Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Afghan Scouts take 'be prepared' to heart

Afghan Scouts take 'be prepared' to heart

 Afghan scouts: Girl Scouts in Afghanistan play tug-of-war.
MCT. Afghan Boy and Girl Scouts take 'be prepared' seriously in their war-torn country, but they also play at tug-of-war.
Boy Scouts in Afghanistan learn to help roadside bomb victims and Girl Scouts feel like superheroes in their uniforms.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Mohammad Aziz Ayob adjusts his Boy Scout scarf, leans over and settles a sapling into the dry Kabul soil as two NATO helicopters pass overhead, the clack-clack of their blades echoing off the neighboring mountains.
Bobbing green shirts and matching caps may seem a bit incongruous in a war zone, but organizers of Afghanistan's nascent Scouting program say its emphasis on community service and self-reliance is sorely needed in a society scarred by decades of violence.
Ayob, orphaned as a child and raised by his aunt, can barely afford to attend high school and worries about finding a job. Such concerns melt away, however, when he dons his Scouting shirt.
"I love my uniform; it makes me feel proud," said Ayob, 18. "Scouts are like my family."

The group's motto, "Be prepared," takes on special meaning here, where members risk death to attend meetings, earn "rule of law" merit badges and learn to identify roadside bombs in first aid class.
While Boy Scouts plant trees on streets traversed by Islamist suicide bombers, Girl Scouts in this conservative Muslim nation are more cloistered, volunteering in hospitals, for instance, rather than working in the open.
"With Taliban problems, it's hard to let the girls do everything," said Mohammad Tamim Hamkar, Afghan Scouting's program manager.

Afghan scouts: Boy Scouts in AfghanistanMCT. Boy and Girl Scouting started in Afghanistan in 1931 and recently has bloomed, though carefully, in the war-torn country.
Though less visible, girls often make better Scouts than boys, organizers say, even when it comes to tying knots, because they have fewer outlets for activity in such a male-dominated society.
"'Meek' Afghan girls are empowered by the Scout uniform," said Keith Blackey, 68, an American advising the Afghan Scouting program, who previously helped develop Scouting in Iraq. "It's like a superhero putting on a cape. Then they take it off and they're meek again."

Scouting was introduced in Afghanistan in 1931, and its golden years were in the 1960s, said Gul Ahmad Mustafa, national training commissioner. Things foundered during the Soviet occupation and later the Taliban era, when traditional Scouting was banned. At times, Scouts were directed to spy on their parents or, later, to clean mosques and fill ablution pots. The international Scouting association delisted Afghanistan in the 1970s.
Afghan charity Parsa, which focuses on issues involving orphans, women and literacy, reinvigorated the program in 2009 as a way to teach volunteerism and leadership skills and to counter youth recruitment efforts by extremists.
Scout troops are active in six of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, most of which are too dangerous for international advisers to visit. "We're starting from zero," Hamkar said, citing patchwork uniforms, unfinished manuals and limited funding.
Hoping to learn from mistakes in Iraq, where Scouting expanded too quickly and has largely fallen apart, the Afghan focus is on steady growth, Blackey said. The program has 1,062 members, 40 percent of them girls, with a year-end goal of 1,500.

Scouting's links to the West and its English-language elements could spell trouble if Afghanistan descends into chaos after the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014, so organizers are working hard to localize the program.
In Ghor province, a troop's volunteer work includes cleaning mosques, bolstering the program's nondenominational, non-threatening credentials. "It's not like we're proselytizing another religion," Blackey said. "We're teaching them the same things their parents are."
Organizers struggle to make the program financially sustainable — currently it's 100 percent funded by foreign grants — and to mentor local staff.
"If things get ugly, anything with an international connection could be targeted," said Marnie Gustavson, Parsa's executive director. "If the foreign staff becomes a liability, we'll leave."

Afghan Scouts: A Boy Scout uniform with earned badgesMCT. In war-torn Afghanistan, Boy Scouts earn badges for learned first aid for roadside bomb victims.
Though it's making progress, Afghan Scouting is years away from official recognition by the 161-member Geneva-based World Organization of the Scout Movement, said Abdullah Rashid, its Manila-based regional director.
During the dark years, loyal Scouts hid their uniforms. "I was too scared to wear mine, even alone in my room," said training commissioner Mustafa. "Sometimes I'd peek in the drawer, though, and remember better times."

Recently, the United Nations has encouraged police to train Scout troops. Parsa initially balked at the idea, Gustavson said, given Scouting's unfortunate association with Soviet secret police, but youngsters responded well.
"In Afghanistan, kids are not inclined to go to the police when they're in trouble," said A. Heather Coyne, a member of a U.N. police advisory unit. "We're trying to show that police are something other than a scary person."
The training and merit badge materials used by Afghan Scouts, including those identifying land mines and roadside bombs, might give Western troops nightmares. But most Afghan children know someone who's been killed in a blast, organizers say, and some Scouts say their parents might still be alive if they'd had training.

Asked to devise their own rule-of-law skits, the Scouts act out the discovery of a slaying victim, then secure the crime scene and call police. In other scenarios, they intervene when a father beats his daughter, then risk retribution when the father emerges from jail.
"We were shocked by the level of violence the kids build into their skits," Coyne said. "But that's what they've dealt with for the past 30 to 40 years. That's their reality. A safe, touchy-feely approach isn't going to break through barriers."

Los Angeles Times special correspondent Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.

Himalayan massacre a blow to Pakistan mountaineering

Himalayan massacre a blow to Pakistan mountaineering

 Himalayan massacre: Pakistan hospital and rescue workers move the body of a foreign tourist killed by the Taliban.
Reuters: Sohail Shahzad. Pakistan's thriving tourism will be hit hard after Taliban militants killed 10 foreign climbers.

Both the Taliban and another radical group have claimed credit for slaying 10 foreign climbers at a Himalayan base camp.

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's once thriving mountaineering industry is reeling from the killing by militants of 10 foreign climbers, a massacre likely to drive away all but the hardiest adventurers from some of the world's tallest and most pristine peaks.
A tour company present during the attack said gunmen dressed as police ordered the tourists out of tents at the 13,860-foot base camp of Nanga Parbat, the country's second highest peak, late on Saturday night, then shot them and a Pakistani guide.
Responsibility for the attack on the peak, which is more than 8,000 meters (26,400 feet), in the western Himalayas has been claimed by both the Pakistani Taliban and a smaller radical Islamist group.

