Posts Tagged ‘transition’
Britain is drawing up plans to pull its forces out of Afghanistan much sooner than had been intended after high-level indications from Washington that American troops may leave early.
Sources in London and Kabul suggested last week that President Barack Obama was considering accelerating the withdrawal from Afghanistan in the run-up to presidential elections in November next year.
“The Americans need to pull out early for financial and electoral reasons,” said a source. “It’s all part and parcel with the decision to pull out of Iraq by the end of the year.”
With British troops in Helmand now a small part of an American-dominated Nato force, Ministry of Defence planners have been forced to look at speeding up the withdrawal of UK troops. MoD officials insisted that any British withdrawal would be “conditions-based” and dependent on an agreement with the Afghan government.
“The Americans are now looking to pull out much faster than previously planned,” said a senior British official. “We have no choice but to dovetail our planning with theirs.”
At present Nato plans to withdraw the vast bulk of its troops by the end of 2014, leaving a small contingent of conventional troops and special forces. As part of the process, the Americans are due to withdraw 33,000 troops by September 2012.
That would leave 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan. But a Nato official in Kabul said the chances of there being anywhere near that number by the end of 2013 were “slim to none”.
Although no final decision had been taken, it was “highly likely” that American troops would be pulled out more rapidly and in far greater numbers than previously discussed, said sources in London and Kabul. Other Nato countries are as keen as the Americans to bring their troops home early. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Their faces concealed with chequered scarves, the Taliban assassins found Haji Zahir Arian sitting on cushions in the living room of a friend’s house. They wasted no time in striking a blow against peace.
The first hitman to enter the small room raised his rifle and loosed off four rounds as Arian, the deputy head of the peace council in Helmand province, lifted his arms to shield himself.
One of the bullets grazed the 59-year-old’s underarm, striking a wall behind him. The other three rounds thudded into his chest, causing his body to convulse against the wall before it slid to the floor.
The Taliban fled, leaving Arian’s friend, Najibullah Popal, trembling with fear as he watched the body ooze blood into the cushions.
Afghan policemen guarding a checkpoint just 100 yards away failed to give chase as the gunmen sped off in a black Toyota Corolla. “Who killed him?” asked Ghulam Farooq, a colleague and close friend of Arian whose uncle was strangled by the Taliban two months ago. “The security forces killed him, by failing to protect him.”
The assassination of Arian on April 23 is one of several attacks in which the Taliban have singled out “soft targets” inside Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital, in recent months.
The killings are aimed at destabilising the town as British troops prepare formally to transfer control to Afghan security forces next month. The handover marks the beginning of the end of British and American military engagement in Helmand. Read the rest of this entry »