Blast aimed at U.S. convoy kills one Afghan, hurts 5
KABUL (Reuters) - A blast aimed at a convoy of U.S. troops killed an Afghan civilian and wounded five others on Monday in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a government spokesman said.
There was no immediate reports of casualties among U.S. troops from the blast, south of the city of Jalalabad.
Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanezai said the explosion was apparently caused by a bomb attached to a bicycle which went off as the convoy was passing.
Nangarhar's deputy governor Mohammad Asef blamed the Taliban guerrillas and said the bomb could have been triggered by remote control.
Taliban officials could not be reached for comment, but insurgents from the ousted Islamic movement have been behind attacks this year in which more than 1,100 people have died.
Most of those killed have been militants, but the toll has included more than 50 U.S. soldiers, the bloodiest period for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since they overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.
NATO forces kill attacker in W. Afghanistan
KABUL, Oct. 31 (Xinhuanet) -- The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed an unknown attacker in the relatively peaceful province of Farah in west Afghanistan late last week, spokesperson of the multinational force said Monday.
"Last Friday ISAF soldiers from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Farah killed a man when he attacked the PRT compound by throwing a hand grenade toward the entrance," Riccardo Kristoni told journalists at a news briefing.
The suspected militant, he spokesman added had also targeted a vehicle of a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the area but missed the target.
"ISAF forces immediately secured the area and after a thoroughsearch, no further assailants were found," the official emphasized.
He gave no more details.
It is the first time that NATO-led peacekeeping troops came under attack in the peaceful Farah province. The attack occurred just a day before a deadly offensive on British contingent in northern Balkh province Saturday that left one soldier dead and five others wounded.
Remnants of the former Taliban regime who have waged a violent comeback claimed responsibility for Saturday's bloody incident in Balkh's provincial capital Mazar-e-Sharif.
About 1,500 people with majority of them militants are said to have been killed in Taliban-led insurgency since the beginning of this year.
Pakistani arrested for deadly attack on British soldier
Sun Oct 30, 9:44 AM ET
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) - One of four men arrested for an attack that killed a British soldier in northern Aghanistan is a Pakistani who had arrived in the country just days earlier.
Gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying British soldiers serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the main northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Saturday, killing one and wounding five.
An Afghan interpreter was also wounded in the attack on an unmarked ISAF vehicle near the city's famous Blue Mosque.
Three of the men detained after the attack were Afghans but a fourth said he was a Pakistani national who had only entered Afghanistan a few days before the ambush, Mazar-i-Sharif police spokesman Shirgan Dorani told AFP.
The man had said he had trained at a religious school, or madrassa, in Pakistan, Dorani said Sunday.
The attackers opened fire on the ISAF car from a motorbike and a car, witnesses said. Some of them fled on foot and were captured by onlookers.
The injured soldiers had been evacuated to the capital Kabul for treatment, an ISAF spokesman said.
Officials did not say who was suspected of carrying out the attack. The city has seen relatively little of the regular violence in southern and eastern Afghanistan that is blamed on fighters allied to the Taliban and other militant groups.
Taliban loyalists vowed to overthrow the government of President Hamid Karzai after their fundamentalist regime was ousted in a US-led campaign in late 2001.
ISAF also reported Sunday that its soldiers in the southwestern city of Farah had killed a man on Friday who had thrown a grenade towards the entrance of a compound of a reconstruction team in the city.
ISAF soldiers, based mainly in the capital and northern and western Afghanistan, mainly act as peacekeepers who assist various civilian and military Provincial Reconstruction Teams dotted around the war-torn and destitute country.
Britain has about 1,000 personnel serving in Afghanistan. The last British soldier to die in the country was killed in an apparent suicide bomb attack in January last year.
US military condemns abuse after latest Afghanistan claims
KABUL (AFP) - The US military said it would not tolerate abuse by its soldiers after new claims against American troops in Afghanistan, where they were this month accused of burning the bodies of Taliban suspects.
The US-led coalition announced late Sunday that two US soldiers had been charged with allegedly assaulting two detainees in their custody in southern Uruzgan province, including by punching them in chest, shoulders and stomach.
"These alleged offences do not reflect the values of the members of this command," coalition spokesman Colonel Jim Yonts told reporters on Monday.
"We will not tolerate the kind of behaviour that is alleged against these soldiers," he said.
He said the US military was conducting three investigations into television footage broadcast this month showing US soldiers burning the bodies of suspected Taliban fighters in contravention of international law and the tenets of Islam, which says the bodies of Muslims must be buried.
The Australian report said the soldiers had burned the bodies because they had been left in the open for more than 24 hours. They used the incident to taunt other Taliban fighters in an attempt to goad them into battle, it said.
Besides a criminal investigation into the claims, the military was looking into how US forces were taught to handle human remains on the battlefield, Yonts said.
It was also investigating psychological operation techniques, doctrine and training, he said. These are measures used to influence an enemy.
Coalition soldiers in Afghanistan have also been accused of abusing Afghan detainees, at least eight of whom have died in US custody since 2001, when the coalition entered the country to help topple the hardline Taliban government.
Two US soldiers were this year sentenced to up to three months in jail for the abuse, terms Afghan government officials said were "unexpectedly lenient."
Reacting to the latest allegations involving US soldiers, the government reiterated it was against all acts that were in violation of the Geneva Convention.
