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:
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Violence in Kabul
Eyewitnesses describe how a battle between Afghan security forces and suspected Al Qaeda members left 15 dead—and underscored the dangers still facing the country’s capital
By Babak Dehghanpisheh
NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE
Aug. 7 — Khajeh Mahmood Shah began his day like any other. He woke up before dawn this morning, said his prayers and went out to weed his tomato patch in Qala Khandar, a village less than five miles southeast of Kabul. Shah, 52, had only been working for about half an hour before he heard shouting, “Stop! Stop those men!”
HE LOOKED UP to see a group of armed men dressed in ragged shalwar kameez robes bounding across his field, chased by Afghan security forces whose base they reportedly had tried to attack. Within three hours, the 11 men, as well as three members of the local security force, were killed in a fierce battle. A civilian wounded in the clash died later.
head, district criminal investigation unit Neither police nor local residents know exactly where the group of men—a mixture of Pakistanis and Arabs, according to eyewitnesses who heard them speak Urdu and Arabic—came from. But most, however, agreed on one thing: the men were members of Al Qaeda on the run. “This was a group of Al Qaeda fighters trying to escape from the area,” says Abdul Ahmad, 42, head of the district criminal investigation unit. The group of men were spotted and clashed with soldiers in a make-shift military outpost as they descended from a nearby mountain. The battle came just a day after U.S. troops killed four men who reportedly opened fire on them in Kunar province, 90 miles to the northeast.
Shah, a district elder with a bushy white beard, tried to do his part in preventing the escape of the Kabul attackers. As one of the men ran by, Shah grabbed him and began exchanging blows. Residents of nearby houses heard the commotion and came running with rifles, shovels, axes and rocks. One of the alleged Al Qaeda fighters overpowered a local resident and took his double-barreled shotgun. Another stabbed a soldier with a bayonet and took his AK-47 machine gun.
The remaining soldiers chasing the group dropped behind a low mud-brick wall and opened fire. The group of foreigners returned fire and dashed towards the narrow alleys of the nearest cluster of houses. When the dust settled, two members of the security force and one of the foreigners lay dead in the open field. Next to the foreigner’s body was a bundle wrapped in blue cloth. Inside were belongings which hinted at a life on the run: bits of dry bread, a toothbrush, a dirty shalwar kameez and coconut cookies.
With one man down, the remaining attackers were desperate to get out fast. “Around 7 a.m. I came out of my house and saw a group of armed men running by,” says Islamuddin, 25. “One of them shouted at me in Arabic and waved me back in the house.” Tareq, 18, another resident of the neighborhood, also saw the group shouting and running between the mud-brick houses. “One man ran by my house and said ‘Don’t worry, we’re friends,’” says Tareq.
Within the dusty streets of Qala Khandar, the group of foreigners stumbled upon a potential means of escape: a Soviet Zil truck. The driver, Musa Kheil, was dragged out of his house at gunpoint and forced to drive the group away from the village. But, rather than assisting the foreigners, Kheil drove them up a dead-end road at the base of a nearby mountain.
Around 8 a.m. local time, reinforcements arrived. Dozens of vehicles from the Kabul intelligence ministry, Ministry of Defense and city police made their way toward the mountain. Kheil drove the foreigners to the edge of a rock quarry and managed to escape. With little choice left, the foreigners hunkered down around the quarry for their last fight.
Eyewitnesses say soldiers and police surrounded the quarry and opened up a barrage from four sides. The sound of grenades, AK-47s and PK machine guns echoed across the mountain. Local residents gathered nearby to watch. Qazi Karim, one of the onlookers, got too close and was accidentally shot in the leg by a government soldier. Few of the observers doubted the outcome: within an hour, the bloody, mangled bodies were piled in the back of a military pickup truck. Only one soldier was injured in the fire fight. Members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), assigned to Kabul city security, arrived as the bodies were being piled into the pickup truck.
It may take Afghan authorities some time to pin down the identity of this group of men. While Kabul has suffered several isolated attacks—including the assassination of vice president Haji Abdul Qadir last month—the capital is generally considered to be the safest place in the country. But as the fragile transitional government of Afghanistan tries to extend its authority to the provinces, today’s battle shows that hostile elements may be closer than the Karzai government thought.
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