Tag Archive: Kandahar


Taliban free hundreds in brazen Afghan jailbreak

An Afghan National Army soldier keeps watch outside Kandahar's main jailhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110425/wl_nm/us_afghanistan_prison

By Ahmad Nadeem Ahmad Nadeem 52 mins ago

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Hundreds of prisoners escaped from a jail in Afghanistan’s south on Monday through a tunnel dug by Taliban insurgents, officials said, a “disaster” for the Afghan government and a setback for foreign forces planning to start a gradual withdrawal within months.

Tooryalai Wesa, governor of volatile southern Kandahar province, told Reuters 488 prisoners escaped due to the negligence of Afghan security forces at the province’s main jail. He said the tunnel led to a nearby house.

The Taliban said in a statement that 541 prisoners escaped through the tunnel, which took months to construct, and were later moved in vehicles to safer locations. The prison, touted as one of the most secure in Afghanistan, is located on the outskirts of Kandahar city.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s chief spokesman told a news conference that the incident, in which many Taliban commanders were said to have escaped, exposed serious vulnerabilities in the Afghan government.

“This is a blow, it is something that should not have happened. We are looking into finding out … what exactly happened and what is being done to compensate for the disaster that happened in the prison,” spokesman Waheed Omer said.

General Ghulam Dastgir, the governor in charge of the jail, said the prisoners had all escaped through the tunnel.

“No one managed to escape through the main gate, everybody went out through the tunnel. The insurgents worked on it for some seven months,” Dastgir said.

“The Taliban have planted bombs inside the tunnel and it is hard to investigate until the explosives are removed,” he said.

BIRTHPLACE OF THE TALIBAN

Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, has been the focus of the U.S.-led military campaign over the past year, with tens of thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops launching offensives around Kandahar city.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said it is too early to tell what impact the escape will have on plans to hand over other prisons to Afghan security control.

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that the push to transfer more security responsibilities to Afghan officials will continue.

“This escape is a serious issue which the Afghan authorities are working to address,” the official said, adding that both U.S. and Canadian advisors helped train and mentor Afghan Central Prisons Directorate staff at the prison.

Twenty-six prisoners were recaptured and two killed in a gunfight with security forces, Wesa said.

Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Afghan officials had not officially asked for help in recapturing the prisoners but NATO “personnel who patrol the area are aware of the situation and will assist the Afghan authorities in responding as needed.”

Reporters were taken into the prison after the jailbreak to view the opening of the tunnel in one of the cell blocks.

Reuters photographs showed a hole, several feet deep, cut into the concrete floor of one of the cells. The hole, big enough to allow one man to climb down at a time, appeared to be connected to a tunnel.

A large carpet in the cell looked to have been folded back to expose the hole. Police told reporters the insurgents had used car jacks to break through the concrete floor, which was several centimeters thick.

The Taliban said the prisoners escaped over a four-and-a-half hour period during the night, meaning more than 100 prisoners an hour would have had to crawl out through a tunnel barely large enough to fit one man.

“Mujahideen started digging a 320-meter (1,049 feet) tunnel to the prison from the south side, which was completed after a five-month period, bypassing enemy checkposts and the Kandahar-Kabul main highway leading directly to the political prison,” the Taliban statement said.

“They moved people in several groups. They had a comfortable period of time to move that many people. It’s obviously very worrying with the timing around fighting season,” said a foreign official in Kandahar with knowledge of the incident.

Wesa said of the 488 who had escaped, 13 were ordinary criminals and the rest were insurgents.

COLLABORATION?

Analysts said the escape was a serious setback for security, and there was doubt about whether it could have happened without the help of guards.

“It is either a case of the jailers being financially motivated and being bribed, or a case of them being politically motivated,” said Waheed Mujhda, a Kabul-based analyst and expert on the Taliban.

Justice Ministry spokesman Farid Ahmad Najibi said he could not rule out the possibility guards had helped in the escape.

