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Biden says US may stay in Afghanistan after 2014

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:06 am

KABUL (AFP) – US Vice President Joe Biden stressed Tuesday that his country’s troops could stay in Afghanistan after 2014 if Afghans want them to, on day two of a surprise visit to the war-torn nation.


Speaking after talks with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Biden said: “We’re not leaving if you (Afghans) don’t want us to leave”.


But he also emphasised that the planned handover of responsibility for security from international troops to Afghan forces in four years, agreed at a NATO summit in November, was on track.

AFP file – US Vice President Joe Biden (C) talks with a US soldier as US General David Petraeus (2nd L) looks on at a US base in Maidan Shar Wardak province.


“It’s not our intention to govern or to nation-build — as President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people,” Biden told reporters at a press conference.


“We stand ready to help you in that effort and we’ll continue to stand ready to help you in that effort after 2014.”


A senior White House official said Biden was not announcing a change in policy.


“The vice president was simply restating for the public what he had said to the president (Karzai) which was that the United States wants an enduring partnership with Afghanistan,” the official said.


There are about 97,000 United States troops serving in Afghanistan as part of an international force of some 140,000.


Limited, conditions-based withdrawals are due to start in July ahead of the scheduled 2014 transition.


In 2010, coalition troops suffered their bloodiest year yet in Afghanistan with 711 deaths, according to the icasualties.org website, while opinion polls suggest increasing numbers of Americans want their troops to come home.


Biden said Afghanistan was now in a “new phase” and insisted that Taliban momentum had been “largely arrested” in key areas such as the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.


His comments came despite several recent attacks in the south, seen as the focus of the war, including a suicide bombing at a bath house in Kandahar province last week which killed 17 people.


“We have a strategy and the resources in place to accomplish the goal of a stable and a growing and an independent Afghanistan able to provide for its own security,” Biden said.


But he added that gains made were “fragile and reversible and the president knows that sustaining them is going to require the Afghans to improve… security and governance”.


Karzai said he and Biden had held one-to-one talks that lasted one hour and 45 minutes.


“We discussed the transition process in 2014 and how best to proceed with it. We had a good discussion, it made me happy,” Karzai told the press conference, which came a day after Biden’s surprise arrival in Afghanistan.


Biden held talks and had lunch with Karzai after visiting a training facility for Afghan security forces just outside Kabul. He later met US troops serving in Wardak province, central Afghanistan, plus local officials.


Shortly after arriving late Monday, Biden spent nearly two hours with the commander of international troops in Afghanistan, US General David Petraeus, and US ambassador Karl Eikenberry.


A US official travelling with Biden said the vice president’s trip came at a “pivot point” for the US in Afghanistan, adding it would allow Biden to review progress towards handing responsibility for security to Afghan forces.


The complex relations between the Western-backed government in Kabul and the US were laid bare by recent comments by Karzai accusing foreign countries of meddling in Afghanistan.


And last month, whistleblowing website WikiLeaks published leaked cables in which Eikenberry described Karzai as sometimes “paranoid and weak”.


The ambassador also reportedly highlighted corruption among key government officials in Afghanistan.


The visit, Biden’s first to Afghanistan since taking office, was not pre-announced due to security concerns, although Karzai was informed of the trip last week, the US official told reporters.


Biden’s trip began four days after the US announced it was sending an extra 1,400 Marines to southern Afghanistan, seen as the heart of the Taliban insurgency, in a bid to pre-empt an expected spring offensive in April or May.

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Source: SGGP

U.S. to send 1,400 extra troops to Afghanistan: report

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:13 am

The United States plans to send 1,400 additional Marines to Afghanistan to boost its combat forces ahead of the spring fighting season, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.


The United States, which led a 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban, has about 100,000 troops in the country, and President Barack Obama is under pressure to show results so he can begin a promised withdrawal this year.

A U.S. Marine patrols with a member of an Afghan border guard unit in the desert of the lower Helmand River valley, in southern Afghanistan in this July 1, 2009 file photo

“The Marine battalion could start arriving on the ground as early as mid-January. The forces would mostly be deployed in the south, around Kandahar, where the U.S. has concentrated troops over the past several months.” the paper said. It cited unnamed officials.


The Taliban are at their strongest since they were ousted form power, although operations against the insurgency have intensified since 2008. More than 700 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan last year, and civilian casualties were at record levels.


