2 months into 2009, US deaths spike in Afghanistan

KABUL – U.S. deaths in Afghanistan increased threefold during the first two months of 2009 compared with the same period last year, after thousands more troops deployed and commanders ramped up winter operations against an increasingly violent insurgency.

As troops pour into the country and violence rises, another sobering measure has also increased: More Afghan civilians are dying in U.S. and allied operations than at the hands of the Taliban, according to a count by The Associated Press. In the first two months of the year, U.S., NATO or Afghan forces have killed 100 civilians, while militants have killed 60.

President Barack Obama recently announced the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to bolster 38,000 already in the country, increasing the U.S. focus on Afghanistan while a drawdown begins in Iraq. The latest casualty toll among U.S. forces could portend a deadlier year in Afghanistan than the U.S. military has experienced since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.

“I think that because you are going to see that additional engagement, there is a risk of greater additional casualties in the short term, just as there was in Iraq,” Obama told the Pentagon Channel on Friday from Camp Lejeune, N.C. “That is something we will have to monitor very carefully.”

Twenty-nine U.S. troops died in Afghanistan the first two months of 2009 — compared with eight Americans in the first two months of 2008.

Part of the increase is due to the influx of troops. In early 2008 there were about 27,000 forces in the country, some 10,000 fewer than today.

But U.S. troops are also operating in new, dangerous areas. A brigade of 10th Mountain Division soldiers deployed to two insurgent-heavy provinces outside Kabul in January — Wardak and Logar. And American forces are increasingly operating in Taliban heartland in the south.

“It has a lot to do with the fact that we have a presence in places and going into places and disrupting insurgents in area where they haven’t been bothered much,” Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan, said Saturday. That, he said, means more battles and more attacks.

American troop deaths occurred at a much higher rate in Afghanistan than in Iraq in January and February. Thirty-one U.S. forces have died in Iraq so far this year, but there are roughly 140,000 American troops in Iraq, more than three times the number in Afghanistan.

The decreasing U.S. death toll in Iraq coincides with an overall decline in violence largely attributed to a cease-fire by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and a Sunni decision to join forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Julian said that troops in Afghanistan have “maintained the pressure throughout the winter months” this season, though in previous years there had been a lull.

About a third of the 29 deaths this year were caused by roadside bombs, including an attack in Kandahar province on Tuesday that killed four U.S. troops. Julian said insurgents are using more IEDs and fewer direct attacks because militants die in large numbers when they fight the U.S. head on.

The number of other NATO soldiers killed so far this year has risen as well, but not at the same rate. Last year 13 soldiers from other NATO countries died in January and February, compared with 18 in the first two months of 2009. Of those 18 deaths, 12 were British.

Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. and NATO commander in the country, said he thinks that Taliban militants are “resilient” but not necessarily stronger.

“I’m not with the group that says everything is in a downward spiral, that the Taliban are resurgent and stronger than they were. I think they’re very resilient, but I don’t necessarily think they’re stronger,” McKiernan told the Chicago Tribune in an interview published Friday.

“And I do see some measures of progress in this country. Now I’m not going to say everything is going to improve dramatically in 2009, but I think as a military commander, I am not going to be pessimistic about this. I’m going to be glass-is-half-full.”

Violence in all categories is up in general so far this year. Militant deaths rose from 129 in early 2008 to 308 in early 2009, according to numbers compiled by The Associated Press based on figures from U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.

Civilian deaths from U.S. and NATO operations have also spiked, despite increasingly emotional pleas from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to address the problem.

Last year the Taliban set off several large suicide bombs in crowded areas, killing around 180 Afghan civilians the first two months of the year, while U.S., NATO or Afghan forces killed fewer than 10.

But the numbers have reversed this year. In the first two months of 2009 some 100 Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S., NATO or Afghan forces, according to the AP count, many during overnight missions by Special Operations Forces. Militants have killed around 60.

source : news.yahoo.com


Pakistan says Taliban beaten back in border region

KHAR, Pakistan – Pakistan has beaten the Taliban in a major stronghold close to the Afghan border, is close to victory in another and expects to pacify most of the remaining tribal areas before the end of the year, commanders said Saturday.

The upbeat assessment of conditions in the arid, mountainous regions of Bajur and Mohmand follows international criticism of Pakistan for accepting a cease-fire with militants behind a bloody campaign in Swat Valley, just next to the tribal regions.

Many analysts also fear that growing political turmoil between the government and opposition could distract attention from the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban just as Washington wants more concerted action.

