Sunday, October 13, 2013

war in Afghanistan

KABUL | Sun Oct 13, 2013 6:38am EDT

(Reuters) - An Afghan man wearing an Afghan army uniform shot at U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least one serviceman on Sunday, local officials and the NATO-led coalition said.

The so-called "insider attack" in Paktika province is the fourth in less than a month and is likely to strain already tense ties between coalition troops and their allies, with most foreign troops scheduled to withdraw by the end of next year.

A Reuters tally shows Sunday's incident was the tenth this year, and took the death toll of foreign personnel to 15.

"A man wearing an Afghan army uniform shot at Americans in Sharana city (the provincial capital) near the governor's office," said an Afghan official, adding that two soldiers had been hit by the gunfire.

The NATO-led coalition confirmed one soldier had been shot by a man in security forces uniform, but did not comment on his nationality or whether the Afghan was wearing a army uniform.

Insider attacks threaten to further undermine waning support for the war among Western nations sending troops to Afghanistan.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry extended talks Saturday with President Hamid Karzai on a bilateral security agreement with the United States, and while work remains to be done a deal could be struck by the end of the day, a presidential spokesman said.

Aimal Faizi said some contentious issues remain to be finalized. Talks that began a year ago have been deadlocked over sovereignty issues and the safety of Afghan citizens at the hands of American and allied troops.

"There is still some work to do on the document. Things are not yet finalized. It will be concluded hopefully this evening. Although it is not certain," Faizi said.

U.S. officials said it was hoped that the talks will reach an agreement in principle whose details can be finalized later.

"Secretary Kerry sees an opening to continue making headway on issues including security and sovereignty this evening and wants to leave Kabul with as many issues resolved as possible to set up conditions for finalizing an agreement," said one U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the negotiations so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kerry told U.S. Embassy staff after the meetings recessed that "we've had a terrific day."

"We're going back to the palace to enjoy dinner with the president and more importantly we're going to see if we can make a little more progress, which is what we have been trying to do all day long," he added.

"If this thing can come together, this will put the Taliban on their heels," he added. "This will send a message to the community of nations that Afghanistan's future is being defined in a way that is achievable."

Kerry began negotiations with Karzai in the morning, the second day of talks after he arrived late Friday. The U.S. wants a deal by the end of the month, while Karzai wants assurances over sovereignty that have deadlocked negotiations in the past year.

Kerry is no stranger to marathon negotiations with Karzai.

In October 2009, when Kerry was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and on a visit to Afghanistan, he managed to broker an agreement for Karzai to accept a runoff presidential election after a U.N. election commission threw out one third of his votes claiming massive fraud. Kerry spent four days convincing Karzai to accept the runoff, which was later cancelled when the runner up quit the race. Karzai was re-elected for a second and final presidential term.

Kerry's unannounced overnight visit to Kabul comes as talks foundered. Discussions have repeatedly stalled in recent weeks over Karzai's demand for American guarantees against future foreign intervention from countries like Pakistan, and U.S. demands for any post-2014 residual force to be able to conduct counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.

The situation deteriorated in the past week following a series of angry comments from Karzai that the United States and NATO were repeatedly violating Afghanistan's sovereignty and inflicting suffering on its people.

Another possible reason for the outburst could have been the capture in eastern Afghanistan of senior Pakistani Taliban commander Latif Mehsud by U.S. forces on Oct. 5, the same day Kerry and Karzai last spoke. Karzai saw the move as an infringement on Afghan sovereignty.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Meshud's group had claimed responsibility for the 2010 bombing attempt in Times Square and said they would carry out future attacks.

Mehsud is a senior deputy to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. The Pakistani Taliban has waged a decade-long insurgency against Islamabad from sanctuaries along the Afghan border and also helped the Afghan Taliban in their war against U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

Karzai wants America to guarantee such cross-border militant activity won't occur and has demanded guarantees the U.S. will defend Afghanistan against foreign intervention, an allusion to neighboring Pakistan. Afghanistan accuses its neighbor of harboring the Taliban and other extremists who enter Afghanistan and then cross back into Pakistan where they cannot be attacked by Afghan or U.S.-led international forces.

In one such attack Saturday, insurgents killed one civilian and two police officers in a suicide car bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The agreement is necessary to give the U.S. a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after the end of 2014 and also allow it to lease bases around the country. It would be an executive agreement, meaning the U.S. Senate would not have to ratify it.

There currently are an estimated 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including about 52,000 Americans. That number will be halved by February and all foreign combat troops will be gone by the end of next year.

The U.S. wants to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country to go after the remnants of al-Qaida, but if no agreement is signed, all U.S. troops would have to leave by Dec. 31, 2014. President Barack Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press he would be comfortable with a full pullout of U.S. troops.

Karzai is calling a meeting of Afghan tribal elders in November to advise him on whether to sign a security deal.

If they endorse the agreement, then Karzai has political cover to agree to it. He is keenly aware that previous leaders of his country historically have been punished for selling out to foreign interests and wants to make sure that any U.S.-Afghan agreement is not seen in that light.

SUROBI, Afghanistan — Col. Babagul Aamal is a proud veteran of 28 years in the Afghan National Army. Short and fit, with a thick black beard, he's a leader who blurts out exactly what he's thinking.

"I don't talk politics — I talk facts," Aamal said, wearing a sweater beneath his uniform in his unheated command office on a dusty base 40 miles east of Kabul.

It shames him, Aamal said, that he is not allowed to wear his pistol when he enters the fortified gate of the new American military base next door. Though he's a brigade commander, he's required to stand before an airport-type scanner with his arms raised, almost in surrender.

Yet when Americans visit Aamal's base, they are not searched. They are offered chai tea. And they bring half a dozen soldiers armed with M-16s, so-called Guardian Angels on the lookout for "insider attacks" by Afghan soldiers.

"Afghan generals get searched by low-ranking foreign soldiers," Aamal said. "Our soldiers see this, and they feel insulted."

As American troops shift from combat to advising, the ominous specter of insider attacks has strained the relationship between the two armies.

Sixty-two Western coalition troops have been killed this year in 46 such attacks, leaving many American soldiers deeply suspicious of their erstwhile allies.

At the same time, some Afghan officers and soldiers say they feel abandoned and patronized. After 11 years, they say, certain Americans still don't respect Afghan customs.

Moreover, they complain that the United States is pulling out without providing the weapons and equipment needed to hold off the Taliban.

"The Americans have the weapons, so they go wherever they want. It's like this is their country," the brigade's public affairs officer, Maj. Ghulam Ali, said with a weary shrug.


Officers and soldiers encountered during three days spent with the Afghan army were upbeat and enthusiastic about taking over the fight. But many also said they felt slighted by what they perceive as a chronic lack of resources.

At a desolate battalion base beneath towering snowcapped mountains, Lt. Col. Hussian Hadl sat in his office, shivering in an overcoat and puffing on a cigarette. The electricity was on, but only because Hadl was using precious fuel to run a generator for a visit by an American journalist.

Hadl's 1st Battalion recently took over the base from a French military unit, which had fuel for generators. Hadl said he's been supplied enough fuel to power communications equipment, but not for heat or lights.

US troops are set to leave Afghanistan in 2014, but an unidentified number will stay behind. This is an open-ended occupation that, combined with a pernicious drug war, constitutes a clear and present danger to Afghan, regional and global security.

– The Senate voted overwhelmingly to voice its support for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. The 62-33 vote included 13 Republicans. “It is time to end this war, end the longest war in United States history,” the measure’s chief sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said.

– Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that the United States and its allies are likely to battle al Qaeda for years to come. “Although we clearly have had an impact on (al Qaeda’s) presence in Afghanistan, the fact is that they continue to show up,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. “And intelligence continues to indicate that they are looking for some kind of capability to be able to go into Afghanistan as well.”

TOKYO (Reuters) - Major donors pledged on Sunday to give Afghanistan $16 billion in development aid through 2015 as they try to prevent it from sliding back into chaos when foreign troops leave, but demanded reforms to fight widespread corruption.

Donor fatigue and war weariness have taken their toll on how long the global community is willing to support Afghanistan and there are concerns about security following the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014 if financial backing is not secured.

"Afghanistan's security cannot only be measured by the absence of war," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an international donors' conference in Tokyo.

