23 January 2004, Volume 3, Number 3
NATO'S ROLE BEYOND KONDUZ
By Amin Tarzi
Without much fanfare and under a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) flag hanging precariously from the wall, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officially assumed command of the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the northern Afghan province of Konduz (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004) on 7 January.
According to ISAF, the mission of the PRT in Konduz is to facilitate ISAF's efforts to assist the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) in extending its rule and influence as well as to aid the development of a stable and secure environment in its area of operation. The PRT "through its military presence, [is to] advance security sector reform and reconstruction efforts." In other words, the PRT in Konduz would try to establish a secure zone in which state-building efforts can take place, enabling the Kabul-based ATA to extend its influence in that area of operation of the PRT. The key behind ISAF's role is its "military presence."
There are currently eight PRTs operating in Afghanistan, including the Konduz-based team. There are also five under the command of the United States based in Jalalabad, Herat, Kandahar, Khost, and Konar; one under the command of the United Kingdom, based in Mazar-e Sharif; and one in Bamiyan under the command of New Zealand. Of these, only the PRT in Konduz is commanded by ISAF/NATO. Future plans include an increase in the number of PRTs to 11 or 12 by Spring 2004 (for more on PRT's, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003).
THE ROAD TO KONDUZ
According to ISAF, the PRT in Konduz is a pilot project for further expansion of the force and "is the first step in a progressive process," in accordance with the decision by the North Atlantic Council to expand ISAF "in a flexible manner to include other PRTs in the future" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003).
During the change of command ceremonies in Konduz on 7 January, ISAF Commander, German Lieutenant General Goetz F. E. Gliemeroth, said that he expected that "more PRTs will be placed under the mandate of ISAF in the future. The objective, however, will remain the same: to achieve an enduring stability by supporting the Afghan government to extend its sovereign authority throughout the provinces."
General Gliemeroth's enthusiasm and planning, however, may be held hostage to the will of the member states of NATO.
The road that NATO has taken in assuming its first official out-of-area role in the "Greater Middle East" -- an area commonly understood to extend from Morocco in the west to Afghanistan in the east -- has not been based on much enthusiasm among member states nor on much long-term preplanning. On the contrary, NATO has come -- or been drawn, as some members of the alliance view the process -- into Afghanistan through a series of arbitrary steps.
After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, NATO invoked Article 5 of its founding treaty for the first time ever. This article declares that an armed attack against one or more NATO member states is considered an attack against all. While the move was historic, it was largely a symbolic show of unity and support for the United States, the victim of the horrific terrorist attack. What followed in Afghanistan was not an alliance-wide involvement in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, but rather voluntary assistance from individual NATO members in the military campaign in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 January 2002).
In the Prague Summit Declaration of 21 November 2002, NATO leaders approved a role for NATO in Afghanistan, not so much to plan the alliance's move to the Greater Middle East, but rather to respond to the political and military needs of specific member states. Moreover, the nature of NATO's assistance was shrouded in vagueness and unrealistic assumptions. NATO leaders agreed to support ISAF "in selected areas," leaving the commitment of NATO open-ended, and they stressed the fact that "the responsibility for providing security and law and order throughout Afghanistan resides with the Afghans themselves." More than a year later, NATO has decided to assume command of ISAF -- as if it has come to realize that the very reason for the alliance's involvement in Afghanistan is because the governing authority and "the Afghans themselves" cannot provide security in the country.
When, on 11 August 2003, NATO assumed command of ISAF and formally engaged the alliance in the Greater Middle East, the main rational was to avoid the need to change the command of ISAF every six months and to allow the force to have a more integrated command as well as logistical support. The push to involve NATO in the commanding position came from lead states within ISAF, namely Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. NATO stepped into the commanding role out of necessity, in order to prevent a void in the leadership of the international force in Afghanistan -- not because of an alliance-wide common threat perception regarding the danger emanating from an insecure Afghanistan to Europe and North America.
