Tuesday May 21, 2013
Roundup of Latest News from AfghanistanSalem-News.com
Violence, bloodshed, politics, war, ruby thieves, and efforts for peace.
(KABUL ANS) - For many years we have received a daily news update on Afghanistan that is an outstanding collection of information. This is a critical time in the history of Afghanistan, the United States and so many other countries tied to the ongoing U.S.-led war effort. Afghanistan News Center in Kabul provides an excellent roundup of stories and while we have carried individual articles sourced from their reports, this is for the first time, a collection of their entire dispatch.
Here is a collection of headlines, the stories follow in consecutive order:
Afghan parliament approves US strategic pact
Afghan Parliament Approves U.S.-Afghan Security Pact
13 militants killed, 15 detained in operations in Afghanistan
One Taliban Bullet, Two Lives Lost
US general: Afghanistan better vetting recruits
Afghanistan's fabulous ruby mines plundered by thieves
Revealed: Britain to build its own Afghan militia after troops withdraw
Afghan parliament approves US strategic pact
AFP via Yahoo! News - May 26 10:27am Afghanistan's parliament on Saturday voted by an overwhelming majority to ratify a strategic partnership agreement with the United States signed earlier this month, lawmakers said.
"We voted with a majority in favour of the strategic pact," MP Shukria Essakhil told AFP.
"Only five MPs voted against it," she said, adding that around 190 lawmakers out of 249 were present for the open vote.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama paid a surprise visit to Kabul to sign a deal with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai that will cement post-war ties with Kabul after 2014, when NATO-led combat forces leave Afghanistan.
The pact foresees the possibility of American forces staying behind to train Afghan soldiers and pursue the remnants of Al-Qaeda but does not commit Washington to specific troop or funding levels.
The pact alarmed Afghanistan's neighbours including Iran, and lawmaker Bakhtash Seyawash said that the Islamic republic had attempted to "sabotage" the vote.
"There is no doubt that Iran tried to influence the vote, but it didn't work", he said.
"There were accusations that Iran has tried to pay millions of dollars to MPs, that is why the parliament decided to hold an open vote," he added.
"Iran's efforts to sabotage the vote failed," he said.
Relations between Afghanistan and Iran have been strained by the strategic pact, officials said, charging that Tehran had harassed Afghan diplomats in recent weeks.
Lawmakers had warned Iran to end its "interference" in Afghanistan's internal affairs over the pact.
On Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the agreement was not against the national interest of any neighboring countries.
"Any pact we sign is not against Iran and it's for the stability of Afghanistan and expanding relations with" its neighbours, Karzai said.
The deal, reached after months of painstaking negotiations, also states that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan.
There are currently around 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan and all NATO-led combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014.
But amid a rising death toll, troubled domestic economies and the increasing unpopularity of the Afghan war in many Western countries, troop withdrawals are now getting under way.
New President Francois Hollande, on a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday, defended France's imminent exit from Afghanistan.
France is set to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a year earlier than Paris initially planned, and two years before NATO allies.
The U.S-led war in Afghanistan has cost the lives of around 3,000 U.S. and allied troops, seen thousands of Afghans killed and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
The pact is now going to be sent to the Afghan senate where it is expected to be signed as early as next week, Seyawash said.
Afghan Parliament Approves U.S.-Afghan Security Pact
By RFE/RL May 26, 2012 Afghanistan's parliament has approved a strategic partnership agreement between Kabul and Washington, clearing the way for a U.S. presence in the country after most foreign combat troops leave in 2014.
Afghan lawmakers said the approval came in a vote on May 26.
It was not immediately clear how many lawmakers were present in the 249-seat lower house for the vote held by a show of hands. Legislators said only a handful of lawmakers voted against the pact.
The deal will now go to the Afghan Senate which is expected to approve it next week.
The strategic partnership agreement was signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on May 2.
It sets out a long-term U.S. role in Afghanistan, including the provision of aid and advisers.
No Plans For Military Bases
The pact, reached after months of contentious negotiations, does not commit the United States to specific troop levels.