The foreign victims were two citizens from China, one from Lithuania, one from Nepal, two from Slovakia, three Ukrainians, and one person with joint U.S.-Chinese citizenship.
Manzoor Hussain, president of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, said at least 40 foreigners including citizens from Serbia, Italy, Ireland, Denmark and the United States, among several other nationalities, were evacuated from a higher camp.
A group of Romanians is believed to be scaling the mountain from another side. Some other groups booked for climbs this summer have already canceled, one company said.
Hussain said the attack was a "fatal blow" for his efforts to attract more climbers to the Hindu Khush, Karakoram and western Himalayan ranges, home to many unexplored summits.
"We are still in shock. We've had to apologize to so many mountaineers across the world," said Hussain, who described the attack as appalling and said he was devastated.
Geographically, Pakistan is a climbers' paradise. It rivals Nepal for the number of peaks more than 7,000 meters and is home to the world's second tallest mountain, K2, and three more that are among the world's 14 summits higher than 8,000 meters.
In more peaceful times, northern Pakistan's unspoiled beauty would be a major tourist draw, bringing sorely needed dollars to a nation that suffers repeated balance of payments crises.
Mountaineers, many from China, Russia and Eastern Europe, are among the last foreigners who regularly visit Pakistan for leisure. Tourism has been devastated since 2007 by militant attacks and fighting between the Taliban and the army in once popular tribal valleys such as Swat in the northwest.
The number of expeditions had also dwindled, but before the attack some 50 groups were expected this year in the remote Gilgit-Baltistan region, a stopover on the historic Silk Road.
That has changed following Sunday's massacre, which sparked protests on Monday in Chilas, the closest town to the base camp, which depends on climbing for income in the summer.
"I haven't slept since yesterday. It's a very sad situation," said Ghulam Muhammed, whose company Blue Sky Treks and Tours guided five of the climbers killed at the base camp.
Blue Sky is based in the town of Skardu, which is heavily reliant on the income brought by outsiders.
"I am very worried. Now business is finished, today two or three have canceled. It is difficult now," said Muhammed, who was in the capital Islamabad to speak to embassies and family members of the victims. "In Gilgit-Baltistan, a lot of the economy is from tourism — the money goes to transporters, hotels, markets, porters guides and cooks."

In reality, the tourist industry last thrived in the 1970s, when the "hippie trail" brought Western travelers through the apricot and walnut orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir on their way to India and Nepal.
Years of war in Afghanistan helped end the overland route to Asia, and Pakistan's tourism never really recovered.
While the attack on foreign climbers was a first, it did not come entirely out of the blue. Gilgit-Baltistan's Shi'ite Muslim population has suffered a number of sectarian killings by radical Sunni groups over the past year, including one that claimed responsibility for killing the climbers.
"We have been warning the government," Hussain said. "Security was beefed up, and there were checks on the road, but we wanted security parties for the mountaineers as well."
The Pakistan Taliban later said it had carried out the attack, in retaliation for the death of its second in command in a U.S. drone strike in May. Since then, Pakistan's new government has been tested by a succession of major attacks on targets ranging from female students to a funeral procession.
Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the disputed region of Kashmir. It is connected to China by a highway crossing the Karakoram range, home to K2. The attack was acutely embarrassing for Pakistan, which nurtures a close friendship with China in a drawn-out struggle with India over territory.
In 1995, a group of foreign tourists was kidnapped in the part of Kashmir administered by India. One escaped, one was beheaded, and four have never been found.

A blushing bride, a crushing price for Afghan grooms

A blushing bride, a crushing price for Afghan grooms

 Afghan grooms: Esmatullah has waited 14 years to pay the cost of his bride.  
Afghan grooms must pay a crushing amount to their bride's fathers to marry them, forcing them, like Esmatullah, to wait many years for marriage.

When you make $35 a month, how do you pay $20,000 for a bride? That's cold, hard reality for Afghan grooms.

ANDKHOY, Afghanistan — When Esmatullah got engaged in 1999, he was a 26-year-old day laborer eager to wed, through an arranged marriage, a young girl from a village near his native Andkhoy, in western Afghanistan. Fourteen years later, Esmatullah is still waiting.
Afghan weddings brim with long-standing traditions, and one of them is the custom known as walwar. It requires the groom-to-be to pay cold cash to the bride's father. The amounts negotiated between the families can exceed $20,000, a sum far beyond the means of working-class Afghans.
In Andkhoy, a town of carpet makers and wheat farmers, many fiancés borrow from relatives and friends and pay the money back over months or years. For common laborers like Esmatullah, the amount is hopelessly out of reach. His would-be in-laws insist on $13,000. Friends and relatives lent him $8,000, but he has no way of coming up with the rest.
"I make $6 a day as a day laborer," says Esmatullah, who, like many Afghans, uses one name. "God knows how long it will take me to raise the rest."

The tradition is harshly criticized by women's rights advocates, who say it essentially places a price tag on a daughter and reinforces a mindset that women are little more than chattel.
"It's basically money that the father gets for selling his daughter," says Mojgan Mostafavi, a deputy minister in the Afghan Women's Affairs Ministry. "They are saying, 'You are like our animal.'"
Technically walwar is illegal, but it's tolerated by local authorities because it has been ingrained in Afghan tribal society for hundreds of years. Prosecution of fathers or grooms involved in walwar transactions is rare, Mostafavi says. It also unfairly shackles young grooms with burdensome debt, she says.

"It's basically money that the father gets for selling his daughter. They are saying, 'You are like our animal.'"
— Mojgan Mostafavi, a deputy minister in the Afghan Women's Affairs Ministry. 
It's just one of many elements of Afghan weddings that are at odds with reality.

In a country where the average worker makes $35 a month, Afghans spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding. Guest lists routinely number in the hundreds. More money must be spent on another Afghan tradition: buying gold jewelry for the bride-to-be. Asadullah, a 21-year-old university law student in Andkhoy, recently spent $28,000 on his wedding — $13,000 as walwar, $12,000 for the bride's jewelry and $3,000 for the reception.
"It's a lot of money, but this is our society," says Asadullah, who comes from a wealthy family. "We have no choice but to pay."
In 2011, a measure spearheaded by the Women's Affairs Ministry that would have prohibited wedding halls from allowing more than 500 guests at an event was rejected by President Hamid Karzai's cabinet and failed to make it to the legislature for a vote, Mostafavi says.
"They are spending so much money, but these families often don't have enough money to buy food," she says. "I know some families that have had 3,000 to 4,000 guests at their weddings. ... In this country, a boy has to work so many years and borrow so much money to have a wedding. Why is this happening? It's a big roadblock for girls and boys in this society."

