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Stories

Afghanistan needs more troops, says envoy to U.S. (26 July 2006)

Clash, blasts, kill 24 in Afghanistan (3 July 2006)

The illusion of Empire Lite (22 June 2006) [Leader from The Economist]

NATO to send out strong message on Afghan mission (7 June 2006)


Afghanistan needs more troops, says envoy to U.S. (26 July 2006)

Afghanistan needs more mobile foreign troops as it suffers its bloodiest phase in nearly five years, with militants gearing up to test NATO-led forces, the country's ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday.

Said T. Jawad said Afghanistan had come a long way since it became the front line for the war on terrorism when U.S.-led forces ousted the ruling Taliban and began to root out Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.

"But we are not out of the woods," Jawad told Reuters ahead of a speech to New York's Afghan community on Thursday. "We are facing challenges. Afghan people are determined to win this war, but we are facing some serious bumps on the road."

"What we need is to have more mobile and agile international forces to respond very quickly to the daily attacks of terrorists," he said, adding that more investment was also needed in the reconstruction of the country.

A NATO-led international force is due to expand military operations into southern Afghanistan and take over command in the area from the United States on Monday, extending its control over security to all of the country except the east.

The coalition force in Afghanistan says it has killed more than 600 militants since the start of June. Most of the militant attacks have been occurring in the south, near the border with Pakistan.

"We see Taliban coming to Afghanistan in large numbers and there are a variety of reasons why we are witnessing that spike in terrorist activities", Jawad said.

"(The NATO forces) show the consensus of the international community on the need to stay focused and help Afghanistan, but also provide an opportunity for terrorists to attack Afghan and international forces and test the military might of NATO."

Jawad said the spike in violence could also be blamed on the inability of the Afghan police and army to combat the problem and on Afghanistan's location in a "tense" region.

"The terrorists are still able to have access to training grounds, financial resources and ideological safe havens outside Afghanistan borders", he said, adding that he does not believe Osama bin Laden is hiding in Afghanistan.

But while Afghanistan was still facing serious challenges, Jawad said the country's double-digit economic growth, the enthusiasm of the people in electing a president, the return of millions of children to school and the homecoming of millions of Afghan refugees showed how far the nation had come.

"I cannot wait to see what we will achieve within in a generation," he said. Reuters

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Clash, blasts, kill 24 in Afghanistan (3 July 2006)

Twenty insurgents were killed in southern Afghanistan after they ambushed U.S.-led forces, the latest battle in the bloodiest phase of violence since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

Two coalition personnel were wounded in the clash in the Sangin district of Helmand province on Sunday, the force said in a statement. At least four other people were killed in separate incidents in different parts of the country on Monday.

"The patrol had just completed a cordon-and-search operation, where they recovered an enemy weapons cache, when up to 30 extremists attacked," the force said in a statement.

The foreign force has in recent weeks launched a major offensive in the south before a separate NATO-led peacekeeping force takes over command there at the end of the month in what looks set to be the alliance's toughest-ever ground mission.

More than 1,100 people, most of them militants, have been killed in Afghanistan since January. Nearly 60 foreign troops have been killed.

Minister of Defence Abdul Rahim Wardak said the surge of Taliban violence had not been expected but another offensive would soon be launched against the militants whose morale was being eroded by heavy casualties.

In a separate incident on Monday, a bomb went off at a university in the generally peaceful western city of Herat, killing a student, officials said.

The governor of Herat province, Sayed Hussein Anwari, said the bomb was planted in a water jug. He blamed "enemies of peace and stability" for the blast. A hospital official said nine students had been wounded.

SUICIDE BOMBER

Herat has for years been one of the most peaceful parts of the country but several bombs have gone off there in recent months.

In separate incidents, a suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body outside the home of a powerful provincial governor in the southern city of Kandahar, killing himself and a guard, police said. Four guards were wounded.

A suspected Taliban bomber was killed in the eastern town of Khost when explosives he was carrying went off.

Wardak said the Taliban were trying to undermine support for the NATO mission.

"There's no doubt their operations surged more than we expected," he told reporters. "Their planners know all about the takeover by NATO from the coalition, the NATO expansion, and wanted to take advantage to disappoint some NATO members."

He said a new offensive codenamed Mountain Anger would soon be launched but gave no details. The Taliban cannot sustain the high losses they were suffering, he said.

"Their morale will get weaker day by day." Reuters

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The illusion of Empire Lite (22 June 2006)

Without security, nation-building doesn't work

THIS newspaper has long tried to see post-Taliban Afghanistan as a glass half-full. Since the American-led invasion of 2001, economic and political revival across much of the north of the country has been impressive. The economy grew by 14% last year. Four and a half million refugees have returned home after two decades of war. Afghans have voted in a president, a parliament and a new constitution. Girls can now go to school, and women have been elected to national office. Mobile phones are selling in astonishing numbers. There are even a few tall office buildings sprouting in Kabul these days, and one enterprising British businessman is setting up a venture-capital fund to invest in anything from gem-mining to the export of saffron.