But it does allow Washington to potentially keep a number of troops after the planned 2014 withdrawal to train Afghan soldiers and pursue al-Qaeda militants.
It also states that the U.S. does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan.
The pact also does not commit the United States to any specific level of spending, but it does pledge financial support for Kabul for a decade after the last of the 87,000 U.S. soldiers pull out of the country.
Most of the contentious parts of the agreement, which could have seen parliament reject the deal, had earlier been removed and dealt with separately, including giving Afghans control of controversial night raids on homes and prisons used to detain insurgents.
Speaking after the vote on May 26, the head of the Afghan Parliamentary Defense Committee, Shukria Barikzai, said the pact would reinforce Afghanistan's sovereignty.
"I hope that the approval of the document will rescue Afghanistan from the yoke of its neighbors," he said. "And that with the help of the international community, Afghanistan can find a decent position among other nations as a sovereign and independent state and as a country that has stood on its own feet."
The agreement with the United States has strained relations with Iran, with some Afghan lawmakers accusing Tehran of "interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan
13 militants killed, 15 detained in operations in Afghanistan
KABUL, May 26 (Xinhua) -- A total of 13 Taliban militants have been killed and 15 other suspects arrested during military raids within the past 24 hours, the Afghan Interior Ministry said Saturday. "Afghan police, army and NATO-led coalition force launched seven joint cleanup operations in Laghman, Kandahar, Zabul, Wardak, Logar, Ghazni and Farah provinces, killing 13 armed Taliban insurgents and detaining 15 others over the past 24 hours," the ministry said in a statement.
They also found and seized weapons, the statement said, without saying if there were any casualties on the side of security forces.
In a separate development, five Taliban were killed and four policemen and two soldiers with the NATO-led forces were injured when the joint forces launched an operation in Populzai area of Nahri Sarraj district in the southern Helmand province on Friday, provincial police spokesman Farid Ahmad Farhang told Xinhua on Saturday.
The Taliban insurgent group, which announced the launching of a spring offensive from May 3 against Afghan and NATO forces, has yet to make comments.
Afghan forces and some 130,000 NATO-led coalition troops have intensified cleanup operations against Taliban and other militants throughout the country recently but the insurgents responded by carrying out suicide attacks and roadside bombings.
Five passengers were killed and 16 others injured when a bus touched off a roadside bomb in eastern Ghazni province Thursday evening.
Over 800 insurgents have been killed and more than 1,450 others detained in the country so far this year, according to the figures released by the Afghan Interior Ministry.
One Taliban Bullet, Two Lives Lost
Wall Street Journal By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS May 25, 2012 COMBAT OUTPOST MARGAH, Afghanistan - Spc. Keith Benson, 1st Platoon's medic, liked to joke with the soldiers in his care: "Don't mess with me or you're on the no-morphine list. Really make me mad and you're on the no-tourniquet list." On his arm he wore a tattoo of a hyena. On his chest was inked: "Why so serious?"
On Jan. 18, about halfway through his first combat tour and shortly before a scheduled home leave, the 27-year-old soldier sat in his room at an Army base in the snowy mountains near the Pakistan border. He held a 9mm pistol, the weapon medics carry to protect their patients in battle. He put the muzzle to his head and pulled the trigger.
He left behind a two-word note. "I'm sorry," it said.
For many in the military, some of the toughest blows aren't from battle but its aftermath. In the field and at home, many troops wrestle with depression, trauma, anxiety and substance abuse. Sometimes, combat veterans struggle to overcome the guilt of outliving their friends.
Between 2004—one year after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq—and 2010, the rate of self-inflicted deaths among active-duty Army personnel rose from 9.6 per 100,000 to 21.8 per 100,000, surpassing the civilian rate in the U.S. for the first time in 2008, according to a U.S. Army study released this year.
This story, gleaned from interviews and firsthand accounts, offers a rare glimpse into one case of suicide in the field.
At Spc. Benson's memorial service, his fellow soldiers had no answers. They wondered why he hadn't asked them for help. Some were angry at him for adding an intentional death to so many unavoidable ones. Many, however, recalled the ambush four months earlier, when Spc. Benson battled to save the life of Staff Sgt. Daniel Quintana, a popular and charismatic soldier known as Sgt. Q.
