Afghan commission sets presidential election for April 2014

Fazel Ahmad Manawi in Kabul, Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan government announced Wednesday that presidential and provincial elections will be held in April 2014 -- a critical step demanded by an international community eager for signs of stability in Afghanistan.

The date, April 5, 2014, was hailed as proof Afghanistan was committed to a democratic path and would avoid a slide into civil war as international troops leave the country by the end of that year. The declaration by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission went a long way toward dispelling fears that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is not allowed to run for a third term, might attempt to postpone elections indefinitely.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham applauded the announcement, calling it “symbolic of the aspiration of Afghans for elections which will be crucial for Afghanistan’s future stability.”

The commission said the date provides enough time to ensure the “transparency and integrity of the electoral process.”

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U.S., allies marshaling African proxies for fight against terrorism

Ansar Dine militants in Mali
"A quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing."

That was how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain saw the Nazi threat against the Czech Sudetenland in 1938, a sentiment freshly evoked among war-weary citizens as the United States and its allies ponder moves to oust Islamic extremists from northern Mali, a country most Americans couldn't find on a map.

GlobalFocusU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and diplomatic counterparts from France have been shopping around a plan to train and equip West African troops to drive out the Al Qaeda-aligned militants who hold sway over a swath of northern Mali the size of Texas. Ultraorthodox Muslims this year hijacked a long-simmering rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs and began imposing an extreme version of Islamic law once in power. In July, they took axes to "idolatrous" cultural treasures in Timbuktu, provoking worldwide horror at the destruction.

Like Afghanistan before 9/11, when Taliban collusion with Al Qaeda made the country a training ground for terrorism, Mali left in the grip of militant Islamists runs the risk of becoming the next launch pad for attacks on the United States and its allies.

U.S. interest in rooting out Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb from northern Mali has intensified in the seven weeks since a suspected terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Al Qaeda affiliates in Mali are believed to have played at least a supportive role in the Benghazi attack.

"The Benghazi event, with the murder of Chris Stevens, has really precipitated American intervention. It's turned the tables in the region," said Ghislaine Lydon, a history professor at UCLA and expert on precolonial Northwest Africa.

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Pakistani girl shot by Taliban 'will rise again,' father says

Malala and Family

LONDON -- The father of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head for standing up to the Taliban in defense of education for girls, called his daughter’s survival a miracle Friday and vowed that she would “rise again.”

Ziauddin Yousafzai, visiting his daughter for the first time since she was flown from Pakistan for treatment in a British hospital, also said that the global and domestic outrage over the attack on Malala represented a “turning point” for his troubled country.

“They wanted to kill her, but I would say that she fell temporarily. She will rise again, she will stand again,” Yousafzai told reporters. “When she fell, Pakistan stood.”

PHOTOS: Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai and other members of Malala’s family arrived in Britain on Thursday for an emotional reunion with the wounded 15-year-old, who was shot by Taliban militants at point-blank range Oct. 9. Two other girls on the school bus with Malala were also injured, one critically.

Six days later, Malala arrived at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in central England. Doctors say the teenager is making a slow but steady recovery.

“Last night when we met her there were tears in our eyes … out of happiness,” said Yousafzai, who lives in Pakistan’s scenic but embattled Swat Valley, where Taliban militants have sought to impose their harshly fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.

“She got the right treatment at the right place at the right time,” he said. “An attacker who could be called the agent of Satan, he attacked, but … I found angels on my side -- everywhere all around me -- in this time, in this place.”

Malala rose to prominence by speaking out against the Taliban’s opposition to education for girls and by keeping a blog of her experiences for the BBC’s Urdu Service. Her shooting sparked revulsion in Pakistan and around the world, and triggered large rallies in her support.

Her father said that he initially feared she might not survive the brazen attack.

“The next day when she was operated [on], her whole body was swollen, and she was in very bad condition …. I told my brother-in-law that you should make preparations for her funeral,” Yousafzai recalled, fighting back tears.

The bullet entered Malala’s head near the temple and burrowed down the side of her head and neck before lodging above her shoulder blade. The impact drove bone fragments from her skull into her brain, but doctors say they have not detected “any deficit in terms of function” so far.

PHOTOS: Malala Yousafzai

Malala has been able to stand up with help from hospital staffers, and she has communicated through writing. Doctors say that she will eventually undergo reconstructive surgery to her skull and possibly her jaw, but that she first needs some weeks of rest.

“I’m thankful to all the people all over the world, indifferent to caste, creed, religion, faith, country, age, sex -- everyone, everyone across the world,” her father said. “They condemned the attack in strong words, and they prayed for my daughter, who is not only my daughter; she is the daughter
of everybody, the sister of everybody.”

