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Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has demanded an immediate halt to vote-counting over allegations of widespread fraud.

Ballot boxes had been stuffed and the whole system was working to benefit his rival Ashraf Ghani, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah said.

He said he had lost trust in election officials, adding: “We have asked our monitors to leave their offices.”

A run-off vote to choose who replaces Hamid Karzai was held on Saturday. Final results are due in July.

Abdullah Abdullah won most votes in the first round in April, but did not secure an outright majority.

There was no immediate comment from Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist.

Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has demanded an immediate halt to vote-counting over allegations of widespread fraud

Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has demanded an immediate halt to vote-counting over allegations of widespread fraud

Hamid Karzai, who has served two terms as Afghanistan’s first and only president since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is obliged by law to stand down after the latest election, which would be the country’s first peaceful transfer of power.

He is expected to hand over to his successor in August.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah said that a number of his observers had been beaten up, detained and only released on Tuesday.

He accused President Hamid Karzai of not being neutral and said important concerns he had raised over the election had been ignored.

Abdullah Abdullah also complained that there had been no clarification over what he had called inflated turnout figures – and no explanation for the sacking of several thousand election workers after the first round.


He added that he had also demanded that a senior member of the Independent Election Commission should be suspended, but this had not happened.

“The counting process should stop immediately and if that continues, it will have no legitimacy,” Dr. Abdullah Abdullah told reporters.

Ballot boxes have yet to reach Kabul for votes to be counted but the former foreign minister said preliminary evidence gathered by his team showed widespread fraud.

According to initial reports received by his staff, Ashraf Ghani is leading by nearly a million votes after Saturday’s run-off, Reuters news agency reported.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah pulled out of Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election which was also marred by claims of mass fraud.

UN and US officials have been urging both contenders in this year’s race to give officials time to count votes and look into possible malpractice.

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Voters in Afghanistan are deciding who will succeed President Hamid Karzai after run-off polls.

The choice was between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani.

The head of the election commission said turnout was good and most polling stations had opened but admitted some places had run out of ballot papers.

The Taliban threatened to target voting, and there are concerns that fraud could produce a disputed result.

Leading candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have campaigned relentlessly ahead of Afghanistan presidential election’s second round

Leading candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have campaigned relentlessly ahead of Afghanistan presidential election’s second round

It should be the first time that power in Afghanistan has been democratically transferred.

As most foreign soldiers prepare to withdraw by the end of this year, whoever becomes the new leader faces multiple challenges.

Taliban insurgents remain active, the economy is weak, corruption is endemic and the rule of law goes largely unenforced.

About 12 million Afghans are eligible to vote. Polls closed at 16:00 local time but officials said those in line at that time could still vote.

The election commission said 6,204 polling centres had opened, but about 160 remained closed because of security threats.

Abdullah Abdullah won 45% of the first-round vote, with Ashraf Ghani securing 31.6% – neither achieved the 50% needed to avoid a second round.

Both sides have faced multiple claims of fraud.

Correspondents say that a seamless transfer of power would be a significant achievement for Afghanistan and a vindication of international efforts to establish a functioning democracy after the abuses of the Taliban era.

But Afghanistan’s mountainous and remote terrain, coupled with the dilapidated condition of many of its roads, mean that holding a country-wide election is a major challenge. Thousands of donkeys will be deployed to carry ballot boxes to some of the more inaccessible villages.

The preliminary result is expected on July 2 and the final result on July 22.

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President Barack Obama was cheered by soldiers during a surprise visit to Bagram Airfield outside Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

Barack Obama has told US troops in Afghanistan that America’s longest war will come to “a responsible end” at the end of 2014.

It comes on the eve of Memorial Day, when Americans commemorate troops who have died in service.

Barack Obama was cheered by soldiers during a surprise visit to Bagram Airfield outside Kabul

Barack Obama was cheered by soldiers during a surprise visit to Bagram Airfield outside Kabul

Foreign combat troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

The US is seeking to keep a small number of troops there to train Afghan security forces. But that plan depends on the next Afghan president – due to be elected next month – signing a bilateral security agreement that incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to authorize.

Barack Obama had invited his Afghan counterpart to the base but Hamid Karzai refused, saying he would only meet the US president at his palace in Kabul, officials said.

Instead, Barack Obama called the Afghan leader from Air Force One on his way back to the US, officials said, saying he would be in touch before announcing any decision on the planned US troop presence after 2014.

To cheers from the assembled troops, Barack Obama thanked them for their service, and promised to improve treatment for wounded veterans.

“By the end of this year… Afghans will take full responsibility for their security and our combat mission will be over. America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.”

Barack Obama said the US would remain committed to Afghanistan provided the incoming president signed the security agreement.

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More than 7 million people out of an estimated eligible 12 million voted in Afghanistan’s election for a new president, the country’s electoral commission says.

It is Afghanistan’s first transfer of power via the ballot box.

There are reports of ballot paper shortages and sporadic violence from across the country.

Eight candidates are seeking to succeed President Hamid Karzai, barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

Hamid Karzai has declared Saturday’s poll “a success”. Final results may not be declared for days.

A massive operation was launched to thwart the Taliban, who had vowed to disrupt the election, and heavy rainfall may have depressed turnout in some areas.

Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said its latest estimates were that more than seven million people had voted by 17:00 local time, when the polls had officially closed and counting began.

Two-thirds of those who voted were men and one third women, the commission believes. Some polling stations stayed open until 21:00 to allow everyone queuing to vote.

“This election was a message to the enemies of Afghanistan,” Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said.

More than 7 million people out of an estimated eligible 12 million voted in Afghanistan's election for a new president

More than 7 million people out of an estimated eligible 12 million voted in Afghanistan’s election for a new president

“With this determination of the honorable people of Afghanistan, the enemies were defeated.”

IEC secretary Ziaul Haq Amarkhel, asked to comment on widespread reports of polling stations running out of ballot papers, said this information was “false”.

Earlier there were reports of polling centers running out of ballots hours before the polls closed in many areas, including Kabul, northern Takhar province, north-eastern Badakhshan province, eastern Paktia province, and Nimroz province in the south-west – where one man, Abdul Ahad, said he and 15 family members had been to every polling centre in their district in an attempt to vote, but all of them had run out of ballot papers.

The biggest military operation since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 was rolled out for the vote. All 400,000 of Afghanistan’s police and soldiers were said to be on duty for the election.

Traffic was prevented from entering the Afghan capital from midday on Friday, with police checkpoints erected at every junction.

However, in parts of the capital voters could be seen queuing an hour before polls opened and there was a good-natured, almost carnival atmosphere, with many people on the streets.

Across the country, 10% of stations were declared unsafe to open by the election commission.

The Afghan ministry of defense said three major incidents had taken place on polling day.

Fears of fraud, which have marred previous polls in Afghanistan, resurfaced with reports from the southern province of Kandahar that police were preventing voters and observers from reaching polling stations.

The interior ministry said two police officers were arrested in Wardak province for stuffing ballot boxes.

Concerns were also raised before the poll about the possible presence of “ghost” polling stations as well as the fact that the number of election cards in circulation appeared to be vastly more than the number of registered voters.

Speaking after the polls closed, Hamid Karzai said: “Despite the cold and rainy weather and possible terrorist attack, our sisters and brothers nationwide took in this election and their participation is a step forward and it is a success for Afghanistan.”

President Barack Obama, in a statement issued by the White House, said: “We commend the Afghan people, security forces, and elections officials on the turnout for today’s vote – which is in keeping with the spirited and positive debate among candidates and their supporters in the run-up to the election.

“These elections are critical to securing Afghanistan’s democratic future, as well as continued international support.”

There are eight candidates for president, but three are considered frontrunners – former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has fought a polished campaign, Ashraf Ghani has strong support among the new urban youth vote and Dr. Zalmai Rassoul is believed to be favored by Hamid Karzai.

