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February 15, 2013 

Roadside bomb, a lethal weapon of Afghan militants
KABUL, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- The makeshift roadside bombs which are largely used by anti-government militants in Afghanistan have been proved as a lethal weapon in the conflict-ridden country as nine people have been killed in the roadside bombings over the past eight days counting from last Friday, according to officials.

As U.S. Withdraws Troops, Fears That Afghan Aid Will Dry Up
New York Times By RICHARD W. STEVENSON February 14, 2013
WASHINGTON - President Obama’s decision to bring home more than half of the American troops in Afghanistan over the next year is setting off intensified debate over an issue with big consequences for Afghanistan’s future: how long the United States and its allies should pour civilian aid into the country.

Taliban group use civilians as human shields: ISAF
By Sayed Jawad - 15 Feb 2013, 2:46 pm Khaama Press
NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said they are aware of the sensitivities as a result of the civilian casualties but Taliban group use ordinary civilians as human shield which increase civilian deaths.

Graft Oversight Bodies Condemn Afghan Govt
TOLOnews.com By Shakeela Ahbrimkhil Thursday, 14 February 2013
Afghanistan's fight against corruption received a double blow Thursday as two organisations made public statements condemning the Afghan government's use of donor funds.

Afghanistan the most dangerous country for journalists: CPJ
By Ghanizada - 15 Feb 2013, 10:10 am Khaama Press
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concerns regarding the working condition of Afghan journalists.

Afghan Army Trains Women for Special Forces
Associated Press By RAHIM FAIEZ February 14, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan army is training female special forces to take part in night raids against insurgents, breaking new ground in an ultraconservative society and filling a vacuum left by departing international forces.

Pakistani Council to Skip Kabul Talks
Wall Street Journal By MARIA ABI-HABIB And HABIB KHAN TOTAKHIL February 14, 2013
KABUL - Pakistan's highest official religious authority pulled out of a planned meeting in Kabul intended to denounce violence and call on the Taliban to embrace negotiations, dealing a blow to Afghanistan's peace efforts.

Fewer Afghan troops could yield more Taliban violence, Senate panel told
CNN By Mike Mount February 14th, 2013
Reducing the number of Afghan security forces could lead to an increase in Taliban violence inside that country as U.S. forces prepare to leave by the end of 2014, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin said Thursday.

U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan declining
As the U.S. withdrawal continues, fewer American troops are dying. But analysts caution that that doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. and its allies are winning the war.
Los Angeles Times By Shashank Bengali February 14, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan - Over the last 25 days, something unusual has happened in Afghanistan: Not one U.S. service member has been killed. The lion's share of the fighting — and dying — is now being done by Afghans.

Cristiano Ronaldo donate €100,000 to Afghan landmine victims
By Mirwais Adeel - 15 Feb 2013, 3:07 pm Khaama Press
According to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials Soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo is donating 100,000 euros ($134,600) on behalf of UEFA to help rehabilitate Afghans who have lost limbs, mostly landmine victims.

Isaf Reassures US Troop Withdrawal Will Be Smooth
TOLOnews.com By Abdul Wali Arian Thursday, 14 February 2013
Security will not be negatively impacted by the withdrawal of more than half of the US troops currently deployed in Afghanistan, Isaf said on Thursday.

Afghan Spy Chief Able to Walk With Assistance
TOLOnews.com By Faridullah Sahil Thursday, 14 February 2013
Afghanistan's intelligence chief Assadullah Khalid is walking with the assistance of a four-wheeled contraption as shown in pictures released to media Thursday.

National Front Accuses Govt of Encouraging Fraud
TOLOnews.com By Azim Arash Thursday, 14 February 2013
National Front party leader on Thursday accused the government of encouraging fraud in the upcoming presidential election in order to protect the positions of those already in power.

Women March on Parliament in Demonstration Against Violence
TOLOnews.com By Saleha Soadat Thursday, 14 February 2013
Afghan women activists on Thursday demonstrated against the apparent growth of violence against women across the country, calling for more action from the government.


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Roadside bomb, a lethal weapon of Afghan militants
KABUL, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- The makeshift roadside bombs which are largely used by anti-government militants in Afghanistan have been proved as a lethal weapon in the conflict-ridden country as nine people have been killed in the roadside bombings over the past eight days counting from last Friday, according to officials.

In the latest incident of such attack, two persons were killed and another injured in the eastern Kunar province 185 km east of Afghan capital Kabul Friday, an official confirmed.

"A roadside bomb organized by anti-government militants exploded in Sarkano district at 01:15 p.m. local time today, leaving two persons dead and wounding another," an official told Xinhua but declined to be identified, saying authorized officials would brief the media after investigation.

Meantime, a doctor in Assadabad hospital confirmed that two dead bodies including a local police constable and an injured one had been taken to hospital from Sarkano district this afternoon.

A similar incident on Monday, Feb. 11 hit a vehicle of Afghan army in the eastern Nangarhar province 120 km east of Kabul, leaving one person dead and injuring another, a local official said.

