Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Taliban claims deadly car bomb attack in Kabul

March 17, 2018


© AFP / by Mushtaq MOJADDIDI | Two civilians were killed and three others were wounded in the morning rush-hour suicide blast in an industrial area of Kabul

KABUL (AFP) – A car bomb explosion claimed by the Taliban in Kabul on Saturday killed at least two civilians, as the militants maintain pressure on the capital amid growing calls for peace talks.Several others were wounded in the morning rush-hour suicide blast in an industrial area of the city that the Afghan interior ministry said had intended to strike global security company G4S.

It was the fourth suicide attack in Kabul in three weeks and comes days after the top US general in Afghanistan said protecting the war-weary city was “our main effort”.

It also comes as the Taliban faces growing pressure to take up Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer last month of peace talks to end the 16-year war.

“Around 9:10 am this morning a suicide car bomb exploded in Police District Nine of Kabul,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP.

Two civilians were killed and three others were wounded in the attack, Danish said. The blast happened at a time when many people would have been driving to their offices on the first day of Afghanistan’s working week.

Health ministry spokesman Wahid Majrooh told AFP at least four people had been wounded in the explosion.

Deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the suicide bomber had been driving towards G4S but “detonated himself before reaching the target”.

In a WhatsApp message sent to journalists Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the bomber had targeted a convoy of “foreign troops”.

“All occupiers were killed,” Mujahid said.

The Taliban routinely exaggerates the number of people killed in its attacks, while Afghan officials tend to understate the casualty toll.

The attack comes weeks before the start of the spring fighting season which is expected to be more intense this year as militants respond to intensifying US and Afghan air strikes and ground offensives.

– Kabul a priority –

Saturday’s assault comes after General John Nicholson, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said protecting the city was a priority for foreign forces.

“Kabul is our main effort right now, to harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here because of the strategic impact that has and the importance to the campaign,” Nicholson told reporters on Wednesday.

But Nicholson conceded that preventing further attacks would be challenging in the sprawling city that is poorly mapped and extremely porous.

Taliban and Islamic State militants have been ramping up attacks in Kabul in recent months, increasing pressure on the Afghan government, which is frequently lambasted for its inability to protect civilians.

The most recent was on March 9 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Shiite area of the city, killing at least nine people. IS claimed responsibility as it seeks to stir up sectarian violence in the Sunni-majority country.

– Resurgent Taliban –

In a surprise visit to Kabul on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said “elements” of the Taliban were open to peace talks with the Afghan government.

But so far Afghanistan’s largest militant group has given only a muted response to Ghani’s February 28 proposal made at an international conference in Kabul and has continued to launch deadly attacks across the country.

And US data suggests the group has few reasons to negotiate right now.

The Taliban has been resurgent since the withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops at the end of 2014, taking back territory and devastating Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces.

In October, insurgents controlled or influenced nearly half of Afghanistan’s districts — double the percentage in 2015, the US government’s office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in January.

Over the same period, the watchdog said, the number of districts under Afghan government control or influence fell to its lowest level since December 2015.

by Mushtaq MOJADDIDI

Car bomb kills at least three in Afghan capital — “All those killed were barbers or shoeshine men. Ordinary people going about their daily activities.”

March 17, 2018

Image may contain: car and outdoor

A damaged vehicle is seen after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan March 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad IsmailREUTERS

KABUL (REUTERS) – A CAR bomb killed at least three people and wounded two in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday in an apparent attack on a foreign contractor company, officials said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said all those killed and wounded in the explosion were civilians with no casualties among the contractors.

Witnesses said the casualty toll was higher but confirmed that, like countless other attacks in Kabul, its victims were ordinary people going about their daily activities.

“All those killed were barbers or shoeshine men. I was horrified when I saw their bodies,” said Mohammad Osman, who was nearby when the explosion shattered nearby buildings and who said he had seen four or five bodies.

Police officials said the exact cause of the explosion was being investigated.

While the latest blast was relatively minor compared with others that have killed scores of people recently, the constant stream of attacks in Kabul has undermined confidence in the Western-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani.

Earlier this week, General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said security in Kabul would be “the main effort” for international powers helping Afghan defense and security forces.

