuqub. 

According to reports, the 26-year-old Yuqub is said to be ready to take over the reins. Yuqub is said to have the backing of field commanders and the Taliban’s rank-and-file. Standing in his way is the powerful Mansur, who is said to have considerable clout among the political wing of the militant group.

“There is already a nasty power struggle within the Taliban,” says Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Kabul. “That power struggle will get more vicious after Omar’s death.”

Recruitment

In recent months, a growing number of disaffected Taliban field commanders have called on the leadership to provide proof that Mullah Omar is still alive.

Years without any video or audio recordings had led to growing speculation that the shadowy militant leader might be seriously ill, if not dead. The Taliban, in an apparent attempt to dispel speculation that he had died, in April published a biography of Mullah Omar on its official website to commemorate Mullah Omar’s apparent 19th year as supreme leader. The bio described Mullah Omar as being actively involved in “jihadi activities.”

But the absence of proof that Omar was indeed alive apparently led several senior Taliban commanders to defect to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an extremist group that is based in northern Afghanistan and earlier this year pledged allegiance to the IS group, as well as to IS itself.

Splinter groups have also grown in number and have become emboldened in recent years. In fact, Fidai Mahaz, one of the extremist Taliban splinter groups, announced a week before Kabul’s July 29 announcement that Mullah Omar was dead and had been replaced by his deputy.

“We’ve seen a number of defections to the IMU in the north, former TTP [Pakistani Taliban] flying IS flags in the east, and defections of some factions in the south,” Smith says. “Different Taliban groups are breaking away from the central Taliban organization. His death is going to fuel the factionalism that we are already seeing.”

Smith predicts that for this reason the Taliban is unlikely to confirm Mullah Omar’s death, and will try to maintain the myth of his existence.

Change The Battlefield

Mullah Omar’s death could have an adverse effect on the Taliban’s military campaign. The loss of field commanders and rank-and-file fighters to splinter groups and rival militant groups could deprive the Taliban of troop numbers and leadership on the battlefield.

“Mullah Omar’s death loosens the command and control over the insurgency,” Smith says. “It’s likely to make field commanders feel more independent. The political behavior of the mid-ranking Taliban military commanders becomes much more important because they’re no longer just following orders but thinking for themselves.”

Despite Mullah Omar’s death more than two years ago, the Taliban has waged a fierce offensive against government forces in the country’s north, making impressive military advances.

Abdul Waheed Wafa, the director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, says that if Mullah Omar is dead, then the Taliban must receive “huge credit” for weathering the potential pitfalls of his death on the group’s military campaign.

“Three years ago, the Taliban were under more pressure but today it’s a different story,” he says. “His death will weaken the Taliban movement but it is up to the Afghan government to make use of the divisions in the group.”

Peace Talks

Mullah Omar’s death comes just days before a second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government is scheduled in Pakistan.

But his death could delay or even jeopardize the talks aimed at ending the 14-year insurgency. Some observers have suggested that it would weaken the Taliban’s bargaining position and give the upper hand to Kabul.

But others suggest it would remove a figurehead for the group to rally around and take collective responsibility for the negotiations.

“It will make the peace process complicated,” says the Afghanistan Center’s Wafa. “It will be difficult for this process to find a central party to negotiate with.”

There are deep divisions within the group over a potential political settlement with Kabul.

The split within the Taliban between those for and against talks has been worsened by the emergence of a leadership tussle within the group. Mullah Omar’s son is believed to be against the talks while rival Mansur is credited with bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table in Pakistan last month.

In his last purported message, made on July 15, Mullah Omar recognized the peace talks as “legitimate,” saying that the goal of the process was an “end to occupation” by foreign forces.

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http://gandhara.rferl.org/content/afghanistan-taliban-after-mullah-omar/27159691.html

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4,100 Afghan Soldiers Long Gone

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by Mirwais Adeel

Khaama Press (KP)

Jul 22 2015

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At least 4,100 service members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) forces have lost their lives during the first six months of the year 2015.

The latest statistic regarding the Afghan National Security Forces casualties was disclosed in a report by the New York Times which shows a 50% increase as compared to the first six months of the year 2014.