"It has to be measured by whether people have jobs and economic opportunity, whether they believe their government is serving their needs, whether political reconciliation proceeds and succeeds."

The roughly $4 billion in annual aid pledged at the meeting, attended by 80 countries and international organizations, fell short of the $6 billion a year the Afghan central bank has said will be needed to foster economic growth over the next decade.

Clinton and other donors stressed the importance of Afghanistan - one of the most corrupt nations in the world - taking aggressive action to fight graft and promote reforms.

"We have agreed that we need a different kind of long-term economic partnership, one built on Afghan progress in meeting its goals, in fighting corruption, in carrying out reform, and providing good governance," Clinton said.
According to "mutual accountability" provisions in the final conference documents, as much as 20 percent of the aid could ultimately depend on Afghanistan meeting benchmarks on fighting corruption and other good governance measures.

However, a Japanese official said that it was up to each donor whether to make its aid contingent on such reforms and that the benchmarks could vary from country to country.

World Bank Managing Director Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the pressure was on the Afghan government to deliver reforms and ensure fair elections in 2014 in order to secure aid beyond the amount pledged in Tokyo.

"This is a fragile conflict state," Indrawati told Reuters in an interview. "Three years is a very short time for a country to be able to build stable and competent institutions."


International donors provided $35 billion in aid to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010, but the return on that investment has been mixed and the country remains one of the five poorest in the world.
President Hamid Karzai admits his government needs to do more to tackle corruption, but his critics say he is not doing enough, and some directly blame authorities for vast amounts of aid not reaching the right people.

While strides have been made in schooling children and improving access to health care, three-quarters of the 30 million Afghans are illiterate and the average person earns only about $530 a year, according to the World Bank.

The government has identified priority areas for economic development, including investment in agriculture and mining, which Western officials see as a possible engine for growth. Afghanistan is believed to have up to a trillion dollars' worth of untapped mineral wealth.

Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said the Tokyo conference had shown aid donors were committed to the long haul. "Today's event sends the strongest message to Afghan people that the international community will be with us in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2020 and beyond," Zakhilwal told a news conference.
U.S. officials gave no figure for their aid pledge but said the administration would ask Congress to keep assistance through 2017 "at or near" what it has given over the past decade.

Annual U.S. aid to Afghanistan has ranged from about $1 billion a decade ago to a peak of about $4 billion in 2010. It stands at about $2.3 billion this year.

Japan pledged $3 billion in aid for Afghanistan through 2016. Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said $2.2 billion of that amount would be grants for development projects in areas like investment in roads and infrastructure.

The EU has said it will continue with pledges of 1.2 billion euros a year, but warned that if progress is not made with rule of law and women's rights, this could be difficult to continue.

The pledges made in Tokyo are on top of the $4.1 billion by NATO and its partners for supporting the Afghan security forces.

(Additional reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman in Kabul and Stanley White in Tokyo; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

US negotiators who have been trying to reach a deal with Pakistan over a supply route to Nato troops in Afghanistan have quit the talks.

"The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

The negotiators have, so far, failed to reach a deal.

Pakistan shut a Nato supply route in November after a Nato air strike near the Afghan-Pakistani border which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Part of the team left Islamabad over the weekend, and the rest will return shortly, Mr Little said.

The closure of the route left thousands of tankers bound for Afghanistan stranded in Pakistan.

Washington has stopped short of an official apology for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers.

Tension between the two countries has been rising in recent months, with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warning last week that the US was "reaching the limits of our patience" with Pakistan.

US officials accuse Pakistan of providing safe haven to militants active in Afghanistan, which Islamabad denies.

During the first day of the NATO Summit in Chicago, Mr. Clumpner returned his medals along with 43 other veterans.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — An American drone fired two missiles at a bakery in northwest Pakistan Saturday and killed four suspected militants, officials said, as the U.S. pushed on with its drone campaign despite Pakistani demands to stop. This was the third such strike in the country in less than a week.

Drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas where Afghan and other militants have found refuge are considered a key tactic by U.S. officials in the war against al-Qaida and its Taliban supporters. But many Pakistanis resent the strikes, which they consider an affront to their sovereignty.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said the latest attack took place in Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region.

The officials said the victims were buying goods from a bakery when the missiles hit. Residents were still removing the debris, officials said. All of the dead were foreigners, but the officials did not have any information on their identities or nationalities.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The U.S. rarely talks publicly about the covert CIA-run drone program in Pakistan.

Drone strikes have become an increasingly contentious issue between Washington and Pakistan. Pakistan's parliament has demanded the U.S. end all attacks on its territory.

Some figures within the Pakistani government and military are widely believed to have supported the attacks in the past. Washington-Islamabad security cooperation has declined as relations between the two countries have deteriorated, but many analysts believe there is still some support for the attacks on militants within Pakistan's senior ranks.

U.S. officials have said in private that the strikes are a vital anti-terror tool and have killed many senior al-Qaida and Taliban commanders.

On Thursday, a suspected U.S. drone killed 10 alleged militants in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border.

The attack took place in a militant hideout in the North Waziristan tribal area. Most of those killed were believed to be Uzbek insurgents.

On Wednesday four suspected militants were killed in the village of Datta Khel Kalai in North Waziristan.

The ongoing strikes have complicated negotiations between Islamabad and Washington about reopening supply routes for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan closed the routes six months ago in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. The Americans say the attacks were an accident.

For years, U.S. government agencies have told the public, veterans and Congress that they couldn’t draw any connections between the so-called “burn pits” disposing of trash at the military’s biggest bases and veterans’ respiratory or cardiopulmonary problems. But a 2011 Army memo obtained by Danger Room flat-out stated that the burn pit at one of Afghanistan’s largest bases poses “long-term adverse health conditions” to troops breathing the air there.

The unclassified memo (.jpg), dated April 15, 2011, stated that high concentrations of dust and burned waste present at Bagram Airfield for most of the war are likely to impact veterans’ health for the rest of their lives. “The long term health risk” from breathing in Bagram’s particulate-rich air include “reduced lung function or exacerbated chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, atherosclerosis, or other cardiopulmonary diseases.” Service members may not necessarily “acquire adverse long term pulmonary or heart conditions,” but “the risk for such is increased.”

The cause of the health hazards are given the anodyne names Particulate Matter 10 and Particulate Matter 2.5, a reference to the size in micrometers of the particles’ diameter. Service personnel deployed to Bagram know them by more colloquial names: dust, trash and even feces — all of which are incinerated in “a burn pit” on the base, the memo says, as has been standard practice in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade.

Accordingly, the health risks were not limited to troops serving at Bagram in 2011, the memo states. The health hazards are an assessment of “air samples taken over approximately the last eight years” at the base.

The memo’s findings contradict years of U.S. military assurances that the burn pits are no big deal. An Army memo from 2008 about the burn pit at Iraq’s giant Balad air base, titled, “Just The Facts,” found “no significant short- or long-term health risks and no elevated cancer risks are likely among personnel” (.pdf). A 2004 fact sheet from the Pentagon’s deployment health library — and still available on its website — informed troops that the high particulate matter in the air at Bagram “should not cause any long-term health effects.” More recently, in October 2010, a Pentagon epidemiological study found “for nearly all health outcomes measured, the incidence for those health outcomes studied among personnel assigned to locations with documented burn pits and who had returned from deployment, was either lower than, or about the same as, those who had never deployed” (.pdf).

Over the years, thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced respiratory and cardiopulmonary problems that they associate with their service. Some have sued military contractors for exposing them to unsafe conditions. For months, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) has urged the military to create a database of vets suffering neurological or respiratory afflictions, a move that’s winding through the legislative process. But the military has argued it doesn’t have sufficient evidence to associate environmental conditions on the battlefield with long-term health risks — and it argued that months after this memo is dated.

“As recently as April, in correspondence with the Defense Department and in discussions with my staff, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs both continued to maintain that research has not shown any long-term health consequences due to burn pits,” Akin tells Danger Room. “They also maintained that remaining burn pits in Afghanistan were away from military populations to reduce exposure. It is disturbing to discover that at least at Bagram the military concluded that burn pits posed a serious health risk.”

