Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Massive leak of German docs on Afghanistan

More than 5,000 pages of German Bundeswehr 'Briefings to Parliament' discussing that country's military involvement in Afghanistan and dating from 2005-2012 have been leaked to the DerWesten blog portal. The documents, some of which are not very clear, are security-coded 'for official use only, the lowest of four levels of security.
The blog says that it has asked the Bundeswehr to publish the documents, but has been turned down. It adds that there is nothing in the documents that would threaten German national security. However, the documents do contain detailed charts that illustrate the fact that German troops in Afghanistan are involved in combat operations far more than is generally reported. DerWesten has asked its readers to help review the documents and point out those that are most significant.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Help build a school for 900 girls

Sometimes projects come along that really need support. A group of campaigners in Badakhshan is attempting to raise $500,000 by next April to build a school for 900 girls. The school has been in existence for 10 years, but is still housed in tents first distributed in 2001.
Supported by Afghan MP and Presidential candidate Fawzia Koofi, it deserves success. Fawzia writes: Educating women is a human rights issue. But it’s much more than that. It is the means through which we can stabilize Afghanistan. I know this better than anyone. I was one of 19 children, born to a father with 7 wives. My mother, his second wife, was illiterate. None of the girls in my family ever went to school.
"Until - thanks to the bravery and support of my mother - I became the first female in my family to get an education. Today I am a member of the Afghan parliament and a leading candidate in next year’s presidential elections. Education changed my life and enabled me to fight for the rights of others.
"And now I am asking for your help in changing other girl’s lives. Please help us to educate a schoolgirl today and who knows what she will become tomorrow. She could be the next world leader or Nobel Prize winner. And if does –that will be down to you."

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Latest FATA security report

The Third Quarter Security report from the FATA Research Centre shows that 878 people died in this region of Pakistan from July to September, with another 391 injured.
Most of those killed - 342 - died in 48 clashes between the security forces and militants - to which should be added another 209 militants killed in clashes with the Army in Bajaur Agency, whilst another 71 people died in bomb blasts. US drone attacks killed 113 people, whilst landmines and IEDs killed another 27 people.
Overall, violent incidents increased in FATA during Q3. A breakdown of the casualties suggests that of the total of 1,269 people killed or injured, 625 were militants, 479 were civilians, 126 were security personnel and 39 were pro-government militia. Total casualties were up from 1010 in Q2, with the majority of incidents and casualties taking place in Khyber, Orakzai, Bajaur and North Waziristan Agencies.
The report points out some interesting developments in relation to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In Khyber, for example, the murder of prominent militant Tariq Afridi has led to increased tensions with the TTP: "After the killing of Tariq Afridi, there is confusion among different ranks of TTP militants; and leaders have started to feel threatened for their lives. The situation remains unstable and must be closely observed as critical decisions are being made amongst the top tier of militants in the region."
The report notes that the TTP is pressurising the local tribes in North Waziristan to move to Afghanistan if the area becomes the subject of a Pakistan Army offensive. However, there is resistance, particularly from the Mahsud tribe that makes up much of the TTP foot soldiers.
The report also notes the rising importance of Wali ur Rahman, ostensibly second in command of the TTP, but now in the ascendancy compared to titular leader Hakimullah Mahsud: "Hakimullah is believed to be on drugs these days, he is considered mentally weak, and is on constant run from military. Hakimullah has also reportedly issued orders for killing Tariq Afridi and as a result has lost his support from high profile Taliban commanders. On the other hand, his counterpart Wali Rehman is considered comparatively cool minded, realist and rational." pt 2.

From AP today: "Petraeus and Broadwell apparently used a trick, known to terrorists and teenagers alike, to conceal their email traffic, one of the law enforcement officials said.
Rather than transmitting emails to the other's inbox, they composed at least some messages and instead of transmitting them, left them in a draft folder or in an electronic "dropbox," the official said. Then the other person could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there. This avoids creating an email trail that is easier to trace."
That was pretty pathetic - not to mention obvious - wasn't it? Didn't they know that the server keeps a log of which computers access the email account? Stick to soldiering, General.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Amazing fact: According to the Wall Street Journal, David Petraeus' affair with Paula Broadwell came to light after the FBI conducted a probe into the use of the CIA director's gmail account. Yes, his gmail account. Petraeus appears not to have understood the most basic issues of online security. Never mind the betrayal of his wife, he should have been sacked for incompetence.

