Militants in Afghanistan on Wednesday attacked a facility used by the International Committee of the Red Cross, first sending a suicide bomber to blast open the gates and then storming in troops, guns blazing.
Seven foreign Red Cross workers were successfully rescued, an Afghan police officer said, in a CBS report. The attack follows one last week in Kabul against a group affiliated with the United Nations that left three dead.
"The initial reporting shows that two other people have entered the building," said Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, CBS reported. "Right now a gun battle is going on between the Afghan security forces and the attackers. We have reports of one guard of the guest house being killed as a result of the attack. From the battle, we have no reports of other casualties."
The Red Cross confirmed the attack but did not give other details, CBS said.
"We can confirm that there has been an attack on our offices in Jalalabad. We are working to find out the whereabouts and well-being of our colleagues," said Robin Waudo, communications coordinator for the Red Cross in Afghanistan, in the CBS report.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, and it's still not clear why the Red Cross was targeted.
Kandahar, Afghanistan: Suspected Taliban militants killed seven police in southern Afghanistan after persuading the officers to invite them into their checkpoint for dinner, officials said.
The two attackers fled the police checkpoint after shooting the seven men in the province of Kandahar, a hotbed of the militant campaign that targets Afghan security forces and officials as well as US-led foreign forces.
"Two men asked police to let them spend the night in their post. The police accepted and gave them food," Jawed Faisal, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, told AFP.
"After dinner, the men grabbed the guns of the policemen and shot dead seven police and wounded one and fled."
A total of 14 Afghan police and soldiers have died over the last two days as Taliban insurgents increase attacks as part of their annual "spring offensive" launched last month.
Kandahar Afghan National Police chief Abdul Raziq said the two police officers had defected to the Taliban months ago but returned several days ago asking to rejoin.
They were accepted back.
"As soon as the policemen fell asleep, the pair grabbed weapons and opened fire, killing all seven," Mr Raziq said.
The attack occurred in the early hours in the Arghistan district of the southern province of Kandahar.
A hunt was on to find the pair, Mr Raziq said, adding that he suspected they have again joined the Taliban.
The Taliban, fighting to expel Western forces and establish Islamist rule in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility in a text message from spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi.
"An infiltrated Taliban killed 12 policemen including a commander. He brought a police vehicle, weapons and ammunition to Taliban," Mr Ahmadi said.
The militants routinely exaggerate casualty numbers and often provide misleading information about their attacks.
They have stepped up attacks in recent weeks after a traditional winter lull in fighting.
Nine government soldiers were killed during separate attacks around the country on Tuesday, including five in the remote northeast province of Badakhshan and two in Kandahar.
In other attacks, at least three policemen were killed by a roadside bomb, also in Kandahar, and another bomb killed four bodyguards of the head of a private communication company in the central province of Parwan.
Concern is mounting over how the 352,000 members of Afghanistan's security forces will cope after most foreign NATO-led combat troops leave by the end of next year.
The killings came during a particularly bloody 24 hours for Afghan forces, with another 16 soldiers, police and bodyguards killed in different attacks, underscoring concern about government forces as foreign troops prepare to leave.
Bombings, other attacks kill at least 11 in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan-- At least seven police officers were killed in an attack on a security checkpoint in Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.
The attack occurred Monday in Kandahar province, Khaama Press reported. The same day, an explosion in the same province killed two civilians and an Afghan Local Police officer, and an aide to the Senate chairman was gunned down in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.
"Shafiqullah, secretary of Afghan senate chairman Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Lalma area in Chaparhar district on Monday," Nangarhar police said in a statement.
The killing took place after the secretary left the city of Jalalabad, police said.
A provincial official said the police officers were killed by two suspected militants.
The bombing involved an improvised explosive device placed in a village in Khakrez district, police said. Two civilians and a local police commander were injured.
The Taliban announced the start of its summer offensive in April. Officials in Kandahar say some religious schools in Pakistan appear to have been shut down so militants employed in them could cross the border to carry out attacks.
Two events a day apart offered contrasting glimpses of Afghanistan. Which way will the country go when U.S. forces depart after 2014?