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Photo: Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, lies in her hospital bed in central England with her father and brothers at her side. Credit: Queen Elizabeth Hospital


Wounded Pakistani girl Malala now able to stand but battling infection

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for championing the right of girls to education, has been able to stand for the first time since the attack and is communicating by writing, a British hospital official said
LONDON -- Malala Yousafzai, the teenage education-rights campaigner who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan, has been able to stand for the first time since the attack and is communicating by writing, a British hospital official said Friday.

But the 14-year-old whose plight has aroused international concern is still fighting an infection caused by the bullet that entered her skull, burrowed through her jaw and lodged in her shoulder blade, said David Rosser, medical director at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in central England. Malala was flown to the hospital this week to receive treatment.

Rosser said she continued to show signs of improvement since waking from a long anesthesia.

"One of the first things she asked the nurses was what country she was in," he told reporters, adding: "She's closer to the edge of the woods, but she's not out of the woods."

The teenager was shot in a school bus in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where she had risen to prominence by courageously advocating the right to education for girls despite the fanatical Taliban's sway over the region. The Taliban has vowed to finish her off, prompting tight security at the Birmingham hospital.

PHOTOS: Pakistani teen shot by Taliban

But far from quashing Malala's cause, the attack sparked huge rallies across Pakistan and the rest of the world on her behalf. Rosser said she was "keen to thank people" for their outpouring of support and wanted the world to be kept apprised of her condition.

He said that scans had shown some damage to her brain, which was grazed by the bullet. But encouragingly, "at this stage we're not seeing any deficit in terms of function. She seems to be able to understand; she has some memory. ... She's able to stand. She's got motor control, so she's able to write."

Malala appears to have some recall of the attack, but those around her are refraining from bringing up the topic, Rosser said.

"From a lot of the work we've done with our military casualties, we know that reminding people of traumatic events at this stage increases the potential for psychological problems later," he said.

A tube in her trachea makes it impossible for her to speak, but the hospital is trying to arrange for her to listen to her father on the phone. Her family remains in Pakistan; efforts are underway to bring them to Britain to be at her bedside.

Rosser said the girl would require a couple of weeks of recuperation before surgeons try to reconstruct the damaged part of her skull and possibly her jaw.

"It would be over-optimistic to say that there are not going to be further problems," Rosser said. "But it is possible she’ll make a full recovery."

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Photo: Women in the British city of Birmingham hold a vigil Thursday for wounded Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who is receiving treatment at a hospital in the city. Credit: Gavin Fogg / AFP/Getty Images


Suicide bomber detonates truck outside Afghan and NATO base

Afghan police
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber detonated a truck at the entrance of a shared Afghan and NATO base in eastern Afghanistan, wounding several local and international troops, officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Wednesday attack. At least 10 Afghan forces were wounded, said a police spokesman in the Zurmat district of eastern Paktia province.  

A NATO force spokesperson, U.S. Army Major Martyn Crighton, confirmed that the wounded included international troops but declined to provide further details. He said the explosion was followed by incoming rocket or mortar fire.  

A statement by the Taliban said the attack occured at 7 a.m. and destroyed two helicopters and surveillance equipment and caused dozens of casualties.

The attack follows a suicide bombing Saturday at an intelligence office in Kandahar province that killed a CIA agent and a senior Afghan intelligence official.  The beginning of October saw a suicide bomb attack on an Afghan base in Khost, killing 20 people including three U.S. soldiers; and in  September,  fighters stormed the main NATO base in Helmand province, killing two U.S. Marines and destroying six Harrier jets.

The Taliban and its allies have started targeting the Afghan soldiers and police that the United States is counting on to secure the country as international forces withdraw by the end of 2014.

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Photo: Afghan policemen stand guard at a checkpoint in Ghazni following a suicide bomb attack targeting a military base in Zurmat district in neighboring Paktia province, on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. Credit: Naweed Haqjoo / European Pressphoto Agency

 


Pakistani girl shot by Taliban arrives in Britain for treatment

Malala
LONDON -- A Pakistani teenager who was wounded by Taliban gunmen opposed to her support of education for girls arrived in Britain on Monday for medical care and rehabilitation.

Malala Yousafzai, 14, was transported by air ambulance provided by the United Arab Emirates from the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi to Birmingham in central England and taken to the Queen Elizabeth hospital. She will receive post-trauma treatment, skull reconstruction and neurological rehabilitation for damage caused by a bullet that penetrated her skull.

The newly built hospital where she will be treated is Britain’s main receiving unit for military casualties, specializing in the treatment of firearms and burns victims. A brief hospital statement announcing her arrival said she was “currently stable and being assessed by a team of multi-specialist doctors,” including “clinicians from neurosurgery, imaging, trauma and therapies.”