(Reporting by Sayed Hassib and Hamid Shalizi; Editing by James Mackenzie and Nick Macfie)

US defense chief Mattis slams Iran for ‘mucking around’ in Iraq elections

March 17, 2018

An Iraqi supporter of Moqtada Al-Sadr raises a sign showing the colors of the Iraqi flag superimposed on a hand flashing the victory gesture with a caption in Arabic reading at the bottom ‘million-man march, reformist, electoral, walking towards reform,’ during a demonstration in Baghdad against corruption in the Iraqi government on March 2. (AFP)
ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lambasted Iran on Thursday for “mucking around” in Iraq’s upcoming elections in a bid to sway votes toward pro-Tehran candidates.
Speaking to reporters as he returned from a trip to Oman, Afghanistan and Bahrain, Mattis said officials he met with had expressed frequent concerns about Iranian behavior.
“One thing that came through loud and clear is the suspicion of Iran and the evidence of Iranian destabilizing efforts,” said Mattis, a longtime Iran hawk.
“I heard it when I was up in Afghanistan. You know what’s going on in terms of Iran’s support to Assad. Now Iran is following Russia’s example (and) mucking around in Iraq’s elections,” Mattis said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“It was just brought home to me again that they are not changing their behavior, they are continuing to be a destabilizing influence,” Mattis added.
The Pentagon chief said he would not speculate as to whether Iran’s efforts were having any impact on the Iraqi electorate ahead of the May parliamentary and provincial assembly elections.
“Iran is trying to influence, using money, the Iraqi elections. That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes,” he said.
“Iran should leave the Iraqis to determining their own future,” said Mattis.
Despite increased rhetoric from Washington about Iran’s activities in the region and US President Donald Trump’s continual railing against the Iran nuclear deal, Mattis noted that Iranian naval vessels in the Gulf have become less provocative toward US ships.
He said ships from both the regular Iranian navy and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have curtailed the sorts of incidents that had become almost routine over the past few years, and are now staying away from American vessels.
“In the Gulf itself, they are not coming in as close to our ships, the provocative actions in the Gulf seem to have relented somewhat,” Mattis said.
“They are not doing as many bellicose confrontations and that sort of thing.”
Commander Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said there had been no “unsafe or unprofessional” interactions with the Iranians at sea since Aug. 14, 2017, when an Iranian drone with no lights on flew close to US aircraft operating in the Gulf.
Urban told reporters that “a substantial period time” has passed since then, “something that we think is great.”
He said there has been “an across-the-board change in behavior.”
Last year and in 2016, the US Navy frequently complained about the behavior of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels, which would often shadow and steer toward American ships.
In at least one incident, US sailors had to fire flares and warning shots before the Iranians turned away.
Urban said that since then, the Iranians have stopped approaching so closely.
Mattis said that off the Yemen coast around the Bab-El-Mandab strait, Iran is testing a number of offensive capabilities.
“It’s where you find (Iran’s) radars, their ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles,” Mattis said.
“We’ve found their mines, their explosive boats all being tested, increased capability being demonstrated down there.”
The Fifth Fleet and its associated task forces continually patrol the Gulf and inspect some of the ships passing through the region. In 2016, sailors seized weapons apparently headed from Iran to Yemen, including machine guns and rocket launchers.
Urban said task forces this year have confiscated record amounts of heroin, much of which may have been grown in Afghanistan to fund the Taliban.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is a paramilitary force that answers directly to the country’s supreme leader. In January 2016, the Iranians briefly captured the crew of two small US patrol boats that strayed into Iranian waters. The 10 US sailors were released 24 hours later.

Car bomb rocks Kabul, multiple casualties: official

March 17, 2018

AFP | 

KABUL: A suicide attacker blew up a bomb-laden vehicle in Kabul on Saturday, killing at least two civilians and wounding several others, an Afghan official said.

“Around 9:10am this morning a suicide car bomb exploded in Police District Nine of Kabul,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP, adding the target of the attack was not clear.


