News & Current Affairs

August 8, 2008

American deaths in Afghanistan war reach 500

American deaths in Afghanistan war reach 500

KABUL, Afghanistan – The deadliest three months for American forces in Afghanistan have pushed the U.S. death toll to at least 500, forcing a war long overshadowed by Iraq back into the headlines.

Larger, more sophisticated militant attacks have also caused a sharp rise in Afghan civilian deaths — at least 472 in the first seven months of the year, most in suicide bombings, according to an Associated Press count.

In all, at least 600 Afghan civilians were killed from January through July, a 30 percent increase from the same period last year, according to AP figures compiled from coalition and Afghan officials. That includes at least 128 killed by U.S. or NATO forces.

There are about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the highest since the war began, meaning more troops than ever are patrolling this country’s mountainous terrain and exposed to ambushes and roadside bombs.

The U.S. military suffered 65 deaths in May, June and July, by far the deadliest three-month period in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. The previous deadliest three-month period was in the spring of 2005, with 45 U.S. deaths.

In July, more U.S. troops died in Afghanistan than in Iraq for the month, for the first time since the Iraq war started in 2003. In all, 92 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan this year, a pace that would surpass last year’s death toll of 111.

The spike in violence is forcing U.S. leaders, including the presidential candidates, to call for still more troops here.

More than ever, the U.S. government recognizes the situation Afghanistan “is serious and needs to be dealt with,” said Seth Jones, an Afghanistan expert at the RAND Corp., a Washington-based think tank that often does studies for the Pentagon.

“I think it is an important step that … the gravity of the situation has been recognized and that there are some steps in place to turn the tide in Afghanistan,” he said. “Whether that is successful or not is of course an open question.”

Overall, at least 500 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Qatar and United Arab Emirates in support of the Afghan mission, according to an AP analysis based on Defense Department press releases.

“In terms of milestones, it’s important to point out that no casualty is more significant than any other,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Wright. “Each service member is equally precious, and each loss of life is equally tragic.”

The AP count is based on information from U.S., NATO or Afghan officials, often impossible to independently verify because of the remote or dangerous locations of the incidents.

The Defense Department count often lags by several days. The most recent Defense Department count, issued Saturday, showed 496 U.S. troop deaths in and around Afghanistan.

Counting coalition troops, Taliban militants and Afghan civilians, more than 3,000 people have died in violence this year, according to the AP count.

In the past, the Taliban appeared to try to minimize civilian casualties by launching its large-scale attacks primarily against U.S., NATO or Afghan troops.

But this year a February bombing at a dog fighting competition in Kandahar killed more than 100 people, mostly civilians. An attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul last month killed more than 60.

Steven Simon, a senior fellow in Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the recent attacks with high civilian death tolls reflect a migration of both tactics and fighters from Iraq to Afghanistan.

“The reported presence in Afghanistan of the head of al-Qaida in Iraq underscores the extent to which blowback from Iraq is being felt in Afghanistan,” Simon said in an e-mail. “At this point, al-Qaida’s leadership seems to be looking at the Afghan theater as the next big thing.”

Afghan and U.S. officials say a big reason for the spike in violence is because militaries use sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan where they can arm and train fighters who launch attacks across the border on U.S. and Afghan forces. More al-Qaida fighters have been using the region to launch attacks than in previous years, U.S. officials say.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, blamed the rise on violence principally on two factors: a peace agreement earlier this year between the Pakistan government and some militants in its tribal areas near the Afghan border, and support given by Pakistan’s intelligence agency to Taliban fighters.

Pakistan denies it is helping Taliban fighters or that it has entered into peace agreements with militants who launch attacks in Afghanistan.

Insurgent attacks have jumped by 50 percent in the first half of 2008, according to data from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a Kabul-based group paid for by Western donors that advises relief groups on security.

In a report last week, ANSO said it logged 2,056 insurgent attacks in the first half of the year, a 52 percent increase from the same period last year.

The group said violence was up sharply in relatively peaceful northern and western Afghanistan and the region surrounding Kabul.

Both major presidential candidates, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, have called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. President Bush has said more troops will be dedicated to the Afghan fight in 2009 but has not said how many.

U.S. military officials have said the Afghan effort needs three more brigades of troops, or about 10,500 forces.

Any new forces sent here can expect to face vicious attacks from an increasingly brazen Taliban force. Last month more than 200 militant fighters attacked a remote U.S. outpost in a dangerous and mountainous region of northeastern Afghanistan. Nine U.S. troops were killed and 15 wounded.

