Monday, September 21, 2009

Loud explosion heard in Hungo

HUNGO: A loud explosion has been heard in Hungo.According to the sources, a deafening blast has been heard in Hungo city and police efforts are underway to pinpoint the location of the explosion.

Displaced families face miserable Eid

JALOZAI CAMP: The internally displaced persons (IDP) uprooted by conflict with the Taliban face a miserable Eidul Fitr, with no cash to splash on celebrations and a longing to return to homes they fear no longer exist.

“All I want is to go back home this Eid,” said Khalida Bibi, a 10-year-old girl standing in a queue to collect packages from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the Jalozai camp, southeast of Peshawar.

In a family of 10 brothers and sisters, Khalida remembers presents, money and new clothes for Eid festivals at home in Bajaur, where the government launched a military operation against the Taliban near the Afghan border last year.

“When we were at home in Bajaur, we enjoyed Eid a lot. We wore new clothes, new shoes and had our wrists full of bangles. We got money and gifts,” Khalida said.

Old clothes: “This year, we’ll wear old clothes on Eid because we have no money to buy new ones,” she said, her green tunic and blue headscarf slightly grubby.

The UN said about two million Pakistanis were displaced as a result of fighting between the army and the Taliban, which the United States branded an existential threat to the nuclear-armed country.

Officials say 1.65 million have since returned home, but a fresh operation launched this month in the Khyber district, a major supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, has displaced another 56,000 to 100,000 people.

While most IDPs seek shelter with friends and relatives, many of the poorest have crammed into 17 dusty refugee camps where morale is low despite handouts from charities and assistance from UN agencies.

“We celebrate Eid in terrible circumstances. We’re sad and worried. Our home was destroyed during the operation,” said Bibi Gul, a 40-year-old mother of 11 who fled fighting in the Mohmand Agency.

Shamsur Rehman, a 21-year-old from Bajaur, wears a brown shalwar kameez as he watches UNHCR staff distribute Eid packages.

“When I was in Bajaur, all our friends got together on Eid. We used to beat drums, dance and sing. We had a lot of fun. Now everything is finished,” said the father of one.

“I don’t know when I’ll go home, when peace will be restored and I can sing and dance again on Eid,” he added.

Economic malaise: With inflation at 11.17 percent, shopkeepers believe even well-off families were spending less on Eid luxuries as the country struggles from extremist attacks, fighting with militants and economic malaise. afp

General Calls for More U.S. Troops to Avoid Afghan Failure

WASHINGTON — The top military commander in Afghanistan warns in a confidential assessment of the war there that he needs additional troops within the next year or else the conflict “will likely result in failure.”

The grim assessment is contained in a 66-page report that the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, submitted to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30, and which is now under review by President Obama and his top national security advisers.

The disclosure of details in the assessment, reported Sunday night by The Washington Post, coincided with new skepticism expressed by President Obama about sending any more troops into Afghanistan until he was certain that the strategy was clear.

His remarks came as opposition to the eight-year-old war within his own party is growing.

General McChrystal’s view offered a stark contrast, and the language he used was striking.

“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” General McChrystal writes.

A copy of the assessment, with some operational details removed at the Pentagon’s request to avoid compromising future operations, was posted on The Post’s Web site.

In his five-page commander’s summary, General McChrystal ends on a cautiously optimistic note: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

But throughout the document, General McChrystal warns that unless he is provided more forces and a robust counterinsurgency strategy, the war in Afghanistan is most likely lost.

Pentagon and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy say General McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 to as many as 45,000.

General McChrystal’s strategic assessment could well fuel the public anxiety over the war that has been fast increasing in recent weeks as American casualties have risen, allied commanders have expressed surprise at the Taliban’s fighting prowess, and allegations of ballot fraud Afghanistan’s recent presidential elections have escalated.

In a series of interviews on the Sunday morning talk shows, Mr. Obama expressed skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he was sure his administration had the right strategy to succeed.

“Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?” Mr. Obama said on CNN. “When we have clarity on that, then the question is, O.K., how do we resource it?”

Mr. Obama said that he and his top advisers had not delayed any request for additional troops from General McChrystal because of the political delicacy of the issue or other domestic priorities.

“No, no, no, no,” Mr. Obama said when asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether General McChrystal had been told to sit on his request.

Mr. Obama said his decision “is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment.”

In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Obama said his top priority was to protect the United States against attacks from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

“Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it,” the president said. “We’re not going to put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops we’re automatically going to make Americans safe,” he said.

Mr. Obama and his advisers have said they need time to absorb the assessment of the Afghanistan security situation that General McChrystal submitted three weeks ago — a separate report from the general’s expected request for forces — as well as the uncertainties created by the fraud-tainted Afghan elections.

“General McChrystal’s strategic assessment of the situation in Afghanistan is a classified pre-decisional document, intended to provide President Obama and his national security team with the basis for a very important discussion about where we are now in Afghanistan and how to best to get to where we want to be,” Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said Sunday night in a statement.

In his report, General McChrystal issues a withering critique of both his NATO command and the Afghan government. His NATO command, he says, is “poorly configured” for counterinsurgency and is “inexperienced in local languages and culture.”

“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors,” General McChrystal says, referring to NATO, “have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”

The general also describes an increasingly savvy insurgency that uses propaganda effectively and is using the Afghan prison system as a training ground. Taliban and Qaeda insurgents represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in Afghanistan’s overcrowded prisons.

“These detainees are currently radicalizing non-insurgent inmates,” the report concludes.

Mr. Morrell declined to comment on details of the assessment.

Until Sunday, details of General McChrystal’s report had not been made public.

Members of Congress were briefed on the reports and allowed to read copies of it in secure offices on Capitol Hill, but the lawmakers were not allowed to take notes.

General McChrystal has publicly stated many of the conclusions in his report: emphasizing the importance of protecting civilians over just engaging insurgents, restricting airstrikes to reduce civilian casualties, and sharply expanding the Afghan security forces and accelerating their training.

The Afghan government has about 134,000 police officers and 82,000 soldiers, although many are poorly equipped and have little logistical support.

General McChrystal has also signaled that he will seek to unify the effort of American allies that operate in Afghanistan, and possibly to ask them to contribute more troops, money and training.

Military officers said Sunday that General McChrystal had effectively completed his formal request for forces, and was prepared to send the proposal up through his hierarchy for review by Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces in the Middle East; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.