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Pakistan Taliban claim responsibility for shooting of 14-year-old girl

Pakistan Taliban claim responsibility for shooting of 14-year-old girl

Rob Crilly

Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school in the former militant stronghold of Swat when two men opened fire, shooting her in the forehead and injuring two other girls.

Witnesses said a bearded man had asked for the girl by name before opening fire.

Her work earned her international recognition and numerous peace awards after she was revealed as the brave seventh grader who wrote an anonymous blog for the BBC’s Urdu service when the Taliban controlled Swat in 2009.

But it also brought death threats.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing her of promoting Western, secular values.
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“This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter,” he said. “We have carried out this attack.”

The attack on the young girl has shocked Pakistan, a nation long hardened to sickening acts of violence.

Mian Iftikhar Husing Husain, the local information minister, said: “It is the sign of weakness of Taliban that they have been targeting females.”

Doctors at the Saidu Sharif Medical Complex in Mingora said Malala would be transferred to a hospital in the north-western city of Peshawar for further treatment but all three girls were in a stable condition.

Malalai – whose name means “grief-stricken” in the local Pashto language – was 11 when the Taliban took over the Swat Valley and ordered girls’ schools to close.

Pakistan’s shaky government appeared to appease the hardline militants, signing a ceasefire in 2009 and leaving Maulana Fazlullah, a cleric, to preside over the area.

Malala’s anonymous blog is credited with being one of the first voices to alert the world to his brutal campaign of beheadings and violence.

In it, she described how her terrified classmates were forced to hide books under their shawls and lived in fear of having acid thrown in their faces.

She continued to keep her diary when the Pakistani military eventually launched an offensive against the militants.

“I heard my father talking about another three bodies lying at Green Chowk,” she wrote. “I felt bad on hearing this news. Before the launch of the military operation we all used to go to Marghazar, Fiza Ghat and Kanju for picnics on Sundays. But now the situation is such that we have not been out on picnic for over a year and a half.” The Pakistan army finally drove the Taliban insurgency from Swat in July 2009.

Since then she has campaigned for more girls to have the chance to go to school.

In an interview earlier this year, she described her motivation.

“I was scared enough to see pictures of bodies hanging in Swat. But the decision to ban girls from going to school was shocking for me and I decided to stand against the forces of backwardness,” she said.
SOURCE

They deserved it! They WERE dancing with women after all.

17 Afghans beheaded in insurgent attack on party

By HEIDI VOGT and MIRWAIS KHAN

— Insurgents beheaded 17 civilians in a Taliban-controlled area of southern Afghanistan, apparently because they attended a dance party that flouted the extreme brand of Islam embraced by the militants, officials said Monday.

The killings, in a district where U.S. Marines have battled the Taliban for years, were a reminder of how much power the insurgent group still wields in the south — particularly as international forces draw down and hand areas over to Afghan forces.

The victims were part of a large group that had gathered late Sunday in Helmand province’s Musa Qala district for a celebration involving music and dancing, said district government chief Neyamatullah Khan. He said the Taliban slaughtered them to show their disapproval of the event.

All of the bodies were decapitated but it was not clear if they had been shot first, said provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi.

Information was only trickling out slowly because the area where the killings occurred is largely Taliban controlled, Khan said. The Taliban spokesman for southern Afghanistan could not be reached for comment.

Many Afghans and international observers have expressed worries that the Taliban’s brutal interpretation of Islamic justice will return as international forces withdraw. Under the Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, all music and film was banned as un-Islamic, and women were barred from leaving their homes without a male family member as an escort.

Helmand is one of the areas seeing the largest reduction in U.S. troops, as the force increase ordered up by President Barack Obama departs. The U.S. started drawing down forces from a peak of nearly 103,000 last year, and plans to have decreased to 68,000 troops in country by October.

One of the most worrying trends to accompany the drawdown has been a surge in attacks by Afghan forces against their international allies, and another shooting came on Monday morning, though it appeared to be accidental.

Two American soldiers were shot and killed by one of their Afghan colleagues in the east, military officials said, bringing to 12 the number of international troops — all Americans — to die at the hands of their local allies this month.

But Afghan officials said Monday’s attack in Laghman province was a separate case from the rash of recent insider attacks on international forces, because it appeared to have been unintentional.