The United States and independent analysts have praised the offensive in Bajur, saying it has helped stem the passage of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan, where violence against American and NATO troops is running at its highest level since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Pakistan’s tribal regions are believed to be a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders. Foreign governments fear extremists there could be plotting attacks on the West.

Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, commander of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, said the insurgency had been “dismantled” in Bajur after six months of battles between well-armed militants and soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships.

He said 1,600 militants had been killed and 150 civilians had died. Both figures were impossible to verify independently.

“Their resistance has broken down. We control the roads,” he told reporters flown to the northwestern region by helicopter. “They have lost.”

Col. Saif Ullah, commander in the neighboring region of Mohmand, said troops had repelled insurgents from most of the territory and it would soon be cleared.

“There are no more no-go areas. The militants are running away,” he said.

The army took reporters to witness a ceremony marking the victory over the militants conducted by tribal elders and military commanders close to a Bajur town that was the site of a major battle last week. Rows of shops selling household goods and furniture were destroyed, and tanks were parked amid the debris. Residents — most of whom fled before the battle — had not returned to the town in a valley leading to Afghanistan.

American commanders say the Afghan province of Kunar which borders Bajur is still one of the most treacherous areas for their soldiers. The U.S. has earmarked it for some of the thousands of reinforcements being deployed to Afghanistan this year.

Khan said the defeated insurgents were mostly Afghans and Pakistanis, with some Uzbeks and a few Arabs caught in the early days of the offensive.

He said the army had failed to capture any insurgent leaders and that they had most likely fled into Afghanistan. Asked why, he said it was the job of special forces or intelligence agencies — not the army — to capture individual suspects.

Khan said the army had done its job of restoring government rule to the region, predicting military operations in the five of the seven tribal areas under his command “would be over by the end of the year.”

He did not discuss conditions in the North and South Wazirstan regions which are not under his command. Both areas are considered major al-Qaida and Taliban strongholds and are frequently hit by missiles fired by unmanned U.S. aircraft.

The display of Pakistan‘s military gains in the area came as it faces criticism for failing to dislodge militants from the nearby Swat region, where troops and insurgents are observing a cease-fire while the commander of the Taliban considers a proposed peace deal. The United States and NATO worry a deal could turn the scenic region into a militant haven.

Political developments in the desperately poor country of 170 million people have also concerned the West.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court banned opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from elected office, triggering violent protests by his supporters. Sharif says he will join demonstrations later this month by lawyers who helped bring down former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Aside from fears the confrontation will undermine the anti-terror fight, it is also raising worries about possible military intervention, a frequent result of political turmoil between civilian leaders in Pakistan.

source : news.yahoo.com

Three foreign troops killed in Afghanistan

KABUL: Three soldiers in the US-led coalition helping to fight a Taliban-led insurgency in southern Afghanistan have died after their patrol was hit by a bomb, the US military said late Friday.

The three were killed on Friday in the southern province of Uruzgan, it said in a statement. It did not give their nationalities. “Three coalition service members died of wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device during a combat reconnaissance patrol in the Uruzgan province, Friday,” it said.

Many of the troops in Uruzgan — where Taliban have a strong presence — are Australian and Dutch nationals serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces.

The latest fatalities take to 39 the number of international troops to lose their lives in Afghanistan this year, most of them in attacks.

source : jang.com.pk

Blast damages NATO oil tanker in Pakistan: official

PESHAWAR: One person was killed and two wounded in northwest Pakistan on Saturday when a bomb exploded near a fuel tanker destined for NATO forces in Afghanistan, an official said.

The remote-controlled bomb was planted on the main highway linking Peshawar city with the Torkham border crossing, local official Fazle Akbar told by telephone.

The blast partially damaged the oil tanker, but its driver escaped injuries, Akbar said, adding a passer-by was killed and two local men were injured. A security official also confirmed the incident but gave no casualty figure.

The explosion occurred in the troubled tribal district of Khyber, where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents have carried out a series of attacks on NATO vehicles and terminals outside the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The NATO and US-led forces in landlocked Afghanistan are hugely dependent on Pakistan for their supplies and equipment, around 80 percent of which are transported through the neighbouring country. Militants earlier this month blew up a key bridge on the main supply route for NATO forces and torched several trucks bringing goods from the southern port of Karachi for forces battling a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

source : jang.com.pk

Kyrgyzstan set to approve US air base closure

BISHKEK: Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is set to approve a government proposal on Thursday to close a U.S. airbase, which is a vital transit point for U.S.-led troops fighting in nearby Afghanistan.