Obama said last month that enough progress was being made in the campaign to meet his pledge to start withdrawing U.S. troops by July and hand over security to Afghan forces by 2014.

Source: SGGP

Militants assault NATO base in eastern Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2010 at 8:54 am

Some private security firms to stay in Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 at 6:24 am

KABUL, Oct 18 (AFP) – The Afghan government rolled back its plan to disband all private security firms, declaring that those protecting embassies and military bases could maintain those operations in the country.


President Hamid Karzai’s office said firms “providing security for embassies, transport of diplomats, diplomatic residences, international forces’ bases and depots can continue operation within these limits”.

AFP file – Private security officers protect Afghan President Hamid Karzai (2nd L) during a visit to in Bagram Airfield in May 2010.

Karzai in August ordered that all private security contractors operating in the country, both Afghan and international, must cease operations by January 1, 2011, despite a continuing Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency.


The decree led to widespread concern that the deadline was too tight to find alternatives amid a deteriorating security situation, and fears that some diplomats and private companies would be forced to leave Afghanistan.


While the measure received widespread support in principle, diplomats, military officials and private security contractors have said Karzai’s government has been under intense pressure to reconsider the blanket ban.


In a brief statement Sunday, Karzai’s office said that “concerns expressed by NATO commanders and foreign embassies about the dissolution of private security companies” had been considered.


Firms not involved in military or diplomatic security would be dissolved as planned, it said.


“Other private security companies pose a serious threat to internal security and national sovereignty, and the dissolution process will continue with no exception,” the statement said.


Afghan officials have said that more than 50 private security firms, about half of them Afghan, employ tens of thousands of armed personnel across the country.


Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in a US-led invasion in 2001 private security firms rushed in to fill a vacuum created by a lack of adequately trained police and army forces.


In 2006 the Afghan authorities began registering, regulating and licensing the firms but there have been questions about the activities of some.


The companies provide security to the international forces, the Pentagon, the UN mission, aid and non-governmental organisations, embassies and Western media companies in Afghanistan.


The Afghan government earlier this month formally banned eight foreign private security firms, including Xe, the controversial company formerly called Blackwater.


Executives with private security firms have refused to speak publicly about the ban, but have said that visas for some employees have been cancelled as part of the dissolution process.


Some have also said that clients had expressed concerns about the ban, as the insurgency spreads across the country and foreign construction and aid contractors are targeted by the Taliban.


But Karzai has accused the security companies of running an “economic mafia” based around “corruption contracts” favoured by the international community.


He has said the firms duplicate the work of the Afghan security forces and divert much-needed resources, while Afghans criticise the private guards as overbearing and abusive, particularly on the country’s roads.


Critics have said the tight deadline would not allow enough time to negotiate an alternative to private contractors in a country were security is a priority and police are generally not trusted.


Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omer said earlier this month that the ban would not immediately affect companies dealing with the training of national security forces or guards operating inside buildings to provide protection.


“The focus is on those security companies which are protecting the highways, protecting transport caravans — those areas other than the training of Afghan security forces or protecting the internal premises of international organisations or embassies, or others,” he said.


Omer said security had improved along some highways since the ban on private guards operating as escorts for supply convoys in those areas.


Xe, formerly Blackwater, gained notoriety in Iraq after guards protecting a convoy opened fire in a busy Baghdad square in September 2007, killing as many as 17 civilians.


Last month two former Blackwater security guards went on trial in the United States, accused of the murder of two Afghan citizens in a 2009 shooting.

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Source: SGGP

Afghanistan marks independence day

In Uncategorized on August 19, 2010 at 11:22 am

KABUL, Aug 19, 2010 (AFP) – Afghanistan marked independence day Thursday as the Taliban-led insurgency drags on, with foreign troop deaths at record highs and the government under pressure to honour pledges on corruption and security.


August 19 commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919, which granted Afghanistan full independence from Britain — though the country was never part of the British empire — after three bloody wars.

(AFP FILES) In this photograph taken on August 19, 2006, Afghan soldiers parade during a ceremony marking the anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence Day parade in Kabul.

The day was traditionally marked by a military parade and other public events, but these were scaled down after a Taliban attack in 2008 that was seen as an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai.


Karzai on Thursday attended a low-profile event in Kabul, placing a floral wreath at the base of the marble independence memorial near his palace.


The ceremony was attended by Western dignitaries including the commander of foreign forces, US General David Petraeus, who watched Karzai inspect a guard of honour.