The two men were stationed at COP Margah, an Army base 6,700 feet up the mountains separating Pakistan from eastern Afghanistan. The region is a migration corridor for insurgents seeking winter refuge in Pakistan or returning to Afghanistan for the fighting season.
The soldiers of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, rotated into the area around COP Margah last summer. They patrolled nearby villages for insurgents who might be plotting attacks.
On Sept. 10, 2011, Charlie Company's 1st Platoon went on a foot patrol to Towr Wurskai, a village of houses and towers made from the same brown mud that covers the mountains. Villagers watched from rooftops and doorways.
The soldiers were led by Charlie Company's commander, Capt. DeShane Greaser, a 35-year-old from Winston, Ore. Capt. Greaser grew up idolizing men who led during wartime, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln: "Guys," he said, "who knew what they believed in and stuck to it."
When it came time to return, the captain decided to take a shortcut. As the soldiers moved down a narrow lane between two cornfields, water from the fields created a muddy path that sucked at their boots.
At about 5:40 p.m. the first soldiers crossed a riverbed and the Taliban sprang their ambush. The insurgents—there were at least 25 by Army estimates—attacked from three positions.
Machine-gun bullets carved trails through the head-high corn. Sgt. Terence Kaiser, a 26-year-old from Texarkana, Texas, fired back from behind a fallen log. Incoming bullets sprayed bark in his face.
A minute or so into the firefight, Sgt. Kaiser heard the soldier next to him yell: "Sgt. Q is hit."
Sgt. Kaiser saw Sgt. Quintana lying on his stomach. At first, Sgt. Quintana looked blankly in his direction. Then his head dropped onto his rifle scope. Sgt. Kaiser scrambled to him. "Sergeant—you OK?" he asked. "Q? Q?"
Sgt. Kaiser pulled Sgt. Quintana off the embankment and rolled him onto his back. He and another soldier, Staff Sgt. Joseph Lunney, hoisted Sgt. Quintana by his body armor and dragged him into the partial cover of some trees.
Sgt. Kaiser yelled for Spc. Benson. "Benson, get the f— over here," he shouted over the gunfire.
Spc. Benson had been in Afghanistan about two months. Sgt. Quintana was his first battlefield casualty.
From an early age, Keith David Benson was a perfectionist, even an obsessive, with a taste for the macabre, his parents said. He sang tenor in the high school choir in Norwood, Mass. The red-haired teenager was fascinated by horror movies, the gorier the better, even as he worked at a nursing home, caring for Alzheimer's patients.
In ninth grade, he surprised his parents by announcing he wanted to be a mortician. After high school, he briefly studied mortuary science in Pennsylvania but decided he wanted to be closer to home.
He was laid off from an entry-level logistics job with Coca-Cola Co. Out of work, he turned to the Army in 2010, attracted by the job of medic—a position that combined his interest in medicine with his urge to help people. He pursued it with his usual perfectionist zeal, his family said, and earned the affectionate title of "Doc," the name soldiers uniformly call their medics.
The 30-year-old Sgt. Quintana was more seasoned than Doc Benson. He grew up in Huntington Park, Calif., an indifferent student who joined the Job Corps, a government training program, to finish high school. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served in Spain as a military policeman. When he got out four years later he couldn't find work, said his father, Daniel Quintana Sr.
In 2005, he joined the Army and became a tank commander. "He wanted to be out there on the line," his father recalled. Sgt. Quintana's first tour, in Iraq, whetted his appetite for combat. "Dad, I love what I do," he told his father.
Sgt. Quintana, who had a son from a previous marriage, met his wife in Spain. She had a son of her own and was pregnant with the couple's daughter when he shipped out for Afghanistan last summer.
Sgt. Quintana shared Doc Benson's impish sense of humor. He once dropped his trousers to reveal a smiley-face tattoo to the company's physician assistant, 1st Lt. Ben Ingram. "Is this normal, Doc?" he had asked wryly.
