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Taliban Take Over Afghan Province

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    Taliban denies Peshawar blast role: Thursday, October 29, 2009 http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2009/10/2009102995252334582.html The Taliban and al-Qaeda
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      Taliban denies Peshawar blast role:
      Thursday, October 29, 2009
      http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2009/10/2009102995252334582.html


      The Taliban and al-Qaeda have distanced themselves from Wednesday's deadly market blast in Peshawar that claimed 105 lives, saying "their main targets are the security forces, and not innocent civilians".

      The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in a statement sent to the media on Thursday, condemned the car bomb attack that tore through a crowded market and denied any involvement in the explosion.

      However, Pakistani government officials have said the attack was in revenge for the army's offensive against Taliban fighters in South Waziristan, and that the military campaign would go on.

      The attack on the busy Mina Bazaar, which also injured more than 200 people, was the deadliest to hit Pakistan this year.

      Many of those killed were women and children and on Thursday, residents of the troubled city began burying the dead.

      'Rogue elements'

      Lieutenant-General Asad Durrani, the former head of Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), told Al Jazeera the current situation in the country was grim and that it could take years for the situation to be brought under control.

      "American help in our efforts of counter- insurgency are very unhelpful because this alliance is a very unpopular one. The public are not in favour of America and Pakistan co-ordinating..."

      Durrani said that rising civilian casualties were also eroding the support for the anti-government groups.

      "The most dangerous category of groups are the so-called rogue elements, their agenda is neither Afghanistan-oriented nor Pakistan. They carry out certain acts and atrocities which makes the situation even more complex," he said.

      Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner to the UK, told Al Jazeera: "The Taliban are losing the war, losing history. And while doing that they will kill as many as they would like to.

      "But I can tell you, as our foreign minister said, we'll not buckle down. We fight them and we'll destroy them."

      Clinton visit

      The attack came as Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, touched down in Islamabad for talks with government officials.

      Speaking in the Pakistani capital, she expressed her support for the military's offensive against the Taliban and pledging continued US assistance.


      The blast hit a crowded market in the old part of the city [AFP]


      "These extremists are committed to destroying that which is dear to us, as much as they are committed to destroying that which is dear to you, and to all people," Clinton said.

      "So this is our struggle as well, and we commend the Pakistani military for their courageous fight, and we commit to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Pakistani people in your fight for peace and security."

      Imran Khan, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad, said officials had told him that a car drove into a narrow and packed market place before exploding.

      "The bomb disposal squad are at the location and are looking for clues as to what type of explosive was used," he said.

      Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, condemned the "appalling bomb attack".

      "I want to express my outrage at the loss of so many innocent lives," he told a news conference in New York.

      The blast comes as Pakistan's military is fighting members of the TTP in the country's semi-autonomous tribal region of South Waziristan.

      The military launched its offensive nearly two weeks ago, pitting about 30,000 Pakistani troops against an estimated 10 to 12,000 Taliban fighters in South Waziristan.

      'Reckless acts'

      Tariq Azeem Khan, a Pakistani senator and a former minister of state for information, told Al Jazeera that the attack showed the Taliban were becoming "reckless" in their choice of targets.


      October attacks in Pakistan

      Oct 28: Blast rocks a women's market in Peshawar, killing at least 80.
      Oct 23: A suicide bomber kills seven people close to an air force complex in northwestern Pakistan.
      Oct 22: Gunmen shoot and kill a senior army officer and a soldier in Islamabad.
      Oct 20: Two suicide bombers attack the International Islamic University in Islamabad, killing six people.
      Oct 16: Three suicide attackers hit a police station in Peshawar, killing 13.
      Oct 15: Teams of gunmen attack three security facilities in the eastern city of Lahore, leaving at least 28 people dead, while car bombs kill 11 people in northwestern Kohat district and a 6-year-old boy in Peshawar.
      Oct 12: A suicide car bomb explodes near a market in the northwestern Shangla district, killing 41.
      Oct 10: A raid on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi leads to a 22-hour standoff that leaves nine rebels and 14 others dead.
      Oct 9: A suicide car bomb in Peshawar kills 53 people.

      "When they cannot get to the main targets because they are well guarded, they are doing these explosions all over the place - in the main shopping centres without any pre-determined targets.

