Top US general in Afghanistan sees major Taliban attacks in coming months
Sunday April 17, 10:02 AM AFP
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda will likely stage high-profile attacks in Afghanistan as the country approaches its first post-Taliban parliamentary election, the top commander of US forces in the country said.
Lieutenant General David Barno said militants would look to score a "propaganda victory" by staging attacks aimed at generating significant media coverage.
"Terrorists here in Afghanistan want to reassert themselves and I expect that they will be looking here in the next six to nine months or so to stage some type of high profile attack to score media publicity," Barno told reporters in Kabul.
Afghanistan's successful October 9 presidential election which incumbent President Hamid Karzai won with a clear majority was a "strategic defeat" for the Taliban, Barno said.
However, the US general warned that as "terrorist capabilities grow more and more limited, the hardcore fanatics will grow more and more desperate to try and do something to change the course of events in Afghanistan."
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September 18 to elect a 249-seat legislature.
"We must all remain realistic and clear-eyed with the understanding that the enemy is still dangerous. He has been reduced in his capabilities, but he remains a desperate foe who will try and create events and inflict losses," Barno added.
As the weather has warmed after Afghanistan's harshest winter for a decade, there has been a rise of the number of Taliban attacks.
"We will continue our attacks (during the election) -- our targets would be specific," a Taliban spokesman told Radio Free Europe Saturday.
"We don't want to target ordinary people, though we've told citizens to not participate in the elections," he said.
Over the last month an Afghan government reconciliation effort aimed at bringing rank-and-file Taliban fighters back into the political mainstream has picked up pace, dealing a blow to the hardline militia, Barno said.
"Several Taliban members have moved forward in the last month to become part of this program which will encourage many others to do so, and these include Taliban leaders as well as rank and file members," he said.
The government amnesty offer had unexpectedly attracted several high-ranking Taliban leaders, Barno said although he declined to give further details.
Karzai has said all but a hardcore of 150 hardened criminals and people with records of human rights abuses would be eligible for the amnesty.
Barno also cautioned that Al-Qaeda continued to finance and train the Taliban and as the reconciliation drive gained speed, a hardcore of extremists would begin operating "like a wholly-owned subsidiary of Al-Qaeda" in Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters and supporters are estimated to number around 2,000 men in Afghanistan, compared with more than 18,000 US-led coalition troops who are stationed in the country battling remnants of the ultra-Islamic regime.
The US led a military campaign to topple the Taliban in late 2001 after its leaders refused to surrender Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
In the south and southeast of Afghanistan, along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border militants continue to wage a guerrilla insurgency, laying roadside bombs and rocketing the bases of US and Afghan government troops.
Commander Predicts Collapse of Taliban
By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press / April 16, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan - America's senior military commander in Afghanistan predicted Saturday the near-total collapse of the Taliban insurgency within a year, but he cautioned that militants remain a danger and could stage a "high-visibility attack" in coming months.
Lt. Gen. David Barno, speaking at a news conference, did not give any details about a potential attack or say if he had specific intelligence about one.
"As these terrorist capabilities grow more and more limited, the hard-core fanatics will grow more and more desperate to try and do something to change the course of events in Afghanistan," Barno told a press conference.
"Terrorists here in Afghanistan want to reassert themselves and I expect that they will be looking here, over the next six to nine months or so, to stage some type of high-visibility attack.
"I think we must all remain realistic and clear-eyed with the understanding that the enemy is still dangerous. He's been reduced in his capabilities but he remains a desperate foe who will try and create events and inflict losses."
Barno said a number of senior insurgents have abandoned the fight, and he believed more would follow. However, he said a small number of hard-liners funded by al-Qaida likely would continue the struggle.
"The diverging organization that I see evolving over the next year or so (involves) much of the organization, probably most of it, I think collapsing and rejoining the Afghan political and economic process," Barno said. "A small hard-core remnant of the Taliban — which is essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of al-Qaida — (will) continue to wage some degree of a terrorist fight."
Barno did not name any commanders that turned themselves in, saying only: "In the last month or so we have seen very prominent figures come out in different parts of the country — very unexpectedly in a couple of cases — who were part of the leadership of the Taliban."
In March, Abdul Wahid, a powerful commander once suspected of helping Taliban chief Mullah Omar escape capture, pledged his loyalty to the Afghan government and agreed to try to persuade other Taliban figures to match his step.
Afghan officials say dozens of former Taliban officials and fighters have approached them about a reconciliation drive touted by U.S. military commanders as a way to undercut militants and allow a reduction in the 17,000-strong American force more than three years after it invaded Afghanistan.