"A mine planted by militants on a road in Khogyani district, struck a vehicle of the national army in Mimla village at around 10:00 a.m. local time on Monday killing a soldier and injuring another," security official Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal told Xinhua.

On Feb. 10, a roadside bomb struck a police van in the northern Kunduz province injuring at least one policeman.

The bloodiest attack which took place in the shape of roadside bombing over the past eight day had also claimed the lives of six civilians in Taliban former stronghold Helmand province as a civilian car ran on a mine, last Friday on Feb. 8.

"Six innocent civilians including two women lost their lives as their car ran over a mine in Nad Ali district of Helmand on Friday evening," spokesman for Helmand's provincial administration Ahmad Zirak told Xinhua.

The makeshift roadside bomb, reportedly made of explosive objects including ammonium nitrate, has been proved challenging in Afghanistan. As a measure to check the simple but lethal device, the Afghan government has banned the import of ammonium nitrate, the chemical fertilizer used by farmers.

Zirak also blamed Taliban militants for organizing the deadly roadside bombing in Helmand province. However, the outfit which is largely relying on suicide and roadside bombings has yet to comment.
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As U.S. Withdraws Troops, Fears That Afghan Aid Will Dry Up
New York Times By RICHARD W. STEVENSON February 14, 2013
WASHINGTON - President Obama’s decision to bring home more than half of the American troops in Afghanistan over the next year is setting off intensified debate over an issue with big consequences for Afghanistan’s future: how long the United States and its allies should pour civilian aid into the country.

The 12-year effort to modernize and stabilize Afghanistan is by some measures the most ambitious nation-building program ever undertaken by the United States. It is also among the most scrutinized and second-guessed.

The program has given most Afghans access to health care for the first time, even if it is weighed down by corruption and waste. It has drawn violent reprisals from the Taliban but has helped educate a generation of Afghan girls. Accused of fostering a dependency culture, it has nonetheless provided the foundation for a functioning economy.

But with most American and NATO troops set to leave by the end of 2014, advocates of continued aid are warning against too precipitous a cutoff of financing from the United States and its allies. They acknowledge that corruption in the Afghan government and budget-cutting pressure in Congress do not help their cause.

“Because we have so many of our own constraints economically right now, there’s a huge possibility that Congress will say we’re not going to provide $2.5 billion a year indefinitely,” said Caroline Wadhams, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group.

The administration and other advocates of aid are trying to maintain support for an international plan, agreed to last year among the major donor countries to Afghanistan, to scale back aid gradually so that the Afghan government and other institutions have plenty of time to adapt.

“Our record of creating really significant gains in Afghanistan over the last decade is what is going to enable us to continue to convince Congress and the American people that these investments are worth continuing to make,” said J. Alex Thier, who heads the United States Agency for International Development’s efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

At stake, advocates of aid and other experts say, is Afghanistan’s ability to negotiate the next few crucial years, when the government will have to wean its economy, budget and social programs off foreign aid even as it takes over responsibility for security and fighting the Taliban.

American development assistance alone exceeds the roughly $2 billion a year in tax revenues collected by the Afghan government. Compounding the economic effects of disengagement is a sharp drop off in civilian spending by the American military, which is a major employer of Afghan civilians and contributes substantially to the nation’s gross domestic product.

In a recent speech, John F. Sopko, the inspector general who monitors the cost-effectiveness of the reconstruction effort, said that United States officials in Afghanistan were keenly aware that the security and economic transitions were linked to each other.

“I think it’s fair to say that the success or failure of our entire investment in Afghanistan is teetering on whether these two interrelated and ambitious goals can be met,” Mr. Sopko said.

By the broadest measure of accounting for the costs of the effort, the United States has spent $90 billion on aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2002, a figure that includes programs run by the United States military and the costs of providing security for the effort, according to Mr. Sopko’s agency, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

By the narrowest measure — money funneled through U.S.A.I.D., the State Department agency that has taken the lead in the civilian aid program — the total is $15 billion since 2002. Mr. Obama is likely to seek an additional $2 billion to $2.5 billion for each of the next several years to meet the commitments made by the United States at an international donors conference last year in Tokyo. The donor countries pledged to provide $16 billion in civil economic assistance to Afghanistan over the next four years, with about half to come from the United States.

“The key is how to manage declining aid, mitigate the adverse impacts, and put aid and spending on a more sustainable long-term path,” the World Bank said in a report last year.

On a practical level, aid programs are already facing constraints because of the military pullback. With fewer bases scattered around Afghanistan, fewer troops on the ground and reduced air transportation, the military has less capacity to provide security for development teams.

More generally, some critics of the administration’s approach say, there is no credible plan for improving ethics and accountability in the Afghan government, and insufficient assurance that aid programs can continue to function effectively as the international presence in Afghanistan diminishes, especially given all the other demands on taxpayer money and proliferating threats elsewhere.