According to the Times, the data regarding the Afghan forces casualties was provided by an official with the American-led coalition.

The data also revealed at least 7,800 service members of the Afghan National Security Forces were wounded during the same period.

In the meantime, the Afghan officers identified desertion as a serious problem saying that many soldiers were simply being barred from going home and required to fight on the frontlines for months straight.

The considerable growth in Afghan forces casualties comes as the Taliban-led insurgency has also been rampant with Afghan commanders and officials in key battleground areas saying that while Afghan forces nominally hold key areas, they are often penned in by Taliban forces.

Abdul Hadi Khalid a retired Afghan Lieutenant General told the Times “We are in a passive defense mode — we are not chasing the enemy,” and called the mounting casualties “grave.”

Mirdad Khan Nejrabi a member of Afghanistan’s parliament said that while the casualties were “very concerning” there would be no large-scale collapse of Afghan forces.

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Peace In Afghanistan

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Voice of Jihad

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

July 2015

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Peace is a natural demand of every human being, the very secret behind prosperity and development. The well-being of a nation lies in peace. Peace is a need for a society as water is for a fish. Prior to anything our beloved country needs durable peace. No doubt, our peace loving nation is craving for peace.

To demand peace is easy. Every person can raise voice for peace but peace will only be achieved and established in light of ground realities and through consideration of views and opinions of the people. It cannot be achieved by mere assertions. Rather it needs practical steps like removal of hurdles in the way of peace, establishment of an atmosphere of confidence and trust and initiation of a wise process.

Unfortunately, the current situation in our beloved country is heading towards use of force instead of peace advancement. Despite repeated promises, the invaders have not withdrawn from the battle field. Night raids and blind bombardments are still continuing. The officials of Kabul Administration are using peace for their own political objectives and propaganda. It shows that they have no commitment for peace because despite their hues and cries for peace they launched military operations in different parts of the country in severe cold weather last year. They had destroyed homes and gardens of common people and these destructive operations are still continuing. These activities on the part of the invaders and the Kabul administration have paved the way for continuation of the war.

Following points should be considered for peace.

1. Commitment and sincerity are the foremost elements for the peace process. A peace process which is also an Islamic obligation should not be used as a tool for deception, cunning and accusation of the opposite side. First of all those who want peace and working in the peace process should fear Allah, the Almighty. They should feel responsibility and should not play with the future of the oppressed nation.

2. Peace requires deep thoughts and discussions. A minor mistake in peace process could bring in enormous problems to our nation.

3. Peace requires serious moves based on realities otherwise it will deteriorate the peace process and pave the way for prolongation of war. Therefore, all the steps should be taken very carefully.

4. An important point in a peace process is the realization of the sentiments of opposite side. Peace should not be dubbed as surrender. Those who desire peace should not use it as an instrument of propaganda.

Islamic Emirate has repeatedly stated its commitment for a sustainable peace and has made efforts in this regards. As such, has put forward sensible strategy regarding peace process in different official and unofficial meetings. The end of occupation and establishment of an Islamic system has been determined as the primary goals of their legitimate struggle and sacred Jihad. Like in the past, the Islamic Emirate wants peace today and will strive for it in future as well. But the peace process should have some indications of commitment, sincerity and transparency. Ground realities should be taken into account because following a mirage in a dry desert has no meaning.

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Afghan Gov’t Mustering 2nd Taliban Talk

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Xinhua Chinese Newspaper

Kabul

July 22, 2015

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The Afghan government has been preparing for the second round of peace talks with the Taliban, reported a local newspaper on Wednesday.

“Preparations are now underway for the second round of peace negotiation talks with the Taliban,” Daily Outlook Afghanistan quoted Shahzada Shahid, Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) spokesman, as saying.

The first face-to-face talks between a delegation of the Afghan government and Taliban representatives took place in Pakistan earlier this month and both sides agreed to hold a second round of talks by the end of this month.

The peace body has appointed an executive committee for purpose of finalizing the agenda of the upcoming meeting in close consultation with Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Officer Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, political figures and other government leaders, Shahid said in the report.

