Today I learned there’s a skateboarding school in Afghanistan where 40% of its students are female.
In a part of the world where little girls are getting shot at for promoting women’s education, that’s a pretty impressive statistic. In a part of the world where little girls aren’t even allowed to ride a bicycle, that’s a ground-breaking statistic.
Officially, this makes Afghanistan the unlikeliest of title holders for the highest rate of female participation in skateboarding out of any country in the world.
While many Americans have been led to believe the war in Afghanistan will soon be over, a draft of a key U.S.-Afghan security deal obtained by NBC News shows the United States is prepared to maintain military outposts in Afghanistan for many years to come, and pay to support hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces.
The wide-ranging document, still unsigned by the United States and Afghanistan, has the potential to commit thousands of American troops to Afghanistan and spend billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
The document outlines what appears to be the start of a new, open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan in the name of training and continuing to fight al-Qaeda. The war in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to be ending, but renewed under new, scaled-down U.S.-Afghan terms.
“The Parties acknowledge that continued U.S. military operations to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate and agree to continue their close cooperation and coordination toward that end,” the draft states.
The 25-page “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” is a sweeping document, vague in places, highly specific in others, defining everything from the types of future missions U.S. troops would be allowed to conduct in Afghanistan, to the use of radios and the taxation of American soldiers and contractors.
The bilateral security agreement will be debated this week in Kabul by around 2,500 village elders, academics and officials in a traditional Loya Jirga. While the Loya Jirga is strictly consultative, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he won’t sign it without the Jirga’s approval.
The copy of the draft — the full text is available here — is dated July 25, 2013. As a working draft, it is particularly revealing because it shows the back and forth negotiations, as U.S. and Afghan officials added words and struck out paragraphs. The changes are marked by annotations still revealed in the text. The document is a work in progress. US officials say there have been more changes since July. The draft, however, does indicate the scope of this possible agreement with major implications for Washington, Kabul, U.S. troops and the continuation of America’s longest war.
Taken as a whole, the document describes a basic U.S.-Afghan exchange. Afghanistan would allow Washington to operate military bases to train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda after the current mission ends in 2014. For that foothold in this volatile mountain region wedged between Pakistan and Iran, the United States would agree to sustain and equip Afghanistan’s large security force, which the government in Kabul currently cannot afford. The deal, according to the text, would take effect on Jan. 1, 2015 and “shall remain in force until the end of 2024 and beyond.” It could be terminated by either Washington or Kabul with two years advance written notice.
The document doesn’t specifically say how many U.S. and NATO troops would remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Afghan officials tell NBC News they hope it will be 10 to 15 thousand. U.S. officials tell NBC News the number is closer to seven to eight thousand, with an additional contribution from NATO. Factoring in troop rotations, home leave, and breaks between deployments, the service of tens of thousands of American troops would be required to maintain a force of seven to eight thousand for a decade or longer. The anticipated costs would likely run into the billions quickly.
Afghan officials tell NBC NEWS the agreement is critical to Afghanistan’s future stability. Without ongoing military assistance, training and funding, those officials say the government could collapse and Afghanistan would enter a civil war. If the agreement passes, the draft says Washington would commit to a long -term, indefinite military involvement in this land-locked Asian nation.
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council did not comment on the draft version of the agreement, but said that “the President is still reviewing options from his national security team and has not made a decision about a possible U.S. presence after 2014.”
The agreement circulating this week is unlikely to be the last. It first must pass through the Loya Jirga, then go onto parliament for final approval. “We’re looking at 60-days or more” before the US and Afghanistan sign any agreement, defense officials said.
This is more info related to a Page Kragar posted yesterday regarding the Marine, Maj. Jason Brezler, who got in trouble for warning others about this creepy cop.
Afghan police chief Sarwar Jan was accused of sexually abusing teen boys on U.S. bases in Afghanistan when U.S. Marines pressed to have him removed from power in a violent district in 2010. Turns out that might only be the beginning of his crimes, though. According to new documents obtained by Foreign Policy, coalition forces also believe he extorted money from civilians, operated illegal security checkpoints and was working with the Taliban, selling the insurgent group weapons and police uniforms for cash.
The accusations are outlined in a witness statement submitted in support of Marine Maj. Jason Brezler, who faces an administrative hearing in which Marine Corps officials could toss him out of the service for warning fellow Marines about Sarwar Jan through an email on an unclassified network.
One month after Brezler sent that message to Afghanistan, Sarwar Jan’s teenage servant, Aynoddin, allegedly opened fire on Marines working out in a dusty gym at Forward Operating Base Delhi in Helmand province. Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, Cpl. Richard Rivera and Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley - all members of a police adviser team attached to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, from Camp Lejeune, N.C. — were killed in that Aug. 10, 2012 insider attack. A fourth Marine, Staff Sgt. Cody Rhode survived, but sustained five gunshot wounds.