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- There's little doubt an insurgent attack here last Friday reaffirmed to Americans that, more than 12 years after the U.S.-led war began in this country, Afghanistan appears immune to progress. The next day, however, brought an uplifting riposte in the simple form of a college graduation ceremony. I can guess which occasion you heard about.
I witnessed both events unfold, and to admit the obvious, the siege offered a more dramatic spectacle. After a suicide bomber driving a car laden with explosives detonated his cargo outside the compound of a foreign aid agency, five accomplices traded gunfire with Afghan security forces for several hours. Amid the staccato report of automatic rifles, the assailants shot rocket-propelled grenades, sending plumes of gray smoke drifting over city streets as empty as those in "The Walking Dead."
The assault in the capital's heavily guarded central district killed four people and wounded 14. The five gunmen were ventilated with bullets until they stopped breathing. If Westerners happened to catch the news, they likely reacted with succinct indifference: Oh. Again..
Their disregard is neither surprising nor entirely unjustified. The war has been long, Afghanistan is far away, and the prospects for peace remain opaque. Meanwhile, as evidenced by the recent Boston Marathon bombings and the mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora, plenty of threats exist on American soil.
Yet to the extent that media coverage shades public perception, Afghanistan, viewed mostly through the lens of bloodshed, resembles a feral state, intractable and bereft of hope, its culture in ruins, its people typecast as either militant extremists or saucer-eyed bystanders to the carnage. The graduation ceremony, while organized in a manner that didn't ignore the country's uncertain security, presented a brighter scenario, one that suggests there may be cause for tempered optimism.
The American University of Afghanistan, or AUAF, opened in 2006, and its third graduating class consisted of 129 students, including the school's first batch of master's recipients. They assembled Saturday morning outside the International Center for Afghan Women's Economic Development, a newly christened building on the university's grounds. School officials tout the $5 million facility, funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, as a future training hub and business incubator for women entrepreneurs.
Students and their families and friends passed through a pair of checkpoints after stepping inside the walled campus; at one, a bomb-sniffing German shepherd poked his nose into bags. A handful of plain-clothed, thick-necked security personnel milled among the audience, earpieces giving them away, as a smattering of uniformed Afghan security officers lingered at a remove.
The safety measures had no apparent effect on the crowd's buoyant mood. As the processional began, the soon-to-be alumni entered beaming, moving toward their seats as supporters unholstered smart phones to shoot photos. Toddlers slalomed among the tall people and their fluttering graduation gowns. Parents and grandparents smiled through tears of pride.
The good cheer survived two rain delays, and during one break, I spoke with Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan who retired last summer after almost 40 years as a diplomat. He had returned to the country to give the commencement address, and he assessed the graduates in the wider context of their fellow Afghan Millennials.
"This is a generation that the country has never seen--they're tuned in, wired up, switched on," said Crocker, who during his career also served as ambassador to Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Syria.
"They could not be more different from, certainly, the Taliban, but also their parents' generation. They dislike the warlords" -- the tribal chieftains who wield outsize influence across the country -- "as much as they dislike the Taliban. They itch for today, and they're going to be running this country."
For the event, the 63-year-old Crocker had donned a black robe but not rose-colored glasses. Referring to the previous day's attack, he called the ability of insurgents to penetrate the city's core "a problem that has to be addressed." More broadly, he warned that without sustained U.S. political and economic support after 2014, when most of the remaining American troops will leave the country, Afghanistan could relapse into the turmoil of the early 1990s that spawned the Taliban's rise.
"But I think often the narrative of Afghanistan [in America] is inward-looking," he said. "Americans are tired of overseas commitments, there's a recession, they don't want to do this kind of thing anymore. That doesn't reflect the attitudes of this generation of Afghans and how they envision their future."
Zia Navin, one of the 20 graduate students who picked up a master of business administration, favors the country's imperfect present over its anarchic recent past. The Kabul native lost a brother and sister in the civil war that racked Afghanistan following the Soviet Union's withdrawal in 1989 after its abortive, decade-long occupation of the country.
"We are not only having fighting and suicide attacks. But that is what people see in the media outside Afghanistan," he said. "Here, we know there is a new generation that will lead peacefully in the future."
