Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras and Hazarajat...The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they are facing on daily basis...Hazaras have been the victim of active persecution and discrimination and one of the reasons among many has been the lack of information, awareness and disinformation...... To further awareness against violence, disinformation and discrimination, we have launched a sister Blog for youths and youths are encouraged to share their stories and opinions; Young Pens

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Buddhas of Bamiyan




Ancient archaeological remains have been thrust into the cruel world of today’s seemingly endless conflicts — the ever-changing aims and alliances of international politics, religions dueling on the world stage, and the ironic trade-off of providing aid to conserve the material heritage of the past but not to preserve the lives of modern inheritors of that past. Arrayed against the tolerant and measured messages of Buddhism, the quagmire of the “Bamiyan Massacre” seems perplexing at best.

First, it is important to recognize that the massacre has little to do with religion. The Buddha is not God or even one among many gods. During his lifetime of 80 years, Buddha Sakyamuni only allowed his image to be recorded as a reflection in rippling water. Images of the Buddha himself did not appear for at least 400 years after his death and even then were created only to remind followers of their own innate “Buddha Nature.” This kind of early aversion to “idolatry” is typical of Christianity and other religions — many devotees of Christ railed against material images of Jesus for centuries, especially during two waves of “iconoclasts” (idol smashers) in the Byzantine Empire.

The colossal Buddhas were cut at immeasurable cost (probably in the third and fifth centuries A.D.) into the tall, sandstone cliffs surrounding Bamiyan, an oasis town in the center of a long valley that separates the mountain chains of Hindu Kush and Koh-i-Baba. The taller of the two statues (about 53 meters or 175 feet) is thought to represent Vairocana, the “Light Shining throughout the Universe Buddha” The shorter one (36 meters or 120 feet) probably represents Buddha Sakyamuni, although the local Hazara people believe it depicts a woman.

The two colossi must once have been a truly awesome sight, visible for miles, with copper masks for faces and copper-covered hands. Vairocana’s robes were painted red and Sakyamuni’s blue. These towering, transcendental images were key symbols in the rise of Mahayana Buddhist teachings, which emphasized the ability of everyone, not just monks, to achieve enlightenment.

While the dates of the statues are somewhat equivocal, the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who traveled to India to bring back to China copies of the original sutras of the Buddha’s teachings, bore witness to the statues in A.D. 630-31.

For centuries, Bamiyan lay at the heart of the fabled Silk Road, offering respite to caravans carrying goods across the vast reaches between China and the Roman Empire. And for 500 years, it was a center of Buddhist cultivation. The myriad caves that pockmark Bamiyan’s cliffs were also home to thousands of Buddhist monks and served as a kind of Holiday Inn for traveling merchants, monks, and pilgrims.

Today those open, cold caves are used primarily by refugees from Afghanistan’s brutal, internal war.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Taliban Ghazni road blockade continues

By Farzad Lameh
2011-04-25


GHAZNI – Taliban militants have blockaded a key road connecting Jaghori to Qarabagh in eastern Ghazni Province for two weeks, officials said April 24.

“The blockade has caused many problems ... but we are working to resolve it through the tribal elders as soon as possible,” Marouf Ayoobi, Ghazni provincial spokesman, told Central Asia Online.


The Taliban imposed the blockade soon after it warned travellers to stop using the road April 9.


“We would have reopened the road by now, but we are faced with a reduced number of police in the province,” Zerawar Zahid, provincial police chief, said.


Last June, the Taliban also blocked the road for several days.

Indian Steel Companies May Unite for Bamiyan Iron Ore: Forbes India

Indian Steel Companies May Unite for Cause

Indian steel companies are pondering whether to put aside their rivalry and bid together for one of the world’s most precious iron ore reserves in Afghanistan

by Prince Mathews Thomas, Cuckoo Paul | Apr 26, 2011



For a millennium and a half until 2001, the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan were witness to much history. They overlooked the passing of the trade caravans of Europeans, Indians and Chinese along the Silk Route. Over the centuries, the Gandharas, Hunas, Ghengis Khan and even Soviet tanks had left their imprints in the vicinity. Throughout all this turbulence, the statues stood unchangingly as the symbol of Buddha’s greatest teachings — harmony and co-existence. So, when the Taliban dynamited and destroyed the Buddhas a decade ago, it appeared as if these ideals had been lost forever.