"Any step which intends to curb such abuses in Afghanistan is welcomed," foreign ministry spokesman Naveed Ahmad Moez said.
Such allegations put public pressure on the government, which is dependent on the international community to rebuild after decades of war and occupation, and to try to stem an insurgency blamed on Taliban loyalists, he added.
The US-led coalition in Afghanistan is made up of some 20,000 troops, about 90 percent of them American.
Afghan Prisoner Abuse Charges Filed Against Two U.S. Soldiers
Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. military command in Afghanistan said it filed charges of abuse against two U.S. soldiers over their treatment of Afghan detainees.
The soldiers are accused of striking two detainees being held at a base in Oruzgan province in southern Afghanistan, the American Forces Press Service said in a report yesterday carried on the U.S. Defense Department's Web site. It didn't say when the incidents took place.
``The command remains committed to investigate all allegations of misconduct,'' said Army Brigadier General Jack Sterling, deputy commanding general for support of the U.S.-led task force, according to the report. The command will ``hold individuals responsible for their actions consistent with U.S. military law.''
U.S. and allied forces have more than 21,000 soldiers in Afghanistan combating fighters from the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban movement, which was ousted from power in 2001 in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. The military command on Oct. 20 said it is investigating the alleged burning by U.S. soldiers of the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters earlier this month.
The two soldiers on abuse charges are accused of striking the detainees in the chest, shoulders and stomach, according to the report on the Defense Department Web site. The detainees didn't need medical attention, it said.
The soldiers face charges including conspiracy to maltreat, assault and dereliction of duty, the military said.
The alleged burning of the bodies of two fighters has been condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the New York Times reported on Oct. 22.
The allegations are very serious ``and if true, very troublesome,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Washington on Oct. 20.
Allegations that guards at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba disrespected the Koran, the Muslim holy book, sparked violence in Afghanistan in May in which 15 people were killed.
Afghan Paper Says AIDS Can Be Controlled By Applying Islamic Principles
RedNova - Oct 30 8:23 AM
Text of editorial titled "The world and Afghanistan in the grip of AIDS", published by Afghan newspaper Cheragh on 30 October
AIDS is such a deadly and fatal disease that it is posing a serious threat to the whole world and every government is doing its utmost to prevent its spread. The disease, which destroys a patient's immune system, can kill him in a very short period of time. The world's professors believe that illegal sexual relations, use of infected equipment during medical operations and carelessness about health are the main reasons for its spread. But, it has been proven to a great extent that sexual relations are the main reason for the spread of AIDS.
It is worrying that illegal sexual relations are becoming common throughout the world, yet Islam has prohibited its followers from this. There were almost no AIDS infected patients in Afghanistan and even if there were, they were no more than two people four years ago. But, now as it is seen, this disease is spreading in our country as well. The number of AIDS patients reached dozens over the past four years.
At a press conference held within the UN's AIDS programme, the minister of public health spoke on the dangers of AIDS and said the disease was spreading fast. He said that 14,000 people contracted AIDS daily throughout the world and that mostly young boys and children were the victims of this deadly disease.
The minister said that 45 official cases of AIDS had been registered in Afghanistan, 28 of them men and 17 women. He said that three children also contracted this disease and that two of them have already died. He added that an AIDS ward had been opened in the Public Health Ministry since 2003 to provide relevant services to compatriots.
A close examination of the remarks of health minister shows that the disease is spreading throughout the world and several people have contracted it in Afghanistan. This is truly worrying and we should take effective measures to prevent it. As we stated at the beginning, the main reason for the spread of AIDS is illegal sexual relation and the religion of Islam has banned its followers from this.
In our opinion, the unnecessary freedom given to young people, the return of refugees from Western countries, and foreigners to Afghanistan increased the statistics of AIDS patients. Without a doubt, several compatriots will contract the disease if its spread is not brought under control. We want the Afghan government and people to eliminate the reasons for its spread before many of our compatriots are struck by it, because this disease cannot be treated but it can be controlled by implementing Islamic principles.
Source: BBC Monitoring South Asia
World leaders condemn 'terrorist' attacks in New Delhi
New Delhi (AFP) - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan led international condemnation against "terrorist" bombings which claimed at least 61 lives in the Indian capital New Delhi.
"The secretary general is appalled by and condemns the series of terrorist bombings which have resulted in many deaths in the Indian capital," a statement released by Annan's press office said on Sunday. "The secretary general is particularly shocked that this latest terrorist outrage has occurred on the eve of the major Hindu festival of Diwali."
An unknown group calling itself Inquilab (revolution) on Sunday claimed responsibility for the apparently coordinated bombings Saturday, saying attacks would continue until India pulls all its troops from Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between India and Pakistan
Ahead of the group's claim, suspicion had immediately fallen on insurgent groups opposed to a peace process begun by India and Pakistan last year.
Islamabad was among the first to condemn the bombings and call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
"The attack in a crowded marketplace is a criminal act of terrorism," the Pakistani foreign ministry said. "The people and government of Pakistan are shocked at this barbaric act and express deep sympathy with the families of the victims."
Messages of condemnation and condolences poured in from around the world. Washington called the bomb blasts "another sad reminder that terror knows no borders".
