Afghans savour football match victory
Team's triumph over India sets off celebrations in country that has not had much to celebrate for 30 years.
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2013 13:25
Afghans are celebrating their first ever international football trophy. On Wednesday, their team defeated India in the final of the South Asia Football Federation Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal. Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson reports from Kabul.
Freed Afghan MP narrates her ordeal
Fariba Kakar tells Al Jazeera that though Taliban captors treated her with respect, it was a traumatising experience.
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2013 06:56
The Taliban released a senior Afghan MP on Saturday, after kidnapping her last month.
Al Jazeera was the only news organisation to access video of her dramatic release of Fariba Kakar, the first female member of parliament to have been abducted by the group.
In this exclusive report, Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson spoke to Kalkar following her release.
She said that the Taliban treated her with respect, while admitting it was a traumatising experience.
Afghan forces suffering too many casualties, says top Nato commander
Police and army may need west's support for years, says General Joseph Dunford, as weekly death toll tops 100
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
The Guardian, Monday 2 September 2013 20.30 BST
Afghanistan's police and army are losing too many men in battle, and may need up to five more years of western support before they can fight independently, the top US and Nato commander in the country has told the Guardian.
General Joseph Dunford also said in an interview that it was too early to judge whether Nato had been right to end combat operations in Afghanistan this spring. Western forces have officially offered only training and support to the Afghan army and police during the brutal fighting season of the summer months.
Dunford admitted that Nato and Afghan commanders are concerned about Afghan casualty rates, which have regularly topped more than 100 dead a week. "I view it as serious, and so do all the commanders," Dunford said. "I'm not assuming that those casualties are sustainable."
The rapidly expanded security forces, now 350,000 strong, did not need help in basic battle skills, Dunford told the Guardian. But they still struggle to support themselves in areas varying from logistics and planning to intelligence-gathering and back-up from planes and helicopters in difficult battles.
The west officially stopped fighting in Afghanistan in June, shifting to a "train, advise, assist" role. Asked whether he thought that transfer was premature, given the problems that Afghan forces face, Dunford said it was too early to judge. "I think time is going to tell – I don't think you can tell that today."
Dunford's comments highlighted an apparent rift between western politicians keen to wrap up a messy war that has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, and military commanders on the ground who are seeing a newly formed police force and army struggling against a hardened insurgency.
Barack Obama has made it clear that he does not want American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan after 2014, when all Nato combat troops are due to leave. "By the end of next year – in just 17 months – the transition will be complete. Afghans will take full responsibility for their security and our war in Afghanistan will be over," Obama told Marines at their Camp Pendleton base last month. A follow-up Nato training mission, Resolute Support, has been promised, but with a lower profile and far fewer soldiers than the nearly 90,000 still scattered around Afghanistan.
There is no firm end-date for the assistance however, and Dunford said western troops may need to stay in the country until as late as 2018 to tackle problems from the air force to intelligence.
"I look at Afghan security forces development as really kind of three to five years," Dunford said. "That doesn't mean they can't do things today; I'm just talking about before they get to the standard where they may not need assistance and support any more."
Dunford also did not rule out a combat role for Nato troops after 2014, particularly in the form of close air support – the planes and helicopters that aid troops caught in fierce fighting, which is a capacity that Afghanistan is only starting to develop.
"There are three words in the mission: train, advise and assist. In a Nato context 'assist' would include things like providing combat support, which is specifically the aviation piece, and a policy decision would have to be made about that," he said."
The planned Nato mission, however, will founder without backing from the US, currently negotiating a long-term security deal with Kabul to pave the way for wider western co-operation.
The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has said he is in no hurry and an agreement could take months. But Washington has set an informal October deadline and warned that if no pact is signed there is a "zero option" to send all US troops home. Along with the total departure of western military power, that would be likely to bring dramatic cuts in promised funds for police and army salaries, and given the fragile state of both the economy and the security forces, could pave the way for all-out civil war. Dunford said he was confident there would be a western mission, but the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) needed to be signed within months to reassure both Afghans and their neighbours of US commitment to the country.