Today, the Bamiyan Valley is helping to rediscover a new future for Afghanistan. Not only is there an international effort to rebuild the Buddhas, there is also a plan taking shape to convert the Bamiyan province into a thriving industrial centre. Not far from the ruins lies a hidden treasure: The 1.8 billion tonne Hajigak iron ore mines. With a very high ferrous content of 68 percent, these are among the most coveted reserves in this part of the world and represent the best chance for rebuilding the war-torn nation.

This January, the Hamid Karzai government put the exploration rights to the mine up for an open bid. It attracted some of the biggest mining and steel firms from around the world, including Vale of Brazil and China Metallurgical Group. But the biggest interest came from Indians. Fifteen of the 22 firms that expressed an interest in tapping the mines are Indian. If all goes well at the final opening of bids in August, India hopes to use the Hajigak mines as a gateway to playing a role in Afghanistan’s transformation.

But the Indians face a dilemma. If each of the 15 firms competes on its own, the flock could be swept aside by the global giants. So, the Indian companies have done something they never did before: They have taken a leaf from Buddha’s teaching of peaceful co-existence and are exploring the possibility of bidding as a single consortium. Now, these are hardwired rivals competing for the $51 billion steel market back home. If they decide to bid together, they would be opening a whole new chapter of co-operation.

Understandably, the Indian government is delighted. It has backed the plan with a promise to fund 15 percent of the acquisition corpus. In early April, the Indian Express reported that at a high level meeting chaired by steel secretary P.K. Misra, senior officials from the ministry of external affairs said the government had the provision to dip into the Rs. 5,850 crore corpus set aside for executing developmental projects in Afghanistan. When asked, Misra downplays the development saying that no final decision has been taken. Given that some of the companies trying to get into the joint bid are state-owned, the final go-ahead will, of course, have to come from the finance ministry.

The joint bid is seen as a stepping stone to a larger objective: The creation of India’s own sovereign fund that will help home-grown companies buy expensive resources abroad and also help meet the country’s energy needs. For it is not only steel companies looking to buy mines abroad, but also power generation players hungry for coal mines. “Various concepts including a sovereign fund are there, but all are in debating stage right now. A sovereign fund will come under the MoF and it has to decide on that,” says Misra.

Bonds of steel


Three men are the centre of this initiative to bring together rivals for a greater common purpose. V. Krishnamurthy, former chairman of Steel Authority of India and now the head of the National Manufacturing Commission, C.S. Verma, the current SAIL chairman and Malay Mukherjee, CEO of Essar Steel who had earlier worked at both SAIL and ArcelorMittal. They think the urgency for the steel industry to collaborate hasn’t come a day sooner.

Indian steel companies are ravenous for iron ore to feed an economy growing at 9 percent. But “the Indian steel industry’s current plans [to secure raw material] are not working,” says Mukherjee. And without the security of getting raw material, the future plans of the Indian steel industry could be in jeopardy.

The industry veterans say that a joint bid in Afghanistan will work like a pilot project for Indian companies to co-operate in matters like global sourcing of raw materials and expanding the market for steel. “If this arrangement for the Afghanistan bid works out, it will help us expand its scope in many more ways,” says Verma.

While NMDC, India’s largest iron ore miner, will lead the Indian consortium, the partners will get the allocation of resources as per the investment they bring. It looks like the NMDC consortium will include SAIL, Tata Steel, JSW and Essar. This is pretty much most of the industry anyway.
There have been both short-term and long-term triggers for Indian steel companies to come together. We are living in an era of rising commodity prices. In just over a month, spot prices of key raw materials like iron ore and coking coal have shot up by 30 percent.

Indian firms have also struggled to buy mines across the globe. Tata Steel and JSW Steel have lost out on iron ore mines in Africa, while SAIL has struggled to match the speed and bidding power of its international peers while evaluating coal mines in Indonesia and Australia.