At first, Doc Benson and Sgt. Kaiser couldn't find a wound on Sgt. Quintana. Then they unclipped the front of his bulletproof vest, lifted the pocket containing the ceramic plate and saw the blood under his right arm.
They unzipped the sergeant's jacket and pulled up his tan T-shirt. The wound looked white, almost like a scrape. It wasn't bleeding too badly. Doc Benson and Sgt. Kaiser felt a moment of relief. Maybe the bullet had only grazed him.
They rolled Sgt. Quintana onto one side, then the other. It took only a short time to find the exit wound. The back of the sergeant's T-shirt was soaked in blood. Sgt. Kaiser saw the tip of the bullet poking from his back. He pulled it out and handed it to Capt. Greaser.
Sgt. Kaiser pressed his knuckle into the exit wound to stop the bleeding and reached around Sgt. Quintana's chest with his other hand to cover the entry wound.
After Doc Benson bandaged the sergeant, he checked his vital signs. He found no pulse.
Doc Benson's eyes met Sgt. Kaiser's. The sergeant saw fear and desperation. Sgt. Kaiser told him: Just keep working.
Doc Benson put his mouth to Sgt. Quintana's and exhaled. Then again. He put his hands together over the sergeant's heart and pressed 30 beats. Two breaths. Thirty beats. Two breaths. Thirty beats.
Taliban bullets shattered the cornstalks and tree trunks around them.
Sgt. Kaiser lifted Sgt. Quintana's legs and pumped them up and down to force blood toward his head and heart. "You're not done yet," he told the injured man. "Think about a Corona on the beach." A pulse returned, but Sgt. Quintana's breathing was ragged.
Doc Benson suspected air had seeped in through the bullet holes, crushing Sgt. Quintana's lungs. He inserted a needle into the sergeant's chest to allow the air to escape and give the lungs room to inflate. There was a pop and a hiss as the needle went in.
Doc Benson lost the sergeant's pulse again. He gave another panicked look. Doc Benson and Sgt. Lunney traded off breathing and chest compressions. Sgt. Quintana's heart started then stopped.
Doc Benson and the other men revived him a third time. Sgt. Quintana's pulse held steady.
Mortarmen stationed at the outpost fired explosive rounds over the patrol and onto the Taliban positions.
The fighting had quieted by the time the medical helicopter landed. Sgt. Quintana was breathing when he was carried aboard. Doc Benson and the others had kept him alive for nearly an hour.
After the helicopter left, the soldiers gathered Sgt. Quintana's gear—rifle, night-vision goggles, radio—and trekked home.
Capt. Greaser stuck close to Doc Benson on the 30-minute walk. The medic was silent. "There's absolutely nothing [more] you could have done," the captain said.
When the captain arrived back at base, one of the senior enlisted men caught his eye and shook his head. The message: Sgt. Q hadn't made it.
Capt. Greaser gathered the company in the chow hall that night. The medics stood behind Doc Benson in a protective cocoon as Capt. Greaser spoke. "Sgt. Q died," he said.
Doc Benson dropped his face into his hands and wept. The other medics stepped forward to touch his shoulders. One of them, Spc. Jason Duncan, hugged him. "It's all right, man," he said. "We'll get through this."
"If it's anyone's fault, it's mine," the captain said. He had chosen the route that took them into the ambush.
Doc Benson and Sgt. Kaiser hadn't been close before Sgt. Quintana's death. That night, they wandered the base together in silence.
Afterward, Doc Benson went to the medical area and sat on a plywood trauma table. Lt. Ingram, the 30-year-old physician assistant, from Portland, Ore., recounted what the surgeon had said: There was nothing anyone in the field could have done. The bullet had penetrated both lungs and nicked his spinal column.
"I'm proud of you," the lieutenant told him. "Today you're a combat medic."
The next day, Lt. Ingram pulled Doc Benson from patrol duty to give him a week to recover. They went over the case during long hours in the aid station. He asked Doc Benson if he wanted to be sent to the rear. He didn't.
In the weeks after Sgt. Quintana's death, the brigade lawyer opened an investigation, a routine step. Capt. Greaser and others provided a detailed report. Doc Benson's account was less precise.