NATO's move beyond Kabul -- ISAF's original mandate -- did not come about through intense strategizing by politicians and planners in Brussels. Nor was this move in Afghanistan intended to create a first "success case" in some long-term NATO march through the Greater Middle East. Rather, the decision for NATO to move beyond Kabul was mainly the result of a condition placed by Germany for agreeing to assume the command of a PRT. Berlin requested that any such undertaking be under the mandate of the United Nations, and it was able to obtain this mandate with the unanimous approval of UN Security Council Resolution 1510 of 13 October 2003. This resolution authorized the expansion of ISAF, thus pulling NATO to Konduz.
MOVING BEYOND KONDUZ
The campaign to expedite NATO's leadership in more PRT's has reportedly been led by Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States -- three NATO members that currently lead PRTs. These three countries, in essence, are trying to persuade the alliance's other 16 members to increase their troop and equipment contributions to ISAF.
The push to get the NATO-led ISAF to assume greater responsibility for security in Afghanistan is most crucially related to the upcoming presidential elections in the country, scheduled for June in accordance with the Bonn Agreement.
The plan for June elections, however, is in jeopardy because of a shortage of funds for the election process, which includes a public information campaign as well as voter registration. Afghanistan has not had a census since 1975 and, with the constant and massive population movements throughout two decades of conflict, there can be no certainty as to how may Afghans actually live in the country and in which districts they reside. However, what casts the greatest shadow over the feasibility of holding democratic elections in June is the question of security. As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in his 30 December 2003 report to the Security Council: "The electoral registration...cannot be accomplished if broad geographical access is denied to the registration teams because of insecurity."
While NATO members are pondering whether the goal of June elections in Afghanistan is worth more involvement on their part, the larger question of the alliance's overall commitment to ensuring a stable Afghanistan -- perhaps as a symbol of success in NATO's first engagement in the Greater Middle East, at least to some -- is lost in the shuffle.
Missing also are commitments from those members states of the alliance that are engaged in Afghanistan to tackle thornier issues such as narcotics trafficking. In November 2003, then-NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said: "We're going to Afghanistan because we don't want Afghanistan to come to us, whether it be in terms of terrorism or drugs, [or] criminality." However, when Germany assumed responsibility of the PRT in Konduz it reportedly declined to interfere in narcotics affairs in its area of responsibility.
Moreover, before NATO is forced by a number of its members to come up with a solution for a specific problem in Afghanistan -- i.e., establishing the necessary security for elections -- there needs to be a serious assessment of the alliance's mandate and resolve, both political and financial. When NATO was preparing to assume command of the PRT in Konduz, Robertson was knocking on the doors of NATO members and nonmembers alike for two helicopters to enable the German team's deployment. After many declined, Turkey finally agreed to provide the helicopters.
From the perspective of those in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere, whether from those who wish NATO success or those who would prefer it to fail, it must have been amazing to see that the greatest military alliance in human history had such a hard time in finding two helicopters to fulfill its first mission outside of Europe.
The pertinent point here is not that NATO is unable or unwilling to provide the necessary forces to help Afghanistan move towards statehood. Rather, the true issue revolves around the question of NATO's political will. Do NATO members wish to move the alliance into an entirely different sphere of new missions that may include out-of-area state-building as a means of common defense?
NATO may tiptoe its way through Afghanistan and, in the long-term, accomplish its mission there. A benefit to many Afghans, ISAF has already made great strides in collecting heavy weapons from Kabul, thus overriding one of the initial breaches in the Bonn Agreement. NATO, even without the full political resolve of all of its members, has the capacity to overcome the problems in Afghanistan. But if Konduz is regarded as the pilot project for further expansion into Afghanistan, Afghanistan might also be regarded as the pilot project of NATO's inevitable future engagements in the Greater Middle East. As such, instead of thinking about "temporary deployment" units that are apparently NATO's answer to the shortfall of its military capability in Afghanistan, the alliance should look for permanent answers to its own shortcomings -- not only to justify its own raison d'etre, but also to safeguard its members.