What’s more, as the price of raw materials has climbed, companies have been forced to move from annual long term contracts to the now quarterly, or in some cases, even monthly contracts where prices are closely linked to the volatile spot rates. This has not only increased the scramble among companies to buy mines but also pushed up the value of these mineral resources.

In India, SAIL and Tata Steel have iron ore mines, unlike others. But when it comes to coking coal, even they are not self-reliant. In the case of Tata Steel, the need is more urgent to feed its plants in Europe that it got through the Corus acquisition in 2007. None of these plants owns mines.

SAIL, despite its iron ore cushion, saw its net profit drop by 34 percent in the third quarter of 2010-11 due to high coking coal prices. “Even our next phase of expansion, which will see SAIL’s annual capacity increasing to 24 million tonnes from the present 14 million tonnes, would be unviable unless we have access to more captive mines,” says Verma.

United, We Bargain
Verma and Essar Steel’s Mukherjee have been the most vocal backers of the new initiative. Mukherjee is a former SAIL veteran who later became part of the core team of L.N. Mittal. Back in India since 2009, Mukherjee has become some sort of a champion for co-opetition. He points to international examples such as Mexico, where ArcelorMittal shares an iron ore mine with a competitor. “Resources are divided according to investment and production history,” says Mukherjee, who adds that Indian companies have already lost an opportunity in Mongolia. The central Asian country had earlier this year invited companies to develop the world’s largest untapped coking coal deposits. Consortiums from China, Russia and South Korea have made bids. There was none from India.

Verma cites another international example that could help broaden the scope of the Indian initiative. “Japanese steel mills every year jointly bargain with mining companies for annual contracts to procure raw materials. Indian companies should also come together to increase their bargaining power and thus get better rates,” says Verma. His office is now in talks with heads of other steel companies such as JSW Steel and Essar Steel who also import coking coal. Together, steel companies in India import about 40 million tonnes of coking coal a year, enough to give them bargaining power. (SAIL is also in talks with an undisclosed India private company to jointly buy a stake in Indonesian mines.)

The other area where a consortium could work is opening up new market segments within India. Take the household sector or the farming sector, for instance. It may not be viable for one firm to seed these markets as initial volumes will not justify product development and marketing costs.


Interestingly, that was a task that Indian Steel Alliance, or ISA, was supposed to do. Set up in 2001, ISA had five of the biggest Indian steelmakers as members — SAIL, Tata Steel, JSW Steel, Essar Steel and Ispat Industries. “It was set up as an industry representative at government level and also internationally. Unfortunately, differences between its members saw it shutting shop in 2008,” says D.A. Chandekar, editor and CEO of SteelWorld, an industry information and consultancy organisation.

The bone of contention, say industry executives, was setting the monthly prices of steel products. “While in the beginning the system worked, later on government pressure would force either SAIL or Tata Steel to take back the hike. Other companies were forced to follow. Differences cropped up,” says a former executive at one of the private steel companies. From 2004, when the rise of the Chinese steel industry pushed up raw material prices and made mines integral for steel business, the differences widened. “As SAIL and Tata Steel already had their own iron ore mines, other companies wanted preference in allotment of mines,” says the executive. In 2007, Tata Steel withdrew from the Alliance and SAIL followed suit a year later. ISA soon folded up.

It was a sad end to the first of its kind public-private partnership in the steel industry. Verma concedes the Afghanistan initiative to revive that idea is indeed a difficult task.

There are sceptics to the plan too. J.J. Irani, the former managing director of Tata Steel and ex-chairman of ISA told Forbes India in an email that “I do not think there is any potential” in the activity. While he declined to explain, old timers say it will take a “great level of maturity” on the behalf of the players to “leave their egos behind”. Most of these companies have locked horns over Indian mines, especially the Chiria iron ore mines in Jharkhand where SAIL has taken claim. “Also, can the decision-making mechanism of a public sector company like SAIL synchronise itself with that of a private company like Tata Steel?” asks a senior executive at one of the private steel companies. Forbes India sent emails to Tata Steel and JSW Steel asking if they are part of this new initiative. Neither of them responded.