Restored Mausoleum of Timur Shah opens in Kabul

The Mausoleum of Timur Shah, badly damaged during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s, has been reopened by President Karzai and the Agha Khan. Built in 1817, the octagonal red brick building is in the style of the early Moghul and Afghan kings of Delhi. 

The interior of the simple building, which is surrounded by a small park, contains a plain, undecorated sarcophagus. The tomb itself lies in the vaults beneath the building, alongside that of the ill-fated Shah Shujah, Timur's son, who was murdered outside the Bala Hissar citadel in 1842. 
Born in 1746, Timur Shah served as governor of Herat before facing down a military challenge to the throne from his elder brother, and then moving his capital from Kandahar  to Kabul. After his death in 1793 his son Zaman Shah buried him in a garden on the banks of the Kabul River, but it was not until 1817 that construction of the Mausoleum began. 
His court was highly influenced by Persia and he himself was reliant on the infamous Qizilbash bodyguards for his personal protection.
During the course of conservation work, negotiations took place for the relocation of the 200 or more informal traders who had encroached on what had been the garden around the Mausoleum. At one point it was thought that the traders could be incorporated into a new development on land adjoining the garden, but these plans were rejected and the traders were removed in 2005. Since then, a perimeter wall has been constructed to protect the site, which has been planted with mulberry trees – matching those seen in historic photographs (see below) – and laid out with paths.
Since its restoration, the central space of the Mausoleum has been used for lectures, seminars and exhibitions, and discussions are under way with the relevant authorities for the space and reclaimed garden to be used for cultural events.
Below is another picture of the Mausoleum, one of the earliest photographs taken in Afghanistan. The photo was taken by  John Burke in 1879-80.
In 1878 John Burke accompanied the British forces deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs "illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad". Burke's two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region.
Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, in partnership at first with William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. However, Burke is best known as the first significant photographer of Afghanistan and its people.(Pic courtesty of the British Museum).

Friday, 9 November 2012

US military drone strikes in Afghanistan

According to Wired's DangerRoom blog the US military has launched 333 drone strikes so far this year in Afghanistan, the highest total ever. It's also about the same number of drone strikes as the CIA has launched in neighbouring Pakistan over the last eight years.
For comparison, US drone strikes in Afghanistan totalled 255 in 2009, 278 in 2010 and 294 in 2011.
The US military has 61 Predator and Reaper combat air patrols in Afghanistan, each with three or four remotely-piloted vehicles. In comparison, the CIA is believed to operate a total of 30-35 drones and is looking to purchase another 10.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dumb comment of the month

According to the Washington Post:
             "U.S. military and intelligence officials said that Mullah Fazlullah, the mastermind of the attack on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, operates out a region adjoining Pakistan where several hundred US troops are stationed. But they said finding Fazlullah is not a priority because he is not affiliated with al-Qaeda or with insurgents targeting US and Afghan interests.
              “Our guys just aren’t tracking him,” a senior Special Operations official said. “He is viewed as an ‘other-side-of-the-border’ problem.” When asked if Fazlullah was a priority, a senior intelligence official responded, “Not with so many other potential targets” in Afghanistan."
Exactly the same way as the Haqqani Network is viewed in Pakistan, as just one of those 'other-side-of-the-border' problems.

Haqqanis' suicide trainer designated by State Dept

Here's the link to the US State Department's designation of Qari Zakir as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. The Haqqani Network itself was designated in September.
As chief of suicide operations for the Haqqani Network, Zakir has been responsible for some terrible atrocities, listed in the designation, which allows the US to freeze any assets of his it finds under its control.
Both Zakir and the Haqqani Network itself were also designated by the UN 1988 Sanctions Committee yesterday, which requires all UN member states to implement an assets freeze, a travel ban, and an arms embargo against them.