The Afghan government set up a 70-member HPC and launched the peace and reconciliation process in 2010 to encourage Taliban militant group to disarm and give up militancy against the government.

However, the hope for peace in the country has been revived after Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban, announced this month his group’s readiness to join the peace dialogue with the Afghan government.

Before the first meeting between the Taliban and the government team in Pakistan, President Ghani said that the preliminary peace negotiations will discuss three main issues, including ways to turn the meeting into a continuous process, undertaking confidence building measures and preparing a list of important issues to be put on the agenda of the next round of peace negotiations, according to media reports.

Among other topics, the ceasefire might have been the main issue of the upcoming negotiations while the exact location of the talks still remained unknown.

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http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-07/22/c_134436589.htm

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Talks Boost Peace Process

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by Farid Behbud

Xinhua Chinese Newspaper

July 10, 2015

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KABUL — The first face-to-face talks between a delegation of the Afghan government and Taliban representatives in Pakistan have revived hopes for peace and normalcy to return to the war-torn Afghanistan.

“I think the initial talks would give further push to the peace process and enhance national reconciliation. It is the first time that the representatives of the Taliban and the Haqqani network took part in direct talks with the government of Afghanistan,” Ghafoor Jawid, a respected political analyst, told Tolo News, a local publication.

The much-awaited peace talks since the collapse of Taliban regime in late 2001 were held in Pakistan’s scenic town Murree near Islamabad on Tuesday and both sides agreed to hold the second round of talks after Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.

A four-member delegation headed by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai represented the Afghan government in the talks.

On the same day, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told the media that the preliminary peace negotiations will discuss three main issues, including ways to turn the meeting into a continuous process, undertaking confidence building measures and preparing a list of important issues to be put on the agenda of the next round of peace negotiations.”

During a meeting with Afghan political experts, analysts and media workers, Ghani said regional and global states as well as the Taliban outfit have realized that the Afghan security forces are invincible, so the government of Afghanistan will participate in the negotiations from a stronger position.

However, Zabihullah Mujahid, who claims to speak for the Taliban, has expressed ignorance over holding the peace talks. He said he would share with the media if he receives information about the talks with Afghan government.

Jawid said he and his countrymen are hopeful that the initial talks could serve as a basis for further negotiations that could result in achieving lasting peace in the country.

When asked why the two sides did not reach an agreement for setting a ceasefire, Jawid said what happened were just the initial talks and the issue of a ceasefire or cessation of hostilities could be tackled in the next round of talks.

“As both Afghan government and Taliban agreed to continue talks, more time will be needed for them to reach an agreement regarding the ceasefire, and that the ceasefire would definitely be discussed in the upcoming second round of talks,” Jawid said.

However, some local analysts disagreed with Jawid’s point of view.

“I am not very optimistic as to the outcome of the initial talks between the Taliban and the government simply because the Taliban representatives to the talks were minor functionaries and not their leaders,” another respected Afghan analyst, Mir Ahmad Joyanda, told Xinhua in an interview Thursday.

Joyanda, a communications and research expert, said if the Taliban were sincere they should have sent their top leaders to the talks.

According to Joyanda, the emergence of the Daesh (Islamic State) may have prompted the Taliban to agree to the initial talks with the government. He said the Taliban have realized that some of its more radical members have switched side to the IS.

Joyanda also noted that while the Taliban was holding initial talks with the government, they have carried suicide attacks and ambuscades in different parts of the country, thus putting its sincerity to work for peace into question.

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http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-07/10/c_134399448.htm

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Islamic State Gets Cancerous

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Xinhua Chinese Newspaper

Kabul

July 1, 2015

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Amid ongoing efforts of the Afghanistan government to bring the Taliban militants to the negotiating table and find a workable solution to the country’s lingering crisis, militants loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group, also known as Daesh, have surfaced in parts of the militancy- plagued country and have started recruiting fighters.

The newly emerged IS fighters in their latest waves of violent operations have challenged Taliban militants in parts of the country, including the eastern Nangarhar province.