The incident unfolded when a group of U.S. and Afghan soldiers came under attack, said Noman Hatefi, a spokesman for the Afghan army corps in eastern Afghanistan. When the troops returned fire and ran to take up fighting positions, an Afghan soldier fell and accidentally discharged his weapon, killing two American soldiers with the stray bullets, he said.

“He didn’t do this intentionally. But then the commander of the (Afghan) unit started shouting at him, ‘What did you do? You killed two NATO soldiers!’ And so he threw down his weapon and started to run,” Hatefi added. The U.S. troops had already called in air support to help with the insurgent attack and the aircraft fired on the escaping soldier from above, killing him, Hatefi said.

NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Hagen Messer of Germany confirmed that two international soldiers were killed by an Afghan soldier in Laghman province, but declined to give further comment.

Insider attacks have been a problem for the U.S.-led military coalition for years, but it has exploded recently into a crisis. There have been at least 33 such attacks so far this year, killing 42 coalition members, mostly Americans. Last year there were 21 attacks, killing 35; and in 2010 there were 11 attacks with 20 deaths.

The chief spokesman for NATO forces in the country said coalition forces were not pulling back from collaborating with the Afghans because of the attacks.

“We are not going to reduce the close relationship with our Afghan partners,” Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz told reporters in the capital.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that he could not confirm any link between the attacker in Monday’s shooting and the insurgency. In previous insider attacks, the Taliban have quickly claimed responsibility and named the assailants. Mujahid did not comment on the other attacks in the south, which is watched over by a different Taliban spokesman.

Meanwhile, Helmand officials reported that 10 Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in the south, and five were either kidnapped or joined their assailants.

Ahmadi, the provincial spokesman, said insurgents attacked the checkpoint in Washir district Sunday evening. Another four soldiers were wounded he said. The Afghan Defense Ministry said the checkpoint was attacked by more than 100 insurgents.

Ahmadi said the five missing soldiers left with the insurgents but it was unclear if they were kidnapped or went voluntarily.

____

Khan reported from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report in Kabul.

SOURCE

US secretly releasing Taliban fighters

US secretly releasing Taliban fighters, report says

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The US has been secretly releasing captured Taliban fighters from a detention center in Afghanistan in a bid to strengthen its hand in peace talks with the insurgent group, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The “strategic release” program of high-level detainees is designed to give the US a bargaining chip in some areas of Afghanistan where international forces struggle to exercise control, the report said.

Under the risky program, the hardened fighters must promise to give up violence and are threatened with further punishment, but there is nothing to stop them resuming attacks against Afghan and American troops.

“Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention. Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks,” a US official told the Post.

In a visit to Afghanistan last week, President Barack Obama confirmed that the US was pursuing peace talks with the Taliban.

“We have made it clear that they [the Taliban] can be a part of this future if they break with Al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban — from foot soldiers to leaders — have indicated an interest in reconciliation. A path to peace is now set before them,” Obama said.

A stumbling block in the US-Taliban peace talks has been the US refusal to approve the transfer of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, which the Taliban says is necessary for negotiations to proceed.

The clock is ticking also on the US handover of security control to the Afghans.

At the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, the US coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead in combat operations across the country next year.

During his short visit, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a partnership deal that charts a 10-year relationship between the US and Afghanistan once the majority of American and foreign forces pull out of the country in 2014.

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Afghan schoolgirls poisoned in anti-education attack

Afghan schoolgirls poisoned in anti-education attack

By Mohammad Hamid

– About 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday after drinking contaminated water at a high school in the country’s north, officials said, blaming it on conservative radicals opposed to female education.

Since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban, which banned education for women and girls, females have returned to schools, especially in Kabul.

But periodic attacks still occur against girls, teachers and their school buildings, usually in the more conservative south and east of the country, from where the Taliban insurgency draws most support.

“We are 100 percent sure that the water they drunk inside their classes was poisoned. This is either the work of those who are against girls’ education or irresponsible armed individuals,” said Jan Mohammad Nabizada, a spokesman for education department in northern Takhar province.

Some of the 150 girls, who suffered from headaches and vomiting, were in critical condition, while others were able to go home after treatment in hospital, the officials said.

They said they knew the water had been poisoned because a larger tank used to fill the affected water jugs was not contaminated.

“This is not a natural illness. It’s an intentional act to poison schoolgirls,” said Haffizullah Safi, head of Takhar’s public health department.

