US air strike killed 76 civilians, says Afghan president

By Jonathon Burch in Kabul
Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, yesterday condemned a US-led coalition air strike which his government says killed 76 civilians, most of them women and children.

 

Coalition forces bombarded the Azizabad area of Shindand district on Friday. The US military said it was aware of allegations of civilian casualties, but said those killed were militants. “Our reports from our own forces on the ground are only, so far, that those killed in the strikes were 30 and they were all militants,” said a US military spokesman. “All allegations of civilian casualties are taken very seriously. An investigation has been directed.”

Demonstrations erupted in Shindand after Afghan soldiers arrived to bring aid to the victims’ families. The troops fired shots into the air and wounded six people after the crowd threw stones. Protesters said they would continue to demonstrate until “the attackers had been brought to justice”.

Kai Eide, the United Nation’s special envoy in Afghanistan, said that he was aware of conflicting reports of casualties in Shindand and called for the incident to be investigated “thoroughly and quickly” before any conclusions were made. “The United Nations has always made clear that civilian casualties are unacceptable

This mission remains far from accomplished

This mission remains far from accomplished

 

The West has a duty to complete what it began in Afghanistan

Friday, 22 August 2008

It was a neat parallel to draw, but not one that bore close examination. On an unexpected stopover in Afghanistan yesterday, the Prime Minister told British troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand province that they were showing exactly the same courage, professionalism and dedication as the country’s winning athletes in Beijing, and that everyone would remember them for it.

 

There can be no doubt about the courage, professionalism and dedication of the troops serving in Afghanistan. The difference lies in the context, and a pretty big difference it is, too.

For while Great Britain’s athletes will be returning home in a few days, wreathed in medals, their task more than accomplished, the British mission in Afghanistan continues. And not only is no end in sight, but any prospect of a satisfactory conclusion seems to be receding by the week. When Mr Brown cited commanders as saying that substantial progress was being made against the Taliban, he declined to mention what veritable mountains there remained to climb.

Regrettably, the commitment to Afghanistan’s future made by Western leaders and Nato almost seven years ago seems to have produced little in the way of lasting advances. It is hard to escape the impression that the overall situation, in terms of security at least, has been going backwards. And the nature of the international commitment has changed out of all recognition.

What began as a benevolent mission focused on peacekeeping and reconstruction, assisting Afghans to rebuild their ravaged country, has become a major military operation whose central purpose

Western forces poised to halt Taliban tide

By Kim Sengupta and Andrew Buncombe
Monday, 25 August 2008

The cross-border flow of militants has resulted in a blurring of the distinction between Pakistan Taliban and the Taliban The cross-border flow of militants has resulted in a blurring of the distinction between Pakistan Taliban and the Taliban “proper”.

Western special forces are poised to increase their clandestine military operations in Pakistan to stop the flood of Taliban fighters pouring into Afghanistan, amid concerns that the militants are “winning the war”.

 

As fears grow that the Taliban’s strength has been underestimated and not enough is being done to stop militants crossing Afghanistan’s porous border, Western forces are considering taking the controversial step of carrying out more missions in Pakistan.

In recent weeks, increased attacks by Taliban fighters on Western and Afghan targets, including the killing of 10 French soldiers and the attempted storming of an American base, have been linked by Nato officials to peace deals struck between the militants and Pakistan’s government and an unwillingness in some parts of the Islamabad establishment to |confront extremists.

At the same time, the widespread condemnation by Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, of a Nato-led air raid aimed at a Taliban commander which killed up to 90 civilians, including women and children, has added impetus to the need for more on-the-ground operations.

At the weekend, the de facto leader of Pakistan’s government, Asif Ali Zardari, admitted: “The world is losing the war. I think at the moment, the Taliban definitely has the upper hand.”

The resurgent Taliban has profited from the increased political turmoil in Pakistan, which saw Pervez Musharraf, considered by the West to be a stalwart ally, resign as president last week.

Earlier today, the chaos deepened as the former Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, withdrew from the coalition government in a row over the reinstatement of sacked judges. While his resignation will be unlikely to trigger a snap election, it adds to the confusion and the belief by some analysts that militants have seized on a perceived power vacuum in Islamabad since February’s elections, which installed the civilian government.

Meanwhile, under pressure from Washington, which has provided it with millions of dollars, Pakistan’s government announced yesterday it was outlawing the main Taliban organisation in the country, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, saying it would freeze its assets. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, said: “This organisation is a terrorist organisation and has created mayhem against public life.” The group has claimed responsibility for a wave of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds since the fragile civilian government took power.

American, British and Afghan officials claim there are up to 80 rudimentary Taliban and al-Qa’ida training camps in Pakistan, churning out insurgents often with the connivance of elements in the Pakistani military and the notorious ISI intelligence service. The cross-border flow of militants has resulted in a blurring of the distinction between Pakistan Taliban and the Taliban “proper”. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, is believed to be living in Pakistan’s tribal areas, as is Osama bin Laden.

But increasing the number of clandestine operations inside Pakistan would be a major step, with huge potential for serious repercussions. While it is generally recognised that the CIA and special forces operate covertly in the country, the subject is sensitive and not publicly discussed. Previously, Pakistan forces have publicly taken responsibility for missile attacks and other military strikes probably carried out by US forces.

To enable the clandestine operations, it is understood the US has established bases just inside Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. They include Lowara Mundi, facing North Waziristan, Mughalgai, across the border from the training camp of the Taliban commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Gurbaz near Khost.

Yet the challenge presented is far from straightforward and, for all of the West’s rhetoric about the so-called war on terror, there is no easy fix. Recent military operations in the tribal areas by Pakistani forces

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