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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Afghanistan

IRAN: Afghan Pashtun finds refuge in neighboring Islamic Republic


For decades Afghan refugees have been sneaking into Iranian territory across the long, barren border, escaping the poverty and war in their own country.

The first waves of immigrants were Afghanistan's ethnic Hazaras, who share a common Shiite Muslim faith with Iran, and Tajiks, who speak almost the same language as Iranians. 

But increasingly Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtuns, Sunnis who speak their own language, are also coming across the border and settling in Iran, anecdotal evidence and voices heard on the street suggest.

Life for them in Iran is not easy. Not only do they struggle with the language, but they can't open bank accounts or send their children to school.

After working hard for a couple of years, they gather their savings and go back to their war-torn country, often getting travel papers from the Afghan Embassy in Tehran or consulate in the eastern city of Mashhad.

Then, they come back, again and again. 

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IRAN: Bin Laden family said to be held captive in Tehran

 Bin Laden

Since the U.S. invasion and subsequent toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan eight years ago, the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s family has been shrouded in mystery. Some reports claimed several of his children died in bomb raids; others said they joined Al Qaeda to fight alongside their father.

But recent reports describe a quite different scenario. Members of the Bin Laden family now say several of their close relatives, some of whom were thought to be dead, are being held in house arrest in Iran.

Details of the Bin Ladens' Iranian saga started to surface in November when Omar bin Laden, the fourth-eldest son of Osama bin Laden, was called up by his siblings out of the blue. 

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IRAN, PAKISTAN: Death of consular official in Peshawar raises stakes


He was leaving his home in Peshawar on his way to work this morning. That's when the motorcycles zipped by. A hail of gunfire ensued. Left behind by the gunmen were shell casings and the bullet-riddled body of Abul Hassan Jaffry, an employee at Iran's consulate in Peshawar.

The Pakistani citizen, the consul's public affairs chief, was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Jaffry was shot at least four times. Local police in Peshawar said no one spotted the attackers, who, according to witnesses, disappeared on their motorcycles after opening fire on Jaffry. 

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AFGHANISTAN: Seven years after CIA abduction, prisoner still held without charge


Seven years after being abducted from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, by the CIA and shipped to the U.S. air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, Haji Pacha Wazir was hoping he would finally be free. 

The Afghan government had cleared him for release, and a recent court ruling allowed him to petition his case in a U.S. federal court.

But Wazir's petition was dismissed based on "lack of jurisdiction," despite the fact that Wazir, an Afghan national, has been in the sole custody of the U.S. government since his arrest, according to the nonprofit organization representing him.

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AFGHANISTAN: Campaign consultant sees signs of hope for women in politics

Better women vote  

While Afghanistan's top two presidential candidates, Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, spar over who came out ahead in preliminary exit polls, Afghan women's rights activists are hoping the results show higher voter turnout among women.

Despite extremist threats, deteriorating security and a shortage of female poll workers, women appear to be gaining ground in politics, thanks to general disillusionment with the current leadership and the efforts of several grass-roots organizations.

Abeda Osman, for her part, sees small signs of hope. Osman is a former government commissioner, consultant and activist who has spent much of the last six years working with various nonprofit groups in her native Afghanistan. Most recently, she served as a campaign consultant in coordination with the Afghan Women’s Network.

Can you tell us what exactly you were doing during the campaign?

There were lots of local women networks that have sprung up.... I worked with a candidate for the election, and lots of women were coming to his campaign headquarters and I was the one responsible  for telling them about his manifesto and his biography, what he does, his issues and priorities.

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AFGHANISTAN: Historic elections continued, despite threats of violence


In the face of government threats to close any domestic or international media outlets that cover election violence, Afghans and other observers turned to alternative means to report on dangers and triumphs of the country's presidential elections. 

Here are a just a few of Babylon & Beyond's favorite Twitter feeds, blogs and websites for following the Afghan elections:

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MIDDLE EAST: Daily headlines from Gaza, Israel, Iran in your mailbox

Newsletter_3The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily e-mail newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East and the Muslim world.

It includes stories from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as links to articles about the frictions and encounters between Islam and the West in the United States and Europe.

The newsletter also includes links to the latest Times editorials and opinion pieces about the Middle East, Islam and national security.