Maintaining an effective and durable civilian presence in Afghanistan “requires a clear case from the president that the result over the next decade will be worth more than putting resources into Asia, a Middle East in turmoil, a truly international counterterrorism effort or dealing with our domestic financial crisis,” said a recent report by Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “No one in the administration has even begun to make this case, and it desperately needs to be made if we are to stay.”

Congress will not take up the issue in earnest until later this year. But proponents of continued aid have gained support from an alliance of Democrats and Republicans eager to protect Afghan women and girls from a Taliban resurgence and to maintain the fragile stability gained by the United States’ dozen years in Afghanistan.

“It’s not going to be easy, but it is possible to make a strong case for strategic investments so that our soldiers will not have died in vain,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, who is a member of the appropriations subcommittee that allocates money for foreign aid.

Given the vulnerability of Afghan women and girls, Ms. Landrieu said, support for continued aid from female senators on both sides of the aisle can be “a bulwark against the natural tendency to retrench.”

But as the debate plays out, some aid advocates say they worry that the problems that have surrounded aid efforts during the war will taint the whole idea of civilian assistance, even though it is only a tiny slice of United States government spending.

“I’ve often worried that the lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan — and especially Afghanistan — is that we don’t know how to do foreign aid, and therefore we shouldn’t continue to provide aid at the levels we have been,” said Ms. Wadhams of the Center for American Progress.
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Taliban group use civilians as human shields: ISAF
By Sayed Jawad - 15 Feb 2013, 2:46 pm Khaama Press
NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said they are aware of the sensitivities as a result of the civilian casualties but Taliban group use ordinary civilians as human shield which increase civilian deaths.

This comes as a NATO airstrike killed a number of Afghan civilians including children and women in Shaigal district and president Hamid Karzai summoned the newly appointed NATO commander Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Gen. Joseph Dunford said the airstrike was carried out after Afghan and coalition security forces called for air support to fight the al Qaeda militants.

At least 10 civilians were killed following the airstrike.

According to Afghan presidential palace president Hamid Karzai urged Gen. Joseph Dunford to remain committed as ex-NATO commander Gen. John Allen and prevent airstrikes in residential areas.

NATO commander Gen. Joseph quoted in presidential palace media office statement vowed to prevent airstrikes in residential areas.

Karzai said, “Such incidents should be strictly prevented since civilian deaths are unacceptable.”

Brigadier General Günter Katz, ISAF Spokesman on Friday said, investigations in Kunar airstrike is under investigation and the main issue is that Taliban militants use civilians as human shield.

He said, Afghanistan is no more a safe haven for the militants and ISAF and the Afghan government will not allow militants to create sanctuaries in Afghan cities and villages. Such mistakes take place in war and ISAF remains committed to prevent civilian casualties in military operations.

Civilians casualties have been one of the main controversial issue between Afghan president Karzai and his international allies during the past years.

President Hamid Karzai has taken strict stance against the NATO and US troops over civilian casualties.
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Graft Oversight Bodies Condemn Afghan Govt
TOLOnews.com By Shakeela Ahbrimkhil Thursday, 14 February 2013
Afghanistan's fight against corruption received a double blow Thursday as two organisations made public statements condemning the Afghan government's use of donor funds.

At the US Congress, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said Afghanistan is not capable of using direct international funds in an appropriate manner.

Meanwhile, Transparency International released a report Thursday noting that high levels of corruption among Afghan defence organisations – especially the Ministry of Defence – posed grave risks in the supplies and procurement sector after the withdrawal of international troops.

SIGAR officials said that Kabul had failed to correctly use billions of dollars from the US and other international donors and warned that the pledge of future billions is likely to be similarly squandered.

"The Afghan government does not appear to have the capacity to manage the $8 billion pledge by the international community and direct assistance, and that funds provided through direct assistance are typically subject to less oversight than funds provided through projects implemented by US and other donor government agencies," said John Sopko, SIGAR chief.

Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior rejected the statement saying the government was putting the funds to good use, while the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee said it supported direct fund assistance.

"If they [the donors] say they will provide the funds indirectly... You know, the brokers in between will take the money meant for Afghanistan. In the first step, they will take for themselves 20 to 22 percent for their administrative expenses, which is taken from Afghanistan's rights," committee head Mohammad Yaseen Osmani said.

"I support a way in which funds are provided directly, however it should be under principals and inspections," he added.

Nevertheless, SIGAR pointed out that with the withdrawal of international forces and non-government organisations by the end of 2014, Afghan development programmes over the next two years were essential.

The Transparency International study released Thursday revealed the corruption among defence organisations is primarily clear in the areas of employment, supplies, and promotions.

This level of corruption in this sector is ultimately putting lives at risk, the group said.

"Corruption in defence is dangerous, divisive, and wasteful, and the cost is paid by citizens, soldiers, and governments. Our study suggests that the corruption problem is pervasive in defence around the world, with a significant proportion of this spending at risk. Even worse, high levels of defence corruption lead to impunity and public mistrust," said Mark Pyman, Director of Transparency International UK's Defence and Security Programme.

