Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Afghan intel deputy killed in suicide blast

Afghan intel deputy killed in suicide blast: "KABUL — A Taliban suicide bomber killed Afghanistan’s deputy chief of intelligence Wednesday during a visit to a mosque east of Kabul in an attack that left 22 others dead.The bombing, which occurred in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, struck at the heart of Afghanistan’s intelligence service and underscored the Taliban’s increasing ability to carry off complex and targeted assaults.

The explosion ripped through a crowd in Laghman province just as Abdullah Laghmani, deputy chief of Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security, and other officials were leaving the main mosque in Mehterlam, 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Kabul. Laghmani died at the scene, according to Sayed Ahmad Safi, the spokesman for the local governor.

A Taliban spokesman said a suicide bomber on foot targeted Laghmani, a key figure in Afghanistan’s security services. President Hamid Karzai and the United Nations condemned the attack.Laghmani was the former intelligence chief for Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold. In his most recent post, he directed intelligence operations, especially in eastern Afghanistan, and appointed local intelligence officials throughout the area.He was an ethnic Pashtun, along with nearly all the Taliban, but fought with a Tajik-led faction during the war against the Taliban that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.His death occurred as tensions rise in the wake of the divisive Aug. 20 presidential election. The country’s election commission said

Wednesday that Karzai had 47.3 percent of the vote and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah had 32.6 percent.Those figures were with votes counted from 60 percent of the country’s polling stations. Karzai needs 50 percent to avoid a two-man runoff.In the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, meanwhile, an official with Abdullah’s campaign warned supporters of the former foreign minister would take to the streets if there was any perception that election fraud was overlooked. Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun, while Abdullah is half Pashtun and half Tajik but is seen as the Tajik candidate.

Hundreds of serious allegations of fraud have been formally lodged since voting day, mostly involving ballot-box stuffing and voter intimidation. The country’s Electoral Complaints Commission said Wednesday the number of serious complaints from election day was 652, with the highest number coming from Baghlan, Kabul and Kandahar provinces.‘We are not talking too much because people are very angry and we don’t want to add to that, but Dr. Abdullah is meeting with foreign embassies and regional partners to try to find a solution,’ said Zalmai Younosi, Abdullah’s campaign chief in six northern provinces.‘After that, if there is no result, then it is protest and violence,’ he warned. ‘Yes, violence is bad for the country. ...‘When Russia occupied Afghanistan, we had to fight. When the Taliban came, we had to fight back. How can we accept a corrupt government funded by drugs and not respected by the world? We have to defend our own rights.

’The blast east of Kabul killed Laghmani, the executive director of Laghman’s governor’s office, the head of Laghman’s provincial council, two of Laghmani’s body guards, and 18 civilians, said Sayed Ahmad Safi, the spokesman for Laghman’s governor.‘It is indefensible that such an attack was carried out at a mosque during the holy month of Ramadan,’ said Peter W. Galbraith, the deputy U.N. chief here. ‘The contrast between the vast majority of Afghans who yearn for peace during this holy month and those who conducted this attack could not be more stark.’Karzai said in a statement the ‘enemy’ tried to kill ‘brave and hardworking’ officials, but others with those same traits would take their place.U.S. troops cordoned off the blast site, right outside Mehterlam’s main mosque, which sits in a crowded market area. Safi said Laghmani was visiting the mosque to discuss plans to rebuild it.Taliban suicide attacks frequently target high-ranking government officials.

Militants have warned Afghans for years not to work as government officials, teachers, or in the country’s armed forces.Taliban attacks have spiked the last three years and insurgents now control wide swaths of territory, momentum that forced President Barack Obama to send 21,000 additional troops to the country this year.U.S. military officials may soon ask for even more troops to be sent to the country, but

American public opinion is starting to turn against the almost eight-year war as U.S. troop deaths have reached an all-time high.The National Directorate for Security suffered a second attack in the country’s north. An intelligence officer kidnapped a few days ago by Taliban militants in Kunduz province was found Wednesday hanging from a tree on the outskirts of Baghlan city, said Kabi Andarabi, the provincial police chief.In other violence, four militants were killed overnight when a roadside bomb they were planting detonated, said Fazel Ahmad Sherzad, the deputy police chief of Kandahar.———Associated Press writers Douglas Birch in Kabul and Heidi Vogt in Mazar-i-Sharif contributed to this report."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

Air Force releases Predator accident report

Air Force releases Predator accident report: "Air Force officials at Langley Air Force Base, Va., said Sept. 2 that a disconnected vacuum line caused the April 28 crash of an MQ-1 Predator west of Creech Air Force Base, Nev.According to an Air Combat Command accident investigation board report, most of the damage to the aircraft occurred when it executed a hard landing in the rough terrain surrounding the airfield.