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has collected “hundreds” of anecdotes from vets complaining of health problems connected to serving near burn pits. “It’s good to see someone in the military is acknowledging there are going to be long-term problems with burn pits, but it’s disturbing that this memo is more than a year old and it doesn’t seem like the military has done anything about it,” says Tom Tarantino, IAVA’s deputy policy director, who deployed to Iraq in 2005 as an Army captain. “I lived next to a burn pit for six months at Abu Ghraib. You can’t tell me that was OK. That was pretty nasty. While I was there everyone was hacking up weird shit.”

Any visitor to the sprawling Bagram airfield knows the burn pit — if not by sight, then by smell. It’s an acrid, smoldering barbecue of trash, from busted furniture to human waste, usually manned by Afghan employees who cover their noses and mouths with medical breathing masks. Plumes of aerosolized refuse emerge from what troops refer to as “The Shit Pit,” mingle with Parwan Province’s already dust-heavy air, and sweep over the base. In February, that was where soldiers at the nearby Parwan detention facility accidentally incinerated the Koran.

At the time of the memo’s issuance, it noted that the affected population on the base contemporaneously was “40,000 Service Members and contractors.” Hundreds of thousands have cycled through the giant base since the U.S. seized it in 2001. Bagram is a major transit and logistics hub for the Afghanistan war, and one of the first bases the U.S. took and continuously operated during the war. Millions more have served in Iraq and Afghanistan near similar burn pits.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, studies conducted on the effects of breathing in Particulate Matter 10 and 2.5 have determined “a significant association between exposure to fine particles and premature mortality.” The Army memo reports that Bagram’s air had twice the amount of Particulate Matter 10 than the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standard, and more than three times the amount of Particulate Matter 2.5 as the standard.

Burn pits remain in use across Afghanistan. And although a study by the Institute of Medicine and sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs found last October that there is insufficient data to correlate those pits with health risks, troops’ cardiovascular problems are clearly on the rise: There were 91,013 cases reported in 2010, up sharply from 65,520 in 2001. A 2010 study found half of a small sample of soldiers who struggled to run two miles had undiagnosed bronchiolitis. Hundreds of troops have sued the pits’ contractor operators after experiencing chest pains, asthma and migraines. For years, the U.S. government has pled ignorance about the causes of those veterans’ ailments. And unless the military formally acknowledges that the burn pits pose a long-term health risk, it will be difficult for veterans to receive long-term health care for associated respiratory and cardiopulminary ailments from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The acknowledgement that air-sampling data is now indicating that burn pits may pose a risk of chronic illness to our servicemen and women validates the need for the national burn pit registry that I have proposed,” Akin says. Tarantino backs him up: “We don’t want another Agent Orange scenario, where it takes 40 years for the military to admit the stuff was bad and then has to spend all this effort tracking down affected servicemembers.”

The U.S. Army and the NATO military command in charge of the Afghanistan war did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Even casual visitors to Bagram know that the air is a menace. Within days of my most recent reporting trip there, in August 2010, I developed a disgusting, productive cough that kept me from sleeping comfortably. Airmen and soldiers joked with me about catching “Bagram Lung.”

But for at least a year, the U.S. military has known that “Bagram Lung” won’t stay at Bagram. There’s a significant chance that it will plague a generation of Afghanistan veterans for the rest of their lives.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will require "significant firepower" in Afghanistan in 2013-14, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces there said, but decisions about further U.S. troop reductions will only be made after this fall at the earliest.

"We're going to need combat power. I don't think anyone questions that," Marine General John Allen said on Wednesday. "I owe the president some real analysis on this."

Allen spoke to reporters two days after NATO leaders discussed Afghanistan's future in Chicago, embracing a plan to hand control to local security forces by the middle of 2013 and, Western leaders hope, to end the long, costly Afghan conflict.

By the end of this summer, Allen is due to withdraw all the 33,000 "surge" troops that President Barack Obama sent to battle the Taliban in 2009-2010.

Once those troops are gone, Allen will assess the campaign and make recommendations to the White House about how best to withdraw most of the remaining U.S. force of about 68,000.

"I intend to take a very hard look at the state of the insurgency," Allen said, and how Afghanistan's growing military is faring. Those factors will inform his recommendations to Obama about how many troops can be pulled in 2013 and 2014 without allowing the Taliban to stage a comeback.

"So there's not a number right now," he said.

While most foreign troops will be gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a modest number of Western soldiers are expected to stay beyond then, focused on targeted strikes against militants and advising Afghan forces.

Yet critics, especially among Republicans as the race to November presidential elections intensifies, are already warning the Obama administration against allowing anything other than conditions on the ground and security concerns to dictate the pace of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

While Obama's surge drove Taliban militants out of some areas of their southern stronghold, the Afghan insurgency remains a potent enemy.

Allen appeared confident that troop reduction would not allow the Taliban to return as a more powerful fighting force.

"It is not our intention to cede the ground, ultimately, to the Taliban. And, in fact, it's not even clear that the Taliban have the capacity to flow in" to areas that foreign troops depart, Allen said.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan and Phil Stewart; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—A Rhode Island National Guard member struck and killed by an armored vehicle in Afghanistan last week had moved an Afghan girl to safety shortly before the accident, military officials said.

The National Guard on Wednesday released details of the March 22 accident that killed 29-year-old Sgt. Dennis Weichel Jr. of Providence and called him a hero.

Officials say Weichel's unit was in Laghman province when they encountered several Afghan children in the path of their convoy. They say Weichel saw a girl trying to retrieve an item under the armored vehicle and moved her to safety, then was struck.

"He would have done it for anybody," said Staff Sgt. Ronald Corbett, who was a mentor to Weichel and who deployed with him to Iraq in 2005. "That was the way he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it."

Weichel was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the NATO Service Medal Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon RI Star.

Visiting hours are set for 4 p.m. Sunday at Olson & Parent Funeral Home in Providence. He will be buried at the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter.

He is survived by three children, his fiancee and his parents.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused the US of not fully co-operating with a probe into the massacre of 16 civilians by an American serviceman.

The accused soldier is on his way to the US where he is likely to face a military tribunal. US officials named him as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.

Afghan MPs had demanded the soldier be tried in public in Afghanistan.

Mr Karzai earlier met relatives of the dead, who demanded justice.

This has been going on for too long. This is by all means the end of the rope here”

President Hamid Karzai

Men, women and children were shot and killed at close range as the soldier apparently went on a rampage in villages close to a Nato base in the remote Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province.

President Karzai told reporters that the chief of the official investigation into those killings had not received the co-operation expected from the US.

He also said the problem of civilian casualties at the hands of Nato forces had "gone on for too long"

"This form of activity, this behaviour cannot be tolerated. It's past, past, past the time," Mr Karzai told the BBC's Lyse Doucet at the presidential palace in Kabul.

On Wednesday, Mr Karzai told the US that it must pull back its troops from village areas and allow Afghan security forces to take the lead, in an effort to reduce such civilian deaths.

The Taliban also called off peace talks in the wake of the killings although they made no mention of the massacre in their statement.
Relatives' anguish

Earlier, the president had an emotional session with relatives of those who had been killed last Sunday. The assembled villagers berated him and urged him to seek justice.

Mr Karzai said their account was entirely different from what he called the "supposed US version" that only one American soldier was involved in the massacre.

"In [one] family, in four rooms people were killed, children and women were killed and then they were all brought together in one room and then put on fire. That one man cannot do," he said, reporting the concerns of the villagers.

The allegation that there was more than one gunman contradicts the official US version of events. But Mr Karzai assured villagers that he would pursue that line of inquiry.

"Why did this happen?" demanded the man who lost nine members of his family. "Do you have answers, Mr President?"

"No, I do not," responded a tired-looking Mr Karzai.

Our correspondent, Lyse Doucet, says the president's strong public condemnation of his most important ally is certain to frustrate the US. Washington has been trying to limit the damage from these latest incidents, she says, as they deal with an unpredictable president.

This intervention adds new strains to an already troubled partnership, our correspondent says.

By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan

We may never know what drove a U.S. Army staff sergeant to head out into the Afghan night and allegedly murder at least 16 civilians in their homes, among them nine children and three women. The massacre near Belambai, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, has shocked the world and intensified the calls for an end to the longest war in U.S. history. The attack has been called tragic, which it surely is. But when Afghans attack U.S. forces, they are called “terrorists.” That is, perhaps, the inconsistency at the core of U.S. policy, that democracy can be delivered through the barrel of a gun, that terrorism can be fought by terrorizing a nation.

