News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

NOORDIN MOHAMED TOP
Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map

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July 17, 2009

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

At least nine people have been killed, including two suspected suicide bombers, in two blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

One explosion hit the Ritz-Carlton, ripping off its facade, and the other the JW Marriott. As many as 50 people were hurt, including many foreigners.

At least one attacker was a guest at the JW Marriott, police said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the scene and condemned “the cruel and inhuman attack”.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts. One foreign national has been confirmed dead – a New Zealander.

Indonesia suffered a number of bomb attacks – mainly linked to the militant group Jemaah Islamiah – in the first years of the century, but has since been praised for its campaigns against militants.

‘Barbaric’

President Yudhoyono said Friday’s attacks were carried out by a suspected terrorist group, though he said it was “too early to say” if Jemaah Islamiah was involved.

He added: “Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law.

I heard two sounds like ‘boom, boom’ coming from the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton – then I saw people running out
Eko Susanto, security guard

“This act of terrorism… will have wide effects on our economy, trade, tourism and image in the eyes of the world.”

The attacks, with homemade bombs, were on the basement car park of the Marriott and a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, police said.

Police said that two suicide bombers were involved, and at least one attacker, and possibly more, was staying at the Marriott.

An unexploded bomb and other explosives material were found in room 1808, which officials said was the “control centre” of the attacks.

National police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said: “We still don’t know who booked room 1808.”

Gen Wahyono said a suicide bomber was suspected of carrying out the car park attack as a severed head was found there.

AT THE SCENE
Karishma Vaswani
Karishma Vaswani,Courtesy
BBC News, Jakarta

It was a scene of confusion and chaos outside the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott hotels this morning. Ambulances and security forces arriving at the hotels came to rescue the injured and treat anyone who was hurt.

People milled around outside, onlookers wondering what had happened as hotel staff and guests stood around shocked on the streets. The blasts took place at breakfast time in one of the most prestigious areas in Jakarta’s commercial centre.

Many Indonesians we spoke to this morning told us how shocked and upset they were by what had happened here today and how worried they are about the damage this will do to the reputation of their country.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key confirmed a New Zealand national was among the dead.

Reuters news agency named him as Tim Mackay, president director of PT Holcim Indonesia, quoting the company’s marketing director Patrick Walser.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd condemned the attacks as “barbaric”.

He said he had “grave concerns” for an embassy official and two other missing Australians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they were “senseless” and that the threat of terrorism remained “very real”.

The Manchester United football team was due to arrive in Indonesia on Saturday and was booked to stay at the Ritz-Carlton.

The team have now called off the Indonesian leg of their tour, saying they “cannot fulfil the fixture in Jakarta” against an Indonesia Super League XI on 20 July.

The two blasts, in Jakarta’s central business district, occurred at about 0730 (0030 GMT).

INDONESIA ATTACKS
Dec 2000 – Church bombings kill 19
Oct 2002 – Bali attacks kill 202, many Australian
Dec 2002 – Sulawesi McDonalds blast kills three
Aug 2003 – Jakarta Marriott Hotel bomb kills 12
Sept 2004 – Bomb outside Australian embassy in Jakarta
Sept 2005: Suicide attacks in Bali leave 23 dead, including bombers

Businessman Geoffrey Head, who was in the Ritz Carlton, told the BBC he did not hear the blast but that his colleagues had called him after it happened to tell him to leave the building.

“I looked out of the window – I could see down to ground level and I saw there was a lot of broken glass. I thought it was time to actually get out.”

Mr Head said there had been no warning to evacuate the building.

“The surreal thing was going down in the elevator and walking through the lobby and looking across to my left and noticing the cafe was completely blown out,” he said.

A 50-year-old South Korean man, Cho In-sang, was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

“I don’t remember exactly but suddenly the ceiling is falling down and the sound was big,” he said.

Anti-terror training

Consular staff are trying to track their nationals, and Australia issued a warning against unnecessary travel to Indonesia.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for a series of bombings more than five years ago.

