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Outlook worsens in Afghanistan

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  • December 23, 2009 -- A member of the Afghan parliament has been mistakenly killed in an early morning shootout between his bodyguards and police officers, officials said. Mohammad Yunos Shirnagha, from the northern province of Baghlan, was killed as he returned home around 2.30am this morning, said provincial police chief General Kabir Andarabi. Officers were hiding in an area near the provincial capital, Pul-e-Khumri, where they expected militants to transport a Taliban commander wounded in fighting a day earlier, local police said. That battle left four police and four insurgents dead, according to officials. When Shirnagha's vehicle arrived in the area police shouted for it to stop. When the driver did not stop a gunfight broke out between police and bodyguards protecting Shirnagha, a member of Afghanistan's upper house of parliament. Shirnagha's driver was also killed and one of his friends was wounded, the interior ministry said in a statement. The ministry has sent its chief of counterterrorism, Abdul Manan Farahi, to investigate.

    Elsewhere in Afghanistan a bomb killed three civilians and wounded five people, including a soldier, today in Helmand province, said Daud Ahmedi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. The defence ministry, meanwhile, reported that four militants were killed in two separate operations yesterday. In the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province three insurgents were killed by a joint Afghan and international force, the ministry said. An Afghan army and police patrol killed a militant suspected of making bombs in Zabul province, the ministry said in a statement. In Kandahar province two civilians were killed and three wounded when a roadside mine explosion hit their vehicle on Tuesday, the interior ministry said.


    • December 23, 2009 -- The third British soldier this week has been killed in southern Afghanistan. The soldier from the Parachute Regiment was killed by an improvised bomb while on foot patrol near Sangin in Helmand province yesterday afternoon, the Ministry of Defence said. His family have been informed. The death takes to 106 the number of British service personnel deaths in Afghanistan this year. There have been 243 British troops killed in Afghanistan since the invasion in late 2001. Two soldiers were killed in separate incidents involving friendly fire this week. Lance Corporal Michael David Pritchard, 22, of 4th Regiment Royal Military Police, was killed in Sangin on Sunday. Another soldier, Lance Corporal Christopher Roney from 3rd Battalion the Rifles, died yesterday from wounds sustained in a gun battle near Sangin in Helmand province on Monday. The MoD said military police were investigating friendly fire as a possible cause of both deaths but it would not release any more information until the conclusion of inquests.

      Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said friendly fire incidents took place "very frequently indeed" in the chaos of war. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The situation perhaps they [troops] face in Afghanistan, they are fighting in places like Sangin and other towns and villages where there are very tightly packed compounds, rat-run alleyways, high mud walls, and enemy appearing very, very briefly at short range – it's kill or be killed. You open fire rapidly and sometimes, tragically, you open fire on your own people." Kemp said he believed the latest incident came after a "sustained and prolonged" gunfight that resulted in warplanes being called in. "Sometimes when air support is delivered very, very closely against the enemy, when friendly forces and enemy forces are close together, that of course can sometimes result in accidents."


      • Carol Mann:

        December 26, 2009 -- When the problems riddling Afghan society are listed – violence, insecurity, corruption, religious fundamentalism – one dominating factor is usually left out: the influence of customary law. In Afghanistan, there are three principal legal references: constitutional law, the Qur'an, and the system of customary law known as farhang, the most dominant and strictest version of which is called Pashtunwali (the way of the Pashtuns). Originally an ancient honour code, farhang ensures the dominance of the oldest male of any household, followed by married sons, unmarried sons, and grandsons, then wives (with the youngest at the bottom). Collective decisions are taken by patriarchs in councils called jirgas, where all have to be in agreement. This agreement includes on collaborating or not with the Taliban, co-operating with coalition forces and accepting or refusing poppy eradication in a village. Everything else is left to patriarchal discretion. Here, no one will intervene except to reinforce the application of the patriarch's rights – say, in stoning a supposedly wayward girl, or turning a blind eye to so-called "honour killings" of women. Every act of an Afghan male's life is integrated in a form of reciprocity, in which nothing is free. Melmastia, the basic tenet of hospitality, means "I will give you shelter if you ask me to, even if you are a fugitive murderer; but, in exchange, you fight my battles." This sense of customary obligation is why so many of President Hamid Karzai's cronies remain in place and Taliban leaders remain safe.

