August 5, 2002 - MSNBC: Security situation perilous in Kabul - Time yet for Peace Corps to return?

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Reference: Overseas Programs: August 5, 2002 - MSNBC: Security situation perilous in Kabul - Time yet for Peace Corps to return?

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, August 17, 2002 - 1:51 pm: Edit Post

Security situation perilous in Kabul - Time yet for Peace Corps to return?





Background:

Six months ago the Orange County Register reported that President Bush had directed newly sworn in Director Gaddi Vasquez to bring Peace Corps volunteers back into Afghanistan. An assessment team went to the country to determine the feasibility of volunteers returning. Director Vasquez visited Kabul in March to meet with Peace Corps officials who were conducting programming and security assessments to determine if conditions in the countries would support sending in the agency’s Crisis Corps volunteers. To date the Peace Corps has not sent volunteers into the country.

Read and comment on this story from MSNBC that updates the current security situation in Afghanistan and decide whether it is time yet for volunteers to return to Afghanistan at:

Security situation perilous in Kabul*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Security situation perilous in Kabul

Karzai opts for U.S. protection as warlords flex their muscles Image: Security in Kabul

By Ned Colt

NBC NEWS

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 5 — Keeping a low profile, as many as 50 U.S. special forces soldiers are now providing security for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The president has rarely left his palace compound in Kabul in recent days, and he never strays far from his American guards. He has dismissed his Afghan security detail, apparently because he can’t trust them. The shift only underscores the perilous security situation in Afghanistan, where warlords are comfortably flexing their muscles in the provinces, defying a government whose hoped-for national army is still in its infancy.

KARZAI’S decision to opt for American security followed the assassination three weeks ago of Vice President Haji Ahmed Qadir, who was gunned down in Kabul in broad daylight on his first day of work.

Two assassins walked up to his jeep and emptied their Kalashnikovs, killing Qadir and his driver. Initial reports suggested that 10 nearby security guards refused to get involved and allowed the killers to escape.

There was also the killing in February of Afghan Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman. He was stabbed to death at the airport, and Karzai at the time blamed a plot by high-level officials within his own government.

That’s not all. In April, Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim narrowly escaped death when a bomb detonated near his motorcade in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Five people were killed.

To be a top official in Kabul increasingly means living under tight security.

SUICIDE BOMBER?

On Monday, police stopped a nondescript Toyota three blocks from the U.S. Embassy with three men and a half ton of explosives inside.

Those arrested aren’t doing much talking, but Deputy Director of Afghan Intelligence Amrullah Saleh said the target was Karzai, and failing that other high-level ministers or foreign peace-keepers. Afghan intelligence officials said the plan bore all the signs of al-Qaida. The capital enjoys the best security in the country. Around 5,000 peacekeepers from 19 nations patrol the streets as part an international force known as the International Security Assistance Force, but safety here still isn’t a certainty.

Turkish and Italian peacekeepers are now training 240 Afghans to better protect officials, but as the Haji Qadir assassination showed, there can be tragic security lapses.

Afghanistan’s new government is doing what it can. Last week, 300 soldiers comprising the First Battalion of the new Afghan army marched out of basic training after being reviewed by Karzai.

He described them as the hope of a new, peaceful and unified Afghanistan. They’d spent 10 weeks in boot camp, a grueling program of field and classroom training.

But the battalion started with close to 600 soldiers. Most of those who dropped out complained about the meager $30 monthly salary. Others said they’d been told training would take place overseas, in more exotic and favorable locales such as the United States, Germany or Turkey.

Those who remained were optimistic that they’ll make a difference. Sgt. Hazrat Wali fought for two years with the Taliban; now he marches in time with the Third Company of the First Battalion.

“All of us from our different ethnic groups have to come together to make an Afghan Army,” he told NBC. “It’s important that we show this to the Afghan people.”

SHOWING THE AMERICANS

They’ve shown it to the Americans. Hundreds of special forces troops trained the First Battalion. It wasn’t easy. While most Afghan men know how to shoot, their instructors said aiming, military tactics and other training were new to this predominantly illiterate force.

Merely lying in a prone position to squeeze off a more accurate shot was an alien concept, trainers said. Experienced Afghan fighters viewed it as cowardly and were more inclined to stand up and spray a target.

A sergeant, whose name was not given due to security concerns, worked with the recruits for weeks on infantry training and said he saw progress.

His mandate? “There are a lot of different factions here and a lot of internal and external influences that would just as soon not have a stable government. So our place is really to establish a national army so the elected government will have some credibility.”

But it’s going to take time to build the new army. Defense Minister Fahim wants an army of 200,000 troops. More realistic proposals from the United Nations call for a force of 60,000.

But at this rate, it could take eight years to reach 60,000. And for now, this is a military entirely reliant on international support. Washington has pledged $70 million, but $290 million is needed, according to officials.

THE WARLORDS

Speak to the government, aid agencies and to analysts, and most agree that the warlords represent the largest and most immediate threat to a unified and stable Afghanistan.

Financed in some cases by the opium trade, illegal taxation and third parties, the reality is that they’re consolidating their power at the expense of the new government.

Victoria Holt is a senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington think tank. She and colleague William Durch have been analyzing Afghanistan’s security shortcomings. They both are pushing for a stronger international financial and security commitment to Afghanistan.

“I think we’re facing a key time,” Holt warned. “The international community has made an immense commitment to Afghanistan, and it’s time they follow through both financially, but particularly with security to make sure the good works already done are secured.”

Holt and Durch agree with the Afghan leadership that ISAF’s role should be broadened to a force of around 18,000 — triple its current number — and that it begin providing security to seven other Afghan cities.

It’s a proposal the international community shows little interest in. “It’s not a lot of money,” Holt said. “It wouldn’t be a lot of troops, but it could make the difference as to whether our efforts in Afghanistan succeed or fail.”



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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Special Reports; Peace Corps - Overseas Programs; Peace Corps - Safety and Security; COS - Afghanistan

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