The Taliban, who were ousted in a 2001 US-led invasion and are the main militant group behind a growing insurgency, also marked the day, vowing to defeat the NATO force and calling them “invaders”.


“Indeed, the invasion by the British was not the only one, Afghanistan has suffered many attacks and invasions prior to the British invasion and afterwards,” a statement by the Taliban “leadership council” said.


“The Afghan nation has never tolerated the occupation of their country before and will never tolerate it in the future at all.”


Karzai returned to the capital late on Wednesday after attending a rare summit with his Pakistani and Russian counterparts, at which they agreed to pursue joint economic projects to help bring stability to the volatile region.


The summit, which also involved Tajikistan, adopted a joint declaration supporting the intentions by business leaders from Russia, Pakistan and Tajikistan to help Afghanistan rebuild its war-battered infrastructure, including in the energy and transportation sectors.


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hosted Karzai, Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Tajikistan’s Emomaly Rahmon in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.


Afghanistan’s current war cycle, which has lasted 30 years, began with a Soviet invasion in December 1979 that sparked a decade-long war that spilled into civil war and was followed by the Taliban’s brutal 1996-2001 regime.


Karzai has been increasingly turning to his neighbours — which also include Iran and China — as pressure intensifies from his Western backers to make progress on pledges to improve governance.


Led by the United States, Karzai’s allies are concerned that his government is not honouring commitments on touchstone issues such as corruption and security, potentially threatening their plans to begin troop withdrawals.


The United States and NATO have 141,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting a Taliban-led insurgency that has so far this year claimed 437 foreign soldiers.


On beginning his second five-year term last year — after an election tainted by massive fraud, mostly in his favour — Karzai promised to deal with rampant graft and take on greater responsibility for national security.


US Senator John Kerry, whose presence this week in Afghanistan is coming to signal the depth of Washington’s concern, described corruption as “one of the most significant challenges facing Afghanistan”.


“I think in the next days the government of Afghanistan’s response to anti-corruption efforts are a key test of its ability to regain the confidence of the people and provide the kind of governance that the American people are prepared to support with hard-earned tax dollars and most importantly with the treasure of our country, the lives of young men and women,” Kerry said.


“I believe President Karzai wants to do that but my belief that he wants to do it is not going to be enough. It’s going to have to be done.”


Benchmarks would be set but he declined to go into detail.


Kerry also visited US troops in the south, where the Taliban-led insurgency is concentrated.


NATO said that one of its soldiers was killed Wednesday in the south after at attack with an improvised bomb, the hallmark of the Taliban.


In a separate statement, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said planes Wednesday pounded insurgent strongholds near Kabul, killing two dozen rebels.

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Source: SGGP

Gates, Petraeus differ over Afghanistan exit

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2010 at 11:22 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted Monday the July 2011 date to start withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan was set in stone, putting him at odds with his top Afghan war commander.


Gates and General David Petraeus were in lock-step on the need for a gradual withdrawal, but a series of interviews exposed discord over the flexibility of the start date given last November by US President Barack Obama.

AFP/File – US soldiers patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers in Kukaran in Kandahar province.

“There is no question in anybody’s mind that we are going to begin drawing down troops in July of 2011,” Gates told The Los Angeles Times.


But Petraeus, asked in a separate interview whether he could reach that juncture and have to recommend a delay to Obama because of the conditions on the ground, replied: “Certainly, yeah.


“I think the president has been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions-based,” he told NBC television’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday.


“The president and I sat down in the Oval Office and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice.”


Afghanistan, with the help of its Western backers, is trying to build up its army and police so that they can take responsibility for security from US-led NATO forces by the end of 2014.


The Taliban, toppled in a 2001 US-led invasion, still control large swathes of the south and have put up stiff resistance to a surge of 30,000 more US troops due to swell American numbers to 100,000 in the coming weeks.


US public support for the near nine-year war and Obama’s handling of it are at an all-time low, according to opinion polls here, while the death toll for American troops hit a record monthly high in July of 66.


Both Gates, in the LA Times, and Petraeus, in a series of interviews with NBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post, sought to reassure a skeptical public that the American-led coalition can succeed in its aims.


Petraeus told The New York Times he did not just want to preside over a “graceful exit,” while Gates suggested some security responsibilities could begin to be transferred to Afghan forces as early as early next year.


Obama’s mid-2011 deadline to begin a limited withdrawal has been strongly criticized by some who believe it sent out the message America is not in the fight for the long-term and boosted the Taliban’s resolve to wait it out.