        Women are excluded from collective decision-making, as they are mere objects. Girls are literally sold upon marriage (the father is paid money for his daughter's labour and reproductive capacity) and join their husband's household. The younger the girl, the higher the price. Marriage, especially in the provinces, is routinely consummated on pre-pubescent bodies. Yet women are precious in their own way. A family's principal "cultural capital" is its honour, which is ensured by denying women any opportunity to highlight male failings and therefore tarnish clan respectability. As a result, women must be strictly secluded and made invisible when in public, for they are personally responsible for the desire that they could ignite in schools, hospitals, parks, or markets. The all-covering burka ensures sufficient anonymity to permit women a certain amount of freedom in public space. Every female simultaneously carries her father's and her husband's honour, and will stoically submit to all forms of violence committed in its name. This may mean dying in childbirth rather than risking the "dishonour" of giving birth in a public place, a hospital, in front of strangers.

        Going to court is practically unheard of, as it would mean renouncing family practices. From the male point of view, resorting to outside police or judicial intervention would signify an inability to fight one's own battles – an admission of defeat and a symbolic castration. This helps explain the intense corruption present in Afghan courts, where "honour" can be redeemed by bribing a judge to have a rapist or murderer released. As violence is strictly a private matter, relinquishing justice to state institutions could be an unacceptable humiliation. Customary law is not rigid in that it is made to fit round the demands of the global economy. It has become more rigorous in its applications due to the influence of militant Islam, which seeks to use religious texts to legitimise escalating brutality, especially against women. However, farhang and privatised violence are precisely what Mohammad sought to ban through Qur'anic law, which went beyond the personal domain and instituted a code that gave some rights to women. For example, while the Qur'an allows for a measure of female inheritance, tribal custom does not authorise it, which explains the popularity of tribal councils to resolve inheritance problems and cheat women out of their rights. Similarly, whereas the Qur'an requires four eyewitnesses as proof of adultery, mere suspicion of some unregulated, potentially sexual conduct by a woman warrants stoning under customary law.

        Yet an awareness of alternatives is seeping in through the media, even in remote provinces. Iranian films and much-loved Indian TV serials, not to mention the occasional American film, influence people's expectations. Add to that the experience of having lived abroad as refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Women are increasingly demanding more from life than custom ordains. This is especially true for those who have lived in Iran, a totally Muslim environment that allows women the freedom to study and work as well as access to adequate healthcare and family-planning. Once back in rural Afghanistan, forced into brutal marriages, many desperate women – especially returnees from Iran – resort to self-immolation. Violence and murder of women are on the increase, perpetrated by men who feel that these alternatives pose a threat to their authority. The west imagines that religion is the central issue in Afghanistan. But the heart of the matter is the preservation of ancient patriarchal rights that go back to Biblical times, reformatted to fit the demands of globalised capitalism. Governments and international aid organisations have failed to take into consideration the role of farhang, perhaps because the power of unwritten law remains largely inconceivable in the west. But Afghanistan cannot begin to solve its many problems until it criminalises the privatised violence of this antiquated code.


        • KABUL, December 30, 2009 -- The head of a presidential delegation investigating the deaths of 10 people in eastern Afghanistan concluded Wednesday that civilians — including schoolchildren — were killed in an attack involving foreign troops, disputing NATO reports that the dead were insurgents. Asadullah Wafa, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, told The Associated Press by telephone that eight schoolchildren between the ages of 12 and 14 were among the dead discovered in a village house in the Narang district of Kunar province. A NATO official has said initial reports from troops involved in the fighting on Sunday indicated that those killed were insurgents — all young males.

          Civilian deaths are one of the most sensitive issues for foreign troops in Afghanistan, especially now when some additional 37,000 U.S. and NATO troops are being deployed to the war-ravaged country. Although far more civilians are killed by the Taliban, those blamed on international forces spark widespread resentment and undermine the fight against militants. Several hundred Afghans protested the deaths Wednesday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad and in the capital of Kabul. In Jalalabad, they burned President Barack Obama's effigy and an American flag, chanting "death" to Obama and Karzai. In Kabul, protesters chanted, "Unity, unity, death to the enemy of Islam!" and a protester with a bullhorn called on Obama to "take your soldiers out of Afghanistan."