Pride is a major motive behind Afghans' extravagant wedding budgets, says Samir Rostiyar, a wedding hall owner in Kabul. Families relish outdoing their friends and neighbors with bigger, pricier receptions. Even if they're not competitive, they don't want the shame of being branded as cheapskates.
Lavish weddings are also a way of escaping the angst of everyday life in a war-torn country, if only for one night.
"Afghanistan has been at war for 30 years," Rostiyar says. "People spend this much money to get a break from all the misery."
Abdullah Rahman got engaged to his 19-year-old fiancée a year ago. The woman's father set the walwar price at $15,000. Rahman, 23, his father and one of his brothers haggled him down to $10,000. To begin raising the money, Rahman had to leave college and take on day labor jobs in his hometown, Andkhoy. So far, he's been able to pay his prospective father-in-law only about $1,000.
"My father's working and I'm working to make the money," Rahman said. "I have no idea how long it will take. It's very hard to focus on life, focus on saving the money. It's a tradition and we have to pay it, but I hope someday someone gets rid of this custom."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Militants attack the Afghanistan Presidential Palace

Militants have attacked the presidential palace and government buildings in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

More than half a dozen explosions were heard as they clashed with security personnel at the palace's eastern gate, the defence ministry and a CIA station.

The police said all of the attackers were killed. The Taliban said they carried out the assault.

The incident comes days after President Hamid Karzai raised objections about US-backed peace talks with the Taliban.

He said the High Peace Council, the government body set up to lead peace efforts, would not take part unless the process was "Afghan-led".
News conference
The attack near the presidential palace, in the central district of Shash Darak, began at about 06:30 local time (02:00 GMT).

The militants initially targeted the palace's eastern gate - a few hundred metres from the actual building - where dozens of journalists had gathered for a news conference with Mr Karzai scheduled for 09:00.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, who was among the crowd of journalists, says they were forced to run for cover as bullets flew overhead.

The journalists heard several explosions, and reports said grenades were being thrown. Tolo TV reported as many as 14 blasts.

The president was inside the palace when the gate came under attack, officials said. The government has yet to comment.

Our correspondent says the area around the palace, which is patrolled regularly throughout the day by special forces and intelligence agents, is now under lockdown.

Later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a text message: "A number of martyrs attacked the presidential palace, defence ministry and the Ariana Hotel."

The Ariana Hotel is known to house a CIA station.

The assailants reportedly made their way into a nearby building before eventually being killed.

Kabul's police chief, Aoub Salangi, said the attack was brought to an end just under two hours after the first shots were fired. He said there were thought to have been four attackers, and that they had used a fake vehicle security pass to pass through checkpoints.

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, whose headquarters is also not far from the scene of the attack, wrote on Twitter that the Afghan National Security Forces had led "the response efforts".

Last week, Isaf handed over responsibility for security to the ANSF for the first time since the Taliban government was ousted in 2001.

International troops will remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, providing military back-up when needed.

The BBC's Jonathan Beale says there have been a number of high-profile attacks in Kabul over the past month, though this is the closest insurgents have got to the heart of Afghanistan's government.

Junoodul Hifsa

"Junoodul Hifsa - was set up to take revenge for drone attacks in Pakistan."

.....because killing random mountain climbers from random countries will avenge drone attacks........

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kabul's radio treasure trove

Kabul's radio treasure trove
Thursday, 16 May, 2002  BBC

Mr Computer in the radio archive
50,000 archived tapes were saved
I was walking down a corridor at Afghanistan's Radio and Television Centre in Kabul with BBC colleagues also involved with the journalist training programme.   The walls looked as though they hadn't been painted for decades. Signs of decay were everywhere. A pane of glass in a swing door was still missing, no doubt years after a nearby explosion had smashed much else besides. We were being shown around the centre by one of the Afghan radio editors.  

A big surprise
He politely motioned for us to enter yet another drab room. I really didn't want to bother, thinking there was little more to see in the centre. But we were in for a big surprise - the beginning of a wonderful, unfolding tale of guile and sheer devotion. We were introduced to Mohammad Siddiq, who's in charge of looking after Afghanistan's radio archive.
     Mohammad Siddiq 'Mr Computer'          
He's listened to the tapes so often he knows them all off by heart

With a broad smile, white beard and a brocaded scull cap, he was winding a pile of archive radio tapes forwards then back again on an ancient but sturdy reel-to-reel tape recorder. "I've been doing this for 30 years," he said. "Even when all the bombs were landing in this area before the Taleban arrived, I still came every day." He explained there were 50,000 radio tapes in the archive and that they all needed to be wound forwards and backwards once a year to prevent them from getting too brittle.   

Treasure trove
His colleagues nodded in agreement, with expressions of awe. "We call him Mr Computer," said one. "He's listened to the tapes so often he knows them all off by heart." I asked Mr Computer to show me his treasure trove - in a country where just about everything else of value has been destroyed in more than two decades of conflict: The ancient stone Buddhas of Bamiyan last year by the Taleban, and Kabul museum - one of the world's finest - by the warlords before them.
Mohammad Siddiq 'Mr Computer' in tape library
The Afghan radio archive needs preserving

In room after room there were endless shelves of radio tapes, all neatly catalogued on the spines of their boxes. One section was the historical archive including speeches of former Afghan leaders - King Zahir Shah, who's just returned to Afghanistan, and his cousin President Mohammad Daoud, who deposed the monarchy in a coup in 1973, paving the way for the years of chaos that have followed. Another large section had Afghan drama, and there were even more tapes of Afghan music, played and sung by favourite stars of the past.  

Saved from the Taleban 
Incongruously, there was one shelf of Mozart recordings. "But Mr Computer, how on earth did you save all these tapes from the Taleban?" I asked. The Taleban had banned as un-Islamic all music with instruments, and they had no love for former secular leaders.
Mohammad Siddiq 'Mr Computer' Mr Computer explained he'd removed all the markings from each box, covered the shelves with blankets, and firmly but very discreetly bolted all the doors. When the Taleban arrived in Kabul they had indeed destroyed what they thought was the archive - one unlocked room full of Iranian and Indian music. Thinking their job done, they never bothered again. After the Taleban fled Kabul in November last year, Mr Computer neatly stuck back all the markings on his 50,000 boxes, and got back to his work. With me that day was Meena Bakhtash of the BBC World Service Persian Section. She began her career in Kabul and became a well-known Afghan television and radio presenter, but fled Afghanistan a decade ago. This was her first visit back to Kabul since then - and to the radio and television studios. For Meena it was an emotional trip back in time. "Mr Computer, can you find any recordings of Meena," I asked. In a flash he found a tape not far away, and lovingly spooled it onto the tape recorder. Before long we sat and listened to
Meena's beautiful voice from a recording of 17 years ago in a programme about classical literature.