"These acts are made more heinous in that they deliberately targeted innocent civilians preparing for holiday celebrations," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
India's former colonial ruler Britain condemned the "appalling attacks" which Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called "yet another example of terrorists' cynical and callous disregard for human life."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, noting that the target was not political but a market, called it a dreadful attack.
"When people start throwing bombs in markets, as they regularly do in Iraq and other parts of the world and it's now in New Delhi, it shows how brutal and indiscriminate and unforgivable it really is," Howard told Channel Nine television.
In Bangladesh, Foreign Minister M. Morshed Khan called the bombings a "heinous act" and officials bolstered security in and around the capital Dhaka, where a meeting of South Asian leaders is just two weeks away.
Japan, the Philippines and Afghanistan also condemned the attacks. "It is an extremely cowardly and unforgivable act," Yoshinori Katori, a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.
Elsewhere, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin called the violence "beyond deplorable", while South African President Thabo Mbeki offered condolences for the "dastardly act of terror".
"The South African government joins the international community in condemning these heinous acts of terrorism, particularly in a country that espouses the principles of democracy and freedom of its people," Mbeki said.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana also voiced their condemnation. "Once again terrorism has struck savagely," Villepin said in a message to his Indian counterpart Singh.
Chinese President Hu Jintao said Beijing "condemns all forms of terrorism" and expressed a willingness to work together with India and other countries to safeguard world peace, the state Xinhua news agency quoted Hu as saying in a message of condolence to his Indian counterpart Abdul Kalam.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed "terrorists" and said the explosions at crowded marketplaces were timed to cause maximum damage with people shopping ahead of religious festivals next week.
"I condemn the cynical and premeditated attacks on innocent people. These are dastardly acts of terrorism aimed at the people of India," Singh told a press conference.
"These terrorists wish to spread a sense of fear and suspicion among peace loving people. The blasts have been timed to create disaffection during the festive season," he said.
Man Held in Pakistan Says He's American
Quetta (AP) - Pakistani border guards have arrested a man who claimed to be an American citizen for entering Pakistan illegally from neighboring Iran, an official said Saturday.
The man, identified as Essa Jesus, 56, was arrested late Friday in Taftan, a southwestern Pakistani town near the border with Iran, said Akbar Lashari, a senior official with Levies, a police force responsible for security along the border and in tribal parts of southwestern Baluchistan province.
"He had no visa. When he was interrogated, he said that he is a tourist from America and a resident of Alabama," Lashari said. Lashari said the man could speak Urdu, Pashtu and Persian — languages spoken mainly in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said it had no information about the arrest in Taftan, about 435 miles southwest of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, the man said he lost his American passport and other documents in Iran five years ago. "I came to Pakistan to go to the American Embassy and get my passport," he said.
He said he was a former restaurant waiter in Alabama and left the United States 40 years ago, going first to London, then India, and then traveling in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
Conflict resolution, India’s way
Indian Express D.C. Pathak
The enormous loss of life caused by the October 8 earthquake in PoK together with the damage it inflicted also on the Indian side of the LoC, has evoked an equally large human response across the territorial divide. This brings in new hopes even in this moment of great tragedy.
It is clear that political and geographical barriers cannot override the human bonds that drove the civilians as well as our men in uniform to try to do whatever they could to reach out to the people oscillating between life and death on the other side. The disaster brought home a message; life is too precious a thing to be destroyed by acts of hate or revenge.
But it is equally clear that this acknowledgement of a shared community is embattled in today’s world, as never before. Terrorist attacks in Ayodhya and London, the country-wide bomb blasts in Bangladesh, and the suicide bombings in Bali throw light on the current status of global terror.
The London strikes, now owned by al Qaeda, are a reminder of the new terror unfolding in the wake of developments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Bangladesh blasts are attributed to the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, a militant offshoot of the Hizbul Mujahideen, now collaborating with the Taliban-al Qaeda stream, while the bombings at Bali are suspected to be the handiwork of the pro-al Qaeda elements of the Jemaah Islamiyah. The failed attempt of the terrorists at Ayodhya, however, was an extension of the Pak-sponsored proxy-war against India.
The second Bush administration is conducting the war on terror on two planks. One is the apparent reliance of the US on a distinction between ‘‘moderate Islamists’’ representing ‘‘political Islam’’ and the ‘‘radical Islam’’ accounting for the so-called ‘‘jehadi terrorism’’. Interestingly, this distinction coincides with a benign view taken by the West, of those who, under the umbrella of Maulana Maudoodi’s Jamaat-e-Islami and its forerunner, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially led the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan on the war cry of jehad.
The West in general and the US in particular, faced an entirely new situation when the Taliban, product of the Deobandi madrasas spread across NWFP-Afghan belt, established their hold on Afghanistan in 1996 and got the support of the Arab radical stream of Wahabis symbolised by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. The Taliban-al Qaeda axis is intrinsically hostile to the West. It carries the legacy of the ulema-led jehadi movements that were launched in diverse regions like Algeria, Arabia and India in the middle of the 19th century against western domination. The International Islamic Jehad established by bin Laden presently represents a confluence of Islamic radicals of Arab, Afghan, South and South East Asian origin.
Pakistan, while trying to convince the US that it was engaged in serious combat against al Qaeda, kept up its proxy war against India mainly using the outfits under the ISI’s influence — principally the Hizbul Mujahideen of the Jamaat stream and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, product of the Muridke-based Markaz Dawah-ul-Irshad run by the Pak-Saudi combine. The American preoccupation with the al Qaeda sponsored global terror had created an Indo-US differential on what was happening by way of the cross border terrorism directed against India.