AFGHAN LEADER REGISTERS TO VOTE, URGES OTHERS TO DO THE SAME...Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) Chairman Hamid Karzai registered to vote on 18 January and urged all of Afghanistan's eligible voters to do the same, Afghanistan Television reported. When asked whether the presidential election can be held according to a June deadline, Karzai said the ATA is doing its best, the station reported. "People are eager to register" to vote, he added. If the ATA "succeeds in providing facilities for" Afghans to register and vote, Karzai said he is sure that all 10.5 million eligible voters would vote. Regarding the security problems that observers, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004), have suggested might hamper the registration and voting processes, Karzai said the Transitional Administration is "trying to provide grounds for free and transparent voting without any fear or pressure." "This can be done if there is security," which the ATA will do its utmost to ensure, he added. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS AFGHAN VOTER REGISTRATION CONTINUES.Afghan authorities have registered 386,650 individuals since March 2003 in an effort to implement the electoral process for presidential elections slated for June, Radio Afghanistan reported on 15 January. Some 83,500 of those registered are women, the report added. The government office responsible for organizing the election process has been tasked with raising public awareness about the electoral process, according to Radio Afghanistan. (Kimberly McCloud)
AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER, EU OFFICIAL DISCUSS SECURITY.Afghan Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim met with the EU high representative for common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, in Kabul on 14 January. They discussed the promulgation of the country's new constitution, the formation of a national army, general reforms, and disarmament, including the newly mandated program to remove heavy weaponry from Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). "I believe there are no factors that should stop the realization of programs meant to bring peace and stability in the country," Fahim told Solana, according to Kabul Bakhtar News Agency. Fahim also underscored the need for EU assistance in the Afghan reconstruction process and stated that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) must expand throughout Afghanistan. While in the Afghan capital, Solana called the heavy-weapons collection program in Kabul "a very symbolic step that the capital is free of heavy weapons." ITAR-TASS reported that Solana also met with ATA Chairman Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah on 14 January. (Kimberly McCloud)
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE DEBATES AFGHANISTAN.Members of the European Parliament (EP) discussing a draft report on Afghanistan on 21 January were in overwhelming agreement on one central notion: the country is at a crossroads.
The adoption of a new constitution earlier this month was also recognized as a major achievement. But views diverged as to where developments would lead.
Andre Brie, a German deputy in the EP and the author of the draft report, praised the constitution, saying it represents a "great improvement" over the drafts available to him late last year when he wrote the bulk of his report.
Nevertheless, Brie listed a number of caveats regarding the new constitution:
"However, I would like to underline the problems [that remain] -- for example, the continued possibility of resorting to [Islamic] Sharia [law], the large role of Islam in Article 3 [forbidding any law that contradicts the Islamic faith]. And despite the recognition of the equality of women, there remain deficits in practical terms in the constitution. A further problem is the extent of presidential powers. I have no doubt that under President [Hamid] Karzai, such extremely extensively stipulated powers will not lead to a dictatorship in Afghanistan. But [with] a different political figure, given the circumstances stemming from the political and judicial culture, such a development cannot be excluded."
There was some debate on 21 January as to how to interpret the constitution's provisions relating to the interplay between Shari'a law and political decision-making.
Former French General Philippe Morillon, who has submitted a number of amendments to the report -- to be voted on 22 January -� argued for a positive view. He said that what is most important is that religious judges are no longer the supreme interpreters of Islamic law.
But Jacques Poos, an EP deputy from Luxembourg, said the constitution remains ambiguous -- asserting the primacy of Islamic law, but charging the government with its implementation.
The situation of women in Afghanistan provided the backdrop for some heated interventions.