Whether the insurgents had all escaped through the tunnel or not, the freeing of hundreds of prisoners, including Taliban militants, is embarrassing for the Afghan government and foreign troops who have trumpeted recent security gains in and around Kandahar after months of heavy fighting, Mujhda said.

The brazen jailbreak comes months before the start of a transfer of security responsibilities from foreign to Afghan forces in several areas — including the main city in neighboring Helmand province — as part of the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Under the transition program, Afghan forces would begin taking over from foreign troops in seven areas this summer and should have control of the whole country by the end of 2014.

While Kandahar is not among the areas listed for the transition of forces in the first stage, Monday’s jailbreak raises serious questions about the readiness of Afghan forces to take over from foreign troops.

The jailbreak also drew comparisons to a similar incident three years earlier. In 2008, Taliban insurgents blew open the gate of the Kandahar prison at night, allowing up to 1,000 inmates, including hundreds of Taliban insurgents, to escape.

Days after that escape, hundreds of Taliban fighters seized villages in districts close to Kandahar and appeared to threaten the city itself, with the government sending more than 1,000 extra troops from the north as reinforcements. Nearly 100 Taliban fighters were killed in the ensuing battle.

(Additional reporting by Ismail Sameem in KANDAHAR and Hamid Shalizi and Rob Taylor in KABUL; Andrew Quinn and David Alexander in WASHINGTON; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Paul Tait, Alex Richardson and Will Dunham)

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Libya rebels raise concern about Islamic extremism

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ml_libya_islamic_warrior

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press Tue Apr 19, 6:18 am ET

AJDABIYA, Libya – Abdel-Moneim Mokhtar was ambushed and killed by Moammar Gadhafi’s troops last week on a dusty road in eastern Libya — the end of a journey that saw him fight as a jihadi in Afghanistan and then return home where he died alongside NATO-backed rebels trying to oust the longtime authoritarian leader.

In describing Mokhtar’s death on Friday, Gadhafi’s government said he was a member of al-Qaida — part of an ongoing attempt to link the rebels to Osama bin Laden’s group. Four years ago, al-Qaida said it had allied itself with the Libyan Islamic Fighters Group — of which Mokhtar was a top military commander.

Two days before he was killed, Mokhtar denied any connection between his group and al-Qaida, telling The Associated Press in an interview: “We only fought to free Libya.”

“We realized that Gadhafi is a killer and imprisoned people, so we had to fight him,” said Mokhtar, one of a handful of rebel battalion commanders who led more than 150 rebels in eastern Libya.

The question of Islamic fundamentalists among the rebels is one of the murkier issues for Western nations who are aiding the anti-Gadhafi forces with airstrikes and must decide how deeply to get involved in the fight. Some countries, including the U.S., have been wary — partly out of concern over possible extremists among the rebels.

NATO’s top commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, told Congress last month that officials had seen “flickers” of possible al-Qaida and Hezbollah involvement with rebel forces. But he said there was no evidence of significant numbers within the opposition leadership.

Spokesman Mustafa Gheriani of the opposition council in Benghazi said any extremists among the fighters are exceptions and that ensuring democracy is the only way to combat them.

Mokhtar, 41, of the northwestern town of Sabratha, arrived in Afghanistan at age 20 in 1990 when the mujahedeen were fighting the puppet regime installed by the Soviets before they withdrew after a decade-long war.

He fought for three years in the fields and mountains of Khost and Kandahar provinces under Jalaluddin Haqqani — a prominent commander who was backed by the U.S. during the Soviet war but has now become one of its fiercest enemies in Afghanistan.

At least 500 Libyans went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, according to The Jamestown Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, but Mokhtar said there aren’t many fighting with the rebels now. Many like Mokhtar who returned home were arrested or killed by Gadhafi when they announced the creation of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in the mid-1990s to challenge his rule.

Mokhtar became one of the LIFG’s top three military commanders, said Anes Sharif, another member of the group who has known him for almost two decades.

Mokhtar was in charge in southern Libya and planned several assassination attempts on Gadhafi, including one in 1996 when a militant threw a grenade at the ruler near the southern desert town of Brak that failed to explode, Sharif said.