Attacks on two nightclubs in Bali in October 2002 killed 202 people, most of them Australian.

The Marriott Hotel was the target of a bomb attack in August 2003 in which 13 people were killed.

Since then, a combination of new laws, anti-terror training, international cooperation and reintegration measures have kept Indonesia peaceful, analysts have said.

Jakarta map


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June 24, 2009

Somalia MPs flee assassinations

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:01 pm

Somalia MPs flee assassinations

Hardline Islamic fighters in Mogadishu on 23 June 2009

Hardline Islamists have been battling pro-government forces since 7 May

Scores of Somali politicians have fled the war-torn Horn of Africa nation in the last month amid escalating clashes.

As few as 280 MPs remain, with 250 needed to make a quorum in the 550-seat assembly, based in the capital.

One MP quit on Wednesday warning the chamber was doomed and 20 others have gone to Kenya in the last week after several high-profile assassinations.

Meanwhile, casualties of recent unrest have had to be flown to Kenya because hospitals in Mogadishu cannot cope.

About 56 patients, mainly government forces, wounded in fighting over the last week have been flown to Nairobi for treatment.

Since 7 May, an alliance of militant Islamist hardliners, which controls parts of the capital and much of southern Somalia, has been locked in ferocious battles with pro-government forces in Mogadishu.

New radio station
It also emerged on Wednesday that the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, Amisom, is to set up a radio station in Mogadishu.

map

The station will support embattled President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s fragile transitional government.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists and many reporters faced with death threats have either fled or will not risk working in the country.

Since the latest bout of fighting began last month, 130 lawmakers, including several ministers, have fled to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
About 20 legislators have made their way there in the last week alone, during which time a fellow MP was gunned down, a security minister was killed in a suicide blast, and Mogadishu’s police chief was died in battle.

On Wednesday, Abdullah Haji Ali, an MP for Somaliland, resigned, predicting the parliament was doomed to fail amid the deteriorating security situation and that nine of his colleagues were also ready to go.

Dozens of other Somali MPs are abroad – some in neighbouring Djibouti and others in Europe and the US – with only about 50 on official visits, according to Reuters news agency.

Refugee crisis

The BBC Somali Service says one cannot rule out the possibility of the parliament losing so many MPs it will lack a quorum – threatening the UN-backed government’s ability to function formally.

People rush a wounded civilian to hospital in Mogadishu, on 20 June 2009

Civilians have borne the brunt of the recent violence and many are fleeing

But analysts reckon the president’s position will probably remain safe, as long as the African Union’s 4,300 troops stay in Mogadishu.

At the weekend, Somalia’s interim government urged neighbouring countries to send troops to help.

The Kenyan government says it has not yet decided whether to intervene.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said if Mogadishu falls to the radical Islamists, the consequences would be very grave.

Kenya has a 1,200-km (745-mile) border with Somalia and every day hundreds of refugees try to cross into Kenya.

BBC world affairs correspondent Adam Mynott says Kenya already has more than 300,000 displaced people in camps close to the border.

Ethiopia, another neighbour, which pulled its troops out of Somalia in January after two years, has said it will not intervene again unless it has a “firm international mandate”.

President Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, took office in January but even his introduction of Sharia law to the strongly Muslim country has not appeased the guerrillas.

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991.

March 30, 2009

US to consult Pakistan on strikes

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:35 am

US to consult Pakistan on strikes

US President Barack Obama has said he will consult Pakistan’s leaders before targeting militants in that country.

“If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them,” Mr Obama told CBS television.

But Mr Obama ruled out deploying US ground troops inside Pakistan.

On Friday, the US leader announced a major policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the situation on their border was “increasingly perilous”.

Kabul and Islamabad have welcomed the review, but Pakistan has urged the US to halt recent cross-border missile strikes by unmanned Predator drone aircraft.

Pakistan accountability

Mr Obama told CBS television’s Face the Nation that the main thrust of US policy was “to help Pakistan defeat these extremists”.