      "There's very little the government can do to try to protect every single shopping mall. It's a difficult task, but they are doing their best. Pakistan is paying a very high price at the moment.

      Since the South Waziristan assault began, the military says it has killed at least 231 fighters, and lost 29 soldiers.

      However, independent figures are impossible to come by as journalists and aid agencies are barred from the conflict zone.

      More than 125,000 people have been registered as displaced by Pakistan's offensive since October 13, United Nations officials have said.

      The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said that humanitarian access to people in need remains the key challenge for agencies, given the volatile security environment in the displacement areas.

      The military has given no figures for civilian casualties, but those fleeing say many people caught in the crossfire have been killed.

      ===

      Taliban Chief Blames Blackwater for Peshawar Blast:
      http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?668599


      Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud has claimed that the controversial American security firm Blackwater was behind the deadly bomb attack on a market in Peshawar that killed over 100 people.

      Hakimullah questioned why the Taliban should target the public when it was capable of carrying out attacks in Islamabad and targeting the army's General Headquarters.

      In an interview with BBC Urdu, he claimed Blackwater and "Pakistani agencies" were involved in attacks in public places to discredit the militants.

      A powerful car bomb exploded at a crowded market in Peshawar yesterday, killing more than 100 and injuring 200 more. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

      The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had earlier said it was behind an attack on the army's headquarters earlier this month.

      About 15 people were killed during that attack. A group of militants took nearly 50 people hostage before they were gunned down or blew themselves up.

      Reports in the Pakistani media have claimed that Blackwater has established a presence in the country by tying up with local security firms but these allegations have been rejected by the US administration.

      When Hakimullah was asked about the perception among people that militants are involved in attacks on public places, he said: "Our war is against the government and the security forces and not against the people. We are not involved in blasts."

      Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq, who was present along with Hakimullah, warned that the militants could target media organisations that are "defaming" the Taliban.

      North West Frontier Province Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain and chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas have blamed militants for the blast in Peshawar.

      They said militants are targeting the people because they are facing defeat in South Waziristan tribal region, where the army has launched a major ground offensive.

      ===

      Mossad-Taliban whistleblower killed in Pakistan
      Agencies


      A tribal leader who earlier defected from Pakistani Taliban chief
      Baitullah Mehsud and revealed the militants group's ties with the US and Israel has been shot dead.

      The assassination of Qari Zainuddin comes days after
      he revealed that their comrade was pursuing a US-Israeli agenda across the violence-wracked country.

      Zainuddin, a 26-year-old rising tribesman who
      had called Mehsud "an American agent" was killed by a gunman in northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday.

      Zainuddin, who broke away from Mehsud, was also increasingly critical of Mehsud's use of suicide bombings targeting civilians.

      In an interview with local media the defector said that Mehsud had established strong links with Israeli intelligence services, which were destabilizing the nuclear armed country. "These people (Mehsud and his men) are working against Islam."

      Mehsud, a warlord in his late 30s, has claimed responsibility for dozens of devastating string attacks on both civilians and security forces throughout the feared region.

      Insurgents have stepped up their attacks on civilian and religious centers in major cities across Pakistan, which has fueled anti-Taliban sentiments among the Pakistani people.

      The US invaded Afghanistan more than seven years ago to allegedly eradicate insurgency and arrest Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.

      The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 has resulted in the spread of
      violence into neighboring Pakistan. Taliban militants have turned the restive tribal belt between the two neighbors into a scene of daily violence.

      ===

      Occupiers involved in drug trade: Afghan minister
      Press TV
      Sunday, Nov 1st, 2009


      The Afghan minister of counter narcotics says foreign troops are earning money from drug production in Afghanistan.

      General Khodaidad Khodaidad said the majority of drugs are stockpiled in two provinces controlled by troops from the US, the UK, and Canada, IRNA reported on Saturday.

      He went on to say that NATO forces are taxing the production of opium in the regions under their control.

      Afghanistan is the world's biggest supplier of opium.

      Drug production in the Central Asian country has increased dramatically since the US-led invasion eight years ago.

      A recent report by the United Nations states that Afghan opium is having a devastating impact on the world, killing thousands in consumer countries.

      Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Ahmad Wali Karzai, a brother of the Afghan president, is involved in the opium trade, meets with Taliban leaders, and is also a CIA operative.
      The opium trade is the major source of Taliban financing.

