Nuristan Seeks Safer Voting

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Nuristan province, Afghanistan, 1972, photograph by Laurence Brun…

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by Mahbob Shah Mahbob

Pajhwok Afghan News

May 27, 2014

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JALALABAD: The people of eastern Nuristan province on Tuesday urged the government to bolster security ahead of the presidential runoff vote, scheduled for June 14.

They asked the departments concerned and security agencies to beef up safety measures so that people could cast their votes in the second round in a fear-free environment.

Haji Mirza Ali, a resident of Paron, told Pajhwok Afghan News security was bolstered only in the provincial capital and suburban localities in the last election. Voters in remote areas cast their ballots amid Taliban threats.

He demanded the government devise a stringent security plan to protect remote villages and polling sites so that people could elect a president of their choice.

“Anomalous elections were held on April 5 in Kamdesh, Barg-i-Matal and other far-flung districts because people feared militants’ reprisal if the cast vote,” he alleged.

Sultan Mir, another Nuristan resident, said the insurgents had warned voters to stay away from polling stations during the last polls. The government should work out a strategy to instill a sense of protection among voters.

“People fear their fingers will be chopped off if they cast ballot. It is imperative for the government to boost security ahead of the presidential polls,” he added.

Last time, election could not be held in Mandol district and ballot boxes were stuffed in other areas, he claimed.

Agha Gul, a resident of the district, said elections could not be held in his locality because of stout resistance from militants.

“Casting ballot is the constitutional right of every Afghan but the government should do its job of providing security,” he argued. The villagers were ready to take active part in the polls if security was improved.

A lawmaker from the province, wishing anonymity, said a very small number of women had voted in the April 5 presidential and provincial council election.

Most of the female did not take part in the ballot because of insecurity, she said, adding militants had warned people against voting.

Amanullah Inayatur Rehman, former provincial council member, said deteriorated law and order was a big hurdle hampering people’s participation in the vote. The government should adopt measures to ensure security of all active polling stations throughout the province.

Izzatullah Halim, provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) director, acknowledged most of the districts were gripped by insecurity and problems created by insurgents.

Like much of Afghanistan, Nuristan was a mountainous province where security problems remained higher than other parts of the country, he added.

“We face serious problems and options are needed to be mulled to resolve them,” he reiterated. He went on to say that a strategy had been evolved to keep polling sites open in Mandol, a district where elections could not be held on April 5 due to militant threats.

Mohammad Zaher Bahand, the governor’s spokesman, said all institutions were ready to hold A peaceful second round. The governor has ordered a security boost for the crucial polls.

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origin of photo:

http://kafiristan.tumblr.com/page/3

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U.S. Troops Hobnob In Nuristan

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by Rob Taylor

Reuters

June 13, 2012

(about two years ago)

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Kamdesh, Afghanistan  – – U.S. troops returned to the area in Afghanistan they call the “dark side of the moon” this week, a remote Hindu Kush region that controls several access routes to Kabul and where the coalition suffered one of its biggest reverses in the decade-long war.

This part of Nuristan province, in the mountainous far east of Afghanistan, could be the target of a planned Taliban offensive, coalition commanders say.

Carrying “speedballs” – black body bags packed with mortars, ammunition and heavy machine guns – a company of U.S. soldiers landed by helicopter on a narrow ridge and trudged up to a tiny Afghan army post overlooking icy peaks and plunging river valleys, as hostile as breathtaking.

With U.S. intelligence pointing to a possible attack by as many as 1,800 Taliban, the soldiers set up weapons over a backyard-sized square, while Afghan army soldiers in camouflage and plastic sandals pointed out fires and torchlight in the distance in the chill night air.

“We’ll get some eyes overhead to check it out. If it’s Taliban, we’ll get a plane up in the morning and drop a bomb on it,” said U.S. Major Jared Bordwell as some of his men from the 1-12 Infantry Regiment dropped down in the dust and tried to get some sleep.

