United Nations officials in Afghanistan say recent attacks in different parts of the country signal a critical need to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul Province. NATO, which currently heads the UN-mandated ISAF mission, is now examining the feasibility of such an expansion.
Prague, 29 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Violence across Afghanistan during the past week has targeted U.S. troops, humanitarian aid workers, the bodyguards of an Afghan provincial governor, and at least four schools for girls. Fresh fighting also has broken out between rival factions of the former Northern Alliance.
The violence in the south, east, and north of Afghanistan comes as NATO considers the feasibility of expanding the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) into areas beyond Kabul.
Ultimately, the UN Security Council must alter ISAF's mandate before the NATO-led mission can operate outside of Kabul Province. But NATO Secretary-General George Robertson suggested during a visit to Kabul on 26 September that the military alliance first needs to express its willingness to expand operations in order to bolster political will within the Security Council.
"We've listened very carefully to the voices of those who have said that bringing security to Kabul alone is not enough. And that is why only six weeks after NATO took the leadership of ISAF, the North Atlantic Council -- NATO's supreme governing body -- has asked the military to give advice on how or whether we should go beyond Kabul to other parts of Afghanistan," Robertson said.
Robertson and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met privately in Scotland for 90 minutes yesterday to discuss a possible expanded ISAF mission. Karzai officially requested both NATO and the countries in the Partnership for Peace to consider wider assisstance under the ISAF mandate -- including police, army, and administrative training.
A NATO statement issued today says Robertson is conveying a request from Karzai to extend ISAF operations beyond Kabul.
In Kabul last week, Robertson suggested that NATO ultimately will aim to establish conditions for free and fair national elections next year.
"The North Atlantic Council took on this obligation [as the leader of ISAF] with its eyes wide open. And NATO does not take on any mission other than to succeed. So we are here to help the [Afghan Transitional] Administration. And we won't leave until it can be handed over to the democratic representatives of the Afghan people," Robertson said.
Robertson said NATO would announce its position on ISAF within weeks.
Even as Robertson was making those remarks, the private militia forces of ethnic Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum and ethnic Tajik commander Ustad Atta Mohammed were clashing in the north. By yesterday, their fighting had spread to parts of the provinces of Sar-i-Pul, Faryab, and Balkh. One of Atta's field commanders, General Abdul Saboor, says the battle was continuing today.
Both Dostum and Atta are members of President Karzai's government. Their ongoing battle is just one example of the difficulties facing Karzai as he tries to bring order to the Afghan provinces.
In the south and east, U.S. and Afghan government troops continue to come under attack from suspected Taliban fighters. On 27-28 September, a total of eight rockets were fired at the Shkin base of U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces in Paktika Province near the border with Pakistan. No casualties were reported.
But in the southern province of Helmand, seven bodyguards of the provincial governor Sher Mohammad Akhundzada were killed late on 27 September when their truck was ambushed on a road north of Lashkargah. Haji Mohaidin, a spokesman for Akhundzada, told RFE/RL that the Helmand governor was not traveling with his bodyguards at the time of the attack.
"The seven bodyguards were killed in the Sangin district [of Helmand Province]. They belonged to the 535 garrison and were traveling from Lashkargah. As they were passing through Sangin, the attackers were hiding and they ambushed them. The first rocket they fired killed five of the bodyguards instantly. Two others were seriously injured and they died later," Mohaidin said.
The latest attack in Helmand came as UN officials in Afghanistan labeled an ambush against humanitarian aid workers on the same road on 24 September as a "war crime."
Two Afghan workers for a nongovernmental organization -- Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan -- were killed in that attack.
VARA works with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to provide water and shelter for refugees returning to remote communities of southern Afghanistan. UNHCR spokeswoman Maki Shinohara says the attack has set back the so-called "road missions."
"As a consequence, yes, the road mission has been temporarily suspended," she says.
She added that she hopes security arrangements will be improved so that VARA can resume full operations.
David Singh, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, says the killings show what he called "a critical necessity" for ISAF to expand its security operations throughout the country.
Meanwhile, at least four schools for young Afghan girls have been burned to the ground by suspected Islamic militants in northern and eastern Afghanistan. In each case, witnesses said leaflets were posted to warn local residents against sending girls to school.
Afghan officials say Islamists loyal to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are suspected of burning down the Shaga Primary School in the Dara-i-Noor district of Nangarhar province on the night of 27 September.
Three girls' schools also were destroyed in the Char Bolak district of Balkh province near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif the same night. Abdul Mobin, a resident of a village in the Char Bolak district, told RFE/RL what he saw at one of those schools.
"During the night, this school was burned. I went there to help put out the fire. Nobody was seen starting this fire, but a [leaflet] was posted on the wall. It said: 'Don't allow girls to go to school' and other things like that," he said.
Afghan authorities say the threats used in the leaflets are similar to the edicts issued by the ousted Taliban regime under its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.