More as it becomes available

mangle structures blown halfway down a street, with debris all over the pavements and people crowding around a plume of smoke in the background
EPA FILE photo of car bombing in Kabul

Top US general in Afghanistan urges ‘tired’ Taliban to talk peace

March 14, 2018


© AFP / by Thomas WATKINS | Captured alleged Taliban fighters being presented to the media by police in Jalalabad earlier this month

BAGRAM (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – Now is the best time for the Taliban to negotiate for peace, the top US general in Afghanistan said Wednesday, warning that an increased air and ground campaign against the insurgents would only get worse.Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last month unveiled a plan to open talks to end the 16-year-old war, offering to negotiate with the Taliban without any preconditions.

So far the group’s response to the offer has been muted, which analysts said reflects debate among Taliban leaders over the merits of engaging with an administration it has long viewed as illegitimate.

But US officials including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this week that some Taliban elements are open to talking with the Afghan government.

General John Nicholson, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban have taken heavy casualties since US President Donald Trump authorised ramped-up air operations last year, pointing to increasingly effective Afghan commando and regular Afghan army units.

Image result for General John Nicholson, photos

General John Nicholson

“In the Taliban’s mind, they see what is coming and these capabilities are only going to get greater,” Nicholson told reporters accompanying Mattis on a visit to Bagram Airfield, America’s largest air base in Afghanistan that is located north of Kabul.

“So this really is probably their best time to attempt a negotiation, because it’s only going to get worse for them,” he added, as both sides prepare for the start of what is expected to be an intense spring fighting season.

Nicholson’s comments come as Afghanistan deploys more troops to the western province of Farah where the Taliban have launched multiple attacks in recent weeks.

The latest assault in the province, which borders Iran, happened in the early hours of Wednesday when militants stormed a checkpoint manned by police and intelligence officers on the outskirts of the provincial capital Farah, killing seven security forces, officials said.

Ghani’s peace plan includes eventually recognising the Taliban as a political party. In return, the Taliban would need to recognise the Kabul government and constitution — a perennial sticking point in past attempts to open talks.

Despite Nicholson’s tough talk, US data shows the Taliban are far from being driven off the battlefield.

In October, insurgents controlled or influenced nearly half of Afghanistan’s districts — double the percentage in 2015, the US government’s office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in January.

Over the same period, the watchdog said, the number of districts under Afghan government control or influence fell to its lowest level since December 2015.

– Focus on Kabul –

“My perception of what is going on inside the Taliban is they are tired of this war as well, they’d like to return home, they’d like to rejoin society and, just like the people of this country, would like to see the end of this war as would all of us,” Nicholson said.

He added that there are “many Taliban who could see a way to work within this framework” but cautioned there would always be those that will never reconcile.

“It’s encouraging that these offers are on the table and we would appear to be at a point where they could start having a conversation about this,” he said.

Aside from military pressure, Nicholson said it is important that diplomatic pressure is strong on “those who externally enable the insurgency” and he credited the role that religious pressure from other Islamic countries is playing.

The four-star general also underscored the need to strengthen security in Kabul, where a string of devastating attacks in recent months has killed hundreds of civilians.

“Kabul is our main effort right now, to harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here because of the strategic impact that has and the importance to the campaign,” he said.

by Thomas WATKINS

Conflict Between India and Pakistan — An Update From The Council on Foreign Relations

March 14, 2018

Recent Developments

With continued violence in Kashmir and a heightened threat of terrorist activity by Pakistan-based militant groups, the threat of a serious military confrontation between India and Pakistan remains high. In January 2016, six armed militants attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot (near the border with Pakistan), killing seven Indian security personnel before being killed themselves.

In July 2016, anti-India protests broke out across the Kashmir valley following the death of local militant leader Burhan Wani. Violent demonstrations and protests calling for an independent Kashmir have continued through November 2016, with more than ninety people killed and thousands wounded in the heavy-handed response by Indian security forces.

In September 2016, armed militants attacked a remote Indian Army base in Uri, near the Line of Control, killing eighteen Indian soldiers in the deadliest attack on the Indian armed forces in decades. Indian officials have accused Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group with alleged ties to the Inter-Services Intelligence—Pakistan’s main intelligence agency—of being behind the attack. Later in September 2016, the Indian military announced it had carried out “surgical strikes” on terrorist camps inside Pakistani-controlled territory across the Line of Control, while the Pakistani military denied that any such operation had taken place.