      ===

      Afghan troops kill 25 "militants" :
      http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-10/29/content_12355163.htm


      KABUL, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- Afghan troops in the northwest Badghis province have killed over two dozen Taliban insurgents, a local newspaper reported Thursday.

      "In a joint operation of Afghan and international forces launched Monday in the Bom valley of Qadis district 25 rebels had been killed until Wednesdays night," daily Arman-e-Millie reported.

      Quoting a military commander of the Afghan national army in the province Colonel Zainudin, the newspaper added that aerial bombardment had eliminated the insurgents and destroyed their hideouts.

      Six Afghan soldiers sustained injuries in the operation, the newspaper said.

      Bom is regarded as a stronghold of Taliban fighters in Badghis province where a NATO's helicopter crashed a couple of days ago and Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the incident.

      ===

      Canadian occupation force soldier killed by IED in Afghanistan
      Wed. Oct. 28 2009
      http://snipurl.com/swrk2


      A Canadian soldier has been killed in Afghanistan, and two others injured, after an improvised explosive device detonated in the turbulent Panjwaii district.

      The slain soldier has been identified as 26-year-old Lt. Justin Garrett Boyes, a member of 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton.

      "He was mentoring the Afghan local police, when his patrol was struck," Jonathan Montpetit, a reporter with The Canadian Press, told CTY News Channel by phone from Kandahar.

      The two injured soldiers were treated at a medical facility at Kandahar Airfield, and are now listed in good condition.

      Boyes was just 10 days into his deployment in Afghanistan.

      "So early in the deployment, Justin's death is going to be difficult to accept by his brothers in arms, but will not deter any of us from continuing with our mission," Brig. Gen. Jonathan Vance, the commander of Task Force Kandahar, said.

      Vance said Boyes was excited for a chance to train Afghan police and contribute to the "effort to provide stability to the population so we could, in concert with the Afghan government, extend basic services and humanitarian assistance to those in need."

      Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement offering his condolences to Boyes' family and friends.

      "The dedication, bravery and remarkable commitment of Canadians like Lt. Boyes will bring safety and stability to the people of Afghanistan," Harper said. "Their ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten."

      Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also expressed his condolences.

      "Today's loss of this brave solider reminds Canadians of the dangerous but important work our men and women of our Armed Forces carry out to ensure peace and security for the people of Afghanistan and the region. Lt. Boyes took on the challenge of defending peace and today we remember his courage and dedication to the mission," Ignatieff said.

      Boyes recently joined the Princess Pats as a regular, after six years in the reserves.

      Boyes grew up in Saskatchewan and leaves behind his wife, Alanna and three-year-old son, James.

      "He was an easy-going Prairie boy who preferred sitting around the backyard with good friends, his family and a cold drink," Vance said.

      NATO forces have had a particularly difficult week, with 14 U.S. soldiers killed in two separate helicopter crashes last Monday, and another eight killed by two IED explosions on Tuesday.

      Canada has now lost 132 military personnel in the war-torn country, since the mission began in 2002.

      ===

      US has no plans to quit AFPAK operations: White House
      2009-10-29
      http://snipurl.com/swrkg


      The White House has said that it has no plans to quit its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan inspite of Wednesday's blast in a Peshawar bazaar.

      Recent reports had suggested that a rapid increase in attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan might force the Obama administration to leave the country, but the White House said that US troops would stay put.

      "The president began the meetings on the assessment with saying we were not leaving Afghanistan. We understand that we have a role to play in ensuring stability in the region, which is why the president is taking his time to get this policy right," The Dawn quoted Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary, as saying.

      Gibbs also said President Obama will meet US military chiefs on Friday to review military strategy in Afghanistan.

      "This is a meeting requested by the president to see the Joint Chiefs and to have a chance to talk to them and to other service branches about the ongoing assessment in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he added.

      Earlier, Obama had held a meeting with his top advisers on the region to have a new policy to confront Taliban and Al Qaeda militants threatening the Governments of both countries. It was also attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently in Pakistan on a three-day official visit.

      Media reports had speculated that the consultations might lead to the announcement of a timeline for withdrawing US troops from the region.

      ===

      U.N. cutting staff in Afghanistan:
      http://snipurl.com/swrl1


      Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Non-essential U.N. staff across Afghanistan have been ordered to pack their bags and be ready for evacuation after a deadly attack on a U.N. guesthouse, a senior U.N. official said Thursday.

