Afghanistan finds reason to back Russia on Crimea referendum

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan this weekend joined Syria and Venezuela and became the newest member of a select club of nations: those that have publicly backed the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Citing “the free will of the Crimean people,” the office of President Hamid Karzai said, “we respect the decision the people of Crimea took through a recent referendum that considers Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.”

To the casual observer, becoming the first Western-backed democracy to express support for the widely denounced referendum in Crimea might seem an odd tack for Afghanistan, which depends heavily on assistance from the United States and European countries. Those nations wholeheartedly condemned the Russian takeover of Crimea and were unlikely to be supportive of Karzai’s decision.

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War Death Toll for Afghan Security Forces Is Over 13,000

KABUL, Afghanistan — More than 13,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed during the war here, far more than previously known, according to Afghan government statistics.  Most of those losses occurred during the past three years as Afghan forces took over a growing share of the responsibility for security in the country, culminating in full Afghan authority last spring.  The numbers also reflect an increased tempo to the conflict. More clashes have taken place as insurgents test the government forces, without as much fear of intervention from the American-led coalition as it prepares to withdraw.

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Afghanistan considers public stoning for adulterers

KABUL, Nov 25 — Afghanistan is considering bringing back stoning for adultery, Human Rights Watch and the justice ministry said today, possibly restoring a punishment in force during the Taliban’s brutal regime.  The penalty for married adulterers, along with flogging for unmarried offenders, appears in a draft revision of the country’s penal code being considered by the ministry of justice.  Ashraf Azimi, the head of ministry’s criminal law department, confirmed to AFP that stoning to death is included in the draft.  The draft provisions state that the “implementation of stoning shall take place in public in a predetermined location”.  If the “adulterer or adulteress is unmarried”, the sentence shall be “whipping 100 lashes”.  “It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

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Can Karzai Save Us?

After a year of talks over the post-2014 US military presence in Afghanistan, the US administration announced last week that a new agreement had finally been reached. Under the deal worked out with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the US would keep thousands of troops on nine military bases for at least the next ten years.  It is clear that the Obama Administration badly wants this deal. Karzai, sensing this, even demanded that the US president send a personal letter promising that the US would respect the dignity of the Afghan people if it were allowed to remain in the country. It was strange to see the US president go to such lengths for a deal that would mean billions more US dollars to Karzai and his cronies, and a US military that would continue to prop up the regime in Kabul.

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Iranian influence in Afghanistan alarms analysts

KABUL – Afghan parliamentarians and analysts are concerned about the Iranian regime’s machinations in Afghanistan.  “Iran is quite busy inventing crisis in Afghanistan,” Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, a writer and director of the Regional Study Centre in Kabul, said.  “Iran has two goals,” he told Central Asia Online. “First, it wants to create barriers to Western countries, and second, it wants to build up its own influence by establishing pro-Iran universities, religious seminaries and media outlets.”  Afghan Senator Haji Mohammad Nazir Ahmadzai on Towde Khabare (Hot Talk), a TOLO TV programme, October 26 accused Tehran of supporting insurgents in order to destabilise Afghanistan before its April elections.  Farah Province Deputy Governor Muhammad Younus Rasouli appeared on the same programme and supported Ahmadzai’s views, pointing to evidence of insurgents getting weapons from Iran and border arrests.  The Iranian regime is also using soft “weapons” to build up its influence, Liwal said.  “Iran has invested in Afghan media and supports those outlets if they deliver exaggerated support for its goals,” he said.

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Families suspect SEAL Team 6 crash was inside job

Questions haunt the families of Extortion 17, the 2011 helicopter mission in Afghanistan that suffered the most U.S. military deaths in a single day in the war on terrorism.  The investigative file made available to The Washington Times shows that the helicopter’s landing zone was not properly vetted for threats nor protected by gunships, while commanders criticized the mission as too rushed and the conventional Chinook chopper as ill-suited for  a dangerous troop infiltration.  Every day, Charlie Strange, the father of one of the 30 Americans who died Aug. 6, 2011, in the flash of a rocket-propelled grenade, asks himself whether his son, Michael, was set up by someone inside the Afghan government wanting revenge on Osama bin Laden’s killers — SEAL Team 6.  “Somebody was leaking to the Taliban,” said Mr. Strange, whose son intercepted communications as a Navy cryptologist. “They knew. Somebody tipped them off. There were guys in a tower. Guys on the bush line. They were sitting there, waiting. And they sent our guys right into the middle.”