He noted that Pakistan was a sovereign nation and added: “We need to work with them and through them to deal with al-Qaeda. But we have to hold them much more accountable.”

US drone

Unmanned drone strikes have triggered fury in Pakistan

Senior US military officials have alleged links between Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI, and militants on the country’s borders with both Afghanistan and India.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says Mr Obama’s remarks suggest the US may be willing to take the one-year-old Pakistani civilian government on board regarding a highly sensitive issue.

On Saturday Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari said his country would not allow anyone to violate its sovereignty, although he did not specifically criticise the US missile strikes as he has done in the past.

He also said Pakistan would not allow use of its soil for militant activity.

Meanwhile, gunmen killed five people, including a district police chief and former local mayor in the troubled North-West Frontier Province, Pakistani officials said.

Abductions

The incident occurred in Lower Dir, near the Afghan border, as militants attacked police chasing them after an attempted kidnapping, said a government official.

In a separate attack in the same province, officials said 11 police officers had been abducted from a checkpoint in the Bara area, near the Khyber Pass.

Tribal areas map

It came a day after Pakistan’s army said troops, backed by artillery and helicopter gunships, had killed 26 militants in the Mohmand area of the restive province.

Earlier on Saturday, the Taleban destroyed 12 parked trucks laden with supplies for Nato personnel in Afghanistan – the latest in a series of similar attacks – near Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province.

Broadcast on Sunday, Mr Obama’s CBS interview was filmed on Friday as he unveiled his new strategy for the region.

He said the border area was a haven for al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters and the most dangerous place in the world.

The strategy includes plans for 4,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, as well as increased development aid for border areas of Pakistan.

It also sets out what analysts say is an ambitious goal of boosting the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011.

November 1, 2008

Crucial battle on Pakistan’s frontline

A tank fires at militant movement detected at the edge of the town of Loi Sam in Bajaur

A tank fires at militant movement detected at the edge of the town of Loi Sam

Entering the combat zone, we drive past mile after mile of flattened buildings, crops and trees, razed to prevent ambushes.

Even still, soldiers are on high alert, watchful for possible attacks.

They race down the road at top speed, firing occasional rounds from the guns mounted on the backs of their vehicles. Cobra attack helicopters circle overhead.

This is the tribal area of Bajaur near the Afghan border, or rather a small part of it.

The Pakistan army has wrested control of a 38km (24-mile) region from the Taleban, and it has given us rare access to the frontline.

We arrive in the town of Loi Sam, now in ruins. Militants here were targeted by the air force and artillery, followed by a ground offensive that lasted five days.

Civilians fled long ago – hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the fighting.

Key crossroads

A tank guards one of the approaches to the town, firing whenever there is movement in the distance.

Already a bulldozer has begun clearing away the blasted shells of buildings.

“You have to either occupy or remove the structures,” says one soldier, “otherwise the militants will return to them once we’ve left.”

For the army, this is a crucial victory: Loi Sam lies at a key crossroads between Afghanistan and Pakistan. From here local and Afghan insurgents could launch attacks in both countries.

“The militant activities from this tribal agency were radiating in different directions, towards Afghanistan, the rest of the border region and [Pakistan’s] settled areas,” says army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas.

“Now we have this area under control, it will affect militant activities elsewhere, and we’ll capitalise on that.”

“The worst is over,” agrees Maj Gen Tariq Khan, who is in charge of the offensive. “I think we have turned the corner.”

Guerrilla warfare

The battle has been slow and deliberate. It took six weeks for the army to secure the road from the headquarters of the local security forces, the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), to Loi Sam, a distance of 13km.

Troops fought compound to compound in a terrain ideal for guerrilla warfare.

“There are road bends, there are depressions, there are houses located inside the depressions, trenches prepared, caves, tunnels, everything prepared,” says Col Javed Baloch, commander of one of the posts along the road, “so it was difficult to find them, to spot them, and then take the area.”