None of the officials blamed any particular group for the attack, fearing retribution from anyone named.

The Afghan government said last year that the Taliban, which has been trying to adopt a more moderate face to advance exploratory peace talks, had dropped its opposition to female education.

But the insurgency has never stated that explicitly and in the past acid has been thrown in the faces of women and girls by hardline Islamists while walking to school.

Education for women was outlawed by the Taliban government from 1996-2001 as un-Islamic.

SOURCE

Obama to release Top Taliban Leaders from Guantanamo…..Will they kill again?


Administration briefs Senate leaders on Taliban transfer

Josh Rogin

Top Obama administration officials briefed eight senior Senate leaders Tuesday on a pending deal to transfer as many as five Taliban prisoners from the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar.

The Cable staked out the classified briefing in the basement of the Capitol building Tuesday afternoon. The eight senators who attended the briefing were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Intelligence Committee heads Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Senate Armed Services chiefs Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN).

The identities of the administration briefers were not shared, but we were told it was a high-level interagency briefing team.

All of the senators refused to discuss the contents of the briefing as they exited the secure briefing room in the Senate Visitors’ Center. But Levin and McCain both discussed the issue in question before entering the briefing, namely the administration’s negotiations with the Taliban over transferring the Taliban prisoners into Qatari custody.

Levin told reporters Tuesday that the briefing was “about the ongoing Taliban reconciliation efforts.” Levin is open to the idea of transferring Taliban members to Qatar, but said the devil was in the details.

“It depends on what assurances we have from the [Qatari] government that they are not going to be released,” Levin said. “But I also think the Afghans have to be very much involved in any discussions and any process. They weren’t for a while.”

“We’re not releasing them. As I understand it they will be imprisoned in Qatar,” Levin continued. But can the Qataris be trusted to keep them behind bars? “That’s the question,” Levin said.

Levin said he didn’t know what the United States was getting in exchange for transferring the prisoners to Qatar, where the Taliban are preparing to open an office. But he said the possible transfer was not a significant concession to the Taliban, provided the prisoners remain in custody. “If that’s what [the Taliban] are getting, it’s not much of a gain [for them], going from one prison to another.”

McCain, talking to reporters before the briefing, lashed out at the idea that the prisoners would be moved to Qatar in a possible exchange for a Taliban statement renouncing international violence, as has been reported.

“The whole idea that they’re going to ‘transfer’ these detainees in exchange for a statement by the Taliban? It is really, really bizarre,” McCain said. “This whole thing is highly questionable because the Taliban know we are leaving. I know many experts who would say they are rope-a-doping us.”

McCain said that Congress probably can’t stop the administration from going ahead with the transfer if that’s what it decides.

“I don’t think right now we can do anything about it, but these people were in positions of authority. One of them was responsible for deaths of several Americans,” said McCain, referring to reports that the prisoners being considered for transfer include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan, and former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund.

Is McCain confident that the Qataris will keep the Taliban prisoners locked up? “No I am not. And the Taliban don’t think so either, otherwise the Taliban wouldn’t want them transferred,” he said.

McCain said he was last briefed about the potential deal in December.

Some of the confusion about the negotiations was caused when the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman said on Jan. 22 that talks with the Taliban were a long way off and that no deal to transfer prisoners had been finalized. Grossman was in Kabul when he made the statements and he traveled to Qatar the next day.

On Jan. 28, several former members of the Taliban government said that talks with the United States had begun over the prisoner transfer. “Currently there are no peace talks going on,” Maulavi Qalamuddin, the former minister of “vice and virtue” for the Taliban, told The New York Times. “The only thing is the negotiations over release of Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo, which is still under discussion between both sides in Qatar.”

At Tuesday morning’s open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Chambliss pressed Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus, and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Matthew Olsen to confirm that the Taliban under consideration for transfer were still viewed as too dangerous to release by the U.S. intelligence community.

“It appears from these reports that in exchange for transferring detainees who had been determined to be too dangerous to transfer by the administration’s own Guantánamo review task force, we get little to nothing in return. Apparently, the Taliban will not have to stop fighting our troops and won’t even have to stop bombing them with IEDs,” Chambliss said. “I have also heard nothing from the IC[intelligence community] that suggests that the assessments on the threat posed by these detainees have changed. I want to state publicly as strongly as I can that we should not transfer these detainees from Guantánamo.”