The first member of his family to attend college or graduate school, Navin, 30, aspires to launch a fast-food chain that will provide jobs in a country where the unemployment rate hovers around 40 percent. He considers college the most potent long-range weapon against the insurgency.
"The only way to change Afghanistan is to educate people so they don't commit attacks that kill innocent people," he said. "The more people learn, the more they will understand the Taliban is trying to destroy us."
Since AUAF's founding seven years ago, the student body has swelled from 53 to more than 1,700, roughly one-third of them women. Officials at the nonprofit university expect enrollment to reach 5,000 to 6,000 in another decade, with the campus expanding on a recently acquired 80-acre plot of land. After receiving more than $50 million from the U.S. government and millions more from private donors, the school is edging toward self-sufficiency, generating 40 percent of its own funding.
"You don't hear about this successful story of Afghanistan," said former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who attended the graduation. Abdullah, who finished second to incumbent Hamid Karzai in the 2009 presidential race, has been rumored as a potential candidate in next year's election, and to many observers, he offers the country's best chance to create a new approach to national politics and policy.
"We are ready to shoulder more of the responsibility for Afghanistan, and it is students like these who will help us go forward," he said. "They can make the difference."
With the ceremony over, the gathering retreated to a small field behind the women's center for a buffet lunch. Groups of young men corralled new graduates to toss them in the air and catch them before they hit the ground. The sun had come out. Laughter reigned.
Watching the revelry, Abdul Ghani Popal clutched to his chest the padded blue folder that held his bachelor's degree. "It is important for us to learn from our past," said Popal, 24, who grew up in Kandahar province, the Taliban's spiritual birthplace. "But today is a new day."
He talked above a happier clamor than what I heard a day earlier while walking toward the scene of the insurgent attack. Two blocks from the gunfire and explosions, I passed a storefront and noticed a cluster of men behind its closed metal gate. They appeared to be waiting for the chaos to subside, caged within their own city.
Down the street, I encountered a man named Samiullah Safi, who stood outside his deserted shoe shop. "Business is good until the bombing," he said. "Then people go like this." He made a plunging motion with his hand: they had dove to the floor.
I asked whether he thought the Taliban would ever let his country live in peace. "They are no good," he said. "They always fight. But we are strong."
Less than 24 hours later, Crocker emphasized a similar theme of resolve at the close of his speech to AUAF's graduates. "You have been given a world-class education," he told them. "What you must give in return is the energy and commitment to create a new Afghanistan, an Afghanistan in which the dark days of the past remain forever buried there."
If those days have yet to end, it is wrong to assume that violence persists because the country's people are mere bystanders. Americans are weary of war for valid reasons. But they are not anywhere as weary of war as a new generation of Afghans who have known little else in their lifetime, and who now seek to cast off the ravages of history.
British lawyers demand access to detainees in Afghanistan
LONDON -- British lawyers representing eight Afghan prisoners at Camp Bastion, Britain’s largest military base in Afghanistan, told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Wednesday that their clients had been held without trial and denied access to a lawyer, some for as many as 14 months.
Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers is turning to British courts to press the Defense Ministry to release the men or explain why they were being detained in a legal limbo.
He called the Camp Bastion center a “secret facility” in “flagrant breach of common and international law.”
As many as 90 detainees are being held there awaiting transfer to the Afghan judicial system under suspicion of killing or plotting attacks on British and allied troops. Since November, the Defense Ministry has halted transfers of prisoners to the Afghan judiciary what the ministry said Wednesday was "evidence that suggested a risk of mistreatment of detainees."
Richard Stein, a human rights lawyer defending a detainee, told the BBC he had been denied even phone access to his client “despite repeated efforts.”
“We recognize the risk to British forces but it can’t be a justification to detain people unlawfully.”
Shiner told the BBC the Defense Ministry had finally granted him access to two clients.
He acknowledged the British government faced a dilemma: it has no legal internment powers in Afghanistan but officials do not feel they can transfer suspects to the Afghan legal system while it is suspected of using torture. But, he said, Britain "could have trained the Afghan authorities to detain people lawfully and make sure they are treated humanely. They could have monitored that facility with ad hoc inspections to make sure that the Afghans were obeying the law. They have chosen not to do so.”