"As the responsibility for defence purchase spending shifts from the Isaf coalition to the Ministry of Defence, the Afghan MOD spending will increase hugely; this will put much greater stress on their procurement system, with many more corruption opportunities," Pyman added.

The report suggested more should be done to strengthen the human, financial, and operational resources involved in Afghan defence procurement and the international community's have tougher policies for the implementation and monitoring of the sector.

Integrity Watch Afghanistan welcomed the report and said the devastating effects of corruption needed to be realised.

"Corruption in the Afghan defence force has devastating effects in the context of transition. It erodes the confidence of the Afghan citizens and political circles about the ability of the Afghan security forces to ensure future security of the country," said Yama Torabi, Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan.

"In addition, the waste in Afghan defence can potentially take away the resources from development and poverty reduction programmes," he added.

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on Transparency International's report when requested by TOLOnews.

The reports come after the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan revealed last week that Afghan citizens paid an estimated US$4 billion in bribes to both the government and private sector in 2012.
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Afghanistan the most dangerous country for journalists: CPJ
By Ghanizada - 15 Feb 2013, 10:10 am Khaama Press
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concerns regarding the working condition of Afghan journalists.

According to the new report of CPJ there are no reports regarding the casualties of Afghan journalists from 2005, and Afghanistan is one of the dangerous place for the journalists.

Various Afghan and international journalists quoted in the reported complained regarding the journalists situation in Afghanistan and said they were threatened for several times in 2012.

The report also added that the new media law with complicated amendments open the doors for the government to implement limitations on news programs in the country.

According to CPJ around 400 media agencies are currently operating in Afghanistan.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its report also added that the Afghan medias numbers had significant growth in a time where the international allies of Afghanistan are reducing their military and economic aid and on the other majority of the NATO combat troops are leaving the country by 2014 which will further reduce international aid to Afghanistan.

In the meantime media officials in Afghanistan are saying that the numbers of media agencies are gradually reducing and around 700 journalists lost their jobs last year.

CPJ also warned that the number of independent media agencies are reducing and only media agencies that operates for political and religious leaders will continue to their operations.

Afghanistan has secured 7th position among the 12 nations where journalists are facing limitations and hard working conditions, according to CPJ report.

According to the report Iraq secures the first position while Somalia ranks the second where journalists are facing threats and hard working conditions.

Nepal ranks the 6th nation, Mexico ranks 8th, Pakistan 10th , Brazil ranks 11th and India secures the 12th nation where journalists face threats, according to the report.
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Afghan Army Trains Women for Special Forces
Associated Press By RAHIM FAIEZ February 14, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan army is training female special forces to take part in night raids against insurgents, breaking new ground in an ultraconservative society and filling a vacuum left by departing international forces.

"If men can carry out this duty why not women?" asks Lena Abdali, a 23-year-old Afghan soldier who was one of the first women to join one of the special units in 2011.

Night raids have long been a divisive issue between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who doesn't want foreign troops entering Afghan homes, and the U.S.-led coalition that says the raids are essential to capturing Taliban commanders.

Many Afghans, however, have complained that the house raids are culturally offensive. Having male troops search Afghan females is taboo. So is touching a family's Quran, the Muslim holy book, or entering a home without being invited. Another focus of anger has been the disregard for privacy and Afghan culture because women and children are usually home during the raids.

The raids now are conducted jointly by U.S. and Afghan forces, but the female Afghan special forces soldiers play an important role. Their job: Round up women and children and get them to safety while guarding against the potential dangers of female suicide bombers or militants disguised in women's clothes.

The missions have taken on increasing importance and the Afghan government and the U.S.-led coalition have stepped up training of the Afghan special forces as international troops prepare to end their combat mission in 23 months.

President Barack Obama announced earlier this week that he will withdraw about half of the 66,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan within a year. He did not spell out what U.S. military presence would remain after 2014.

Afghan women have been part of their nation's security forces for years, but they didn't start being recruited for the special forces until 2011. Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said more than 1,000 women were in the army — a small fraction of the total force of 195,000.

The role of female soldiers also has come under debate in the United States after the Pentagon decided last month to open up front-line combat jobs to women.

Col. Jalaluddin Yaftaly, the commander of the joint Special Unit of the Afghan National Army, said villagers don't like foreign forces to carry out operations in their homes, but they have welcomed the Afghan special forces units and cooperated with them in many operations.

"We were faced with so many problems when we didn't have female special forces in our units," Yaftaly said. "Female special forces are quite useful."

On a recent frigid winter morning, an Afghan special forces unit, comprising 30 men and women soldiers, drilled at a training center in Kabul.

As part of the exercise, the unit was told that an insurgent leader was hiding in a house and women and children were inside with him.

The men on the team prepared to raid the house and arrest or kill the target. Abdali and two other female colleagues were tasked with making sure no women or children were harmed during the operation.