There is perhaps now a better understanding in the US of India’s concerns. India has appealed to the world community to speak in one language against terrorism. It is hoped that in the new situation created by the Indo-Pak talks, Musharraf would be able to keep his share of the responsibility.
The second feature of the war on terror is the declared policy of the US that it would strive to have the democracy deficit removed from those Muslim countries which have become vulnerable to the radical fundamentalists.
India would welcome the return of democracy to all those societies which had not had the benefit of enjoying it so far. However, there is some validity in the argument that modernisation is not necessarily synonymous with westernisation. Also, the advance of democracy in any society is dependent on the degree of popular acceptance of the idea that every citizen, regardless of creed or sex, will have the same rights and obligations. Right now there seems to be an internal conflict developing between the ruling elites cooperating with the West and large sections of masses who are under the influence of Islamic radicals. There is a strong presence of such forces in the western and eastern neighbourhood of India.
India has the advantage that not only is its democracy deeply entrenched, the Indian communities do not have any inclination to get involved in the wider religion-based conflict in the world around us. Firm on the platform of secular sovereignty that promotes inclusive cultural pluralism, India can combine effective counter-terrorism measures at home, conducted in a professional way to keep them in line with human rights, with the possibility of playing a global role in the arena of conflict resolution. (The writer is a former director of the Intelligence )
Cricket fever grips Afghan youth
India Express - Oct 30 3:48 AM
Cricket fever is gradually gripping Afghanistan and more and more youngsters are aspiring to build a strong Afghan cricket team to play international matches.
Irfan Pathan, who is creating ripples with his devastating bowling and breathtaking batting in the ongoing cricket one-dayers against Sri Lanka, may soon have to face Mohammed Kaif from a rival team.
Young Kaif is not the middle order knocker one is familiar in India but an upcoming 15-year-old batsman in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
One reason for the popularity of Cricket in the war-torn country is the return of a large number of Afghan refugees from neighbouring cricket-loving Pakistan.
Football has been now relegated to the number two sport.
Though the Afghan national cricket team was formed in 1995 soon after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, the sport could not be advanced because of Taliban elements getting a foothold in Afghanistan.
With the exit of the Taliban forces, cricket has started to flourish with the country now boasting of having over 300 registered clubs and a cricket academy which was recently opened here.
Work has commenced to start a national cricket stadium of world standards.
Small US units lure Taliban into losing battles
By Scott Baldauf, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor Mon Oct 31, 3:00 AM ET
QALAT, AFGHANISTAN - It's mid- morning on June 21, and Lt. Timothy Jon O'Neal's platoon has just been dropped onto a dusty field north of a mud-walled village of Chalbar. Their mission: to check out reports that a local Afghan Army commander has defected to the Taliban and burned the district headquarters, and is prepared to fight.
Within minutes, it becomes clear that the reports are true, and the platoon is in trouble. The radio crackles with Taliban fighters barking orders to surround the Americans. Gunfire comes from the hilltops. Lieutenant O'Neal's men are easy targets. The Taliban have the high ground.
* * *
This has been the most violent year here since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The US Army is moving in smaller numbers to lure the Taliban out of hiding for fights they cannot win. The result: More than 1,200 enemy deaths this year, including high-level commanders. But it is also a strategy with profound risks, and one that may be difficult to sustain in Zabul Province - a region so unstable that commanders call it the "Fallujah of Afghanistan" - as current troops return home, their replacements as yet undecided.
Through interviews with soldiers of Chosen Company, of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Monitor has reconstructed two recent battles that illustrate how this strategy works, and how it may have weakened the Taliban movement's effectiveness as a military force - for now.
* * *
As the Taliban start shooting, O'Neal's platoon scurries for cover. But there's no panic. "They think, without a doubt, they have us outnumbered," recalls O'Neal, a native of Jeannette, Pa., and leader of 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company. "We've got only 23 people on the ground, and I would say the Taliban had over 150 before the day was over."
But O'Neal and his men are not alone. Just to the south, 1st platoon is clearing a village; to the east, the 3rd platoon are marching toward Chalbar. O'Neal's platoon calls for close air support from nearby Apache helicopters. But on the ground, 2nd platoon will have to hold its own, and fight for every inch - uphill.
Much is made about the high-tech gear that US soldiers carry: body armor, rapid-firing machine guns, night vision goggles. But the chief advantage of the US military - especially in a low-intensity conflict, pitted against a crudely trained force like the Taliban - is training and air power.
Taliban fighters, meanwhile, appear to gain courage from numbers, the ability to swarm a smaller enemy unit. A sense of safety in numbers, however, is often the Taliban's undoing if a US platoon can fix an enemy's position long enough for aircraft or other infantry units to arrive. This is the backbone of US military strategy in Zabul, and one reason why the Taliban have lost so many fighters this year.
"We've had a lot of success with textbook tactics, getting the smallest element engaged, and then using other assets to just pile on," says O'Neal. "The Taliban are more willing to engage with us when we have smaller numbers."
Not Taliban bait
Lt. Col. Mark Stammer, the commander at Forward Operating Base in Qalat, is quick to clarify that the US Army is not using small units as "bait."
