Karsai Weeps for Slain Children as Nation Veers towards ‘Tipping Point’

December 11th, 2006 - by admin

ason Strazuiso / Canadian Press & Laura King and David Holley / Los Angeles Times – 2006-12-11 23:40:18

Tearful Karzai Says Afghan Children Are Dying from Terrorism and NATO Bombs
Jason Strazuiso / Canadian Press

KABUL (December 11, 2006) — With his lips quivering and voice breaking, a tearful President Hamid Karzai lamented Sunday that Afghan children were being killed by NATO and US bombs and by terrorists from Pakistan – a portrait of helplessness in the face of spiralling chaos.

In a heartfelt speech that brought audience members to tears, Karzai said the cruelty imposed on his people “is too much” and that Afghanistan cannot stop “the coalition from killing our children.”

“We can’t prevent the terrorists from coming from Pakistan, and we can’t prevent the coalition from bombing the terrorists, and our children are dying because of this,” he said.

The president, who turned tearful after relating stories of children maimed by bombings, took long pauses between sentences and at one point covered both eyes with a white handkerchief.

“Cruelty at the highest level,” he said, his lower lip quivering. “The cruelty is too much.”

The taped speech was shown later on state TV, although that broadcast and other news shows did not show Karzai crying.

Karzai’s spokesman, Khaleeq Ahmed, said the president was saddened over the deaths of a two-year-old child and two Afghan teachers on Saturday – “and it really got to him.” Ahmed said Karzai was not trying to send any larger message to NATO about being in the country.

“I think what he was trying to say is that our country, 30 years of war has made us so weak that we don’t have the institutions to control these types of things,” Ahmed said.

Afghanistan has seen more than 100 suicide attacks this year, and close to 4,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence.

On Sunday, insurgents ambushed NATO troops in southern Zabul province with a roadside bomb and gunfire, wounding two soldiers, said Capt. Andre Salloum, a spokesman for NATO’s troops in the south.

A day earlier, a roadside bomb exploded next to an Afghan army vehicle in eastern Paktia province, killing all six soldiers on board, police said Sunday.

NATO, meanwhile, sharply reduced the number of Taliban militants it said were killed in fighting on December 2 in the Musa Qala district of southern Helmand province. NATO officials originally said some 70 to 80 militants were killed, but revised the figure to about seven or eight, saying there could have been an internal reporting error.

Speaking on the 58th anniversary of the UN’s universal declaration on human rights, Karzai said Afghanistan has a decades-long history of limited rights, from the time of the Soviet invasion to civil war and the Taliban’s rule. Thousands of Afghans fled the country as refugees, and women were “humiliated” by the Taliban, he said.

The ultra-conservative Taliban regime during its rule from 1996 to 2001 banned girls from schools and did not allow women to leave the house without a male escort or without wearing an all-covering burka.

The president also announced a reconciliation plan that could be a first step toward bringing the perpetrators of human-rights violations during Afghanistan’s past wars to account, a measure hailed by the United Nations.

Karzai turned emotional about 10 minutes into the speech, after talking about an Afghan boy left paralyzed by a NATO air strike in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province.

A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force declined immediate comment.

“Every day our children are dying,” Karzai said, noting that two children were killed in Musa Qala recently. He said girls are afraid to go to school and that NATO bombs have killed entire families. He noted that two teachers were killed by Taliban militants in the eastern province of Kunar on Saturday.

“Our life is living with suffering,” he said.

Karzai composed himself a bit by the end of the 15-minute speech, thanking the international community for coming to Afghanistan and asking for Afghans to unite.

Tom Koenigs, the UN’s special representative to Afghanistan, said the newly launched Action Plan on Peace, Reconciliation and Justice was a first step in coming to terms with decades of human-rights violations.

UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said that countries in post-conflict situations need to document the past “and acknowledge the suffering of people.”

“It’s just looking back at who did what and holding people accountable and giving the people of past abuses the recognition they deserve,” he said.

Siddique said perpetrators of abuses would “eventually be held to account,”although it was too early to say how that would play out.
© The Canadian Press, 2006

Government Support Is Flagging,
NATO Is Split on Strategy, and
Taliban Fighters are Revitalized

Afghanistan War Nears ‘Tipping Point’
Laura King and David Holley / Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan (December 9, 2006) — The conflict in Afghanistan has entered a dangerous phase, and the next three to six months could prove crucial in determining whether the United States and its NATO partners can suppress a revitalized enemy — or will be dragged into another drawn-out and costly fight with an Islamic insurgency, according to senior military and security officials and diplomats.

“I think we are approaching a tipping point, perhaps early in the new year,” said a Western diplomat in the region, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

Popular support for the central government is faltering, and Western military allies are deeply divided over how best to combat the insurgency.

On the other side of the fight, the Taliban has regained the strength to dominate large swaths of Afghanistan; government control is tenuous at best in at least 20% of the country, according to several Western diplomats and Afghan officials.

Militants have built a network of bases in the tribal hinterlands that straddle the frontier with Pakistan. Over the last year, a growing number of mobile encampments on the Afghan side of the border have given the insurgents greater self-sufficiency, military officials say, although the guerrillas still draw heavily on logistical support and weaponry funneled from the Pakistani side.

“They can come and go pretty much undetected,” acknowledged US Army Brig. Gen. Michael T. Harrison Sr., who is overseeing the training and equipping of the struggling Afghan national army.

Observers point to an inexorable upward trend in violence that includes suicide attacks, roadside bombs and border clashes. “We have a bona fide war going on,” Harrison said.

