Archive for the ‘Kunar’ Category
The burly figure of Sabar Lal, a 49-year-old gem dealer with a salt and pepper beard, loomed in the arched doorway of his home. Facing him in the garden, a team of US special forces and Afghan commandos levelled their assault rifles.
As helicopters buzzed overhead, five bullets fired from one of the soldiers’ automatic weapons thudded into Lal’s chest and head and sent him reeling. Blood oozed onto his grey marble patio, forming a large pool around him.
The killing, in Jalalabad three months ago, provoked outrage among tribal elders, MPs and government officials. They depicted it as the cold-blooded execution of an innocent man at the hands of ruthless American aggressors who had relied on faulty intelligence to target their prey.
The Sunday Times has established that Lal once received cash from MI6 to counter Taliban insurgents, fought against them alongside British special forces and helped the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to eradicate poppies used to make opium.
But this newspaper’s investigation also found that, for at least the past two years, Lal had worked as an undercover Al-Qaeda operative — and that he paid the militant commander responsible for the kidnapping of Linda Norgrove, the British aid worker who died during a failed rescue attempt last year.
The curious life of Sabar Lal raises as many questions as his death and offers an unusual insight into the shifting allegiances that make Afghanistan such a volatile and unpredictable place. Read the rest of this entry »
The US has expressed regret and offered its “deepest condolences” after 24 Pakistani soldiers who were killed in cross-border Nato air strikes were buried on Sunday, calling the attacks a “tragic unintended incident”.
Pakistani troops fired mortars at American ground soldiers patrolling the Afghan border, triggering Nato air strikes, according to Afghan officials and western sources. The killings, which occurred in the early hours of Saturday when Nato bombs smashed into two Pakistani military checkpoints, threaten to further damage the already shaky relationship between America and Pakistan.
Pakistan has responded to the killings by ordering the closure of a CIA drone base and by cutting Nato’s supply line into Afghanistan.
Details of what happened remain murky. Pakistan said the air strikes took place in the Pakistani tribal agency of Mohmand. Pakistani officials called the bombardment a “grave infringement” of the country’s sovereignty.
But The Sunday Times has learned that the two checkpoints hit by the air strikes were in fact constructed on Afghan soil, in Kunar province’s Khas Kunar district between the villages of Shaley and Shrunkey.
When American ground forces, who were conducting a night time patrol on Saturday morning, approached the two Pakistani checkpoints, the Pakistani soldiers stationed there responded by firing mortars at the Americans, according to local intelligence and western officials.
Standard operating procedures dictate that Nato forces must withdraw when fired upon by Pakistani troops, an occurrence which takes place more often than reported, according to western analysts who monitor security developments in the east.
But, on this occasion, Nato called in air strikes to stop the mortar teams from firing at the American ground troops.
“In the early night hours of this morning, a force consisting of Afghan forces and coalition forces, in the eastern border area where the Durand Line is not always 100 per cent clear, got involved in a fire fight,” said Nato spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen.
Pakistani troops have made an increasing number of cross-border incursions into Afghan territory since the beginning of the year, according to western and local Afghan officials.
Part of the problem is that the exact location of the border between the two countries, known as the Durand Line, remains disputed and ambiguous.
“It is still not clear if the Americans knew that the people attacking them were Pakistani military forces or whether they thought they might be insurgents. But the firing must have been intense for them to respond like this,” said one western official.
It is possible that the Americans may have mistaken the Pakistani soldiers for Taliban insurgents, especially because the operation took place in the dark. But officials said that the Americans would have known the location of Pakistani military bases along the border.
Pakistan’s army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said map references of all of the force’s border posts had been given to NATO several times. 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 »
In keeping with the Nuristan theme, I thought I’d add a small detail that was left out of the story on Sunday.
Maulana Fazlullah, nicknamed the “Radio Mullah” after he launched a pirate radio station in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in 2006, is apparently still hiding in Nuristan despite claims that he was killed in May 2010.
When US special forces and Afghan commandos air assaulted into Nuristan’s Barg-e-Matal district earlier this year (after insurgents had overrun the district centre for the fifth time), one of the US-Afghan units involved in the operation landed inside one of Fazlullah’s bases, according to western security analysts and an intelligence official.
The Afghan commandos killed 25 militants and captured five Swatis during the raid on Fazlullah’s compound, according to one of the analysts with access to Nato incident reports. Read the rest of this entry »
The Sunday Times, Combat Outpost Monti, Kunar Province
Specialist Alexander Miller had been watching a mysterious Afghan standing in a cornfield for 20 minutes. But it took only a split second for the American soldier to be mortally wounded.
As Miller turned his back momentarily, the Afghan picked up a weapon hidden at his feet and fired a burst. One of the rounds tore into the 21- year-old soldier’s groin. Troops rushed to apply pressure to the wound as they called in a helicopter, but he was dead on arrival at the nearest field hospital.
Miller, a keen roller-hockey player with a goofy smile, left behind a girlfriend in Clermont, Florida. He was one of three American soldiers killed in the battle for Barji Matal, a village in the eastern province of Nuristan that nestles in a fertile valley surrounded by the barren peaks of the Hindu Kush.
Nuristan’s rugged landscape, dotted with stone huts encircled by farmland, formed the backdrop to Rudyard Kipling’s short story The Man Who Would Be King, written when the province was still called Kafiristan or “Land of the Infidels” for its struggle to resist the spread of Islam. American commanders say little has changed since the story was written: the province’s clans still retain a fierce independence.
US troops clash daily with Taliban militants over control of this isolated region on the Pakistan border. But as President Barack Obama reconsiders his overall strategy in Afghanistan, military officials on the ground are questioning the purpose of sending soldiers into sparsely populated areas such as Barji Matal when the army lacks the resources to hold on to them. They argue that such battles reduce the military’s capacity to conduct counterinsurgency operations along the porous border with Pakistan.
It was in mid-July that President Hamid Karzai asked for 100 American soldiers to go to the village after Taliban militants overran it.
The soldiers believed they could secure Barji Matal within a week, allowing 500 farmers to return to their work in the flour mill and cornfields. But the date for their withdrawal came and went with soldiers bogged down in close-quarter combat. One was killed instantly when a Taliban fighter popped up 10 yards ahead of his position and loosed off a burst of machinegun fire.
“We made the decision to stay to ensure that we didn’t spend all that money, blood, sweat and tears for nothing,” said Captain Albert Bryant, commanding officer of C Company in the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. Read the rest of this entry »