"I've never sent a squad in as bait," says Colonel Stammer, a native of Redfield, S.D. "I'm sure that it has emboldened the Taliban to attack. But there's no fight where our squads have made contact and lost. Whenever the Taliban fight us, they're decimated."
Darting from boulder to boulder, Sgt. Justin Hormann, a native of Melbourne, Fla., is leading a team of about six men up the hill, just behind 1st squad leader, Staff Sgt. Michael Christian of Montrose, Pa. Above them, about 50 Taliban fighters are raining down a torrent of gunfire with their Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades.
Sergeant Christian reaches a shallow plateau on the hill, and pulls himself up to establish a fire position. Almost immediately, he's shot. He crouches behind a boulder and shouts out, "I'm hit." The Talib who shot him is barely 30 feet away.
Sergeant Hormann can see his squad leader is bleeding and needs immediate help. "When he got hit, they were right in front of us," recalls Hormann, while on break between missions at the Forward Operating Base at Qalat. "He could see the fighter in front of him, but he couldn't see the Taliban who was just alongside him."
Hormann makes a snap decision: He bounds up the hill to give Christian first aid. "I said 'to heck with it.' I just ran up," says Hormann. All around him, Taliban bullets continue to ping off rocks as Hormann applies a tourniquet. Under constant fire, he sets up Bravo team to deliver suppressing fire, while he and Alpha team carry Christian off the hill. At the bottom, he regroups the squad for another assault.
"And then we all went back up the hill a second time," says Hormann, who was recently awarded a Bronze Star with valor for his actions that day. For the next four hours, Hormann and a 10-man ad hoc squad move back up the mountain within 60 feet of the enemy. Only when Pfc. Joseph Lorman of Sloughhouse, Calif., is wounded in the neck and shoulder does Hormann move the squad back down the mountain.
By that time, reinforcements from the 1st and 3rd platoons have arrived. All escape routes are blocked. The Taliban are trapped.
"The fire was extremely close," says O'Neal, who was with a second team providing covering fire lower down the hill. "But toward the end it got dark, so we just ran to the bottom."
As night falls, American AC-130 Specter gunships arrive to engage Taliban fighters who have also decided to make a run for it. By the end of the day, 76 Taliban bodies are counted, and another nine Taliban fighters are captured.
To this day, the men of the 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, can't figure out what the Taliban were thinking. Were they suicidal? Why did they gather so many Taliban in one place? Did they really think they had enough men to defeat the Americans?
"They called the BBC to tell them they had taken the district headquarters," says O'Neal. "They knew we were going to come."
* * *
It's been just over a month since the men of 2nd Platoon, Chosen (Few) Company, were in a battle with the Taliban.
O'Neal and his men are in Kandahar, on call as a quick-reaction force, when they get a call to deploy. They catch helicopters to Uruzgan, a region that has been a headquarters of sort for Taliban remnants. Their mission is to clear the village of Siahchow, where US Special Forces units have taken fire from an unknown number of Taliban fighters. The Special Forces will continue to block escape routes, while O'Neal's men take the village, one building at a time.
"The whole purpose of an infantry is to close in on the enemy and finish them off," says Capt. Eric Gardiner, commander of Chosen Company in Qalat. "Here in Afghanistan, we've had over 75 percent of our contacts within hand grenade range."
Missions like this one, with its elements of intense urban warfare, test an infantryman like no other. The closest comparison to what is about to happen in Siahchow is what one occasionally sees in the street battles of Iraqi towns like Fallujah, Ramadi, or Najaf. But Siahchow has another hazard: a fruit orchard in the center of town, with hiding places for the enemy.
Spc. Christopher Velez, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who is in the lead squad, says he senses something is wrong. Normally, children come up to American soldiers, asking for candy or pens. Here, there is nobody. Even the roosters are silent.
The village follows the shape of the valley: narrow at one end, and then opening up, with houses along the outskirts. The men begin to search each of those houses, north to south. Specialist Velez's team searches houses. Sergeant Hormann and his men line up shoulder to shoulder and search the orchard.
The Taliban are there. "We are close enough that we could hear their movements," says Hormann. "We could see the hand of some guy reaching for his weapon."
A fierce gun battle breaks out with eight Taliban fighters in the orchard. Hormann and his team leader, Sgt. DaWayne Krepel, and his team maneuver around the Taliban. The firefight lasts an intense 15 minutes; Sergeant Krepel kills two enemy fighters just two feet away.
House to house
Lieutenant O'Neal hears the gunfire nearby, but continues with his objective of clearing houses.
For the most part, the Taliban are poorly trained, firing wildly enough that they can't hit American soldiers even at close range. "If we were that far from you," Velez says, pointing at a table just 10 feet away, "and I missed you, I would be upset at myself."
On the eastern edge of the orchard, Velez prepares to cross an open field toward a pair of mud-walled homes about 50 feet away. But as soon as he steps on the grass, he hears Kalashnikov fire aimed at him. He ducks back into the orchard, while other team members move into position, and Afghan National Army soldiers fire at the rooftops of the closest housing compound.
No one knows which home the gunfire is coming from. So O'Neal's men prepare to move in on the house to the left, while Sgt. Michael Schafer of Spring Hill, Fla., and the 2nd squad prepare to assault the house on the right.