      The staff members will leave the country because of security concerns, according to the official, who said a smaller staff will reduce exposure during the upcoming presidential runoff, but will not affect U.N. capabilities to support the election.

      The United Nations also reduced non-essential staff ahead of the August 20 election, the official said.

      The order comes a day after Taliban militants stormed the guesthouse in an early morning raid on Wednesday, killing five U.N. staff members and wounding nine more. At least 25 U.N. employees were staying at the guesthouse, including 17 members of the U.N. election team.

      Afghanistan's presidential runoff election is scheduled for November 7. Taliban militants have threatened to disrupt the polling.

      The United Nations said it was reviewing its security procedures in the aftermath of Wednesday's attack.

      "This is a sad day and very difficult day for the United Nations," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday, condemning the "shocking and shameless act and the terrorists who committed this crime" and noting that the incident is a reminder of how tough the U.N. job is in Afghanistan.

      Video: Gunfire wakes CNN crew Ban said he was assured by Kai Eide, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had instructed his Interior Ministry to strengthen security, and he said the United Nations would do likewise -- in Kabul as well as elsewhere in the country.

      "We will, of course, review our security procedures, as we do regularly for the Afghanistan mission as a whole. We will take all necessary measures to protect our staff," Ban said.

      In the strike, weapons fire and explosions pounded the heart of the capital starting about 6 a.m. local time. The fighting began as sporadic gunfire, but intensified over time, lasting more than an hour.

      The attack took place in a relatively secure section of the capital, in the vicinity of a number of government buildings. The firefight, which included machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades, appeared to be concentrated near the guesthouse.

      The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying on an insurgent Web site that three militants had killed 50 foreigners, who were election organizers. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

      Officials said three militants were killed.

      International troop levels increased this year, to provide security for the Afghan election in August, and the United States is considering deploying more troops.

      ===

      Obama breaks from Bush by saluting coffins of 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan:

      http://snipurl.com/swrl6


      President Obama publicly rejected the cloak of secrecy surrounding the return of US military dead late last night when he met the coffins of 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan in a solemn, unannounced ceremony.

      Mr Obama, under intense political pressure to make a decision on his future strategy on the war, offered prayers over each of the casualties before they were returned to US soil at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

      On a cold and blustery night, the President marched briskly up a ramp on to the Air Force C-17 transport aircraft which had carried home the latest victims of an increasingly bloody and unpopular war.

      Inside the cavernous plane, he privately paid tribute to each of the eight Army soldiers killed by a roadside bomb and to the seven servicemen and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents who died in a helicopter crash this week.

      One-by-one their coffins, wrapped in the American flag, were carried out into the night. Most were borne by fellow soldiers wearing Army fatigues, combat boots and white gloves.

      Seventeen of the bodies were driven away in private, before members of the media were invited by the family of one soldier to witness the return of his body.

      Mr Obama stood silent and motionless in salute as six soldiers slowly carried a casket bearing the body of Sergeant Dale Griffin, from Indiana, out of the aircraft.

      The respectful return of the bodies, pointedly not referred to as a ceremony by officials, was broadcast to the public in a break from almost two decades of secrecy over repatriations.

      President Bush tightened a ban on media coverage of returning US soldiers that has been in place since the first Gulf War in 1991.

      Earlier this year, the Pentagon lifted its 18-year moratorium on coverage providing family permission is granted.

      In the surprise move shortly after midnight last night a few members of the press and some Administration officials accompanied the President to America's largest military mortuary which serves as the entry point for most service members killed abroad.

      Mr Obama landed in Marine One, the presidential helicopter, before privately meeting the families of many of the casualties in a chapel near the airfield.

      He was accompanied into the aircraft by Eric Holder, the Attorney General, and Michele Leonhart, the DEA Acting Administrator before returning to Washington in the middle of the night to continue his deliberations on the course of the war.

      Polls show Americans increasingly weary of the war, which analysts say is likely to help define the Obama presidency. There is also scepticism among his fellow Democrats over sending more troops.

      Tomorrow's war council is expected to provide the final lobbying opportunity for senior military figures backing a strategy that would deploy at least four extra Nato brigades to protect Afghan towns and cities.