American soldiers withdrew from Nuristan, or the “land of light”, after around 300 insurgents overran an isolated combat outpost near Kamdesh village – below where Bordwell’s men were huddled – on October 3, 2009, killing eight soldiers and wounding 22.

The former U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, decided in 2010 to give up remote combat outposts and shift American troops to protect larger population centers.

But it was through here that the Taliban shifted men and weapons for a suicide assault on Kabul’s diplomatic and government quarter in April, circling beyond the reach of U.S. and Afghan army positions to the south in neighboring Kunar province, coalition commanders say.

With Nuristan now a Taliban staging post and haven, the province is a vital pocket for U.S. forces based in Kunar, with only a few hundred Afghan soldiers and police over an area of 5,800 square km.

“Nuristan remains for me a challenge, a black hole. My line in the sand stops at the Kunar and Nuristan borders,” said Lt-Colonel Scott Green, a wiry former Ranger who oversees Nuristan.

But he will not be in the region for long – NATO troops are due to be withdrawn from north Kunar by October. Green and his men, who are based in Kunar and in Nuristan temporarily, will be among those withdrawn.

So his reduced-strength 1st battalion has to counter insurgents while simultaneously building Afghan capability and “retrograding” – closing up U.S. bases – all within months.

It is one of the most hostile areas in war-torn Afghanistan in a landscape that is equally hostile. Taliban and al Qaeda fighters pass through easily, from either Pakistan or from bases located out of easy NATO reach inside a 4 km-wide border buffer zone.

As many as 2,500 Taliban are thought to be in the province, controlling most districts, and around 300 are foreign, mostly Pakistanis or Chechens, Afghan commanders say.

The insurgents control what few roads there are and have three ways to move deeper into Afghanistan, through either the Kunar, Waygal or Parun valleys, which then wind down into provinces nearer to Kabul.

UP AT DAWN

The next day, Bordwell’s soldiers were up in their body armor and crouched over guns at 4 a.m. to repel a dawn attack that did not happen. Then, they started to coach Afghan soldiers in everything from weapons care to their own health.

The sand-bagged positions became insufferably hot as the sun rose, while the translucent mountain stone underfoot flaked and crumbled to a glittering dust that glued itself to weapons and bodies, as unstable as the province’s security.

“Tell them to drink water. They will get dehydrated in body armor,” said one U.S. officer to a nodding Afghan interpreter.

Bordwell’s soldiers have come back to Kamdesh under a shift this year in NATO’s strategic focus from the Taliban’s southern heartlands to target supply routes and havens in the east, and also to back a former enemy turned warlord ally.

The fighting season began early this year in what has been called Afghanistan’s “lost” province after the Taliban turned against former Hezb-e Islami insurgent and local strongman, Mawlawi Sadeq, who has aligned his militia with the government.

Sadeq, still listed on U.S. government ‘capture or kill’ lists, turned up with seven other local elders to attend a ‘shura’ meeting with Bordwell and the accompanying U.S. mentor to Afghan forces, Lt-Colonel Rocky Burrell.

“We are happy with you guys coming here and listening to our problems. Our government is not doing anything,” said the aging warlord.

“If you are able to support us with heavy weapons it will be very good. I don’t think there would be any bad guys anymore.”

AIRSTRIKES AND GEMS

Burrell, a veteran of years of U.S. special forces operations in Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador and Colombia, says securing Nuristan would probably take thousands of Afghan soldiers that the government does not have, even though it is one of the country’s most mineral-rich provinces.

An Afghan militia member, Mohammad Ghazi, arrived at the post to have a bullet wound on the back of his head treated by U.S. medics and warned local people were deeply worried about the American pullout from Kunar and the entire country in 2014.

“There are a lot of Taliban around. If the (U.S.) supports the Afghan government it will be very good in future. If not, it will be worse,” Ghazi said.

As the hours passed, Bordwell called air strikes on Taliban fighting positions, with Apache helicopter gunships firing incendiary white phosphorous rockets into caves on a mountainside thought to hide an insurgent gun position.