Maj Britt Theorin, a woman deputy from Sweden, said that despite the adoption of the new constitution, the standing of women in Afghanistan has not advanced in practice since December 2000, when the European Parliament last discussed the country: "Unfortunately, I will have to say that [the situation] has not really improved since [then]. I don't know if [other deputies] have followed the events of the past couple of days, when for the first time [since the fall of the Soviet-backed secular regime in 1992], a woman [singer] appeared on Afghan TV. This led to an immediate protest from the Supreme Court, and a promise from the head of the TV station that this would not happen again. There is a long, long way to go before attaining what is written in the constitution."
A British deputy, Baroness Emma Nicholson, sharply criticized the continued use by Afghan women of head-to-toe burqas -- which had been strictly enforced by the extremist Taliban militia.
She said the issue must be considered kept separate from views on the application of Islamic laws: "Can I make it very clear, for example, that I will find it difficult to vote for this excellent report unless we put something in there about the way in which the Afghanistanis [Afghans] force their women to wear cages across their face. It is utterly inhumane, it's come straight back again. This is a deep tribal custom, it has, in fact, nothing to do with Islam. By pointing out that Sharia law and Islamic law and women's rights are all together, we are failing to isolate the Afghan's despicable behavior to women from normal, routine Sharia law problems."
Brie, the author of the report, noted that the burqa represents just the tip of the iceberg. He said women continue to suffer from the "cultural reality" prevalent in Afghanistan's regions, and emphasized the difficulties girls face in entering the educational system, especially in the south of the country.
Many deputies expressed grave concerns today about Afghanistan's still precarious security situation.
Joost Lagendijk, a Dutch representative, said the report's emphasis on the new constitution and gender equality is commendable, but amounts to "no good" without immediate steps to station more international troops outside Kabul: "But this all does not lead us anywhere if the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve. We might have a good constitution, we have good plans, but we will not be able to implement [them]. And in that respect, I think, we should send out two messages. I agree with Mr. Brie, one of them should be 'No, we will not let you down again.' The second should be 'Yes, we will do what we said we would do' -- that is, send more troops outside of Kabul."
Lagendijk specifically demanded that the international NATO-led stabilization force in Afghanistan deploy forces in the provinces well in advance of the scheduled elections in June (see feature above). He also called on the EU to contribute more troops.
The continuing increase in opium production was another key worry today. The report notes that in 2003, Afghanistan produced three-quarters of the world's illicit opium. Afghanistan's annual drug trade is valued at $2.3 billion, equivalent to half of the official gross national product of the country.
The report says the majority of the proceeds goes to military commanders and regional strongmen, further undermining Afghanistan's central government.
Brie summed up his report's views by saying the international community, the European Commission, and EU member states must increase their commitment to Afghanistan if the country is to succeed.
The report, once adopted by the EP, will have no direct bearing on EU decision-making. However, the parliament has considerable powers in EU budget and foreign-aid decisions. (Ahto Lobjakas)
OUTGOING UN ENVOY WARNS OF SERIOUS IMPEDIMENTS TO IMPLEMENTING AFGHAN CONSTITUTION.In his final briefing to the Security Council as UN special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi on 15 January praised that country's promulgation of a new constitution but warned that "the new constitutional order will only have meaning for the average Afghan if security improves and the rule of law is strengthened," "UN Wire" reported the same day. Brahimi called for the development of a government that would represent all Afghans, and he focused on the need for disarmament, reconstruction, and the overhaul of national institutions. On security, Brahimi said, "The threat factional forces pose to the peace process has been increasingly compounded by the terrorist tactics of extremists aimed at causing the peace process to fail altogether." These obstacles to security, he added, are impeding the electoral process, beginning with the registration of voters. Brahimi tendered his resignation as special representative to Afghanistan on 4 January, the same day that the Constitutional Loya Jirga approved the country's new constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004). (Kimberly McCloud)