      Implicit in the strategy would be an admission that the forces could not hope to eliminate the Taleban entirely from the country's rural areas. Given normal US brigade strengths of 3,000 to 4,000 troops, this would mean deploying up to 16,000 extra soldiers.

      The White House insisted yesterday that the President "has not settled on anything" and that all the myriad options discussed in the Situation Room over the past month remained on the table.

      The Administration's continued refusal to show its hand has led to renewed claims that his indecision is frustrating America's allies and commanders.

      Policy on Afghanistan "has been reviewed time and again" and yet more delay was "not helpful to our effort", Senator John McCain said.

      However, behind the "dithering" alleged by the former Vice-President Dick Cheney, some observers believe that Mr Obama may be close to making up his mind.

      "The signs from the White House are that the President has settled on a resource-intensive counter-insurgency approach but because resources are finite there will be an envelope around it," one official close to the negotiations said.

      ===

      Taliban Take Over Afghan Province
      By Syed Saleem Shahzad
      http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article23837.htm


      October 29, 2009 "Asia Times" -- ISLAMABAD - The United States has withdrawn its troops from its four key bases in Nuristan, on the border with Pakistan, leaving the northeastern province as a safe haven for the Taliban-led insurgency to orchestrate its regional battles.

      The US has retained some forces in Nuristan's capital, Parun, to provide security for the governor and government facilities. The American position concerning the withdrawal is that due to winter conditions, supply arteries are choked, making it difficult to keep forces in remote areas. The US has pulled out from some areas in the past, but never from all four main bases.

      The move by the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChystal, follows the death on October 3 of eight US soldiers as well as a number of Afghan National Army forces when their outpost in Kamdesh was attacked by more than 300 militants. On July 13, 2008, nine American soldiers were killed when their outpost in Wanat was attacked by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

      Nuristan is strategically located in the Hindu Kush mountains, the vast and rugged region in which al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his associates are believed to hide.

      The province is now under the effective control of the network belonging to Qari Ziaur Rahman, a Taliban commander with strong ties to Bin Laden. This makes Nuristan the first Afghan province to be controlled by a network inspired by al-Qaeda.

      In a telephone conversation on Wednesday, a militant linked to Rahman said that now that they had control of Nuristan, the militants are "marching towards Mohmand and Bajaur to help their fellow Taliban fighting against Pakistani troops", referring to two tribal agencies across the border.

      Rahman is not the son of a legendary mujahideen commander, but of a cleric named Maulana Dilbar. His ties do not lie with Pakistan, but with Bin Laden, having instructed him in the lessons of the Prophet Mohammed's life.

      Ziaur, in his early thirties, was raised in the camps of Arab militants, who instilled in him the passion to fight against the Americans - not only in Afghanistan, but across the globe. Ziaur did not get his command as any hereditary right. First he had to prove himself on the battlefield, which he did by taking on US troops in Kunar and Nuristan provinces. He was the first to mount operations against the US in the Karghal district of Kunar and he engineered encounters in Nuristan. (See A fighter and a financier Asia Times Online, May 23, 2008.)

      Mountainous Nuristan - and adjoining Kunar province and the Mohmand and Bajaur tribal areas - provide a natural labyrinth, ideal for insurgents to establish safe heavens. The majority of Nuristan's people adhere to the strict Salafi school of thought. As a result, Arab fighters, who are mostly Salafis, have always been drawn to the area. This happened during the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s, when a virtually autonomous Salafi "kingdom" was established with aid from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This was later eliminated by the Taliban.

      In recent years, several top al-Qaeda leaders have been spotted in the area, including al-Qaeda deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, who escaped two missile attacks by US Predator drones. During the Soviet invasion, Nuristan was one of the few areas of the country that was never under occupation. Since the US-led invasion of 2001, it, along with Kunar, has been a hot-bed of activity.

      The Taliban's control of Nuristan coincides with the big Pakistani military operation in the South Waziristan tribal area against the al-Qaeda-backed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has been underway for the past two weeks. As the militant who spoke to Asia Times Online said, there is now the opportunity to open a new front, with Rahman's forces on the Afghan side and those of Moulvi Faqir Mohammad on the Bajaur and Mohmand side.

      This region is also home to displaced militants from Pakistan's Swat Valley, who withdrew earlier this year after a military offensive in that area. They are believed to have regrouped and are preparing for new action in Swat once the winter snows block passes, making it difficult for the army's supply lines.