However, no candidate is expected to secure more than the 50% of the vote needed to be the outright winner, which means there is likely to be a second round run-off on May 28.

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Afghan elders Loya Jirga has backed a security pact with the US allowing thousands of American troops to remain after combat operations end in 2014.

However, the assembly also called on President Hamid Karzai to sign the deal this year.

Hamid Karzai had told the opening session of the assembly that the deal would be signed after elections in 2014.

The US has said it is neither “practical nor possible” to delay the signing.

More than 2,000 elders have been meeting behind closed doors for the past few days.

They endorsed the security deal in a resolution.

The past few days have seen tense diplomatic telephone exchanges between Secretary of State John Kerry and President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan elders Loya Jirga has backed a security pact with the US allowing thousands of American troops to remain after combat operations end in 2014

Afghan elders Loya Jirga has backed a security pact with the US allowing thousands of American troops to remain after combat operations end in 2014

Washington insists the deal – which has taken months to negotiate – must be signed before the end of this year in order to secure plans for how many troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Opening the four-day grand assembly of elders on Thursday, Hamid Karzai urged delegates to approve the deal.

The president said a number of world leaders – including from Russia, China, and India – were backing the accord, and that it would provide the security Afghanistan needed, as well as the foundation for forces from other NATO countries who were assisting Afghan troops.

But he appeared to set a new condition, saying any pact would not be signed until after presidential elections.

That vote will be held in April. Hamid Karzai has served two terms so cannot stand again.

State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We believe that signing sooner rather than later is essential to give Afghans certainty about their future before the upcoming elections, and enable the United States and other partners to plan for US presence after 2014.

“It is neither practical nor possible for us to further delay because of the uncertainty it would create.”

The deal under discussion may see 15,000 foreign troops remain after 2014, although the US says it has not yet taken a decision on any presence.

While the Loya Jirga can amend or reject clauses in the pact, its decisions are not binding. The deal will also have to be approved by parliament.

Security is tight for the meeting after a suicide bombing last weekend near the huge tent where it is being held.

The Taliban has branded the meeting a US-designed plot, and has vowed to pursue and punish its delegates as traitors if they approve the deal.

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Pakistan Taliban commander Latif Mehsud has been captured by US forces in a military operation, the state department has confirmed.

Spokeswoman Marie Harf described Latif Mehsud as a “terrorist leader” and a “senior commander” in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Marie Harf gave no details of the operation.

She said he was a close confidante of the group’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who this week gave a rare interview to the BBC about possible peace talks.

Marie Harf said the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) were held responsible for the attempted bombing of Times Square in 2010, as well as attacks on US diplomats in Pakistan and many Pakistani civilians.

The group “had also vowed to attack the US homeland again,” Marie Harf said.

Pakistan Taliban commander Latif Mehsud has been captured by US forces in a military operation,

Pakistan Taliban commander Latif Mehsud has been captured by US forces in a military operation,

An Afghan provincial official earlier told Associated Press news agency that Latif Mehsud was arrested as he was driving on a highway in Afghanistan’s eastern Logar province.

The arrest took place about a week ago, the official said.

Latif Mehsud was reportedly returning from a meeting to discuss swapping prisoners.

The Washington Post said that US forces had taken him from Afghan intelligence agents who were trying to recruit him as a go-between for peace talks.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, Aimal Faizi, told the Post: “The Americans forcibly removed him and took him to Bagram.”

Aimal Faizi said Latif Mehsud had only agreed to meet Afghan operatives after months of negotiations.

Some reports say Hamid Karzai, who is currently holding talks with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, was furious about the US operation.

Latif Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud are not thought to be related.

In a rare interview, Hakimullah Mehsud denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places but said he would continue to target “America and its friends”.

The chief loosely controls more than 30 militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

After being elected PM in May, Nawaz Sharif announced he would open unconditional talks with the Taliban.

The group has killed thousands of people in its war against the Pakistani state in recent years.

They control areas in the north-west and have been blamed for a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks.

Along with Pakistan, the Afghan government has also made overtures for peace with the Taliban. A number of Taliban prisoners have been freed to smooth the process.

US attempts in June to talk to the Taliban, including the opening of a now-shut Taliban office in Qatar, infuriated Hamid Karzai.

NATO has handed over security for the whole of Afghanistan for the first time since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

At a ceremony in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that from Wednesday “our own security and military forces will lead all the security activities”.

Observers say the best soldiers in the Afghan army are up to the task but there are lingering doubts about some.

International troops will remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, providing military back-up when needed.

The ceremony came shortly after a suicide bomb attack in western Kabul killed three employees of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and wounded more than 20.

The attacker was believed to be targeting the convoy of prominent politician and Hazara leader Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, who escaped with light injuries.

Meanwhile, sources close to Taliban representatives have confirmed to the BBC that they are opening an office in the Qatari capital Doha, possibly as early as Tuesday. It is seen as an important stage in establishing a political face for the movement.

The Taliban has in the past refused talks with Hamid Karzai’s government, calling it a puppet of the US. But the Afghan president said on Tuesday he is sending representatives to Qatar to discuss peace talks with the movement.

Hamid Karzai has been outspoken about his upset at previous US and Qatari efforts to kick-start the peace process without properly consulting his government.

There is also concern within the presidential palace that the Taliban will use the political office in Qatar to raise funds.

NATO has handed over security for the whole of Afghanistan for the first time since the Taliban were ousted in 2001

NATO has handed over security for the whole of Afghanistan for the first time since the Taliban were ousted in 2001

Tuesday’s ceremony saw the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) hand over control of the last 95 districts in a transition process that began in 2011.

The last remaining districts included 13 in Kandahar province – the birthplace of the Taliban – and 12 each in Nangarhar, Khost and Paktika, all bastions of insurgent activity along the border with Pakistan.

Hamid Karzai called it an historic day and a moment of personal pride.

“This has been one of my greatest desires and pursuits, and I am glad that I, as an Afghan citizen and an Afghan president, have reached this objective today,” he said.

He reiterated a shift in military strategy, ruling out the future use of air strikes on what he called Afghan homes and villages; the issue of NATO air strikes and civilian casualties has long been a sensitive one.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Afghan forces were taking up the role with “remarkable resolve” but said there was still 18 months of hard work ahead for ISAF troops.

“We will continue to help Afghan troops in operations if needed, but we will no longer plan, execute or lead those operations, and by the end of 2014 our combat mission will be completed,” he said.

The number of Afghan security forces has been gradually increasing from fewer than 40,000 six years ago to nearly 350,000 today.

However, as it has taken over more responsibility for security, the Afghan army has suffered a sharp rise in casualties.

By comparison, international coalition casualties have been steadily falling since 2010.

A high desertion rate among Afghan forces has also meant that thousands of new recruits are needed each month to fill its ranks.

In recent Taliban attacks on the capital Kabul, Afghan rapid reaction police tackled the insurgents without having to call in ISAF forces.

The number of ISAF forces in Afghanistan peaked in 2011 at about 140,000, which included about 101,000 US troops.

ISAF currently has about 97,000 troops in the country from 50 contributing nations, the bulk of whom – some 68,000 – are from the US.

By the end of 2014 all combat troops should have left to be replaced – if approved by the Afghan government – by a smaller force that will only train and advise.

The pressure on contributing nations to withdraw their troops has been exacerbated by a series of “green-on-blue” attacks in which members of the Afghan security forces have killed coalition troops.

At least 60 NATO personnel died in such attacks in 2012. Many more Afghan security force members have died at the hands of their colleagues, in so-called “green-on-green” attacks.

US President Barack Obama has not yet said how many troops he will leave in Afghanistan along with other NATO forces at the end of 2014.