The mission turns deadly
What happens next unfolds quickly. "I hear fire, and somebody calls for a medic," says Velez. Sergeant Schafer kicks down the front door, steps inside, and gunfire erupts. Schafer is hit, but doesn't die instantly. He pushes his team leader, Sgt. Brian Hooper, back out the door, before falling to the floor.
O'Neal's squad rushes over. "Where's Sergeant Schafer? What's been cleared?" he demands. Sgt. Hooper is in shock. "When I see Hooper, I get scared. He's completely out of it," says O'Neal.
Finally, O'Neal peers inside the doorway at an angle, and sees Schafer slumped against the wall. He reaches for an automatic weapon, an M-249, and steps a bit closer to peer inside. The room is shrouded in darkness. He tries to turn on his tactical light on his helmet, but it doesn't work. There are no Taliban fighters in sight, but they are there.
"I'm not thinking very clearly," O'Neal admits later. "I just want to try to pull Schafer out with one hard pull."
Finally, after three attempts and several injuries, O'Neal tosses smoke grenades into the room while three soldiers pull Schafer's body out. The men toss standard grenades into the room to kill the Taliban inside. But some survive and fire back.
The Americans have now taken two gunshot casualties, one of them fatal, and five casualties from heat. Velez has been injured by shrapnel from a grenade. And they are just halfway through checking the village.
At one point, there is a massive explosion in a nearby house, perhaps an attempt by Taliban fighters to destroy a weapons cache. A Taliban fighter attempts to jump from the exploding roof, landing in a tree. Velez shoots him.
Hormann says the ferocity of the battle still leaves him surprised. "Usually the Taliban just shoot and run."
O'Neal says it's possible that there was a meeting of relatively high-level Taliban commanders on that day, and the Taliban felt obliged to fight in defense, rather than run. In any case, in Siahchow, the Taliban were trapped by Special Forces; they didn't have any choice but to fight.
"In my opinion, the reason so many Taliban got together [to fight in large groups] this year is that they're trying to get a big victory under their belt," says O'Neal. He pauses. "Well, that's not really working out for them."
* * *
Sometime in March, the men of the 173rd Airborne Division will finish their year-long deployment in Afghanistan, and will return to their home base in Vicenza, Italy. Nobody knows yet who will replace them, or what methods those fighters will use.
Long-term, the Afghan National Army (ANA) will have to take over the defense of their country, but US military commanders at the ground level say that time is still a long way off. ANA fighters are enthusiastic learners, and they are picking up a great deal of real-life training under American advisers in real missions.
But the ANA still have a disconcerting habit of shooting themselves with their own weapons. "The problem is muzzle discipline," says 2nd Lieut. Ben Wisnioski, a commander of an ANA unit based in Qalat. In the week before the elections, Lieutenant Wisnioski lost three ANA soldiers to self-inflicted wounds.
Instead, most American commanders expect the southern command in Kandahar will be taken over by NATO. While NATO has generally conducted peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan thus far, heading the International Security and Assistance Force that guards Kabul and other cities in the north, American commanders say that the NATO force will have a strong counterinsurgency component.
"The British have more experience than everybody in counterinsurgency," says Maj. Douglas Vincent, spokesman for Forward Operating Base at Qalat, and a native of Boca Raton, Fla. "They have very good experience from Northern Ireland."
But will the British continue to use a similar strategy of small ground forces that has worked for the 173rd Airborne? Maybe they shouldn't, says Major Vincent. "It's good to keep changing things, keep them guessing."
After 3 years at Guantanamo, Afghan writers found to be no threat to U.S.
BY JAMES RUPERT STAFF CORRESPONDENT October 31, 2005 Newsday
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Former U.S. soldiers at the Pentagon's military prisons overseas have given evidence that a great many of the captives in "the global war on terror" are innocent.
In the past year, a former Army interpreter at Guantanamo and an interrogator at U.S. prisons in Afghanistan have published books on their experiences that in many ways buttress the accounts of ex-prisoners such as Afghan writers Badr Zaman Badr and Abdurrahim Muslim Dost.
In 2002, America's prisons in Afghanistan were crammed with ordinary people like Badr and Dost who were sometimes literally sold to U.S. forces for the bounties that Washington was offering, according to Chris Mackey, the former interrogator. In his book, "The Interrogators," Mackey (a pseudonym) said his Army intelligence unit struggled to evaluate "a steady stream of detainees from Pakistan and other governments or Afghan warlords pocketing a nice wad of cash for every prisoner they turned over."
Even when U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan made the arrests, they "couldn't distinguish the good [people] from the bad ... so they dropped them all on our doorstep to let us sort them out," he said. "They were bringing back a lot of fighters, but they also were bringing back a lot of farmers."
At Guantanamo in 2003, the bulk of prisoners were either innocent or irrelevant to the U.S. investigation into terrorist activities, according to Sgt. Erik Saar, who supervised interpreters in interrogations there. "We did have some bad guys, and some talkers" who were giving useful intelligence information, Saar wrote in his book, "Inside the Wire." "But from what I saw, there weren't many more than a few dozen such characters at Guantanamo."
Even a prisoner who has convinced his interrogators that he is no threat to the United States may not be freed. That decision is made at the Pentagon. But "once the file's in Washington, the decisions are all political," Saar quoted a military interrogator as saying. Bureaucrats ask, "Would releasing too many [prisoners] make the Gitmo operation look bad?" Saar wrote.