“I did it,” the alleged mass murderer said as he returned to the forward operating base outside Kandahar, that southern city called the “heartland of the Taliban.” He is said to have left the base at 3 a.m. and walked to three nearby homes, methodically killing those inside. One farmer, Abdul Samad, was away at the time. His wife, four sons, and four daughters were killed. Some of the victims had been stabbed, some set on fire. Samad told The New York Times, “Our government told us to come back to the village, and then they let the Americans kill us.”

The massacre follows massive protests against the U.S. military’s burning of copies of the Quran, which followed the video showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghans. Two years earlier, the notorious “kill team” of U.S. soldiers that murdered Afghan civilians for sport, posing for gruesome photos with the corpses and cutting off fingers and other body parts as trophies, also was based near Kandahar.

In response, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rolled out a string of cliches, reminding us that “war is hell.” Panetta visited Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, near Kandahar, this week on a previously scheduled trip that coincidentally fell days after the massacre. The 200 Marines invited to hear him speak were forced to leave their weapons outside the tent. NBC News reported that such instructions were “highly unusual,” as Marines are said to always have weapons on hand in a war zone. Earlier, upon his arrival, a stolen truck raced across the landing strip toward his plane, and the driver leapt out of the cab, on fire, in an apparent attack.

The violence doesn’t just happen in the war zone. Back in the U.S., the wounds of war are manifesting in increasingly cruel ways.

LANSING, Kansas (Reuters) - U.S. authorities lack proof of what occurred the night a U.S. soldier is suspected of killing 16 villagers in Afghanistan, the lawyer representing the serviceman said on Tuesday.

"I'm very concerned now they don't have much proof of anything," attorney John Henry Browne told Reuters after meeting with U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales on Tuesday for a second day in a military detention center in Kansas.

Browne said he has now spent 11 hours with Bales discussing the events of Sunday, March 11, when Bales allegedly walked off his base in southern Afghanistan and gunned down the 16 civilians, including nine children and three women, in a massacre that damaged U.S.-Afghan relations.

Bales, 38, a four-tour combat veteran, has not yet been charged, but Browne told reporters on Tuesday he expected his client to be charged with "homicide and a bunch of other charges" on Thursday. He added that the case could stretch over two years.

"I don't know what the evidence is," Browne told reporters. "We've all heard the allegations. I don't know that the government has proved much. There is no forensic evidence, there is no confession."

Browne said Bales is still "in shock" and cast the soldier as a selfless servant of the U.S. armed forces. "He is a soldier's soldier. He did not want to go over there but he did what he was told. He has never said anything about 'poor little me', which I get from my clients' way too often. His first questions were about the safety and security of his family."

He added that Bales may speak to his wife on the phone Tuesday night, for the first time since the incident. On Monday, Bales' wife, Karilyn, appealed for peace and understanding.

Browne sought to downplay the effect of Bales' financial problems, which include an abandoned property in the Seattle area and a $1.3 million fine from his time as a securities broker.

The Pentagon has previously said that Sgt Bales could face charges that carry a possible death penalty.

Such a trial could take years, contrasting with Afghan demands for swift and decisive justice.

By Qais Azimy in on Mon, 2012-03-19 14:23.

In the days following the rogue US soldier’s shooting spree in Kandahar, most of the media, us included, focused on the “backlash” and how it might further strain the relations with the US.

Many mainstream media outlets channeled a significant amount of energy into uncovering the slightest detail about the accused soldier – now identified as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog.

But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.

In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.

The dead:

Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Nazar Mohamed
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

The wounded:
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim

KABUL (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday that the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier must not deter them from their mission to secure the country ahead of a 2014 NATO withdrawal deadline.

Despite calls from local residents for him to be tried in Afghanistan, the U.S. staff sergeant who killed the villagers on Sunday has been flown out of Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron he did not anticipate any "sudden" change in U.S. plans for the pace of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Panetta arrived amid heightened tensions over the massacre. At around the time he landed at a British airbase, an Afghan man drove a stolen pickup truck at high speed onto a runway and emerged from the vehicle in a blaze, the Pentagon said.

Pentagon spokesman George Little, travelling with Panetta, denied reports in Afghan media that the vehicle caught fire or exploded. No explosives were found on the man or in the truck.

"The Secretary, we believe, was never in danger," Little said, adding that the driver's motives were unclear and he was being treated for burns. A coalition member was injured when he was pulled from the vehicle as it was stolen, the Pentagon said.

In an earlier incident, a motorcycle bomb blast in Kandahar city killed an Afghan intelligence soldier and wounded two others, as well as a civilian.

A roadside bomb also killed eight civilians in southern Helmand province, where Panetta began a two-day visit by meeting with U.S. and coalition forces at two bases, Afghan provincial officials said.

"We'll be challenged by our enemy. We'll be challenged by ourselves. We'll be challenged by the hell of war itself. But none of that, none of that, must ever deter us from the mission that we must achieve," Panetta told soldiers at Camp Leatherneck, the main U.S. Marine base in the volatile area.

Panetta's trip had been scheduled before Sunday's shootings in two Kandahar villages, but gained added urgency as political pressure mounted on Afghan and U.S. officials over the unpopular war, now in its 11th year.

Obama called the shooting of 16 Afghans "tragic" at a news briefing with Cameron, but emphasized that both nations remained committed to completing the Afghan mission "responsibly."

"There will be a robust coalition presence inside of Afghanistan during this fighting season to make sure that the Taliban understand that they're not going to be able to regain momentum," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.

NATO leaders gathering in Obama's home city of Chicago on May 20-21 will decide the "next phase" of the planned transition to Afghan forces taking the lead for security in 2014, he said.

The United States and Britain have the largest contingents of foreign troops in Afghanistan, but domestic support for the more than 10-year-old war has flagged, posing a challenge to Obama as he campaigns for reelection on November 6.

Obama acknowledged that people wanted the war over, but argued they still back the reason the United States invaded in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities, plotted by al Qaeda militants from the sanctuary of Afghanistan.


In a Reuters/Ipsos poll, 40 percent of Americans said the shooting spree, in which nine children and three women were among those killed, had weakened their support for the war.

Sixty-one percent of Americans surveyed in the March 12-13 poll said remaining U.S. troops should be brought home immediately, down slightly from the 66 percent with that opinion in a similar March poll. Seventeen percent disagreed.

U.S. soldiers are the likely targets of any backlash over the killings. The Afghan Taliban threatened to retaliate by beheading U.S. personnel, while insurgents also attacked investigating Afghan officials on Tuesday.

Afghans investigating the incident had been shown video of the U.S. soldier taken from a security camera mounted on a blimp above his base, an Afghan security official who could not be identified told Reuters.
The footage showed the uniformed soldier, with his weapon covered by a cloth, approaching the gates of the Belandai special forces base and throwing his arms up in surrender, the official said.

The video had been shown to investigators to help dispel a widely held belief among Afghans, including many members of parliament, that more than one soldier must have been involved because of the high death toll, the official said.

Panetta was to hold talks with Afghan leaders, including President Hamid Karzai, with tensions high following a spate of incidents, including the burning of Korans at the main NATO base in the country last month.


While Afghan members of parliament have called for a trial of the soldier responsible for the massacre under Afghan law, Karzai's office was understood to accept that a trial in a U.S. court would be acceptable, provided the process was transparent and open to media.

The Pentagon said the soldier, whose name has not been released, was flown out of Afghanistan. The commander of U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, made the decision based on a legal recommendation, a U.S. official said.

In the two Panjwai district villages where the massacre took place, U.S. troops remained confined to the compound where the soldier was based, and people in the area demanded a trial in Afghanistan under Afghan law.

"They have to be prosecuted here. They have done two crimes against my family. One, they killed them, and secondly, they burned them," said Wazir Mohammad, 40, who lost 11 members of his family in the incident.
Panetta's visit to Helmand - where U.S. Marines and British soldiers are battling a resilient insurgency - came a day after the first protests over Sunday's massacre flared in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Some 2,000 demonstrators chanted "Death to America" and demanded Karzai reject a planned strategic pact that would allow U.S. advisers and possibly special forces to remain beyond the pullout of most NATO combat troops by the end of 2014.