"We'll have forces here post-2015," he said. "In my mind the BSA is about addressing the environment of uncertainty here in Afghanistan, the fear that people have about 2015 and beyond."
Despite the shortfalls in police and army abilities, heavy security force casualties and a leap of about a quarter in civilian deaths and injuries in the first half of 2013, Dunford said the troops had defied the Taliban, who had started the summer aiming to crush the government's spirit and will. "The Afghans actually have been resilient," he said. "They have prevented the Taliban from accomplishing their goals. If you look at where the violence is occurring, 80% of the population is secured from violence.
"I still believe that we will be able to look back in October … and look at this fighting season as an important fighting season and a foundation for the Afghan forces moving forward."
Progress has come at a heavy cost in lives. The Afghan defence ministry no longer publishes monthly death tolls because of concerns about morale, and the interior ministry said on Monday that 1,792 police officers had been killed since March, Reuters reported. That was equivalent to losses in the 12 preceding months, so in effect a doubling of the death toll.
However, Dunford said Afghan and Nato commanders were determined to make sure next year's battles were less bloody for government forces by focusing on better leadership, planning, equipment and training. "There is a wide range of causes – it's not just enemy activity," he said of the high death rate. "Some of it reflects a very busy summer, but some of it also reflects a force that is still developing capability."
The country's leaders were also doing more to show families of the dead and injured that their sacrifices were valued, he said. Other senior western commanders had warned that the security forces needed to feel stronger backing from the people they were risking their lives to defend.
"They are now as gripped with casualties as we are," Dunford said. "What I have seen increasingly is Afghan leaders actually having the same appreciation we have for a need to take care of their people and the families of the fallen."
Australia investigating Afghan abuse report
Military is probing incident of "potential misconduct" by troops after report that dead fighter's hands were cut off.
Last Modified: 30 Aug 2013 10:26
The Australian Defence Force said it was investigating an incident of "potential misconduct" by troops in Afghanistan following a report that a dead fighter's hands were cut off.
The elite special forces were under investigation for mutilating the corpse of at least one person after a fierce battle in Zabul province in April in which four enemy fighters were killed, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Friday.
"The ABC understands the hands were removed from an insurgent's corpse and taken back to the Australian base at Tarin Kot," the broadcaster said on its website.
It said it understood the soldiers were accused of cutting off the hands for the purpose of obtaining fingerprints, adding that troops were asked to collect fingerprints and eye scans from dead fighters where possible.
The Australian military confirmed it was investigating an incident that occurred during a combined operation between Afghan National Security Forces and Australia's Special Operations Task Group on April 28.
"The combined operation was targeting an insurgent commander responsible for a key insurgent network operating in and around Uruzgan province," it said in a statement.
"During the clearance operation, Australian personnel were engaged in a high intensity, complex and dangerous battle. Four insurgents were engaged and killed during the battle."
"Following the mission, an incident of potential misconduct was raised through the ADF's internal command chain."
Rules of engagement
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) said it took any potential misconduct seriously and had started an investigation with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan immediately after it was reported.
The Afghan government had also been informed.
The ADF added that as the investigation was ongoing, it could make no further comment, but said Australian troops operated under strict rules of engagement that were consistent with international law.
"The ADF also takes all reasonable steps to ensure its operations do not breach Afghan customs or cause offence by inadvertently disrespecting religious beliefs or norms," it said.
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said he was confident that defence chiefs would carry out a proper investigation.
"I have full confidence in the Australian Defence Force, I have full confidence in our men and women in uniform in Afghanistan, I have full confidence in their professionalism," he told reporters in the city of Perth.
Kabul's beauticians make up their own rules
NATO forces will leave in 2014, and some Afghan women fear the ensuing political changes will be more than cosmetic.
Jane Ferguson Last Modified: 19 Jun 2013 14:37
Deadly bombing targets Afghan court staff
At least 17 killed and dozens wounded as suicide car bomber attacks bus carrying Supreme Court employees in Kabul.