Even local Afghan civilians joined in on the attack, a sign the U.S. and NATO face steep challenges in their bid to win the population over to the side of the Afghan government.

“The size of the operation and the ability of the group to get support within the town was somewhat alarming, and it shows that there is clearly some concern with local Afghans, and that’s a concern because civilians are the center of gravity in a counterinsurgency,” said Jones. “The dangerous message is that there was involvement by the civilians.”

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August 7, 2008

Istanbul site ‘hit by grenades’

Istanbul site ‘hit by grenades’

Map showing Turkey

Several hand grenades have been thrown at a municipal building in Istanbul, according to local reports.

A local mayor told semi-official news agency Anatolia that three grenades had exploded. At least one person was hurt.

Reports say two men fled the scene on a motorbike. The attack took place in Uskudar on the Asian side of the city.

Last month, double bombings blamed on Kurdish separatists killed 17 people in the city. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) denied any role in the attacks.

A month ago, three police officers and three gunmen were killed in an attack on the entrance to the US consulate in Istanbul. Turkish police said they were investigating possible links to al-Qaeda.

Political tensions

Police are searching for the two suspects who are thought to have fled on a motorbike after Thursday’s explosions.

A funeral ceremony for victims of Istanbul's 28 July bombing

A double bombing in Istanbul last month claimed the lives of 17 people

Uskudar mayor Mehmet Cakir told Anatolia that one blast had occurred in a rubbish truck in the car park of the municipal building and two more in a neighbouring cemetery.

NTV Television said the wounded person suffered a minor injury to the leg.

The latest incident comes at a time of increased political tensions in Turkey.

Last week, Turkey’s Constitutional Court narrowly voted not to close down the governing AK Party, accused of undermining the country’s secular system.

Meanwhile, an investigation continues into a shadowy ultra-nationalist group, known as Ergenekon, which is suspected of plotting to overthrow the government.

Dozens of people have been arrested and charged in connection with the inquiry, including two retired high-ranking military generals.

Turkey has seen armed attacks from a variety of groups in recent years.

The most deadly was in November 2003, when 58 people were killed by Islamist militants in suicide bombings outside two synagogues, the British consulate and a British bank in Istanbul.

The Kurdish rebels of the PKK have also been blamed for several attacks, including a car bombing that killed six people in the city of Diyarbakir in January.

Leftist and ultra-nationalist groups have also been accused of violence.

August 5, 2008

Taleban ‘burn Pakistan schools’

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 9:28 pm

Taleban ‘burn Pakistan schools’

School hit by arsonists in Swat

More and more schools are being destroyed in Swat

Suspected pro-Taleban militants have burnt down three more girls’ high schools in the Swat valley of north-west Pakistan, officials say.

Ten schools have been destroyed in the district in the last four days.

Nearly 70 state-run schools have been burnt down in the area in recent months, affecting over 17,000 students.

There has been no word from militant groups in relation to the latest arson attacks, but local militants group have admitted to such attacks in the past.

Correspondents say militant groups trying to enforce strict Islamic law want the schools to be shut down.

The area is now under a night curfew and no fresh incident of violence has been reported so far on Tuesday.

On Monday night, a girls’ high school was set on fire in the Matta area which completely destroyed the library and classrooms.

This was followed by two other attacks on different schools in nearby Mingora and Kanju.

Truce collapse

Figures released by the Pakistani army on Monday said that at least 94 militants, 14 soldiers and around 28 civilians had been killed over the previous week.

Torched school in Swat

The militants deny they are responsible for the attacks

The army says it compiled the militant casualty figures by constantly intercepting their radio messages.

The militants say only 10 of their fighters have died.

The military also said that it would soon launch an all-out offensive against militants in Swat, shattering a fragile deal between the two sides signed two months ago.

Both the militants and the military routinely accuse each other of exaggerating the others’ level of casualties.

Correspondents says that the security situation in Swat has been steadily deteriorating since the breakdown last week of a peace agreement between the government and pro-Taleban cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

The Swat valley has been the scene of an insurgency by his followers since 2007. They want to enforce his version of Islamic Sharia law in the region.

The militants have accused the government of reneging on the terms of May’s deal and have pledged to carry on fighting until all troops are withdrawn from the valley.

Mullah Fazlullah launched a campaign of violence last year, drawing the army into a conflict at a time when militants across north-west Pakistan had launched a wave of suicide attacks on security forces and leading politicians.

The Swat accord was part of the government’s plan to end Islamist militancy through peace deals.

The strategy led to a dramatic drop in suicide bombings but critics say it has also allowed the Taleban to regroup.

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