Washington has said that the Afghan government will get the weapons it needs to fight the insurgency including a fleet of MI-17 transport helicopters, cargo planes and ground support airplanes.

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Up to 12 Afghan civilians, 10 children and two women, have been killed in a NATO air strike in Shigal district.

A further six women are believed to have been injured in the incident in Shigal district from Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan.

NATO confirmed that “fire support” was used in Shigal after a US civilian adviser died in a militant attack, but said it had no reports of deaths.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the killings.

Up to 12 Afghan civilians, 10 children and two women, have been killed in a NATO air strike in Shigal district

Up to 12 Afghan civilians, 10 children and two women, have been killed in a NATO air strike in Shigal district

A statement issued by Hamid Karzai’s office said the president had already issued a decree banning aerial attacks on civilian areas.

Villagers and local officials said the casualties were inside their homes when they died.

Photographs apparently sent from the scene to international news agencies appeared to show the bodies of several dead young children, surrounded by Afghan villagers.

A local official said eight Taliban insurgents had also died in the air strike on Saturday, which is reported to have caused the roofs of several houses in three villages to collapse.

He said the strikes were called in to support a major operation by US and Afghan government forces targeting senior Taliban commanders and a local weapons cache.

Tribal elder Haji Malika Jan said: “The fighting started yesterday morning [Saturday] and continued for at least seven hours. There were heavy exchanges between both sides.

“The area is very close to the Pakistani border and there are hundreds of local and foreign fighters, mostly Pakistanis, in the area.”

In a statement, the NATO-led International Security Assistant Force (Isaf) said: “We are aware of an incident yesterday in Kunar province in which insurgents engaged an Afghan and coalition force.

“No Isaf personnel were involved on the ground, but Isaf provided fire support from the air, killing several insurgents. We are also aware of reports of several civilians injured from the engagement, but no reports of civilian deaths. Isaf takes all reports of civilian casualties seriously, and we are currently assessing the incident.

“The air support was called in by coalition forces – not Afghans – and was used to engage insurgent forces in areas away from structures, according to our reporting.”

A statement issued on behalf of President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the NATO attack, and “military operations in residential areas that cause civilian deaths”.

“The president also strongly condemns the Taliban’s tactic of using civilians and their homes as their shields,” it said.

International forces are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Civilian deaths in Western military operations have been a source of tension between the Afghan government led President Hamid Karzai and the US and its NATO allies.

In February 2012, at least 10 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in a NATO air strike in the same area.

In February this year, President Hamid Karzai ordered a complete ban on Afghan security forces calling in air strikes in residential areas.

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President Hamid Karzai has issued a stinging rebuke to the US and the Taliban, saying they are both guilty of sowing fears for post-2014 Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai said Taliban suicide attacks on Saturday were aimed at intimidation that would prolong the presence of international troops in Afghanistan.

The troops are scheduled to end combat missions in 2014.

Hamid Karzai has cancelled a scheduled press conference with visiting US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.

A senior Afghan presidential aide said this was because of tensions over civilian casualties, the handover of control of Bagram prison and the actions of US Special Forces in Wardak province.

US officials said it was because of security concerns and not the president’s recent comments.

In a nationally televised speech, President Hamid Karzai referred to two Taliban attacks on Saturday in Khost and Kabul that left 19 people dead.

He suggested both the US and Taliban were trying to convince Afghans the situation would worsen after 2014.

Hamid Karzai said: “Yesterday’s bombings in the name of the Taliban were aimed at serving the foreigners and supporting the presence of the foreigners in Afghanistan and keeping them in Afghanistan by intimidating us.”

President Hamid Karzai has issued a stinging rebuke to the US and the Taliban, saying they are both guilty of sowing fears for post-2014 Afghanistan

President Hamid Karzai has issued a stinging rebuke to the US and the Taliban, saying they are both guilty of sowing fears for post-2014 Afghanistan

Responding to Hamid Karzai’s speech, US and NATO forces commander Gen. Joseph Dunford said: “We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the last 12 years, to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage.”

Relations between Hamid Karzai and the US are in bad shape, with the president angry that the US has not transferred Afghan prisoners held in US custody at Bagram prison.

The Afghan government also accused US-led forces and Afghans working with them of abusing and arresting university students, in violation of national sovereignty.

Hamid Karzai also said that: “Taliban leaders and representatives are talking with the US abroad every day.”

The president would rather the insurgents spoke to him, but they will not do so as they regard his government as illegitimate.

A statement from the US embassy in Kabul said Washington had “long supported an Afghan-led process for Afghans to talk to Afghans”.

But it pointed out that the Taliban had suspended talks with the US in March 2012 and it was “up to the Taliban to take the next steps”.

A Taliban spokesman denied the group was holding any dialogue with the US.

Hamid Karzai’s speech comes as Chuck Hagel makes his first visit to Afghanistan.

The two governments are still negotiating a deal on the long-term presence of US forces in Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai said any force that remained “must respect the national sovereignty of our country and must respect all our customs”.

There are about 66,000 US military personal at present in the country. Early next year that figure will drop to 34,000. The number of international troops that will remain after 2014 is still to be determined.

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The Afghan parliament has passed a vote of no confidence in two of its most senior ministers and demanded that they be replaced.

The interior and defence ministers were criticized for failing to prevent cross-border shelling from Pakistan and security lapses that resulted in the assassinations of senior officials.

They have also been questioned by MPs over allegations of corruption.

The vote is a blow to President Hamid Karzai’s administration, observers say.

The Afghan parliament has passed a vote of no confidence in Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak

The Afghan parliament has passed a vote of no confidence in Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak

Hamid Karzai’s office said he would make a decision on Sunday about the future of Interior Minister Besmillah Mohammadi and Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.

The president has the power to keep them in their posts for another month. In the past, he has retained his ministers for even longer.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Rahim Wardak said he had responded to cross-border attacks by sending more troops to the north-eastern border, and had deployed long-range artillery and ammunition.

But parliament passed a measure to remove him by a vote of 146 to 72.

A separate vote of no-confidence in Besmillah Mohammadi was passed by 126 to 90.

The international community appears to have lost two key Afghan figures with whom they have been dealing the most at what is a critical time.

NATO-led forces are looking to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.

 

Arsala Rahmani, a senior Afghan peace negotiator, has been shot dead in Kabul, officials say.

Arsala Rahmani was a former Taliban minister and a key member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which leads efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban.

He was reportedly close to President Hamid Karzai and a key figure in the reconciliation of Taliban commanders.

Last year the peace process was dealt a major blow when the peace council’s chief was killed in a suicide attack.

Arsala Rahmani was a former Taliban minister and a key member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which leads efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban

Arsala Rahmani was a former Taliban minister and a key member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which leads efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban

Burhannudin Rabbani was killed by a bomb hidden in the turban of a suicide attacker posing as a Taliban peace envoy last September.

His US-educated son, Salahuddin Rabbani, was appointed to replace him last month.

Police say that Arsala Rahmani was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in a vehicle, while he was on his way to work in the west of Kabul.

Attackers driving a white Toyota Corolla fired a single bullet using a silencer. Arsala Rahmani reportedly did not have a bodyguard.

Afghanistan’s peace council was set up two years ago by President Hamid Karzai to open negotiations with insurgents.

The council was credited with reconciling hundreds of Taliban field commanders, but had failed to woo any senior figures away from the insurgency.

Arsala Rahmani was responsible for the committee that looked at freeing Taliban prisoners from Bagram and other Afghan prisons.

But how much the peace council achieved in the two years since it was set up remains unclear.

Although the Taliban denied sanctioning last year’s killing of Burhannudin Rabbani, they view the Western-backed Karzai government as illegitimate.

In March the militants suspended parallel preliminary peace negotiations with the United States, saying US efforts to involve the Afghan authorities were a key stumbling block.