          Wafa said he was convinced all those killed in the Kunar incident were innocent civilians. "I have talked to the principal of the school in the village and he gave us details about the killed children," Wafa said. "The schoolchildren cannot be al-Qaida. I confirm they are innocent people killed by mistake. I talked to Karzai about the findings." The bodies had already been buried by the time Wafa's team arrived. A joint Afghan-NATO probe will continue to investigate what happened. Wafa said the villagers demanded from the 10-member delegation of government officials and lawmakers that informants "who gave the wrong target to the Americans must be found and punished by a court."

          Karzai said in a statement Wednesday that he talked to the relatives of the Kunar victims to express his condolences and pledge to bring to justice those responsible for the attack. Colonel Wayne Shanks, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said at a news conference Wednesday the allegations were being investigated together with Afghan authorities. He said the force takes all such allegations seriously and goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties. "In fact, you can see that our enemy, the insurgents, have very little regard for the Afghan people," he said. "We have noticed a very dramatic increase in civilian casualties caused by roadside bombs, by attacks that insurgents have on the Afghan people." The latest figures released by the United Nations show that 2,021 civilians died during clashes in the first 10 months of this year, up from 1,838 for the same period last year. Taliban insurgents were blamed for 68 percent of the deaths this year — three times more than NATO forces, according to the U.N.


          • KABUL, December 30, 2009 -- At least eight Americans died Wednesday in a suicide bombing at a military base in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. Conflicting reports were reaching the Pentagon on whether the victims were civilian or military in the bombing at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province near the border with Pakistan. The deaths were confirmed late Wednesday by a U.S. official in the Afghan capital, Kabul. A senior U.S. official in Washington said the Americans were killed by an attacker wearing a suicide vest. Another senior U.S. official in Washington said there were conflicting reports on the number of casualties, and that other people were wounded in the attack. Wazir Pacha, a police spokesman in Khost province, said local people reported hearing a blast on the base. Soon afterward, two helicopters landed, a police officer in Khost said. All the U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because not all details about the incident had been confirmed.


            • December 31, 2009 -- Eight American civilians who were killed in a suicide attack at a military base in eastern Afghanistan yesterday were CIA agents, U.S. officials confirmed tonight. CIA officials in Washington were not immediately available for comment, and U.S. officials said they could not provide details before the agents' families were informed. The attack occurred late yesterday inside Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province, eastern Afghanistan. The base has been used to house a provincial reconstruction team operating under NATO authority.

              "There was an explosion in Khost in eastern Afghanistan," a U.S. military official in Kabul said. "There were no U.S. or international security assistance force military members killed or injured in the explosion." Ian Kelly, a state department spokesman, said in a statement: "We mourn the loss of life in this attack, and are withholding further details pending notification of next of kin." CNN reported a bomber struck in a gym or dining facility at the base. Asked whether the suicide blast occurred inside the base, one official said: "That's my understanding." The attacker was wearing a suicide vest, a senior U.S. official in Washington told Associated Press. Another senior U.S. official in Washington said there were conflicting reports on the number of casualties, but that others were injured in the attack. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because not all details about the incident had been confirmed. A senior State Department official said all of the victims are civilians. But that could include military contractors and U.S. intelligence officials. Wazir Pacha, a police spokesman in Khost province, said local people reported hearing a blast on the base. Soon afterward, two helicopters landed, a police officer in Khost said.

              Meanwhile, NATO said last night that four Canadian soldiers and a Canadian journalist travelling with them were killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan. The journalist was named as 34-year-old Michelle Lang, a reporter for the Calgary Herald. The day before, another Canadian soldier was killed by a homemade bomb in the province. The attacks rounded off a deadly year for U.S. and NATO forces, by far the most deadly of eight years of war, with the number of U.S. troops killed double last year's toll. This year 508 NATO troops were killed, up from 295 in 2008, according to, which tracks deaths in Afghanistan. Barack Obama this month announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops, bringing the total number of U.S. forces to about 100,000. He also pledged a significant increase in the number of U.S. government civilians in training and economic development roles. Attacks in Afghanistan this year have risen to their highest levels since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

              Civilian and military casualty tolls have reached record levels this year, with suicide attackers targeting UN employees at a guesthouse in Kabul, killing five and wounding several others. Many civilians working outside Kabul have retreated into army bases as the security situation has deteriorated. Bases are fortified and require extensive security checks to enter. Foreign aid agencies warned earlier this year that the move into the military bases, and the use of military personnel to carry out development projects, risked a dangerous blurring of the boundaries between troops and civilians. Khost province, where the U.S. base is located, is close to the Pakistani border and is a Taliban stronghold. In late September a suicide bomber crashed into a convoy of foreign military forces there, killing an American. In January, a suicide car bomb struck outside the gates of Forward Operating Base Chapman, killing one Afghan and wounding several others.