AFGHANISTAN'S ISLAMIC SOLIDARITY COUNCIL CONDEMNS BROADCAST OF FEMALE SINGER'S PERFORMANCE.Clergymen, scholars, and members of the Islamic Solidarity Council on 14 January condemned a recent Kabul TV broadcast that included decades-old footage of a song by Afghan entertainer Salma, according to a report the same day by Herat Television. Meeting at the group's Herat headquarters under the chairmanship of Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, members "said it was against the laws and regulations of an Islamic republic system" and "asked the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan to prevent the broadcasting of such songs," according to Herat Television. The event marked the first time a female singer's performance has been broadcast over Afghan airwaves in more than a decade (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 January 2004). (Kimberly McCloud)
HERAT GOVERNOR OPPOSES FEMALE SINGING APPEARANCES ON AFGHAN TV.Mohammad Ismail Khan has expressed strong opposition to the broadcasting of songs performed by female Afghan singers, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 19 January. The governor of the western Afghan province of Herat, Ismail Khan reportedly ordered the banning of such audio and video recordings from his province following the approval of a new Afghan Constitution that refers to the country as the "Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," signaling a strict interpretation of Islam. State-owned Kabul-based Afghanistan Television recently broke with a decade of restrictive policy by broadcasting performances by female Afghan singers (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 January 2004). The move prompted a dispute between Afghanistan's Information and Culture Ministry and the conservative religious establishment, led by the Afghan Supreme Court, which regarded the act un-Islamic and thus unconstitutional. Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin has said Afghanistan Television will continue to broadcast songs by female Afghan singers. "According to the new constitution of Afghanistan, men and women have equal rights in all areas, including the arts," Rahin said, according to "Erada," which cited the BBC. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTRY SAYS MORE THAN 2,500 SOLDIERS HAVE DESERTED.More than 2,500 soldiers have abandoned their duties since the establishment of the Afghan National Army, according to an interview with Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi in "Kabul Weekly" of 14 January. Eighty percent of those who have deserted are soldiers who were recruited from or "even forced to join" by local commanders, according to Azimi. "After the reforms in the Defense Ministry three months ago, the percentage of deserters has dropped to just 2 to 3 percent," he added. There are currently some 9,000 soldiers in the National Army, according to Azimi, and the Defense Ministry is holding meetings with soldiers and other army employees to discern the reasons for the desertions. He said such interviews so far suggest that the problem lies in the fact that most early recruits were received through a mandatory quota system to force local commanders to give up their militias, along with perceived low wages. (Kimberly McCloud)
CZECH CABINET APPROVES TROOP DEPLOYMENT TO AFGHANISTAN.Czech cabinet ministers approved a Defense Ministry proposal on 14 January to send 150 soldiers, including some 120 "elite reconnaissance specialists," to Afghanistan to participate in U.S.-led efforts to provide security and to track down neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements, CTK and dpa reported. Thirty Czech soldiers would participate in the NATO-led ISAF in Kabul and its vicinity. The proposal still must be approved by the Czech parliament. Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka said he discussed his proposal with President Vaclav Klaus before submitting it to the government. The deployment would mark the first time since World War II that Czech troops have been sent into a combat situation, the daily "Pravo" noted. (Michael Shafir)
REBELLIOUS AFGHAN COMMANDER VOWS TO COOPERATE WITH KABUL.A commander in Afghanistan's eastern Paktiya Province has pledged full cooperation with the Afghan Transitional Administration more than a year after his troops took up arms against the Kabul-based government in 2002, Radio Afghanistan reported on 13 January. According to the report, an agreement was reached after negotiations between the son of rogue commander Pacha Khan Zadran and Paktiya Governor Asadullah Wafa. Zadran's son, Abdul Wali, said that all of the checkpoints on the Khost-Gardayz highway have been removed and security on that route is being ensured. Zadran was an ally of ATA Chairman Hamid Karzai and the United States, as well as a signatory to the 2001 Bonn agreement, before he went into armed opposition against the central government the following year. His forces are based in the eastern Paktiya Province. If the agreement between Zadran and Kabul stands, it will mark another victory for Karzai in his continuing effort to consolidate central authority over warlords and renegade commanders. (Amin Tarzi)