For months, grim interrogators grilled them over a satirical article Dost had written in 1998, when the Clinton administration offered a $5-million reward for Osama bin Laden. Dost responded that Afghans put up 5 million Afghanis - equivalent to $113 - for the arrest of President Bill Clinton.
"It was a lampoon ... of the poor Afghan economy" under the Taliban, Badr recalled. The article carefully instructed Afghans how to identify Clinton if they stumbled upon him. "It said he was clean-shaven, had light-colored eyes and he had been seen involved in a scandal with Monica Lewinsky," Badr said.
The interrogators, some flown down from Washington, didn't get the joke, he said. "Again and again, they were asking questions about this article. We had to explain that this was a satire." He paused. "It was really pathetic."
It took the brothers three years to convince the Americans that they posed no threat to Clinton or the United States, and to get released - a struggle that underscores the enormous odds weighing against innocent foreign Muslims caught in America's military prisons.
In recent months, scores of Afghans interviewed by Newsday - including a dozen former U.S. prisoners, plus human rights officials and senior Afghan security officials - said the United States is detaining enough innocent Afghans in its war against the Taliban and al-Qaida that it is seriously undermining popular support for its presence in Afghanistan.
As Badr and Dost fought for their freedom, they had enormous advantages over Guantanamo's 500-plus other captives. The brothers are university-educated, and Badr, who holds a master's degree in English literature, was one of few prisoners able to speak fluently to the interrogators in their own language. And since both men are writers, much of their lives and political ideas are on public record here in books and articles they have published.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, declared this summer that "there was no mistake" in the brothers' detention because it "was directly related to their combat activities [or support] as determined by an appropriate Department of Defense official." U.S. officials declined to discuss the case, so no full picture is available of why it took so long for the pair to be cleared.
The Pentagon's prison network overseas is assigned to help prevent attacks on the United States like those of Sept. 11, 2001, so "you cannot equate it to a justice system," said Army Col. Samuel Rob, who was serving this summer as the chief lawyer for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Still, he added, innocent victims of the system are "a small percentage, I'd say."
The military is slow to clear innocent prisoners, largely because of its fear of letting even one real terrorist get away, said Rob.
"What if this is a truly bad individual, the next World Trade Center bomber, and you let him go? What do you say to the families?" asked Rob.
Rob and the Defense Department say the prison system performs satisfactorily in freeing innocents and letting military investigators focus on prisoners who really are part of terrorist networks. Badr and others - including some former military intelligence soldiers who served in Guantanamo and Afghanistan - emphatically disagree.
The United States for years called Badr and his brother "enemy combatants," but the men say they never saw a battlefield. And for an America that seeks a democratized Afghanistan, they seem, potentially, allies. Americans "have freedom to criticize your government, and this is very good," said Badr. Also, "we know that America's laws say a person is innocent until he is proven to be guilty," although "for us it is the reverse."
Badr and Dost are Pashtuns, members of the ethnic group that spawned the Taliban. But the family library where they receive their guests is crammed with poetry, histories and religious treatises - mind-broadening stuff that the Taliban were more inclined to burn than read. For years, the brothers' library has served as a salon for Pashtun intellectuals and activists of many hues, including some who also have been arrested in the U.S.-funded dragnet for suspected Islamic militants.
Like millions of Afghans, they fled to Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s and joined one of the many anti-Soviet factions that got quiet support from Pakistan's military intelligence service. Their small group was called Jamiat-i-Dawatul Quran wa Sunna, and Dost became editor of its magazine. Even then, "we were not fighters," said Badr. "We took part in the war only as writers."
After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the men split with Jamiat, partly over its promotion of the extremist Wahhabi sect of Islam. Dost wrote lampoons against the group's leader, a cleric named Sami Ullah, portraying him as a corrupt pawn of its sponsor, Pakistan, working against Afghan interests.
In November 2001, as U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan, the mullah's brother, Roh Ullah, "called us and said if we didn't stop criticizing the party he would have us put in jail," said Badr. Ten days later, men from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate hauled the brothers off to grimy cells.
Another Ullah brother, Hayat Ullah, insisted in an interview that their family had not instigated the arrests. Dost is a political rival, but "a very simple man," Hayat Ullah said. "We have many powerful rivals. If I were going to get ISI to pick up an enemy, why would I choose an ordinary person like him?"
But two Pakistani analysts with sources in ISI said the Ullah family has been accused in several cases of using its links to the agency to have rivals arrested. And Roh Ullah himself is now imprisoned at Guantanamo.
In the midnight chill of Feb. 9, 2002, ISI officers led Badr and Dost, blindfolded and handcuffed, onto the tarmac of Peshawar International Airport. When they heard airplanes, "we knew they were handing us to the Americans," Badr said. Beneath the blindfold, he stole glimpses of smiling Pakistani officers, grim U.S. soldiers and a cargo plane. "It was a big festival atmosphere, as though the Pakistanis were handing over Osama bin Laden to the United States," Badr said.
Shouting and shoving, American troops forced the brothers to the asphalt and bound their hands behind them with plastic ties. "They chained our feet," Badr said. "Dogs were barking at us. They pulled a sack down over my head. It was very difficult to breathe ... and I saw the flash of cameras. They were taking pictures of us."