 

Senior US officials have revealed the identity of the suspect soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

They named the suspect as he was heading back to the US to face charges.

Robert Bales has now arrived at a maximum security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being flown from Kuwait, the US Army said.

The suspect will be held in solitary confinement pending charges, the Army added.

Sgt. Robert Bales’ lawyer, John Henry Browne, said he had been injured twice while serving in Iraq.

John Henry Browne also said the accused, aged 38, had witnessed his friend’s leg blown off the day before the killings.

That incident has not been confirmed by the US Army.

The Taliban called off peace talks in the wake of Sunday’s deadly rampage – in which men, women and children were shot and killed at close range.

The US has stressed it remained committed to Afghan reconciliation.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also reacted angrily to the killings. He told the US it must pull back its troops from village areas and allow Afghan security forces to take the lead in an effort to reduce civilian deaths.

On Friday he said the US was not fully co-operating with a probe into the killings.

He also said the problem of civilian casualties at the hands of Nato forces had “gone on for too long”.

“This form of activity, this behaviour cannot be tolerated. It’s past, past, past the time,” Hamid Karzai said.

Shortly after Sgt. Robert Bales’ name emerged, John Henry Browne confirmed that was the name of the soldier he was representing.

Senior US officials have revealed the identity of the suspect soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales

Senior US officials have revealed the identity of the suspect soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales

Images quickly emerged online from a Department of Defense website thought to show Sgt. Robert Bales on duty in Afghanistan – and identifying him in the same unit as previously revealed by military officials, part of 3rd Stryker 2nd Infantry.

The photos were soon removed from the live site but remained available to access.

Sgt. Robert Bales has not yet been charged, but is the only known suspect in the killings – despite repeated Afghan assertions that more than one American was involved.

The Pentagon has previously said that he could face charges that carry a possible death penalty.

Such a trial could take years, contrasting with Afghan demands for swift and decisive justice.

In the town of Lake Tapps, Washington state, neighbors described their surprise at Sgt. Robert Bales’ alleged crimes.

Speaking in Seattle on Thursday, where Sgt. Robert Bales is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, John Henry Browne said his new client was a “mild-mannered” man who bore no antipathy towards Muslims.

John Henry Browne described him as “a decorated soldier” who had an exemplary record before the shooting.

The lawyer also suggested the soldier, who began his first deployment to Afghanistan in December, was not fit to serve because of injuries he had suffered on previous tours of duty.

John Henry Browne said that a car accident caused by a roadside bomb in Iraq had given the soldier a concussive head injury. Part of his foot had also been removed in surgery because of a battle-related wound, he added.

“I think it’s of interest that we have a soldier who has an exemplary record, a decorated soldier who was injured in Iraq, to his brain and to his body and then despite that was sent back,” he said.

John Henry Browne, who has represented a number of high-profile clients including serial killer Ted Bundy and a teenage thief known as the Barefoot Bandit, said his client was a happily married man with two children, aged three and four.

 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai accuses the US of not fully co-operating with a probe into the Kandahar massacre of 16 civilians by an American soldier.

The US soldier accused of the Kandahar massacre is on his way to the US from Kuwait, where he was being held, and is expected to face a military tribunal there.

Afghan MP’s had demanded the soldier be tried in public in Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai earlier met relatives of the dead, who demanded justice.

Men, women and children were shot and killed at close range as the US soldier apparently went on a rampage in villages close to a NATO base in the remote Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province.

Hamid Karzai told reporters that the chief of the official investigation into those killings had not received the co-operation it expected from the US.

He also said the problem of civilian casualties at the hands of NATO forces had “gone on for too long”

“This is by all means the end of the rope here,” Hamid Karzai said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai accuses the US of not fully co-operating with a probe into the Kandahar massacre of 16 civilians by an American soldier

Afghan President Hamid Karzai accuses the US of not fully co-operating with a probe into the Kandahar massacre of 16 civilians by an American soldier

On Wednesday Hamid Karzai told the US that it must pull back its troops from village areas and allow Afghan security forces to take the lead, in an effort to reduce such civilian deaths.

The Taliban also called off peace talks in the wake of the killings although they made no mention of the massacre in their statement.

Earlier, the president met relatives of those who had been killed last Sunday. The assembled villagers berated him and urged him to seek justice.

Some of the villagers believe there was more than one gunman, an allegation that has repeatedly contradicted the official version since Sunday when the shootings took place. He assured villagers that he would pursue that allegation.

Hamid Karzai listened as surviving family members from the Kandahar massacre gave their versions of the murders during a meeting in a grand hall in the presidential palace.

“Why did this happen?” demanded one man who lost nine members of his family. “Do you have answers, Mr. President?”

“No, I do not,” responded a tired-looking Hamid Karzai.

The president’s strong public condemnation of his most important ally is certain to frustrate the US which has been trying to limit the damage from these latest incidents as they deal with an unpredictable president.

Some details about the alleged killer also emerged from John Henry Browne, the lawyer who said he represented him.

John Henry Browne said the soldier – who has not been named – had received body and brain injuries while serving in Iraq and had been unhappy about doing another tour of duty.

Speaking in Seattle, where the accused soldier is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, John Henry Browne denied reports that the accused had problems either with alcohol or his marriage.

Earlier on Friday, a NATO helicopter carrying Turkish troops crashed into a house on the outskirts of the capital Kabul, killing at least 12 soldiers and two children on the ground.

The death toll is the heaviest single loss of life so far for Turkish troops in Afghanistan, of whom there are currently more than 1,800.

Despite the recent string of setbacks, such as the suspension of peace talks by the Taliban, the US has stressed that it remains committed to Afghan reconciliation.

 

The US soldier accused of the Afghan massacre on Sunday, when he shot dead 16 civilians, had received body and brain injuries while serving in Iraq and was unhappy about going for another tour of duty, his lawyer John Henry Browne says.

John Henry Browne said the soldier – who has not been named – had already completed three tours in Iraq.

The lawyer also said the accused had witnessed his friend’s leg blown off the day before the killings.

Sunday’s shootings have placed new strains on the US in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a NATO helicopter carrying Turkish troops has crashed into a house on the outskirts of the capital Kabul killing at least 12 soldiers and two children on the ground.

The death toll is the heaviest single loss of life so far for Turkish troops in Afghanistan, of whom there are currently more than 1,800.

A technical fault was to blame, according to police.

The Taliban called off peace talks in the wake of the deadly rampage – in which men, women and children were shot and killed at close range – although they made no mention of the massacre in the statement.

However, the US later stressed it remained committed to Afghan reconciliation despite the move by the Taliban.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also told the US that it must pull back its troops from village areas and allow Afghan security forces to take the lead in an effort to reduce civilian deaths.

Speaking in Seattle, where the accused soldier is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, John Henry Browne said his new client was a "mild-mannered" man who bore no antipathy towards Muslims

Speaking in Seattle, where the accused soldier is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, John Henry Browne said his new client was a "mild-mannered" man who bore no antipathy towards Muslims

Speaking in Seattle, where the accused soldier is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, John Henry Browne said his new client was a “mild-mannered” man who bore no antipathy towards Muslims.

The lawyer described the US soldier as “a decorated soldier” with an exemplary record before the shooting.

He also suggested the soldier was not fit to serve in Afghanistan because of injuries he had suffered on previous tours of duty.

“I think it’s of interest that we have a soldier who has an exemplary record, a decorated soldier who was injured in Iraq, to his brain and to his body and then despite that was sent back,” John Henry Browne said.

John Henry Browne, who has represented a number of high-profile clients including serial killer Ted Bundy and a teenage thief known as the Barefoot Bandit, said his client was a happily married man with two children, aged three and four.

He denied reports that the accused had problems either with alcohol or his marriage, which John Henry Browne described as “fantastic”.