Others attack him for not pulling out troops fast enough as they believe US and NATO forces are bogged down in an unwinnable conflict.


Petraeus, giving his first major interviews since assuming command of more than 140,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan last month, also said he would be prepared to negotiate with Taliban with “blood on their hands.”


The general, who helped turn around the Iraq war for Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush — partly by wheeling and dealing with warring factions — said a new reconciliation and reintegration strategy aimed at persuading Afghan insurgents to change sides was “fairly imminent.”


There is “every possibility, I think, that there can be low- and mid-level reintegration and indeed some fracturing of the senior leadership that could be really defined as reconciliation.”


In his interview with The Washington Post, Petraeus said 365 insurgent leaders and 2,400 rank-and-file fighters have been killed or captured over the past three months.


The operations have led “some leaders of some elements” of the insurgency to begin reconciliation discussions with the Afghan government, he told the newspaper, characterizing the interactions as “meaningful.”


Petraeus formally took over command of the Afghan war in July after Obama dismissed General Stanley McChrystal after he and his staff made disparaging comments about senior US administration figures.


The interviews came hours before the icasualties.org website announced that the total number of foreign troops killed since the start of the Afghan war in 2001 had topped 2,000, including 1,226 Americans and 331 from Britain.


Last week, the United Nations said the number of civilian casualties in the Afghan war had risen sharply in the first six months of this year to reach 1,271 Afghans. Another 1,997 people were wounded.

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Source: SGGP

US 2011 drawdown in Afghanistan ‘limited’: Gates

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2010 at 11:21 am

Amid growing clamor against the war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cautioned that large numbers of US troops will remain even after a “limited” July 2011 drawdown.


Despite mounting casualties and public doubts, Gates said Sunday the US-led force was making headway and Taliban insurgents would not be able to wait out American forces because a major troop withdrawal was not on the horizon.


“I think we need to reemphasize the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011,” said Gates, referring to a deadline set by President Barack Obama for the start of a withdrawal.


“My personal opinion is that drawdowns early on will be of fairly limited numbers,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”


Asked if the Taliban could simply “run out the clock” until the mid-2011 target, Gates said that he would “welcome that, because we will be there in the 19th month, and we will be there with a lot of troops.”


 Afghan children look on as US soldiers take part in a patrol in the village of Rambasi, Dand District on the outskirts of Kandahar earlier this year.

The war has become increasingly unpopular with the American public and among Democratic lawmakers, amid a rising US death toll and a lack of confidence in Afghan President Hamid Karzai.


The United States also faces questions about whether it can win back Afghans from a resurgent Taliban without remaking Afghanistan in the sort of nation-building exercise it has pledged not to undertake.


Defending the US war effort, Obama told CBS’s “Early Show” that Washington’s goals were “fairly modest” and that the United States had no plans to turn Afghanistan into a Western-style democracy.


“What we’re looking to do is difficult, very difficult, but it’s a fairly modest goal, which is, don’t allow terrorists to operate from this region,” he said in an interview broadcast Sunday.


“That can be accomplished,” he added. “We can stabilize Afghanistan sufficiently and we can get enough cooperation from Pakistan that we are not magnifying the threat against the homeland.”


The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks ousted from power the Taliban regime and scattered Osama Bin Laden and members of his Al-Qaeda network.


But in almost nine years since, a Taliban insurgency has become increasingly emboldened despite the presence now of almost 150,000 NATO and US troops.


Complicating the situation is a lack of faith in Karzai, who returned to power after elections generally regarded as fraudulent, and faces accusations of corruption and even ties to the drug trade.


The international coalition is also seeing signs of wear — and shrinkage.


Dutch troops ended their mission in Afghanistan Sunday in the first significant drawdown of troops from the Afghan war.


The Netherlands’ deployment began in 2006 and has cost the lives of 24 soldiers.


Switzerland is the only country to have withdrawn its forces until now, bringing its two soldiers home from Afghanistan in March 2008, NATO said.


Canada is withdrawing its entire force of 2,800 troops in Afghanistan next year, while Britain and the United States have signalled that some troops will also leave in 2011 with an overall aim to end combat operations in 2014.

Obama has staked his term in office on success in the war and campaigned on a platform of devoting greater attention to the conflict.

But as the deadline he set for beginning troop withdrawals approaches, there has been little tangible progress, and key Democratic allies have said they expect US troops to begin coming home soon.

Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the administration needed to explain that the fight was key to US national security.

“They should be talking about… the way in which they have actually put al-Qaeda under pressure,” he said on CNN’s “GPS” program. “To walk away from that or to diminish that I think… history would be pretty harsh in its judgment.”

Gates’s comments Sunday echoed remarks by Vice President Joe Biden who has said that as few as 2,000 troops might withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2011.

But the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said Sunday that Americans wanted to see a more significant troop withdrawal.

“Well, I hope it is more than that,” Pelosi told ABC, referring to the 2,000 figure offered by Biden. “I know it’s not going to be turn out the lights and let’s all go home on one day.”

A total of 413 foreign troops have died in the Afghan war so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the icasualties.org website.

Two more foreign soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, NATO said.

Source: SGGP

Dutch troops leave Afghanistan after four years

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2010 at 11:19 am

KABUL (AFP) – Dutch troops ended their mission in Afghanistan Sunday after four “proud” years, in a departure experts say signals the beginning of a drawdown of foreign forces that will leave a worrying void.


The pull-out is the first significant drawdown of troops from the Afghan war, now in its ninth year, and comes as Taliban-led violence worsens and US forces suffered their worst month for casualties.

Dutch soldiers of Charlie Air assault company are seen erecting a tent beside their Bushmaster at an overnight halt during a patrol in The Chora Valley, in Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan Province. AFP file

A Dutch embassy official in Kabul said a small “change of command” ceremony and reception was held at the main military base in central Uruzgan province where most of the country’s 1,950 soldiers have been deployed.


NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which had asked the Dutch to extend their mission by a year, paid tribute to the Netherlands’ contribution and said it would maintain its current capacity in the area.


“Dutch forces have served with distinction in Uruzgan, and we honor their sacrifice and that of their Afghan counterparts during the Netherlands’ tenure in the province,” Major Joel Harper, an ISAF spokesman, said in a statement.


“We have planned for the transfer to the new multi-national operation to ensure a smooth transition… We will maintain current capabilities,” he said. The Netherlands’ deployment began in 2006 and has cost the lives of 24 soldiers. NATO’s request for an extension of the mission sparked a political row that led to the Dutch government’s collapse in February, and the announced drawdown.


NATO and the United States have close to 150,000 troops in the country, but a mounting death toll for foreign troops has piled political pressure on the United States and its allies as voters grow increasingly weary of the blood price of the war.


The death toll for US soldiers in July was an all-time high of 66. A total of 408 foreign troops have died in the Afghan war so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the icasualties.org website.


A Netherlands foreign ministry official said all soldiers would return home by September, while most hardware, including four F-16 fighter jets, three Chinook and five Apache helicopters would be back by the year’s end.


In central Uruzgan province the Dutch forces’ focus has been less on combat operations, and more on their “3D” approach of defence, development and diplomacy, which has been held up as a benchmark for other missions.


“The international community and NATO are helping Afghanistan stand on its own legs… The Netherlands has done its duty and fought for the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” said Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen in a statement.


Afghan President Hamid Karzai thanked the Netherlands “for the work that Dutch soldiers and development workers have done, and are still doing, in building the country”.


But the Taliban remain very active in the province, where opium production is high, and the insurgents have welcomed the Dutch withdrawal, urging other countries to follow suit.


Canada is set to withdraw its entire force of 2,800 troops in Afghanistan next year, while Britain and the US have signalled that some troops will also leave in 2011 with an overall aim to end combat operations in 2014.


“This is the start. It’s a chain — the Dutch forces start to withdraw, followed by the Canadians, then the British by 2014. In the middle I think we will see a number of other NATO members… setting a timetable to leave,” said Afghan political analyst Haroon Mir.


The Dutch will be replaced by an American-led coalition force including Australian, Slovak and Singaporean soldiers.


But Mir said that local residents’ resistance to the Taliban was unlikely to toughen in Uruzgan, where he said security was worsening.


“In some districts people have risen against the Taliban but the problem is the Taliban have become very strong there so the local resistance will not do anything against them,” said Mir.


Despite that, Dutch chief of defence, General Peter van Uhm, whose son was among the 24 Dutch casualties during the mission, said his troops had achieved “tangible results that the Netherlands can be proud of”.