In response, Philip Hammond, Britain's secretary of state for defense, said Wednesday that calling the Camp Bastion detention center a secret facility was “patently ridiculous."
"Parliament has been informed about our detention activities ... [which are] a vital part of our forces’ protection,” he told the BBC.
The approximately 90 detainees are “suspected of murdering British troops or being involved in IEDs,” or improvised explosive devices, he said. Their lawyers were asking the government “to release these people ... so they can carry on with the activities for which they were detained in the first place, putting British and other [coalition] troops at risk.”
The government has been working “with the Afghans and other allies to develop a safe pathway for the transfer of these detainees into the judicial system," Hammond said. “I am hoping in the very near future, within a matter of days, we will be able to restart transfers through a safe route into the Afghan system.”
A Defense Ministry spokesman’s statement further clarified that “successive governments have reported to Parliament on detention operations in Afghanistan. ... Defense Secretary Philip Hammond updated the House [of Commons] in December 2012 on this issue."
NATO guidelines for the International Security Assistance Force place a limit of a 96-hour detention period for suspects before transfer to the Afghan judicial system, with extensions granted in exceptional circumstances and in the interests of protecting allied troops.
U.S. military launches probe into deadly assault in Afghanistan
The U.S. military has launched a formal investigation into whether a two-star Marine Corps general and his subordinates bear responsibility for lax security at a large coalition base in southwestern Afghanistan where a Taliban ambush killed two Marines and destroyed a half-dozen U.S. fighter jets.
Although the attack last year resulted in the largest loss of allied materiel in the 11-year-long Afghan war, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, then the top U.S. commander on the base, did not order a formal U.S. military investigation into the security lapses.
The Washington Post reported in April that British forces, who were responsible for security on the side of the base that was attacked, handed off the job of manning watchtowers to Tongan soldiers, who left several of the towers unmanned. Security patrols of the perimeter, which are conducted by the Marines, also had been scaled back substantially in the months leading up to the attack.
Several officials with direct knowledge of the assault told The Post that those staff decisions made it easier for the Taliban to reconnoiter the compound and then enter without resistance. Once inside, 15 insurgents used grenades to destroy almost an entire squadron of Marine AV-8B Harrier jets, a loss estimated by military officials at about $200 million.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, concluded earlier this month that a formal investigation needed to be conducted. “Important questions remained unanswered,” Amos wrote in a May 9 letter to Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, which will conduct the investigation.
Amos wrote that he is seeking to “determine accountability of the senior Marines involved” and to “prevent this type of tragedy in the future.”
The NATO regional headquarters that Gurganus commanded did conduct two examinations of the attack, but neither were formal investigations that could have been used to sanction U.S. personnel. Gurganus told The Post in April that he was unable to order a U.S. investigation because the base, Camp Bastion, is a NATO facility. But Amos disagreed, concluding that a formal investigation was warranted because of the loss of American lives and materiel.
Gurganus was nominated by the Defense Department in March to receive a third star and serve as the Marine Corps staff director, a senior job in the service. A senior military official said his promotion has been “placed on hold pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Supreme Court Reacts To Speech Made By The Deputy US Envoy
The Supreme Court considers the speech made by the Deputy United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, David Pearce, regarding the termination of service of a number of members of the Court as an interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.
The Supreme Court said that the US is trying to interfere into Afghanistan's presidential election process.
This strong comment from the Supreme Court came in after the Deputy United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, sought the termination of a number of Afghan Supreme Court members whose constitutional term have expired.
The recent speech by the US envoy has provoked strong criticism by the Supreme Court.
Dr. Abdullah Attaie, Head of Judicial Branch of Supreme Court said, "We completely disapprove such unconventional words from a diplomat and don't accept it. We do not favour such and we don't see it favorable for them to interfere in such affairs".
The Supreme Court said that since in the past it has not acted according to the instructions given by the foreigners, especially the US, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the European Union (EU), due to which the US is now trying to interfere before the presidential elections.
Dr. Abdullah Attaie, Head of Judicial Branch of Supreme Court said, "Supreme Court in the previous election didn't accept the unlawful demands of the US, UNAMA and the EU who try to make the people suspicious about the progress of the various national projects, national drafts and political figures."