A widely cited recent report by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, a panel of Afghan and foreign officials, said such attacks had increased fourfold from last year, killing at least 3,700 people so far in 2006.

A military spokesman in Kabul, the capital, for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, US Army Maj. Luke Knittig, said he did not believe the report accurately reflected long-term trends. But a number of outside experts tracking the trajectory of the conflict supported the panel’s assessment of a growing threat.

At stake for the US and its allies with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not an outright battlefield defeat by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

“We should be careful that we don’t overstate this militarily unconventional challenge,” US Marine Gen. James L. Jones, NATO’s supreme allied commander, told reporters last week in Riga, Latvia, where the alliance’s leaders were meeting. “We will not be defeated militarily by the Taliban.” NATO has 32,000 troops in the country, backed by formidable airpower.

But the patchwork of militant groups battling the Western allies has its own arsenal of strengths.

Insurgent attacks, whose low-tech tactics echo those used against US forces in Iraq, are often ineffectual. But inevitably, some hit home. On Wednesday, for example, two American civilian contractors were killed in a suicide bombing in Kandahar, the sixth such attack in 10 days. Nearly 180 NATO and allied troops have been killed in fighting this year in Afghanistan.

The number of casualties has been enough to ignite public debate over the Afghan mission in several NATO countries, including Canada, which has more than 2,000 troops deployed, mostly in the violent south, the traditional seat of Taliban power.

Within Afghanistan, civilians increasingly bear the brunt not only of insurgent attacks, but NATO’s offensive against the militants. In October, a NATO airstrike in the south killed more than 30 civilians, most thought to be nomadic herders. Civilian deaths account for about one-quarter of the fatalities this year and heighten Afghans’ resentment of the foreign military forces while feeding a gnawing sense of insecurity.

In terms of casualties, the conflict is a lopsided one. The number of insurgent fatalities over the last year could be as high as 7,000, according to some independent estimates. But the Taliban and its allies draw on what appears to be an almost inexhaustible supply of potential foot soldiers.

“Recruitment is not a problem for them — not a problem at all,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an independent security analyst in Pakistan.

The allies are well aware that simply killing large numbers of insurgents will not constitute a victory. Western officials say they need to prevent the militants from seizing and holding more territory, establish reasonably secure conditions in the capital and the hinterlands, choke off infiltration across the porous Pakistani border and mend fences with restive tribal leaders.

All those tasks are proving difficult.

The insurgents include remnants of the Taliban, the austere Islamist movement that ruled Afghanistan for five years and gave shelter to Osama bin Laden and other members of his Al Qaeda terrorist network. The volatile brew also includes competing warlords, part-time fighters, recruits from the growing ranks of the poor and unemployed, and disaffected youth, often graduates of Taliban-inspired religious seminaries.

Viktor Korgun, an analyst with the Russian Academy of Sciences who has had long experience in Afghan affairs, describes the insurgents as “a fresh new generation . copying the skills and ways of the armed resistance groups in Iraq.”

“Their support network has improved, and in some areas they’ve been able to operate and control roads and villages and the like,” said Seth Jones, a counterinsurgency expert at the Rand Corp. who was recently in Afghanistan for field research. “The Taliban have created a shadow government in a number of provinces — people going to Taliban governors rather than centrally appointed governors on rule-of-law issues.”

The Taliban holds sway in much of the border province of Zabol, several Afghan and Western officials say. And in other provinces, including Kandahar and Helmand, the insurgents operate freely outside major cities and towns.

A number of interlocking factors have contributed to the insurgent comeback:

The US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai has been slow in asserting itself throughout the country.

Afghanistan’s drug trade has also revived at an explosive rate. Opium cultivation rose this year by nearly 60%, according to the United Nations drug agency and the World Bank, and officials say drug money has become a driving force behind the insurgency.

In much of the country, the lack of security has severely stunted development projects, which in turn has fostered widespread disillusionment. Particularly in dirt-poor rural areas, many Afghans believe their daily lot has improved little since Taliban times, and tend to cast the blame on the same Americans they once hailed as liberators.

“People previously were repelled by the fanaticism of the Taliban, but anger at Americans is growing,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general who is now an independent analyst. “And ultimately, they would prefer that their lives be secure. It’s a survival instinct.”

A European security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that for insurgents, fomenting even low-level instability carries big payoffs.

“People have lived through 20-odd years of war at varying levels of intensity. Frankly, they’re not going to get fazed . by a few IEDs,” or improvised explosive devices, he said. “But they are concerned that the base level of their lives is not improved, and that’s the challenge that the insurgency provides — delaying the ability of the government to be able to deliver, by keeping certain areas unstable.”

Senior NATO generals have publicly aired disagreements over battle tactics, troop strength and rules that largely exempt some member countries’ troops from the most dangerous duty. But the alliance’s political leadership appears in agreement that the Afghanistan fight is one the West cannot afford to lose. British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared in advance of the Riga meeting that “NATO’s credibility is at stake,” and President Bush called Afghanistan “NATO’s most important military operation.”

In recent weeks, senior US officials have spoken more frankly about the alliance’s attempts to come to terms with an unexpectedly resilient foe.

“There’s certainly concern . about the fact that they’ve been able to come out this year with more intensity, more organization than we might have expected,” US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher recently told reporters in New Delhi.

“You do have to understand, there are people that are bound and determined to kill us,” he said. “For those people, we’re going to have to shoot back.”

King reported from Kabul and Holley from Riga. Times staff writers Henry Chu in New Delhi and Sergei L. Loiko in Moscow contributed to this report.

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