Most of the transmitters and much other equipment of Afghan Radio and Television around the country have been destroyed.
Film being edited
When they arrived in Kabul, the Taleban destoyed what they thought was the whole archive

American bombs at the end of last year caused much of the damage. It's not just the hardware that needs to be rebuilt. Editors in Afghanistan are crying out for training of their journalists to put new life into the media, destroyed by Soviet ideology and followed by the anarchy of the warlords and the constrictions of the Taleban. We were at the radio and television centre that day to discuss in detail what they really wanted, but Mr Computer somewhat stole the show. It's clear the Afghan radio archive needs preserving. Indiana University in the United States saved Somalia's archive by recording it all on digital tape. It paid for the recordings of two copies, one for itself and one for Somalia. Hopefully another university will recognise the value of Afghanistan's archive. Mr Computer would be delighted. It would vindicate his life's work.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Latifa Nabizada - Afghanistan's first woman of the skies

Latifa Nabizada - Afghanistan's first woman of the skies

Latifa and Malalai Nabizada standing in front of a helicopter Latifa Nabizada often shares her cockpit with her daughter - "She has grown up in a helicopter," she says

Col Latifa Nabizada, the first female pilot in the Afghan air force, has battled prejudice, the Taliban and personal tragedy - but her ambitions for her young daughter soar even higher.

My sister and I always talked about the stars and the universe.

We talked about how aeroplanes were made and what it would be like to fly one - how it would feel to be a pilot. There were water butts near where we lived and I used to climb on top and imagine I was flying a helicopter.

After we had finished school, Laliuma and I told our parents we wanted to be professional pilots. They were quite shocked. At the time, not many women in Afghanistan could work and there we were, thinking of becoming pilots. But we managed to convince them. My father's support was huge and it helped us a lot.

Latifa and Laliuma were repeatedly denied admission to the Afghan military school on medical grounds, but they eventually joined in 1989 after being certified fit by a civilian doctor. No women's uniforms existed, so they made their own.

We were the first two women pilots in Afghan air force history.

The other students threw stones at us. We used to leave the classroom in protest - then our teachers would come out and apologise and we would go back in. We were all so young and such things happened at that time. Considering the social conditions, people were quite positive about it.

We worked really hard and our exam results were quite good.

Of course, our male classmates weren't that happy and felt a bit jealous. But we didn't pay much attention to them. It was because of our sheer interest in the subject, and also with the blessing of God that we had potential and talent.

My first independent flight was an unforgettable experience. It was in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, and the flight was part of my examination.

I flew - I flew and it felt really great. And I thought: "This is what you get after all that hard work." At the time my teachers kept saying: "Please pay attention! Look down at all those government officials, look at all those flowers in their hand! They are just waiting for you to come down and they will greet you."

That was a tremendous feeling - but I really had to pay attention to the landing. We have two kinds of landing and the horizontal one takes a lot of accurate calculation.

After becoming pilots, Laliuma and I were treated differently from the male graduates. There was war at that time - some provinces were secure and some provinces had conflict and insurgency. At first, we were told to only fly in the secure provinces.

In 1996, the Taliban secured Kabul and Latifa and Laliuma moved to Mazar-e Sharif.

General Dostum was commander at the time in northern Afghanistan and he helped us a lot, giving us a secure place to live. He wanted the news to go out all over the world that he was a supporter of women's rights. During his time we flew missions - we fought the Taliban.

Aerial view of Mazar e Sharif Mazar-e Sharif was taken by the Taliban in 1998 - the last city in Afghanistan to fall to the insurgency

But before long, the women were forced to flee to Pakistan, where they wove carpets for several years, keeping a low profile and fearing for their lives. Eventually they were able to return to Kabul.

When people said the Taliban were on the way out and there would be another era for Afghanistan - women would work again, and be allowed to go out, and be able to do whatever they wanted - pleasant as that idea was, it was also unbelievable.

I got to Kabul at night, but I just couldn't wait. I went to the military base and said "I'm back and I want to start working again". They told me that there would be a celebration in Kabul in a couple of days' time and my first flight would be during that celebration. And it was beautiful.

Latifa and Laliuma were both married, and in 2006 they became pregnant within weeks of one another. They kept the news quiet from their commanding officers for as long as possible.

There was a need for us to fly and we flew a lot of missions during our pregnancies. Despite that, I managed to bring Malalai into the world well enough.

But my sister had a difficulty in her childbirth. The doctor at the time said she had a choice: "Do you want us to save your baby or yourself?" And she was in love with her baby and she said "Save the baby, whichever way you can."

The next day at 16:00 she lost her life.

All our life we had been together, played together, flown together. She was my strength and I was hers. And we had been through difficult missions and to the frontline, we had transferred dead bodies and the injured.

So many officials in the Air Force of Afghanistan told us: "We will never see the likes of you two again." She was an incredibly courageous woman.

I cannot tell you how it feels every day without her, bringing up her child.

Latifa Nabizada and other women in front of a helicopter In March Latifa (fifth left) took part in a photoshoot for International Women's Day

Latifa breast-fed her niece Mariam as well as her own daughter, with her mother helping with childcare. She went back to work within months of giving birth.

Unfortunately, there was nobody to take care of my daughter at home and there is no kindergarten in the military. So most of the time I took Malalai with me in the helicopter. She has grown up in a helicopter - sometimes I think she's not my daughter, but the helicopter's daughter!

She was almost two months' old when we first flew together.

She would fall into a deep sleep and wasn't any problem. As she grew up, she'd stand next to me and whenever she felt sleepy she would lay her head on my shoulder and fall asleep. When our American advisers saw this they would say, "Don't keep her here, she'll be in danger - put her in the cabin." But Malalai used to cling onto my clothes and say, "Mum, I don't want to go there, I don't want to go there!"

I would assure my American colleagues that if she stayed with me I would fly safely. We were very cautious - we only went together on the routes that we knew were secure.

Nowadays, my daughter goes to school during the day, but I have asked the military to make a kindergarten for the other girls that are coming off courses and starting their jobs here.