TENSIONS MOUNT IN WESTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE.Authorities in Herat Province have claimed that two of their commanders were abducted by commander Amanullah Khan (Amanullah Naykzad), Hindukosh news agency reported on 14 January. Mawlawi Gholam Mohammad Masun, a spokesman for Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan, said provincial authorities have sought unsuccessfully to resolve the standoff through the central authority in Kabul. Amanullah Khan meanwhile told Hindukosh that he has no information about Ismail Khan's commanders and claimed that forces loyal to the Herat governor killed two of his men. The longstanding rivalry between Ismail Khan and Amanullah Khan, which has erupted intermittently into full-scale battle, had seemingly quieted in recent months (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 December 2002 and 26 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
KABUL DAILY CALLS FOR REMOVAL OF ROGUE GOVERNORS.The Kabul-based daily "Anis" wrote in a 11 January commentary that the approval of the new Afghan Constitution on 4 January (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004) must be followed up with the enforcement of law and order throughout the country. "Anis" called on the Afghan Transitional Administration to remove unspecified provincial governors who were selected to their positions based on "compromises" that were necessary at the time. According to the commentary, such governors have made appointments in their provinces based on personal relationships or "the number of armed people" that individuals control. There can be no optimism "about reconstruction, disarmament, revenue transfers, or about the enforcement of the constitution" without the removal of such governors, "Anis" argued. (Amin Tarzi)
GOVERNOR REPLACED IN SOUTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE.The governor of the troubled Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan has been recalled to Kabul by the ATA and replaced with a new appointee, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 19 January. Governor Hafizullah Hashemi reportedly left the provincial capital of Qalat on 19 January with a number of his colleagues bound for Kabul. Khial Mohammad Hosayni has been appointed acting governor in Zabul, but he is still in Kabul, according to the news agency. AIP reported that Zabul's deputy governor, Mawlawi Mohammad Omar, has been pointing to Hashemi's administration as the source of many problems in the province. However, after the killing of Major General Shah Alam by forces believed to be loyal to Hashemi on 5 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004), attitudes toward the governor "took a sharp turn," according to AIP. Zabul Province has been the scene of a number of attacks blamed on neo-Taliban insurgents in recent months, and some of the province's districts have been controlled for short periods by the opposition. The continued fighting has prompted the mobilization of a number of disparate forces in the area. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN MINISTER DISCUSSES SECURITY WITH PAKTIKA PROVINCE OFFICIALS.Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali met with the governor, district governors, administration officials, and other civilian representatives of Paktika Province on 15 January, according to Kabul Bakhtar News Agency. Jalali reportedly explained the duties and responsibilities of provincial authorities and security officials, and he encouraged them to enlist popular support throughout the troubled province by "identifying those who disrupt security and public order." In turn, those present at the meeting discussed their administrative and security problems with the minister and sought help from the central government in alleviating them. Jalali ordered that a delegation from the central government in Kabul be sent to Paktika to assess further the serious problems facing the province, according to Bakhtar. Neo-Taliban insurgents have been active in fighting Afghan and coalition forces in the border province. (Kimberly McCloud)
ROCKETS FIRED AT U.S. BASE IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN.Approximately a dozen rockets were fired at the main U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan's Khost Province on 14 January, AP reported the next day. A spokesman for the provincial governor said the rockets landed in fields near Khost airport, but that there were no resulting casualties. U.S. military operations against militants and insurgents in Afghanistan are concentrated heavily in Khost and the neighboring Paktika Province. (Kimberly McCloud)
TWO AFGHAN SOLDIERS AND THREE SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN KANDAHAR.Two soldiers loyal to the ATA and three suspected neo-Taliban were killed in the village of Weish in the southern Kandahar Province on 17 January, Hindukosh news agency reported the next day. The soldiers were reportedly attacked on a road to the district of Khakrez by a group of 40 neo-Taliban. (Amin Tarzi)