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2013 01:53
Ten children and US diplomat killed in weekend of Afghanistan violence
Press officer among six dead in suicide bombing as Nato accused of killing civilians in Kunar
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
The Guardian, Sunday 7 April 2013 20.29 BST
A suicide attack claimed six lives, including the first US state department officer to die in Afghanistan since the 1970s, and Nato air attacks killed 10 children over a weekend that was a bloody reminder of the scale of the country's conflict.
On Saturday, an attacker detonated a vehicle full of explosives in the centre of Qalat just as a US military convoy passed the provincial governor and his entourage. The blast killed and seriously injured several people from both groups, including a young Kabul-based diplomat, Anne Smedinghoff.
Separately, 10 children and an Afghan woman were killed by air strikes during an hours-long battle in a remote part of eastern Kunar province on the same day, senior local officials said. A US civilian adviser to the Afghan intelligence agency was also killed in the fight. "In the morning after sunrise, planes appeared in the sky and air strikes started and continued until evening," said tribal elder Gul Pasha, who is also the chief of the local council in Shultan, where the bombing happened.
A senior Taliban commander was in the house, but so were women and children between one and 12 years old who were members of his family, Pasha told the Associated Press by telephone.
"I don't think that they knew that all these children and women were in the house because they were under attack from the house and they were shooting at the house," he told the Associated Press by telephone from the district.
Civilian casualties caused by foreign forces have been one of the most emotive and high-profile issues of the war in Afghanistan, prompting street protests and condemnation from officials including President Hamid Karzai.
They remain a frequent flashpoint for national anger, and earlier this year Karzai banned Afghan forces from calling in air strikes, although his order appears to have been ignored on the ground.
The deaths came as the most senior US general, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, arrived in the country to discuss long-term training plans for Afghan soldiers, who from this summer are expected be leading the fight against the Taliban.
Dozens die in attack on court in Afghanistan
Attempt by suicide bombers in army uniforms to free Taliban prisoners leaves at least 55 dead in western Farah town.
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2013 23:28
US drones spread fear to Afghan villages
Every civilian that US drones kill by mistake is another victory for the Taliban's recruitment campaign.
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2013 14:21
The United States has increased its use of drones as international forces prepare to leave Afghanistan.
Yet, every civilian the drones kill by mistake is another victory for the Taliban's recruitment campaign.
Al Jazeera's Sue Turton reports from Kunar province.
Irregular Afghan forces in focus for abuses
Atrocity claims against US forces and locals working with them prompt Karzai to order Americans out of Wardak province.
Ali M Latifi and Abdullah Shahood Last Modified: 03 Mar 2013 10:55
Abdul Rahim was in Kabul when the raid on his family home took place. When he returned to his house in Maidan Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan, he found blown-off doors, shattered windows and closets in disarray.
But what Abdul Rahim remembered most were the faces of his brother Nasibullah's children. Hours after seeing their father shot dead by US special forces, tears still lined their cheeks.
"This is not only our house - it happens in every village," Abdul Rahim said as he pointed to the spot where two helicopters he said were carrying the American commandos landed in the early hours. "They came and killed him [Nasibullah] and left."
Abdul Rahim's mother recounted that the soldiers "shouted, telling us that from the elderly to the children, everyone had to come out. They were on top of the roofs. They were everywhere".
When they came out of their home, Abdul Rahim's mother said Nasibullah tried to address the US special forces that surrounded them, but they shot him "on the spot. He fell face-down".
As she ran from what she called the "special Americans", Abdul Rahim's mother looked back to see Nasibullah bleeding.
An Afghan translator for the Americans told her: "Don't shout, don't do anything - stand over there."
She, along with Nasibullah's wife and children, were taken to a field. "Everyone in the village saw. This is what the Americans did to us."
Ordered to leave
Cases like these are what Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, hoped to put an end to when he ordered US special forces to leave Wardak province by mid-March.