The US military has not yet charged the soldier, and Jonh Henry Browne said he would not release the accused’s name until it was made public by officials.

However, despite the shock of the killings, John Henry Browne called for calm and for the soldier to receive a fair hearing.

“It’s a tragedy all the way round, there’s no question about that.

“I think the message for the public in general is that he’s one of our boys and they need to treat him fairly.”

Separately, an un-named US military official told the New York Times that the suspect had simply “snapped”, and confirmed that he was on his fourth combat tour.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues – he just snapped,” the official said.

The soldier was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday and taken to a US military base in Kuwait.

According to the New York Times, the soldier may be moved to a US facility, such as Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as early as Friday.

The newspaper said Kuwaiti protests over the presence of the accused soldier within their borders had prompted the US to move him quickly.

The attack, in Kandahar province, was the latest in a string of damaging incidents involving US troops in Afghanistan.

Last month, the burning of Korans by troops sparked a string of violent protests in several areas.

The latest attack has also caused uproar, with about 2,000 people demonstrating in the southern province of Zabul on Thursday, the second major protest outside Kandahar this week.

 

The American soldier who shot dead 16 civilians, including women and children, in Afghanistan on Sunday has been flown to Kuwait, US officials say.

Afghan MPs have demanded that the man be tried in Afghanistan, but the scenario is very unlikely.

Meanwhile an Afghan man who crashed a lorry at an airfield as the US defense secretary’s plane was arriving has died of his injuries, officials say.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was not at risk at any time, US officials said.

Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said the man had apparently tried to ram the stolen vehicle into a group of US Marines at Camp Bastion in Helmand.

Leon Panetta was in Helmand to address US troops, as fears mount that they could be the target of a backlash against foreign forces.

He also met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in an effort to rebuild relations rocked by incidents such as the massacre in Kandahar and the burnings of Korans at a US military base last month.

The attack in Kandahar province has caused outrage across Afghanistan and protests in several areas. On Thursday about 2,000 people demonstrated in the southern Afghan province of Zabul, the second major protest outside Kandahar this week.

NATO has insisted that the detained man carried out the killings on his own.

But the head of an Afghan parliamentary delegation said he has heard evidence from local villagers which suggests as many as 20 US soldiers were involved.

About 2,000 people demonstrated in the southern Afghan province of Zabul after the US soldier shot dead 16 civilians in Kandahar

About 2,000 people demonstrated in the southern Afghan province of Zabul after the US soldier shot dead 16 civilians in Kandahar

Sayed Ishaq Gillani, a leading Afghan MP, also claims that helicopters were heard overhead, and that they were seen dropping chaff – a measure designed to protect aircraft from ground attack.

Sayed Ishaq Gillani said local people believe the killings were carried out in revenge for an attack a week earlier in which several US troops were hurt.

The victims were shot in their homes in the remote Panjwai district of Kandahar, which is also the spiritual homeland of the Taliban.

According to the NATO version of events, the staff sergeant, who has not been named or charged, allegedly left his base in southern Afghanistan before dawn on Sunday, entered several houses in the area and shot men, women and children at close range.

The soldier was held by the US military in Kandahar until Wednesday evening, when he was flown out of the country “based on legal recommendation”, a Pentagon spokesman, Captain John Kirby said.

“We do not have appropriate detention facilities in Afghanistan,” Captain John Kirby said.

A NATO official later confirmed that the suspect had been flown to Kuwait.

Members of the Afghan parliament had demanded that he should be put on trial in their country.

But this was never going to happen. The US has always insisted that charges of wrongdoing by its soldiers be dealt with within the American military legal system.

US officials say the soldier handed himself in. Leon Panetta has said that if found guilty, he could face the death penalty.

Officials said the soldier had completed several tours in Iraq but was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

NATO and the US administration have insisted that there will be no change of strategy in Afghanistan. The issue has been at the top of the agenda as the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron makes a state visit to Washington.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) plans to withdraw all of its combat forces by the end of 2014. American troops are also following that timetable.

 

President Hamid Karzai called for NATO troops to leave Afghan villages and confine themselves to major bases after 16 civilians were shot dead by a U.S. soldier.

In a near-simultaneous announcement, the Afghan Taliban said it was suspending nascent peace talks with the United States seen as a strong chance to end the country’s decade-long conflict, blaming “shaky, erratic and vague” U.S. statements.

Hamid Karzai, in a statement after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul, said as a consequence of the weekend massacre, “international security forces have to be taken out of Afghan village outposts and return to (larger) bases”.

In advance of his visit an Afghan man who apparently targeted U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a suicide attack at Britain’s main base in Afghanistan died of his injuries.

The civilian had sustained severe burns after driving on to a runway at Camp Bastion at the same time as Leon Panetta was landing for a visit to U.S. troops and local political leaders.

International security forces have to be taken out of Afghan villages, said President Hamid Karzai after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul

International security forces have to be taken out of Afghan villages, said President Hamid Karzai after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul

The US soldier accused of carrying out the shooting was attached to a small special forces compound similar to others around the country which underpin NATO’s anti-insurgent strategy ahead of a 2014 deadline for Western combat forces to pull out.

The incident has harmed relations between Afghanistan and the United States and “all efforts have to be done to avoid such incident in the future”, Hamid Karzai said on Thursday, warning it also had hurt the trust Afghans had in foreign forces.

The Sunday killings in Kandahar province on Sunday have raised questions about Western strategy in Afghanistan and intensified calls for the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.

The Taliban decision to suspend the talks was a blow to NATO hopes of a negotiated settlement to the war, which has cost the United States $510 billion and the lives of over 1,900 soldiers.

 

Taliban militants in Afghanistan have suspended preliminary peace negotiations with the United States.

The militants blamed the Americans’ “ever-changing position”. One key stumbling block was reported to be US efforts to involve the Afghan authorities.

The group has objected to this, as they regard the Kabul government as illegitimate.

Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai has called on NATO forces to leave Afghan villages after a US soldier killed 16 civilians.

According to officials, the priority for Afghan government was to avoid civilian casualties at any cost.

President Hamid Karzai told the visiting US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Afghan troops should take the lead for nationwide security in 2013.

President Hamid Karzai has called on NATO forces to leave Afghan villages after a US soldier killed 16 civilians

President Hamid Karzai has called on NATO forces to leave Afghan villages after a US soldier killed 16 civilians

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Taliban said the talks should focus on a political office being established in Qatar and on a prisoner exchange.

They said they were suspending the talks because of “the shaky, erratic and vague standpoint of the Americans”.

US diplomatic sources say the Taliban were told by US negotiators that the Afghan government had to be a part of any negotiations.

The Taliban statement reiterated that the group “considers talking with the Kabul administration as pointless.”

Other conditions reportedly set by the US in the talks include accepting of the Afghan constitution – which the Taliban have rejected – and publicly denouncing al-Qaeda.

The Taliban’s suspension of the talks is a significant setback for efforts to begin peace talks with the insurgents.

It was thought that a deal to exchange five Taliban fighters currently held at Guantanamo Bay for a kidnapped American soldier was only weeks away.

 

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Afghanistan in a surprise visit after a NATO soldier shot dead 16 civilians.

According to the officials, Leon Panetta’s trip to Afghanistan was planned before 16 Afghan civilians were shot dead by an American soldier on Sunday.

Leon Panetta is due to have talks with President Hamid Karzai, provincial leaders and senior officials.

Correspondents say his visit has taken on a new meaning as political pressure mounts on Afghan and US officials over the unpopular war.

Leon Panetta is also due to speak with US troops in Afghanistan as fears mount that they could be the victims of a Taliban-led backlash over the killings of villagers, including nine children, by the rogue US soldier.