Customarily, when you ask a kid whose child they are they give their father's name, but Malalai always says "I am the daughter of Pilot Latifa". She is immensely proud - and so am I.

I think her journey will be much easier than the one Laliuma and I had. I'm so thankful to my father, for all the support that he gave us. Now, being a mother myself I'm aware of the difficulties a parent faces raising a child, making sure that he or she achieves all the goals that he or she desires.

She is very interested in space. My ambition is for her to go to space - to become the first astronaut for Afghanistan. I hope my country will provide such opportunities by the time Malalai has grown up.

Malalai says...

Malalai Nabizada

Five year-old Malalai is named after a Joan of Arc-like figure who rallied Afghan forces to defeat the British at the 1880 Battle of Maiwand. She also spoke to Outlook.
Malalai, do you enjoy flying in a helicopter?
Yes. I feel as if I am hugging the stars.
Do you ever get frightened in the helicopter?
Do you ever want to push any of the buttons or hold the controls yourself?
No - what if something goes wrong? The helicopter will crash, God forbid!
What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to become a pilot like my mother.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Photos of life in Afghanistan

A woman harvests wheat on the outskirts of Kabul on May 15. Afghans mainly use wheat to feed their animals.

Jawanmard Paiz, left and Fawad Mohammadi, stars of the Oscar-Nominated movie 'Buzkashi Boys,' arrive on the red carpet for the 85th Annual Academy Awards, Feb. 24 in Hollywood, Calif.

Young men cheer as Afghan and foreign musicians perform during the Sound Central Festival at the French Cultural Center in Kabul on May 1. The concert is part of a cross-cultural program to increase awareness of music and the arts in Afghanistan.

A street vendor sells balloons as he walks through the Karte Sakhi cemetery in Kabul on April 26. The cemetery, located at the foot of Kabul's TV Mountain, is located near the Karte Sakhi Shrine, the second most sacred place of Shia worship in the country.

An Afghan woman waits in a changing room to try out a new Burqa, in a shop in the old city of Kabul, April 11. Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the Burqa was infrequently worn in cities. While they were in power, the Taliban required the wearing of a Burqa in public. Officially, it is not required under the present Afghan regime, but local warlords still enforce it in southern Afghanistan.

Afghan men peer through the former window of their destroyed school in the village of Budyali, Nangarhar province, March 19. Taliban militants attacked the nearby district headquarters in July 2011, then took refuge in the school. The Afghan National Army requested help from coalition forces, who responded with drones, fighter jets and rockets, leaving the school destroyed, according to village elders.

Afghan boys study at a makeshift school in the village of Budyali, Nengarhar Province, March 19.

Afghan Hazara and visiting foreign skiers set off at the start of the Afghan Ski Challenge in the Shahidan Valley of Bamiyan province, March 1. Seventeen Afghans and twelve foreigners participated in the third annual Afghan Ski Challenge in Bamiyan during which the Afghan Hazara men won the first three positions.

Students study at a dormitory of Nangarhar University on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Feb. 23. Fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan consumes most of the country's resources and rebuilding the educational system is not a political priority.

A model presents a traditional Afghan dress at a fashion show, launched by Young Women for Change (YWC), in Kabul, Feb. 8. The YWC organization is made up of volunteers across Afghanistan, who organize events to help empower Afghan women and improve their lives through social and economic participation. The creations at the fashion show are designed by Afghan women.

Afghan school children study at an open classroom in the outskirts of Jalalabad, Jan. 30. Afghanistan has had only rare moments of peace over the past 30 years, its education system was undermined by the Soviet invasion of 1979, a civil war in the 1990s and five years of Taliban rule.

An Afghan man poses for a portrait at a refugee camp in Herat on Jan. 2, 2013. Hundreds of families living in makeshift shelters around the Afghan capital Kabul collected blankets, charcoal and other supplies on Jan. 2 as authorities struggle to avoid last year's deadly winter toll. With temperatures dropping to -10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) at night in the city, the 35,000 refugees who live in the snow-covered camps face a battle to survive dire conditions protected only by plastic sheeting.

Afghans take over national security from US-led forces

'Day of honor': Afghans take over national security from US-led forces

A deadly explosion in Kabul claimed three lives and injured dozens while, in another part of the city, US-led NATO troops handed control to Afghanistan's local forces.'s Dara Brown reports.
KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S.-led troops handed complete control of security to Afghanistan authorities Tuesday – an act of faith in country’s fledgling police and army in the face of near-constant insurgent attacks.
The formal transfer of responsibility is major milestone in the process of withdrawal from the country, 12 years after NATO-led mission ISAF began its mission to end Taliban rule.
However, a botched car bomb that killed at least three civilians just before the official handover ceremony raising renewed questions about how the country’s 352,000-strong security forces will tackle the militant threat.
Most foreign combat troops will leave the country by the end of 2014, but international funding and humanitarian aid will continue - prolonging the political headache for President Barack Obama over America's involvement in the conflict.
“Today is a day for all Americans to take pride in the hard work our service members and their civilian counterparts are performing every day in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that called Tuesday’s handover a “critical milestone.”
Ordinary Afghans may be harder to convince.
“It is a good decision that the Afghan forces are taking the responsibility because it is their own country and they are the one who should be responsible for the security,” said Kabul restaurant owner Mohammad Faried, adding: “I still have doubts. If they do not have good weapons it will be hard for them to keep peace and stability in the country especially in the villages.”

Jawad Jalali / EPA
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, shakes hands with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen prior to Tuesday's ceremony in Kabul.