Reports said leaflets have been posted on walls of mosques in the far-flung areas of Nangarhar by IS militants, ordering women not to come out of their houses except when accompanied by close relatives.

IS militants have reportedly fought several times in parts of Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces over the past couple of months.

According to Afghan observers, the Afghan government has clearly stated that the peace talks would be held with Taliban who renounce violence and are willing to accept the country’s constitution.

“Since Daesh group has recruited extra-orthodox and most extremist Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, their presence in the country would definitely complicate the government-initiated peace process,” political watcher Khan Mohammad Daneshjo told Xinhua in a recent interview.

According to the analyst, Taliban fighters who have not seen Taliban elusive leader Mullah Omar over the past several years and are against national reconciliation have switched allegiance to the Islamic State.

To pressure the government, the Daesh fighters, besides confronting security forces, have also abducted more than three dozen passengers of vehicles over the past couple of months in the southern region. They have demanded that the government free Taliban prisoners in Afghan jails in exchange for the release of the abducted passengers.

In a recent swap, the government had set free over two dozen foreign detainees, all of them women and children, after the militants released 19 kidnapped victims.

Reports also said Daesh fighters have reportedly been involved in the war against the government in the northern Kunduz and Badakhshan provinces bordering Tajikistan.

Although the government has avoided admitting that Afghanistan has already been infiltrated by Daesh fighters, First Deputy to the Chief Executive Mohammad Khan on Sunday said Daesh presence in Afghanistan is now a reality.

“Taliban fighters and commanders in some places of Afghanistan have changed their white flag to Daesh’s black flag and began fighting under the Daesh banner,” Khan told reporters at a press conference.

A series of meetings have been held between Taliban representatives and Afghan elites from outside the government over the past year; the latest was held in Norwegian capital Oslo, with the objective to exchange views on how to find a political solution to the country’s protracted crisis but these were all in vain.

“Daesh emergence in Afghanistan and its violent policies could further complicate the peace process even before it has taken shape,” Deneshjo said.

Another political analyst Atiqullah Omar, in talks with local media,echoed the sentiments expressed by Deneshjo by saying there is virtually no hope for the peace process with the presence of the Daesh in Afghanistan.

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No Defense Minister In Afghan Gov’t

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Xinhua Chinise Newspaper

Kabul

May 19, 2015

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Amid unabated Taliban-led insurgency and frequent suicide attacks, it is almost unthinkable that Afghanistan has had no defense minister for over seven months and this situation, according to political observers, could further add to the breakdown of security in the war-torn country.

“The lack of a defense minister, which emboldens the militants and state enemies is major part of our security problem,” a political analyst and lawmaker, Assadullah Saadati, told the local media.

Saadati said the security situation could further deteriorate if the government failed to pick up a defense minister who could oversee a coordinated campaign against all anti-government elements in the country.

The government’s failure to appoint a defense minister has also worried Wolesi Jirga or Lower House of parliament as chairman of the chamber, Abdul Rauf Ibrahim lamented on Saturday that “while the security situation has been deteriorating yet we still don’t have a defense minister.”

He urged the government to immediately nominate one so that a well-coordinated campaign against the Taliban and other insurgents in the country can be launched.

There was no official explanation why the unity government led by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has failed to name a defense minister.

After the presidential inauguration in September last year, Ghani promised to form a full Cabinet within 45 days but while the rest of the Cabinet members have been sworn in, the defense portfolio has remained vacant.

The reason for administration’s failure to name a defense minister, according to reliable sources, is that Ghani and his rival and now Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah cannot seem to agree on who should head the sensitive post.

“The national unity government virtually is a coalition government based on sharing power equally and that is why the leaders of the government are yet to reach consensus on picking the right person to serve as defense minister,” one analyst said.

The Defense Ministry is now being run by an acting minister who, according to the analyst, is a non-military man by profession.

The Taliban militants who are fighting the government to regain power have intensified their activities since April 24 when they launched their so-called annual spring offensive. Since then they have launched deadly offensives mostly in the form of suicide bombings and massive attacks which have killed and injured hundreds in the capital Kabul and in others provinces.

