Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Rout in Afghanistan

-- The United States of America has flown the white flag and is asking for UN intervention; not to win the war, but to keep from having its forces annihilated. I suspect that it may be too late for British or other coalition forces. If any of them leave suddenly now it might trigger a Little Big Horn massacre and the war fighters understand that. -- MCR

U.S. negotiation efforts with Taliban have failed: group

U.S. negotiation efforts with the Taliban have failed and the United Nations should take the lead to optimize the chances of ending almost 11 years of war, a think tank said on Monday.

25 March, 2012

In a blow to hopes of a negotiated end to the war, the Taliban suspended talks with the United States two weeks ago after the alleged massacre of 17 Afghan civilians by a lone U.S. soldier and the burning of Korans at a NATO base last month.

"U.S. efforts to negotiate with the Taliban to date have failed and risk further destabilizing the country and the region, and as a result we call for the U.N. Secretary General to intervene and appoint a team of negotiators," said Candace Rondeaux, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG).

In a 51-page report, the think tank said the effect of international support for negotiations had been to increase "incentives for spoilers ... who now recognize that the international community's most urgent priority is to exit Afghanistan with or without a settlement."

Calls for a negotiated settlement have grown over the last few years as NATO-led troops battle a stubborn insurgency and Western forces begin drawing down troop levels ahead of a pullout of most soldiers by the end of 2014.

Western officials believe the Taliban's suspension of talks was tactical and reflected internal tension rather than a definitive halt to discussions.

The string of U.S. setbacks has damaged ties with Kabul at a time when Washington is negotiating a pact to outline its future presence in the Asian country.

"The events of the last couple of months ... all point to a major shift in Afghan perceptions of the U.S. role here. It's going to be very difficult for the United States to both facilitate a solution and also be a party to the solution," Rondeaux, the lead author of the report, said.


U.S. objectives in Afghanistan are far more modest than they were in the months following the September 11 attacks, when the West hoped to replace the Taliban with a stable democracy.
Nearly 11 years after the Taliban government was toppled, the United States and its allies continue to face major problems, including insurgent attacks, a weak government and an uncertain future for Western support.

Doubts are also growing about whether the Taliban leadership is willing to defy possible opposition from junior and more hard-core members who appear to oppose negotiations.

"The Afghan government and its international backers have adopted a market bazaar approach to negotiations. Bargains are being cut with any and all comers, regardless of their political relevance or ability to influence outcomes," the ICG said.

The outgoing UK envoy to Afghanistan, William Patey, said on Sunday, however, that in every peace process there were stops and starts, although he did not believe there had been a "strategic" decision yet by the Taliban to make peace.

The Brussels-based group warned that failure to hash out a better approach to a settlement could mean more conflict, especially in the context of national elections set for 2014 in which President Hamid Karzai is barred from standing again.

"If anything, it will be the election that is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back in Afghanistan because this is the last term for Karzai constitutionally," Rondeaux said.

"There is a sense of political vacuum, it's not clear at all who will replace him and that means the competition becomes much more intense. Unfortunately political competition in Afghanistan is never peaceful, it is almost always violent."

Afghan soldier shoots dead two British troops at gates of UK base in Helmand
Gunman killed by return fire during attack in provincial capital Lashkar Gah, in latest sign of growing tensions in Afghanistan

26 March, 2012

Two British soldiers were killed on Monday when an Afghan soldier turned his gun on them at the gates of a UK military base.

The attacker was also killed during an exchange of fire which may have started after security guards stopped a truck as it tried to enter the heavily fortified compound in Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah.

The incident comes amid heightened tension in Afghanistan following incidents involving US troops such as the killing of 17 Afghan civilians by an American soldier.

In the past seven weeks 10 British soldiers have died on duty in Helmand, though David Cameron and the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, have made clear they intend to resist mounting calls for western forces to come home early.

The latest incident is a "green on blue" attack – when a member of the Afghan security forces has killed an ally from Nato's International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf).

The Ministry of Defence said the victims were a Royal Marine and a member of the Adjutant General's Corps. Their close relatives have been informed.

An Afghan police official said the shootings took place when an Afghan army truck approached the base and was reportedly refused entry by the guards. The official said one of the Afghan soldiers then rushed through the gates and opened fire on those inside, killing the two Britons.

"Details of the incident are still emerging but it appears that a member of the Afghan National Army opened fire at the entrance gate to the British headquarters," Hammond told the House of Commons. "The assailant was killed by return fire."

Brigadier General Sherin Shah, of the Afghan National Army said: "Today's incident which involved armed conflict by one of the ANA members of the Fourth Kandak of 3-215 Brigade was a tragic event.

"The incident is still under investigation and it is unclear if the action was planned or influenced by the enemy or if he acted alone, either way it is with the deepest regret that two Isaf soldiers who came to our country to provide security are now dead.

"I would like to convey my deepest condolences to the soldiers' families and the British Army and Royal Marines, especially Task Force Helmand, for their loss."

Tensions have been running high in Afghanistan because of the burning of Qur'ans by US forces inside an international base, and then the shooting dead of 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.

Isaf commanders have been anticipating a backlash from the Taliban, though it is unclear whether this latest shooting involved an infiltrator or someone who acted on the spur of the moment.

Massoud Khan Nourzai, an MP from Helmand, said:"These kinds of attacks have increased lately and maybe they will continue to increase in the future.

"They have increased because of the incidents like the one in Kandahar. If an incident like Kandahar happens, people are not sitting quietly. In every Afghan family they are talking about it and saying they committed a cruel action."

Nourzai added that in the past two years many of his relatives have stopped working with the government and joined forces with the Taliban primarily because of their frustration with the continuing presence of foreign forces.

