-- The detonation of 10 suicide vests in and around the Afghan M.O.D. would have unleashed chaos in the country and opened the door for far greater attacks with devastating effect. I think we should anticipate that at some point Karzai will say that he can no longer guarantee the safety of ISAF personnel in Afghanistan. -- MCR
Afghan defense ministry denies bomb plot
Afghanistan strongly rejected reports that some soldiers working at the defense ministry were involved in a bomb plot, saying no arrests had been made nor were any vests used for suicide bomb attacks found on the premises.
28 March, 2012
On Wednesday there was no sign of a hard clamp down on personnel movements at the sprawling ministry with soldiers checking scores of visitors as usual. However, the fast spread of reports of a cache of suicide vests found at the defense ministry on Tuesday illustrates the tense atmosphere in Kabul following a spike in attacks on foreign soldiers by rogue Afghan security forces.
The defense ministry said in a statement that reports on Tuesday about a plot to launch a suicide attack on buses that bring members of the Afghan National Army to the ministry were false.
"We have to say that not only have 16 people not been arrested, nor were 11 suicide vests detained," it said in a statement.
"The scenario about an attack on transportation buses of Afghan National Army is totally imaginary and baseless."
But two security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said some soldiers who work at the heavily-guarded ministry had been taken into custody for questioning on Tuesday after some suspected suicide bomb vests were found in the parking lot.
One of the officials said the intelligence agencies were investigating a suspected plot involving the hijacking of commuter buses that bring soldiers to the ministry.
He said that six soldiers were detained last week, and following their questioning the suicide vests were found and more arrests were made this week.
"A number of soldiers have been detained," he said.
"There is a turf war going on between the ministry of defense and intelligence department," he added when asked to explain the discrepancy between their stand and the defense ministry.
He said intelligence agencies were closely monitoring government departments for possible infiltration by Taliban insurgents, who have been waging a decade-long war against the government and its Western backers.
The rise in so-called insider attacks on foreign forces has stoked fear that either Afghan soldiers and police have turned against their colleagues or the force has been infiltrated by Taliban insurgents.
Three foreign troops, including two Britons, were killed in attacks by Afghan security forces personnel on Monday, taking to 16 the number killed since January.
The increase in these attacks follows the shooting of civilians in Kandahar allegedly by a U.S. soldier, the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. soldiers at the main NATO base and a video of U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of Afghan Taliban fighters.
The New York Times reported that the defense ministry went into "near-total lockdown" on Tuesday after the vests, which have pouches which suicide bombers pack with explosives for use in attacks, were found inside the ministry.
It said the defense ministry plot was uncovered on Monday and that at least half a dozen unidentified Western and Afghan officials had confirmed the plot.
The building is in one of the most heavily fortified areas of the Afghan capital and is less than a mile from the presidential palace and the headquarters of the NATO-led foreign force in Afghanistan.
"You have to be cautious when you come here. It is not safe here," the newspaper quoted one unidentified Afghan army officer as saying. The officer also said the plotters "have links inside the ministry. Otherwise, they could not enter such a highly secured place".
Last September, insurgents holed up in a partially constructed building in the same area showered the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire in an attack lasting more than 20 hours.
Militant faction breaks off talks with US, Afghans
A major Afghan militant group is following in the Taliban's footsteps by suspending talks with the United States and the Kabul government, another setback to efforts toward a peaceful resolution to the decade-long war
26 March, 2012
The insurgent faction Hezb-i-Islami was abandoning talks because they had produced nothing "practical," said the group's European representative, Qaribur Rahman Saeed. Earlier this month, the Taliban announced it was breaking off dialogue with the U.S.
Part of the U.S.-led coalition's exit strategy is to gradually transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban and other militant factions into political discussions with the Afghan government.
Hizb-i-Islami is a radical Islamist militia that controls territory in Afghanistan's northeast and launches attacks against U.S. forces from Pakistan. Its leader, powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a former Afghan prime minister and one-time U.S. ally who is now listed as a terrorist by Washington.
The U.S. and Afghan governments know that in addition to getting the blessing of Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, any peace deal would have to be supported by Hekmatyar, who has thousands of fighters and followers primarily in the north and east. Mullah Omar is a bitter rival of Hekmatyar even though both are fighting international troops.
Saeed said the first official Hizb-i-Islami delegation held talks with the Afghan government in February 2010 and presented a 15-point peace plan. Then, in December 2011, at the request of the U.S., a Hizb-i-Islami delegation went to Kabul and met with American, Afghan, NATO and military coalition officials and had a working meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Saeed said.
"Since both of you (U.S. and Kabul authorities) don't have any practical and acceptable approach for the solution of the crisis, the negotiation is going to be suspended," Hekmatyar said in a statement that Saeed released to The Associated Press.
Saeed said, however, that while official talks have been suspended, informal discussion will continue through various channels in the U.S. and Europe.
Karzai said in January that he had personally held peace talks with Hizb-i-Islami that he hoped would continue and be fruitful.
The Taliban said they were suspending talks with the U.S. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid accused the U.S. of failing to follow through on its promises, making new demands and falsely claiming that the militant group had entered into multilateral negotiations.
Mujahid said they had agreed to discuss two issues only with the Americans: the establishment of the militant group's political office in Qatar and a prisoner exchange. The Taliban are seeking the release of five top Taliban leaders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The Taliban said the Americans initially agreed to take practical steps on these issues, but then "turned their backs on their promises" and came up with new conditions for the talks.
The White House has said that the U.S. continues to support an Afghan-led process toward reconciliation and that U.S. terms for participation in that process by the Taliban had not changed.