Flown to U.S. prisons at Bagram and Kandahar air bases in Afghanistan, the brothers eventually learned from their interrogators that the ISI had denounced them to the U.S. as dangerous supporters of the Taliban and al-Qaida who had threatened President Clinton.
In the three-plus years that the brothers spent in U.S. prisons abroad, violent abuse and torture were widely reported. Eight of 12 men interviewed after their release in recent months from U.S. prisons in Afghanistan told Newsday they had been beaten or had seen or heard other prisoners being beaten.
The brothers escaped the worst abuse, partly because of Badr's fluent English. At times, prisoners "who didn't speak English got kicked by the MPs because they didn't understand what the soldiers wanted," he said. And both men said that while many prisoners clammed up under questioning, they were talkative and able to demonstrate cooperation.
"Fortunately, we were not tortured," Badr said, "but we heard torture." At Bagram, "We heard guards shouting at people to make them stand up all night without sleeping." At Kandahar, prisoners caught talking in their cells "were punished by being forced to kneel on the ground with their hands on their head and not moving for three or four hours in hot weather. Some became unconscious," he said. The U.S. military last year investigated abuse at its prisons in Afghanistan but the Pentagon ordered the report suppressed.
Badr and Dost were humiliated routinely. When being moved between prisons or in groups, they often were thrown to the ground, like that night at Peshawar airport. "They put our faces in the dust," Badr said.
Like virtually all ex-prisoners interviewed, he said he felt deliberately shamed by soldiers when they photographed him naked or gave him regular rectal exams.
The brothers were flown to Guantanamo in May 2002 as soon as Camp Delta, the permanent prison there, was opened. For more than two years, they sat in separate cells, waiting days between interrogation sessions to explain and re-explain their lives and writings.
In his 35 months in U.S. captivity, Badr said, he had about 150 interrogation sessions with 25 different lead interrogators from several U.S. agencies. "And that [Clinton] satire was the biggest cause of their suspicion," he said.
When one team of interrogators "began to accept that this was satire," the whole process would begin anew with interrogators from another agency. In all, Badr said he was told that four U.S. agencies - including the CIA, FBI and Defense Department - would have to give their assent before the men could be released. And their names would be circulated to 40 other countries to ensure they were not wanted anywhere else.
The Americans' investigations seemed to take forever to confirm even where they had lived and studied. "I would tell him something simple and ... two or two-and-a-half months later, he would come back and say, 'We checked, and you were right about that,'" Badr said.
Another problem was that "Many of the interpreters were not good," said Badr. He recalled an elderly man, arrested by U.S. forces for shooting his rifle at a helicopter, who explained that he had been trapping hawks and fired in anger at one that flew away. But the interpreter mistook the Persian word "booz" (hawk) for "baz" (goat). "The interrogator became very angry," Badr said. "He thought the old man was making a fool of him by claiming to be shooting at goats flying in the air."
Angered by ordeal
Rob conceded that "obviously, we could use more translators," but said the pace at which prisoners are processed - and innocents released - is adequate.
That idea angers Badr. "They detained us for three and a half years," he said. "Then they said to us, 'all right, you're innocent, so go away.'"
Of that anger, Rob said, "that's understandable. Especially if he's the breadwinner for his family and there's no one ... " The sentence hung uncompleted.
The brothers' anger is deepened by the abusiveness of many U.S. soldiers, whom Badr compared to "Yahoos," the thuggish characters of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." And they are upset that U.S. officials confiscated all of their prison writings.
Still, Badr sounds neither bitter nor an enemy of America. "I am curious to meet ordinary Americans," he said. "I appreciated my interrogators in Guantanamo. ... Many of them were misguided, for example about my religion. ... But I can say that they were civilized people."PESHAWAR, Pakistan
Badr Zaman Badr and his brother Abdurrahim Muslim Dost relish writing a good joke that jabs a corrupt politician or distills the sufferings of fellow Afghans. Badr admires the political satires in "The Canterbury Tales" and "Gulliver's Travels," and Dost wrote some wicked lampoons in the 1990s, accusing Afghan mullahs of growing rich while preaching and organizing jihad. So in 2002, when the U.S. military shackled the writers and flew them to Guantanamo among prisoners whom Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared "the worst of the worst" violent terrorists, the brothers found life imitating farce.
Iraq needs strong figure in mold of Afghanistan's Karzai
Mon Oct 31, 1:39 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Iraq's effort to create a workable, stable society is hindered by the absence of a strong central leader, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview, adding that someone in the mold of Afghan President Hamid Karzai would be ideal.
Khalilzad, who served as US envoy to to Afghanistan before taking on the ambassador post in Iraq, told Newsweek magazine that "the fact that Afghanistan had a charismatic leader, broadly accepted, in Hamid Karzai, was a huge asset."
He continued: "The fact that such a figure was not identified (in Iraq) has been a problem.
"I think a Hamid Karzai-type figure could have been identified early on, because when there is a role, usually a person can be found to fill it. But in Afghanistan we immediately went to an Afghan interim-government formation. Here we had a period of the CPA" (coalition provisional authority), the interim US-led governing body.
In the November 7 issue of the magazine, which arrives on US newsstands Monday, Khalilzad quickly added that he did not mean to be critical of those administrators who predated his arrival in Iraq, saying that as a relative latecomer "the complexity of the situation may not be entirely clear to me," he said.
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