But half of the glass remains empty. The south of Afghanistan has always been problematic, but is getting steadily worse. Its long, wild border with Pakistan offers the remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban a sanctuary. The south is also where opium production has expanded fastest, ensnaring peasants in warlordism and corruption. In the south, moreover, the American-led coalition forces have devoted their energies to hunting al-Qaeda, neglecting the more prosaic but essential job of making life safer for ordinary people. After five years like this, the price of neglect is now becoming visible.

The Taliban forces have regrouped, and have several thousand men under arms. In the past month, around 1,000 people have died in fighting across the southern provinces. The opium harvest, which was suppressed by the Taliban, has rebounded to record levels. The writ of the central government never ran far in the south, but now it counts for even less. Police chiefs and anyone else loyal to the central government have become prime targets. Meanwhile, the central government's reliance on local thugs and warlords throughout the region is breeding deep cynicism. President Hamid Karzai argues that he has little choice about this. But a parallel with the chaotic warlord-dominated years of the mid-1990s is inescapable. Those years ended with the rise of the Taliban, ruthless religious warriors who were hardly loved but at least were not corrupt and restored order.

The danger is that the deepening instability of the south, not helped by reports of heavy-handedness by the coalition in provinces such as Kandahar, will spread north, imperilling the genuine progress that has been made there. One sign of this was an unusual outpouring of anti-Americanism in Kabul, the capital city, last month after jumpy American soldiers are said to have fired into a crowd protesting at a lethal collision between military and civilian vehicles. This week American soldiers accidentally shot dead three Afghan policemen in the eastern province of Kunar.

In July NATO takes over the task of providing security in Afghanistan's four southern provinces from the mainly-American coalition forces. This offers an opportunity, but also a danger. NATO will have more troops in the south than the coalition had, and will concentrate on the protection of civilians and assisting reconstruction, though they will also be taking the fight to the Taliban. But because their remit is so widely drawn, the troops will be stretched thin. The Taliban will try to inflict casualties that will sap the alliance's political will.

If this NATO venture is to succeed, it needs more troops than the 6,000 it is getting, as well as help from outside NATO, ideally from Muslim countries. The soldiers will need tougher rules of engagement and�this ought to be simple�more helicopters so they can get around more quickly and safely. As for Mr Karzai, he needs to sack a long list of well-known corrupt officials, some at the highest levels. Meanwhile, economic reconstruction in the south must be a priority.

After the invasion of 2001, too little attention was given to assuring basic security across the country, rather than in a few privileged cities. This was the consequence of a naive idea�which Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian critic of the policy, dubbed �Empire Lite��that a limited American intervention could conjure into being a sympathetic government with widespread popularity and legitimacy. The supposed success of this model in Afghanistan was one reason why something similar was tried two years later in Iraq, with too few troops and consequences that are now miserably apparent. A robust effort could still prevent Afghanistan from unravelling, but one simple lesson has to be learnt. Without providing security, no other attempt at nation-building is worth a damn. The Economist

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NATO to send out strong message on Afghan mission (7 June 2006)

NATO is widely expected to send out a strong message on Thursday it is undeterred by a rise in violence in Afghanistan and will go ahead with a virtual doubling of its peacekeeping troops in the country.

The 26-nation body has approved plans to increase troop levels to about 17,000 from 9,000 and expand into the perilous south by late July, taking the alliance into what could be its toughest ground combat since its creation in 1949.

Guerrillas have stepped up attacks in what NATO sees as an attempt to unnerve it. About 400 people were killed in May alone in the bloodiest phase of the Taliban insurgency since U.S.-backed forces overthrew the Islamist government in 2001.

"None of us ever thought this would be a stroll in the Hindu Kush (mountain range in Afghanistan)," one senior NATO diplomat, who asked not to be named, said before Thursday's meeting of alliance defence ministers.

Britain, Canada and the Netherlands will lead the deployment in the south, which includes Afghanistan's main opium-growing region and most dangerous territories.

NATO officials say the recent violence has not prompted it to review existing plans to replace an estimated 3,000 U.S. troops in the south with 6,000 alliance-led peacekeepers under order to deal toughly with threats.

Critics of the mission say troop levels are too low to bring genuine security to the Afghan people and question whether the European public has been adequately prepared for the real risk of casualties.

NATO is already present in the capital Kabul, the west and north of Afghanistan. The ministers will also review NATO efforts to reform itself from Cold War giant to a nimbler security organisation able to respond to crises in troublespots at short notice.

European member states will be pressed to set aside more troops for a NATO rapid-reaction force due to be fully operational from October this year with a total strength of 25,000.

The United States in recent weeks pledged to reserve almost 6,000 troops for the so-called NATO Response Force, but diplomats say the head count is still short. Reuters

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