David Pearce said, "It is important that the Supreme Court justices, whose constitutional terms have expired, be removed and replaced. This will help legitimise the Court's decisions and solidify confidence of the people in the judicial process."
On the other hand, a number of Justice Committee members of the Parliament called the presence of those members in the Supreme Court whose constitutional term has expired as a serious violation of the law.
They said that some Supreme Court member's constitutional term had expired two years back but they still continue to work.
Sayed Mohammad Hassan Sharif Balkhabi, member of the Justice Committee of the Parliament said, "This is a violation of the law, and the Head of the Court must not work as an Acting Head as it is harmful for the judicial and legislative processes of the country."
These comments come in at a time when it was discovered that among the nine members of the Supreme Court, two of its member's including the Head's constitutional term had expired two years back. And the Government has not taken any step to replace them.
Gunmen in Pakistan on Monday set ablaze five trucks carrying NATO equipment out of Afghanistan as the international military alliance winds down it combat mission there, officials said.
There is nothing that better sums up the utter failure of America’s longest war than international forces getting ambushed as they try to get the hell out of the county. And yet the April 1 debacle in Baluchistan was in many ways a metaphor for a looming crisis that NATO and the United States seem totally unprepared for: with the clock ticking down on removing most combat troops by 2014, there are no official negotiations going on, nor does there seem to be any strategy for how to bring them about.
“I still cannot understand how we, the international community and the Afghan government have managed to arrive at a situation in which everything is coming together in 2014—elections, new president, economic transition, military transition—and negotiations for the peace process have not really started,” as Bernard Bajolet, the former French ambassador to Kabul and current head of France’s foreign intelligence service, told the New York Times.
When the Obama administration sent an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2009 as part of the “surge,” the goal was to secure the country’s southern provinces, suppress opium cultivation, and force the Taliban to give up on the war. Not only did the surge fail to impress the Taliban and its allies, it never stabilized the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Both are once again under the sway of the insurgency, and opium production has soared. What the surge did manage was to spread the insurgency into formerly secure areas in the north and west.
With the exception of the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, virtually everyone has concluded that the war has been a disaster for all involved.
"Shoot and Talk"
Afghanistan has lost more than 2 million people to the wars of the past 30 years. Huge sections of the population have been turned into refugees, and the country is becoming what one international law enforcement official described to the New York Times as “the world’s first true narco state.” According to the World Bank, 36 percent of Afghans are at or below the poverty line, and 20 percent of Afghan children never reach the age of five.
The war has cost American taxpayers over $1.4 trillion, and according to a recent study, the final butcher bill for Iraq and Afghanistan together will top $6 trillion. The decade-long conflict has put enormous strains on the NATO alliance, destabilized and alienated nuclear-armed Pakistan, and helped to spread al-Qaeda-like organizations throughout the Middle East and Africa.
Only U.S. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) thinks the war on the Taliban is being won, and that the Afghan Army is “steadily gaining in confidence, competence, and commitment.” Attacks by the Taliban are up 47 percent over last year, and the casualty rate for Afghan soldiers and police has increased 40 percent. The yearly desertion rate of the Afghan Army is between 27 percent and 30 percent.
In theory, ISAF combat troops will exit Afghanistan in 2014 and turn the war over to the Afghan Army and police, organizations that have yet to show they can take on the insurgency. One of the Army’s crack units was recently overrun in eastern Afghanistan. Given the fragility of the Afghan government and its army, one would think that the White House would be putting on a full court press to get talks going, but instead it is following a strategy that has demonstrably failed in the past.
The tactic of “shooting and talking,” central to the surge, has produced lots of casualties but virtually zero dialogue—hardly a surprise. That approach has never worked in Afghanistan.
Part of the problem is that the call for talks is so heavily laden with caveats and restrictions—among them that the Taliban must accept the 2004 constitution and renounce violence and “terrorism”—that it derails any possibility of real negotiations.
However, Taliban leaders argue that the 2004 constitution was imposed from the outside, and they want a role in re-writing it. And they denounced international terrorism five years ago.