The U.S. military hopes to withdraw about 23,000 soldiers from Afghanistan by the end of the coming summer fighting season, leaving about 68,000.

With its mission facing increasing protests in Afghanistan, NATO said on Wednesday that it plans to boost security measures for its troops there, a decision that was based the January killing of four French soldiers by a rogue Afghan soldier.

"It's a mix of measures concerning vetting, screening, but also training and education," said Oana Lungescu, spokeswoman for the Western military alliance.

The plan would strengthen security measures for ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan), as well as improve the vetting, screening and monitoring of Afghan forces and "crucially improve cultural awareness on both sides," a NATO spokeswoman said in Brussels.

(Additional reporting by Ahmad Nadem in Kandahar, Mirwais Harooni in Kabul and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Anthony Boadle)

KABUL (Reuters) - Suspected insurgents opened fire on Tuesday on senior Afghan investigators of the massacre of 16 civilians by a lone U.S. soldier, Afghan officials said, just hours after the Taliban threatened to behead American troops to avenge the killings.

The gunmen shot from long range at two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers, Shah Wali Karzai and Abdul Qayum Karzai, and security officials at the site of the massacre in Kandahar's Panjwai district.

Karzai's brothers were unharmed in the brief battle, which began during meetings with local people at a mosque near Najiban and Alekozai villages, but a soldier was killed and a civilian wounded. The area is a Taliban stronghold and a supply route.

The Taliban had earlier threatened reprisals for the weekend shooting spree, which came weeks after deadly riots across the country over the burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. troops at NATO's main base in the country. That violence led to calls to accelerate a 2014 goal for the exit of most foreign combat troops.

"The Islamic Emirate once again warns the American animals that the mujahideen will avenge them, and with the help of Allah will kill and behead your sadistic murderous soldiers," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement, using the term by which the Islamist group describes itself.

The grim warning, which was unlikely to have any impact on heavily-protected NATO soldiers on the ground, followed the February beheading of four Afghan men by insurgents in a country where such killings are relatively rare.

Tuesday's attack, which was carried out despite tight security around Karzai's siblings, Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa and Tribal Affairs Minister Asadullah Khalid, underscored the insurgents' ability to strike at fledgling Afghan government forces.

The first protests over Sunday's massacre also broke out in eastern city Jalalabad, where around 2,000 demonstrators chanted "Death to America" and demanded President Karzai reject a planned strategic pact with Washington that would allow U.S. advisers and possibly special forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

An unnamed U.S. soldier -- reported to have only recently arrived in the country -- is accused of walking off his base in Kandahar province in the middle of the night and gunning down at least 16 villagers, mostly women and children.

A U.S. official said the accused soldier had suffered a traumatic brain injury while on a previous deployment in Iraq.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking after a phone call with Karzai -- who is said to be furious over the latest deaths -- said the shootings had only increased his determination to get American troops out of Afghanistan as planned.

However, Obama cautioned there should not be a "rush to the exits" for U.S. forces who have been fighting in Afghanistan since late 2001 and that the drawdown set for the end of 2014 should be done in a responsible way.

The soldier, from a conventional unit, was based at a joint U.S.-Afghan base used by elite U.S. troops under a so-called village support program hailed by NATO as a possible model for U.S. involvement in the country after the 2014 drawdown.

Such bases provide support to local Afghan security units and provide a source of security advice and training, as well as anti-insurgent backup and intelligence.


A spokesman for the Kandahar governor Wesa said tribal elders in the area of the massacre would urge against protests and work to dampen public anger if the investigation process was transparent.

"They are supporting the government and will accept any conclusion by the investigators. Today we have meetings with people in the area and all will become clear," spokesman Ahmad Jawid Faisal said.

NATO officials said it was too early to tell if the U.S. soldier would be tried in the United States or Afghanistan if investigators were to find enough evidence to charge him, but he would be under U.S. laws and procedures under an agreement between U.S. and Afghan officials.

Typically, once the initial investigation is completed, prosecutors decide if they have enough evidence to file charges and then could move to an Article 32 or court martial hearing.

NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, Marine General John Allen, has promised a rapid investigation of the massacre, while security was being reviewed at NATO bases across the country.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Monday that the death penalty could be sought in the U.S. military justice system against the soldier, but portrayed the shooting as an isolated event that would not alter withdrawal plans.

While Afghan MPs in parliament called for a trial under Afghan law, Karzai's office was understood to accept that a trial in a U.S. court would be acceptable provided the process was transparent and open to media.

Afghan MPs protested against the shooting for a second day in the capital Kabul by walking out of a session.

Analysts said the incident would complicate U.S. efforts to reach agreement with the Afghan government on a post-2014 security pact before a May summit in the U.S. city of Chicago on the future size and funding of Afghan security forces.

Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network said that despite NATO and White House references to the killings as the work of a "rogue" soldier, similar events had happened before, including a "kill team" apprehended in Kandahar in 2010.

"In the stress of an environment of escalated violence - by both sides, but particularly after Obama's troop surge in early 2009, it looks as if most soldiers simply see Afghanistan as a whole as 'enemy territory' and every Afghan as a potential terrorist. This can no longer be called 'rogue'," Ruttig said.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kimball; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

 PR: ? I: ? L: ? LD: ? I: ? Rank: ? Age: ? I: ? whoissourceRobo: ?Sitemap: ? Rank: ? Price: ?
Dear Friend,
A tragic and explosive story from Afghanistan shook up the nation this past weekend. Reports emerged that an American soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians, including 9 children, in a night-time massacre near a U.S. base in that country's violent south.1 There are conflicting media accounts of what exactly happened, but graphic details have emerged of an American soldier allegedly being "drunk" and "shooting all over the place," and then pouring chemicals over dead bodies and burning them.2
After ten years, $444 billion in U.S. taxpayer money, the lives of nearly 2,000 American service members, and countless Afghan military and civilian lives, it's clear that a continued occupation is not in either nation's interest. The U.S. intervened in Afghanistan to pursue the terrorists who planned the attacks on September 11. Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. It's long past time to end the occupation of Afghanistan.
The sickening killing rampage from this past weekend was the latest in a string of bloody violence in recent days that has fundamentally shaken up the already deteriorating political dynamic of the American occupation of Afghanistan. In recent weeks, American soldiers and officers have been gunned down as a result of a violent and massive chain reaction to the destruction of Korans in a burn pit at Bagram Air Base, an incident that has thrown the country into a mess of bloody panic, violence and horror.3 Most disturbingly, following that incident two Americans were assassinated inside a highly secure area of an Afghan interior ministry. The situation had devolved so much that NATO has pulled all of its advisers out of Afghan ministries in Kabul as a result.4
We have now reached a tipping point in Afghanistan that underscores the need for a strategy of swift, rapid and methodical withdrawal of American troops. Even before the latest unconscionable massacre, the increasing slaughter of U.S. troops and deaths of Afghan civilians in recent weeks has "exposed a crippling weakness in the American strategy to wind down the war."5 The bloodshed of recent days has provided more tragic evidence that a political solution is not feasible for that war ravaged nation, as long as American troops remain as an occupation force.
The Obama Administration had hoped to reach a political solution to the unrest in Afghanistan before bringing our troops home. Tragically, there are no good outcomes after a decade of occupation. Only bad choices that limit future damages. Unfortunately it is incredibly unlikely that our partnership with Hamid Karzai's current regime, which is riddled with corruption,6 hostile to women,7 and resistant to Western notions of democracy, could result in anything approaching a happy ending. While we are particularly concerned about the fate of women and girls in Afghanistan, there is no indication that a continued U.S. occupation would make a positive outcome for women possible, and there is every indication that our continued presence is making the situation much more dangerous for U.S. troops and Afghan civilians in general.
The United States is currently scheduled to hand over control of security to the Afghan army and remove American troops by the end of 2014. However, the Obama Administration is currently negotiating a strategic partnership agreement that would leave U.S. special forces and military advisers in the country indefinitely.8 Meanwhile, the majority of Americans want our troops out of Afghanistan now. As reported by the Washington Post on Sunday, majority opposition to this war has been "consistent" for nearly two years,9 and a majority of Americans want to pull out American troops from Afghanistan "even if the Afghan army is not adequately trained to carry on the fight."10
CREDO Action members have been working with Congresswoman Barbara Lee on legislative attempts to provide a path for a responsible end to the endless war in Afghanistan. In the wake of the latest terrible tragedy in Afghanistan, it's time to take our case directly to President Obama who as commander-in-chief has the power to finally end the disastrous decade-long occupation of Afghanistan. It's becoming increasingly clear to Democrats and Republicans alike that we simply cannot afford the cost of the occupation in lives or treasure.
You can provide more momentum to the growing tide of public and political support for ending this war by calling on President Obama to bring our troops home by the end of 2012. Click below to automatically sign the petition:
Thank you for speaking out to end the war.
Mushed Zaheed, Deputy Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets
1. Ahmad Nadem and Ahmad Haroon, "Sixteen Afghan civilians killed in rogue U.S. attack," Reuters, March 11, 2012.
2. Ahmad Nadem, "Western forces kill 16 civilians in Afghanistan — Kabul govt," Reuters, March 11, 2012.
3. Deb Riechmann, 2 U.S. troops are killed in Afghanistan; Quran burning backlash claims 6", AP, March 2, 2012.
4. Graham Bowley and Alissa J. Rubin, "2 U.S. Officers Slain; Advisers to Exit Kabul Ministries," The New York Times, February 25, 2012.
5. Greg Jaffe, "Violence in wake of Koran incident fuels U.S. doubts about Afghan partners," The Washington Post, February 26, 2012.
6. Matthew Rosenberg and Graham Bowley, "Intractable Afghan Graft Hampering U.S. Strategy," The New York Times, March 7, 2012.
7. Associated Press in Kabul, Hamid Karzai backs clerics' move to limit Afghan women's rights," March 6, 2012.
8. Rajan Menon, "Playing Chicken in Kabul,", March 6, 2012.
9. Jon Cohen, "Poll: Few in U.S. sense Afghan support for war,", March 11, 2012.
10. Id.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The massacre of 16 villagers by a U.S. soldier has triggered angry calls for an immediate American exit from Afghanistan as Washington tries to negotiate a long-term presence to keep the country from sliding into chaos again.