              • January 1, 2010 -- A British soldier has been killed after an explosion in Afghanistan's Helmand province, the Ministry of Defence said today. The soldier, who has not yet been named, was from 33 Engineer Regiment and part of a taskforce working to counter improvised explosive devices (IED). He died yesterday from wounds sustained in a blast close to Patrol Base Blenheim, near Sangin. A spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel David Wakefield, said: "It is with deep sadness I must confirm to you that a British soldier from 33 Engineer Regiment was killed by an explosion near Sangin, in Helmand province. He was part of the counter-IED task force, leading the fight against the improvised explosive device in Helmand. His sacrifice and his courage will not be forgotten." The soldier's family has been informed. The death brings the number of British soldiers killed in the conflict since 2001 to 245, including 108 in 2009. Last year was the bloodiest for Britain's armed forces since 1982, when troops were engaged in the Falklands war. The Queen used her Christmas speech to express sadness at the heavy death toll, saying the nation owed a "debt of gratitude" to all past and present troops who have served in Afghanistan.


                • January 3, 2010 -- Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, was dealt a painful political blow yesterday when the country's parliament rejected 70% of his nominees for a new cabinet, including a regionally powerful warlord and the only female minister. The secret ballot of MPs, which came at a crucial point in Karzai's quest for legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans and the rest of the world, resulted in the rejection of 17 out of 24 of his nominees. The most high-profile scalp was that of the water and power minister, Ismail Khan, a warlord in the western province of Herat during the 1990s civil war who is accused of corruption and human rights abuses. Critics say he is an example of how the president remains beholden to regional powerbrokers.

                  "I think, unfortunately, that the criteria were either ethnicity or bribery or money," MP Fawzia Kufi said of many of the names put forward by Karzai in the middle of December. The rejection of the women's affairs minister, Husn Bano Ghazanfar, was another awkward blow to Karzai, who has pledged to place more women in senior government posts. The nominations were meant to keep 12 ministers in their posts for a second term and appeared, in part, to be aimed at satisfying U.S. and western wishes that trusted hands be retained.

                  Karzai is believed to have hoped to put a new cabinet in place by the time an international conference on Afghanistan takes place in London on 28 January. Of the seven nominees approved during yesterday's voting by more than 200 MPs, all but one are currently cabinet ministers. The Afghan president, who visited the southern province of Helmand yesterday to express his condolences to relatives of civilians allegedly killed in a NATO air strike on Wednesday, has pledged to make new nominations for the empty posts but it was unclear when those names will be announced, or when a parliamentary vote will be held. The chief of Afghanistan's elections commission said parliamentary elections will be held on 22 May, just 10 months after Karzai's victory in a presidential vote marred by fraud and violence.


                  • January 4, 2010 -- The suicide bomber who killed eight people at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan last week was a triple agent brought to the outpost after offering information to catch a leading al-Qaida aide. The attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer said to have brought the bomber, a Jordanian doctor, to the spy agency outpost. U.S. news agencies, citing intelligence sources, identified the attacker as Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a 36-year-old doctor from the town of Zarqa, Jordan. Balawi was arrested by Jordanian intelligence more than a year ago on suspicion of extremist sympathies, then apparently agreed to support the U.S. in its fight against al-Qaida. Jordanian authorities believed Balawi had reformed and handed him over to the CIA so that he could infiltrate al-Qaida in Afghanistan. He was invited to the remote base on the restive border with Pakistan after offering urgent information to help locate Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, Associated Press reported. Officials said he was not searched for bombs when he entered the base. A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment.

                    The latest account of the attack contradicted a statement by the Taliban soon after the blast, which was said to have occurred as CIA officers began questioning Balawi at the base. A Taliban spokesman initially said the attacker was a sympathiser in the Afghan national army. The CIA has vowed to avenge the attack, which killed four CIA officers, including the base's female chief, and three contract security guards. Shortly after the attack, Barack Obama sent a letter of condolence to CIA employees, saying the spy agency has been tested "as never before" since the September 11 attacks. The letter, which was released to the White House press corps, was criticised for its open acknowledgement of the secretive CIA's role in the Afghanistan war. The attack was the biggest loss of life for the CIA since the 1983 bombing of the agency's Beirut station, which killed 17 officers.