However, few have come forward publicly.
"My sense is that right now the leaders that are beginning to come across are testing the waters for larger groups," Barno said.
The U.S. commander said he believes there are about 2,000 Taliban fighters, the same number the military has used in the past. But he cautioned that there is no way to make an accurate estimate.
"This is not a large movement here in Afghanistan," he said.
Barno, who is expected to leave Kabul next month after 19 months in charge, also reiterated that the U.S. military would take a lead role in anti-narcotics efforts in a nation that produces the bulk of the world's heroin.
Soldiers’ Status Changed
April 16, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
KABUL, Afghanistan – The Department of Defense has announced the death of six Soldiers previously listed as “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown.” The Soldiers had become unaccounted for on April 6 when the CH-47 helicopter they were on crashed near Ghazni. Their remains have since been identified.
- Sgt. Maj. Barbaralien Banks, 41, of Harvey, La. Banks was assigned to the Division Artillery, 25th Infantry Division (Light), Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
- Capt. David S. Connolly, 37, of Boston, Mass. Connolly was assigned to the Army Reserve’s 1173rd Transportation Terminal Battalion, Brockton, Mass.
- Sgt. Stephen C. High, 45, of Spartanburg, S.C. High was assigned to the Army National Guard's 228th Signal Brigade, Spartanburg, S.C.
- Spc. Michael K. Spivey, 21, of Fayetteville, N.C. Spivey was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, 12th Aviation Brigade, Giebelstadt, Germany.
- Cpl. Sascha Struble, 20, of Philadelphia, N.Y. Struble was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, Camp Ederle, Italy.
- Staff Sgt. Romanes L. Woodard, 30, of Hertford, N.C. Woodard was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, Camp Ederle, Italy.
The incident remains under investigation.
Afghan delegation tours Pakistan to promote repatriation
By Jack Redden / UNHCR Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, April 15 (UNHCR) – A delegation from northern Afghanistan has begun a UNHCR-sponsored tour of all provinces of Pakistan to tell refugees about improving conditions in the areas they fled up to 25 years ago and to hear their continuing concerns about returning.
"The benefit will be that the refugees living here in Pakistan will learn what recent developments have taken place in Afghanistan," said Samiullah Wardak of the Afghan government's Ministry of Rural Development. "On the other hand, our concerned authorities will also get informed about what problems and hardships Afghan refugees go through in Pakistan."
The nine members – including two people from the United Nations in Afghanistan – started their mission in Islamabad on Thursday and will visit areas throughout the country by the time they board a return flight to Kabul on April 28.
The team, the Returns Commission Working Group, was formed nearly three years ago to help remove obstacles in five provinces of Afghanistan where factional rivalries were hindering repatriation.
Since then, they have been trying to resolve problems in the provinces – Balkh, Sar-i-Pul, Jawzjan, Samangan and Faryab – and conveying the results to former residents living in camps for internally displaced people inside Afghanistan or refugees in Iran and Pakistan.
Although some 2.3 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan since 2002 and another 400,000 are forecast to repatriate this year, millions of Afghans remain in exile despite the end of the open warfare that raged in their homeland for more than two decades.
Many of them have established new lives in Pakistan and are reluctant to start over back in Afghanistan. Others, such as the thousands of residents of the slum area on the edge of Islamabad where the delegation went on Thursday, are poor Afghans who want promises of land or shelter before returning.
"If we are assured by the government that there will be land and other shelter facilities available to us once we go back, we are ready to leave even tomorrow," said Mohammad Zalmey, who was attending the session in an open-air mosque beside the mud-track that is the main road.
But the delegation is carrying a firm message: it is time for most Afghans to come back and join in the reconstruction; they will have problems but conditions in the country have improved markedly since the civil war ended with the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001.
"Whenever you return, your problems may increase manifold – all of those who have returned in the last three years had problems. But they had to start somewhere," said Shujauddin, a representative of the Afghan Department of Refugees and Repatriation.
"Today the international community and other donor agencies are ready to help the Afghan people. This opportunity may not be there forever," he told Afghan men who jammed around the mosque. "You have to make your own decision."
This repatriation season will be the last full year of the current Tripartite Agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which governs the UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme that assists Afghans wishing to return from Pakistan. It expires next March, but repatriation is mainly during the current April-October period of warm weather in Afghanistan.
The Afghan delegation is pointing that out in an intensive tour that is taking them through the Punjab capital of Lahore, the refugee camp of Mianwalli, the Punjab city of Attock, the North West Frontier Province of Peshawar, the Sindh capital of Karachi and the Balochistan capital of Quetta.