As forest fires continued to burn from the strikes, a U.S. warplane dropped two bombs on a ridge across the valley, while soldiers hurled mortar shells onto river rapids where Afghan troops believe the Taliban like to gather.

TALIBAN CONTROL

Green acknowledged the Taliban controlled most of the districts within his nominal Nuristan command, which he sees from his north Kunar battalion command at Forward Operating Base Bostick as a line of snow-covered peaks on the horizon.

“I would not disagree with that. The hard part is that while you can say they are Taliban-controlled, that’s only because there is such a limited (U.S. security) presence up there,” he said.

Outside, the thump of outgoing 120mm mortar fire shook his headquarters, a low collection of white-washed huts beside a river flanked by vaulting, folded hills known as “rocket ridge”.

The terrain was proving as difficult for the Taliban as for the NATO-led coalition, Green said. The infamous Nuristan rebel commander Dos Mohammad – who led the attack on Combat Outpost Keating in the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh – had now reportedly moved south into Kunar, he said.

“There’s good and bad there for us. The good is he’s out of Nuristan. The bad is he’s a guy who made a name at COP Keating for rallying insurgents and overrunning U.S. bases,” Green said.

There were signs, though, in northern Kunar – another long-time insurgent supply route and stronghold – that were cause for hope ahead of the American pullback, Green said.

Insurgents have been mostly pushed away from the flashpoint Saw Valley in the south, a traditional Taliban supply inroad, and divisions between different militant groups in other areas that led to an insurgent crossfire.

Green was confident security by Afghan forces would be possible in parts of his command within the two years before NATO’s combat exit, but said securing all of Nuristan would remain difficult.

“I think we can transition in Kunar,” he said. “But if we were to try and expand without increased combat power there, then yes, I do think that we would be spread so thin that it would start to break.”

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/13/us-afghanistan-nuristan-idUSBRE85C0C120120613

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Shrapnel From Afghanistan II

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Historic Shrapnel #9

The presence of international forces and outside aid had ended the civil war.  Millions of refugees had rapidly returned from exile in Iran and Pakistan.  A political process for creating and ratifying a constitution had run smoothly, allowing the popular election of a national leader, Hamid Karzai, for the first time in Afghan history.  On the other hand, the military and financial resources allocated to the country were grossly inadequate to provide security and improve one of the world’s lowest standards of living.  The large sums of money pledged for reconstruction first raised the expectations of ordinary Afghans to unreasonable levels, but as the years passed people had a right to be disappointed by how little was being accomplished at such great expense.  Worse, project priorities were set by the funders, not the Afghans, so they rightly questioned the wisdom of building schools and hospitals without teachers and doctors to staff them, or repairing roads with foreign labor while local people remained unemployed…

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Historic Shrapnel #10

The high point of the constitutional process came with the successful presidential election in October 2004.  While there had been parliamentary elections in the past, this was the first time in Afghan history that a national leader had ever sought electoral approval.  Karzai was therefore keen to see elections held quickly once the constitution had been approved despite the concerns of international critics, who doubted the ability of the Afghans to organize the balloting and feared that the elections would be marred by violence.  The Afghan people instead seemed genuinely motivated by the election process and turned out in large numbers, including a relatively high participation by women.  Opponents of the Karzai regime, including the Taliban, failed to disrupt the process, in part because it had such popular support.  Despite many irregularities the election was deemed relatively fair…

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excerpts from the book

Afghanistan

A Cultural and Political History

by Thomas Barfield

2010

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Historic Shrapnel #11

The U.S invasion that expelled the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan created an odd circumstance in its wake.  The usual priority among the Afghans of expelling foreign invaders was replaced by a tacit strategy of keeping them there to guarantee security and finance the development of the country.  This was because the Afghan population was looking for stability after decades of war and protection against predation by factions within Afghanistan as well as from neighbors seeking to exploit its weaknesses…

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Historic Shrapnel #12

The new NATO command would take responsibility for all of Afghanistan except for the east, where the United States would retain direct control…

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Historic Shrapnel #13

 Later in the summer, British and Canadian troops deployed to Helmand and Qandahar confronted a well-armed and full-blown insurgency led by a reinvigorated Taliban…