You can subscribe by logging in or registering at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

— Los Angeles Times staff

AFGHANISTAN: U.S. brings roads, cows and chickens to the Panjshir Valley


The Panjshir Valley, 120 miles north of Kabul, figures big in the modern history of Afghanistan. It was from this lush valley that the guerrilla movement that chased the Russians from Afghanistan was centered.

The U.S. is making major efforts to win over the villagers, who are notoriously suspicious of outsiders. New roads will cut down on isolation, radios will allow news from the central government in Kabul to filter in.

Mini-loans allow for the purchase of cows. Farmers are being taught drip irrigation and row cropping to increase the yield from fruit trees and wheat fields.

Each woman is eligible for 12 chickens to produce eggs to be sold at market.

"We work within the local government to teach self-sufficiency; we are not going to be here forever," Army Lt. Col. Steve Lancaster told American Forces Press Service.

-- Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: Villagers and U.S. soldier in Panshir Valley. Credit: U.S. Air Force 

IRAN: Germans in talks with Tehran for Afghanistan support, says report

Iran's official news agency is reporting that German contractors are in talks with Iranians to use the Islamic Republic's territory to ship supplies to North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan.  

“The German sides negotiating with Iran are representatives of private firms that provide foodstuff and fuel for the German forces serving at NATO units in Afghanistan," said an unnamed German military official quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency's Berlin bureau. “These companies are after finding alternative routes from Pakistan to forward those goods to Afghanistan.”

The sourcing is sketchy, but there have been mutterings about such talks in the German media  for days. Perhaps more important, the report by IRNA suggests Iran wants, or at least is eager to give the impression that it wants, to be helpful to the American-led war in Afghanistan. 
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QATAR: Libya's Kadafi bashes Saudi king at Doha summit


As usual, Libyan leader raised eyebrows Monday with his incendiary but hilarious remarks at the Arab summit in Doha.

As the Emir of host Qatar welcomed Saudi King Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz al Saud, Libyan President Moammar Kadafi interrupted him addressing the Saudi king, saying:

"I seize the opportunity to tell my brother Abdullah, you have been evasive and scared of confrontation for six years. I want to assure you today not to be scared. I am telling you after six years it was proved that lies stand behind you and your grave awaits you. You were created by Britain and protected by the U.S. I consider the personal issue that lasted between you and me is over and I am ready to visit you as well as receive you."

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AFGHANISTAN: Navy lieutenant mourned at San Diego hospital


The staff at Naval Medical Center San Diego is shaken today by the death of one of their colleagues, Lt. Florence Bacong Choe, in Afghanistan.

Chaplains are offering grief counseling. A memorial service is being planned.

Choe, 35, was serving as a medical administration and logistics mentor to the Afghan National Army at a base in Mazar-i-Sharif. She and another Navy officer were killed last week by an insurgent posing as an Afghan soldier. The insurgent then killed himself, officials said.

Choe's survivors include her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Chong "Jay" Choe, a urology resident at the Naval Medical Center, and their daughter, Kristin, now 3.

Choe, whose permanent assignment was at the medical center, was a voluntary individual augmentee to the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, officials said.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Florence and Chong Choe and daughter Kristin, now 3. Credit: Choe and Bacong families.

AFGHANISTAN: Navy officers killed in insurgent attack.

UPDATE: Lt. Florence B. Choe was serving as a medical administration and logistics mentor to the Afghan National Army, not a nurse as initially reported.

A Navy officer from Naval Medical Center San Diego has been killed while on duty in Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced Saturday. Also killed was a Navy civil engineer from a unit based in Hawaii.

Their deaths mark the 27th and 28th fatalities of Navy personnel in Afghanistan since 2002. The Navy has 2,606 personnel in Afghanistan: medical personnel, security personnel, Seabees, and other units.

Lt. Florence B. Choe, 35, of El Cajon, and Lt. Francis L. Toner, IV, 26, of Ventura County, were shot to death Friday by an insurgent dressed as an Afghan soldier at Camp Shaheen at Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.

Choe, from the Navy hospital in San Diego's Balboa Park, had been in Afghanistan for several months.

Toner graduated from Westlake High School in Ventura County in 2001, where he was a football star, according to the Ventura County Star. He was set to come home soon to visit his wife, Brooke, the newspaper said.

A third U.S. military personnel, as yet unidentified, was wounded. The insurgent killed himself, officials said.

Tony Perry, San Diego


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