While any Afghan's decision to return to Afghanistan is voluntary and UNHCR is discussing with the government how to manage those Afghans who remain after the Tripartite Agreement expires, the UN refugee agency and the Pakistani government still believe repatriation is the best option for most people.
That is especially true for the Afghans who have been living for about two decades in the Katcha Abadi slum area of Islamabad, where the delegation started its work. The government wants to reclaim the land for development and its extended deadline for the residents to leave runs out this year.
The residents have the choice of repatriating to Afghanistan or moving elsewhere in Pakistan, but the team from northern Afghanistan was clear in the belief that they would be better off leaving Islamabad, where they specialize in rubbish collection, and return to their homeland.
"If they do not themselves return and build their homes and cultivate the land, it will remain in ruins forever," said Shujauddin. "Our request is that Afghans in Pakistan should come back now, as the United Nations is assisting them to voluntarily repatriate as well as helping them with their initial needs back in Afghanistan. It is a golden chance they should take advantage of."
University dons should not work for NGOs says Minister
Pajhwak Afghan News 04/15/2005
JALALABAD – Higher education minister Prof Amir Shah Hasanyar has asked university professors not to work in NGOs, promising a huge salary hike, following an agreement with the World Bank.
Salaries of university teachers are to be increased nearly ten-fold in a bid to ensure the quality of higher education. Currently university professors and teachers have been working part-time with NGOs to supplement their meager income. Salaries are currently between $60-80 per month.
Announcing the new salaries during a visit to Jalalabad University on Thursday Prof. Hasanyar said university lecturers should not work in NGOs hereafter. "According to the agreement a full professor will take $700, an associate professor will take $300 and an assistant professor will take $100" he added. He said he did not want teachers to participate in politics or work in NGOs but to pay their full attention to teaching instead.
Meanwhile, teachers say they are working in NGOs because they haven't been paid a proper salary. The government salary is not enough even for the house rent, Mohammad Ajmal a lecturer in the faculty of engineering said. He added "If the minister really does what he says we will never work in NGOs".
One of the teachers at the university who did not to be identified told Pajhwok Afghan News that currently 30 teachers of the university are working in NGOs.
On the other hand, students at the university complained about their problems. The minister promised them that he would set up a commission to look into the problems and solve them.
India’s major worry - Afghan Talibans crippled but not dead yet
India Daily Balaji Reddy
India has warm-heartedly supported the Karzai Government of Afghanistan – the democratic coalition that is taking Afghan people towards mainstream of the world. Karzai Government is trying its best to negotiate a settlement with the Talibans and bring them to the mainstream Afghan politics. Talibans can become a major opposition party in Afghanistan if they decide to embrace democracy and discard militant jihadi traits. Karzai Government expressed hope and mentioned that many Talibani leaders are in touch with the Government for settling issues and participating in general Afghan prosperity.
But Talibanis came out and denied any such talks with the Government and also reiterated their supoort for a united Taliban under Mullah Omar.
According to reports from Afghanistan, Maulvi Abdul Kabir -- considered to be the second in command of the militant Islamist Taliban movement -- said April 16 that he was not involved in negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. In an audio message relayed to Reuters by satellite phone, a Taliban spokesm denied that there had been any talks between Kabir and Kabul or Washington and stressed that the Taliban remains united under the leadership of their founder Mullah Mohammed Omar. In the message, supposedly recorded on April 15th at an unknown location within the country, Kabir referred to himself as the head of the movement's political commission and said that his group was looking at giving up guerrilla warfare in favor of suicide operations. The statement from the deputy Taliban leader who used to be a the commander of the Taliban military forces in the east while they were in power in Kabul, comes in response to a claim by Afghan Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari that senior Taliban figures, including Kabir, had been in touch with him on ending the insurgency.
India has to worry with the Talibans. It is a ticking time bomb for India. Musharraf and its nuclear arsenals are dormant for the time being under Washington’s influence and international pressure. But Talibans eventually can come back to power in Afghanistan. That has happened again and again in Afghanistan. Fifteen years from today Taliban may be a “total tyranny “ of the world. They can influence Pakistan again and indirectly control the nuclear arsenal no matter what the status quo is today. The nukes in Pakistan with Talibani influence can become a serious threat to India, Israel, America and Russia.
Afghan Trips Over Rules He Upheld to U.S. Senate
By ERIC LICHTBLAU April 16, 2005 The New York Times
WASHINGTON, April 15 - Two months after the Sept. 11 attacks, a Northern Virginia financier from Afghanistan named Rahim Bariek appeared as a witness before a Senate panel and spoke of how important it was for business people like himself, who operate an informal money-exchange system known as a hawala to follow the law.
