Archive for the ‘Kabul’ Category

Afghanistan at the crossroads: Drought, food crisis drive Afghans out of villages

November 10, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan, November 10 (UNHCR) – Severe drought and food shortages have caused thousands of people to leave their villages in Afghanistan’s north and west to find work and aid. Many more are expected to move in desperation as winter approaches.

Provinces such as Badghis, Faryab, Jawzjan, Ghor, Saripul, Balkh and Samangan have been hard hit by a harsh winter earlier this year, followed by a debilitating drought and poor harvest. The production of wheat – an Afghan staple – is reportedly down by 36 percent compared to last year, while the Ministry of Agriculture has said the country is facing a deficit of 2 million tonnes of mixed food items over the next six months.

Soaring global food prices have exacerbated the problem of food insecurity. A UN appeal in July reported that the prices of wheat and wheat flour have gone up by 200 percent countrywide over the past year. The worst affected people are the small farmers, landless people, nomads and casual labourers.

“There’s no rain this year,” complains Qadir, 25, who left his village in Balkh three months ago to find work in Kabul. “Back home, I own a plot of rain-fed land and grew wheat on it. It’s small but was enough to feed my family – until the drought. I just left the land. It’s useless.”

Saifullah, 30, chips in, “The drought has affected hundreds of families in Samangan. We cultivated seeds but couldn’t get a harvest or recoup our money. We’re all leaving.”

Momin, 18, is from Charken village in Balkh province, where he supports a family of six people. “My whole neighbourhood is affected. In the past, we could work on our farms. But now, people are going to Mazar-e-Sharif or Kabul to find jobs,” he says.

The three men have joined hundreds of others at Charahi Sarai Shomali, a busy roundabout in northern Kabul located beside a bus station that plies the route between Kabul and the northern provinces. They come here early every morning and wait for potential employers to pick them up for daily-wage labour, mostly on construction sites. They make US$3-US$4 a day and work three to four days a week on average.

To save up for their families, it’s not unusual for more than 10 of these migrant workers to share one room in Kabul. The living is rough, but at least they have some income and a roof over their heads – unlike the thousands of others who have been displaced by the drought and shortage of food and water.

The numbers of the drought-displaced vary. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that more than 6,500 Afghans have left their homes in the north and west as a result of the drought this year. The International Committee of the Red Cross believes some 280,000 people are suffering from its effects, and that thousands of families could leave their homes in search of food and work as winter looms.

In the last six months, UNHCR has reported the displacement of more than 2,700 families (approximately 19,000 people), mostly from or within Badghis, Balkh, Saripul and Samangan provinces. Some have gone to district centres like Mazar-e-Sharif, to nearby provinces like Herat, or to neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan. All were forced to move because of food insecurity, drought or poverty.

Some families leaving Keshendeh district in Balkh dismantled their houses, indicating they had no intention to return. Those who remain said that without food and water assistance, 70 percent of the population – or some 500 families – could leave the area. UNHCR is working with other UN agencies and the government to start bringing water tankers as soon as possible.

“Meeting humanitarian needs in areas of origin is the best way to prevent food and drought-related displacement,” said Ewen Macleod, the UN refugee agency’s acting representative in Afghanistan. “This means pre-positioning aid before snow and the cold weather cut off access to some of these areas.”

Returnees have been affected too, including 183 families who returned from Pakistan to Saripul last year and recently left again for Quetta in south-western Pakistan. In the central Afghan provinces of Logar and Ghazni, food insecurity meant that returnees were too busy trying to support themselves to complete construction on their UNHCR-funded shelters. The agency worked with the World Food Programme to provide food to 700 families so that they could focus on finishing their homes before the onset of winter.

The largest recent displacement took place in Balkh, where 1,400 families left their homes in Alborz in late May and set up a makeshift camp beside a river in Sholgara district. After weeks of talks between the community, government and UN agencies, the families were transported back to their villages in mid-July, where they received food rations.

As security deteriorates in parts of the country, the UN has appealed for humanitarian access to allow aid workers to distribute food to needy communities ahead of winter. A recent report by British think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, warned that a looming famine in Afghanistan could pose a greater threat to international efforts to rebuild the country than the conflict there.