Since the start of its lead role in Uruzgan at a cost of some 1.4 billion euros (1.8 billion dollars) to the Dutch state, the number of NGOs doing development work in the province has risen from six to 50, according to a Dutch embassy document.

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Source: SGGP

US casualties in Afghanistan soar to record highs

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2010 at 11:19 am

 In a summer of suffering, America’s military death toll in Afghanistan is rising, with back-to-back record months for U.S. losses in the grinding conflict. All signs point to more bloodshed in the months ahead, straining the already shaky international support for the war.


Six more Americans were reported killed in fighting in the south — three Thursday and three Friday — pushing the U.S. death toll for July to a record 66 and surpassing June as the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the nearly nine-year war.


U.S. officials confirmed the latest American deaths Friday but gave no further details. Five of the latest reported deaths were a result of hidden bombs — the insurgents’ weapon of choice — and the sixth to an armed attack, NATO said in statements.


U.S. commanders say American casualties are mounting because more troops are fighting — and the Taliban are stiffening resistance as NATO and Afghan forces challenge the insurgents in areas they can’t afford to give up without a fight.


“Recent months in Afghanistan have … seen tough fighting and tough casualties. This was expected,” the top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. David Petraeus, said at his Senate confirmation hearing last month. “My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months.”


That forecast is proving grimly accurate.


The month has brought a sharp increase in the tragic images of war — medics frantically seeking to stop the bleeding of a soldier who lost his leg in a bombing, fearful comrades huddled around a wounded trooper fighting for his life, the solemn scenes at Dover Air Force Bare in Delaware when shattered relatives come to receive the bodies of their loved ones.


After a dip in American deaths last spring following the February capture of the southern town of Marjah, U.S. fatalities have been rising — from 19 in April to 34 in May to 60 in June. Last month’s deaths for the entire NATO-led force reached a record 104, including the 60 Americans. This month’s coalition death count stands at 89, including the 66 Americans.


AP


Some U.S. military officers speculated that the spring drop in fatalities was due in part to the fact that many Taliban fighters in the south — the main focus of NATO operations — were busy harvesting the annual opium poppy crop, a major source of funding for the insurgents.


As the harvest ended and the pace of battle accelerated, more American troops were streaming into the country as part of President Barack Obama’s decision last December to dispatch 30,000 reinforcements in a bid to turn back a resurgent Taliban.


American troop strength stands at about 95,000, and by the end of August the figure is expected to swell to 100,000 — three times the number in early 2009. Commanders say more boots on the ground inevitably means more casualties.


With the additional troops, U.S. commanders have been stepping up the fight against the insurgents in their longtime strongholds such as the Arghandab Valley, Panjwaii and Zhari — all on the outskirts of Kandahar city, the biggest urban area in the ethnic Pashtun south.


Much of the fighting in those areas involves brief but intense exchanges of fire. NATO and Afghan patrols also must maneuver through fields often littered with homemade bombs, which have become the biggest killer of pro-government forces.


The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins around Aug. 11, may provide some respite in the bloodletting because Taliban fighters and Afghan government forces will be fasting, although some commanders believe the insurgents will keep up the pace in areas where the coalition is trying to step up their own operations.


Fighting around Kandahar is part of a NATO strategy to secure the city, the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace where support for the insurgency runs deep. U.S. commanders have described Kandahar city as the key to controlling the Taliban’s southern heartland because of the city’s symbolic links to the insurgency.


As the U.S. and its allies step up pressure around Kandahar, Taliban resistance has also intensified in Helmand province to the west and in Zabul province to the east. Those three provinces account for roughly 70 percent of the U.S. deaths this month.


“We are going into places that have been significant support bases for the Taliban for the past several years, and they’re going to fight hard for those,” Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who directs day-to-day operations, said this month. “And that’s why we expect the casualties to go up.”


The rise in casualties is likely to erode support for the war in Washington and the capitals of the 45 other countries that provide troops — especially if NATO commanders are unable to show progress in curbing the Taliban. The Dutch are due to remove the last of their 1,600-member force at the end of this month, and Canada plans to remove its 2,700 troops next year.

Obama has promised to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July next year with the pace to be determined by conditions on the ground.

At the same time, there are signs that Afghan patience with the presence of thousands of foreign troops is running thin.

In the capital, Kabul, police fired weapons into the air Friday to disperse a crowd of angry Afghans who shouted “Death to America!”, hurled stones and set fire to two vehicles after an SUV, driven by U.S. contract employees, was involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans, according to the capital’s criminal investigations chief, Abdul Ghaafar Sayedzada.