Tensions remain high between the nuclear-armed neighbors. In late October 2016 and again in November 2016, Indian and Pakistani diplomats were each expelled from each other’s countries on charges of espionage, and an uptick in cross-border firing along the Line of Control continued throughout 2017 and into 2018, with military and civilian deaths on both sides.


Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and 1965, and a limited war in 1999. Although both countries have maintained a fragile cease-fire since 2003, they regularly exchange fire across the contested border. There was an increase in high-profile cease-fire violations beginning in July 2014, and artillery shelling and small arms fire continued through late 2015. Both sides accuse each other of violating the cease-fire and claim to be shooting in retaliation to attacks.

After India’s newly-elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his inauguration, there were hopes that his government would pursue meaningful peace negotiations with Pakistan. However, after a brief period of optimism, relations again turned sour when India canceled talks with Pakistan’s foreign minister in August 2014 after the Pakistani high commissioner in India met with Kashmiri separatist leaders.

In July 2015, Modi and Sharif met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia, where they issued a joint statement and announced that Modi would travel to Pakistan in 2016 for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. However, in August 2015, planned high-level talks between national security advisors were called off the night before they were slated to start after Pakistan announced it could not accept India’s precondition that talks only focus on terrorism.

In December 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had an unscheduled meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. This led to a meeting between national security advisors in Bangkok a few days later, where the Kashmir dispute was discussed. Later in December, Prime Minister Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet with Prime Minister Sharif, the first visit of an Indian leader to Pakistan in more than a decade.

Following the Uri attack in September 2016, India announced a boycott of the SAARC summit, planned for November 2016 in Islamabad, citing Pakistan’s alleged involvement and support for terrorism; this boycott was joined by Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Bhutan and led to the summit’s indefinite postponement.

The diversion of jihadi fighters and proxy groups from Afghanistan to Kashmir threatens to further increase violence along the border. If another Mumbai 2008–style attack, where Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters rampaged through the city for four days, killing 164 people, were carried out by Pakistan’s militant proxies, it could trigger a severe military confrontation between the two nuclear-armed states.


Having identified South Asia as an epicenter of terrorism and religious extremism, the United States has an interest in ensuring regional stability, preventing nuclear weapons proliferation, and minimizing the potential of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.!/conflict/conflict-between-india-and-pakistan

More troops sent to west Afghanistan as Taliban step up attacks

March 14, 2018


© AFP/File | Afghan troops (shown firing artillery during an anti-Taliban operation in Farah in late January) regularly come under attack in the remote province
FARAH (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – Afghanistan has deployed more troops to a restive western province where a multi-billion-dollar pipeline is planned after the Taliban launched multiple attacks against security forces, causing heavy casualties, officials said Wednesday.The latest assault in Farah, which borders Iran, happened in the early hours of Wednesday when Taliban militants stormed a checkpoint manned by police and intelligence officers on the outskirts of the provincial capital of the same name, killing seven security forces.

It came as the Taliban face growing pressure to take up Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks to end the 16-year insurgency, but so far the group has given only a muted response

 Image result for Anar Dara district, afghanistan, photos

“When commando forces were deployed they (the militants) retreated,” Jamila Amini, a member of the Farah provincial council, told AFP.

Four members of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s spy agency, and three police were killed, she added.

The incident and death toll were confirmed by fellow provincial council member Gul Ahmad Faqiri.

“We have sent more troops and commando forces to Farah to contain the situation,” defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP, adding the army chief of staff had also visited the province.

“The situation will soon come under control,” he said.

Taliban fighters on Monday briefly took control of the administrative building of Farah’s Anar Dara district, killing eight police, before they were beaten back by security forces, officials said.

That came after an attack on soldiers in Bala Buluk district over the weekend that resulted in multiple casualties.

Image result for Anar Dara district, afghanistan, photos

A February 24 raid on an army base in the same district killed at least 18 soldiers, officials said, in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.

Farah is a poppy-growing province in a hard to reach part of Afghanistan which a section of the multi-billion-dollar TAPI gas pipeline will traverse.

The conduit is named for the four countries involved: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Despite security concerns, the Taliban have pledged to cooperate with the project.