Operators who skirt the rules, he told lawmakers, "give all hawala a bad name."
But on Friday, Mr. Bariek found himself accused of violating those same rules, as he was jailed and charged with operating an illegal money-transmittal business. Federal prosecutors charged that he used his business to send nearly $5 million to Iran, Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan that were under the control of the Taliban in 2001 and 2002.
"It is interesting to note that this man testified before the U.S. Senate on how to comply with federal laws governing hawalas," said Allan J. Doody, a senior agent with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau. "Today's case suggests he didn't take his own advice."
Hawalas, common in many Islamic countries as an informal and often paperless way to move money, have attracted increased scrutiny from American counterterrorism officials because of concerns that they could be exploited by terrorist financiers. The U.S.A. Patriot Act, the sweeping law passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, tightened the regulations and licensing requirements for American operators of such systems. Since its approval, customs officials investigating money-service businesses have arrested more than 120 people and seized about $23 million.
In one of the biggest cases, a Pakistani citizen living in Queens was sentenced last week in federal court to 43 months in prison for operating an illegal money transmittal business. Prosecutors said the defendant, Farooq Malik, was part of a criminal scheme that illegally routed more than $100 million to Pakistan.
Few of the cases have documented any firm links to terrorist financing. But Paul J. McNulty, the United States attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, said Friday in announcing the charges against Mr. Bariek that "money is the lifeblood of terrorism and drug trafficking."
"Illegal money transmitters and money launderers," he said, "provide the much-needed vessels for moving money for criminal purposes."
Mr. Bariek could face more than five years in prison if convicted. His lawyer, William Cummings, suggested that the charges against him stemmed from his ignorance of the law and that, while he apparently sought to have his business licensed with federal regulators, he did not realize he needed to be licensed in Virginia. "He wasn't intentionally violating the law," Mr. Cummings said in an interview. "This man thought he'd done all the right things."
Mr. Bariek, 46, who lives in Herndon, Va., and runs a company called Bariek Money Transfer, told members of a Senate banking subcommittee in his appearance in November 2001 that hawalas like his had played a crucial role for Afghan refugees and others who may not be able to get money through traditional banks and other means.
He explained that several hundred fellow Afghan refugees in Northern Virginia would typically give him anywhere from $20 to $400 a month, either by mailing him personal checks or leaving cash at local Afghan stores, and he would transfer it to their families in Pakistan and elsewhere. The customers would be given a code word to pass on to their relatives overseas, and Mr. Bariek would take a 5 percent commission, he said. "The informal and paperless nature of hawala makes it easy to take advantage of," he said at the hearing, "but the vast majority of hawala are legitimate." He said he found it "upsetting that there are hawala used for illegal activity."
At the hearing, Senator Evan Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who wrote the provision of the Patriot Act tightening regulation of hawalas, thanked Mr. Bariek at length for educating the public on how the services were used. "I want to say up front that there are many, many legitimate operators, you are among them, providing legitimate services to your customers," the senator said.
In response to Friday's criminal charges, a spokesman for Senator Bayh said that "if these allegations are true, it shows that the law that Senator Bayh authored, championed and enacted is working to make America safer."
Suspected Taliban rebels blow up tankers
By NOOR KHAN ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER Sunday, April 17, 2005
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Suspected Taliban rebels set off a bomb next to a fuel tanker parked outside the main U.S. military base in southern Afghanistan Sunday, setting off a chain of large explosions that destroyed five tankers and injured three drivers, officials said.
The attack took place just after 3 a.m., while Pakistani and Afghan drivers waiting to deliver fuel to the U.S. base at Kandahar airport were sleeping, said Gen. Muslim Ahmed, the local Afghan military commander. No American soldiers were injured.
One of the injured drivers, Sher Alam, told The Associated Press he was woken by the initial blast and ran for his life.
"I was sleeping at the time and suddenly I heard an explosion. When I woke up there was a huge fire engulfing the fuel tanker near mine. We all ran away and there were more explosions," said Alam, whose feet and hands were injured by flying debris.
Gen. Ahmed said American troops arrived shortly after the blasts to put out the fire. No arrests were made, but suspicion immediately fell on the insurgents
"The Taliban perpetrated this terrorist activity," the general said.
By midmorning Sunday, black smoke still billowed from the charred hulls of the tankers.
Taliban rebels have kept up a drumbeat of attacks, particularly in the south, but have failed to launch any major uprising in recent months. On Saturday, the top U.S. general in the country predicted they might try to pull off a "high-visibility attack" in an effort to reverse their waning fortunes.