“Abdel-Moneim was the man who organized, prepared and mastered all those kinds of operations,” said Sharif, who is from the northeastern town of Darna, which has been a hotbed of Islamist activity.

The LIFG also waged attacks against Gadhafi’s security forces. But the Libyan leader cracked down on the group, especially in Darna and what is now the rebel-held capital of Benghazi.

“The worst fight was against Gadhafi in the 1990s,” Mokhtar said. “If he captured us, he would not only torture us but our families as well.”

The response forced many members of the group, including Mokhtar, to flee abroad, Sharif said. Mokhtar left in the late 1990s and only returned after the current uprising began, Sharif said.

“We don’t have many experienced commanders in the battlefield. That’s why I’m out here,” said Mokhtar, his full black beard peppered with gray as he stood outside Ajdabiya surrounded by rebel pickup trucks bristling with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns.

Al-Qaida announced in 2007 that it had allied with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the group was put on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Both Mokhtar and Sharif denied the connection, saying it was never endorsed by the group’s leadership.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly renounced violence in 2009 following about three years of negotiations with Libyan authorities — including with Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam. In a statement at the time, the group insisted it had “no link to the al-Qaida organization in the past and has none now.”

The Libyan government released more than 100 members of the LIFG in recent years as part of the negotiations. Sharif said the group changed its name to the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change before the current uprising.

British authorities believe the LIFG has stood by its pledge of nonviolence, and has no ties to al-Qaida — though acknowledge that other Libyans command senior positions in the terror group’s hierarchy, including Abu Yahia al-Libi, al-Qaida’s Afghanistan commander.

“They clearly are still committed to an Islamist world view, but don’t subscribe to terrorist tactics any more,” said Ghaffar Hussain, who works on deradicalization projects for the Quilliam Foundation, a British anti-extremism think tank.

“Some former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group figures have decided to join the rebels, mainly because they remain opposed to Gadhafi’s regime — but there is no sign of them reforming as a jihadist organization,” he said.

However, Hussain said there was clear evidence that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — the al-Qaida offshoot which U.S. officials believe poses the most immediate terror threat to America — was trying to join the fighting against Gadhafi’s forces.

“The rebels are being very careful to keep a distance from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, knowing the damage that any associated with them would do to their cause,” Hussain said.

Since the uprising began in February, Gadhafi has played up fears that the rebels include fighters from al-Qaida, but no evidence has surfaced to support the accusations.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday night that Mokhtar “has been an al-Qaida member since the ’80s,” although he offered no evidence. He called him by his tribal name, al-Madhouni, and said he “fought in many countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria and Libya” and was wanted by “international authorities.”

A U.S. intelligence official said that Mokhtar has been involved in extremist activities in Afghanistan and Libya since the 1990s. He may not have been in lockstep with al-Qaida at the time of his death, but he’s been “a fellow traveler in the past,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

The official concluded that it’s too early to know whether Mokhtar and other members of his group have abandoned their previous extremist tendencies.

Mokhtar said in the interview that he, Sharif and other members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group still have the same passion to oust Gadhafi, but added they no longer aspire to set up an Islamic state.

Instead, they say their goal is the same as the rebels’ National Transitional Council: a democratic government that respects human rights and the rule of law.

“We are here only to fight for freedom, and that is our only goal,” Mokhtar said.

“We want a free Libya and a government for all Libyans — a government that doesn’t distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims, that is run by a constitution and respects Islam,” he added.

Sharif, who was part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s political division and has been working with the rebels as well, said years of experience have convinced them that most Libyans don’t want to live under a strict Islamic regime. But he did believe that politicians with conservative Islamic views will attract the most support in Libya.

“The West needs to understand that there is a difference between Islamic culture and radicalization,” Sharif said.

Another area of concern for the West has been the relatively high number of Libyans who have gone to fight against U.S.-led forces in Iraq. One study done by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2008 found that Libyans represented the second largest group of foreign fighters and ranked first per capita.