A statement explaining the decision cited a case in Wardak in which nine villagers were "disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force" last October. The whereabouts of the nine - who include seven truck drivers and two schoolteachers - remain unknown. "In a separate incident," the statment read, "a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge."
Karzai may have been spurred to act when Mohammad Halim Fidai, Wardak's provincial governor, complained that the number of allegations of abuse, disappearances and killings have been rising.
Though Abdul Rahim and residents of three other villages in the province told Al Jazeera that US forces "harass" them, initial media reports also said Afghans working with the special forces were contributing to the abuses in Wardak.
In a series of interviews with Al Jazeera, families in the province, government officials and journalists painted a grim picture of the long-standing "insecurity and instability" in Wardak, blaming both US special forces and Afghans.
Wardak, an hour's drive west of Kabul, has long been considered a restive area. Asadullah Hamdam, the former governor of Uruzgan province, said the elders he spoke to complained of armed groups of Afghans, believed to be associated with US special forces, who have been torturing, kidnapping and killing villagers.
"These are people who specifically work with the special forces and have no legal standing in the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF]," Hamdam said.
Many Afghans in the area believe these irregular forces, which also do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Afghan defence or interior ministries, have accompanied US special forces on secret missions, including night raids such as that experienced by Abdul Rahim and his family.
In one district, locals said if the armed Afghans find nothing else, they will take away families' gosht-e-kagh, or lamb jerky, a wintertime staple in Afghanistan.
Mirwais Wardak, managing director of the Kabul-based NGO Peace Training and Research Organisation, said these groups often comprised former fighters in Afghanistan's civil war. "They come from other provinces looking for revenge" for perceived past affronts, he said.
Beyond Kabul's control
With the active regrouping of the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami - the two largest armed opposition movements in the country - in Wardak, the arming of irregular Afghan groups is especially worrisome for a government dealing with fears of a civil war after international troops withdraw in 2014.
Senior officials of the international coalition in Afghanistan said they would be willing to meet with provincial leaders to discuss the accusations that US special forces and those working with them are responsible for abuse. But many Afghans believe that these groups, whether local or foreign, are beyond Kabul's control.
"There is no government to ask why they are cruel to us. No one has come to ask us what happened," Mohammed Hakim, Abdul Rahim's neighbour, told Al Jazeera.
Hares Kakar, an Afghan journalist who has reported from Wardak, said the US "may not always be knocking down people's doors, but they are paying and arming these Afghans who lack [ANSF] uniforms and registration, and are given guns anyway".
This lack of accountability, said Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist who writes extensively about US national security, is made all the more problematic by what he describes as "a system of incentives for the special forces to maximise the number of operations and the number of people that they capture or kill in those operations. They get credit for that - they put out numbers and their budget goes up".
Further complicating the issue of jurisdiction are reports that some of the Afghans accompanying US special forces may in fact be Afghan-Americans or Afghan-Europeans who have come to work with NATO as translators, "cultural advisors" or fixers.
"How can you hold them accountable? They have two passports; they can easily escape," Wardak, the NGO director, told Al Jazeera.
One Afghan-American adviser to ISAF in Paktia province said "it is not beyond imagination" that abuses by special forces occurred. "It has happened and it will continue to happen." Speaking to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity because her ISAF contract does not authorise her to talk to the media, the source said the abuse is not always physical.
For instance, she alleged that translators sometimes "work to their own benefit: rather than translating what the person said, they would often tell their superior what they wanted to hear".
This, said the ISAF adviser, is especially problematic in a country where the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan spy agency, has been known to detain and torture people based simply on accusations of Taliban affiliation.
For Abdul Rahim and his family, this is an especially prescient point.
"He wasn't in the Taliban. He wasn't working with the government. He was a poor man, a bus conductor," said Mohammed Hakim, Abdul Rahim's neighbour, of Nasibullah.
To improve accountability, Karzai has given all irregular Afghan forces established by the NATO coalition three months to fall under government control. The deadline, declared only days after US special forces were told to leave Maidan Wardak, may be meant to pre-empt restive areas from falling into the wrong hands.