The most dangerous part of their assignment was the possibility that the main target was hiding among the women — perhaps in disguise — so Abdali and her colleagues had to stay alert to make sure they themselves were not attacked while getting innocent women and children out of harm's way.

The military advantages to having Afghan female special forces soldiers, however, have not yet offset the social issues women like Abdali face in doing their jobs.

A woman conducting night raids with male soldiers in a conservative country like Afghanistan is still not socially acceptable. Before she starts to fight the enemy in military operations she has to struggle with her family, relatives and others who might disapprove.

Abdali said that while she hides her occupation from many family members because of security concerns, she is proud to fulfill a duty she feels is important to her homeland.

"If I will not come and put my life in danger for the women and culture in Afghanistan, then who will do this?" she asked.

Abdali wears a traditional Afghan headscarf under her helmet, but otherwise she is clad in an army uniform and heavy flak jacket just like the men. Her weapon and equipment is heavy, but she runs with it along the peaks of snow-covered mountains, unpaved roads under the hot summer sun and on rugged paths in remote areas of the country.

"Women must show their bravery and power by carrying out this duty as men do," Abdali said as she loaded her weapon to take part in the drill.

"Move to your vehicles!" the unit commander shouted.

The unit ran from their formations to six armored vehicles and started toward the target. Along the way, the commander repeated a description of the house where the Taliban leader was believed to be hiding and instructed the unit on how to surround it and arrest the suspect.

The special forces soldiers crawled on the snow-covered ground up to the house.

"You have no place to hide. Please surrender yourself," one soldier shouted.

When the target didn't respond, he repeated his command. Again, the target did not respond.

"Attack," the commander shouted.

After a gun battle, four or five special forces soldiers entered the house and secured the area. The female soldiers then went in and escorted the women and children outside.

Abdali questioned two ladies and three small boys after they were shepherded to safety. She was trying to collect information to help her team while keeping them busy and distracting them from the violence.

The men in her unit see the benefits of having the female special forces at their side.

Agha Sharin Noori, an Afghan special forces soldier who has served in the unit for two and half years, said, "In a military operation, we need our sisters as much as we need our brothers."
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Pakistani Council to Skip Kabul Talks
Wall Street Journal By MARIA ABI-HABIB And HABIB KHAN TOTAKHIL February 14, 2013
KABUL - Pakistan's highest official religious authority pulled out of a planned meeting in Kabul intended to denounce violence and call on the Taliban to embrace negotiations, dealing a blow to Afghanistan's peace efforts.

The decision by Pakistan's Ulema Council is a setback after promising signs that Kabul and Islamabad were setting aside tensions to find a peaceful settlement to the 11-year war.

In both countries, government-appointed Ulema councils, made up of prominent Islamic scholars, exercise considerable influence over public opinion.

These scholars had been expected to meet at an unprecedented joint conference in March to condemn practices such as suicide bombings and to call on the Taliban to embrace peace talks with the government of President Hamid Karzai, Afghan officials said.

Afghan authorities had hoped that if the councils jointly condemned the Taliban's use of violence, it would pressure the insurgency to pursue peace talks.

Instead, Allama Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, the chairman of Pakistan's Ulema Council, this week praised the Taliban's fight against the U.S. and the Afghan government as jihad—holy struggle—and said he wouldn't attend the Kabul conference. Other key figures from Pakistan's Ulema Council and major religious and political organizations in the country followed suit and dropped their support for the planned meeting.

Mr. Ashrafi made the comments at a news conference in Islamabad Wednesday; his remarks have since spread on the Internet. Mr. Ashrafi went as far as doubting the Islamic credentials of the Afghan government, a serious affront.

"We aren't ready to be Karzai's puppets," he said in the recording. "We aren't ready to call the Taliban's struggle an insurgency. We recognize jihad in Afghanistan as jihad. We salute the struggle of [Taliban chief] Mullah Omar."

In what appeared to be a warning, Mr. Ashrafi added that "the Pakistani Ulema will never forgive those who stand in this conference with those who call the Afghan Taliban terrorists."

Members of Afghanistan's Ulema Council said they were dismayed by Mr. Ashrafi's statement. "There are some elements on the Pakistani side who want to sabotage the conference but we are still in negotiation with the Pakistani Ulema," said a member of the Afghan Ulema Council.

The Taliban had earlier denounced the conference and asked the Ulema Councils to boycott the event.

The Afghan government had billed the conference as a milestone for the peace process and heralded it as a sign that Pakistan was willing to cooperate on reconciliation. Pakistan seemed to embrace the peace process in the fall when it released imprisoned Taliban officials, satisfying a long-standing request from Kabul.

The Taliban have long used Pakistan as a haven, crisscrossing the porous border into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led coalition forces.

The Ulema conference was a chance for the Afghan government to reinforce their ownership of the peace process. Mr. Karzai has long worried that he would be cut out of negotiations with the Taliban, who have been more keen to negotiate with the U.S.