Sharif said a small number of radical Islamists do exist in Libya, but he said the best way to deal with them is to get rid of Gadhafi, whose repressive policies have exacerbated extremism in the country.

“In an environment where everybody is respected and is allowed to carry out their religion without fear of being tortured, arrested or killed, there is no extremism,” said Sharif.

He also said that the rebels are committed to keeping foreign fighters out of Libya — a sentiment echoed by others on the battlefield.

“The rebels are determined not to allow al-Qaida or any other non-Libyans to have a base here,” Sharif said. “We don’t want the country to be a battlefield for other groups to finish their wars. We don’t want to see Libya as another Iraq or Afghanistan.”

___

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.

NATO: Bomb kills 10 in Afghanistan

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110416/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan

By SOLOMON MOORE, Associated Press Solomon Moore, Associated Press 2 hrs 38 mins ago

KABUL, Afghanistan — Like hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, he volunteered in the national army, ran drills in the mud, carried an automatic rifle, and worked alongside coalition mentors struggling against a hardcore insurgency.

But he was not one of them.

On Saturday, he walked into a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in the eastern province of Laghman and detonated a vest of explosives hidden underneath his uniform, killing 10.

Five NATO troopers, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed in the deadliest sleeper agent assault since November, when an Afghan border policeman shot six U.S. soldiers to death at a base in the eastern province of Faryab.

Four Afghan soldiers and three interpreters were wounded in Saturday’s attack.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing and said the soldier was a sleeper agent who joined the army a month ago_a contention confirmed by an Afghan army official.

“Today, when there was a meeting going on between Afghan and foreign soldiers, he used the opportunity to carry out the attack,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email to reporters.

Attacks by insurgents donning security uniforms are a relatively rare, but recurrent problem as NATO and Afghan forces work more closely together. Afghanistan’s security forces are also ramping up recruitment of Afghan soldiers and policemen so they can take the lead in securing their nation by the end of 2014 — adding more than 70,000 police and soldiers last year in an effort to reach a goal of 305,000 troopers by the end of this year.

Afghan security forces are supposed to be vetted by past employers or even village elders, but in a country where unemployment is about 35 percent, the literacy rate is about 28 percent, and computerized record-keeping is a novelty, background checks are often rudimentary.

The explosion took place at 7:30 a.m., as many people on the base were beginning the morning shift and as NATO and Afghan service members conducted what military officials call a “key leader engagement” meeting according to a NATO spokesman.

Following the explosion, Blackhawk helicopters swooped down to carry the dead and wounded to hospitals.

The bodies of four Afghan soldiers brought to a hospital in Jalalabad were too badly damaged to determine their military rank, said Baz Mohammad Sherzad, the health director in nearby Nangarhar province.

NATO declined to provide further identifying information about its soldiers killed in the blast pending notification of their next of kin.

In the wake of such attacks, often it’s not clear whether the shooter was an Afghan trooper who turned on his Western counterparts spontaneously or an insurgent who donned a uniform to infiltrate the base and attack from inside.

On Friday, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up inside the Kandahar police headquarters complex, killing the top law enforcement officer in the restive southern province. The funeral of Police Chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid, one of Afghanistan’s most prominent law enforcement officials, was attended Saturday by at least 1,500 people including Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa, Afghan Interior Minister Gen. Bismillah Khan Mohammad, Afghan chief justice Abdul Salam Azimi, and the Afghan president’s half brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai.

Earlier this month, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot dead two American military personnel tasked with helping train members of the country’s security forces in Faryab province.

In February, an Afghan soldier shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six others in the northern province of Baghlan.

Until Saturday, the worse case of a sleeper agent attack was in November, when an Afghan border policeman shot to death six American soldiers before he himself was shot to death in the eastern province of Nangahar. The policeman had been in the force for three years and had accompanied American troopers for about three months when he opened fire on them.

The Taliban took responsibility for that attack.

___

Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

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