Former government officials such as Hamdam support the president's decision. "The sooner Afghan security forces can take control over the nation, overall, the better," he said.
Though some regard Karzai's order for the American special forces to leave as emotional, others see it as a strategic political manoeuvre to shake off the "puppet" image that has dogged his decade-long tenure. The Afghan president has frequently complained that the US military is undermining the Central Asian nation's independence.
"It's the final months of Karzai's presidency. He wants to show 'we don't need foreign forces anymore,'" said Kakar, who was at the press conference announcing the deadline for the withdrawal of the special forces from Wardak.
"NATO must listen and show respect to the Afghan president and his wishes. But at the same time, it is NATO's responsibility to find out who is responsible for these acts," said Hamdam.
Afghanistan's first female mayor proves critics wrong
Azra Jafari has won respect in her community as she fights to improve lives and change attitudes towards women
Golnar Motevalli in Kabul
The Guardian, Sunday 24 February 2013 18.36 GMT
UN says bribe payments soar in Afghanistan
Survey found that $3.9bn, twice the nation's domestic revenue, was paid in bribes in 2012.
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2013 05:36
Hamid Karzai says security in Helmand better before British troops arrived
Afghan president questions effectiveness of west's intervention before talks with David Cameron and Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari. Watch the interview at itv.com/news
The Guardian, Sunday 3 February 2013 23.00 GMT
Violence against women rises in Afghanistan
Afghan women continue to be subject to violent attacks despite 2009 protection law.
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2013 12:47
Violence against women is on the rise in Afghanistan.
The country's independent Human Rights Commission said there has been a 22 percent rise recently.
Despite a 2009 law to protect women, violence remains a problem in the country.
One mother is determined to find justice for her murdered daughter.
Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse reports from Kabul.
Kabul blasts lead to hours-long gunfight
Taliban claim responsibility for suicide blasts and eight hours of fighting that killed one police and two attackers.
Last Modified: 21 Jan 2013 10:24
At least three people - one police and two attackers - have been killed in an ongoing attack in Western Kabul. Another 16 have been injured after gunmen and suicide bombers attacked the Kabul traffic police compound.
A gunbattle is ongoing between security forces and heavily armed assailants.
"A group of terrorists, two or three or four, tried to enter the traffic police building, Mohammad Zahir, of the Kabul police, said on Monday.
"Two of the bombers were shot dead at the entrance and one has likely entered the building and is shooting sporadically. Our security forces are in the area."
A witness said the top floor of the building was on fire. He said the initial explosion was "very very big -- it was massive", and was followed by several other explosions and gunfire.
"There are firefighter trucks, ambulances and police all over the place. The gunfire comes from that direction and the building's top floors are on fire," he said.
Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said at least two of the rooms in the traffic police compound were on fire, with two attackers still in the building.
Local media reported the attackers were believed to be hiding under a staircase in the four-storey building.
Sediq Sediqqi, ministry of interior spokesman, speaking to Al Jazeera from Kabul, said the Taliban had been contained and that police were "going floor-by-floor" to insure no other attackers remained.
Sediqqi cited "slight" wounds among police forces and the lack of casualties so far, as a sign that the Afghan National Police are "stronger; we can really contain their damage and give them a quicker response", he said.
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, ISAF, said: "Afghan security forces are doing a great job pressuring the insurgents. ISAF will continue to train, advise, assist the ANSF ... [The] Taliban are losing this fight, are growing weaker. Many are leaving the fight because they do not want to fight their Afghan brothers."
The attack site, near the Deh Mazang area of the Afghan capital, is also near the offices of the border police.
The Taliban have told Al Jazeera their target was the border police offices next door to the traffic police compound.
Our correspondent said the initial attack occurred just before dawn.
"A time when the streets of Kabul and the building itself would be quite empty," which would be an advantage if the group intended to use the traffic police compound as a staging site for another attack on the border police.
Police sources told Glasse one of the explosions was caused by a car bomb.
Monday's blasts come only days after an attack on the headquarters of the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan spy agency, in Kabul.