Just days before Sunday's attack, Kabul and Washington had made significant progress in negotiations on a Strategic Partnership Agreement that would allow American advisers and special forces to stay in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014.

But securing a full deal may be far more difficult now after the shooting spree in villages in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban heartland, which killed mostly women and children.

"This could delay the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement," an Afghan government official told Reuters.

The attack, the latest American public relations disaster in Afghanistan, may be a turning point for the United States in a costly and unpopular war now in its eleventh year.

Afghanistan's parliament condemned the killings, saying Afghans had run out of patience with the actions of foreign forces and the lack of oversight.

Popular fury over the killing spree, which brought demands that the United States withdraw earlier than scheduled, could be exploited by the Taliban to gain new recruits.

"We have benefited little from the foreign troops here but lost everything - our lives, dignity and our country to them," said Haji Najiq," a Kandahar shop owner.

"The explanation or apologies will not bring back the dead. It is better for them to leave us alone and let us live in peace."

Anti-Americanism, which boiled over after copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, were inadvertently burned at a NATO base last month is likely to deepen after the Kandahar carnage.

"The Americans said they will leave in 2014. They should leave now so we can live in peace," said Mohammad Fahim, 19, a university student. "Even if the Taliban return to power our elders can work things out with them. The Americans are disrespectful."

The civilian deaths may also force Afghan President Hamid Karzai to harden his stand in the partnership talks to appease a public already critical of his government's performance.

The partnership agreement, which Washington and Kabul have been discussing for more than a year, will be the framework for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014.

Without a pact that keeps U.S. advisors or special forces here, there is a danger that civil war could erupt again in Afghanistan because ill-trained Afghan forces would be unable to keep insurgents at bay.

The Kandahar violence came just days after the United States and Afghanistan signed a deal on the gradual transfer of a major U.S.-run detention centre to Afghan authorities, overcoming one of the main sticking points in the partnership negotiations.

"The Americans are not here to assist us they are here to kill us," said Najibullah, 33, a house painter in Kabul.

"I hate the Americans and I hate anyone who loves them, so I hope there is no long-term partnership between our countries."

Afghanistan wants a timeline to take over detention centers and for the United States and NATO to agree to end night raids on Afghan homes as preconditions for signing the pact.

Civilian deaths are one of the main sources of tension between Kabul and Washington.

U.S. officials warned of possible reprisal attacks after the villagers were killed in the likely "rogue" shooting.

Washington has rushed to distance the shootings from the efforts of the 90,000-strong U.S. force but faces growing criticism at home and abroad about its conduct of the war.

"The U.S. Embassy in Kabul alerts U.S. citizens in Afghanistan that as a result of a tragic shooting incident in Kandahar province involving a U.S. service member, there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days, especially in the eastern and southern provinces," the embassy said in an emergency statement on its website.


Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, who were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001. Southern and eastern provinces have seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

The U.S. embassy said on its Twitter feed that restrictions had been placed on the movements of its personnel in the south.

A sharp increase in attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan forces followed the Koran burning. Sunday's incident in Kandahar was one of the worst of its kind, witnesses describing it as a "night-time massacre" that killed nine children and three women.

Villagers in three houses were attacked and many civilians were wounded, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Karzai, promising a quick investigation and to hold accountable anyone responsible for an incident he called "tragic and shocking".

But Afghans are tired of American apologies. Such incidents are often quickly exploited by insurgents and the Afghan Taliban said it would take revenge.

"The Kandahar shootings will give the Taliban the chance to prove to Afghans that they are the freedom fighters and the Americans are the evil ones," said Waheed Mujhda of the Afghan Analysts Network.

Sunday's attack may also harden a growing consensus in Washington about what can be accomplished in Afghanistan.

The bill for the war has already exceeded $500 billion and more than 1,900 U.S. troops have been killed, with the total number of foreign troops killed approaching 3,000.

"These killings only serve to reinforce the mindset that the whole war is broken and that there's little we can do about it beyond trying to cut our losses and leave," said Joshua Foust, a security expert with the American Security Project.

Karzai, whose relationship with his Western backers is fraught at the best of times, condemned the rampage as "intentional murders" and demanded an explanation. Karzai's office released a statement quoting a villager as saying "American soldiers woke my family up and shot them in the face".

There were conflicting accounts of how many U.S. soldiers were involved, with witness accounts saying there were several.

Officials from the U.S. embassy, ISAF and from Washington said it appeared there was only one. An ISAF spokesman said the lone U.S. soldier "walked back to the base and turned himself in to U.S. forces this morning".

The detained soldier was described by U.S. officials as a staff sergeant who was married with three children. He had served three Iraq tours but was on his first Afghan deployment.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Mirwais Harooni in KABUL, and Missy Ryan and Alister Bull in WASHINGTON; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by John Chalmers and Sanjeev Miglani)

A US soldier in Afghanistan has shot dead 15 civilians and wounded others after entering their homes in Kandahar province, Afghan and Nato sources say.

He reportedly left his military base in the early hours of the morning, attacking at least two homes. Nine children are among the dead.

Nato said it was investigating the "deeply regrettable incident".

BBC correspondents expect there could be a furious backlash when news of the attack reaches the wider public.

In Kandahar's Panjwai district, local people have reportedly gathered near the base to protest about Sunday's killings, and the US embassy is advising against travel to the area.

President Hamid Karzai has been consulting officials in Kandahar by telephone. The region is regarded as the birthplace of the Taliban.

Anti-US sentiment is already high in Afghanistan after US soldiers burnt copies of the Koran last month.

US officials have apologised repeatedly for the incident at a Nato base in Kabul but they failed to quell a series of protests and attacks that killed at least 30 people and six US troops.

This is the first time Afghan civilians have been targeted by foreign soldiers in this way, the BBC's Quentin Sommerville reports from Kabul.

However, a US soldier was convicted last year on three counts of premeditated murder after leading a rogue "kill team" in Afghanistan.

Prince Ali Seraj, head of the National Coalition for Dialogue with the Tribes in Afghanistan, told the BBC that Afghans would want to try the soldier in Afghanistan.

