Posts Tagged ‘CIA’
THE Taliban fighter, wearing a black balaclava, dark glasses and black clothes, raised a long, thin cane above his head before bringing it down on the villager’s bare back with a deft flick of his wrist.
The villager, identified only as Amanullah, 28, writhed on the grass with his hands tied behind his back as fellow residents of Bala Deh, a village in the remote province of Nuristan, in northeast Afghanistan, looked on. After 70 lashes Amanullah could barely stand when the Taliban untied him.
His crime? Failing to grow his beard long enough.
“We couldn’t do anything except watch,” said Haji Saeed Ahmad, 51, a teacher, who said he had been forced to witness the punishment. “They try to control you with fear.”
Ahmad and others from Kamdesh, a mountainous district of Nuristan, said the Taliban had been beating locals for smoking cigarettes, listening to music or chewing snuff since they arrived three months ago.
The morality police, who dress from head to toe in black, hark back to the Taliban’s rule in the late 1990s when the notorious vice and virtue ministry was established to enforce a strict moral code.
The ministry’s 30,000-strong force beat women for revealing any trace of skin, smashed televisions, banned music and kite-flying and forced men to grow long beards.
Today in Kamdesh, residents describe morality squads, their faces hidden by black balaclavas, who behave even more aggressively. “They’re so strict they even beat their own people if they catch them breaking the rules,” a United Nations official said.
The birth of these radical morality squads – the first to appear in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime fell in 2001 – highlights one of the risks inherent in Nato’s plan to pull out most of its soldiers by the end of 2014.
American forces withdrew from Nuristan in 2010. So great was the ensuing security vacuum that, in the months that followed, Osama bin Laden told his commanders that their “first option” was to decamp to Nuristan if they wanted to escape the CIA’s drones in Pakistan.
In a letter to one of his most senior military commanders, the Al-Qaeda chief wrote in October 2010: “[Nuristan] is more fortified due to its rougher terrain … and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy. This will defend the brothers from the aircrafts.”
But Nuristan’s security void – a product of American abandonment and Afghan government neglect – not only attracted Al-Qaeda operatives: Pakistani militants affiliated to an array of Jihadi groups entered in even greater numbers, according to Afghan and UN officials, analysts and local journalists.
Over the last two years, an increasing number have sought shelter among the pine forests, soaring snow-capped mountains, lush valleys and stone hamlets that make up one of Afghanistan’s most isolated provinces.
Local journalists who have met insurgent commanders report the presence of Pakistan’s militant proxy Lashkar-e-Taiba, other groups affiliated to the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Salafi militants and ordinary Taliban.
This mix taking refuge along the border with Pakistan has grown so toxic that American Special Forces plan to increase their strike operations in Nuristan to prevent militants from infiltrating neighbouring regions, according to a senior western official. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Ahmad Wali Karzai, the half-brother of the Afghan president, lived under constant fear of assassination. His death last week was the latest of 10 attempts to kill him.
“The seventh bomb to target me was so big that hundreds of cats fed on human flesh for days afterwards,” he told me last July.
The man who finally killed Karzai was someone he trusted with his life. Not only was Sardar Mohammed a close confidant, but he also worked as an informant for the CIA, according to relatives, Karzai’s friends and the Afghan intelligence agency.
Mohammed, who shot dead Karzai, 49, at his home on Tuesday, ran a network of spies who passed information to the CIA, according to Mohammed’s brothers-in-law, two of whom work for the CIA.
Karzai, known as the “King of Kandahar” for the iron fist with which he ruled the southern province, was himself working for the CIA, according to his brother Mahmoud.
Karzai, likened to the gangster Al Capone by US officials for his alleged links to the drug trade, helped the US spy agency run a clandestine paramilitary unit called the Kandahar Strike Force. The CIA uses the unit to conduct covert counterterrorism operations in the city. Some members of the strike force are in prison in Kabul for shooting dead Kandahar’s police chief in 2009. Critics say that Karzai used the militia to kill off his rivals.
“If there was something Sardar could do that the Americans couldn’t, then they would ask him to do it,” said Abdul Malik, one of Mohammed’s brothers-in-law. “The Americans were very happy with his performance.”
One of Malik’s brothers carried an identity card with the words “Qandahar Strike Force” emblazoned in red ink on the back.
Afghan intelligence officials confirmed they knew of Mohammed’s links to the CIA, but insisted there was no evidence that the agency had ordered the hit on Karzai.
“It would be crazy to think the Americans could do this to my brother,” said Mahmoud Karzai, another Karzai brother who is under investigation for tax evasion in the US, where he used to live. Karzai’s family believe Mohammed’s Taliban informants may have persuaded Mohammed to switch sides.
Ahmad Wali Karzai had no shortage of enemies in the city. His foes accused him of assassinating and imprisoning his rivals, exploiting American military contracts and running drugs. His supporters said his powerful oratory and deft political skills held the south together.
Mohammed’s motive continues to baffle the police, the Afghan intelligence service and the government’s national security council. All three agencies have launched investigations into the murder.
At the heart of the mystery is the close relationship between Karzai and Mohammed — the men had been allies and friends for seven years. Read the rest of this entry »
THE two helicopters swooped low over a cluster of mud homes, whirling in the cold night sky before landing in a wheat field on the edge of the small Afghan village.
From his home nearby, 23-year-old Najibullah Omar strained his eyes in the darkness as he made out the faint shapes of armed men pouring from the helicopters’ bellies.
A third helicopter circled menacingly in the moonless sky above the village of Karakhil in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul.
Then a loud explosion shook the ground and a plume of smoke rose from his cousin Hamidullah’s house 20 yards away. Its guest room caught fire. Omar heard a burst of gunfire before all went quiet.
His worst fears were confirmed the moment he walked through the compound gate at first light.
The body of his cousin, a 32-year-old construction engineer who had taken a break from his job in a far-off province to visit his family, lay sprawled next to those of his wife and their seven-year-old son. Blood ran in dark pools on the mud floor of the terrace outside their door.
The wife and son had been shot in the head, each with a single bullet. The engineer had died from a shot to the chest. The precision of the killings, coupled with his failure to find any bullet casings after the raid, led Omar to believe that his cousin was murdered either by US special forces or by an intelligence agency.
The sole survivor was the couple’s younger son, aged six, whose upper torso was riddled with puncture wounds from grenade shrapnel.
Some of the villagers dug away the fallen wooden beams, revealing the charred corpses of three Taliban fighters — a mid-level commander and two bodyguards, apparently killed where they slept by a missile from the circling helicopter.
“The Taliban often force themselves into our homes. What can we do?” said Omar. “We’re afraid of them. It’s better to keep your house and shelter the Taliban when they demand it than to lose your home.”
Last week General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan, responded to President Hamid Karzai’s call for a ban on night raids by publicly ordering his troops to curb their use.
The general’s order aims to end the killing and detention of innocent civilians during night operations. According to the United Nations, 98 civilians were killed in such raids last year, provoking widespread outrage. They are believed to have swollen the ranks of the Taliban, who score an easy propaganda victory every time Nato kills a civilian.
In his order, first issued confidentially to officers in January, McChrystal wrote that violating Afghans’ homes made it more difficult to win vital public support.
The new policy has created tensions with officers commanding special forces units, who often launch night operations without informing Nato commanders. Read the rest of this entry »