His arrival at Bastion Airfield in Helmand province came a day after protests over the massacre flared in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Afghanistan in a surprise visit after a NATO soldier shot dead 16 civilians

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Afghanistan in a surprise visit after a NATO soldier shot dead 16 civilians

Leon Panetta is the most senior US official to visit Afghanistan since the shootings.

He told reporters ahead of his trip that he believed that American strategy in Afghanistan was working and would withstand repercussions from the killings.

“I think we’re on the right path now and what we’ve got to do is convince people that despite these kinds of events we ought not to allow [them] to undermine that strategy,” Leon Panetta said on Monday.

“It’s important that we push on, and that we bring this war to a responsible end and achieve the mission that all of us are embarked on,” he said.

Leon Panetta’s trip coincides with discussions in the US between UK Prime Minster David Cameron and President Barack Obama over a possible “endgame” to the war in Afghanistan.

The leaders are expected to agree that Afghan forces should take over a lead combat role by mid-2013 – earlier than planned – but the US president has said there will be no “rush for the exits”.

Correspondents say that anti-Americanism was rampant in Afghanistan even before the shootings.

Last month there was outrage over US troops inadvertently burning Korans on an American base.

Fury also followed the posting of a video on the internet in January apparently showing four US marines urinating on Taliban corpses.

 

Afghan militants have launched an attack on a government delegation visiting the site where a US soldier killed 16 civilians.

Two of President Hamid Karzai’s brothers and several top security officials are in the delegation in Panjwai in Kandahar province.

Afghan forces are returning fire and it is unclear whether there are any casualties.

The US soldier who allegedly carried out Sunday’s attacks is under arrest.

The unnamed 38-year-old staff sergeant is being held at an undisclosed location.

A senior Afghan official said: ”I can confirm that the Taliban have launched an attack from several directions against a government delegation. The delegation was there to meet villagers and tribal elders. This is an area where the Taliban exist and operate. At this stage, our forces are returning fire.”

The US soldier’s attack in Kandahar has severely strained relations between Afghans and foreign forces.

Anti-US sentiment was already high after soldiers burned some copies of the Koran at a NATO base in Kabul last month, sparking deadly riots across the country.

On Tuesday morning, some 600 students took part in a rally in the eastern city of Jalalabad, condemning the Kandahar attack and chanting “Death to America! Death to Obama!”.

Afghan militants have launched an attack on a government delegation visiting the site where a US soldier killed 16 civilians

Afghan militants have launched an attack on a government delegation visiting the site where a US soldier killed 16 civilians

US President Barack Obama said the shooting was “absolutely heartbreaking and tragic”.

But he said international forces must be withdrawn from Afghanistan in a responsible way, and would not “rush for the exits”.

Barack Obama said the international forces had to make sure Afghans could secure their borders and stop al-Qaeda from getting back into the country.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the soldier in question could face the death penalty, if found guilty.

The Taliban has renewed threats of revenge attacks, saying it would behead “sadistic” American soldiers.

Details about Sunday’s shootings are still unclear, but the American soldier left his base in Kandahar in the early hours and went on a rampage in nearby villages.

Locals told reporters how they cowered in fear as the man made his way from door to door, trying to get into their houses.

“I saw a man, he dragged a woman by her hair and banged her head repeatedly against the wall. She didn’t say a word,” one witness said.

The soldier broke into three houses and killed 16 people, most of them women and children. He then burned their bodies, according to reports.

The US defence secretary said the soldier “came back to the forward operating base and basically turned himself in, told individuals what had happened”.

Pentagon officials said they would not release his name while the investigation was going on.

Reports said the soldier, who has three children, had been deployed to Afghanistan in December for his first tour of duty there after serving three times in Iraq.

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NATO troops in Afghanistan have been placed on high alert after the Taliban militants vowed to avenge the deaths of 16 innocent civilians killed by a rogue U.S. soldier who opened fire in Kandahar province early Sunday morning.

US officials warned of reprisals after the soldier went on a rampage in villages near a base in Kandahar. Nine children were among those killed.

President Barack Obama phoned his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai to express condolences. But President Hamid Karzai has said the massacre is “unforgivable”.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said a full investigation is under way.

The soldier, believed to be a staff sergeant, is reported to have walked off his base at around 03:00 a.m. on Sunday.

In the villages of Alkozai and Najeeban, about 500 m from the base, he reportedly broke into three homes.

At one house in Najeeban, 11 people were found shot dead, and some of their bodies set alight. At least three of the child victims are reported to have been killed by a single shot to the head.

The US military said reports indicated that the soldier returned to his base after the shootings and turned himself in. His motives are unclear – there is speculation that he might have been drunk or suffered a mental breakdown. But officers are worried that the attack might have been planned.

The soldier is being detained in Kandahar and the military is treating at least five people wounded in the attacks, officials said.

The detained soldier has not been identified, although US officials quoted by the Associated Press news agency said he was from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, 38 years old, married with two children, and had served three tours in Iraq and was on his first deployment in Afghanistan.

The killings come amid already high anti-US sentiment in Afghanistan following the burning of Korans at a NATO base in Kabul last month.

NATO troops in Afghanistan have been placed on high alert after 16 innocent civilians have been killed by a rogue US soldier

NATO troops in Afghanistan have been placed on high alert after 16 innocent civilians have been killed by a rogue US soldier

US officials have repeatedly apologized for the incident but they failed to quell a series of protests and attacks that killed at least 30 people and six US troops.

However, the latest incident has damaged already fragile relations between Kabul and Washington.

The Taliban is using the shooting as a propaganda victory, placing President Hamid Karzai in a difficult position.

Angry tribal elders are now demanding an immediate end to US night raids on Afghan homes.

Afghan MPs passed a strong resolution to condemn the killing and demanded an open trial on Afghan soil. However, Afghanistan has signed an agreement with NATO that foreign soldiers should be tried in their own countries.

The killings could further fuel calls for a more rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, US personnel in Afghanistan were warned of possible reprisal attacks.

“The US Embassy in Kabul alerts US citizens in Afghanistan that as a result of a tragic shooting incident in Kandahar province involving a US service member, there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days, especially in the eastern and southern provinces,” the embassy said in an emergency statement on its website.

The US embassy in Kabul is restricting the movements of staff in southern Afghanistan until at least 17:00 local time on Monday.

In a statement released by the White House on Sunday, President Obama said: “This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.”

Afghan officials also fear there will be violent demonstrations and have deployed extra police and troops around Kandahar.

President Hamid Karzai described the killings as the “intentional killing of innocent civilians” and said they could “not be forgiven”.

This is the first time Afghan civilians have been targeted by foreign soldiers in this way.

However, one US soldier was convicted last year on three counts of premeditated murder after leading a rogue “kill team” in Afghanistan.

A recent poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found 60% of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth its costs. Nearly the same number advocated an early US pullout from the country.

On a previously unannounced trip to Afghanistan, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could not be sure German troops would withdraw by 2014 as originally planned, but they were working towards that target.

 

Sixteen Afghan civilians, including nine children and three women, have been shot dead by a US soldier in Afghanistan entering their homes in Kandahar province.

The soldier opened fire after suffering a “mental breakdown” early this morning.

He reportedly left his base early in the morning to attack village homes.

The White House voiced “deep concern” and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan promised a rapid inquiry.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the attack and demanded an explanation from Washington.

In Kandahar’s Panjwai district, local people have gathered near the base to protest about Sunday’s killings, and the US embassy is advising against travel to the area.

Anti-US sentiment is already high in Afghanistan after US troops burnt copies of the Koran last month.

US officials have apologized repeatedly for the incident at a NATO base in Kabul but they failed to quell a series of protests and attacks that killed at least 30 people and six US troops.

The unnamed soldier, thought to be a staff sergeant, is reported to have walked off his base at around 03:00 a.m. local time, then made his way to the nearby villages of Alkozai and Najeeban.

