05/01/13: The Blog of Legal Times reports the Justice Department has renewed its effort to shut down a lawsuit in Washington over the scope of information a former US defense intelligence officer can publish in a memoir about service in the war in Afghanistan. DOJ lawyers said in court papers filed April 26 that the government has determined that some of the details in the book, Operation Dark Heart, written by Anthony Shaffer, are classified and cannot be publicly disclosed. “[T]here is no First Amendment right to publish classified information,” DOJ lawyer Scott Risner wrote. Shaffer’s book, DOJ said, reveals “intelligence activities, sources and methods, as well as information about military plans and the foreign activities of the United States that … could reasonably be expected to cause serious identifiable damage to our national security.”
04/15/13: The Miami Herald reports a UN report released Monday said opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has been increasing for a third year in a row and is heading for a record high. The boom in poppy cultivation is at its most pronounced in the Taliban’s heartland in the south, the report showed, especially in regions where troops of the US-led coalition have been withdrawn or are in the process of departing. Increased production has been driven by unusually high opium prices, but also indicates that Afghans are turning to illicit markets and crops as the real economy shrinks ahead of the expected withdrawal of foreign combat troops at the end of 2014. Afghanistan is by far the world’s largest producer of opium, last year producing 75 percent of the global crop.
04/01/13: BBC News reports the UK’s top commander in Afghanistan said Monday that cutting British forces too quickly could endanger progress at a critical time. Lieutenant General Nick Carter, deputy chief of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said passing control of security to Afghan forces was going well, but he warned any move to thin out UK forces too soon would be “unforgivable.” NATO combat operations against the Taliban will finish by the end of 2014; as part of a gradual withdrawal, the number of British troops in Afghanistan will be almost halved from 9,000 to 5,200 by the end of 2013. Carter’s warning comes as forces for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who have been carrying out their first engagement without Western help, called for support from ISAF during a battle against drug smugglers.
03/31/13: Reuters reports Afghan President Hamid Karzai held talks with Qatari leaders Sunday, on a visit Kabul says will seek to explore the possibility of talks with Taliban insurgents on ending Afghanistan’s war. Karzai’s trip to the Gulf Arab state, a US ally which has mediated in conflicts in Arab or Muslim countries, follows years of stalled discussions among the United States, Pakistan, and the Taliban about a possible Afghan settlement. Afghanistan’s embassy in Doha confirmed Karzai’s arrival on Saturday for a two-day visit. Qatari state media said Karzai held talks with the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, attended by the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. Kabul has been pushing hard to get the Taliban to the negotiating table before foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
03/30/13: The Miami Herald reports US special operations forces handed over their base in a strategic district of eastern Afghanistan to local Afghan special forces on Saturday, senior US commanders said. The withdrawal satisfies a demand by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that US forces leave the area after allegations that the Americans' Afghan counterparts committed human rights abuses there on US orders. The transfer of authority ends a particularly rocky episode in the strained relations between the US and Karzai. He had insisted that US forces leave Nirkh district in Wardak province over the alleged torture, kidnapping and summary execution of militant suspects there - charges US officials firmly denied. The incident shows the larger struggle of Karzai's government to assert its authority over security matters, even as its green security forces try to assume control of much of the country from coalition forces on a rushed timeline, ahead of the scheduled withdrawal of most of coalition forces by December 2014.