The U.S. and its allies have yet to decide exactly how long troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and what their role should be.
Earlier this month, retired four-star general John Allen called on the U.S. to keep a larger force in Afghanistan than the 8,000-12,000 reportedly being considered by U.S. officials.
Among the problems is a high desertion rate in local police forces, meaning thousands of new recruits are needed each month.
A Congressional research report published in April said the Obama administration was also concerned that “weak and corrupt governance” in Afghanistan would hamper the fight against the Taliban.
In additional The Afghan army has suffered a sharp rise in casualties since it began slowly assuming greater control of security, the BBC reported.  By comparison, international coalition casualties have been steadily falling since 2010, it said.
Afghans are now responsible for security in all districts of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, completing a transfer of power from NATO that began in 2011.
“Is a great day for us, not only for the Afghan government but also for the Afghan nation,” said Janan Mosazai, spokesperson for the country's ministry of foreign affairs. “It is a big day of honor.”
The U.S. military is by far the single biggest group within ISAF’s steadily-shrinking force of about 100,000 foreign troops [PDF link here.]
The security handover means the remaining US-led forces will play only a supporting role, providing help if needed but no longer taking the lead in tackling insurgent attacks.
"We will continue to help Afghan troops in operations if needed,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at Tuesday’s ceremony. “But we will no longer plan, execute or lead those operations. And by the end of 2014, our combat mission will be completed. At that time, Afghanistan will be fully secured by Afghans.”
As combat troops are scaled down, the U.S. focus will shift to Special Operations forces who will advise the Afghan military on hunting down top insurgent or terrorist leaders.
On any day in Afghanistan, about 60 Special Operations teams are working with Afghan local police forces to provide security in villages, according to a New York Times report.
The target of Tuesday's suicide car bomb attack was prominent lawmaker and Shia Muslim cleric Mohammed Mohaqiq, police at the scene told The Associated Press.
Gen. Mohammad Zahir, chief of the Kabul Criminal Investigation Division, told the AP three people were killed by the bombing and another 30 were wounded — including six bodyguards. Mohaqiq survived the attack, Reuters reported.
In March, Karzai publicly criticized the American presence in his country, causing embarrassment to U.S. defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, during his first visit to Kabul in the new role.

US and Taliban meeting soon to begin complex talks to end war, officials say

US and Taliban meeting soon to begin complex talks to end war, officials say

U.S. and Taliban representatives will meet soon for the first time to begin what are expected to be long and complex negotiations for a peaceful settlement to the war in Afghanistan, senior Obama administration officials said Tuesday.
The officials told NBC News that the meeting will take place in the next several days in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Taliban will open an office there for the purpose of negotiating directly with the Afghan government, the officials said.

The negotiating conditions require the Taliban to break their ties with al Qaeda, end the violence and accept the Afghan constitution, especially the protections for women and minorities, the officials said.
But because of deep distrust between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the process will be “complex, long and messy,” one official said. The United States "will have a role in direct talks, but this is a negotiation that will have to be led by Afghans," a senior administration official said.
The disclosure came on the same day that international forces, led by the United States, handed control of Afghan national security to local forces — a milestone after almost 12 years of war. Most foreign combat troops will leave the country by the end of 2014.
Obama administration officials also told NBC News that the U.S. is pursuing a prisoner exchange with the Taliban to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held for several years by the Haqqani network, considered a dangerous element of the Taliban.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Afghans prepare to take over security from US, NATO

Afghans prepare to take over security from US, NATO

 Afghans poised to lead on security: Marching Afghan National Army soldiers
AP Photo: Allauddin Khan. Afghan National Army soldiers march in Sangin district of Kandahar province southern Afghanistan. Afghanistan's fledgling security forces will soon take the lead for security nationwide. 
By Patrick Quinn of Associated Press            

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — One of the most significant turning points in one of America's longest and costliest wars is imminent: Afghanistan's fledgling security forces are taking the lead for security nationwide, bringing the moment of truth on the question of whether they are ready to fight an insurgency that remains resilient after nearly 12 years of conflict.
Nowhere is that question more pressing than in this city near the Pakistani border, which is the capital of Nangarhar province. In the province, which has a predominantly Pashtun population, the ethnic group that makes up the Taliban, insurgents regularly ambush government forces, blow up the offices of humanitarian organizations, and control parts of a countryside that has seen a spike in opium poppy cultivation.
Nangarhar is considered so dangerous that foreign military forces still handle security in more than half of its 22 districts.
That will change, after Afghan President Hamid Karzai declares — in an announcement expected soon — that Afghan forces are taking over security around the country and U.S. and other foreign forces will move entirely into a supporting, backseat role. At that point, the remaining districts in Nangarhar, along with other hotspots still in the hands of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, will become the Afghan troops' full responsibility.

Residents of Jalalabad, a bustling trading hub and agricultural center on the junction of two rivers, worry about whether the Afghan forces can keep them safe from an insurgency that they say is equipped and trained in neighboring Pakistan. They also fear that the Afghan forces still don't have enough heavy weapons or firepower.
"Our main concern is that for more than 10 years the international community managed to do nothing and that they are now trying to make us strong. It's too little too late," said Lal Mohammad Durrani, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council. "We need more weapons."
NATO training since 2009 has dramatically ramped up the Afghan National Security Forces, bringing it up from 40,000 men and women six years ago to about 352, 000 today. Once the transition is announced, coalition troops will move entirely into a supporting role — training and mentoring, and in emergency situations providing the Afghans backup in combat, mainly in the form of airstrikes and medevac.

Afghans poised to lead on security: An Afghan National Army soldier aims his weapon.AP Photo: Allauddin Khan. An Afghan National Army soldier aims his weapon, in Sangin district of Kandahar province southern Afghanistan.

That is to pave the way for international forces — currently numbering about 100,000 troops, including 66,000 Americans — to leave. By the end of the year, the NATO force will be halved. At the end of 2014, all combat troops will have left and will replaced, if approved by the Afghan government, by a much smaller force that will only train and advise. President Barack Obama has not yet said how many soldiers he will leave in Afghanistan along with NATO forces, but it is thought that it would be about 9,000 U.S. troops and about 6,000 from its allies.
In a series of wide-ranging interviews with Afghan and western military officials, experts and analysts, opinions are mixed as to the state of readiness of the Afghan forces — although nearly all agree they are far better now than they were when the NATO training mission began.
British Lt. Gen. Nick Carter, the deputy commander of coalition forces, said the transition to take the lead in security "represents a significant achievement for the Afghan security forces." But, he added, "That said we will require and need to deliver for the Afghans some fairly significant support for a while to come."
Already, Afghans now carry out 90 percent of military operations around the country. They are in the lead in security in 312 districts nationwide, where 80 percent of Afghanistan's population of nearly 30 million lives — and only 91 districts remain for them to take over — including 12 in Nangarhar.
The transition comes at a time when violence is at levels matching the worst in 12 years, fueling some Afghans' concerns the forces aren't ready.
"We thought this summer would not be easy for the Afghan security forces, but it was not expected to be like this. We have roadside bombs, we have suicide attacks, organized attacks," said Jawed Kohistani, an Afghan political and military analyst. "It is a mistake to transition this quickly."
Jalalabad's relatively peaceful tree-lined streets are crowded with checkpoints, manned by often edgy Afghan army and police worried about car bombs. Insurgents use the province's mountain passes and valleys to sneak in from neighboring Pakistan, where they retain safe havens in that country's lawless Pashtun-dominated tribal belt. Jalalabad is also just a 3-hour drive through craggy passes and gorges to Kabul, which has seen a spate of spectacular suicide attacks in recent weeks.