Peace efforts received a boost in December when authorized representatives of Mullah Omar sat down in France with their major Afghan foes, including Mr. Karzai's advisers, for informal talks. The meeting was the first time official Taliban delegates sat down with their main political rivals since the 2001 U.S. invasion.

Write to Maria Abi-Habib at maria.habib@dowjones.com
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Fewer Afghan troops could yield more Taliban violence, Senate panel told
CNN By Mike Mount February 14th, 2013
Reducing the number of Afghan security forces could lead to an increase in Taliban violence inside that country as U.S. forces prepare to leave by the end of 2014, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin said Thursday.

Austin was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing to confirm him as the next top U.S. commander to oversee military operations in the Middle East. Austin said keeping a larger Afghan force would allow the Afghan government to mature under a bigger security umbrella.

Currently, the U.S.-led NATO operation has plans to reduce the number of Afghan forces from about 352,000 to around 230,000 after U.S. troops leave in 2014.

Afghan security forces were beefed up to improve security in tandem with the surge of U.S. troops in 2009. The larger number of Afghan troops would be too expensive to maintain and would eventually have to be reduced as security improved around the country, according to the NATO plan.

"A larger Afghan force would help to hedge against any future Taliban mischief, and you could reasonably expect that an enemy that has been that determined, that agile, that very soon after we transition will begin to test the Afghan security forces," Austin told the Senate panel Thursday.

Austin, who did not participate in the Obama administration's recent decision to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 34,000 within the next year, refused to give his opinion on whether the plan was a good idea when lawmakers asked.

In what has become a typical show with recent Obama nominees vetted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, offered some political theater as he asked Austin his opinion on the reduction of American troops in Afghanistan.

Austin was cut off mid-sentence by McCain when he said he would defer to the current commander's assessment. After sarcastically asking Austin the question again, McCain turned to Gen. David Rodriguez, who was also at the hearing as the nominee to be the next commander of U.S. military operations in Africa, what he thought of the Afghan plan because he used to be the commander in Afghanistan.

Rodriguez also refused to answer, saying he had left the command some 18 months ago and did not have a current assessment of the country.

Exasperated, McCain let out a giant sigh in what appeared to be disbelief that he could not get an answer.

As questions turned to the threats in Africa, Rodriguez was peppered from both sides of the aisle on his plans to ensure an improved military response to a crisis on the continent. The ranking member of the committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, asked Rodriguez how he planned to get U.S. forces on site in the event the military is needed.

Rodriquez said there would need to be good coordination between U.S. agencies, and they must understand security warnings in the region to best position troops to respond well.

"As you know, because of the time and distance and the basing challenges we have, that's going to continue to be a challenge," Rodriguez said of the distance between potential hot spots in Africa and the closest forces, which are in Europe or in Djibouti in eastern Africa. "The challenges across the depth and breadth of Africa with the resource constraints we are all living under, we are going to have to make great assessments of where we are going to have to accept risk and to make sure everybody knows and understands that."

One of the problems identified after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was the lack of U.S. military assets available to reach the region quickly. U.S. troops first arrived in Libya hours after the attack ended.

Rodriguez was asked to identify the threats facing his potential new command.

"A major challenge is effectively countering violent extremist organizations, especially the growth of Mali as an al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb safe haven, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Al-Shabaab in Somalia," Rodriguez told the Committee. "Each present a threat to western interests in Africa," he said, and poses "the major threats to stability, militarily."

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is believed to be the extremist group responsible for recently attacking an oil installation in eastern Algeria and taking hostages, including Americans and other westerners.

Boko Haram is a growing Nigeria-based Islamist group that according to some counterterrorism officials has informal links with AQIM.

Al-Shabaab, which tightened its ties to the al Qaeda terror network, is a militant Islamist group that controls much of southern Somalia. It has waged an insurgency against a weak federal government there since 2007.
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U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan declining
As the U.S. withdrawal continues, fewer American troops are dying. But analysts caution that that doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. and its allies are winning the war.
Los Angeles Times By Shashank Bengali February 14, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan - Over the last 25 days, something unusual has happened in Afghanistan: Not one U.S. service member has been killed. The lion's share of the fighting — and dying — is now being done by Afghans.

The last American troop death, from injuries suffered in a December roadside bombing, occurred Jan. 20, marking the longest stretch without a fatality since 2008 and offering a glimmer of evidence that the United States' 11-year war is in its twilight. Deaths among U.S. troops in Afghanistan last year reached a four-year low as commanders hailed a tipping point in a conflict that has claimed more than 2,100 American lives.

With President Obama planning to bring home half the remaining 66,000 troops by next February and the rest by the end of 2014, the shrinking American death toll has bolstered his administration's contention that the Taliban-led insurgency is degraded and that Afghan forces are ready to take charge of their country's security.