A local resident, Abdul Baqi, told the Associated Press news agency the soldier had apparently opened fire in three different houses.

“When it was happening in the middle of the night, we were inside our houses,” he said.

“I heard gunshots and then silence and then gunshots again.”

Sixteen Afghan civilians, including nine children and three women, have been shot dead by a US soldier in Afghanistan entering their homes in Kandahar province

Sixteen Afghan civilians, including nine children and three women, have been shot dead by a US soldier in Afghanistan entering their homes in Kandahar province

In one house in Najeeban, the gunman reportedly killed 11 people, setting fire to their bodies before he left.

A relative of the 11 victims, Haji Samad, told Reuters news agency chemicals had been poured over the bodies and set alight.

“I saw that all 11 of my relatives were killed, including my children and grandchildren,” he added, weeping.

An unnamed woman witness in Najeeban said she had heard gunfire at about 02:00. A barking dog was shot dead by the gunman.

She added that the Taliban had not been seen in the area for five months.

At least three of the child victims were killed by a single shot to the head.

Photographs from the scene showed bodies, some of them clearly young children, placed in a vehicle under blankets.

Some reports suggested that more than one soldier was involved in the attack, and a statement by the Taliban accused Afghan security forces of playing a role.

A delegation from the provincial governor’s office has arrived in the village to determine exactly what happened, a spokesman said.

The soldier – who reportedly suffered a breakdown before the attacks – is said to have handed himself over to the US military authorities after carrying out the killings.

In a statement, President Hamid Karzai described the deaths in Kandahar as “intentional murders”.

“When Afghan people are killed deliberately by US forces this action is murder and terror and an unforgivable action,” he said.

President Hamid Karzai has been consulting officials in Kandahar by telephone.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said US President Barack Obama had been briefed on the incident. She added: “We are deeply concerned by the initial reports of this incident, and are monitoring the situation closely.”

Gen John R Allen, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said US officials in Afghanistan would work with their Afghan counterparts to investigate what had happened.

“I pledge to all the noble people of Afghanistan my commitment to a rapid and thorough investigation,” he said in a statement.

“This deeply appalling incident in no way represents the values of ISAF and coalition troops or the abiding respect we feel for the Afghan people.”

This is the first time Afghan civilians have been targeted by foreign soldiers in this way.

However, a US soldier was convicted last year on three counts of premeditated murder after leading a rogue “kill team” in Afghanistan.

Kandahar is the Taliban’s spiritual heartland and is considered strategically important because of its international airport, its agricultural and industrial output and its position as one of the country’s main trading hubs.

The province has seen heavy fighting between NATO and Taliban forces over the last five years.

Hamid Karzai said earlier he still expected to sign a strategic partnership with the US in the next couple of months.

He said discussions would continue on the precise role the US would play in Afghanistan after NATO handed over security responsibility to Kabul at the end of 2014.

On Friday, Kabul and Washington reached a deal to transfer US-run prisons in the country to Afghan control.

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Two of four US Marines shown in a video appearing to urinate on Taliban corpses have been identified, a Marine Corps official said.

The video, which was posted online, purports to show four US Marines standing over the bodies of several Taliban fighters, at least one of whom is covered in blood.

The Marines have begun a criminal investigation and an internal inquiry.

US officials and Afghan officials have condemned the video as “deplorable”.

The origin of the video is not known, but it was originally posted to YouTube.

The official would not confirm the Marines’ whereabouts, but reports suggested the unit involved was based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina – a major military base.

US media reported that the unit belonged to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.

That battalion has been deployed to a wide range of combat a peacekeeping situations, from Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay to fighting wildfires in Idaho.

The unit deployed to Afghanistan in early 2011 and returned in September or October, CNN reported.

A US Marines spokesman, Lt. Col. Joseph Plenzler, told the AFP news agency that “we cannot release the name of the unit at this time since the incident is being investigated.”

Earlier, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta condemned the acts shown in the video and vowed that a full investigation would be carried out by the Marines and the Kabul-based International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

“This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military,” Leon Panetta said in a statement.

The US defence secretary said he had seen the footage, and the Pentagon confirmed that he had spoken by telephone with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks in strong terms.

“I find the behaviour depicted in it utterly deplorable. This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military,” Hamid Karzai said.

In a separate news conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her “total dismay” at the video.

Hillary Clinton said she shared Leon Panetta’s view that such behaviour was inconsistent with the standards “that [the] vast, vast majority of our personnel – particularly our marines – hold themselves to”.

“The video did not change the nature of US efforts to secure Afghanistan,” Hillary Clinton said. She also said the US continued to support security and reconciliation efforts that were “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”.

The Taliban are known for applying a ruthless brand of Islamic Sharia law in areas they control and have carried out many suicide bombings and attacks which have killed civilians.

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Sahar Gul, a teenage bride from Afghanistan, who was tortured for months after her arranged marriage, has spoken out for the first time since her rescue, saying she hopes her husband and his family are jailed for her abuse.

15-year-old Sahar Gul became the bruised and bloodied face of women’s rights in Afghanistan after she was rescued in late December when an uncle called police.

Speaking in an interview on Saturday from a hospital in Kabul, Sahar Gul blamed her husband, his parents and his sister for her ordeal.

“I want them to be in jail,” the girl said.

“They gave me electric shock. … They beat me with cables and tortured me.”

Sahar Gul is being treated for multiple injuries that include broken fingers and ripped-out fingernails, the Associated Press reports.

15-year-old Sahar Gul became the bruised and bloodied face of women's rights in Afghanistan after she was rescued in late December when an uncle called police

15-year-old Sahar Gul became the bruised and bloodied face of women's rights in Afghanistan after she was rescued in late December when an uncle called police

Police in Baghlan province where Sahar Gul was rescued have said her in-laws locked her up and tortured her after she refused to work as a prostitute. Her husband’s parents and sister have been arrested. They deny any wrongdoing.

Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for her husband, who serves in the Afghan army.

Sahar Gul’s doctor, Feriba Omarzada, said the girl is recovering but is still traumatized.

The teenager’s story has shocked Afghanistan and prompted calls for more efforts to end underage marriage.

The legal marriage age in Afghanistan is 16, but the United Nations agency UN Women estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15.

Sahar Gul was in critical condition when she was rescued from a house in northern Baghlan province last week. Police say her in-laws pulled out her nails and hair, and locked her in a dark basement bathroom for about five months, with barely enough food and water to survive.

Sahar Gul husband’s family also burned her with cigarettes and cut out chunks of her flesh with pliers.

Local media reported today that Provincial Security Chief for northern Baghlan province General Syed Zamanuddin Hussaini revealed father-in-law Mohammad Aman was detained with the help of local residents in northern Pul-e-Khumri city.

General Hussaini added that Mohammad Aman was introduced to provincial attorney general and the Afghan security forces are struggling to find the husband of Sahar Gul.

In the meantime, Mohammad Aman has denied allegations of torturing Sahar Gul and said that she was suffering from psychological disorders.

After hearing of the abuse, Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai said those responsible would be punished.

Doctors say the girl has suffered both mentally and physically and will need weeks of treatment in order to recover.

“She was married seven months ago, and was originally from Badakhshan province. Her in-laws tried to force her into prostitution to earn money,” Rahima Zarifi, head of women’s affairs in Baghlan told Reuters.

Sahar Gul is covered in scars and bruises, with one eye still swollen shut six days after her rescue.

The girl is being treated in a government hospital in Kabul, but she may have to be sent to India, doctors said.

“This is one of the worst cases of violence against Afghan women. The perpetrators must be punished so others learn a lesson,” health minister Suraya Dalil told journalists after visiting Sahar Gul today with the women’s affairs minister.

Mohammad Zia, a senior police official in Baghlan, who helped to rescue the girl, said her mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been detained, but her husband had escaped.