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U.S. Army outpost

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Historic Shrapnel #14

There was also trouble in eastern Afghanistan, which experienced a sharp rise in cross-border attacks from Pakistan’s autonomous tribal territories, where al Queda and Taliban forces were becoming dominant…

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U.S. Army outpost

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Historic Shrapnel #15

Indeed, the strongest base for Islamists inside eastern Afghanistan was not among the Pashtuns but instead among the more remote Nuristanis in the high mountains northwest of Jalalabad…

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A foreign presence in Afghanistan

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Historic Shrapnel #16

Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami was the best known of those factions opposing a foreign presence in Afghanistan.  It was most influential in the provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, and Nuristan.  The lack of early U.S. resistance to Hekmatyar allowed Hizb-i-Islami forces to take control of many villages in mountainous Nuristan, where they linked up with al Qaeda forces on the Pakistan side of the border.  Despite Hekmatyar’s radical rhetoric, some members of his party joined the Kabul government, and Hekmatyar hinted at a willingness to cooperate if Karzai ceded enough power to him.  A more radical insurgency based on Pastun tribal networks arose further to the south in the provinces of Paktia, Paktika, and Khost that straddled the frontier with Pakistan’s FATA.  Commanded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a prominent resistance commander against the Soviets, its greatest influence was among the resident Pashtun tribes, particularly Haqqani’s own Zadran people in Afghanistan and FATA’s north Waziristan, where he had his headquarters.  Hazzani’s influence extended well beyond the frontier.  His network orchestrated the majority of terrorist attacks in Kabul itself (at the behest of Pakistan’s ISI, according to the Afghans).  His faction also included many foreign fighters and was closer to al Qaeda than Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami…

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Historic Shrapnel #17

The largest and most intense insurgency was centered in Qandahar and Helmand provinces, and led by Mullah Omar’s Taliban…

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Historic Shrapnel #18

The absence of any earlier economic development left the region dependent on an illicit opium economy.  This provided the Taliban with a revenue source to tax and gave them allies among those benefiting from the illicit trade.  In the absence of any significant international military presence, the Taliban were able to regroup unimpeded in any area they knew well for at least two years before NATO troops were deployed to confront them…

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Historic Shrapnel #19

While the Musharif government proved willing to hunt down foreign al Qaeda members, Pakistan still saw the Taliban as allies, and had not abandoned its goal of controlling Afghanistan through a Taliban regime or faction in the Afghan govern- ment when the United States withdrew…

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Al Qaeda’s Presence

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by Bill Roggio

November 10, 2013

The Long War Journal

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Earlier November, the US military claimed that al Qaeda has a “limited presence” in Afghanistan and is confined to “the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan.” Although Obama administration and military officials have stated for the past four years that al Qaeda has a minimal presence in Afghanistan, the group and its allies continue to sustain operations in the country.

The claim was made in the newly released, Report On Progress Toward Security and Stablity in Afghanistan, a semiannual update prepared by the Department of Defense.

“AQ [Al Qaeda] maintains a limited presence in the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan such as Kunar and Nuristan, and maintains a seasonal presence in other provinces,” the report states.

“During the reporting period [from April 1 to Sept. 30] , sustained counterterrorism (CT) operations exerted pressure on AQ personnel and networks, and eliminated dozens of al Qaeda (AQ) operatives and facilitators, restricting AQ movements to isolated areas within northeastern Afghanistan,” the report continues.

“ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force] estimates that the number of AQ fighters in Afghanistan remains very low, but the AQ relationship with local Afghan Taliban formations remains intact.”

While claiming that al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is minimal, the report does not mention al Qaeda-allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other organizations that fight in Afghanistan and also are part of the global jihad. A plot by the IMU to conduct attacks in Europe was broken up after an IMU operative was captured in Afghanistan in 2010.

US Officials Downplay Al Qaeda’s Importance In Afghanistan

US military officials continue to downplay al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan, despite ample evidence that the group is active in the country as well as in Pakistan.