03/29/13: The New York Times reports hundreds of miles from their homeland in the mountainous northwest, Pakistani Taliban fighters have started to flex their muscles more forcefully in parts of Karachi, and they are openly taking ground. Taliban gunmen have mounted guerrilla assaults on police stations, killing scores of officers. They have stepped up extortion rackets that target rich businessmen and traders, and shot dead public health workers engaged in polio vaccination efforts. In some neighborhoods, Taliban clerics have started to mediate disputes through a parallel judicial system. The grab for influence and power in Karachi shows that the Taliban have been able to extend their reach across Pakistan, even here in the country’s most populous city, with about 20 million inhabitants. No longer can they be written off as endemic only to the country’s frontier regions. In joining Karachi’s street wars, the Taliban are upending a long-established network of competing criminal, ethnic and political armed groups in this combustible city. The difference is that the Taliban’s agenda is more expansive — it seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state — and their operations are run by remote control from the tribal belt along the Afghan border. Already, the militants have reshaped the city’s political balance by squeezing one of the most prominent political machines, the Pashtun-dominated Awami National Party, off its home turf. They have scared Awami operatives out of town and destroyed offices, gravely undercutting the party’s chances in national elections scheduled for May.
03/25/13: CNN reports US Secretary of State John Kerry made a previously unannounced stop in Afghanistan Monday for a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Kerry landed in Kabul on Monday afternoon and was expected to meet with Karzai at the presidential palace later in the day. Kerry’s visit comes the same day the United States handed over control of a US-run prison near Bagram Air Base to Afghan authorities. The detention facility was a sticking point between U.S. and Afghan officials. The visit also comes amid other tensions between Karzai and the NATO-led coalition forces that escalated after a bomb blast in Kabul this month that killed nine people. Karzai afterward claimed the United States was trying to foment continued violence inside Afghanistan, a claim quickly denounced by NATO and US officials.
03/25/13: The Washington Times reports the United States has ceded control of its last prison in Afghanistan, the informally dubbed Bagram facility, bringing an end to two years of strained relations and disputes over which country controls prisoners. The facility, which was initially located on the NATO-controlled Bagram air base, about twenty-five miles outside Kabul, was rebuilt a few miles away and renamed as the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan. US authorities agreed to the transfer a year ago. But the sticking point was the fate of the facility’s most dangerous detainees. US military forces stayed on to guard about fifty of the prison’s most dangerous inmates. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US officials talked over the weekend and struck a final agreement on the prisoners’ transfers.
03/24/13: CNN reports the Pakistani Taliban vowed Sunday to assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf if he returns to the country as planned. A spokesman said in a video message that the group will send out a “death squad” to kill him, and Pakistani authorities also seek his arrest on corruption charges. Since resigning in 2008, Musharraf has spent five years in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai. He plans to fly on a commercial airline into Karachi on Sunday, then attend a rally that will include Pakistani expatriates from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. He plans to lead his political party into Pakistan’s general elections slated for May. In 1999, Musharraf, the-then chief of Pakistan’s army, became President in a bloodless military coup. He remained in power until resigning in 2008.
03/17/13: Reuters reports a senior Afghan official said Saturday that Kabul and the US are working on a compromise deal to allow American special forces to stay in a strategically key province near the capital in return for full Afghan control of a controversial jail. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's decision to expel special forces from Wardak province has angered US defense officials who worry their exit could allow insurgents to strengthen their presence in the area and use it as a base to attack Kabul, only fifteen miles away. US special forces tasked with fighting the Taliban were scheduled to leave the restive province a week ago, but apparently they are still operating there. Reports indicate there might be a deal on Wardak Province when Afghanistan is given full control of Bagram prison.
03/17/13: The Long War Journal reports Afghan forces scored a major coup on March 12, breaking up a suspected Haqqani Network cell that was hours away from detonating a 7,800-kilogram truck bomb against a military installation in Kabul. Elite commandos conducted a night raid on March 12 against a suspected Haqqani safe house in the al-Walkhil village in Kabul's Sixteenth District, and killed five suspected militants and captured two others. Among the weapons and ammunition seized was a large flatbed truck filled with 7,800 kilograms of explosives consisting of potassium chloride, ammonium nitrate, and an unknown substance -- a bomb powerful enough to have wrought destruction within a radius of almost a mile, according to spokesman Shafiqullah Taheri.