The incident underscores the mixed allegiances and hostilities of some Afghan commanders, 12 years into the war in Afghanistan. Commanders like Sarwar Jan frequently resurface in new assignments after being drummed out of their old ones. The practice frustrates military forces advising them and jeopardizes the coalition’s mission, according to a new witness statement submitted on Brezler’s behalf by Paul Davies, a British civilian who worked alongside the Marines and Sarwar Jan last year in Afghanistan. […]
An Indian author whose memoir about her dramatic escape from the Taliban became a Bollywood movie was shot dead by militants in Afghanistan, police said Thursday.
Sushmita Banerjee, also known as Sushmita Bandhopadhya, was killed outside her home in Paktika province, according to Dawlat Khan Zadran, the police chief of eastern Paktika province.
He said suspected Taliban insurgents broke into her house Wednesday night, blindfolded and tied up her husband, and fled with Banerjee.
Her body was found Thursday, dumped outside a madrasa, or religious school, in the outskirts of Sharana city, the provincial capital.
“She had around 20 bullet holes in her body,” Zadran said.
Banerjee gained attention with her 1995 book, “A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife.”
It recounts her story of marrying for love and moving to Afghanistan in 1989 to be with her husband. It traces her life in Afghanistan, her harassment by the Taliban and her eventual journey back to India.
She wrote an article for India’s Outlook magazine in 1998, about her life in Afghanistan, which she describes as tolerable until the Taliban crackdown in 1993.
“I remember it was early that year that members of the Taliban came to our house,” she wrote in Outlook.
“They had heard of the dispensary I was running from my house. I am not a qualified doctor. But I knew a little about common ailments, and since there was no medical help in the vicinity, I thought I could support myself and keep myself busy by dispensing medicines. The members of the Taliban who called on us were aghast that I, a woman, could be running a business establishment. They ordered me to close down the dispensary and branded me a woman of poor morals.
“They also listed out do’s and don’ts. The burkha was a necessity. Listening to the radio or playing a tape recorder was banned. Women were not allowed to go to shops. They were even prohibited from stepping out from their houses unless accompanied by their husbands. All women had to have the names of their husbands tattooed on their left hand. Virtually all interaction between men and women outside the confines of their own homes was banned.”
In 2003, her book was made into a Bollywood film, “Escape from Taliban.” Bollywood movies are extremely popular in Afghanistan.
Banerjee, 49, had recently moved to Paktika province to live with her husband, Afghan businessman Jaanbaz Khan, police said.
A female lawmaker in the Afghanistan parliament and her three young children were kidnapped by Taliban gunmen as she made her way to celebration to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid, an official said Wednesday.
Fariba Ahmadi Kakar was travelling between Kandahar and Kabul at the weekend when gunmen swooped in and took them hostage, The Deputy Governor of the Ghazni Province, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi told NBC News.
An Afghan National Security Forces operation later freed the her daughters aged four and six and a third child whose gender and age are unknown, Ahmadi added.
But Kakar remains in captivity because she is being held in a separate location, he said.
Taliban Spokesman Zabulullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the kidnapping but would not say what the terms for her release might be.
However Ahmadi told NBC News that the militant group are demanding the release of prisoners in exchange for her freedom.
The Pentagon said Tuesday it is offering no “zero option” for the number of troops that would remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. combat mission ends in December 2014. It said in a report to Congress that “substantial” long-term military support will be needed to ensure that Afghans can hold off the Taliban insurgency.
The White House has not ruled out leaving no troops behind after 2014, although officials say the most likely option is a residual training force of roughly 9,000.
In its twice-a-year report to Congress on war progress, the Pentagon said Afghanistan’s military is growing stronger but will require a lot more training, advising and foreign financial aid after the American and NATO combat mission ends.
The Pentagon’s assessment was an implicit rejection of the “zero option.” Zero is considered an unlikely choice by President Obama, not least because his administration has pledged to stand with the Afghans for the long term. But Obama has grown frustrated in his dealings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Peter Lavoy, the Pentagon’s top Afghan policy official, told a news conference that a number of post-2014 options have been developed, taking into account the Afghans’ need for additional training and advising, as well as what the Pentagon views as a longer-term requirement for U.S. counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.
“In none of these cases have we developed an option that is zero,” Lavoy said.
In its report to Congress, which is required by law every six months, the Pentagon made no recommendation on the number of U.S. troops to keep in Afghanistan after 2014. There are currently about 60,000 U.S. troops there — down from a 2010 peak of 100,000 — and the total is to shrink to 34,000 by February.
The report said it will be difficult to judge whether Afghanistan can keep the upper hand against the Taliban until the exact size of a post-2014 U.S. military presence is determined.