The cost to repair the aircraft was $543,178. There were no injuries or damage to other property or equipment.The report states that the accident happened when the vacuum line became disconnected at a ‘T’ fitting. The vacuum line controls the flow of air that mixes with fuel to power the aircraft, and the loss of this line stalled the aircraft as a result of excess air in the fuel upon takeoff.The Predator was assigned to the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron at Creech."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

Military helps eliminate opium in Afghanistan

Military helps eliminate opium in Afghanistan: "KABUL — Afghanistan’s opium production fell 10 percent last year and prices are at their lowest in a decade, meaning ‘the bottom is starting to fall out’ of the world’s largest opium market, the U.N. said Wednesday.A key finding of the 2009 Afghan Opium Survey, released Wednesday, was that cultivation in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold where U.S. and British troops have launched major operations this summer, dropped by about a third from 2007 to 2008. Helmand produces almost 70 percent of Afghanistan’s opium.‘At a time of pessimism about the situation in Afghanistan, these results are a welcome piece of good news and demonstrate that progress is possible,’

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N.’s office on drugs and crime, said in a statement.Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s supply of opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, and the multibillion-dollar crop has helped finance insurgents and criminal groups, fueled official corruption and weakened the country’s central government.The U.N. said that a ‘marriage of convenience’ between insurgents and criminal groups is spawning narco-cartels in Afghanistan.Because of that link, U.S. and NATO troops began actively targeting drug warehouses for the first time this year.

The U.N. reported that in the first half of 2009, military operations destroyed 50 tons of opium, 7 tons of morphine, 1.5 tons of heroin, and 27 laboratories for turning opium into heroin.British officials, who are leading counter-narcotics work in Afghanistan, estimate that the insurgents finance their operations with the help of annual opium profits that range anywhere from $100 million to $400 million.The U.N.’s Costa and U.K. officials attributed the declines in cultivation and production to the work of local governors, eradication efforts, drug seizures by Afghan forces and programs to replace opium poppies with legal crops.

However, some analysts say the production decline is due to lower world prices for the drug.Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal distributed wheat seed to about 32,000 households in 2008, and British officials plan to expand the project to cover a broader area, and include grapes, pomegranates and apricots.Opium cultivation in Afghanistan peaked in 2007 and has now fallen two consecutive years. The amount of Afghan cropland devoted to opium poppy cultivation fell from about 478,000 acres (193,000 hectares) in 2007 to 304,000 acres (123,000 hectares) this year.‘The bottom is starting to fall out of the Afghan opium market,’ the U.N. said.Opium production in Afghanistan has not fallen as fast as the decline in acreage devoted to poppy plants, because farmers are using improved strains and agricultural practices to extract more opium paste out of each bulb.

The survey reported that Afghanistan is still producing 6,900 tons of opium a year, 1,900 tons more than the world consumes. That overproduction, experts say, has saturated the market, driven down prices and made the crop less profitable — and may be behind the drop in cultivation.Farm prices for opium this year dropped by about a quarter, according to U.N. figures.‘Intervention may be playing some role here. But this is basically market-driven,’ said Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at Middle East Institute in Washington.Officials in London warned that production could increase next year if opium prices rise.

They said the Afghan government and its allies need to find new ways for farmers to earn a living in order to secure this year’s gains.One question raised by the survey is why, with rampant overproduction, global heroin prices haven’t plummeted.The reason, the U.N. says, is that Afghan’s drug industry apparently has stockpiled 10,000 tons of opium, enough to satisfy the demands of the world’s heroin addicts for the next two years.

The presumed aim is to prop up prices, which have fallen a bit, but not as much as they should have, given the production rates.But the U.N.’s Costa called this stockpile a ‘ticking bomb’ that could flood the world market with cheap heroin.Almost all of Afghanistan’s opium is grown in Helmand and six of the country’s 34 provinces — all areas under partial or total Taliban control.While the Obama White House has all but abandoned the Bush administration’s program of destroying poppy crops, the Afghan government continues to support poppy crop eradication efforts.

A U.S. Senate report called eradication ‘an expensive failure,’ and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke called the practice ‘a waste of money.’Critics said razing poppy fields angered and impoverished rural Afghans without making a significant dent in harvests.In his statement, Costa agreed, saying that ‘eradication continues to be a failure.’ Less than 4 percent of the crop planted was destroyed in the past two years, he pointed out.But some Western counter-narcotics officials say eradication discourages cultivation by raising the risk to farmers of planting the crop.——Associated Press writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)


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