Capt. Greaser called the medic into his office to say the lawyer wanted a more thorough narrative. Capt. Greaser told Doc Benson nobody thought he had mishandled the sergeant's treatment. The medic seemed to accept the reassurance, the captain recalled. But he sensed Doc Benson was still preoccupied, even as the unit nominated him to receive an award for valor.
Doc Benson talked to his father, David Benson, about his disappointment over not saving Sgt. Quintana. He eventually stopped talking about it, and Mr. Benson thought his son had come to grips with the loss.
A month passed. Doc Benson's platoon moved from the Margah outpost to a forward operating base, FOB Boris, about 10 miles away. Sgt. Kaiser went, too.
The two men sat up late nights talking about Sgt. Quintana. Both suffered disturbing dreams about the death, nightmares they felt only the other man would understand, said Sgt. Kaiser.
After a few weeks, Sgt. Kaiser returned to the Margah outpost. He worried about leaving Doc Benson behind. The men exchanged messages daily on Facebook. Sometimes they joked, the usual Army banter. Every now and then, Doc Benson asked the sergeant if he still had the dreams.
Doc Benson seemed to be recovering, at least to many of his colleagues. Sgt. Jason Wolfington, the company's senior medic, told him, "Let it go. You've still got a job to do."
Sgt. Kaiser sensed a pall in Doc Benson's instant messages. "It was a lot of what-ifs," Sgt. Kaiser recalled. "What if he'd done things differently."
Insurgents lobbed rockets at FOB Boris on the afternoon Doc Benson took his own life. After the attack, soldiers scoured the base for casualties. A medic found him in his chair. The bullet had gouged a hole in the ceiling.
Word reached Capt. Greaser at the Margah outpost. "Make sure nobody is by themselves," he said, ordering soldiers to sleep at least two to a room.
When Sgt. Kaiser heard the news he lay on the bed, put on headphones and stared at a photo of his fiancée, trying to take his thoughts away from Afghanistan.
The next day the captain flew to FOB Boris and gathered Doc Benson's platoon in the chapel. "We don't know why he did what he did," the captain said.
A week later, Capt. Greaser called Doc Benson's parents. "I'm really sorry he's gone," the captain recalled telling them. He described how their son had brought Sgt. Quintana back to life three times. "He never quit," the captain said.
The official investigation couldn't conclude why Doc Benson took his own life. He and his girlfriend had broken up a couple of months earlier, his family said. A number of the soldiers interviewed said he was still struggling with his failure to save Sgt. Quintana. His parents thought of his need for perfection.
After Doc Benson's death, the 172nd Infantry Brigade issued a new order: Any medic who loses a patient or deals with a mass-casualty event must return to headquarters for a psychological assessment.
Charlie Company held a memorial service in the chow hall at COP Margah, the same place where the captain had announced Sgt. Quintana's death and held his memorial. That ceremony had been full of praise. The mood was different this time: grief, anger and confusion, said soldiers who attended.
The commanders spoke of Doc Benson's battlefield courage. The chaplain lamented that he hadn't asked for help.
Spc. Duncan broke down when the soldiers standing in the snow outside fired a 21-gun salute. In the weeks that followed he had a hyena tattooed onto his forearm. "R.i.p. Brother Benson," it read.
Sgt. Wolfington, the senior medic, was angry. "He had a lot more options," he said. "There's always people to talk to."
Sgt. Kaiser later seemed a man haunted. He was trying to quit smoking, but when he spoke of Sgt. Q and Doc Benson, he lit one Camel from the smoldering remains of the last.
"I don't want to relive the bad moments," he said. "My biggest concern now is making sure nothing happens to any of my guys."
On April 24, another soldier from Charlie Company, 22-year-old Spc. Manuel Vasquez, shot himself while standing guard in a watchtower at COP Margah. The case is under investigation.
Write to Michael M. Phillips at email@example.com
US general: Afghanistan better vetting recruits
Associated Press By JULIE WATSON 25/05/2012 CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - The commanding Marine general in one of Afghanistan's hardest-fought regions said Friday he is seeing big improvements in the vetting of Afghan recruits to the country's security forces following attacks by Afghan soldiers on their NATO partners.