Farah has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years. In 2017 insurgents tried to overrun the capital three times, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

“The security situation has been deteriorating day by day in Farah,” Faqiri confirmed, estimating around a dozen security forces are killed in the province every day.

Former Farah governor Mohammad Aref Shah Jahan resigned in January after days of protests in the provincial capital over rising insecurity.


Farah’s Anar Dara on Verge of Collapse: Officials

Provincial council members calls for reinforcements to the deployed to the district.


Anar Dara district of western Farah province is on the verge of collapse, provincial council officials warned on Monday.

Dadullah Qane, a member of the provincial council said that the Taliban attacked the center of Anar Dara early Monday and took control of the police headquarters.

He warned that “if reinforcements are not deployed to the district, Anar Dara will fall completely to the Taliban.”

Image result for Anar Dara district, afghanistan, photos

Until now, Anar Dara was one of the peaceful districts of the province.

However, local officials have not yet commented over the attack.

This comes after about 15 security force members, including eight Special Forces, were killed on Friday night in Bala Blok district of the province, according to local officials.

Head of Farah provincial council Farid Bakhtawar said the forces had gone to Fararod area in Bala Blok district on Friday night to launch an operation, but were ambushed by Taliban while on their way. Fifteen of them were killed and a number of them were captured by Taliban fighters.

According to the provincial council members, eight of the soldiers killed were Special Forces members.

“In total there are 18 persons of whom three have been captured and the rest including eight Special Forces have been killed,” said Bakhtawar.

“The Special Forces had launched a clearing operation, but they suffered losses in this operation,” said Dadullah Qane, a member of the provincial council.

Afghan defense ministry officials refused to comment on the incident on camera but they did confirm the death of four Special Forces members in the ambush.

Insecurity has increased in Farah province in recent months. Last month, more than 10 national army personnel were also killed in a Taliban attack on a military base.

Farah provincial council chairman said in this incident Taliban also suffered heavy casualties.

The group, however, said in a statement that they had killed dozens of security force members.

Trump’s new CIA chief pick has a tortured past

March 14, 2018


© CIA Handout/ AFP | Gina Haspel has been nominated as the CIA’s new director.

Text by Leela JACINTO 

Latest update : 2018-03-14

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday hailed Gina Haspel as “the first woman” tapped to be the new CIA director. But with her track record of links to secret overseas detention sites and torture, Haspel may not be the best woman for the job.

In March 2002, an FBI agent fluent in Arabic was called in to interrogate a suspect captured in a raid on a suspected al Qaeda safe house in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad.

The suspect had been wounded during the raid and when Ali Soufan, a Lebanon-born FBI agent, arrived to question him, he found the detainee in bad shape: he had been shot in the thigh, testicle and stomach, and appeared delirious.

Soufan and another FBI colleague did what they could to ease the detainee’s suffering. They held ice to his parched lips, helped change his soiled clothes and asked for clean bed linen. A rapport — built on kindness — was established between the suspect and agents. Gradually, the suspect began to talk in his native Arabic.

What he revealed turned out to be solid gold for the US military campaign against al Qaeda.

The suspect was Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a Saudi citizen better known as Abu Zubaydah.

Within the first few days, Zubaydah revealed that the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was a certain Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani national who was not known to have al Qaeda links at that time. The detainee also provided information on an active terror plot, which immediately led to the arrest of an al Qaeda suspect in Chicago.

But suddenly the flow of valuable intelligence stopped.

In his 2011 book, “The Black Banners”, and in a testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Soufan identified what he believed was the problem: torture.

The former FBI agent who now heads the Soufan Group — a New York-based security intelligence company — insists that torture as an interrogation technique does not work and often backfires.

In Zubaydah’s case, the flow of intelligence stopped after the Saudi citizen was transferred to a “black site” — or secret, CIA-operated prison established in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

That black site was in Thailand and run by Gina Haspel, a little-known undercover CIA operative.

On Tuesday, Haspel entered the annals of American history when Trump announced her nomination as the first female director of the CIA.

Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!