Desperation defies definition. Whether driven by hunger, thirst or poverty, thousands of Afghans are moving in an effort to survive. Asked if he plans to return home to Balkh soon, Momin the young job seeker in Kabul sighs, “If you have money, you miss your family. If you have no money, you can’t afford to miss them. You need to do something to help them.”

His friend Abdul Qadir, also from Balkh, adds simply, “If things get worse in Afghanistan, I’ll have to go to Pakistan again.”

By Vivian Tan
in Kabul, Afghanistan


Top US general takes tour to Afghanistan

November 4, 2008

The new commander of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Kabul Tuesday to assess efforts against insurgents, the US military said.


New commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, ... 
New commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, General David Petraeus (R) is pictured on November 3, 2008. The new commander of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Kabul Tuesday to assess efforts against insurgents, the US military said.(AFP/File/Aamir Qureshi)

He would be meeting various leaders in Afghanistan, US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Colonel Greg Julian told AFP, refusing to give details.

“It is traditional for a new commander to go out and meet with subordinate commanders and meet with the leaders of the various countries in the area of his responsibility and get his own assessment of the situation,” he said.

Petraeus would be in Afghanistan for several days, Julian said.

Many hope Petraeus will bring his counter-insurgency expertise to bear in Afghanistan, which has seen a spike in violence from a resurgent Taliban in the last two years, despite the presence of 70,000 NATO and US troops.

The Taliban government was removed in a US-led invasion for not surrendering Al-Qaeda leaders after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Afghanistan and its international partners have been calling for the US-led “war on terror” to put more focus on tribal areas of Pakistan where Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other militants have bases.

In Islamabad Monday, defence officials said they had warned Petraeus that US missile strikes inside Pakistan territory could spark a violent backlash and severely hamper efforts to curb extremism.

Read the rest:

New president inherits Afghan crisis

October 22, 2008

By Sara A. Carter
The Washington Times

As a U.S.-led coalition races to develop a new strategy to counter growing Taliban and al Qaeda militancy, the next U.S. president will face a crisis that has left U.S. officials walking a tightrope with both Afghanistan and its nuclear-armed neighbor, Pakistan.

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain advance different strategies for Iraq. But both now agree that Afghanistan must be a top priority for years to come.

After the rapid overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, the war in Afghanistan began to take a back seat to Iraq. Many U.S. and military intelligence analysts contend that Taliban militancy was given the opportunity to fester as the Bush administration moved resources into Iraq and left Afghanistan to fend largely for itself.

“Losing focus on Afghanistan is certainly a reason why the Taliban and al Qaeda have become stronger,” said a senior military official in Washington who asked not to be named. “The next president, regardless, needs to focus on Afghanistan. They need to be able to convey a common goal to all NATO allies and they need to focus on dismantling al Qaeda beginning with [Osama] bin Laden.”

With violence escalating over the summer in the region and a rising U.S. and NATO death toll, slighting Afghanistan is no longer an option.

“The problem with Afghanistan today is that the momentum is all with the Taliban,” said Bruce Riedel, author of a new book, “The Search for al Qaeda.” “We need to break the momentum the Taliban has developed because we have under-resourced this war for seven years.”

Mr. Riedel, a veteran CIA authority on South Asia and the Middle East, said it was important to “get some sense of security back in southern Afghanistan” and proposed more U.S. and NATO boots on the ground, more economic aid and better governance.

Improving security is becoming more urgent in an environment of economic deterioration and growing distrust for the administration of President Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Obama has called for withdrawing one or two U.S. combat brigades from Iraq a month beginning in January, and would like to send “at least two brigades” to Afghanistan, said a spokeswoman for the campaign, Wendy Morigi.

Read the rest:

Senior U.S. Commanders to Assess Afghanistan Mission

October 17, 2008

WASHINGTON — The commander of the United States’ Special Operations forces is meeting this week with the senior American commander in Afghanistan, as well as top Special Operations officers there, to assess the mission in Afghanistan, senior military officials said Thursday.
Read: An American military outpost in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, has been frequently attacked by insurgents in recent weeks. Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The commander, Adm. Eric T. Olson, was in Pakistan on Thursday to meet the new leader of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps paramilitary force, Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, and to observe a new American-led training program for the Pakistani corps.