“We have launched a serious hunt to get her husband and the others involved,” Mohammad Zia said.

Despite progress in women’s rights and freedom since the fall of the Taliban 10 years ago, women throughout the country are still at risk of abduction, rape, forced marriage and being traded as commodity.

However, it can be hard for women to escape violent situations at home, because of huge social and sometimes legal pressure to stay in marriages.

Running away from an abusive husband or a forced marriage are considered “moral crimes”, for which women are currently imprisoned in Afghanistan.

Some rape victims have also been imprisoned, because sex outside marriage, even when the woman is forced, is considered adultery, another “moral crime”.

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At least 54 people have been killed after a bomb exploded at a packed mosque in Afghanistan as people celebrated a major Shi’ite festival in Kabul.

Bodies lie strewn on the ground after the powerful bomb killed the people at a shrine by the river in Kabul’s old city.

People rush to the scene to help those injured in the blast, people who moments earlier had been praying and chanting with scores of other worshippers.

Another 4 people were killed and 17 injured after a bicycle bomb exploded near the main mosque in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif shortly afterwards.

One witness said the bomber was at the end of a line and detonated his explosives near one of the gates to the shrine.

Bodies of the dead lay on top of one another where they fell.

At least 54 people have been killed after a bomb exploded at a packed mosque in Afghanistan as people celebrated a major Shi'ite festival in Kabul

At least 54 people have been killed after a bomb exploded at a packed mosque in Afghanistan as people celebrated a major Shi'ite festival in Kabul

It was the single deadliest attack in Kabul for more than three years.

Religiously motivated attacks on Shi’ites are rare in Afghanistan, although they are common in neighbouring Pakistan.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, reminiscent of the wave of sectarian violence that shook Iraq during the height of the war there.

The Ministry of Interior blamed the Taliban and “terrorists”. It said police had defused another bomb in Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban strongly condemned the two attacks and said that they deeply regretted that innocent Afghans were killed and wounded.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said it was unprecendented and the first time one had been carried out during a religious event.

The blasts happened in the middle of the Ashura festival – which marks the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hussein in the battle of Karbala in Iraq in the year 680 – at around 7:30 a.m. GMT.

It is the biggest event in the Shi’ite calendar and features large processions that are vulnerable to militant attacks.

Afghanistan has a history of tension and violence between Sunnis and the Shi’ite minority, but since the fall of the Taliban the country had been spared the large scale sectarian attacks that have troubled neighbouring Pakistan.

Shi’ites account for some 20% of the population in predominantly Sunni Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency has largely avoided fanning secretarian strife.

The bombing is one of the deadliest in the ten years of war since the Taliban regime was ousted.

It comes a day after a major international conference in Bonn, Germany, on the future of international involvement in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai warned representatives of 85 nations at the conference that his country would need their financial support for at least another decade beyond the 2014 departure of international troops.

Hamid Karzai said: “Together we have spent blood and treasure in fighting terrorism.

“Your continued solidarity, your commitment and support will be crucial so that we can consolidate our gains and continue to address the challenges that remain.”

The conference was overshadowed by a display of bad blood between the U.S. and Pakistan – both of whom have a stake in making Afghanistan safe and solvent.

Pakistan boycotted the conference to protest after an errant U.S. air strike last month killed 24 soldiers along the border with Afghanistan.

Participating nations pledged their support for an inclusive Afghan-led reconciliation process on condition that any outcome must reject violence and terrorism and endorse the Afghan constitution and its guarantee of human rights.

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Taliban who shot down the Navy SEALs helicopter in Afghanistan were killed.

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A helicopter for the International Security Assistance Force crashed in Afghanistan today, a press release from the Joint Command operational informs us:

ISAF Joint Command – Afghanistan
2011-08-S-014
For Immediate Release

KABUL, Afghanistan (Aug. 6, 2011) – An International Security Assistance Force helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan today, and recovery operations are underway.

ISAF is still in the process of assessing the circumstances to determine the facts of the incident, reporting indicates there was enemy activity in the area.

Additional details will be released as appropriate.

ISAF Joint Command Morning Operational Update August 6, 2011

Helicopter in Aghanistan

(C) ISAF Media - Helicopter in Aghanistan

At least 38 people were killed in the crash. There were seven Afghan nationals and 31 NATO service members aboard the crashed helicopter. The crashed helicopter was traveling through the Wardak province. This was all in  A statement from President Hamid Karzai’s office, quoted by CNN.

A combined Afghan and coalition security force killed several insurgents during a security operation targeting a Taliban facilitator in Surkh Rod district, Nangarhar province, yesterday.

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NATO helicopter crash near Wardak Afghanistan

NATO helicopter crash near Wardak Afghanistan

 The facilitator has coordinated several attacks against the Afghan government and the Afghan National Army. Additionally, he is responsible for supplying roadside bomb components and ammunition to insurgents in the area.

Upon arriving in the district, the security force encountered a group of insurgents, armed with rocket propelled grenade launchers and AK-47 assault rifles. An exchange of fire initiated shortly after, resulting in several insurgents killed.

 

NATO Helicopter Afghanistan

Photos made by 1st LT P.Babilas - Joint PRT,GIRoA and ANSF Long range patrol to LAL VA SANJARGAL (4)

 

In other International Security Assistance Force news throughout Afghanistan:

 

South

In Arghandab district, Kandahar province, an Afghan and coalition combined security force detained two suspected insurgents yesterday while searching for a Taliban facilitator. The facilitator is responsible for planning and executing roadside bomb attacks against Afghan National Security Forces in Arghandab District.

In Qalat district, Zabul province, a combined Afghan and coalition security force detained two suspected insurgents during a security search for a Taliban leader, yesterday. The leader is responsible for roadside bomb and direct fire attacks against Afghan and coalition security forces. He has also coordinated complex ambushes in the province.

During a security operation in Spin Boldak district, Kandahar province, a combined Afghan and coalition security force detained a Taliban leader and two suspected insurgents, yesterday. The leader directed insurgent attacks in the Nawa area of Spin Boldak.

In Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand province, a combined Afghan and coalition security force detained several Taliban insurgents during a security operation, yesterday. The suspected insurgents were detained by Afghan forces for further questioning.

Also in the South, a combined Afghan and coalition security force killed an insurgent leader and several subordinate fighters during an exchange of small arms fire, in Nimroz province, Thursday.

The targeted leader had links to other senior insurgents across Helmand and Nimroz provinces, and was heavily involved in the production of improvised explosive devices.

 

Helicopter crashesd in Wardak, Eastern Afghanistan. An older video of the helicopter crash in Afghanistan shows what it looks like:

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East

During a security operation in Zurmat district, Paktiya province, a combined Afghan and coalition security force detained several suspected insurgents yesterday while searching for a Haqqani network leader. The leader coordinates roadside bomb and direct attacks against the Afghan National Army.

In Terayzai district, Khost province, a combined Afghan and coalition security force conducted a security search for a Haqqani network facilitator yesterday, resulting in two suspected insurgents detained. The facilitator is involved in weapons distribution and roadside bomb construction.

In Ghazni district, Ghazni province, a combined Afghan and coalition security force detained several suspected insurgents while searching for a Taliban leader, yesterday. The leader oversees fighters and plans attacks against Afghan National Security Forces.

Also in the East, a combined Afghan and coalition force operation detained numerous insurgents in Maidan Shahr district, Wardak province, yesterday. The target of the operation was an IED cell leader responsible for numerous attacks against coalition forces in the district. The detained individuals were taken by Afghan authorities for processing and further questioning.

Finally, a combined Afghan and coalition force targeted an insurgent group during an operation in Kabul district, Kabul province, yesterday. Two insurgents were detained by Afghan authorities for further questioning.

Follow the updates on our twitter channel.