U.S. suspends training of recruits for Afghan village militia

U.S. suspends training of Afghan Local Police
This post has been updated. See note below.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- American special operations forces have suspended the training of new recruits to an Afghan village militia until the entire 16,000-member force can be rescreened for possible links to the insurgency, U.S. officials said Sunday.

The training halt is the latest repercussion stemming from a damaging series of “insider” shootings carried out by members of the Afghan police and army against Western troops. Forty-five NATO service members have been killed in such attacks this year, and the U.S. toll in August alone was 12 dead.

The revetting drive, first reported by the Washington Post, mainly affects a U.S.-backed village militia known as the Afghan Local Police, or ALP, which is trained by American special operations forces. U.S. special forces also mentor Afghan special forces and commando units, which also underwent a brief training suspension during rescreening.

The ALP training suspension, expected to last about a month, involves about 1,000 newly recruited members, said Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. NATO’s training of the far larger Afghan national army and police force -- whose numbers total about 350,000 -- will continue, he said, as will joint military operations between Western and Afghan troops.

“While we have full trust and confidence in our Afghan partners, we believe this is a necessary step to validate our vetting process and ensure the quality … of the Afghan Local Police,” Collins said.

The move to rescreen members of the ALP was galvanized by the Aug. 17 shooting deaths of two American special operations troops in western Afghanistan. The assailant, a new ALP recruit who had just been issued a weapon, promptly turned it on his U.S. trainers.

Insider shootings have been a source of growing tension between Afghan and Western officials. The NATO force says about one-quarter of the attacks can be attributed to the Taliban, either via infiltration or the insurgents prevailing on those already serving in the police or army to open fire on NATO troops. Most of the other attacks are blamed on personal disputes inflamed by cultural differences, fatigue and combat stress.

However, President Hamid Karzai recently declared that “foreign spy agencies” -- a phrase that is often used as code for Pakistan’s main intelligence service, the ISI -- were the primary culprit behind the attacks. The American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, urged the Afghans to share any intelligence that would lend credence to that theory.

[Updated 10:50 a.m. Sept. 2: Insider shootings also fueled an ongoing clash between Karzai and the NATO force over a raid mounted by the coalition Saturday after an assailant in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on Australian troops, killing three.

The Afghan leader claimed the NATO raid killed two Afghans and resulted in the improper detention of nine others. He also asserted it had been carried out without the knowledge of authorities in Oruzgan province, violating an agreement between his government and the NATO force.

The Western military said the raid was a joint operation with Afghan troops and that one of those detained had aided the man who shot the Australians.

In another sign of a disconnect between the Karzai government and the NATO force over insider attacks, some senior Afghan officials directly involved in the ALP program professed to know nothing of the announced training suspension.

“The matter is under discussion,” said Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadzai, chief of the ALP program, which operates under the auspices of the Interior Ministry. “Revetting may take place, but training will not be halted.”]

The Afghan Local Police initiative has been hailed by U.S. officials as the most effective means of fighting the insurgency in rural communities where the regular Afghan army and police are spread too thin or not present at all.  American officials want the force to nearly double in size from its current strength.

But critics say the ALP is prone to abuse of Afghan civilians, with some of its members implicated in beatings, torture, abductions and extortion of people in the villages it is meant to be protecting.

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--Laura King

Photo: Afghan Local Police at a ceremony in April 2011 at Gizab village southwest of Kabul. Credit: Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press


August is year's deadliest month for foreign troops in Afghanistan

Afghanistan casualty

KABUL, Afghanistan -- More NATO troops, and more Americans, were killed in Afghanistan in August than in any other month this year.

Fifty-three Western troops had died in Afghanistan as of Aug. 31, according to the website icasualties.org. Of those, 38 were Americans. U.S. troops make up about two-thirds of the NATO force.

U.S. military fatalities, in particular, were driven by the phenomenon of “insider” attacks in which members of the Afghan security forces turn their weapons on Western troops. Of the 15 such deaths in August, 12 were of Americans.

Another nine coalition deaths, seven of them Americans, occurred in helicopter crashes.

