Dou­ble whammy from Afghanistan

Troops banned from vil­lages; Tal­iban quit talks

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY ASHISH KUMAR SEN

The U.S. mis­sion in Afghanistan suf­fered twin blows Thurs­day as Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai de­manded that NATO troops stay out of Afghan vil­lages and the Tal­iban sus­pended peace talks.

Afghans also re­sponded an­grily to news that a U.S. sol­dier ac­cused of killing 16 civil­ians, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, had been flown to Kuwait on Wed­nes­day night.

In Kabul, Mr. Karzai told vis­it­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta that he wanted U.S. and NATO troops out of ru­ral ar­eas and Afghan se­cu­rity forces to take the se­cu­rity lead in the coun­try by 2013, one year ahead of sched­ule.

Pres­i­dent Obama has said U.S. combat troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“Afghan se­cu­rity forces have the abil­ity to keep the se­cu­rity in ru­ral ar­eas and in vil­lages on their own,” Mr. Karzai said in a state­ment.

Afghan of­fi­cials said the de­mand was a con­se­quence of the Sun­day shoot­ing spree in Kan­da­har when a

U.S. sol­dier shot 16 civil­ians in a vil­lage near his base.

Muhammad Naeem Lalai Hamidzai, chair­man of the Afghan par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on in­ter­nal se­cu­rity af­fairs, said he was in fa­vor of a NATO troop pull­back.

“The only way to stop in­ci­dents like what hap­pened in Kan­da­har from ever hap­pen­ing again is to give our se­cu­rity forces the lead role,” Mr. Hamidzai said in a phone in­ter­view, but he was skep­ti­cal about the abil­ity of the poorly trained and equipped Afghan forces to con­front the Tal­iban.

Women feel un­safe

In prov­inces where Afghan se­cu­rity forces have taken the lead, Afghans, par­tic­u­larly women, say they feel un­safe.

“We had a high num­ber of women’s groups that were very ac­tive in those prov­inces. Now they do not feel se­cure,” said Asila War­dak Ja­mal, di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights and Women’s In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs in the Afghan For­eign Min­istry.

“Imag­ine what will hap­pen if in­ter­na­tional troops leave Afghanistan,” she said in a phone in­ter­view.

It is un­clear how Mr. Karzai’s de­mand will af­fect the prac­tice of night raids, in which teams of NATO and Afghan sol­diers go from door to door hunt­ing for ter­ror­ists in civil­ian neigh­bor­hoods.

U.S. com­man­ders say these raids have been use­ful in dis­rupt­ing Tal­iban net­works. Afghans view the raids as de­mean­ing and in­tru­sive, and Mr. Karzai has de­manded that they be ter­mi­nated.

The Tal­iban put off peace talks af­ter say­ing that Washington had failed to meet its de­mand for the re­lease of five high-value de­tainees at the U.S. mil­i­tary de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a state­ment emailed to re­porters, the Tal­iban ac­cused the U.S. of shift­ing the goal posts for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

The mil­i­tants said the talks had been sus­pended “un­til the Amer­i­cans clar­ify their stance on the is­sues con­cerned and un­til they show will­ing­ness in car­ry­ing out their prom­ises in­stead of wast­ing time.”

The five Tal­iban de­tainees are: Ab­dul Haq Wasiq, a for­mer deputy min­is­ter of in­tel­li­gence; Norul­lah Noori, a for­mer gov­er­nor of Balkh prov­ince in the north; Mo­hammed Fazl, the Tal­iban army’s chief of staff; Khair­ul­lah Khairkhwa, the for­mer gov­er­nor of Herat prov­ince in the west; and Mo­ham­mad Nabi Omari, the Tal­iban’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief.

Last week, an Afghan del­e­ga­tion met with the pris­on­ers in Guan­tanamo Bay and said they agreed to be trans­ferred to Qatar, where the Tal­iban opened an of­fice in Jan­uary.

State Depart­ment spokes­woman Vic­to­ria Nu­land said Thurs­day that no decision had been made on trans­fer­ring the de­tainees.

“Any dis­cus­sions about trans­fers, were they to come at any fu­ture time, ob­vi­ously have to be con­sulted with the Congress as well,” she said. “And we’re not at that stage.”

The de­lay has frus­trated pro­po­nents of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in the ranks of the Tal­iban and em­bold­ened mil­i­tants who op­pose peace talks and want to com­mence their spring of­fen­sive.

U.S. con­di­tions ‘un­ac­cept­able’

Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­ul­lah Mu­jahid said the United States pre­sented a list of con­di­tions that were “not only un­ac­cept­able, but also in con­tra­dic­tion with the ear­lier agreed-upon points.”

The Tal­iban, which im­posed bru­tal con­trol over Afghanistan, shel­tered al Qaeda un­til the U.S. de­posed the regime af­ter the 2001 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the United States.

“We must cat­e­gor­i­cally state that the real source of ob­sta­cle in talks was the shaky, er­ratic and vague stand­point of the Amer­i­cans; there­fore, all the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the halt also falls on their shoul­ders,” Mr. Mu­jahid said.

He did not respond to an email seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion on what con­di­tions the U.S. added that the Tal­iban found un­ac­cept­able.

The U.S. and the Afghan gov­ern­ments have called for the Tal­iban to dis­arm, re­nounce the al Qaeda ter­ror­ist net­work and re­spect the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion.

Afghan of­fi­cials, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity cit­ing the sen­si­tive na­ture of the dis­cus­sions, said the Tal­iban state­ment likely re­ferred to a U.S. de­mand that the Karzai gov­ern­ment be part of the peace talks.

The Tal­iban pub­licly refuse to talk with the Karzai gov­ern­ment, which it de­ri­sively refers to as a “pup­pet.”

On Thurs­day, Mr. Mu­jahid said Mr. Karzai “can­not even make a sin­gle po­lit­i­cal decision with­out the prior con­sent of the Amer­i­cans.”

The U.S. fa­vors an Afghan-to-afghan di­a­logue, said Ms. Nu­land, the State Depart­ment spokes­woman.

“Our goal is to work our­selves out of a job if we pos­si­bly can,” she said. “Our only goal is to get Afghans to sit down to­gether.”

Op­po­nents of peace within the Tal­iban have been strength­ened by a se­ries of calami­ties in­volv­ing U.S. troops.

In Jan­uary, an In­ter­net video showed four U.S. Marines uri­nat­ing on the corpses of three Tal­iban fight­ers, and in Fe­bru­ary, U.S. sol­diers ac­ci­den­tally burned Ko­rans at a mil­i­tary base. Six U.S. ser­vice­men were killed in the back­lash that fol­lowed the Ko­ran burn­ings.

The U.S. sol­dier ac­cused of the Kan­da­har shoot­ings Sun­day was flown to Kuwait on Wed­nes­day night. The decision fur­ther stoked Afghan anger.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FIRST­HAND LOOK: De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta met with Lt. Gen. Cur­tis Sca­parrotti and oth­ers in Afghanistan on Thurs­day as anger against U.S. troops flared.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta meets with Afghanistan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, who wants U.S. and NATO forces to stay out of vil­lages af­ter Sun­day’s killings.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

A man holds an empty il­lu­mi­na­tion can­is­ter that res­i­dents of Pan­jwai, Afghanistan, claim was used dur­ing the at­tack on Sun­day that killed 16 vil­lagers. A U.S. sol­dier is sus­pected in the killings.

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