Maj. Gen. C. Mark Gurganus told reporters at Camp Pendleton in a teleconference call from Afghanistan that he believes Afghan forces will take the lead in securing Helmand Province by this fall — faster than expected.
Gurganus said Helmand's provincial chief of police told him May 19 that he has imposed new policies including enforcing an age limit of 18 for police recruits, barring police from bringing guests into their posts, and strictly holding commanders responsible for their officers' actions.
Gurganus, who took over command of the U.S. Marines in Helmand Province in March, said soldiers who go on extended leave or travel to Pakistan are being rescreened.
"They are watching these guys a little more carefully," Gurganus said. "They are taking some steps that are really huge in terms of their culture. They've really taken this to heart."
There have been about 20 deadly attacks by Afghans in uniform on their NATO partners this year, including one May 6 that left one Marine dead and another wounded. The shooting, in which the Afghan soldier was killed in return fire by coalition troops, marked the second recent killing of a U.S. Marine in Helmand by an Afghan soldier. The coalition does not report attacks in which an Afghan security force member wounds or misses his U.S. or allied target.
Persistent violence and the insider attacks have undermined President Barack Obama's efforts to show progress in stabilizing Afghanistan. They also have raised the level of mistrust between the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan partners as NATO prepares to hand over the security reins to local forces ahead of a 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of combat troops.
Gurganus said some of the soldiers may have been ideologically opposed to coalition forces, others may have gone over to the other side after going home on leave, or their families may have been threatened by insurgents. He said the Marine Corps has been reemphasizing its cultural training to try to curb incidents of troops offending their Afghan counterparts.
The general spoke the same day French President Francois Hollande defended his decision to pull the country's 2,000 combat troops out of Afghanistan two years early. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the accelerated withdrawal after four French troops were killed by a rogue Afghan soldier in January.
A speedy withdrawal by others nations would destabilize the plan for Afghan forces to gradually take charge of the country's security over the next 2 1/2 years.
The Afghan army and police have started taking charge of security in areas that are home to 75 percent of the population. The goal is for Afghan forces to be in the lead across the country by mid-2013. NATO and other foreign forces would then assume a support role for the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces until the end of 2014.
Afghanistan's fabulous ruby mines plundered by thieves
BBC News 26 May 2012 Only a few hours' drive from the Afghan capital Kabul is an area renowned for some of the world's brightest and most valuable rubies. But this wealth is being plundered by thieves, corrupt officials and the Taliban, as the BBC's Bilal Sarwary discovers.
The sun was about to rise over the Hindu Kush peaks surrounding Kabul when we hit the road to Jegdalek.
It is a mountainous area noted for its rugged beauty in Kabul's Surobi district, some 96km (60 miles) south-east of the capital.
There are opium crops here, but it is ruby mines that have earned Jegdalek such renown.
It is seen as a part of the country which could hold the key to many of Afghanistan's pressing economic woes.
"Jegdalek mines have been worked for more than 500 years," one tribal elder told me.
"They are known for their high-grade blood-red rubies, which were popular with royalty across the world."
But the great and the good willing to pay magnificent prices no longer purchase Jegdalek rubies. Tribal elders say that instead the mines are being plundered by thieves, corrupt officials and the Taliban.
The situation has become so worrying, officials say, that President Hamid Karzai has become seriously concerned.
"He is aware that we can easily become [like certain] African countries, where mineral worth is a curse, not a blessing, and could be used to further destabilise the country," a presidential official told the BBC.
There is supposed to be a ban on ruby mining because the government views the mines as national wealth. Despite government denials, local traders in Jegdalek bazaar openly display newly-mined gems.
Jegdalek is not a wealthy area, sandwiched between the snowy passes of Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains on one side and Pakistan's Parachinar valley on another.
There are mostly mud houses and ruins - its few roads are in a poor condition and locals say that there is no electricity or drinking water.
Like much of rural Afghanistan, the government's diktats are of little consequence here, which is why the ruby mining ban is so flagrantly flouted.
Officials admitted to the BBC that the government was not in control of dozens of mines for precious and semi-precious stones around the country.
