The dusty streets of Kabul are choked with traffic, restaurants selling American fast food are bustling and there is a crowd of students and parents outside a girls’ school in the centre of town trying to slip through the shuttered gates at the start of the school year.
Returning to Kabul for the first time since December, there was no sense that the mood on the ground had changed significantly. But I couldn’t help wondering how all this might change once foreign troops who have propped up the Afghan state for more than a decade leave in 2014. There is talk of a return to chaos and civil war, although admittedly you hear more of those grim warnings abroad and in the foreign circles of Kabul than from the people themselves who will be in the middle of it.
As in any conflict, the prisoners that the players in Afghanistan hold are a key part of their political and military strategy as they head into 2014. For the United States, the more Taliban fighters or even potential Taliban are kept off the battlefield, the better it is. For years it has been running a regime of administrative detentions under which it can hold not only suspected combatants but even people it thinks could be a potential threat for an indefinite period.
For the Taliban, getting its commanders out has been a top priority and indeed its officials say securing the release of some of them held in Guantanamo is the starting point of the talks that it has had with the United States for more than a year now. A former frontline commander and cousin of the Taliban’s main negotiator in the talks with the United States told me in an interview that the Taliban would resume the negotiations only when the United States carried out its promise to release five senior Taliban figures held in the U.S. military prison in Cuba. A prison committee is ready with the names of more comrades that it wants freed.
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan named a three star general to take over Bagram prison from the U.S. military and with him, final say over which prisoners are released, an issue with the potential to open another rift in relations between Washington and Kabul.
The issue of the release of any of the 3,200 people held in the prison at the sprawling American base, north of Kabul, is sensitive to both countries as Afghanistan assumes full security responsibilities ahead of departure of most NATO combat forces in 2014.
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan wants the United States to clearly spell out what sort of military presence it will leave behind once most of its combat troops leave by the end of 2014, a senior Afghan official said.
It is also pressing Washington in talks over future cooperation to detail to be more forthcoming on what will be on offer for Afghan forces as they ready to take over responsibility security in the country that is still at war.
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan strongly rejected reports that some soldiers working at the defense ministry were involved in a bomb plot, saying no arrests had been made nor were any vests used for suicide bomb attacks found on the premises.
On Wednesday there was no sign of a hard clamp down on personnel movements at the sprawling ministry with soldiers checking scores of visitors as usual. However, the fast spread of reports of a cache of suicide vests found at the defense ministry on Tuesday illustrates the tense atmosphere in Kabul following a spike in attacks on foreign soldiers by rogue Afghan security forces.
KABUL (Reuters) – Want to know why the Afghan Taliban opened talks with the United States even though they have fought the world’s most advanced military to a virtual stalemate or prospects for girls’ schools if they regain power? Go online and post your question.
The Taliban have opened an online forum on their website, called “Your questions and Zabihullah Mujahid’s answers” where readers are invited to leave queries for their spokesman to answer.
KABUL (Reuters) – Three foreign soldiers, including two Britons, were shot dead by Afghan security forces personnel on Monday in the latest round of insider killings which have raised deep concerns about the reliability of NATO’s local allies and their ability to keep the peace.
So-called insider attacks have mounted recently as tension between Afghanistan and its foreign backers rises over a series of incidents, including the burning of Korans at a NATO base and a massacre of 17 villagers for which a U.S. soldier has been charged.
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Taliban will eventually resume talks with the United States, a former commander said, but it will depend on how Washington repairs trust damaged by a string of incidents, notably the killing of 16 Afghans blamed on a U.S. soldier.
The Taliban have suspended the nascent dialogue, blaming the United States for failing to deliver on a promise to transfer five of its leaders held by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay.
NEW DELHI/KABUL, March 21 (Reuters) – India will explore a
route through rival Pakistan to transport iron ore from
Afghanistan, the head of a consortium involved in the $11
billion project said, hoping that economic benefits will
outweigh political hostility.
Despite a spike in tension in Afghanistan and uncertainty
over the future once foreign combat forces leave in 2014, India
was committed to developing the Hajigak mines and a 6 million
tonne steel plant alongside, C. S. Verma, chairman of Steel
Authority of India, told Reuters in an interview.
Shortly before U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s plane was to land on an unannounced trip in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, an Afghan man in a stolen pickup truck drove onto the tarmac at high speed. The truck crashed into a ditch after it sped across the runway ramp and the driver, whose motives were unclear, emerged from the vehicle in flames. No explosives were found on the man who later died or in the truck and the Pentagon said at no point was the defense chief’s plane in danger. But it was an extraordinary breach of security at the British airfield in the southern province of Helmand which sits next to a vast U.S. Marine base.
Later that day U.S. Marines, gathered to hear Panetta speak, were ordered to leave their weapons outside the tent just like the Afghans who had been told before not to bring their weapons to the tent. The New York Times quotes the top U.S. military officer in Helmand as saying he wanted a consistent policy for both the Marines and their Afghan partners. Again it tells you about the nervousness that has crept into U.S. operations in Afghanistan, after a spate of green-on-blue attacks or attacks on coalition forces and advisers by their Afghan allies that strike at the heart of the mission to prepare the Afghan national forces to take over the fight against the Taliban.