03/11/13: The New York Times reports a 29-year-old student has accused a CIA-backed Afghan strike force of arresting him, detaining him without charge, and viciously beating him. The student, Abdul Qayum, said pickup trucks arrived at Kandahar University around 10:30 AM on Saturday. The student’s daylong detention was cited by Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a news conference in Kabul on Sunday as part of his justification for a ban announced later in the day on foreign forces from entering any Afghan school or university. He said other students had also been detained at the behest of American-controlled Afghan forces. The complaint was part of barrage of public criticism that Karzai leveled at his purported allies during the first visit to Afghanistan by the new US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
03/10/13: The Associated Press reports Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he believes US officials will be able to work things out with Afghan leaders who have ordered special operations forces out of Wardak province, even as commandos face a Monday deadline to leave. Hagel’s comments came on his first trip to Afghanistan as Defense Secretary. Hagel is expected to meet Sunday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who ordered NATO forces to leave the province just outside Kabul because of allegations that Afghans working with the commandos were involved in abusive behavior and torture. US and NATO officials insist they have seen no evidence that American forces were involved in the abuse of Afghan civilians. “I feel confident that we’ll be able to work this out,” Secretary Hagel said at Jalalabad Airfield.
03/10/13: The Washington Times reports Afghan President Hamid Karzai Sunday accused the Taliban and the United States of working in concert to convince Afghans that violence will worsen if most foreign troops leave, an allegation the top American commander in Afghanistan rejected as “categorically false.” Karzai said two suicide bombings that killed nineteen people Saturday show the insurgent group is conducting attacks to help show that international forces will still be needed to keep the peace after their current combat mission ends in 2014. “The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday showed that they are at the service of America and at the service of this phrase: 2014. They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents.”
03/04/13: Reuters reports NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday that the Alliance expects a decision by the middle of this year on the size of a training force to be kept in Afghanistan once most foreign troops leave in 2014. The US Department of Defense has said a NATO-led training force of between 8,000 and 12,000 was under consideration. Questions remain over how well Afghan security forces will be able to tackle Islamist Taliban insurgents in the face of intensifying violence and how the West can justify financial support for a force the United Nations has accused of torture. “I would expect [the size of the force] to be finalized very soon because we also need to start planning,” Rasmussen said after talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
02/25/13: The Miami Herald reports a NATO spokesman said Monday it has so far found no evidence to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s allegations of misconduct by American special forces in a strategic eastern province. German General Gunter Katz said the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will work with the government to find a solution to the concerns of Afghans, but had no comment on the allegations that Afghans connected with US special forces were involved in abuses that include torture, killings, and illegal detentions. On Sunday, Karzai ordered all US special forces to leave Wardak Province within two weeks and requested that their operations there cease immediately. The restive province, which neighboring Kabul province and is viewed as a gateway to the capital, has been the focus of counterinsurgency efforts in recent years.
02/24/13: BBC News reports Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered US special forces to leave Wardak province within two weeks over allegations of disappearances and torture by Afghans who work for the special forces. The strategically significant, central province of Wardak has been the recent focus of counterinsurgency operations. A US spokesman said it took all allegations of misconduct seriously, but could not comment specifically on this latest development. In a hastily convened news conference, Karzai’s spokesman said special forces would have to leave Wardak within two weeks. Wardak is seen as a gateway for the Taliban to target Kabul.
02/19/13: The BBC reports Pakistani police say they have arrested 170 suspects after a bomb attack on Saturday which targeted a Shia Muslim area in the western city of Quetta. Security sources said police killed four people, including a bomb-maker accused of anti-Shia attacks. Saturday's bomb ripped through a busy market district, killing almost 90 people and injuring some 169 more. Relatives of the dead are refusing to bury the bodies in protest at what they say is a lack of official action. The authorities have previously been accused of turning a blind eye to the killing of members of the Shia minority. Now both the security forces and the political leadership appear to be cracking down. But some wonder if there will be sustained action against hard-line Sunni militant groups which were supported by Pakistan's intelligence agencies in the past, our correspondent reports.