The report painted a largely positive picture of progress in strengthening the Afghan army and police, but it offered cautionary assessments of the economic and political elements of its strategy for stabilizing the country.
“Effective government, the rule of law and sustainable economic development are all necessary for long-term stability in Afghanistan, but multiple factors continue to hinder them, including widespread corruption,” it said.
The report said that the amount of Afghan territory held by the insurgents has continued to shrink. It called the Taliban “less capable, less popular and less of an existential threat” to the Kabul government. And it said the number of “insider attacks” by Afghan forces against their U.S. and other coalition partners has declined.
On the other hand, it said the insurgents still wield influence in several key rural areas that serve as avenues to attack urban areas, including certain districts adjacent to Kabul and in areas west of the southern city of Kandahar.
“Insurgents also used violence and assassination to undermine perceptions of the Afghan government’s ability to provide security,” the report said, “including intimidation of tribal elders, local power brokers and Afghan government officials.”
For the first time, the report to Congress said some Afghan security forces are making potentially troublesome accommodations — in some cases in the form of local ceasefire deals — with insurgent groups.
In the past seven days, we’ve seen a major terror attack on Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad Iraq where 500 prisoners, including senior members of al Qaeda were freed by terrorists, and now we’ve got reports of a major attack on a prison complex in Pakistan has meant several hundred more terrorists and Taliban have been freed.
Pakistani Taliban disguised as policemen attacked a prison in the country’s northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan, freeing more than 300 prisoners late on Monday.
The jail officials said that several of the prisoners, four security personnel and two assailants were killed in the attack. The prison was housing at least 5000 prisoners, 250 of them hardcore militants.
Malik Qasim Khattak, advisor to the ministry of prisons, said that around 50 to 60 gunmen attacked the jail with bombs and guns before entering into the detention facility. “They detonated about 60 bombs inside the facility which caused the collapse of prison wall. The assailants succeeded in freeing more than 300 prisoners,” Khattak said, adding that the militants blew up two electricity transformers which created complete darkness.
While accepting responsibility for the attack, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had claimed that their attackers had freed around 300 inmates.
Bill Roggio indicates at least 30 of those escapees were hardcore militants. Roggio further indicates those responsible are the Ansar al Aseer, a joint Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan unit that has been designated to free imprisoned jihadists.
At the time of the attack on Abu Ghraib (now called the Baghdad Central Prison), I warned that those freed would not only rejoin the insurgency in Iraq, but could spread across the region causing mayhem in Syria’s civil war, or spark violence in Jordan, Egypt, or Turkey.
Now, we’ve got a second high profile incident involving attacks on detention facilities where high value al Qaeda and/or Taliban prisoners have been held - in a single week.
That doesn’t just happen out of thin air, though this is not the first time that the Taliban have attempted attacks on detention facilities with the goal of freeing Taliban/ and/or al Qaeda leadership. It’s part of a long term trend to bolster their numbers by taking on a major offensive. High profile attacks against detention facilities would do the trick.
The breakout in Pakistan means that terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the frontier provinces that are nominally under Pakistani control are likely to be emboldened to carry on further attacks, including against detention facilities. They may also seek out attacks against the ISAF in Afghanistan, the supply lines, as well as India. This doesn’t bode well for those countries as the terrorist attacks have largely resulted in significant civilian casualties.
Women in Mazar-e-Sharif have straddled the worlds between Western freedoms and conservative traditions for a decade. As the Taliban gains strength and the West pulls out, Afghanistan’s most liberal city is being plagued by a rash of suicides.
Fareba Gul decided to die in a burqa. She put on the traditional gown, which she usually didn’t wear, and drove to the Blue Mosque. There, at the holiest place in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, she swallowed malathion, an insecticide. She then ran over to the square, where hundreds of white doves were waiting to be fed by visitors. When she was surrounded by the birds, the cramps set in.
“Fareba was lying on the ground when I arrived, and people were standing all around her,” says her uncle Faiz Mohammed, whom she had called before taking the poison. “She was screaming for help.” He lifted up his niece, carried her to a taxi and took her to a hospital. Foam was pouring from her mouth, and she was slipping in and out of consciousness. One hour later, 21-year-old Fareba Gul was dead. She died on the same day, and in the same hospital, as her 16-year-old sister Nabila.
Behind the tragedy lay a harmless love affair, relatives say. The sisters had been fighting, and Nabila had taken things too far: She had fallen in love. Fareba, the relatives say, got angry, calling Nabila’s behavior “indecent” and demanding that she end the affair. Both got very upset and were screaming at each other. Their mother entered the room and slapped Nabila. Then, Nabila reportedly took the poison from her father’s cabinet and swallowed it in her room. A few hours later, Fareba took the same pills. “She felt guilty,” says her uncle.