      The latest developments in Nuristan mark a dramatic about-turn. In late 2008, coalition forces, along with the Pakistani military, launched Operation Lion Heart. The idea was that militants would be squeezed between coalition forces in Kunar and Nuristan on the one side, and Pakistani troops in Mohmand and Bajaur on the other. Several months later, both armies announced - clearly prematurely - that they had succeeded in flushing out the insurgent sanctuaries in the region.

      Lion Heart was planned following US and Pakistani intelligence reports that the Taliban bases in Mohmand and Bajaur and in Nuristan and Kunar fed into a network that went on to the Taghab Valley in Kapisa province, which is just to the north of the capital, Kabul. From here, the Taliban have been able to launch suicide squads for attacks in Kabul.

      The US withdrawal from Nuristan, if it becomes permanent, will give an unprecedented boost to the Taliban in the whole region. In the immediate term, they are better placed than ever to disrupt next month's presidential election runoff between the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, and his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. The Taliban have already issued calls for people to boycott the voting.

      In a foretaste of what is to come, the Taliban on Wednesday attacked a guest house in Kabul, killing at least 12 people, including six United Nations employees, two security officials and a civilian, according to police and UN officials. Kabul police said that three attackers, all wearing suicide vests, had also been killed.


      Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@...

      ===

      U.S. To Protect 10 Afghan Population Centers
      By Thom Shanker, Peter Baker and Helene Cooper
      http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article23836.htm


      October 29, 2009 "Post-Gazette" -- WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's advisers are coalescing around a strategy for Afghanistan aimed at protecting about 10 top population centers, administration officials said yesterday, describing an approach that would stop short of an all-out assault on the Taliban while still seeking to nurture long-term stability.

      Mr. Obama has yet to make a decision, but as officials described it, the debate is no longer over whether to send more troops, but how many more will be needed to guard the country's most vital parts. The question of how much of the country should fall under direct protection of U.S. and NATO forces will be central to deciding how many troops Mr. Obama will dispatch.

      In southern Afghanistan yesterday, eight U.S. military members died in combat, bringing October's total to 53 and making it the deadliest month for Americans in the eight-year war. September and October were both deadlier months overall for NATO troops.

      The U.S. troops, along with an Afghan interpreter accompanying them, were killed and an undisclosed number of troops injured in several attacks involving "multiple, complex" improvised bombs, according to a statement by the NATO-led coalition.

      Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said Taliban fighters had blown up two armored vehicles carrying the troops near Zabul province. He also said the Taliban had engaged in a fierce firefight lasting more than a half-hour with Afghan police in Zabul and killed eight.

      His report could not be verified because the U.S. military is withholding additional information until families of the dead have been notified.

      On Monday, two helicopter crashes resulted in the death of 11 U.S. troops and three federal drug enforcement agents, but hostile fire was almost certainly not a factor in those cases, according to a military spokesman.

      The October toll of 53 U.S. soldiers killed exceeds that of August, when 51 died, according to icasualties.org, a Web site tracking military losses in Afghanistan and Iraq.

      Also yesterday, the U.S. and NATO-led forces said an Army plane missing since Oct. 13 was found Wednesday with the remains of three civilian crew members in high mountains of northeastern Afghanistan over Nuristan province, where the military has been conducting extensive operations. The army said the plane's disappearance had not been announced until recovery efforts were complete.

      The aircraft was stripped of all sensitive materials and destroyed in place, a statement from the NATO-led forces said. The case is under investigation, but the military said it did not think hostile action was the crash cause.

      The United States has been increasing the number of soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan, and many have gone into some of the country's toughest areas. Southern Afghanistan has been the most contested ground, with both locally based insurgents and fighters who cross the border from Pakistan.

      Under the strategy officials described yesterday, the administration now is looking at protecting Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Herat, Jalalabad and a few other village clusters. The first of any new troops sent to Afghanistan would be assigned to secure Kandahar, the spiritual capital of the Taliban, seen as a center of gravity in pushing back insurgent advances.

      But military planners are also pressing for enough troops to safeguard major agricultural areas, like the hotly contested Helmand River valley, as well as regional highways essential to the economy -- tasks that would require significantly more reinforcements beyond the 21,000 deployed by Mr. Obama this year.