"This is going to have very, very bad effect, I believe, and I think it is time the US may have to alter their policy of not allowing their soldiers to be tried in foreign countries," he said.

Before Sunday's killings, relations between international forces and the Afghan people were already at an all-time low following the accidental burning of the Koran by US soldiers last month, our correspondent adds.

Nato has withdrawn all its personnel from Afghan ministries after two senior US officers were shot dead in the interior ministry building in Kabul.

Nato said an "individual" had turned his gun on the officers, believed to be a colonel and major, and had not yet been identified or caught.

Nato commander Gen John Allen condemned the attack as "cowardly".

The shootings come amid five days of deadly protests over the burning of copies of the Koran by US soldiers.

Taliban statement

The interior ministry was put in lock-down after the shootings, officials said.

The BBC's Orla Guerin in Kabul says eight shots were reported inside the building, which should be one of the safest in the capital, and that any Afghan who carried out the attack would have had the highest clearance.

Local media reports said the gunman was an Afghan policeman but this has not been confirmed.

The Taliban said in a website statement that it carried out the attack in response to the Koran burnings.

But Gen Jacobson would not be drawn on any link to the protests.

He said: "We have seen an emotional week, we have seen a busy week - but it would be too early to say this incident was linked."

He added: "It is very regretful to see the loss of life again on this day, and that includes the loss of life that we have seen around demonstrations."

Obama apology

Angry protests over the burning of the Korans continued on Saturday, with a UN compound in the city of Kunduz set alight.

Nearly 30 people have died since the protests began on Tuesday.

US personnel apparently inadvertently put the books into a rubbish incinerator at Bagram air base, near Kabul.

US President Barack Obama has apologised for the Koran-burning incident.

In a letter to his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Mr Obama said the books had been "unintentionally mishandled".

Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.

Published: February 1, 2012
A NATO report based on interrogations portrays an insurgency convinced it is winning even as the United States and its allies enter what they hope will be the Afghan war’s final phase.

KABUL, Afghanistan — More Taliban insurgents are being killed or captured than ever before, yet when the captives are interrogated by the American military, they remain convinced that they are winning the war.

That is because the Taliban believe that their own hearts-and-minds campaign is winning over Afghans — or so they tell their interrogators — and even converting a growing number of Afghan government officials and soldiers.

Those are among some of the findings of a NATO report, “State of the Taliban 2012,” based on 27,000 interrogations of 4,000 Taliban and other captives that portrays a Taliban insurgency that is far from vanquished or demoralized even as the United States and its allies enter what they hope will be the final phase of the war. A copy of the document, which was first reported by the BBC and The Times of London, was given to The New York Times by a Western official, on the condition of anonymity because it was classified.

The report coincides with an announcement on Wednesday by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta that American forces would step back from a combat role in Afghanistan as early as mid-2013, more than a year before all American troops are scheduled to withdraw.

Yet the classified report provides a sobering counterpoint to the coalition’s decidedly more upbeat public assessments of progress in the war and of the Afghanistan that NATO says it will leave behind. It abounds with accounts of cooperation between the insurgents and local government officials or security forces, as well as accounts from Taliban detainees who claim that in areas where coalition soldiers are withdrawing, the Afghan military is cooperating with the insurgents.

“Many Afghans are already bracing themselves for an eventual return of the Taliban,” the report says. The Afghan government “continues to declare its willingness to fight, yet many of its personnel have secretly reached out to insurgents, seeking long-term options in the event of a possible Taliban victory,” it adds.

The Taliban accounts may be influenced by the duress of interrogation or tinged with bravado. Yet the report’s findings roundly challenge many of the assumptions on which American policy in Afghanistan is based: that American military might will force the Taliban to the negotiating table; that the coalition’s counterinsurgency strategy will increase support for the Afghan government among Afghans; and that as NATO troops leave, Afghan security forces will be able to take over their responsibilities.

It also portrays a tight yet nuanced relationship between the Taliban and their Pakistani patrons, one not only of sometimes servile dependence, but also of frank enmity, and it says that the Taliban have gradually distanced themselves from Al Qaeda. The Taliban’s alliance with Al Qaeda was the reason that coalition forces entered Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Publication of the report put NATO officials on the defensive, and on Wednesday they issued an unusually detailed rebuttal. A spokesman for the NATO-led coalition played down the findings and emphasized that NATO analysts did not necessarily accept the views of the Taliban detainees as valid.

“This document aggregates the comments of Taliban detainees in a captive environment without considering the validity of or motivation behind their reflections,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. “Any conclusions drawn from this would be questionable at best.”

“It is important not to draw conclusions based on Taliban comments or musings,” Colonel Cummings said. “These detainees include some of the most motivated and ruthless of the insurgents, who are inspired to play up their success. It is what they want us to believe they think.”

In Washington, the State Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said the report reflected a limited assessment of detainees’ attitudes and would not alter American efforts to repair the badly strained relationship with Pakistan, particularly after a mistaken border attack on Pakistani troops in November.

“It was not designed for any purpose other than to help those in the field understand what Taliban detainees were saying,” Ms. Nuland said. “So it was in no way designed to impact on our ongoing efforts to be back on track with Pakistan.”

A crucial element of the American strategy in Afghanistan is to step up the tempo of raids aimed at capturing or killing insurgents, particularly midlevel commanders; in the past two years the number of detainees has more than doubled. The raids are intended to pressure the insurgents to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the war, and in recent weeks there have been steps toward starting peace talks.

The report, dated Jan. 6, provided little evidence to believe that this strategy or the increase in the number of troops during the Obama administration had helped spur the nascent peace talks. “Taliban commanders, along with rank and file members, increasingly believe their control of Afghanistan is inevitable,” the report said. “Though the Taliban suffered severely in 2011, its strength, motivation, funding and tactical proficiency remains intact.”

It added of the insurgents: “While they are weary of war, they see little hope for a negotiated peace. Despite numerous tactical setbacks, surrender is far from their collective mind-set. For the moment, they believe that continuing the fight and expanding Taliban governance are their only viable courses of action.”

Recruits and donations for the Taliban increased over the past year, the report said, citing insurgents’ accounts.

One of the most startling elements in the report is the view by detainees that the Taliban have mostly rejected their old alliance with Al Qaeda and no longer give members of the terrorist network logistical or military support.

“In most regions of Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have no interest in associating with Al Qaeda,” the report said. “Working with Al Qaeda invites targeting and Al Qaeda personnel are no longer the adept and versatile fighters and commanders they once were.”

The report said the Haqqani network, a particularly lethal Pakistan-based faction of the insurgency that once had close ties with Al Qaeda, had not had any contacts with Al Qaeda in two years, according to detainees.

The report was apparently leaked to the BBC and The Times of London on the eve of the first high-level visit to Afghanistan since last September by a Pakistani official, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, and both news organizations made much of Pakistan’s role in supporting the insurgents. Ms. Khar dismissed that as “old wine in an even older bottle.”

One former Obama administration official speculated that the American military might have been behind the leak. “The mood in Kabul is that the U.S. military are very critical of Pakistan,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of military rules about discussing classified material. “They think the problem is not the Taliban, but the ISI,” the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s spy agency.

Much of the Pakistani material in the report depicts a surprisingly unhappy alliance between the Taliban and the ISI. While it confirmed complaints by American officials that factions of the ISI cooperate with the Taliban, it also reported that Taliban leaders and fighters viewed their patrons with distrust and even hostility.

“ISI is thoroughly aware of Taliban activities and the whereabouts of all senior Taliban personnel,” the report said. “The Haqqani family, for example, resides immediately west of the ISI office at the airfield in Miram Shah, Pakistan,” the report said. The Haqqani network has been responsible for some of the most spectacular insurgent attacks of the past year, including an assault on the American Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul in September.

“There is a widespread assumption that Pakistan will never allow the Taliban the chance to become independent of ISI control,” the report said.

At the same time, however, it reported that Taliban commanders and fighters viewed the Pakistanis with suspicion and as “untrustworthy, manipulative, controlling and demeaning,” and cooperated with them “in lieu of realistic alternatives.” And the detainees reported no evidence that ISI directly financed or supplied the Taliban in the field, working through intermediaries instead.