PHOTOS: Malala Yousafzai

Medical director David Rosser said Malala will be treated by a team whose long experience in battlefield wounds predates the opening of the hospital. “We’ve taken every British battle casualty for over 10 years now,” he told reporters.

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Pakistani girl shot by Taliban being moved to Britain for treatment

Supporters of Malala Yousafzai
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The 14-year-old Swat girl shot by Taliban gunmen because of her advocacy for girls' education is being flown to Britain for treatment likely to include surgery to repair damage to her skull and neurological rehabilitation, the Pakistani military said Monday.

Malala Yousafzai is being transported in an aircraft equipped with specialized medical equipment and supplied by the United Arab Emirates. Pakistani doctors in consultation with international medical experts concluded that “Malala will require prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of trauma that she has received,” according to a statement issued by the Pakistani military.

Malala’s family was consulted before the decision was made to transport her to Britain, the statement said.

PHOTOS: Malala Yousafzai

The bullet pierced her left temple, causing damage to her skull, and lodged near her spine, Pakistani military officials have said. Doctors told Pakistani media last week that she did not suffer any significant brain damage. They have described her condition as serious but improving. Last week, surgeons removed the bullet from her neck.

“It was the view that if Malala was going to be transferred overseas to a center which could provide the required integrated care, then it should be during this time window, while her condition was optimal and before any unforeseen complications had set in,” the statement said.

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Five British troops charged with murder in Afghan incident

Philip-hammondLONDON — Five Royal Marines have been charged with murder in an allegedly unlawful death in Afghanistan last year, defense officials said Sunday, marking what is believed to be the first time that the British military has taken such a step since the conflict began more than a decade ago.

Authorities have disclosed few details of the incident in question, saying only that no civilian was involved and that the death occurred after “an engagement with an insurgent.”

The five marines are being held in Britain as prosecutors pursue a potential court-martial, officials said. Four other service members who were arrested have been released without charge pending further investigation.

British media outlets reported that the arrests stemmed from video found on the laptop of one of the suspects by civilian police in Britain. But the exact nature of the images remains unclear.

The marines reportedly belonged to the 3 Commando Brigade, which was deployed last year in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, an area of intense fighting. British media said that seven members of the brigade were killed in action in Afghanistan during a six-month stretch in 2010.

Defense Secretary Philip Hammond pledged that any abuse would “be dealt with through the normal processes” of military justice.

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NATO force orders teamwork with Afghans cut back

KABUL, Afghanistan –- In the most sweeping response yet to “insider” shootings that have killed 51 Western troops this year, the NATO force has ordered a halt to joint patrols and other field operations by Afghan and foreign troops unless specifically approved by a regional commander, military officials said Tuesday.

The move is a dramatic blow to what had been the centerpiece of the Western exit strategy, which was for foreign troops to train Afghan police and soldiers in the field, so that Afghan forces would be ready to take the lead in fighting the Taliban by 2014.

Under the new directive, Afghan and NATO troops will continue to share joint bases, but contact between them will be limited to officers at the battalion level, mainly in the form of planning sessions and meetings, military officials said.

The order was given Sunday by Lt. Gen. James Terry, who heads the Joint Command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, on the same day that four American troops were shot and killed by Afghan police. The NATO force did not publicize the directive other than to provide copies in response to specific queries from news organizations.

Maj. Adam Wojack, an ISAF spokesman, acknowledged that the change would have a “huge” effect in the field. Until now, up to 80% of operations were “partnered” ones involving Western and Afghan troops.

He said the directive was prompted not only by insider shootings, which have accounted this year for about 15% of the NATO force’s fatalities, but also by an anti-Islam video that has triggered protests across the Muslim world, including a violent demonstration in Kabul on Monday.

“There’s a lot of tension out there,” he said, describing the directive as “a pretty major measure to mitigate risks.”

Exceptions to the directive would have to be approved by  regional commanders, most of whom are two-star generals. Previously, lieutenants were authorized to give the go-ahead for patrols and other joint operations.

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Suicide bomber kills about 12 people near Afghan airport

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A female suicide bomber struck near Kabul’s international airport early Tuesday, killing about 12 people, nine of them believed to be foreigners, Afghan police said.

The blast, on a busy stretch of road lined with wedding halls, wrecked a minivan that was carrying international and Afghan contract workers, said the police chief, Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi. In addition to those killed, eight people were injured, he said.

The insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami claimed to have carried out the attack, and said on its website that the targets were “intelligence” operatives. Most such strikes in and around Kabul are blamed on the Taliban or an offshoot, the Haqqani network.

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