                    Zarqa, a bleak industrial town north-east of the Jordanian capital Amman, has spawned other killers. In 2006, a man from the town killed a British tourist and wounded five others when he opened fire on a tour group in Amman. Zarqa was also the hometown of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the self-styled leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed by a U.S. air strike in 2006. The attack has occurred as the U.S. is sending 30,000 more troops to the country, bringing the total number of its forces to about 100,000. Last year was the deadliest for U.S. and NATO forces since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001. Bin Laden and Zawahiri, also a doctor, are said to have taken refuge in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan after the U.S. invasion.


                    • January 5, 2010 -- The top U.S. military intelligence officer in Afghanistan has sharply criticised the work of US intelligence agencies in the country, saying they were only "marginally relevant" to the overall mission. In a stinging assessment of U.S. intelligence work in Afghanistan, Major General Michael Flynn wrote: "The vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade." The report continued: "U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high-level decision makers seeking the knowledge, analysis and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency."

                      The 26-page report (.pdf file), released yesterday by the Centre for a New American Security thinktank in Washington, recommends sweeping changes to focus the intelligence community less on the enemy and more on the Afghan people. It comes less than a week after seven CIA employees died in a suicide attack. Because the U.S. has focused most of its collection efforts and analysis on insurgent groups, the intelligence network is unable to answer key questions about situations troops face on the ground, Flynn and two other advisers wrote. "The U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy," they said. The report said U.S. intelligence officials and analysts were "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the power-brokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects ... and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers."

                      The dismal assessment of the U.S. intelligence apparatus in Afghanistan follows the 30 December suicide bombing at Camp Chapman, a highly secured CIA forward base in Khost province, in eastern Afghanistan. A former senior U.S. intelligence official and a foreign government official confirmed yesterday that the bomber was a Jordanian working as a double agent who had been invited to the base because he claimed to have information targeting Osama bin Laden's right-hand man. The bombing killed four CIA officers and three contracted security guards working for the spy agency. A second former U.S. intelligence official said a Jordanian intelligence officer, Ali bin Zaid, was also killed. The CIA has declined to comment on reports that the bomber was Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a 36-year-old doctor from Zarqa, Jordan, who had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence. CIA officials could not immediately be reached today for comment on Flynn's report.


                      • January 6, 2010 -- Two of the seven CIA personnel killed in last week's suicide bombing in Afghanistan worked as contractors for the company formerly known as Blackwater, but what role Dane Paresi and Jeremy Wise played at the CIA's forward base in Khost remains unknown. The base collected intelligence used in the CIA's drone attacks across the border in Pakistan, but CIA director Leon Panetta has said that the former Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, is no longer involved in the drone program. Spokesman for both the CIA and Xe/Blackwater declined to comment whether Paresi and Wise were employed through Xe, but two private intelligence sources and one current government official familiar with CIA operations at the Afghanistan base confirmed to that the two were there as Xe employees. A source familiar with Xe's contracts said that their role was not to provide security for the base, but provided no further details. Paresi and Wise were both former elite military commandos, and were killed when a Jordanian double agent detonated a suicide bomb at a meeting inside the CIA base near the Pakistan border. Wise was a 35-year-old former Navy SEAL from Virginia Beach, Virginia. A statement from the family of the 46-year-old Dane Paresi described him as having recently retired from 27 years in the Army, many in Special Operations. He was from Portland, Oregon.

                        Last month, CIA director Leon Panetta announced that his agency had terminated its contract with Xe to load and arm Predator and Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are used to strike suspected militants and al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan's Tribal Areas. According to two former intelligence sources, Forward Operating Base Chapman was used to gather intelligence for drone strikes across the border. In response to an ABC News report last month that the CIA had expanded the role of contractors to operation positions, CIA spokesman George Little said, "CIA does not use Blackwater to perform our core missions of collecting intelligence, performing analysis or conducting covert operations," said Little. A U.S. government official told ABC News the private contractors "don't kick down doors" but only fulfill a "security role" on certain CIA missions. Said Little, "Earlier this year, Director Panetta ordered the end of one Blackwater contract and the transition of those activities to government personnel. In addition, he ordered a review of all Blackwater contracts." "At this time," said Little, "Blackwater is not involved in any CIA operations in other than a security or support role." A CIA spokesperson, George Little, acknowledged the use of contractors "in roles that complement and enhance the skills of our workforce, just as American law permits." Little said "it's the way things actually work in the real world," and he stressed that CIA officials always retained "decision-making authority and bear responsibility for results."