As Anatol Lieven—a King’s College London professor, senior researcher at the New American Foundation, and probably the best informed English-language writer on Afghanistan—points out, Americans consistently paint themselves into a corner by demonizing their opponents.
That, in turn, leads to “a belief that any enemy of the United States must inevitably be evil. Not only does this tendency make pragmatic compromises with opponents much more difficult (and much more embarrassing should they eventually be reached), but, consciously or unconsciously it allows the US government and media to blind the US public, and often themselves, to the evils of America’s own allies.”
For instance, the United States will not talk with the Haqqani group, a Taliban ally, even though it is the most effective military force confronting the NATO occupation. The same goes for Iran, even though Teheran played a key role in organizing the 2003 Bonn conference that led to the formation of the current Kabul government.
Iran also has legitimate interests in the current war. Because opium and heroin are not a major problem in the United States, Washington can afford to turn a blind eye to the Afghan government’s alliance with drug dealing warlords. Heroin addiction, however, constitutes a national health crisis in Iran and Russia.
It is not exactly clear what will happen in 2014. While American combat units are supposed to be withdrawn, in accordance with a treaty between NATO and the government of President Harmid Karzai, several thousand U.S. Special Forces, military trainers, CIA personnel, and aircraft will remain on nine bases until 2024. That agreement was the supposed reason for the massive suicide bomb May 16 in Kabul that killed 6 Americans and 16 Afghans. Hezb-i-Islami, an insurgent group based around Kabul and the eastern part of the country, took credit for the attack.
That attack underlines how difficult it will be to forge some kind of agreement.
Hezb-i-Islami pulled off the bombing, but the party’s political wing is a major player in the Karzai government, with its members holding down the posts of education minister and advisor to the president. Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is also a rival of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and the bombing could just as well have been a maneuver to make sure Hezb-i-Islami has a seat at the table if talks start up. Hekmatyar has offered to negotiate with NATO in the past.
The Taliban itself is divided into several factions, partly because the Americans’ systematic assassinations of high- and mid-level Taliban leaders have decentralized the organization. The Taliban is increasingly an alliance of local groups that may have very different politics.
The Haqqanis have a strong presence in Pakistan, which requires that the organization maintain cordial relations with Pakistan’s Army and intelligence services. They scratch each other’s backs. So any understanding to end the war will have to be acceptable to the Haqqanis and Islamabad. No agreement is possible without the participation of both.
Instead of recognizing the reality of the situation, however, the Obama administration continues to ignore the powerful Haqqanis, sideline Iran, and to alienate the average Pakistani though its drone war.
Cutting a Deal
As complex as the situation looks, a solution is possible, but only if the White House changes course. First, the “shoot and talk” nonsense must end immediately, General Dunford’s hallucinations not withstanding. If the United States couldn’t smother the insurgency during the surge, how can it do so now with fewer troops? All the shooting will do is get a lot more people killed—most of them Afghan soldiers, police, and civilians caught in the crossfire—and sabotage any potential talks.
According to Lieven, Taliban leaders are far more realistic about the current situation than is the White House. Last July, Lieven and a group of academics met “leading figures close to the Taliban” during a trip to the Persian Gulf. He says there was “a widespread recognition within the Taliban that while they can maintain a struggle in the south and east of Afghanistan indefinitely,” they could never conquer the whole country. Further, “in their own estimate,” they have the support of about 30 percent of population. A recent Asia Foundation poll came to a similar conclusion.
While the Taliban refuses to negotiate with the Karzai government, Lieven says its representatives told the delegation, “there can be no return to the ‘pure’ government of mullahs,” and “most strikingly, they said that the Taliban might be prepared to agree to the US bases remaining until 2024.” The latter compromise will not make the Iranians, Chinese, or Russians very happy—not to mention Hezb-i-Islami—but it reflects a deep-seated philosophy in Afghan politics: figure out a way to cut a deal.
The Taliban’s rejection of talks with the Kabul government means that going ahead with next year’s presidential election is probably a bad idea. An all-Afghan constitutional convention would be a better idea, with elections postponed until after a new constitution is in place.