Destroyed torture videotapes

Haspel’s nomination was part of the domino effect caused by the ouster of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. With CIA director Mike Pompeo tapped to replace Tillerson as the top US diplomat, Haspel is now being considered for a promotion from CIA deputy director to US spy chief.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trump called the 61-year-old CIA deputy director “an outstanding person” and noted that he had worked closely with her.

Hours after Trump’s shock announcement, Sen. Richard Burr (R), chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, said he expected to support Haspel’s nomination as CIA chief and that he would ensure the process would be completed “without delay”.

In a statement, Burr noted, “I know Gina personally and she has the right skill set, experience, and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies.”

Democrats and human rights advocates, however, are bound to disagree.

In 2013, when the CIA attempted to make Haspel the head of the agency’s clandestine service department, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D), then head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, worked the phones in a successful bid to block Haspel’s confirmation to the post.

Of particular concern was Haspel’s involvement in one of the darkest chapters of the spy agency’s history: the 2005 destruction of interrogation videotapes stored in a safe at the CIA station in Thailand.

According to a May 2013 Washington Post report, Haspel’s former colleagues claimed she’d lobbied for years to have the videotapes taken in Thailand destroyed.

Raking up old demons

The issue of the destroyed Thailand videotapes is likely to resurface, this time publicly, during congressional confirmation hearings for the new CIA chief.

Last year, when Haspel was appointed deputy director of the agency, a number of US media groups published details of the career CIA officer’s controversial past. In a report titled, “The New CIA deputy chief’s black site past,” the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins noted that Haspel’s appointment showed that the “debate about torture in the President’s mind, if there ever was one, is over”.

But while the CIA deputy director position is exempt from congressional confirmation, the top job at the spy agency isn’t and the confirmation process is bound to rake up old demons of the George W. Bush years.

In a statement expressing his opposition to Haspel’s nomination, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, noted, “Her nomination must include total transparency about this background, which I called for more than a year ago when she was appointed deputy director. If Ms. Haspel seeks to serve at the highest levels of US intelligence, the government can no longer cover up disturbing facts from her past.”

Lawsuits across the Atlantic

Haspel’s nomination could also spark human rights campaigns and lawsuits across the Atlantic.

A Berlin-based civil rights group has filed a criminal complaint to the German authorities to issue an arrest warrant for Haspel, over claims she oversaw the torture of terrorism suspects.

Following Haspel’s promotion to CIA deputy director last year, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) updated its legal briefing requesting her arrest.

On new director Gina : In 2017 @ECCHRBerlin called on Germany’s Public Prosecutor to issue arrest warrant against Haspel bc she oversaw ; She’d fall within Afghanistan-plus investigation of US torture 

The ICC must hold the US accountable for crimes in Afghanistan | Katherine Gallagher

An investigation would show no one is above the law when it comes to torture, says Katherine Gallagher from the Center for Constitutional Rights

The New York-based American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also suing two psychologists contracted by the CIA to use torture techniques. The ACLU submission claims the two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jensen, were answerable to Haspel.

While the human rights cases go through the courts, few expect Haspel to spend time behind bars.

For some of the victims of the torture programme she oversaw, though, that horrific chapter of their lives is not yet over.

More than 15 years after Zubaydah was hooded, handcuffed and dispatched from Pakistan to Thailand, the Saudi national is still being held at the Guantanamo detention facility without charges. Zubaydah is among a group of detainees deemed too innocent to charge but too dangerous to release, and his case is subject to period reviews.

In the course of one month at the CIA station in Thailand, a US investigation revealed that Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times and his head repeatedly slammed into walls.

“As head of the secret prison in Thailand, Gina Haspel followed each day of Abu Zubaydah’s torture from Aug. 4 to 23, 2002, and she alone had the responsibility to end this torture but failed to do so,” reads the ECCHR submission to German authorities.

If the Senate Intelligence Committee approves the country’s first female CIA director, it’s not likely to be welcomed by women’s rights activists across the world.