                        The suicide bomber, who killed some of the CIA's top al Qaeda hunters, lured the agents to the meeting by claiming he had just met with Ayman al-Zawahiri, this country's most wanted terrorist after Osama bin Laden, sources told ABC News. The informant-turned-bomber, a 32-year-old Jordanian doctor named Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al-Balawi, had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence to get information on Zawahiri. The promise of getting a bead on Zawahiri prompted one of the CIA's top analysts to travel last week from Kabul to the remote CIA listening post at Forward Operating Base Chapman in the middle of Taliban country near the Afghan-Pakistan border. The CIA outpost at Camp Chapman is the nerve center in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Al-Balawi had been to Chapman previously and because of the information he was promising, CIA officers told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. The bomber was actually escorted around the checkpoints, and the officers also told the guards to vacate the area, sources told ABC News. When al-Balawi detonated his bomb, he assassinated seven CIA operatives and wounded six others. He also killed the Jordanian intelligence officer who recruited him out of a Jordanian prison cell.

                        The question of security procedures has surfaced as information about the meeting has surfaced. Former CIA officers tell that the bombing was a result of poor operational security and went against the known and accepted tradecraft of meeting with agents. That as many as 13 CIA personnel had gathered to meet a source who had not been searched before entering the base has been hotly debated among former CIA officers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, "It is sort of a grim calculation but normally when you meet an asset like this you have one, maybe two people. So I think people are going to point out inside the agency that they shouldn't have 13 people there." "Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision," said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan and requested anonymity when discussing sensitive and classified matters. "This is a sad, sad event, but it was a complete security breakdown." A second paramilitary officer familiar with the attack noted that even if the Jordanian agent had met with al Qaeda number two Zawahiri, no foreign source can be trusted completely. "It was in everyone's interest to pat him down before getting into the car," the former officer said. "You might have lost a few people, but it would not have taken out the whole base. If the source was an honest agent, he would have appreciated that you were concerned with both your security and his."


                        • Comment

                          • January 10, 2010 -- A British journalist was killed alongside a U.S. marine in an attack on a military convoy in Afghanistan in a blast that injured several other people, including a photographer. Rupert Hamer, defence correspondent of the Sunday Mirror, died when the armoured vehicle in which he was travelling was hit by a roadside bomb in Helmand province in the south of the country. He is the first British journalist to be killed in Afghanistan. Philip Coburn, a photographer with the same newspaper, suffered severe leg injuries and was being treated at the British military hospital at Camp Bastion in Helmand . He was expected to be flown to the UK later this week. Hamer, who was on his fifth trip to Afghanistan, was married to Helen and had three children, aged six, five and 19 months. His editor, Tina Weaver, said he believed the only place to report a war was from the front line. She described him as "a seasoned, highly-regarded and brave journalist" who had reported from both Iraq and Afghanistan on many occasions. "He was a fine, fearless, and skilled writer who joined the paper 12 years ago," she said. "Affectionately known as Corporal Hamer in the office, he was a gregarious figure, a wonderful friend who was hugely popular with his colleagues. She said Hamer and Coburn had made a dedicated team who worked together around the world "sacrificing personal comfort countless times to record the reality of wars".

                            The Ministry of Defence said Hamer and Coburn were accompanying a patrol north-west of the town of Nawa, when the vehicle in which they were travelling struck an improvised explosive device. "Despite the best efforts of medics at the scene, Mr Hamer died of his wounds. Mr Coburn remains in a serious but stable condition," a statement said. "One U.S. marine was also killed in the explosion. Five U.S. marines were left seriously injured." The defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, who knew Hamer, praised the bravery and professionalism of both journalists. "Both Rupert Hamer and Phil Coburn accompanied me on my most recent trip to Afghanistan," he said. "I got to know them well and I was impressed by their hard work and professionalism," he said. "My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families, friends and colleagues of both men at this extremely distressing time. As a defence correspondent, Rupert Hamer was in regular contact with press officers at the MoD. I know they had great respect for his work and the news of his death has been met with great sadness amongst us all. In recent weeks we worked closely with Rupert on a special Christmas edition of the Sunday Mirror, containing messages for deployed personnel from their loved ones. The paper was very well received by troops on the ground and its success is testament both to Rupert's hard work and his understanding of service personnel."