American forces continue to carry out ground operations and provide crucial air power, but U.S. and Afghan officials say Afghans now lead well over 80% of combat operations and control areas where more than three-quarters of the population resides. Experts cite other reasons for the reduced U.S. casualties, as well, including new measures to prevent insider attacks, the possibility that insurgents are curtailing attacks during the withdrawal and the usual reduction in fighting during the winter.

But it is also clear that the last American has not yet died in Afghanistan, and analysts caution that fewer fatalities doesn't necessarily indicate that the U.S. and its allies are even winning.

Afghan soldiers and police now number nearly 350,000. Last year was the deadliest so far for the Afghan army, with 473 soldiers killed in the six months ending Jan. 19, according to Defense Ministry statistics. In the same period, 163 coalition soldiers were killed, including 127 Americans, according to icasualties.org, a website that tracks military deaths.

"It's a function of numbers on the Afghans' part and a growing capability and capacity that really has allowed them to shift to the forefront of operations," said Marine Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, deputy chief of staff for joint operations at the U.S.-led international coalition in Kabul, the capital.

Insurgent attacks nationwide declined by more than a quarter in 2012, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, which advises humanitarian agencies on security trends. But U.S. commanders acknowledge that insurgents may be curtailing attacks in response to the drawdown of foreign troops. In 2010, when American forces reached their peak of 100,000, Taliban attacks surged along with the U.S. death toll.

"A lot of low-level insurgents may have been motivated to fight foreign forces and now may be asking, 'Why am I fighting this?'" Osterman said. "It's where you may start to see a divide between the insurgents and their senior leadership."

Experts say the gains may be short-lived because the U.S. drawdown is taking place in the absence of a credible peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which retains strongholds in some rural areas and along the rugged eastern border with Pakistan.

The NGO Safety Office, in a report issued last month, said that insurgents still were responsible for nearly half of all the bombings, shootings, abductions and other security incidents nationwide in 2012, indicating that coalition forces hadn't decisively tipped the conflict in their favor. The group concluded that the drop in insurgent activity "is a deliberate and reversible choice in response to the [NATO] withdrawal."

Part of the reduction in American deaths, too, is the result of U.S. forces circumscribing their mission in response to the so-called insider attacks by Afghan security forces that killed 61 NATO personnel in 2012, the vast majority of them Americans. The U.S. military built separate compounds at bases they once shared with Afghan soldiers and police and enlisted "guardian angels," armed troops who stand guard when American service members encounter Afghan allies.

With all this, experts say that fewer American deaths doesn't mean that "this is what winning looks like," as Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the former coalition commander, said in his farewell speech last week.

"The U.S. political climate is such that the administration has to show some sort of good news to justify [the troop exit], and that is dictating what is being shown in terms of progress, even if there isn't any," said Daoud Sultanzoy, a political analyst in Kabul and former independent member of the Afghan parliament.

Fighting usually slows in winter, when snow makes Afghanistan's mountainous regions harder to navigate. But amid a relatively mild season this year, significant combat operations have continued in a sign that coalition forces are trying to press an offensive before the U.S. presence shrinks.

A coalition helicopter crashed last week in eastern Afghanistan, and although no deaths were reported, it highlighted the fact that North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces still provide the Afghan army with nearly all its air power.

U.S. troops also are carrying out ground operations in Taliban strongholds, exposing them to close-up combat. On Tuesday night, according to Afghan officials, a joint NATO-Afghan ground force came under fire from insurgents in a village in the eastern province of Kunar. The team called in a NATO airstrike that killed 10 civilians in addition to four Taliban commanders, the officials said.

Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who succeeded Allen as coalition commander, met with President Hamid Karzai on Thursday to discuss the incident, but NATO officials declined to offer details or say whether any of its soldiers had been killed or wounded.

In their zeal to depart by 2014, some analysts say, U.S. officials are accepting the shortcomings of Afghan security forces. Many of the Afghan casualties are caused by accidents or poor equipment; attrition rates remain high; and almost no units can operate without U.S. or NATO support.

When Obama declared in his State of the Union message this week that "by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over," some in Kabul noted bitterly that he only meant the U.S. war effort. Afghan forces, they said, would have to continue to fight.

"The past 12 years created a situation where the Afghan army and police were always sort of the auxiliary force," Sultanzoy said. "Now they are the main force, and they have to adjust to this new role."

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.
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Cristiano Ronaldo donate €100,000 to Afghan landmine victims
By Mirwais Adeel - 15 Feb 2013, 3:07 pm Khaama Press
According to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials Soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo is donating 100,000 euros ($134,600) on behalf of UEFA to help rehabilitate Afghans who have lost limbs, mostly landmine victims.

ICRC officials further added that the Real Madrid and Portugal forward – who has featured a record seven times in the uefa.com user’s poll for Team of the Year – has contributed to the ICRC’s network of seven orthopedic centers in Afghanistan for the second time.

Ronaldo, who was to present the check before kick-off in Madrid on Wednesday night ahead of the Champion’s League match against his former team Manchester United said, “For me it’s a great honor to be able to help others, and it makes me extremely happy to do so.”