"The Taliban are greedy and they lure locals to mine the area unprofessionally," says Wasil Khan, a disgruntled resident of a village near the mines.
"Unskilled miners dig huge, deep holes, fill them up with gunpowder and then set them on fire. Such blasts have damaged the mines as well as the wealth that lies underneath."
To the mines
The hills of the area are covered with hundreds of white trenches, leading the way to the mines themselves.
Mr Khan says that the mines rarely produce the red rubies they were once famous for - more often than not semi-transparent pink sapphires are the only gems found, even at depths of 150m (492ft).
But those who are illegally mining think otherwise, and the government clearly contends that much of value still lies deep within the soil here.
Once a major base of mujahideen fighters during the Soviet invasion of the country, local officials say that two-thirds of Jegdalek is now controlled by the insurgents.
"The Taliban tell the locals to work here," police officer Mohammed Talib - who accompanied us on our tour of the region - told us.
"They tell them: 'We will give you 25% of the profit on the rubies you bring. The best rubies are on Taliban's side of the mountain'."
Dr Talib said that every Friday the Taliban organises a ruby bazaar near Jegdalek in the small village of Soar Naw - a remote and mountainous area covered with deeply forested valleys.
Here they sell rubies which are then smuggled to Dubai, Pakistan and Thailand.
Just two months ago, the Taliban reportedly smuggled a ruby out of the area which sold for $600,000 (£383,000) in Dubai. While there is no way of substantiating this claim, similar stories abound.
"The income from rubies is used to buy weapons and pay fighters. If we can somehow plug this source, it will be a big blow to Taliban finances," an intelligence officer accompanying the police party said. 'Losing millions'
Police say that other criminal groups - working under the name of the Taliban - are exploiting the area's wealth and denuding the landscape solely for cash returns.
The police officer took me inside one of the mines. It is a vertical, narrow trench surrounded by thick marble walls about 4m (13ft) long with a hole in the surface. Yet despite this compelling evidence of recent mining, police insist the ban is being enforced.
As I was trying to look deeper into the mines, a policeman came running up to the commander and said something in his ear.
"We will have to wind up," the officer said. "My men have spotted some suspicious people on one of the hills. They could be locals, but I wouldn't like to take a chance."
As we prepared to make a hasty exit, nearly a dozen Taliban fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns took positions in the nearby hills, less than a kilometre away from our position.
Back in Kabul, mining official Tamim Asey admits that the government is losing millions of dollars every year as powerful warlords, tribal chieftains and corrupt officials collude to rob the nation of its natural resources.
He says that the priority is to ensure that revenue from the mines - which for years has been the source of wealth for different power brokers - goes to the government and people of Afghanistan.
Revealed: Britain to build its own Afghan militia after troops withdraw As foreign forces prepare to stand down, Nato is ready to fund a local replacement with a dark history The Independent By Kim Sengupta Saturday 26 May 2012 Kabul - An Afghan security force which has faced corruption allegations is to be doubled in size as the West embarks on its exit path from the war.
The government militia, say coalition commanders, has proved to be highly effective in combating the insurgency in their own back yard, and needs to be strengthened.
The ranks of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) are to rise from the current 15,000 to 30,000 as international troops begin the drawdown for 2014, a deadline reiterated at this week’s international summit in Chicago. Officials in Kabul, who strongly refute charges of malpractice against the force, hold that the numbers should be further augmented by another 10,000 if necessary.
Crucially the ALP is not included in the total strength for country’s military and police – the subject of an ongoing debate with proposals for the numbers to be cut from 352,000 to 228,000. Senior officers have warned that too hasty a reduction would prove damaging at a difficult time with fledgling Afghan forces taking over control of security throughout the country. Iraq, with a smaller population, they point out, still faces serious violence despite having security forces numbering 670,000.
The lightly armed bands of the ALP, raised to protect their communities, have been engaged in bitter and often bloody clashes with the Taliban in rural areas with a degree of success.
However, there have also been charges that its fighters have been involved in corruption and abuse, with some of the allegations based on reports of US soldiers training the local police units in a Pentagon-funded study.