Afghan forces battle to win back district center

March 12, 2018


In this file photo, new recruits to the Afghan army Special Forces take part in a military exercise in Rishkhur district outside Kabul, Afghanistan Feb. 25, 2017. (REUTERS)
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan: Afghan forces backed by air strikes battled on Monday to recapture a district center in the western province of Farah, after Taliban fighters seized the town in an overnight attack that killed several policeman, regional officials said.
The fighting in Farah underlines the continuing strength of the Taliban movement, which controls or contests almost half of Afghanistan, and has so far rejected peace overtures from President Ashraf Ghani.
Nasrat Rahimi, a deputy spokesman of the interior ministry, said reinforcements had arrived in Anar Dara town and surrounded a group of Taliban fighters. Air strikes had killed 56 insurgent fighters, he said.
Eight police, including the local police commander had been killed and several wounded, he added.
The Taliban released pictures that appeared to show fighters in the town and a spokesman for the group, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said 15 policemen had been killed and several military vehicles seized, along with a large quantity of ammunition.
No comment was immediately available from US military headquarters in Kabul.
Afghan and US commanders have been relatively upbeat about the course of the war since US President Donald Trump announced a new and more robust military strategy last year, with more air strikes and greater support for Afghan forces.
The fighting in Anar Dara came days after local officials said the Taliban had inflicted heavy losses on Afghan special forces in another district of Farah, an isolated region where the government has long struggled to control.
The pressure on Farah has grown as US air strikes and Afghan army operations have inflicted heavy casualties on Taliban fighters in neighboring Helmand province, the country’s main opium-growing region and a heartland of the insurgency.
In January, the governor of Farah resigned, blaming political interference and corruption. Residents of Farah city have complained bitterly about security in the province, where some police units are alleged to collude with Taliban fighters, selling them weapons and ammunition.
Although they have failed to take any major provincial cities, the insurgents have several times seized district centers, even if they have often been driven off soon after by government reinforcements.
With the approach of milder spring weather, security officials have said they expect fighting to surge as the Taliban, fighting to drive out international forces and re-impose their version of strict Islamic law, step up pressure.
The US military’s latest estimates from December show the Afghan government controls or has influence over 56 percent of districts, with insurgents controlling or contesting the rest.

Afghanistan welcomes Pakistan’s inclusion on terror finance watch list, aid cut

March 10, 2018


Afghanistan has welcomed the rising international pressure on the counter-terrorism front against Pakistan including its recent listing on a terrorism financing watch list and the United States withholding aid.

“We hope that this trend continues and the response to these measures is positive in the interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region,” Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative Mahmoud Saikal told the Security Council on Thursday.

“Of late, we have seen new measures at the international level to shift the calculus and promote genuine and productive counter-terrorism cooperation,” he said.

He diplomatically did not name Pakistan but the reference was clear.

“Recent decisions including the reduction of financial aid to the concerned State, and inclusion in the watch list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) represent a renewed attempt to encourage genuine action on the crucially important goal of defeating terrorism effectively,” Saikal said.

Last month Washington persuaded the members of FATF to reinstate Pakistan on its “grey list” of nations that are monitored for not acting adequately to stop terrorist financing and money laundering.

Above, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani talks at the second Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on February 28. Ghani offered a conditional plan for peace talks with the Taliban, including the recognition of the militants as a political group. (AFP)


In January US President Donald Trump ordered withholding military aid and payments estimated at $1.2 billion to Islamabad because of its support for terrorist organisations.

Trump had accused it of giving safe havens to the terrorists that “we hunt in Afghanistan” and practising “lies and deceit.”

Saikal denounced the attacks in January by “Taliban’s Haqqani network” on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul that killed 18, including 14 foreigners, and on Save the Children NGO in Jalalabad in which 27 people died, and the detonation of an explosive-laden ambulance near a major hospital in the heart of Kabul killing at least 105 civilians.

PHOTO: Black smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 21, 2018.

Rahmat Gul/AP
Black smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 21, 2018.

“The sheer level of savagery in these despicable and heinous attacks was startling,” he said.

Despite all this, Saikal said President Ashraf Ghani made the “unprecedented” offer of direct talks to the Taliban without preconditions.

“Should our call receive a positive response, they will be granted the chance to become normal citizens, allowed to compete peacefully in politics through democratic procedures, be relieved from UNSC sanctions measures, besides enjoying the benefits of other positive measures,” he said. “In turn, they have to give up on their long-standing path of violence.”