The closing of Manas, the last remaining U.S. air base in Central Asia, poses a challenge to new U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to send additional troops to Afghanistan to boost NATO and U.S. military efforts to defeat Taliban insurgents.

No victory against Taliban soon: Australia

SYDNEY: Australia’s defence minister warned Thursday he did not expect victory against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan in the near future and would not commit more troops unless NATO members did so too.

Warning that Australia’s 1,000-strong contingent was likely to remain in the war-torn country for years to come, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that other countries needed to do more.

“Australia could double its troop numbers tomorrow and without significant additional contributions from others it would make no difference,” he said.

“We have always said this is not about numeric. It’s about ensuring, before we even consider doing more, that those NATO countries, which I believe are under committed, are prepared to do more.”

Fitzgibbon was speaking from Poland where NATO defence ministers were gathering to reassess strategy on Afghanistan as the United States prepares to deploy 17,000 more troops to fight Taliban-led insurgents.

Asked how long Australian troops would remain in Afghanistan, Fitzgibbon replied: “No-one believes we will meet with success any time soon. The reality is we are talking years.

“How many years we don’t know because we don’t yet know how much will there is amongst the NATO partners to achieve success.”

source : jang.com.pk

Afghan civilian deaths rose 40 percent in 2008: UN

KABUL: The U.N. says civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose 40percent in 2008 to a record 2,118.

An annual U.N. report says militants were responsible for 55percent of civilian deaths last year, or 1,160. But the world body says U.S., NATO or Afghan troops killed 829 _ 39 percent of the total.

The remaining 130 deaths couldn’t be accounted for because of issues like crossfire.

The U.N. report released Tuesday says the number of civilians killed by U.S., NATO or Afghan forces rose 31 percent from 2007 to2008. In 2007 those forces killed 629 civilians.

source : jang.com.pk

NATO, US-led troops give Afghans larger role

KABUL: NATO and US-led troops in Afghanistan have agreed to include more Afghans in counter-terrorism operations to improve coordination and minimise civilian casualties, the military said Friday.

The agreement was reached after consultations between Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak and the top international commander in Afghanistan, US General David McKiernan, a joint statement said.

Tensions have increased between Afghanistan and its Western allies over mounting civilian casualties as a result of military operations and nighttime house searches that Afghans say are aggressive and intrusive. They agreed “to include more Afghan representatives in the planning and execution of counter-terrorism missions, with more attention to night operations, actions in populated areas and searches,” the statement said.

source : jang.com.pk

Top US general condemns Kabul attacks

KABUL: The top international military commander in Afghanistan condemned Wednesday a series of deadly attacks on government offices in the capital, as the “barbaric” face of the Taliban.

At least seven Taliban suicide attackers stormed the justice and education ministries and the prisons directorate in attacks that killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 50 others, officials said.

“This attack shows the real face of the Taliban, who have claimed responsibility for this barbaric action,” US General David McKiernan said.

“Once again the Taliban have displayed that they have no respect for Afghan citizens or any desire to see a peaceful future in Afghanistan,” he said, offering sympathies for the “callous and indiscriminate attack.”

McKiernan heads a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force of about 55,000 soldiers from nearly 40 nations. A separate US-led coalition, which focuses on hunting insurgents, also falls under his command.

The general praised the “swift” reaction of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in dealing with the multiple attacks.

source : jang.com.pk

Two NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan

KHOST: A bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday killed two soldiers from the NATO-led force helping to fight an escalating Taliban-led insurgency, a military spokeswoman said.

The blast, similar to scores of others orchestrated by the Taliban against security forces, was on the outskirts of the eastern town of Khost on a road leading to the main US base in eastern Afghanistan.

“Two alliance soldiers were killed by an IED (improvised explosive device) and one wounded,” Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Neilson-Green, a spokeswoman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told. She could not disclose the nationalities of those killed in the blast but most soldiers in eastern Afghanistan are US nationals.

Neilson-Green said it was not immediately clear what kind of device caused the explosion. Khost has seen a rash of suicide attacks over the past few months, most claimed by the Taliban. Afghan police confirmed the blast and also said the cause was not immediately clear. “It was against a coalition convoy,” provincial police chief Abdul Qayoum Baqizoi told.

source : jang.com.pk