The Taleban has made extensive use of bunkers and tunnels which connected different compounds.

One commanding officer, Maj Kamal, took me 5m underground for a tour of the network.

He says his men blocked 20 or 30 passageways, including one that stretched 100m to a stream.

Many in Bajaur trace the roots of the uprising to a suspected US missile strike on an Islamic seminary, or madrassa, in November 2006, which killed around 80 people.

That radicalized local Islamists, they say, who were reinforced by militants from other Pakistani tribal areas. There was also an influx of fighters from Afghanistan.

A soldier keeps watch
Until and unless Afghanistan is made stable, you can do a million development activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and there will be no result
Shafir Ullah
Government representative in Bajaur

The battle for Bajaur was triggered when the FC tried to re-establish a check post in Loi Sam in early August. Fierce resistance led to the siege of the FC base before the army was called in.

Like other army officers, Maj Gen Tariq Khan criticises unilateral US air strikes on suspected insurgent targets as deeply counter productive.

But, he says, during the Bajaur operation there has been improved intelligence sharing and co-ordination with coalition forces, which has reduced cross-border militant infiltration from Afghanistan. “We’ve seen practical on-ground adjustments in relevance to our operations,” he says.

“I’ve got a very positive response and I feel we’ve set up some system in which we’re in some kind of regular touch, and I think that’s the way to go.”

Hearts and minds

Now that the fighting has subsided, attention is turning to reconstruction and development: acknowledgement that winning hearts and minds in the impoverished tribal region along the border is essential to fighting the insurgency.

Map

But that won’t be enough, says Shafir Ullah, the government representative in Bajaur who deals with tribal elders.

“The reasons [for the insurgency] are poverty, backwardness and others, but the real problem is linked with Afghanistan,” he says.

“Until and unless Afghanistan is made stable, you can do a million development activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and there will be no result.”

The Taleban have been pushed back – the army claims it has killed 1,500 – but they haven’t been defeated.

Two soldiers were killed by rocket fire in Loi Sam shortly after we left the town, bringing the army’s death toll to 75. Nearly 100 civilians have also died, says Shafir Ullah.

One hillside post is so exposed to Taleban fire that the soldiers have dug in for protection.

Forty men can fit in the massive bunker at any one time, a few are saying their prayers and reciting the Koran in a makeshift underground mosque when we visit.

This is not a popular war in Pakistan: some have criticized the military for killing fellow Muslims.

Others accuse it of fighting “America’s War”. But the army insists it is fighting to defend Pakistan, not just responding to US pressure for action against the Taleban.

Even as dusk falls artillery guns continue to pound militant positions. The war in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan.

This is the other, rarely seen, side of the battle against the Taleban.

September 7, 2008

Serb opposition leader resigns

Serb opposition leader resigns

Tomislav Nikolic

Tomislav Nikolic went too far for party hardliners

The head of the main opposition party in Serbia has resigned after senior colleagues refused to back the country’s efforts to join the EU.

Tomislav Nikolic had recently persuaded his Serbian Radical Party to approve the ratification of an important agreement with the European Union.

But there was a party revolt over the issue, with critics saying it meant abandoning Serbia’s claim to Kosovo.

Kosovo unilaterally declared itself independent from Serbia this year.

Mr Nikolic had steered his party towards the centre of Serbian politics, focusing on social issues such as unemployment and poverty, rather than the militant nationalism of the past.

Mr Nikolic is officially the deputy president of the party as its leader, Vojislav Seselj is facing charges at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

His endorsement of the Stability and Association Agreement, signed earlier this year but still awaiting ratification by the Serbian Parliament, was a bridge too far for many of his party colleagues, our correspondent says.

A meeting of the party leadership on Friday night reversed the decision to endorse the agreement with Brussels.

Mr Nikolic resigned in protest, both from his position as de facto leader of the party, and as the head of its group in parliament.

The parliamentary vote on the agreement with the European Union is expected next week.

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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