The contractor, DynCorp International, confirmed that its employees, working on a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, were involved in an accident on the main road to the Kabul airport. In a statement, DynCorp said that when its employees got out of their vehicle, they and other DynCorp employees, who arrived at the scene to help, were attacked by the crowd, which burned their vehicles.

NATO and US soldiers are seen standing guard in Kabul

“Our condolences go out to the families of those who were killed or injured,” DynCorp said. “An investigation is under way.”

People at the scene claimed foreigners fired shots, killing and wounding Afghan civilians. DynCorp said the contractors fired no shots and that Afghan police helped move the contractors to safety away from the crowd. Hospital officials said the deaths and injuries were caused by the traffic accident.

Ahmad Jawid, who also was at the scene, asked: “Are we not Muslims? Are we not from Afghanistan? Infidels are here and they are ruling us. Why?”

Source: SGGP

Search on for 2 US soldiers missing in Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 11:18 am

A US soldier from 1st Platoon Bravo Troop of 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry walks past Afghans on a three-wheeler vehicle during a patrol in the Dand district of Kandahar Province in Afghanistan.

An extensive ground and air search was underway Sunday for two American soldiers who went missing in Taliban territory in Afghanistan, military officials said, amid fears one of them had been killed.


Nothing had been heard of the two, an official from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) told AFP.


“They are still missing, we have had no contact with anybody so far, so we cannot confirm what has happened to them,” the official, who asked not to be indentified, told AFP.


“There is no confirmation that they are dead or have been kidnapped,” he said, adding: “There are rumours that one of them is dead.”


Another ISAF official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier there were reports one of the pair had been killed and his body removed from the scene, in eastern Logar province where Taliban have a solid presence.


US media reports suggested the two may have left their base, in Charkh district, without permission.


They had been missing since about 8 pm (1530 GMT) on Friday and their car had been recovered in an area it should not have been, the officials said.


Local radio stations in Logar, south of Kabul, broadcast descriptions of the pair and offered rewards of ten thousand dollars for information leading to the safe recovery of each man, an AFP correspondent in the province said.


An ISAF statement issued almost 24 hours after the pair disappeared said they had left their compound late Friday “and did not return”.


“Nobody has been found but there are reports that there may be a casualty and that the body has been removed from the scene,” one of the ISAF officials said.


All reports were unsubstantiated, he added.


A Taliban spokesman denied the insurgents were behind the disappearance of the soldiers, though earlier he had contacted media outlets with detailed descriptions of the soldiers and the equipment they were carrying.


Speaking to AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location, the Taliban’s eastern Afghanistan spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said: “So far, we are not aware of it and cannot confirm this”.


A spokesman for Logar’s provincial governor said the two soldiers left their base in Charkh district late Friday “and went to opposition territory”.


“One of them has been killed and the other has been detained by the opposition,” Din Mohammad Darwaish told AFP, referring to the Taliban.


The BBC quoted Darwaish as saying the pair had been warned not to venture into what was known Taliban territory, and had found themselves in a gun battle with insurgents, after which they were captured.


Kidnappings of foreign soldiers are rare in Afghanistan, where a nine-year insurgency has been escalating in recent months, particularly in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.


Most kidnappings in recent years have been by criminals for ransom, though targets identified as high value have in the past been sold on to insurgent groups, who then use them as political pawns.

A 24-year-old US soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, who disappeared on June 30, 2009 is believed to have been the first American snatched by militants in Afghanistan.

Bergdahl’s captors have released at least two videos showing him to be alive, most recently in April.

The Taliban warned earlier this year they would target foreign military and government installations and staff, as well as Afghans working for them or for the Kabul government.

NATO said four US soldiers were killed by a bomb in southern Afghanistan on Saturday while a fifth American died in a later attack.

Both attacks involved improvised-explosive devices, or IEDs, the main weapon deployed by the Taliban in their insurgency.

The deaths bring to 397 the toll of foreign soldiers killed in the war so far this year, compared with 520 for all of 2009.

An AFP tally based on that kept by the icasualties.org website puts the number of soldiers to have died since the Afghan insurgency began in 2001 at 1,965, with 1,205 of them Americans.

The US and NATO have almost 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the surge of an extra 30,000 Americans ordered by US President Barack Obama almost fully deployed, most of them in the hotspots of Kandahar and Helmand.

Source: SGGP