Clapper said he stood by the original intelligence community assessments, which concluded that the Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo were too dangerous to be released.

“I don’t think anyone in the administration harbors any illusions about the potential here,” said Clapper. “And of course, part and parcel of such a decision if it were finally made would be the actual determination of where these detainees might go and the conditions in which they would be controlled or surveilled.”

Olsen, who led the review task force that evaluated the Guantanamo detainees in 2009, confirmed that the 5 prisoners being considered for transfer “were deemed too dangerous to release and who could not be prosecuted,” but Olsen said he had not evaluated those five prisoners since then.

Petraeus said that his staff had been asked for a more recent evaluation of the five prisoners and that the CIA completed risk analyses based on different possible conditions for the Taliban prisoners’ transfer.

“In fact, our analyst did provide assessments of the five and the risks presented by various scenarios by which they could be sent somewhere, not back to Afghanistan or Pakistan, and then based on the various mitigating measures that could be implemented, to ensure that they could not return to militant activity,” Petraeus said.

SOURCE

OPIUM AND AFGHANISTAN: REASSESSING U.s. COUNTERNARCOTICS STRATEGY

Opium is grown legally is some countries for medical purposes, but huge demand
in the illicit market, coupled with saturation of the licit market, is driving Afghanistan
to supply illegal opium. In 2004, approximately 523 tons of morphine were produced
worldwide from opium for medical purposes.12 Opium is also refined for use in legal
prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin.13 However, Australia and France
currently produce about half the world’s opium used for medical purposes, with India,
Turkey, Spain, and Hungary producing a majority of the rest, leaving little flexibility for
Afghanistan to enter this market. Despite its legitimate uses, most of the world’s opium
is illegally grown and processed in countries with limited governmental control. Hence,
virtually none of Afghanistan’s opium poppy harvest is used for licit opiates. Instead,
almost all of it ends up on the international market as heroin.

Heroin addiction is a global problem, and worldwide demand for heroin is increasingly
being met by Afghanistan’s farmers and drug traffickers. Heroin is a highly addictive drug,
and prolonged use can result in a variety of social and health-related problems. Sharing
of contaminated heroin needles is a major contributor to the spread of HIV/AIDS and
other infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C. According to the U.N. World Drug Report,
there are approximately 16 million illicit opiate users worldwide, including 11 million
heroin users. The primary opiate-using countries in the world include India (3 million
users), Russia and Eastern Europe (2.3 million), China (1.7 million), Western Europe (1.6
million), Iran (1.2 million), the United States (1.2 million), and Pakistan (0.7 million).14
Afghanistan has approximately 150,000 opium and 50,000 heroin users, but consumes
just 3.3 percent of its own harvest.15 Afghanistan is the source of nearly 90 percent of
heroin in Europe and Russia,16 while approximately 14 percent of heroin in the United
States comes from Afghanistan, up from 7 percent in 2001.17 According to the UNODC, as
many as 100,000 people die annually directly or indirectly from abuse of Afghan heroin.18
Furthermore, the UNODC predicts that increasing opium production in Afghanistan will
result in an increase in heroin overdoses worldwide because greater supply traditionally
leads to a higher level of heroin purity on the international market.19


AFGHANISTAN’S OPIUM ECONOMY
Cultivation and production of opium have significantly increased in Afghanistan
since 2001. Afghan farmers have grown opium poppy for generations; however, not until
the 1970s did they grow it in significant amounts for export. With the exception of 2001,
when the Taliban strictly enforced a moratorium on poppy cultivation with such harsh
tactics as beheadings, opium poppy cultivation has been steadily increasing for over the
past 2 decades as is shown in Figure 2.20 Today, poppy cultivation and opium production
are at all-time highs. According to the UNODC, opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan
covered an estimated 165,000 hectares during the 2005-06 growing season, a 59 percent
increase from the previous year. The UNODC also estimated that opium production in
2006 was 6,100 metric tons, up from 4,100 metric tons in 2005, which makes Afghanistan
by far the world’s largest producer.