11 AFGHAN CIVILIANS REPORTED KILLED IN BOMBING BLAMED ON U.S...Eleven civilians, including four children and three women, were killed in a bombing raid by U.S. warplanes in the Chahar Chino district of the central Afghan province of Oruzgan on 18 January, international news agencies reported. Chahar Chino district head Abdul Rahman claimed to Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press on 19 January that "U.S. soldiers, accompanied by people from Khost [Province] and [ethnic] Hazaras, searched Saghtu village... [prompting residents to flee] to the bank of the river, where they were bombed by American aircraft." Abdul Rahman added that his side contacted U.S. forces, who he said accepted responsibility for "their mistake." However, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, said he has no information about either the raid on Chahar Chino or the reported civilian casualties, the BBC reported on 19 January. On 20 January, AP quoted Hilferty as saying that five armed militants were killed in an aerial attack in the town of Deh Rawud in Oruzgan, about 40 kilometers south of Saghtu. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS AFGHAN, U.S. OFFICIALS DISPUTE THE ACCOUNT.Afghan and U.S. sources have provided contradictory accounts of a bombing raid by U.S. warplanes in the Chahar Chino district of the central Afghan province of Oruzgan on 18 January (see above), Radio Afghanistan reported on 20 January. Radio Afghanistan quoted Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan as saying that 11 civilians, including women and children, were killed as a result of the bombing, while it quoted a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan reporting only the death of five combatants. At a news conference on 20 January, U.S. forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Hilferty said coalition forces engaged "five armed males fleeing from a known terrorist compound," "The New York Times" reported the next day. "There is no indication that any civilians were involved," Hilferty added. Abdul Rahman, the district chief in Chahar Chino, where the incident took place, claimed he "collected the bodies with people" in the area and "participated in their funeral ceremony." The reports of civilian casualties in coalition bombing raids, whether correct or not, are increasing the pressure on the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) to take a more active role in military affairs around the country. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHANISTAN RELEASES 49 JAILED PAKISTANIS.After pledges on 12 January by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali to defeat terrorism (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 January 2004), Afghan authorities released 49 Pakistani prisoners from Afghan jails on 15 January, AP reported the same day. Karzai ordered the release in a bid to improve relations with Pakistan and enlist Islamabad's help in fighting insurgents and terrorists believed to be hiding in the border area between the two countries. The prisoners, jailed for fighting with the Taliban against Afghan and coalition forces, were handed over to Pakistani authorities in Kabul. In return, Pakistan pledged to release Afghan prisoners from its jails, according to AP. Pakistan says at least 500 of its nationals are being held in prisons throughout Afghanistan, according to the "Hindustan Times" of 15 January. (Kimberly McCloud)
INDEPENDENT TV ESTABLISHED IN NORTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE.An independent television station called Aina was inaugurated by Information and Culture Minister Rahin in Shebarghan in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan on 19 January, Afghanistan Television reported. Aina is the brainchild of entrepreneur Sayyed Fahim Maimanagi, who is reportedly financing the project and imported much of the necessary equipment from Turkey. Aina representatives say the new station's broadcast range includes the Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, and Balkh provinces and bordering areas of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. (Amin Tarzi)
WHOOPING COUGH KILLS 16 AFGHAN CHILDREN.An outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) in the Khawahan District of the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan has resulted in the deaths of 16 children, the Kabul-based daily "Anis" reported on 17 January. Many children in the area have developed serious respiratory illnesses as a result of low temperatures since 12 January, "Anis" added. Public-health officials in Badakhshan have said a lack of medicine, health facilities, and doctors are to blame for the deaths. More than 60 Afghan children died in January 2003 as a result of an outbreak of whooping cough in Badakhshan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY18 January 1929 -- Habibullah Kalakani proclaimed as amir of Afghanistan following a rebellion against King Amanullah.
17 January 1966 -- Kabul University's College of Education graduates its first 58 students.
19 January 1983 -- UN Deputy Secretary-General Diego Cordovez begins a peace mission to resolve the Afghan crisis.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghan Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).