But it was the accounts of cooperation between the insurgents and local government officials or security forces that seemed to most upset NATO officials. “Captured photographs of Taliban personnel riding openly in the green Ford Ranger pickup trucks of the Afghan army are commonplace throughout Afghanistan,” the report said, adding that the vehicles were “sold or donated” to the Taliban. Elsewhere it cited a document related to a plot between Afghan intelligence agents and the Taliban to ambush American soldiers.

Some of the newest material in the report covered extensive efforts by the Taliban to improve their relations with local people. The Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, has promoted a code of conduct that sets out how insurgents should deal with people, including rules on avoiding civilian casualties and excessively brutal punishments.

The group has even instituted “hot line” numbers for citizens to make complaints about their treatment by insurgents, and it sends fact-finding committees out from headquarters in Quetta, eliciting complaints against local Taliban leaders.

The report, which also included interrogations of non-Taliban civilians who were arrested after sweeps of their communities, cited the high marks the insurgents received for their judicial activities, which in contrast to many government court actions, were offered to people without demands for payments or bribes.

Reporting was contributed by Declan Walsh and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan; Sharifullah Sahak from Kabul; and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S. helicopters fired flares to disperse hundreds of angry Afghans who massed outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday after hearing staff there had burned copies of the Koran.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued an apology for "inappropriate treatment" of Islam's holy book at the base to try to contain fury over the incident - a public relations disaster for Washington as it tries to pacify the country ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014.

White House spokesman Jay Carney later echoed his remarks, telling a briefing, "We apologize to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms."

Protesters started to gather after Afghan laborers found charred remains of copies of the Koran as they collected rubbish from Bagram air base, the provincial governor's office said in a statement.
As many as 2,000 Afghans massed outside several gates to the base, the main centre for NATO-led forces just north of the capital Kabul, chanting anti-foreigner slogans and throwing stones, said Reuters reporters at the scene.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban in Afghanistan condemned the incident, both of them saying the values of Islam had been "degraded".
Winning the hearts and minds of Afghans is critical to U.S. efforts to defeating the Taliban, but critics say Western forces often fail to grasp Afghanistan's religious and cultural sensitivities.
A senior U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said staff at Bagram had decided to remove "extremist literature" and other materials left in a library in the base's detention block.

"They (the materials) were taken out of the library for good reason but they were being disposed of in a bad way," the official said.

"There was a breakdown in judgment in this matter but there was no breakdown in our respect for Islam," the official added.


In a statement issued by the Pentagon, Panetta said NATO had ordered an investigation into the "deeply unfortunate" incident.

NATO's top general in Afghanistan, General John Allen, apologized for "actions" at the base and said a new order had been given to all coalition forces in Afghanistan to take part in training in the proper handling of religious materials.

"This was not intentional in any way," said Allen, the head of Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

"I offer my sincere apologies for any offence this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan," he added.

The apologies did little to ease the anger.
"We want them out of our country now," said Zmari, 30, a protester who has a shop near Bagram.

"We Afghans don't want these Christians and infidels, they are the enemy of our soil, our honor and our Koran," said Haji Shirin, one of the protesters at the heavily fortified compound, which is home to 30,000 foreign troops and civilians.

"I urge all Muslims to sacrifice themselves in order to pull out these troops from this soil."
President Karzai's office condemned the incident and said the president had appointed a delegation of senior clerics to investigate how it occurred.

"Based on initial reports, four copies of the holy Koran have been burned and the holiest values (of Islam) been degraded," a statement from Karzai's office said.

The Afghan Taliban also strongly condemned the incident.

"Since the invasion of Afghanistan by the animal Americans, this is almost the 10th time that they have degraded the holiest values of Muslims," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in an emailed statement.

Bagram houses a prison for Afghans detained by American forces. The centre has caused resentment among Afghans because of reports of torture and ill-treatment of suspected Taliban prisoners.

Protests raged for three days across Afghanistan in April last year after a U.S. pastor burned a Koran in Florida.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Michael Georgy and Rob Taylor; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mohammad Zargham)

War zone controversies

Abu Ghraib: Several US soldiers imprisoned after photos of abuse of detainees at Iraqi prison emerge in 2004

Stryker case: US military imprisons several soldiers and is prosecuting others from 5th Stryker Brigade on charges of murdering civilians. The so-called "kill team" took photos of their victims in Kandahar province in 2010

Daily Mirror hoaxed: UK paper publishes photos in 2004, later found to be faked, allegedly showing UK soldiers urinating on and otherwise abusing Iraqi prisoners

Marine Urinating on dead Insurgents.

The pentagon will conduct a full investigation.

Now US ( united states) Marines have been caught on video relieving themselves on dead Afghans. A short clip has managed to make its way to the internet and in it people can watch four US Marines on patrol in Afghanistan urinating on the corpses of dead Afghan men. According to a note included with the video, the US servicemen were members of the Marine Scout Sniper Team 4 and the 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. That battalion has been deployed to a wide range of combat a peacekeeping situations, from Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay to fighting wildfires in Idaho. The unit deployed to Afghanistan in early 2011 and returned in September or October, CNN reported. At least two of four US Marines shown in a video appearing to urinate on Taliban corpses have been identified, a Marine Corps official has told the BBC.

All four US Marines seen in a video apparently urinating on dead Afghans have been identified by American military investigators, US media say.

Two of the men have already been interviewed by the US Navy's criminal investigation branch.

The names of the men, who are thought to be Marine snipers, have not been released.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned a video that appears to show US Marines urinating on the bloodied corpses of several Taliban fighters.

The Taliban has also criticised the video as "shameful" but said it would not derail attempts at peace talks.

The US military is investigating the authenticity of the video and the Marine Corps said the actions were not consistent with its core values.

The origin of the video is not known, nor is it clear who posted it online.

The footage shows four men in military fatigues appearing to urinate on three apparently lifeless men. They have brown skin, bare feet and are dressed in loose-fitting outfits. One appears to be covered in blood.

A man's voice is heard saying: "Have a great day, buddy."

The men in military fatigues seem to be aware they are being filmed.

In a statement, President Karzai's office said: "The government of Afghanistan is deeply disturbed by a video that shows American soldiers desecrating dead bodies of three Afghans.

"This act by American soldiers is simply inhuman and condemnable in the strongest possible terms. We expressly ask the US government to urgently investigate the video and apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime."

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told the BBC that this was not the first time Americans had carried out such a "wild action" and that Taliban attacks on the Americans would continue.

But a different Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the video "is not a political process, so the video will not harm our talks and prisoner exchange because they are at the preliminary stage".

Last week the Taliban said they were working to set up a political office, possibly in the Gulf state of Qatar, that could help jump-start peace talks with the Afghan government and its Western allies.

Washington has been considering releasing several Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay jail as a confidence-building measure, Associated Press news agency says.

The video has not yet circulated widely in Afghanistan but there are fears of a backlash against the foreign presence in the country once it does.

"The US soldiers who urinated on dead bodies of Muslims have committed a crime," Kabul resident Feda Mohammad told Reuters news agency.

"Since they've committed such a crime, we don't want them on our soil anymore."

Afghan Member of Parliament Fawzia Kofi said ordinary Afghans, no matter how they felt about the Taliban, would be upset by the video.

"It's a matter of a human being, respect to a human being," she told the BBC.

The actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps”

US Marine Corps

"I believe that the brutal acts that the Taliban did here during their government and even now is condemned by Afghans. So is watching a brutal act by international forces. We condemn that as well," she added.

The Taliban are known for applying a ruthless brand of Islamic Sharia law in areas they control and have carried out many suicide bombings and attacks which have killed civilians.


The US military said it was "deeply troubled by the video" and was investigating it.

Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon said in a statement: "The actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps. This matter will be fully investigated.''

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said it "strongly condemns the actions depicted in the video, which appear to have been conducted by a small group of US individuals, who apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan".

In a separate case, the US military has been prosecuting five soldiers from the army's 5th Stryker Brigade who are accused of killing Afghan civilians during their deployment in Kandahar province in 2010.

The US has about 20,000 Marines deployed in Afghanistan, based mostly in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. In total, about 90,000 US troops are on the ground in Afghanistan.

The US and its partners in Afghanistan have said they plan to hand over security of the country and withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014.

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