Cultivating opium poppy makes powerful economic sense to the impoverished
farmers of Afghanistan. It is the easiest crop to grow and the most profitable. Even though
the Karzai government made opium poppy cultivation and trafficking illegal in 2002,
many farmers, driven by poverty, continue to cultivate opium poppy to provide for their
families. Indeed, poverty is the primary reason given by Afghan farmers for choosing to
cultivate opium poppy.22 With a farm gate price of approximately $125 per kilogram for
dry opium,23 an Afghan farmer can make 17 times more profit growing opium poppy—
$4,622 per hectare, compared to only $266 per hectare for wheat.24 Opium poppy is
also drought resistant, easy to transport and store, and, unlike many crops, requires no
refrigeration and does not spoil. With Afghanistan’s limited irrigation, electricity, roads,
and other infrastructure, growing traditional crops can be extremely difficult. In many
cases, farmers are simply unable to support their families growing traditional crops; and
because most rural farmers are uneducated and illiterate, they have few economically
viable alternatives to growing opium poppy.

Afghanistan’s economy has thus evolved to the point where it is now highly
dependent on opium. Although less than 4 percent of arable land in Afghanistan was
used for opium poppy cultivation in 2006, revenue from the harvest brought in over
$3 billion—more than 35 percent of the country’s total gross national product (GNP).25
According to Antonio Costa, “Opium poppy cultivation, processing, and transport have
become Afghanistan’s top employers, its main source of capital, and the principal base of
its economy.”26 Today, a record 2.9 million Afghanis from 28 of 34 provinces are involved
in opium cultivation in some way, which represents nearly 10 percent of the population.27
Although Afghanistan’s overall economy is being boosted by opium profits, less than 20
percent of the $3 billion in opium profits actually goes to impoverished farmers, while
more than 80 percent goes into the pockets of Afghan’s opium traffickers and kingpins
and their political connections.28 Even heftier profits are generated outside of Afghanistan
by international drug traffickers and dealers.

Traditionally, processing of Afghan’s opium into heroin has taken place outside of
Afghanistan; however, in an effort to reap more profits internally, Afghan drug kingpins
have stepped up heroin processing within their borders. Heroin processing labs have
proliferated in Afghanistan since the late 1990s, particularly in the unstable southern
region, further complicating stabilization efforts. With the reemergence of the Taliban and
the virtual absence of the rule of law in the countryside, opium production and heroin
processing have dramatically increased, especially in the southern province of Helmand.
In 2006, opium production in the province increased over 162 percent and now accounts
for 42 percent of Afghan’s total opium output.29 According to the UNODC, the opium
situation in the southern provinces is “out of control.”30
PROBLEMS WITH AFGHANISTAN’S OPIUM ECONOMY
While revenues from the opium trade are stimulating the economy, there are significant
negative consequences. Two major problems associated with the opium economy are
widespread corruption, which is eroding the rule of law; and the link between the opium
trade and the recoupment of the Taliban and the insurgency.
Corruption and the Erosion of the Rule of Law.
Corruption associated with the opium economy has spread to all levels of the Afghan
government from the police to the parliament, and is eroding the rule of law. Farmers
routinely bribe police and counternarcotics eradication personnel to turn a blind eye. Law
enforcement personnel are also paid off by drug traffickers to ignore or, in some cases,
protect their movements. Afghan government officials are now believed to be involved
in at least 70 percent of opium trafficking, and experts estimate that at least 13 former
or present provincial governors are directly involved in the drug trade.31 Furthermore,
up to 25 percent of the 249 elected members of parliament are also suspected of being
involved in the drug trade.32 When referring to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior, Syed
Ikramuddin, Afghan’s Minister of Labor, said: “Except for the Minister of Interior himself,
all the lower people from the heads of department down are involved in supporting
drug smuggling.”33 For example, in a single raid, nine tons of opium were recovered
from the offices of the Governor of Afghan’s Helmand Province. While the governor
was eventually replaced, no punitive action was taken against him, and he moved on
to a high-level position in parliament. 34 This case is not unusual, with corrupt officials
routinely being simply reassigned rather than removed from office.
For many of Afghanistan’s warlords, the opium trade brings money and power.
Therefore, several of Afghanistan’s powerful warlords are also top drug-lords. In some
cases, these warlords are the same individuals who cooperated with the United States
in ousting the Taliban in 2001. In some provinces, the warlords are now promoting the
opium industry by bribing government officials and providing protection to farmers
and traffickers. In sum, political corruption is so widespread in Afghanistan that it is
undermining public institutions, eroding the rule of law, and creating widespread
unstability and volatility. President Karzai himself has complained that “drugs in
Afghanistan are threatening the very existence of the Afghan State.”35

http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/pub804.pdf