Over the next several months, about two dozen American and British military trainers will instruct Pakistani officers at a base in Abbottabad, north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. The Pakistani officers will in turn train Frontier Corps soldiers next year, in what both countries say is a crucial step in building an effective indigenous force to combat fighters from Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s unruly tribal areas.

But the bulk of Admiral Olson’s time in the region will be spent conferring in Afghanistan with senior American Special Operations officers from across the country, as well as with the senior American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, on Friday.

General McKiernan has said that he needs as many as 15,000 combat and support troops beyond the 8,000 troops that President Bush recently approved for deployment early next year. The general is also conducting his own assessment of operations in Afghanistan.

His findings, along with other assessments from the Pentagon and the State Department, will be combined into a comprehensive White House review of Afghanistan policy that is to be completed next month after the presidential election, administration officials said Thursday.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesman, said officials from across the government, including the intelligence agencies, were working to ensure that “we are on the proper footing as we hand off the baton to the next administration.”

Read the rest:

Rice on unannounced visit to Afghanistan

February 7, 2008
By Anne Gearan, AP Diplomatic Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit Thursday, carrying a joint message of support and prodding to Afghan officials as the U.S. continued a drive to recruit more NATO troops.

This is an image release by the International Security Assistance ...
This is an image release by the International Security Assistance Force of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shaking hands with Canadian Major-General Marc Lessard, the Commander of Regional Command (South), during her visit to the Regional Command (South) Headquarters at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Thursday Feb. 7, 2008. Rice was on the visit with Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Rice said Thursday the Afghan government must meet its responsibilities in fighting a resurgent Taliban as the United States and Britain lead an effort to boost the number of NATO combat forces. In a show of unity, Rice was making the point as she and David Miliband got a firsthand look at the front lines of the NATO-led fight against insurgents in Kandahar, visiting an alliance airfield in this former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.
(AP Photo/Liepke Plankcke/ Royal Netherlands Air Force, ISAF, HO)

Rice and Miliband flew together to the Afghan capital from London. They were seeing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other officials amid a welter of outside assessments that progress in the six-year war is stalling.

The two made clear they expect cooperation from the Karzai government, widely seen as weak.
Read the rest:

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (L) and British Foreign ...
Prime Minister Gordon Brown (R) and Foreign Secretary David Miliband (L) with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at 10 Downing Street in London. Rice and Miliband travelled to the heart of the Taliban insurgency during a surprise trip to Afghanistan.
(AFP/Pool/Sang Tan)

Calls grow for shift in Afghan policy

January 31, 2008

By David R. Sands
The Washington Times
January 31, 2008

The Bush administration faces increasing pressure to make a major policy course correction on Afghanistan, shifting the focus from Iraq to fight a resurgent terrorist threat and build up the faltering government in Kabul.
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today is set to take up a string of new reports warning that the political and economic situations in Afghanistan are deteriorating amid growing strains between the United States and its NATO allies over the military mission there.
“Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan,” warns a new study by the Atlantic Council of the U.S. “Unless this reality is understood, and action is taken promptly, the future of Afghanistan is bleak, with regional and global impact.”

Read the rest:

Diplomats expelled from Afghanistan

December 27, 2007

By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Afghan government expelled two senior European diplomats Thursday on accusations they held unauthorized meetings with Taliban militants, officials said.

Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance ...
Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) speaks during an interview regarding the expulsion of two diplomats at the UNAMA’s office in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007.

The diplomats — one worked for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the other was the acting head of the European Union mission — had traveled to Musa Qala, a former Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province on Monday, where they met with local leaders, said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the U.N. mission.

After that trip, the two were accused of meeting with Taliban militants ….

Read the rest:

Musharraf: He’s The Best Hope That Was Available At the Moment

November 6, 2007

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
November 6, 2007

Let’s face it: if anyone in the government of the United States of America ever though President General Pervez Musharraf was dedicated to a future democratic Pakistan, he was naïve, stupid or smoking some illegal substance.