Afghans poised to lead on security: Al Hajj Malak NazirAP Photo: Rahmat Gul. Al Hajj Malak Nazir, director of the provincial council is convinced the Taliban will keep fighting after Afghanistan's army and police shortly take control for security around the country.

Al Hajj Malak Nazir — the local head of the Afghan High Peace Council, a body created in an attempt to reach out to the Taliban — said that even though he considers Afghan forces to be under-equipped, he believes they will eventually prevail over the insurgency.
"The Taliban can't take all of Afghanistan. After transition they could take a district, but they won't be able to keep it," he said. That. He added, is why he has been trying to convince the Taliban to enter negotiations.
"This is a very good opportunity for the Taliban to say they will stop fighting. But they won't," he said. "The Americans are now saying they are leaving, but the Taliban never say they are leaving."
Few believe the Taliban will keep promises they have made in the past to stop fighting when foreign military forces are gone. They have not stopped in any province where Afghan forces have taken the lead.  They have also rebuffed numerous attempts to start peace talks in the past year and have instead intensified a campaign that mostly targets urban centers and government installations.
There is overall agreement, however, they don't have much support outside their traditional areas and can't win militarily against the Afghan forces.
"I think, if the Taliban tried to come back, it would have to come back in a very different way. It would have to come back and participate politically," Lt. Gen. Carter said. "It is my sense that civil society, which is the future of this country, absolutely would not put up with sorts of standards that were here 15 years ago. And, therefore, my sense is that ultimately it is the politics that will determine this, and not the violence that determines this."
On battlefields around the country, Afghan forces plan and carry out operations on their own, with little help from coalition forces. They are often effective, but still need work on logistics and effectively using the weapons they have.
Casualty figures are indicative of the fight. More than 330 Afghan army soldiers have died so far this year, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

Last year, more than 1,200 Afghan soldiers died, compared to more than 550 in 2011, according to data compiled by the Washington-based Brookings Institution. By comparison, coalition casualties have declined as they take forces off the battlefield — 81 so far this year, 394 in 2012 and 543 in 2011.
About 1,481 militants were reported to have been killed by coalition and Afghan forces so far this year, compared with close to 3,000 militants for all of last year. The NATO command does not issue reports on the number of insurgents its troops have killed, and Afghan military figures, from which the AP compiles its data, cannot be independently verified.

Afghans poised to lead on security: Afghan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad KarimiAP Photo: Rahmat Gul. Afghan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi has backed the national army and police to ensure safety in Afghanistan when it takes responsibility for security.

"There is no doubt about the ability of the Afghan national army and police. The nation should trust them, and they do," said the Afghan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi.
The veteran commander rattled off a series of recent victories over insurgents, including kicking them out of parts of eastern Nuristan that they had controlled for about two years.
"There wasn't a single bit of support from the international community. Only the Afghan national army and national police were able to do that and they did it," he said.
But he grudgingly agreed Afghan troops still need help. That includes the use of coalition air power — including medical evacuations — help with locating roadside bombs and further developing the armed forces. They also need to bring down an attrition rate of 3 to 4 percent a month, which means NATO now has to help train 50,000 new recruits a year.
The U.S. has said that Afghanistan will get the weapons it requires to fight an insurgency, including a large fleet of MI-17 transport helicopters, cargo planes and ground support airplanes. The heaviest weapon the Afghan army will have is a howitzer.
"The force is designed according to the threat, and the threat here is an insurgency. The design of the ANSF is appropriate to counter that threat," said German Gen. Hans-Lothar Domrose, the commander of the NATO force that oversees ISAF.
The Afghans, on the other hand, want battle tanks and modern fighter jets — which they are unlikely to get given their cost and the training required to use them.
The war has already proven very costly
Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko last April estimated that the ANSF has so far cost the American taxpayer $54 billion. The overall cost of the war is more difficult to estimate, but for America alone the Center for Strategic and International Studies put the price at about $650 billion through the end of 2013.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Will US arms fix Syrian 'problem from hell'?

Will US arms fix Syrian 'problem from hell'?

US intelligence agencies have now determined that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons and in so doing has crossed a red line set by President Barack Obama himself.

The president now intends to provide direct US military support to the Syrian rebels.

Nonetheless the US decision is still characterised by the caution that has pervaded the Obama administration's handling of the Syrian crisis - a reflection of continuing divisions about what to do and the likely consequences of any actions.

US policy may be changing but as yet we are still not that much clearer about what exactly Washington is going to do.

Is there for example going to be some clearer public revelation of the evidence on which this policy shift has been based?

In April we were told that US intelligence agencies "had varying degrees of confidence" that the Syrian regime was using chemical weapons. The authorities in Paris and to an extent in London have been more forthright.

Now the US assessment is closer to theirs.

There is now "high certainty," according to Mr Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes, that Syrian government forces have "used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year".

So what has changed? Is there compelling new evidence? And will a public case for this evidence be made?

This leads inevitably to the crucial question of what the US will actually do.

Initially US support looks likely to involve the supply of light arms and ammunition.

Mr Rhodes says that the president has not made any decision to pursue a military option, such as a no-fly zone, and he has ruled out the deployment of US ground troops.

Requests from the opposition for anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons are, we understand, still a matter of discussion.

Thus the US response to President Assad's apparent crossing of a "red line" seems tentative at best.

As ever it raises more questions than answers.
Will arming the rebels succeed?

The pattern of the fighting remains mixed on the ground, but it is clear that the opposition suffered a serious reverse at Qusair and government forces and their allies are advancing on Aleppo.

But are these set-backs due to lack of weaponry or poor training and coordination?

The opposition forces have been getting significant quantities of weaponry already, brokered by their backers in the Gulf and elsewhere. What difference will US arms supplies make ?
What if it does not?
If US arms supplies do not alter the balance - it may be that the intervention of well-trained and motivated Hezbollah troops on the government side has been the real deciding factor in recent combat - what then?

Will more sophisticated arms be supplied?

Will this require active US training?

And is this the start of a slippery slope towards more direct intervention?
Can "blow-back" be avoided?
Western spokesmen have spoken confidently about ensuring that any supplied weapons go to moderates and do not end up in the hands of Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda. But what is the value of such assurances?

Is this one of the reasons why more sophisticated weaponry like anti-aircraft missiles are not being considered for now?
How might supplying arms impact upon the chances for a negotiated settlement?
The view in Washington, Paris and London is that the goal is still to get government and opposition in Syria around a negotiating table in Geneva.

