Archive for October 2011
A suicide bomber yesterday killed 17 people, including five US soldiers and eight British and American civilian contractors, when he drove a minibus packed with explosives into the side of a military bus in Kabul in one of the deadliest attacks inside the city since the conflict began.
The explosion hurled the heavily armoured bus into the air, engulfing it in a fireball as it travelled in a convoy of armoured vehicles towards a nearby Nato base in the southwest of the Afghan capital.
Thick black smoke poured from the side of the bus as it lay on its side opposite Kabul’s American University and Darulaman palace, the bombed-out seat of Afghanistan’s former kings and presidents.
The victims included five American soldiers, a Canadian soldier, five American civilian contractors, two British contractors, an Afghan policeman and three Afghan civilians. Two children were among the wounded.
Ambulances and fire engines sped to the scene as Nato soldiers treated some of the casualties. The twisted frame of a motorcycle lay among the charred metal fragments that littered the road.
“There was a huge explosion and I turned to see a massive cloud of smoke rising into the air,” said Mokhtar Aria, who works as a mechanic. “The bus was on fire. I watched them pulling the bodies from it.”
Two Nato helicopters landed to evacuate the dead and wounded to a military hospital near Kabul. Later, witnesses saw US soldiers carry three black body bags from the bus before lifting out another badly charred body from the burnt-out wreckage.
Another witness said he saw the badly charred bodies of US soldiers inside the military bus, known as a Rhino because of its heavy armour. In accordance with usual practice, none of the military victims has been named.
Throughout yesterday, French and American bomb disposal units conducted a forensic examination of the area while Afghan intelligence officials scoured the site for evidence. A military guard dog was also killed in the blast.
As Nato cordoned off the surrounding streets, the wounded were rushed to Kabul’s Estiqlal hospital. Among them was Ali Ahmad, 9, who was yesterday recovering.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, although in the past the Haqqani network, the most lethal insurgent force in Afghanistan, has been blamed for similar high-profile attacks in the capital. Read the rest of this entry »
A classified document seen by The Sunday Times shows planners are mulling the idea of completing the planned transfer of power in 2013
Nato has drawn up plans to accelerate the passing of security to Afghan soldiers and police before it withdraws from the country.
It currently plans to hand over all 34 provinces to the Afghan forces by the end of 2014. But a classified Nato document seen by The Sunday Times shows planners have put forward the idea of completing the transfer a year early. “The plan is to have all the provinces transferred to Afghan control by the end of 2013,” a senior Nato official confirmed.
The intention of a hastier transfer would be to give Nato more time to assess the success of the process and to intervene if security deteriorates, Nato and US officials said.
General John Allen, head of American and Nato forces, is pushing for an even faster handover.
The United States had initially wanted Afghan security forces to take control of the most peaceful areas first, but this plan has now been scrapped.
“We would like this speeded up while we still have enough combat power in the country to support the Afghans in the more troubled areas,” an American official said. Nato is committed to withdrawing the majority of its forces by the end of 2014.
The organisation has acknowledged that deals may have to be struck between Afghan commanders and insurgent leaders in some of the most violent provinces.
“Local army and police commanders will do a deal with the insurgents. They will do it in an Afghan fashion,” said a senior western official. “But it doesn’t mean the problem goes away. This will be one of the big repercussions of the transition in those much harder areas.”
Western experts fear some of the provinces listed in the Nato document may be transferred too early.
Kunar, for example, which the planners want to hand over to the Afghans midway through next year, remains one of the most violent provinces in Afghanistan. Analysts warn that the country’s nascent security forces might crumble under insurgent pressure in such places.
The risk was underlined by a series of events in Kunar earlier this year. Read the rest of this entry »
The memories will live for ever. The screaming 64-year-old woman castigating a group of young Libyan rebels for their cowardice as they sheltered from sniper fire outside her front door. The motorcyclist wearing a T-shirt with Barack Obama’s face on it, an assault rifle slung nonchalantly over his shoulder as he sped towards the capital to the thud of mortars and the clatter of machinegun fire.
The jubilant scenes as rebel fighters stormed the capital at night to the cries of ululating women and men who set off fireworks in the street. The tears of joy rolling down the cheeks of Libyan rebels who had just routed Colonel Gadaffi’s troops in the heart of the capital.
Those were heady days, watching anti-Gadaffi forces launch their lightening assault on Tripoli. It was hard not to get swept up in the euphoria. The few photographs I have of that time show a young reporter beaming a wide, adrenaline-fuelled grin, often mimicking the ecstatic rebels around him by raising his hand in the “V” for victory salute.
During the vicious assault on Gadaffi’s palace in the heart of Tripoli, a sniper’s bullet thwacked into my helmet, knocking me to the floor. Friends and family were amazed that I continued to report that day alongside the rebels until they got inside the palace. A veteran Reuters correspondent I met later said: “You’re a Sunday paper, Miles. What are you doing getting shot in the head on a Tuesday?”
That wasn’t the point. I was watching history unfold around me: one of the most despotic regimes was about to crumble and I had a front-row seat. But, even as the celebrations began, there were already portent snapshots of the potential trouble that lay ahead.
I watched one Libyan rebel, who had risked his life to smuggle me into his home when Gadaffi still controlled Tripoli months earlier, carry off a stack of shiny new briefcases from an arms dump inside Gadaffi’s palace. The briefcases contained new sniper rifles. Thousands of other civilians joined him in plundering the weapons, including teenage boys.
“This is Gadaffi’s last gift to us,” one rebel said as he looked on in horror. Tripoli is now brimming with the guns that were looted that day.
Then there is the psychological toll. Read the rest of this entry »
SITTING on the floor of a house on the outskirts of Kabul, the Haqqani network commander sipped green tea as he calmly explained the chaos his organisation set out to cause with an elaborate plot to blow up Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace.
The operation would have begun with an explosion set off in the grounds by a security guard from Karzai’s home village who had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash to betray him, according to Malim Asrallah, 46, a stocky veteran of 30 years of insurgencies.
The blast would have drawn other guards away from their posts on the perimeter of the palace, in the heart of Kabul.
“After he [the guard] had detonated the explosives, eight truck bombs were meant to hit the different entrances to the palace,” Asrallah said.
Small teams of gunmen would then have arrived to finish off the survivors.
If Karzai had escaped the bombings, which were planned to coincide with a cabinet meeting, these gunmen would have killed him and his most senior ministers, Asrallah concluded with a flourish.
In the event, the plot — which had been planned for nine months — was foiled. Two weeks ago, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested six men for their alleged roles. Among them was the director of microbiology at Kabul University, who is accused of recruiting students and other conspirators.
At the time, the NDS said simply that the plan had been to assassinate the president, perhaps on a trip to one of the provinces.
However, The Sunday Times has pieced together information from Afghan intelligence sources, government officials and the Haqqani network itself to establish that the plot was intended not only to destroy the government, but to trigger prolonged ethnic conflict.
Asrallah’s account, which has been corroborated by NDS sources, reveals that the Haqqani network, Afghanistan’s most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group, was planning simultaneous attacks on the ministries of defence and the interior, and on the headquarters of the NDS itself.
The network also planned to assassinate leaders of the Hazara and Tajik communities, including the governor of Balkh province in the north of the country, with the aim of provoking inter-ethnic war, two senior NDS officials said.
The NDS believes that up to 100 people, including government officials, were involved in the conspiracy. Asrallah put the number even higher. Read the rest of this entry »