Hamid Karzai builds his power base as he prepares to step down

Hamid Karzai appears to be positioning himself at the center of power in Afghanistan, even though he has to step down as president.  A new power base is slowly taking shape in Kabul. Tucked beyond a sandbagged checkpoint and hidden behind a 15ft concrete – clad wall, builders are renovating an old British-style mansion. The rooms once used by the Afghan intelligence service are being restored and a reception hall is being built.  It stands in some of the most secure real estate in the Afghan capital, within the tightly patrolled perimeter of barbed wire and AK-47s that protects the presidential palace itself.  And it is the answer to one of the most asked questions in Kabul today – what will Hamid Karzai do when he steps down at the end of his second term as president next year?  An Afghan government official told The Sunday Telegraph the mansion and other buildings would become Mr. Karzai’s new home, in a location outside the presidential palace itself but close enough to keep him secure.  “The work has been going on for many weeks,” he said.  The home has long been a poorly kept secret in Kabul, and sparked speculation in some circles that Mr. Karzai is planning to do a “Putin”, stepping down while keeping a tight grip on the reins of power.

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Afghans prepare to run their own war

In a room with a great big map is one of Afghanistan’s lesser known success stories.  This is the Operations Coordination Centre – Provincial, or OCCP, where representatives of the Afghan army, police and security service mentored by Australian soldiers coordinate security activities for the entire province.  Each morning starts with a roundup of the night’s activities.  It hosts regular meetings of the provincial governor, chief of police, provincial army commander, head of intelligence and the commander of Combined Team Oruzgan, Australian Colonel Wade Stothart, to coordinate plans for upcoming events.  The big one on the horizon is the presidential election set for April 5, 2014.  Lieutenant Colonel Paul Duncan, who heads the Australian OCCP mentoring team, says this is working exceptionally well.  “The co-ordination of the various pillars of the Afghan National Security Forces that occurs here at the OCCP is great,” he told AAP.

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Herat attack: Afghanistan Taliban target US consulate

US and Afghan forces have fought off an attack by Taliban insurgents on the US consulate in the western city of Herat.  Two Afghan police and one security guard were killed in the dawn assault, along with seven attackers. The US consulate said its staff were safe.  The Taliban said they carried out the attack, which began with a huge blast at the compound gates, sparking a gun battle near consulate buildings.  Attacks continue despite the planned withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014.  Seventeen civilians, including women and children, were injured in the Herat attack.

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Scrapping equipment key to Afghan drawdown

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Facing a tight withdrawal deadline and tough terrain, the U.S. military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment as it rushes to wind down its role in the Afghanistan war by the end of 2014.  The massive disposal effort, which U.S. military officials call unprecedented, has unfolded largely out of sight amid an ongoing debate inside the Pentagon about what to do with the heaps of equipment that won’t be returning home. Military planners have determined that they will not ship back more than $7 billion worth of equipment — about 20 percent of what the U.S. military has in Afghanistan — because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home.

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Taliban Assault on Compound in Afghanistan Kills Dozens

KABUL, Afghanistan — In one of the deadliest insurgent attacks in the decade-long war in Afghanistan, nine Taliban fighters dressed as Afghan soldiers stormed a government compound in the western part of the country on Wednesday morning, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 100 in a hostage standoff. The complex assault began at around 8:45 a.m., when two suicide attackers detonated explosives packed into an army pickup truck at the entrance gate of the provincial government compound in Farah, according to police officials. After the explosion, which ripped through the mayor’s office and neighboring buildings, insurgents rushed the packed provincial courthouse, taking civilians and a handful of employees hostage.

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