Sardar Mohammad Khan, a teacher in Lashkar Gah, said the attack was "a result of the foreigners' behaviour and activities", adding: "Everyone is frustrated – the army, the police, normal Afghans. On one side we are frustrated with our own government, the corruption, the insurgency, and the return of the Taliban.

"On the other side, when the foreigners are doing such things it makes you even more frustrated."

The issue of attacks by Afghan soldiers poses a sizeable threat to Isaf. One military report found Afghan security forces were responsible for 6% of coalition casualties between May 2007 and May 2011.

In January, France temporarily suspended its combat operations and threatened a premature withdrawal after someone in an Afghan military uniform killed four French soldiers.

Maintaining foreign support remains vital for the Afghan military, which will require an estimated $6bn (£3.7bn) to continue operating after foreign troops leave in 2014.

Following the shooting in Kandahar, American officials have sought to appease Afghans by providing assistance to the families of the victims. Families reportedly received $50,000 (£31,400) for each person killed and $11,000 (£6,900) for those who were wounded.

Xenia Dormandy, a senior fellow at Chatham House, said the UK soldiers may have been caught in the backlash against US forces.

She said: "It is not clear that they make a distinction between US forces and Isaf soldiers, so at some level this is really not that surprising that this would occur. It is just extraordinarily sad that it does.

"As for the question: 'Does this mean that the UK should pull out its forces?' Absolutely not. I think Cameron has made it absolutely clear that he does not intend to before the organised roll-out in 2014."


A third member of NATO has been killed

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A man alleged to be a local Afghan policeman killed a NATO service member in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, the second fatal shooting of NATO service members in a day, both apparently at the hands of their Afghan comrades

Afghanistan Shooting Victims' Families Received Money From U.S.
25 March, 2012

The U.S. paid $50,000 in compensation for each villager killed and $11,000 for each person wounded in a shooting rampage allegedly carried out by a rogue American soldier in southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Sunday.

The families were told that the money came from President Barack Obama. The unusually large payouts were the latest move by the White House to mend relations with the Afghan people after the killings threatened to shatter already tense relations.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of sneaking off his base on March 11, then creeping into houses in two nearby villages and opening fire on families as they slept.

The killings came as tensions between the U.S. and Afghanistan were strained following the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base in February. That act – which U.S. officials have acknowledged was a mistake – sparked riots and attacks that killed more than 30 people, including six American soldiers.

There have been no violent protests following the March 11 shootings in Kandahar province's Panjwai district, but demands for justice on Afghan terms have been getting louder since Bales was flown out of the country to a U.S. military prison. Many Afghans in Kandahar have continued to argue that there must have been multiple gunmen and accused the U.S. government of using Bales as a scapegoat.

U.S. investigators believe the gunman returned to his base after the first attack and later slipped away to kill again.

That would seem to support the U.S. government's assertion that the shooter acted alone, since the killings would have been perpetrated over a longer period of time than assumed when Bales was detained outside his base in Kandahar province's Panjwai district.

But it also raises new questions about how the suspect could have carried out the pre-dawn attacks without drawing attention from any Americans on the base.

Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The families of the dead received the money Saturday at the governor's office, said Kandahar provincial council member Agha Lalai. He and community elder Jan Agha confirmed the payout amounts.

Survivors previously had received smaller compensation payments from Afghan officials – $2,000 for each death and $1,000 for each person wounded.

Two U.S. officials confirmed that compensation had been paid but declined to discuss exact amounts, saying only that the payments reflected the devastating nature of the incident. The officials spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject.

A spokesman for NATO and U.S. forces, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said only that coalition members often make compensation payments, but they are usually kept private.

"As the settlement of claims is in most cases a sensitive topic for those who have suffered loss, it is usually a matter of agreement that the terms of the settlement remain confidential," Cummings said.

However, civilian death compensations are occasionally made public. In 2010, U.S. troops in Helmand province said they paid $1,500 to $2,000 if a civilian was killed in a military operation and $600 to $1,500 for a serious injury. The Panjwai shootings are different because they were not part of a sanctioned operation, but it is a distinction lost on many Afghans who see any civilian deaths as criminal.

The provided compensation figures would mean that at least $866,000 was paid out in all. Afghan officials and villagers have counted 16 dead – 12 in the village of Balandi and four in neighboring Alkozai – and six wounded. The U.S. military has charged Bales with 17 murders without explaining the discrepancy.

The 38-year-old soldier, who is from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of using his 9mm pistol and M-4 rifle to kill four men, four women, two boys and seven girls, then burning some of the bodies. The ages of the children were not disclosed in the charge sheet.

Bales is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The mandatory minimum sentence if he is convicted is life imprisonment with the chance of parole. He could also receive the death penalty.

Families of the dead declined to comment on any payments by U.S. officials on Sunday, but some said previously that they were more concerned about seeing the perpetrator punished than money.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and remains a dangerous area despite several offensives.

In the latest violence, a bomb struck a joint NATO-Afghan foot patrol in Kandahar's Arghandab district late Saturday, killing nine Afghans and one international service member, according to Shah Mohammad, the district administrator.

Arghandab is a farming region just outside Kandahar city that has long provided refuge for Taliban insurgents. It was one of a number of communities around Kandahar city that were targeted in a 2010 sweep to oust the insurgency from the area.

The Afghan dead included one soldier, three police officers, four members of the Afghan "local police" – a government-sponsored militia force – and one translator, Mohammad said.
NATO reported earlier Sunday that one of its service members was killed Saturday in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan but did not provide additional details. It was not clear if this referred to the same incident, as NATO usually waits for individual coalition nations to confirm the details of deaths of their troops.

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