      One administration official said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, had briefed Mr. Obama's advisers on how he would deploy any new troops under the approach being considered by the White House.

      Administration and military officials emphasized that the strategy would include other elements, such as accelerated training for Afghan troops, expanded economic development and reconciliation with less-radical Taliban members.

      But such a strategy would be open to complaints that U.S. and allied forces were, in effect, giving insurgents free rein across large swaths of the nation, allowing the Taliban to establish mini-states complete with training camps that could be used by al-Qaida. "We are not talking about surrendering the rest of the country to the Taliban," a senior administration official said.

      Military officers said they would maintain pressure on insurgents in remote regions by using surveillance drones and reports from people in the field to find pockets of Taliban fighters and guide attacks, in particular by Special Operations forces.

      But a range of officials made the case that many insurgents fighting Americans in distant locations are motivated not by jihadist ideology, but by local grievances, and therefore are not much threat either to the United States or the Kabul government.

      At this strategy's heart is the conclusion that the United States cannot completely eradicate the insurgency in a nation where the Taliban is an indigenous force -- nor does it need to do so to protect U.S. national security. Instead, the focus would be on preventing al-Qaida from returning in force, while containing and weakening the Taliban long enough to build Afghan security forces eventually to take over the mission.

      In effect, the approach blends ideas advanced by Gen. McChrystal and by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, seen as opposite poles in the internal debate. Gen. McChrystal has sought at least another 40,000 troops for a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at protecting Afghan civilians, so they will support the central government. Mr. Biden has opposed a buildup on the grounds that a bigger military footprint could be counterproductive, and that fighting al-Qaida in Pakistan should be the main priority.

      A strategy of protecting major Afghan population centers would be "McChrystal for the city, Biden for the country," as one administration official put it. Officials said Defense Secretary Robert Gates was playing a crucial role, balancing the case made by commanders and the skepticism of some civilians on Mr. Obama's war council, as the debate entered its final days.

      A senior military officer said Gen. McChrystal wants the most expansive definition of population centers to include fertile valleys and economic belts as well as major roadways -- in particular the national ring road that is the central link for commerce -- as well as four or five roadways linking Afghanistan eastward to Pakistan and westward to Iran.


      The New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin contributed to this report.

      ===

      U.S. Dependence On Afghan Warlords
      By Gareth Porter
      http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article23840.htm


      October 29, 2009 -- WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (IPS) - The revelation by the New York Times Wednesday that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has long been on the payroll of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is only the tip of a much bigger iceberg of heavy dependence by U.S. and NATO counterinsurgency forces on Afghan warlords for security, according to a recently published report and investigations by Australian and Canadian journalists.

      U.S. and other NATO military contingents operating in the provinces of Afghanistan's predominantly Pashtun south and east have been hiring private militias controlled by Afghan warlords, according to these sources, to provide security for their forward operating bases and other bases and to guard convoys.

      Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has acknowledged that U.S. and NATO ties with warlords have been a cause of popular Afghan alienation from foreign military forces. But the policy is not likely to be reversed anytime soon, because U.S. and NATO officials still have no alternative to the security services the warlords provide.

      A report published by the Center on International Cooperation at New York University in September notes that U.S. and NATO contingents have frequently hired security providers that are covertly owned by warlords who have "ready-made" private militias which compete with state institutions for power.

      The report cites examples of major warlords or their relatives or allies who have been contracted for security services in four provinces.

      In Uruzgan province, both U.S. and Australian Special Forces have contracted with a private army commanded by Col. Matiullah Khan, called Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, with 2,000 armed men, to provide security services on which their bases there depend. That case was reported in detail in April 2008 by two reporters for The Australian, Mark Dodd and Jeremy Kelly.

      Col. Khan's security force protects NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) convoys on the main road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt, where more than 1,000 Australian troops are based at Camp Holland, according to the The Australian in April 2008.

      Col. Khan gets 340,000 dollars per month - nearly 4.1 million dollars annually - for getting two convoys from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt safely each month. Khan, now police chief in Uruzgan province, evidently got his private army from his uncle Jan Mohammad Khan, a commander who helped defeat the Taliban in Kandahar in 2001 and was then rewarded by President Karzai by being named governor of Uruzgan in 2002.