In an interview on July 28, General Joseph Dunford Jr., the Coalition commander in Afghanistan, said al Qaeda was merely a “shell” of its former self, with only about 75 members in Afghanistan, who were mostly too busy trying to stay alive to plan attacks against the West, the New York Times reported.

Similarly, Major General Joseph Osterman, the deputy operations commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said in July that al Qaeda is fighting for its survival in Afghanistan and is isolated primarily in Nuristan province.

“They are less than 100, I would say, and they are in fact just trying to survive at this point,” Osterman told Reuters. “I think what you find is that it’s not necessarily that they have got a springboard in there.”

Since the summer of 2010, Obama administration officials have been consistently claiming that 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives are present in Afghanistan. The claims of a limited presence of al Qaeda have been used to justify US disengagement from Afghanistan.

But a study by The Long War Journal that looks at ISAF’s own reports on its raids against al Qaeda since 2007 paints a different picture. Since 2007, ISAF has conducted 357 reported raids against al Qaeda and allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, in Balkh, Farah, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Paktika, Sar-i-Pul, Takhar, Wardak, and Zabul, or 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Many of these raids have taken place over the past three years.

ISAF data on the location of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan is mirrored by al Qaeda’s propaganda. Al Qaeda routinely reports on its Afghan operations in Vanguards of Khorasan, a magazine produced for its members and supporters. Al Qaeda has reported on operations in all of the provinces in which ISAF has conducted raids.

Al Qaeda operatives serve as military advisers to the Taliban, and also fight in small formations throughout the country.

At the end of June, after completing its transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces, ISAF stopped reporting on its raids against al Queda, shutting off information on the targeting of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan.

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The Long War Journal

http://www.longwarjournal.org

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Quotes from The Outpost

Enduring Freedom

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…They suspected that however loudly the 1-91 Cav officers may have tooted their own bugle about their counterinsurgency accomplishments, their fifteen months’ worth of effort wasn’t about to undo decades’, if not centuries’, worth of habits and traditions of self-preservation.  (p.392)

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…The United States had gotten itself in the middle of a variety of blood, land, and tribal feuds, Brown believed, and the government of Afghanistan itself had very little, if any, interest in making serious efforts in that region.  The insurgency was actually gaining strength, especially in the remote rural areas of eastern Afghanistan.  (p.408)

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…On May 21, 2012, President Obama and the NATO allies announced that in the summer of 2013, Afghan government forces ~ ready or not ~ would take the lead on providing security throughout the country, and that U.S. combat forces would see their mission end come midnight, December 31, 2014.  (p.608)

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Jake Tapper

The Outpost

2012

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Col. Johnson At The Outpost

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Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

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Col. Johnson reads to you from

THE OUTPOST

a tome told true by Jake Tapper:

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     Anayatullah then asked the elders, “Before the Americans came to Kamdesh, had you ever heard of a development project?”  Of course not, he said.  The insurgents were making no effort to build a stronger Afghanistan, whereas the United States was trying to help.  “So,” he announced, “we need to help the Americans.”  Two days before, insurgents had fired a PKM machine gun into the Camp Keating mosque, which was used primarily by the ANA soldiers and the outpost’s Afghan Security Guards.  Firing into a mosque?  “These are not Muslims,” Anayatullah declared, “they are terrorists.  If you help the bad guys, we will destroy you.  If the local people help the enemy fighters, they are not helping the government;  they are considered to be Al Qaeda.”  Others weighed in, expressing similar sentiments.

     Meetings proceeded in this same manner over the next couple of months.  Sometimes they took place at Combat Outpost Keating, but it was preferable to hold them in the villages, because “forcing” the Americans to travel to them enhanced the elders’ credibility in the eyes of their people.  Kolenda and Hutto noticed, in fact, that there seemed to be a direct correlation between their participation in these shuras and a decline in violence.  By the end of September, attacks on Camp Keating and OP Warheit, as well as on Bulldog Troop patrols and missions, had ceased…

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Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

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Afghanistan US Army

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