However, military deaths in August were down significantly than the same month in 2011, when 82 members of the NATO force were killed, 71 of them Americans. That was the most lethal month of that year, too.

Western military officials generally say there is a correlation between the number of coalition troops in Afghanistan and the numbers who are killed and injured. American troop strength peaked last year at just over 100,000; by the end of September it will have dropped to 68,000.

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Photo: The remains of Army Pfc. Shane W. Cantu of Corunna, Mich., are ceremonially received upon their return to U.S. soil Thursday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Cantu was killed in Afghanistan, the Defense Department said. Credit: Luis M. Alvarez / Associated Press


NATO helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan kills 2 Australians

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A NATO helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing two Australian troops, officials said, bringing that country's military fatalities to five in less than 24 hours.

The NATO force did not disclose the location or the nationalities of those killed, but Australian officials confirmed they were citizens of that country. Three other Australians died Wednesday in an "insider" shooting by an assailant in an Afghan military uniform -- an unusually large loss of life in a compressed period of time for a relatively small troop contingent. Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the cause of the helicopter crash was under investigation, but that there were no indications of "enemy activity" in the area at the time.

The Western military relies heavily on helicopters to move troops and supplies across Afghanistan, where poor roads, long distances, rough terrain and vulnerability to Taliban attack make it impractical for foreign forces to rely solely on ground transportation.

Thursday's crash was the second in southern Afghanistan this month. On Aug. 17, a Black Hawk helicopter went down in Kandahar province, killing seven Americans, three Afghan soldiers and an Afghan interpreter.

The military has not yet reported the cause of that crash. The Taliban claimed responsibility, but insurgents routinely boast of having downed any Western aircraft that crashes.

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Afghan 'insider' shooting kills 2 Americans; 27 die in other violence

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- An "insider" shooting killed two more U.S. troops on Monday, while a concerted bout of violence in southern Afghanistan left 27 people dead in two separate incidents, including 17 party-goers who were slaughtered by suspected Taliban at a gathering where music and dancing were taking place, officials said.

The deaths of the two Americans in Laghman province, in eastern Afghanistan, followed a grimly familiar script: The attack was set off by an argument between Afghan soldiers and their U.S. counterparts, according to Sarhadi Zewak, a provincial spokesman. The NATO force confirmed the deaths of two Western troops at the hands of an Afghan National Army soldier, but provided no other details.

Twelve Americans have died in insider shootings this month, the largest monthly tally of the war. Last week, the U.S. commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, said the fasting month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims do not eat or drink between dawn and dusk, might have played a part in the upsurge in such attacks. These are the first such shootings since the end of Ramadan.

In all, 42 coalition members have died in insider attacks this year, the NATO force says.

The separate deadly incidents in Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan, illustrated other troubling patterns: attacks on members of the Afghan security forces in which comrades may have played a part, and punishment meted out to civilians deemed to have violated the Taliban's harsh code of social conduct, particularly where interactions between men and women are concerned.

The 17 people killed Sunday night in a private home in Helmand's Musa Qala district -- two of them women, the rest men, according to Afghan officials  -- had been listening to music and dancing, said Neymatullah Khan, the district chief. According to some Afghan reports, the victims were beheaded, but provincial authorities described the area as being under Taliban control, making it difficult to confirm details.

The Interior Ministry confirmed the 17 civilian deaths, calling them "unforgivable and shameful" but said they had taken place in an adjoining district, Kajaki, instead of Musa Qala. Borders between Afghan districts and provinces are often poorly delineated.

Circumstances were also murky regarding an attack late Sunday or early Monday on an army checkpoint in Helmand's Washir district, which left 10 Afghan soldiers dead, four wounded and the whereabouts of five unknown.

Provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said it was initially believed that the five missing men were Taliban infiltrators who had orchestrated the attack, but subsequently said the five had simply fled the scene and taken refuge in nearby army posts.