Analysts here said the Taliban have been emboldened to launch more attacks and grab more territories with the withdrawal in late 2014 of NATO-led foreign troops from Afghanistan. Far from being wiped out, the Taliban are now trying to consolidate their positions before the onset of winter.

“The terrorists and state enemies have opened several fronts against the national security forces but the government of national unity doesn’t have defense minister and some provincial governors to organize and launch counter-attacks,” another political watcher and former legislator, Bulqis Roshan, told local media.

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http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-05/19/c_134252603.htm

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Afghan Citizens Pay The Price

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by Josh Smith

Stars & Stripes

October 18, 2014

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LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — Mohammad Wazir is 12. Or maybe 13. He doesn’t know for sure.

One thing is certain: Growing up in rural Helmand province, Mohammad has seen more war than anyone should, let alone a young boy.

So when a firefight broke out between the Taliban and Afghan forces in July, Mohammad knew the drill: He and his family fled. When they returned, however, they found that the Taliban had turned their farm into a fighting position, complete with foxholes dug inside the home.

A curious Mohammad jumped into one of the holes, and his world exploded.

The insurgents had planted a bomb. When it went off, shrapnel sliced through his legs.

Mohammad’s brother found him bleeding and unconscious. The family rushed him to an Afghan National Army base for first aid, and then on to a hospital in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, an hour and a half drive along dangerous roads to the south.

Mohammad is among the growing number of noncombatants paying the price for the continuing insecurity in Afghanistan. After more than a decade of international military involvement, the NATO-led coalition is departing, but that hasn’t coincided with a drop in violence. With NATO combat troops leaving by the end of the year, civilian casualties are up 15 percent from last year, according to the United Nations. The rising tide of civilian deaths and injuries may become one of the lasting legacies of the unfinished war in Afghanistan.

NATO troops will be leaving behind thousands of Afghans like Mohammad, maimed by a war over which they had little control, condemned to suffer long after foreign forces depart.

When I met Mohammad, he had put his crutches aside and was sitting in a compound in Lashkar Gah, surrounded by other Afghans displaced by fierce fighting that consumed Sangin district for much of the summer and into the fall.

A young man with just the first wisps of a mustache cradled a Kalashnikov rifle as he guarded the compound’s door. Seated cross-legged on a well-worn carpet inside, the men and boys sipped cups of green tea sweetened with candy lemon drops as they told their stories.

Shamsullah Sarayee, an Alokozay tribal leader from Sangin, had arranged the gathering. Just a month earlier, four members of his family, including two children, had been killed when their van hit a roadside bomb. Four more family members in the vehicle were injured.

Gul Janan, an older man of unknown age, lost much of his left leg when he returned home only to step on a mine planted in his living room. Without hesitation, he showed the purplish stump that protruded a few inches below his knee.

A lean, weathered man with a wavy white beard, Mohammed Dawoud was shot twice in the arm and once in the torso when a firefight broke out on his farm. “I couldn’t get out of the way of the bullets,” he said. “What was I to do? I was not safe in my own field. We are not safe anywhere.”

According to the U.N., the number of civilian casualties caused by violence in Afghanistan is at an all-time high. In the first eight months of 2014, 2,312 civilians were killed and 4,533 injured, a 15 percent increase over the same period last year, Jan Kubis, the U.N. representative in Afghanistan, told the U.N. Security Council in September. The first six months of the year saw a 24 percent increase.

EMERGENCY, an Italy-based medical aid organization, says it is treating “staggering” numbers of patients with war wounds at its Kabul surgical center — more than 10 per day in July.

“The situation is getting worse day by day,” EMERGENCY officials said in a statement. “Our hospitals are full and our ambulances keep going back and forth, ferrying the injured from the various first aid posts scattered around the country.”

Among the hardest hit in the latest escalation of violence are women, as well as children like Mohammad. In its last comprehensive report, released in July, the U.N. found that the “devastating” levels of violence during the first half of the year had left 295 children dead and 776 injured, a 34 percent spike over the same period in 2013.