Just try to name one other U.S. ally ever who wanted to be called “President General.”

Musharraf is and always has been a military man.  He came to power in a coup. And he is a strong man holding together a rats nest of Islamic extremists, militants and terrorists. In Pakistan, the question isn’t “Are these guys bad guys?” The more appropriate question almost always is, “Who’s side are these bad guys on?”

I have been into and out of Pakistan a few times assisting people battling the Taliban and other terrorists. It is not a pretty place to “vacation,” as my friend Mike dubbed my sojourns today.

And I have always questioned the full-throttled support for Musharraf that the U.S. has proclaimed.  And the support is not just words: it amounts to about $130 million (USD) every month.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert on Sunday, September 10, 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney expressed such strong U.S. Government support for President general Musharraf of Pakistan – that I thought at the time the words were clearly over the top. Mr. Cheney expressed U.S. support for Musharraf as follows:

“President Musharraf has been a great ally. There was, prior to 9/11, a close relationship between the Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban. Pakistan was one of only three nations that recognized, diplomatically recognized the government of Afghanistan at that particular time. But the fact is Musharraf has put his neck on the line in order to be effective in going after the extremist elements including al-Qaeda and including the Taliban in Pakistan. There have been three attempts on his life, two of those by al-Qaeda over the course of the last three years. This is a man who has demonstrated great courage under very difficult political circumstances and has been a great ally for the United States”.

“So there’s no question in that area along the Afghan/Pakistan border is something of a no man’s land, it has been for centuries. It’s extraordinarily rough territory. People there who move back and forth across the border, they were smuggling goods before there was concern about, about terrorism. But we need to continue to work the problem. Musharraf just visited Karzai in, in Kabul this past week, they’re both going to be here during the course of the U.N. General Assembly meetings over the course of the next few weeks. We worked that area very hard, and the Paks have been great allies in that effort.”

“Pakistan, we’ve gone in and worked closely with Musharraf to take down al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia, same thing. In all of those cases, it’s been a matter of getting the locals into the fight to prevail over al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-related tyrants.”

“Think of Musharraf who puts his neck on the line every day he goes to work, when there’ve been attempts on his life because of his support for our position. And they look over here and they see the United States that’s made a commitment to the Iraqis, that’s gone in and taken down the old regime, worked to set up a democracy, worked to set up security forces, and all of a sudden we say it’s too tough, we’re going home. What’s Karzai going to think up in Kabul? Is he going to have any confidence at all that he can trust the United States, that in fact we’re there to get the job done? What about Musharraf? Or is Musharraf and those people you’re talking about who are on the fence in Afghanistan and elsewhere going to say, ‘My gosh, the United States hasn’t got the stomach for the fight. Bin Laden’s right, al-Qaeda’s right, the United States has lost its will and will not complete the mission,’ and it will damage our capabilities and all of those other war fronts, if you will, in the global war on terror.”

Have you ever heard any President or Vice President of the United States express such unbridled support for anyone at any time?

I think not.

So why did Musharraf get the full trust and confidence of the United States – and billions of dollars? Because he was in power on 9-11 and we were in no position to invade Iraq, Afghanistan AND Pakistan. Pakistan at least had a ruler that didn’t drop gas on his own people, the way Saddam used gas on the Kurds.

So, Musharraf was a guy we were stuck with: not the guy we chose to take to the dance.

It rankles me some that Mr. Cheney felt he had to so obviously oversell this lemon. I wish he had just said: “Musharraf will never give us democracy in Pakistan. But he might keep the various factions from creating total chaos.”

Today Musharraf said he would still hold democratic elections in January. That, my friends, is happy talk nobody in Pakistan believes. Musharraf is holding on for dear life. And it is uncertain if he’ll still be above ground in January. If he is it will be because many of his enemies disappear without a trace.

Now we may be on the brink of total chaos in Pakistan and the U.S. can do little but stand on the sidelines like a deer in the headlights.

But it looks like we already decided to stay with the gal we’re dancing with. As long as she can do it.