But will the US decision be a fatal blow to the chances of a peace conference - at least for the immediate future?

What will be the Russian government's response?

The stage has been set for some interesting discussions at the forthcoming G8 meeting early next week in Northern Ireland.

President Barack Obama's caution is understandable. But there are vocal lobbies in the US insisting that he should do much more.

The stakes are huge. Syria is at the epicentre of so many of the region's problems.

A spill-over of the crisis could prompt a regional war drawing in Lebanon and maybe Israel.

Fracturing boundaries could extend the crisis to Iraq and maybe overwhelm Jordan.

By acting to arm the Syrian rebels Mr Obama may be assuming a moral responsibility for their fate that he is unable to discharge.

More weaponry, some critics say, will simply prolong the fighting and the bloodshed.

No wonder then that some have likened the Syria crisis to "a problem from hell".

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Six Afghan police found shot dead in Helmand

What do Afghans want?  Do they want a police force?  Do they want an army?  Is this because the country is not unified and is made up of different ethnic groups?  (I think so, but I am coming from an outside perspective) 

Are Afghans satisfied with a Jirga and nothing more, or do people really want a national police/military force? 

I would love to get comments from any Afghans in Afghanistan who are reading this.

Six Afghan police found shot dead in Helmand

Six Afghan policemen have been killed in an insider attack at their checkpoint in a volatile district of southern Helmand province.

Provincial officials told the BBC that a policeman killed six colleagues and fled with weapons and a vehicle.

The Taliban said the policeman had been recruited by them for the attack.

While many Nato soldiers have been killed in insider attacks, analysts believe most of the casualties occur within the ranks of Afghan forces.

Correspondents say reliable casualty figures for Afghan forces are hard to come by.

Earlier this week a policeman opened fire and killed seven colleagues in the Gereshk district of Helmand.

The latest attack had taken place in Helmand's restive Musa Qala district.

Officials say they are still investigating if the policeman had in fact been recruited by the Taliban.

Four of those killed were members of Afghanistan's locally based defence and militia force, and two of them were part of the national police force, officials said.

Nato combat troops are set to withdraw in 2014, leaving local forces to cope with the insurgency on their own.

Afghan forces are set to assume full security responsibility across the country next week, although foreign forces will continue to provide training and back-up.

BBC News

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Quote from Turkish protestor

(I will add the source soon)
"The purpose of my visit to Taksim Square was to listen to the press conference the Taksim Solidarity movement had prepared; and I was confident that I could trust the chief of police and Istanbul mayor's assurance that the park would not be attacked. Then, right before the press conference was about to start, gas rained down over our heads once again. It was a moment of crushing disappointment. Coughing, wiping tears out of my eyes, practically blind, I realised that our government would never understand the meaning of the passive resistance that Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi were famous for. That's when I ran out of the park."

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Afghans angry at 'lenient' Robert Bales massacre sentence

Drinking alcohol and snorting valium.  What a monster.



Afghans angry at 'lenient' Robert Bales massacre sentence

Afghan men investigate the site of a shooting in Kandahar province in March 2012
Some of the victims' bodies were burned by Bales after he had shot them


Residents of Afghan villages where a US soldier went on a rampage last year have reacted with anger that he has escaped the death penalty.

At a US military hearing on Wednesday Staff Sgt Robert Bales, 39, admitted killing 16 civilians in March 2012.

A jury will decide in August whether he is sentenced to life with or without the possibility of parole.

The villagers in Kandahar province argue that he has been treated far too leniently and should be hanged.

Most of the victims were women or children, and many of them were shot in the head. Some of the bodies were piled up and burnt.
'Full of blood'
Friends and family members of those killed say they were stunned to learn that he has escaped capital punishment.

Afghan villager Samiullah Samiullah argues that bereaved villagers feel let down by the US justice system

"It is our firm demand that Afghanistan, the US and the international community condemn this American to death. He martyred our family members... and went back with his body full of blood of his victims to his camp," bereaved villager Mullah Baran told the BBC.

Another villager, Haji Baqi, whose brother was killed by Bales, said: "We want him to be hanged. The international community should not ignore our grief."

Villager Samiullah said the life sentence meant that justice had not been done. His mother, uncle and cousin were killed.

"The criminal is not being punished," he said. "We want him to be dealt with as his deeds deserve."

At Wednesday's hearing, Bales read from a statement describing each killing in the same terms:

"I left the VSP [Village Stability Platform] and went to the nearby village of Alkozai. While inside a compound in Alkozai, I observed a female I now know to be Na'ikmarga. I formed the intent to kill Na'ikmarga, and I did kill Na'ikmarga by shooting her with a firearm. This act was without legal justification, sir."

In this detail from a courtroom sketch, US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales appears 5 June 2013 Bales was charged with 16 counts of murder, six of attempted murder and seven of assault

When asked by military judge Col Jeffery Nance why he had carried out the murders, Bales responded: "There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did."

Defence lawyers have said Bales is contrite about the killings, and described him as "crazed" and "broken" on the night of the attack.

At the time, he was serving his fourth tour of duty and had been drinking alcohol and snorting Valium.

In addition to the 16 murdered, six Afghans were injured.

While prosecutors originally said they would seek the death penalty, no US service member has been executed in more than 50 years.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Afghan children die as suicide bomber targets soldiers

Hallmark of the Taliban?  Killing their own children?


Afghan children die as suicide bomber targets soldiers


A suicide bomber has killed at least 13 people, 10 of them children, in an attack on a military patrol in eastern Afghanistan, say police and Nato.

Two coalition soldiers and an Afghan policeman also died in the blast.

The bomber, who was on a motorcycle, struck at a market in Samkani district near the Pakistan border. About 20 other people were injured.

Police say a local school had just let pupils out for lunch. The blast follows a spate of attacks by the Taliban.

The police chief in Paktia province, where the attack happened, said the bomber detonated his explosives around midday.

Gen Zalmay Oriakhel told the BBC a convoy of international forces and Afghan National Army soldiers was passing the market when the bomb went off.

It is not clear how old the school children are. Reuters news agency quoted a witness who visited the hospital where the casualties had been admitted as saying most were pupils aged under 12.

In recent weeks there has been a series of attacks in Afghanistan, where Nato and Afghan forces are battling the Taliban and other militants.

In a separate attack on Monday, seven people were killed by a roadside bomb in the eastern province of Laghman, officials said.