The ALP was set up by General David Petraeus when he commanded Isaf (the International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan. It is partly modelled on militias which turned the tide against the Iraqi insurgency when he was leading Coalition forces in that country. President Hamid Karzai was initially reluctant to authorize raising the levy due to apprehension that the armed men may become ‘private armies’ for regional power brokers, but eventually did so putting it under Ministry of Interior supervision.
Sami Sadaat, a security analyst and former policy analyst in the Ministry of the Interior, warned: “We must be careful of what we are creating.” In some southern parts of the country the local police, he claimed, “are taking the law into their own hands, beating people and taking money. Yes, they helped remove the Taliban. But in a way they replaced them by doing these kinds of things.”
The allegations are disputed by others. Sayed Hotak Naimtullah, a former security adviser to the Karzai government, said: “Yes there have been cases of criminality, but comparatively few considering we are in the middle of a hard war. The fact is the ALP are based around their own villages and they will not last long if they rob their own people.
“There is a case, in fact, for expanding the ALP, we could take between another 8,000 to 10,000 more on top of 30,000. Compared to the army and other police branches they are cheaper and often more productive.”
Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, the British deputy commander of Isaf, said the ALP has “proved to be extremely effective, they have local knowledge and they can defend their communities”. He added: “I recently went to Kunar province where I saw them operate and I was impressed. They are doing well in interdicting, cutting insurgent supply routes. They are armed with AKs [Kalashnikovs] and PKMs [machine guns], and good training is frankly all they need.”
Lt Gen Bradshaw confirmed: “The total strength of the ALP is around 15,000 at the moment. It is due to rise, in time, to 30,000.”
The total strength of the Afghan police and army, excluding the ALP, is due to rise to 352,000 by October. However, some countries who will be providing funding for Karzai's government after 2014, want the total to be reduced to 228,000. This will reduce the total bill for the Afghan military from $6.1 billion a year to $4.2bn.
On average, Afghan soldiers and policemen are paid around $300 a month. Members of the ALP receive a lower salary of about $200 a month, although this may rise to $300 in the future.
Lieutenant Colonel Dino Bossi, commanding officer of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, in charge of police training in Helmand, said: “We maintain a zero-tolerance when it comes to corruption. I am not saying it does not exist, but a lot has been done to tackle it. The fact is that of all the police units the Taliban fear the ALP the most. They are local people, they know who is who, what people are up to, they spot suspicious strangers.”
Brigadier Doug Chalmers, the commander of the UK’s Task Force Helmand, acknowledged that the Afghan police force had an unenviable reputation in the past, but stressed that there has been significant improvements.
“When I came into Nad-e-Ali [a Helmand district] two-and-a-half years ago the police were despised, absolutely hated by local nationals. They weren’t trained, they weren’t well paid so they survived effectively by preying on the local population” he said.
“But it is not the same institution any more. There is now a system in place to check for corruption, senior officers show a great commitment to upholding standards and the population are more confident about the police.”
The type of fighting the ALP is engaged in is often internecine, vicious and, at times, treacherous with insurgent infiltration. In one attack two months ago a member of the police at Paktika, on the Pakistani border, put sleeping drugs in their tea and slaughtered them when they were helpless.
Arif Mohammed Rauf, serving with an ALP unit in Paktika, knew some of those killed. He said: “The Taliban and their Pakistani masters are afraid of us and so they want to kill us, so when we find them we kill them, although sometimes we arrest the terrorists. We know we have to be careful all the time but we have the help of our villagers who know we are there to protect them.
“Is there corruption? Yes we have had some police who take have taken ushur [part of a farmer’s harvest as tax ] because they say it is their right because they are defending the villages. But we have made them pay the farmers money for that because, otherwise, the next time the farmers will help the Taliban. If there are more serious cases then more serious action is taken. We do not want to end up dead because of mistakes made by others.”
Afghanistan News Center www.afghanistannewscenter.com
Articles for May 26, 2012 | Articles for May 27, 2012 | Articles for May 28, 2012
Hear Raymo's Songs
|Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | Copyright © 2013 Salem-News.com | news tips & press releases: email@example.com.|