However, local officials said the men had either defected to the Taliban or been abducted, and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Top U.S. general's plane damaged by Afghan insurgent fire

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Mortars or missiles fired by insurgents hit the plane being used by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff while it was on the ground at a NATO base, but the top American general was not in or near the aircraft at the time, Western military officials said Tuesday.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who had traveled to Afghanistan to confer with senior Afghan and U.S. officials, was in his quarters at sprawling Bagram air base, north of Kabul, at the time of the overnight strike, said Lt. Col. Hagen Messer, a spokesman for the NATO coalition.

Shrapnel damaged a NATO helicopter and the exterior of the C-17 aircraft that had been used to transport the general to Afghanistan, and Dempsey departed aboard another plane, Messer said.

"It was not a targeted attack," the spokesman said, adding that indirect fire was not uncommon at the Bagram base. Usually such strikes cause only minor damage and no injuries, although in the past there have been fatalities inside the installation as a result of Taliban rocket strikes.

Dempsey's visit came on the heels of a spate of "insider" shootings by Afghans that have claimed the lives of 10 American troops this month. He conferred with officials including Marine Gen. John Allen, the American who heads the NATO force, and Afghan army chief of staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi about ways to prevent such attacks.

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Crash of Black Hawk chopper kills 7 U.S. troops in Afghanistan

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed in restive Kandahar province on Thursday, killing seven American troops and four Afghans, U.S. and Afghan military officials said.

Afghan officials said the crash site was in Shah Wali Kot, a volatile district where insurgents have long been active. The Afghan dead included three members of the Afghan security forces and a civilian interpreter, according to an Afghan provincial spokesman in Kandahar.

The NATO force said the cause of the crash was under investigation, and was tight-lipped about whether insurgent fire had been reported in the area. Usually, the military makes a quick announcement if there is no indication the craft was brought down by enemy fire, and if factors such as weather or mechanical failure are suspected.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for bringing down the helicopter, but the group routinely boasts of shooting down any NATO aircraft that crashes. The Taliban and other militant groups have only rarely been able to bring down Western helicopters during the decade-old war, but manage to do so occasionally, often with significant fatalities.

[Updated 11:58 a.m. Aug. 16: A U.S. military officer in Afghanistan said it was possible the helicopter had been shot down.

"It's conceivable. There were enemy in the area,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation into the crash is continuing. The Black Hawk burned when it crashed, making it more difficult to determine the cause of the crash.

Afghan fighters were seen moving toward the crash site but were driven off by another U.S. helicopter, the officer said. The bodies of those on board were recovered, he said. 

The casualties included three U.S. special operations troops, four American crew members, three Afghan special operations soldiers and a civilian interpreter.]

The war's most lethal single incident for U.S. troops came a year ago when insurgents shot down a Chinook in Wardak province, killing all 38 aboard, including 30 Americans, many of whom were Navy SEALs.

August has been a particularly deadly month for American forces in Afghanistan. Before Thursday’s crash, 19 U.S. troops had died, including seven killed last week in so-called insider attacks by Afghan allies.

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Video credit: Associated Press


7 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan helicopter crash

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A NATO helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing seven American troops and four Afghans, U.S. and Afghan military officials said.

Afghan officials said the crash site was in Shah Wali Kot, a restive district of Kandahar province. The Afghan dead included three members of the Afghan security forces and a civilian interpreter, officials said.

The NATO force said the cause of the crash was under investigation, and was tight-lipped about whether insurgent fire had been reported in the area. Usually, the military makes a quick announcement if there is no indication the craft was brought down by enemy fire, and if factors such as weather or mechanical failure are suspected.

The Taliban and other militant groups have only rarely been able to bring down Western helicopters during the decade-old war, but manage to do so occasionally, often with significant fatalities.

The war's most lethal single incident for U.S. troops came a year ago when insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter in Wardak province, killing all 38 aboard, including 30 Americans, some of whom were Navy SEALs.

August has been a particularly deadly month for American forces in Afghanistan. Before Thursday's crash, 19 had died, including seven killed last week in so-called insider attacks by Afghan allies.

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Bombings in Afghanistan kill dozens of people

KABUL, Afghanistan -- At least three suicide bombers on Tuesday struck a crowded bazaar in southwestern Afghanistan and then at the gates of the hospital where victims were rushed for treatment, killing at least 29 people and injuring more than 100 others, officials said.