The sisters’ double suicide hangs over the city like a dark shadow. Mazar-e-Sharif is widely viewed as one of the most peaceful and liberal cities in Afghanistan. But could this be an omen of what lies ahead for the country once Western troops start withdrawing in the near future?
Living in Mazar-e-Sharif means living in relative security. But now more and more women are starting to hurt themselves here, as well. It leaves one baffled, but it is still no coincidence.
More than anywhere else in Afghanistan, women in Mazar-e-Sharif are torn between tradition and their newly won freedom, between family expectations and their own sense of self. They are trapped in a society that is at once deeply conservative but also offers just enough freedom for women to discover a modern, Westernized lifestyle. Girls can go to school, women can work, and both can surf the Web and watch cable TV. But forced marriages, domestic violence and many limitations continue to exist for many of them — and are all-the-more difficult to bear. Under these circumstances, choosing how and when to die can become a form of self-determination.
When asked about the women killing themselves, the city’s police chief claims that such things “only happen in Heart province or in remote mountain villages.” Women’s rights organizations point to poverty and a lack of education as the main factors behind the suicides.
But the family home of the dead sisters is located in one of the best areas of town. It is spacious and in good condition, with a garden full of blooming roses. Marzia Gul, their mother, says “Please, come in,” and sits down on the sofa in the living room, sinking into the red upholstery. “Fareba, my oldest daughter, studied law,” she says. “She wanted to be a lawyer like her father” and was just a year away from her final exams. Nabila, the younger one, also did well in school, she continues. “She wanted to be a journalist.”
Marzia gets up, walks over to the cupboard and takes a photo from a glass tray. The picture shows a smiling little girl with pigtails and freckles. “She was so kind and helpful,” she says. Then her voice breaks.
Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter will receive the Medal of Honor, the White House announced July 26, making him the second soldier to be honored with the nation’s highest valor award for actions during a fierce October 2009 battle in Afghanistan.
The ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 26 at the White House. Carter will be inducted into the Pentagon Hall of Heroes Aug. 27.
Carter, who was a scout assigned to B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, is credited with braving fierce enemy fire to treat and carry a fellow soldier to safety during one of the largest, most vicious battles against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
He will be the fifth living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Seven service members have posthumously been awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in those wars.
Carter’s troop-mate, former Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha, received the Medal of Honor during a ceremony Feb. 11.
Both men were part of a small American force at Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009, when an enemy force estimated to number more than 300 attacked the COP, intent on overrunning the outnumbered U.S. forces.
Eight Americans were killed and about two dozen others were wounded, but the soldiers defeated the enemy and saved the COP.
Carter, who said he is feeling “very nervous” about receiving the Medal of Honor, downplayed his actions.
“It wasn’t just me,” he said. “Everyone pulled through. They all performed excellently, bravely.
“I really wish there was some way that I could share the prestige and the honor of this medal with them, and not to mention the families of the fallen,” he said. “In the end, they probably deserve this medal more than I do because of the losses that they received.”
Carter suffered scrapes and bruises, a concussion, minor shrapnel wounds and hearing loss in his left ear. Psychologically, he continues to cope with post-traumatic stress, and he credits his platoon sergeant at the time, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Hill, for seeing almost immediately that he needed help.
The men had barely left COP Keating when Hill “saw there was a problem in me, something had changed in a bad way,” Carter said.
Hill escorted Carter to see Capt. Katie Kopp, a behavioral health specialist for the unit, and, together with the chaplain, they worked with Carter in Afghanistan and later back at Fort Carson, Colo. Carter continued to receive treatment when he moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Because of them, I can function very well as a citizen and also continue to be a professional soldier,” Carter said. “The entire team and my leadership have helped me be where I am today.”
Afghanistan’s parliament has passed a law lowering the proportion of provincial council seats reserved for women.
The Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament, this week approved a revised electoral law that included the reduction of the guaranteed proportion of the 420 provincial council seats allotted to females from 25 percent down to 20 percent.
The purpose of guaranteeing some seats for women was to ensure female representation in the male-dominated society where women and girls are still often treated as second-class citizens.
Many worry this is yet another step in restricting women’s rights in a country that has made many strides in this area during the last decade. After the U.S.-led military invasion that toppled the austere Taliban regime 12 years ago, women and girls were given the opportunity to rejoin society. They were given the allocated seats in the country’s legislature to help with the process of integration.
They were also given the right to work outside the home and millions of girls went back to school – privileges they did not have under the Taliban.
Slideshow: Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads
More than a decade after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.
But amid reports of possible negotiations with the Taliban and attempts to bring them back into the political fold, the new law makes it clear it isn’t just the Taliban that women need to worry about – it’s their own government.
Lest we forget that the fight for equal rights is a global one.