He donated a similar amount in 2008 to the ICRC on behalf of UEFA and more than 0,000 mine victims and other disabled people in the war-torn country since 1988.

Argentina and Barcelona striker Lionel Messi, who won his fourth successive Ballon d’Or last month, edging out Ronaldo, as well as Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol have also donated their UEFA awards to the ICRC program.
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Isaf Reassures US Troop Withdrawal Will Be Smooth
TOLOnews.com By Abdul Wali Arian Thursday, 14 February 2013
Security will not be negatively impacted by the withdrawal of more than half of the US troops currently deployed in Afghanistan, Isaf said on Thursday.

Isaf spokesperson Brig Gen Gunter Katz said that the abilities of the Afghan security forces have allowed the US forces to leave, and reiterated that the foreign forces will continue to support the Afghans.

"In the next spring, we will see that [Afghan forces] will take the security lead for the whole of the country. So clearly the Afghan National Security Forces exceeded our expectations which means that the Isaf forces go back to training, assisting and advising role in this year and there will not be a threat or change in terms of the security situation," he said in an interview with TOLOnews.

The comments come after American President Barak Obama announced Tuesday night that 34,000 of the 66,000 US troops now in Afghanistan will leave in the next year.

On the matter of recent reports of civilian casualties in Kunar, Katz said that investigations are underway over a joint Afghan/Isaf security operation in the eastern province which local officials claim killed as many as 10 civilians and injured five more.

"What I can confirm is there was an operation in Kunar province," Katz told TOLOnews. "It was partnered operation and we aware of the allegation regarding civilians causalities and we take them very seriously. We are looking into this right now - we sent a team there to investigate.

"I don't have the details today but as soon as we have them, we share them. But let me reassure you that Isaf will take civilians causalities very seriously," he added.
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Afghan Spy Chief Able to Walk With Assistance
TOLOnews.com By Faridullah Sahil Thursday, 14 February 2013
Afghanistan's intelligence chief Assadullah Khalid is walking with the assistance of a four-wheeled contraption as shown in pictures released to media Thursday.

The pictures show that Khalid, who is reportedly returning to Afghanistan from the US in a month, is making a solid recovery since a suicide bomber attempted to assassinate him on December 6.

Khalid's lower body was severely damaged by the blast which came from a suicide bomber who was meeting Khalid in person with a bomb hidden in his underwear.

Khalid, who was appointed head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) in September, was taken to the US for treatment on December 15.

President Hamid Karzai visited Khalid in hospital in January during his three-day official trip to the US.
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National Front Accuses Govt of Encouraging Fraud
TOLOnews.com By Azim Arash Thursday, 14 February 2013
National Front party leader on Thursday accused the government of encouraging fraud in the upcoming presidential election in order to protect the positions of those already in power.

Ahmad Zia Massoud said in a conference in Kabul that the present government is using fraud, deception, and is violating the law in its misuse of power to avert the outcome of a fair election campaign.

"The government has lost its political legitimacy and trying to reach political power by illegitimate ways," Massoud said, adding a warning that these means will not be accepted.

The Front is still demanding the government change its decision on using the old registration system and voting cards, saying new electronic ID cards should be issued nationwide.

With only 13 months to go before the poll, National Front member Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq said the government must undertake a defined strategy for a transparent presidential election.

"The government has done nothing for the election to be held in transparent manner. It must distribute electronic ID cards for all for a transparent election to take place," Mohaqiq said at the conference.

The government including President Hamid Karzai has dismissed the need for a new voter registration and electronic cards saying there was not enough time or funds to fulfill this before the April 2014 poll.

There are fears that if the old cards are used, there will be greater scope for fraudulent voting.
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Women March on Parliament in Demonstration Against Violence
TOLOnews.com By Saleha Soadat Thursday, 14 February 2013
Afghan women activists on Thursday demonstrated against the apparent growth of violence against women across the country, calling for more action from the government.

The demonstration began around 9:00am with a march from Darul Aman Palace to the front of Parliament, with women carrying signs and placards as the shouted slogans to end the violence.

"We want justice – enough with the violence. We want the government to bring the perpetrators of these incidents to court," protestor Mashaal told TOLOnews.

The demonstrators said forced marriages, child marriages, beheadings, beatings, and rape were all on the rise in recent months in Afghanistan, and not enough was done to ensure justice.

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch researcher in Afghanistan Heather Barr said that on this day there were demonstrations all over the world to combat violence against women.

"In many countries, almost every country around the world, men and women are joining together to have demonstrations and protest the violence against women," she told TOLOnews.

The latest statistics on violence are shocking, with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission saying that over 3147 cases were reported in Afghanistan in the first nine months of the current Persian year (Mar-Dec 2012).

"We want education. We want equal rights. These are our legal rights," activist Nahid Mahbob told TOLOnews at the demonstration.

Many of the protestors said that despite the government speaking out about violence and knowing of several cases, nothing has been done to correct these situations.
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