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Killing Of Afghan Journalist Raises More Uncomfortable Questions

Afghan journalist and translator Sultan Munadi was killed on September 9
Criticism and anger are mounting over the rescue of a Western journalist from Taliban militants.

The September 9 predawn raid in a remote corner of northern Afghanistan rescued "New York Times" correspondent Stephen Farrell. But four people died in the shoot-out, including Farrell's Afghan colleague Sultan Munadi and a British commando.

Afghan journalists are holding remembrance ceremonies and have staged protests across the country blaming international troops for Munadi's death. They have also criticized NATO commandos for leaving Munadi's body behind after the raid.

Angry Afghan journalists want this incident to be thoroughly investigated. They claim it is emblematic of a larger problem, when such operations often result in freeing Western hostages while caring little for Afghan nationals.
Our efforts will not be limited to conveying condolences and expressing our sympathies

In Britain, media outlets are questioning whether military force should have been used, as negotiations with the hostage takers appeared to be making progress.

The two were kidnapped in northern Konduz Province while reporting on the recent controversial NATO bombing of two hijacked fuel tankers, which killed scores of people.

In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan from Paris, Reza Moini, a regional researcher with Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres), joined the call for a thorough investigation.

"Our efforts will not be limited to conveying condolences and expressing our sympathies," he says.

"What is important for us is that Munadi's killing happened under circumstances that have raised many questions. That's why our [formal] statement demanded an investigation into this incident. And we want the troops involved in this rescue operation to answer our questions."

Major Rethink

The raid was the second major incident this month which has brought the West's military role in Afghanistan into the spotlight.

According to Afghan officials, an earlier NATO air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers on September 4 killed scores of people, including many civilians. The incident has created rifts among NATO allies and fueled Afghan concerns about the West's military effort in the country.

A quest for a major rethink on Afghanistan is increasingly obvious in Western capitals.

Last week Britain, Germany, and France jointly called for a United Nations-led conference on Afghanistan to develop a plan for transferring more security responsibilities to the Afghan authorities.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the initiative at a news conference in Berlin on September 6, saying they were launching it together with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Many hopes had been pinned on the August 20 Afghan presidential election, which had been expected to deliver a new administration that would work with its international partners to deliver improved governance and play its role in defeating the Taliban insurgency.

Instead, the elections results have been marred by allegations and investigations of fraud as the Afghan political elite splits into increasingly hostile camps.
Afghan police officers being trained by German military police in northern Afghanistan

In a week of bad news for the country, the London-based International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) issued a report on September 11 saying that the Taliban and other militants now have a "permanent presence" in 80 percent of Afghanistan. Another 17 percent of the country, according to the report, has "substantial" Taliban or militant activity.

Training Locals

Nobody seems to have clear answers to the troubling question of what happens next in Afghanistan.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, the new Canadian Ambassador in Kabul, William Crosbie, remained cautiously optimistic that despite the deteriorating security situation in southern Afghanistan, where 3,000 Canadians are battling Taliban insurgents, greater training of the Afghan forces could still help in improving the situation:

"We have been working closely in the [Kandahar] Province and the national government to train policemen and to train the Afghan national army to assume a greater role in providing security," Crosbie says.

"But I think the security situation in Kandahar reflects the deterioration in security in various parts of the country, which is of concern to us. The additional resources which ISAF will be bringing into Afghanistan, the increased training, the increased number of Afghan national security forces -- those will be critical to turn around the security situation."

But experts suggest that training Afghan security forces cannot happen in a political vacuum as clouds of uncertainty hang over the Afghan election.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, has urged critics of the poll not to "jump to conclusions."

Meanwhile, despite an expected request for more troops for Afghanistan by top U.S. and NATO Commander General Stanley McChrystal, senior leaders in America's Democratic Party are now publicly questioning the logic of sending additional soldiers in harm's way.

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and the chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, is expected to oppose more troops for Afghanistan in a speech on September 11. This comes a day after the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said that she sees little support among U.S. legislators for sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Such comments put President Barack Obama in an uneasy position.

Pelosi is the highest-ranking Democrat to signal that any White House or Pentagon push for more troops will be resisted in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, said he is urging Democrats to withhold judgment until Obama decides what to do.

Earlier this year, Obama ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, which would bring the total number of U.S. forces there to 68,000 by the end of 2009.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Jawad Mujahid and Sharifa Esmatullah contributed to this report
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.