A short time later in northern Afghanistan, a bomb attached to a motorcycle killed 10 people and wounded more than two dozen others, according to officials in Kunduz province.

Both bombings came as people were flocking to shops for the holiday beginning this weekend that will mark the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer.

Taken together, the toll in the two attacks made for one of the deadliest days of the year, reflecting a spike in violence in the warm-weather months and complicating NATO’s plans to end the Western combat role and hand over responsibility for policing the country to Afghan forces by 2014.

The first of the two attacks took place in the town of Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province, in southwestern Afghanistan. The carnage could have been even worse, but police arrested several would-be bombers in raids prior to the attack and killed or detained several more during it, said Abdul Majid Latifi, the provincial deputy police chief. Altogether, there may have been nearly a dozen assailants.

Latifi said the 29 dead were mainly civilians, but included four police officers.

Insurgents often stage complex attacks involving near-simultaneous bombings, and have sometimes targeted medical facilities, but the notion of deliberately hitting a hospital to which injured people were being brought was shocking even by this war’s grim standards.

In both Nimruz and Kunduz provinces, the targets were civilian areas, distant from any military installation. The NATO force is not even deployed in Nimruz.

Violence has been on the rise in Nimruz, which borders Iran, and also in the volatile Helmand province. Earlier this week, a policeman in Nimruz turned his weapon on fellow officers, killing 10.

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Afghan suicide blasts, including one at hospital, kill at least 27

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Suicide bombers on Tuesday struck a crowded bazaar in Afghanistan and then the hospital where victims were rushed for treatment, killing at least 27 people and injuring 80 more, officials said.

The attack, which appeared to be the most serious of its kind during this year’s observances of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, took place in the town of Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province, in southwest Afghanistan. Because of the chaos in the aftermath of the blasts, it was feared that the casualty toll could rise.

Fazel Omer Baluch, a spokesman for the provincial government, said in addition to the two bombers who set off their payload of explosives, two other bombers were slain by Afghan security forces before they could blow themselves up.

Insurgents often stage complex attacks involving near-simultaneous bombings, and have sometimes targeted medical facilities, but the notion of deliberately hitting a hospital to which injured people were being brought was shocking even by this war’s standards.

Violence has been on the rise in Nimruz, which borders volatile Helmand province. Earlier this week, a policeman in the province turned his weapon on fellow officers, killing 10 of them.

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Afghan district governor killed amid wave of assassinations

Afghan600
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A powerful remote-controlled bomb ripped through a car carrying a district governor in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, killing him and three bodyguards, Afghan officials said, in the latest example of government officials and community leaders being targeted for death by insurgents.

More than 155 such assassinations have taken place in the first half of this year, according to a recent United Nations report, an increase of more than 50% over the same period last year.

The attack took place at midday, when Faridullah Neyazai, the governor of Alishing district of Laghman province, was on his way to the district capital of Mehtarlam, said provincial spokesman Sarhadi Zowak. He said the remote-controlled explosive specifically targeted Neyazai.

Also Sunday, intelligence officials said they had foiled what was meant to be a major attack in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The National Directorate for Security, or NDS, said five would-be suicide bombers were arrested Saturday evening after authorities uncovered a plot to carry out coordinated attacks on targets including the Afghan parliament, and raided a compound where weapons including suicide vests and rocket-propelled grenades were found.

Insurgents have staged a number of high-profile attacks in and near Kabul over the past year, hitting targets such as the U.S. Embassy and the headquarters of the NATO force.

The Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which is active in eastern Afghanistan, is most often blamed for these ambitious assaults.

One of those arrested Saturday was a Pakistani national, the NDS said in a statement, and the plotters were reported to have carried Pakistani currency and contact numbers inside Pakistan.

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-- Laura King and Hashmat Baktash

 

Photo: Afghan security officials inspect the site of a roadside bomb blast targeting the governor for Alisheng district of Laghman province. Credit: Abdul Mueed / EPA


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