                            Hamer is the second journalist in two weeks to lose his life to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. On 30 December, Canadian journalist Michelle Lang, a reporter for the Calgary Herald was killed when travelling with Canadian soldiers in the southern province of Kandahar. In August a U.S. journalist working for CBS, Cami McCormick, was injured when the armoured vehicle she was travelling in hit an IED. Earlier that same month Andi Jatmiko, a journalist working for AP, lost his foot after the military vehicle he was travelling in hit a roadside bomb. His *colleague, photographer Emilio Morenatti, was also seriously injured. There has also been a number of kidnappings involving foreign journalists in the last year, one of the most recent involving a Guardian reporting team who were held for several days just before Christmas.


                            • January 14, 2010 -- A suicide bomber today blew himself up in a busy market district in central Afghanistan, killing at least 20 people, officials said. The bomber was thought to have been planning to attack a meeting of NATO and tribal officials being held nearby. The bombing – the deadliest attack against Afghan civilians in more than three months – came a day after the UN released a report which revealed that the number of civilians killed in war-related violence reached its highest level last year. Suicide bombings and other attacks blamed on insurgents were the main cause of death.

                              The blast tore through shops in the town of Dihrawud, in Uruzgan province. The area was packed with people who had gathered for the weekly bazaar. District police chief Omar Khan, who was at the meeting in a nearby building, said NATO forces had surrounded the structure during the talks, which are held on a regular basis. Lieutenant Nico Melendez, a NATO spokesman in Kabul, said he had no indication of any NATO connection to the blast. The conflicting theories could not immediately be reconciled, and the Afghan interior ministry said the target was unclear.

                              NATO said initial reports indicated that at least 20 Afghan civilians had been killed and 13 injured. Those killed included three children, General Juma Gul Himat, the provincial police chief, said. Several shops were destroyed. Another suicide bomber targeted a police patrol in the southern town of Musa Qala, killing an Afghan police officer and wounding four civilians, officials said. Daoud Ahmadi, a provincial spokesman, said the bomber had been on foot, but NATO said he had been in a vehicle packed with explosives. Police said four would-be suicide bombers had died in a premature explosion near Kandahar last night. The suspects had been travelling from the Panjway district to Kandahar when the blast occurred happened, the deputy provincial police chief, Fazel Ahmad Sharzad, said. He said the men had been planning an attack in Kandahar, but explosives in the car detonated before they reached the city.


                              • January 16, 2010 -- The Afghan parliament dealt a further blow to the authority of President Hamid Karzai by rejecting 10 of his 17 new cabinet nominees. The vote today comes a fortnight after MPs turned down 70% of Karzai's first cabinet choices. The 224 MPs did approve two key posts – Karzai's former security adviser Zalmay Rasul was approved as foreign minister and Habibullah Ghalib as justice minister. But only one of three female nominees was approved – Amina Afzali, as work and social affairs minister. The two women proposed for the posts of public health and women's affairs were rejected. "Unfortunately we have some lawmakers who still can't vote for a woman, even when they see one who is very active, talented and well-educated," said Mohammad Ali Sitigh, an MP from Day Kundi province. Karzai's choices for the ministries of higher education, commerce, transportation, public works, refugee and border and tribal affairs were also rejected. The vote is likely to further worry the international community, which had hoped for a strong government to help keep disenchanted Afghans from siding with the Taliban. The U.S. and Britain have urged Karzai to get his second-term administration in place ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London on 28 January. Afghan MPs have complained that some of Karzai's nominees lacked the credentials to serve in the cabinet, or were too closely aligned with the president or warlords. "The rejection of the majority of the list shows that the people of Afghanistan are not happy with the work of the government," said deputy parliamentary speaker Mirwais Yasini, an MP from Nangarhar province. "This will disrupt the work of the government and it's not good for the future and the fate of the country." Karzai's office issued a brief statement saying he had chosen the nominees "based on their talents, expertise and national participation" and regretted that the outcome was negative.


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