Mohammad was relatively lucky. He’ll walk again.

As we talked, the flies buzzed around the scabs that peeked out on both sides of the cast encasing one of his skinny legs. That didn’t stop a shy, half-smile from creeping onto his face as he talked of his dreams for the future.

“I want to go to school to be a doctor,” he said, “and help people like they helped me.”

But as the insurgency drags on, more children are dying violently. And with them their dreams.

Defining success

Adorned with row upon row of campaign ribbons, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal sat before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington. It was June 2, 2009, and the general, a longtime veteran of the American special operations community, had been tapped by President Barack Obama to be the top commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

“Although I expect stiff fighting ahead, the measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed,” he said, looking up from his notes and peering at the lawmakers through his wire-rim glasses for emphasis. “It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.”

During McChrystal’s tenure as ISAF commander, civilian deaths caused by coalition forces reached a crisis point. Seeing it as a threat to the international effort, McChrystal imposed new rules that led to a 28 percent reduction in such casualties caused by American, NATO and Afghan forces, according to the U.N.

Those rules weren’t always popular with ISAF troops, especially those who felt they had lost comrades because of the restrictions placed on airstrikes and other tactics that could threaten civilians.

But the combination of new policies and a significant reduction in foreign forces’ involvement in combat operations has led to a further decrease in the number of civilians killed or injured by foreign troops. The U.N. says international forces accounted for just 1 percent of the most recent casualties, a decline attributed largely to the reduction in airstrikes.

As bitter fighting continues between insurgents and Afghan forces, however, the growing number of civilians in hospital beds and morgues is casting doubt on the Afghan government’s ability to protect its citizens, even as Afghan national security forces prepare to take charge of all of the country’s security.

Five years after that Senate confirmation hearing, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend paused when asked how ISAF’s work here measured against McChrystal’s definition of success.

Gazing out the open door of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on its way to the air field in the eastern city of Jalalabad, Townsend studied the vast area of Afghanistan for which he’s responsible as commander of ISAF’s Regional Command-East.

“I disagree a bit with the premise of the question, because that’s not really how I define success,” he said over the chopper’s intercom. “Our goals are a competent and confident ANSF.”

Civilian casualties aren’t something he officially tracks in his capacity as a commander in one of the most violent regions of Afghanistan, Townsend said. “What we’re trying to shoot for is an ANSF that can secure the country.”

But aren’t rising civilian casualties a measure of the Afghan forces’ ability to secure their country?

“That probably has something to say about their competency, yes,” he acknowledged. “But in no country in the world can security forces protect all civilians all the time. It does call into question their abilities; but at the same time, I think they can do it.”

A poster in a conference room at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad outlines the coalition’s view of “what winning looks like.” It’s a lengthy list that includes goals such as eliminating the country as an al-Qaida safe haven, encouraging a constructive relationship between the Afghan and Pakistani militaries, and creating a security force “capable of protecting and securing a legitimate Afghan government.”

There’s no mention of protecting and securing Afghan citizens, although the list does envision an “endstate” with “conditions set for the Afghan people to exploit the decade of opportunity/transformation” that ISAF believes it has provided.

“Protecting the population is the bedrock of [counterinsurgency] policy, and according to the best measures we have, the population is not being protected,” said Graeme Smith, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Kabul. “The sad reality is that this war continues to intensify and is poised to take a heavy toll on the civilian population.”

A sensitive history

Civilian casualties caused by coalition forces — as well as by U.S. forces who sometimes operated outside of ISAF, such as special operations troops on counterterrorism missions — were a hot-button issue throughout the international military intervention.

In a report released in August, Amnesty International detailed 10 cases in which it says airstrikes, night raids and drone attacks against civilians were not fully investigated by ISAF, if at all. The human-rights watchdog singled out two cases in which it said the military is not urgently investigating evidence that strongly suggests war crimes were committed — including kidnapping, torture and execution.

“It’s an issue that creates a lot of resentment,” said Joanne Mariner, one of the report’s authors. “Special forces especially have a particularly bad track record that they’re leaving for Afghanistan.”