There are numerous issues that could sink a final agreement because there are many players with multiple agendas. Regardless, those agendas will have to be addressed, even if not quite to everyone’s satisfaction. And everyone has to sit at the table, since those who are excluded have the power to torpedo the entire endeavor. This means all the combatants, as well as Iran, India, China, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
And the White House needs to get off its butt. Afghan President Karzai, just returned from an arms buying spree in India, asked New Delhi to increase its presence in Afghanistan. This will hardly be popular with Pakistan and China, and Islamabad can make serious mischief if it wants to.
The ambush in Pakistan brings to mind Karl Marx’s famous dictum about history: it happens first as tragedy, then as farce.
The first time this happened was during Britain’s first Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42), when Afghans overran an East India Company army retreating from Kabul. Out of 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 civilians, a single assistant surgeon made it back to Jalalabad.
The most recent ambush certainly had an element of farce about it. Four masked gunmen on two motorbikes forced the trucks to stop, sprinkled them with gasoline, and set the vehicles ablaze. One driver received a minor injury.
There is no need for a chaos-engulfed finale to the Afghan War. There is no reason to continue the bloodshed, which all the parties recognize will not alter the final outcome a whit. It is time for the White House to step up and do the right thing and end one of the bloodiest wars in recent history.
Secret Service busts $6 billion money laundering scheme
The U.S. Secret Service have arrested five individuals and seized multiple bank accounts related to a $6 billion money laundering scheme being described by authorities as “staggering” and the largest ever case of international money-laundering.
In a statement, Secret Service officials said authorities in Spain, Costa Rica and New York arrested five people on Friday and seized bank accounts and Internet domains associated with the company Liberty Reserve – a Costa Rica-based website that deals in digital currency and allows transnational online payments and money transfers.
Digital currency is a form of online currency made up of transferable units that can be exchanged with cash, and has exploded in popularity in the last decade with the increasing use of Bitcoin, the most widely used form of digital currency. Liberty Reserve’s currency was not connected with Bitcoin.
Charging a low one percent fee on transactions, Liberty Reserve allowed users to open accounts using fictitious names, including "Russian Hacker" and "Hacker Account," and to redeem the currency for cash in any part of the world using the third-party exchange companies.
Aditya Sood, a computer science doctoral candidate at Michigan State University who has studied the underground economy, described Liberty Reserve as a no-questions-asked alternative to the global banking system, with little more than a valid email needed to open an account and start moving money across borders.
"You don't need to provide your full details, or personal information, or things like that," Sood said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. "There's no way to trace an account. That's the beauty of the system."
Arthur Budovsky, the founder of Liberty Reserve, was one of the individuals arrested, while a defendant identified as Budovsky’s partner, Vladimir Kats, was in custody in New York.
According to the statement from the Secret Service, Liberty Reserve had approximately one million users worldwide with more than 200,000 users in the United States. Overall, the company processed an estimated 55 million separate financial transactions and is believed to have laundered more than $6 billion in criminal proceeds.
"The scope of the defendants' unlawful conduct is staggering," said an indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan.
The indictment described the network as "one of the principal means by which cyber criminals around the world distribute, store and launder proceeds of their illegal activity ... including credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography and narcotics trafficking."
“The U.S. Secret Service, in coordination with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Global Illicit Financial Team (GIFT) hosted by IRS-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) executed and arrested search warrants in seven countries that also include Spain and the Netherlands. Assets of Liberty Reserve will also be frozen in Hong Kong, Spain, Morocco and China,” the Secret Service statement said.
According to the press release, current and former executives of Liberty Reserve have also been charged with violating numerous anti money laundering statutes and operating as illegal money transmitters.
Budovsky and Katz have previous convictions on charges related to an unlicensed money-transmitting business, according to court papers. After that case, the pair decided to move their operation to Costa Rica, where Budovsky officially renounced his U.S. citizenship, the papers say.
In an online chat captured by law enforcement, Katz admitted Liberty Reserve was "illegal" and noted that authorities in the United States knew it was "a money laundering operation that hackers use."
Mitchell Rossetti, whose Houston, Texas-based ePayCards.com was one of several mainstream merchants that accepted the online-only currency, said his business still had about $28,000 tied up in Liberty Reserve accounts.
"The irony of this is I went to them because of the security," Rossetti said. "All sales were final."