      The Australian Defence Force claimed to The Australian that Col. Khan is paid by the Afghan Ministry of Interior to provide security on the main highways of Uruzgan province. The Australian military had previously refused to confirm or deny Australian payments to Col. Khan.

      CanWest News Service's Mike Blanchfield and Andrew Mayeda reported in November 2007 that the Canadian military had hired a "General Gulalai" to provide security for an undisclosed forward operating base. Gulalai is a warlord in southern Afghanistan who drove the Taliban out of Kandahar in 2001.

      The same reporters revealed that Col. Haji Toorjan, a local warlord allied with Kandahar governor and major warlord Gul Agha Sherzai, was hired to provide security for Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City, where Canada's provincial construction team is located.

      Blanchfeld and Mayeda found that the Canadian military had given 29 contracts worth 1.14 million dollars to a company identified as "Sherzai", suggesting strongly that the former governor of Kandahar, who had become governor of Nangarhar province, was the owner.

      The Canadian military refused to confirm whether Gul Agha Sherzai is indeed the owner.

      In Badakhshan province, Gen. Nazri Mahmed, a warlord who is said to "control a significant portion of the province's lucrative opium industry", has the contract to provide security for the German Provincial Reconstruction Team, according to the NYU report.

      The report suggests that the U.S. and NATO contingents are spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually on contracts with Afghan security providers, most of which are local power brokers guilty of human rights abuses.

      In addition to Ahmed Wali Karzai, it names Hashmat Karzai, another brother of President Karzai, and Hamid Wardak, the son of Defence Minister Rahim Wardak, as powerful figures who control private security firms that have gotten security contracts without registering with the government.

      Two anonymous United Nations sources cited in the report estimate that 1,000 to 1,500 unregistered armed security groups have been "employed, trained, and armed by ISAF" and "Coalition Forces" for security services. As many as 120,000 armed individuals are estimated by the U.N. sources to belong to about 5,000 private militias in Afghanistan.

      Most Afghan warlords are widely reviled, mainly because the private armies they continue to control carry out theft and violence against civilians without any accountability.

      In his initial assessment last August, Gen. McChrystal referred to "public anger and alienation" toward ISAF, of which he is commander, as a result of the perception that ISAF is "complicit" in "widespread corruption and abuse of power".

      That remark suggests that McChrystal, who had carried out the Special Forces' policy of relying on Afghan warlords for security in the past, was now expressing concern about its political consequences.

      Jake Sherman, a co-author of the NYU report, was a United Nations political officer involved in the effort to disarm warlords from 2003 to 2005. He is sceptical that U.S. policy ties with the warlords will be ended.

      "I don't see how U.S. and other contingents could sustain forward operating bases without paying these guys," said Sherman in an interview with IPS.

      Beyond their continuing dependence on the warlords for security services, Sherman sees another reason for keeping them on the payroll. If the U.S. and NATO military commanders tried to cut their ties with the private militias, Sherman said the warlords "would actually become a security threat".

      Sherman recalled that during his period working for the United Nations in northern Afghanistan, local police were hired to guard a World Food Programme warehouse in Badakhshan. After a rocket attack on the warehouse, an investigation quickly turned up the fact that the police themselves had carried out the attack to pressure the U.N. to hire more guards.

      The present U.S. and NATO dependence on warlord armies is rooted in the policy of the George W. Bush administration in the early years after the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

      The Central Intelligence Agency put the commanders of the forces who had defeated the Taliban on the payroll and gave them weapons and communications equipment to help U.S. counterterrorism squads locate any al Qaeda remnants in Afghanistan.

      The commanders used the U.S. support to consolidate their political control over different provinces or sub-provincial areas. Human Rights Watch observed in a June 2002 report on the new relationships forged between the United States and the warlords, "While the U.S. government does not view this policy as actively supporting local warlords, the distinction is often lost on Afghan civilians who see coalition forces openly interacting with the warlords."

      Larry Goodson of the National War College, who participated in the 2002 process called the Loya Jirga under which the first post-Taliban Afghan government was established, told IPS he had recommended from the beginning a "de-warlordisation" process, in which "we took nasty, sleazy characters and turn them into less nasty, sleazy bosses."

      But the warlords were kept on the payroll, Goodson recalls, mainly because the troops controlled by the former commanders were seen as "force multipliers", in a situation where foreign troops were in short supply.

      Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

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