One of the most egregious cases cited by Mariner involved allegations that U.S. special operations troops and their Afghan allies were involved in the torture and murder of local residents.

In a secret 2009 cable published by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, State Department officials warned that civilian casualties, among other controversial issues, including night raids, would be a barrier to better Afghan-U.S. relations until they were addressed.

Now, even critics such as Mariner say the coalition made strides since then by implementing policies to reduce noncombatant casualties, and by establishing more appropriate compensation.

In 2008, ISAF established a Civilian Casualty Tracking Cell, “the first large-scale tracking of data on civilian harm by a warring party,” according to a report by the Center for Civilians in Conflict. That later became part of a Civilian Casualty Mitigation Team.

According to the report, as of January the CCMT had been downsized, while the remaining members of the team focused on helping the Afghan forces with their mitigation policies. ISAF says it still tracks the number of civilians injured or killed around the country and that its numbers “are consistent” with those released by the U.N.

Former President Hamid Karzai was quick to call attention to incidents in which civilians were hurt by coalition forces. Although the number of coalition-related casualties has dwindled, however, Karzai’s concerns over such incidents did not disappear. Citing concern over potential atrocities, for example, he refused to sign an agreement with the United States laying out the terms for a continued U.S. presence last year, in part because it gave future U.S. troops in Afghanistan immunity from local prosecution. His successor, Ashraf Ghani, signed it the day after his Sept. 29 inauguration.

Now, though, the decline in casualties caused by the coalition has been more than offset by a major increase in casualties attributed to the range of anti-government insurgent groups, the largest among them being the Taliban.

The U.N. said nearly 75 percent of noncombatant casualties in the first half of 2013 were directly caused by anti-government groups, including 147 attacks claimed by the Taliban that killed 234 civilians and left 319 injured.

Human-rights officials say the focus now is on getting the Taliban and other groups to change their tactics to protect civilians.

For their part, the Taliban reject the U.N.’s estimates as “propaganda of the enemy.”

“As we have seen clearly during attacks by foreign forces and the Afghan soldiers, they have killed many women and children,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said during a phone interview. “Still, we are paying real attention to reducing civilian casualties.”

When asked about the accounts from Sangin of improvised bombs and mines being left in houses, Mujahid said he “totally rejects” the idea that Taliban fighters could be responsible, though he would look into the allegations.

So far, however, human-rights advocates say the Taliban’s actions haven’t matched their rhetoric. With the presidential election controversy fading, rights advocates are hoping that all sides will try to focus on shielding noncombatants from the violence.

“Reducing civilian casualties across the board is a key measure in improving the security situation for Afghans around the country,” Georgette Gagnon, the U.N.’s top human rights officer in Afghanistan, said in an interview. “All parties should view this as the priority in improving the security situation.”

A plea for help

There is some good news. In Sangin, for example, residents who had fled the fighting said they generally trust the government forces and have received medical and other care when needed.

But if residents have come to look to the ANSF for help, they also see the local forces as lacking equipment and training. Because of this, the people I spoke to favored maintaining the flow of international aid.

At FOB Fenty in Jalalabad, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rob Connell is a Special Forces soldier tasked with commanding the advisers who help the area’s police forces.

He said Afghan forces have become better than ever at securing government centers and other centralized areas, as evidenced by the failure of insurgent efforts to disrupt the election. But they “still have problems” securing the population itself, he said.

“It’s a little like the Wild West of the 1860s or whenever out here,” Connell told me. “District centers and towns are kind of like Fort Apache, and officials expect residents to go to those locations if they have trouble.”

Still, he said, ANSF leaders are trying to expand their reach. “They have the will and the intent, but it will take some time.”

Back in Helmand, Sarayee, the tribal leader from Sangin, looked mournful when I asked if I could take his photograph. He agreed, but only after asking if it would help his people.

“Pictures and photographs cannot help us,” he said. “We are screaming, but no one pays attention.”

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Elyas Dayee and Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

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http://www.stripes.com/news/in-afghanistan-s-unfinished-war-civilians-pay-the-price-1.309051

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Fruit of the Taliban…

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