But Lt. Gen. David Barno added that the future was against them, and predicted the insurgency would be nearly completely destroyed within 12 months.
Tight security measures mean long waits for drivers delivering fuel to U.S. bases in Afghanistan. Alam said he had been sleeping in his truck for 10 days waiting his turn to enter the base.
In other violence, six Afghan soldiers were injured Sunday when a landmine went off as they traveled in central Zabul province, said local official Haji Wazir Mohammed.
Burqa no barrier for Afghan women poll candidates in Taleban heartland
(AFP) 17 April 2005 via Khaleej Times Online
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - She can’t leave the house without an all-covering blue burqa, many of her relatives are scandalised, but Shahida Hussain is preparing to stand for parliament anyway.
The 50-year-old women’s rights activist who lives in the Taleban spiritual heartland of Afghanistan is one of at least two women in the southern city of Kandahar who are preparing to stand for elections in Afghanistan’s parliamentary polls on September 18.
Despite the fact that she is a woman in this deeply conservative city where many families do not let their female relatives leave the house, Hussain is optimistic about her chances in the parliamentary race.
“One thing that gives me hope is that I don’t belong to any party or tribe and I am standing to represent ordinary people and my nation,” she tells AFP in her living room, as her grandchildren run in and out.
However, the obstacles in front of her remain substantial.
Fundamentalists from Al Qaeda and the Taleban remain a threat. A group of men came to her home ahead of the October presidential vote and threatened her 10-year-old grandson last year, asking him to tell her to stay out of politics.
Hussain had been active in helping women register to vote and encouraging them to go to polling stations on Election Day in Kandahar province where only around 20 percent of women registered to vote compared to 41 percent nationwide.
“Tribal commanders and warlords are also a threat and lastly there are my relatives. If many of them don’t want their women to leave the house it is difficult for them to accept me standing for parliament,” she says.
Her husband, who is a policeman, and her five sons support her political ambitions, she added.
Hussain is standing as an independent candidate, as President Hamid Karzai did, because after 23 years of war many Afghans remain deeply suspicious of political parties which were linked with different factions in the mujahedin who battled the Soviets in the 1980s and then fought bitterly with each other.
“I am afraid of political parties here. Their hands are red with the blood of innocent people,” she says.
A big progress...
Although western diplomats have cautioned that Karzai will face difficulties in pushing his policies through an elected parliament if there are no substantial party blocks to negotiate with both the president and many in his government are wary of the clout of political parties.
Afghanistan’s parliament will be elected using the Single Non-transferable Vote system, which favours individual candidates over political parties.
Nasrullah Khan, a program officer at the US-funded National Democratic Institute in Kandahar, which promotes awareness of democratic principles and runs workshops to train individual and party candidates about their rights and responsibilities, says people’s scepticism of parties is understandable.
“People have many doubts about political parties so we have opened this organisation to build understanding and awareness of what a party is supposed to do,” he says.
Khan adds that it remains “difficult, although not impossible” for women to stand for election and conduct political campaigning in Kandahar and other conservative tribal parts of ethnically Pashtun southern Afghanistan.
However, the institute has run political training for 30 women who will be canvassing for Jamila, an Afghan woman who goes by one name, who will be running along with Hussain as an independent candidate for parliament.
“We had 30 women here for Jamila (recently) and we were telling them about what a candidate is supposed to do,” Khan says.
In a neighbouring room at the institute, a dozen women are getting a lesson in the role of political candidates in Afghanistan.
The 12 are linked with the Milli Gund party -- formerly the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan -- but say they will have to do a lot of their political work covertly.
“Many of us are teachers in schools, but if the principals found out we were linked with a party we could be fired,” Samina Ghul, a 26-year-old teacher says.
Khan says all of the women at the workshop have fathers and brothers or other relatives involved in the Milli Gund party or they wouldn’t be allowed to get involved in politics, but he says it’s a step in the right direction.
“At least the women are out of the home and finding out about politics,” he says.
Getting party representatives to sit around the table and discuss politics is also a major step forward, Khan adds.
“We had a meeting here last week with eight political parties and people who had been thirsty to kill each other were sitting and talking. That’s big progress,” he says.
Afghanistan to send troops to Iraq
Saturday April 16, 2005 (2036 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to send troops of his country to Iraq.
According to Radio Mashad, it has been announced by the President following the meeting with US Defence Secretary in Kabul.
It further added that Afghanistan has agreed to send its troops to Iraq at a time when Afghans have been complaining against worse security situation in their own country
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