For India, Afghanistan is a strategic priority. It enjoys immense goodwill among Afghans that the US hasn’t been able to garner even after investing $50 billion. The country has been a theater for war for too long and when the tide turns, there will be great business opportunities. For India to maximise its role in rebuilding Afghanistan, the synergy of private and public sector companies is crucial.

Source,
http://business.in.com/article/big-bet/indian-steel-companies-may-unite-for-cause/24362/3

Saturday, April 23, 2011

نمایشگاه کاریکاتورهای بامیان، اعتراض مدنی دیگر

به روز شده: 11:27 گرينويچ - جمعه 08 آوريل 2011 - 19 فروردین 1390

محمد رضایی
بی‌بی‌سی



آقای روحانی می گوید که مشکلات زندگی مردم را در کاریکاتورهای خود بازتاب داده است.
یک نهاد اجتماعی موسوم به "بنیاد اجتماعی توازن" نمایشگاه مجموعه ای از کارتون های انتقادی را برگزار کرده است.
این نمایشگاه از روز هفتم اپریل (آوریل) به مناسب روز جهانی کاریکاتور برای چهار روز برگزار شده است.

مسئولان بنیاد اجتماعی توازن گفته اند که هدف از برگزاری این نمایشگاه ضمن قدردانی از کاریکاتوریست ها و تاکید بر اهمیت جهانی کاریکاتور، انتقاد از کارکردهای مقامهای دولتی است.
در این نمایشگاه ۱۳ اثر محمد روحانی کاریکاتوریست بامیانی را به نمایش گذاشته شده است.
انتقاد از حکومت
عمدتا موضوعات کاریکاتورهایی که در این نمایشگاه به نمایش گذاشته شده است، انتقاد از حکومت و مقام دولتی است.
موسی شفق، استاد دانشگاه بامیان و از برگزارکنندگان این نمایشگاه گفت: "یکی از اهداف این برنامه ترویج فرهنگ نقد از حکومت با روش مدنی است."
نارضایی مردم از عدم توجه مقامات دولتی به امور بازسازی، مشکلات نظام آموزش و پرورش، نقض حقوق بشر، قانون‌گریزی و عدم توازن در برنامه های عمرانی حکومت، از موضوعات بازتاب یافته در این کاریکاتورها است.
بازتاب نارسایی ها




آقای روحانی گفته که با این کاریکاتورها احساسات خود را بیان کرده است.
محمد روحانی، صاحب این کاریکاتورها گفته است: "من با این کاریکاتورها احساسات و چشم دیدهای خود را از مشکلات و نارسایی های موجود در بخش های مختلف زندگی مردم بازتاب داده ام."
او افزود: "من احساسی را که داشتم نمی توانستم در جای دیگری بیان کنم و جای دیگری برای بیان حرفهای خود پیدا نمی توانیستم، بنابر این، خواستم که این حرفهایم را در نمایشگاه کاریکاتورها برای مسئولان و مردم بیان کنم."
همچنین آقای شفق گفت که فقر و کمبود امکانات زندگی در بامیان دلیلی شده است برای برگزاری این نمایشگاه تا توجه مقامهای ارشد دولتی به مشکلات زندگی مردم این ولایت جلب شود.
او افزود: "به صورت مشخص، فقر شدید در میان مردم بامیان، کند بودن روند باسازی در این ولایت، نارضایتی شهروندان بامیانی از عدم توازن در برنامه های عمرانی حکومت و تقاضای مردم از مقامات دولتی در راستایی رسیدگی به این نارسایی‌ها، در این کاریکاتورها بازتاب یافته است."
او همچنین گفت که در کاریکاتورهای به نمایش گذاشته نقاط ضعف حکومت و نارساییهای موجود در بامیان به شیوه مدنی به نقد و برسی گرفته شده است.

او افزود: "موضوعات باتاب یافته در این کاریکاتورها، بیشتر واقعیت‌های سیاسی و اجتماعی جامعه افغانستان است. به باور ما واقعیت های عینی جامعه افغانستان بنا بر مصلحت‌های سیاسی نادیده گرفته می شود وکتمان این واقعیت‌ها برمی‌گردد به نظام سیاسی افغانستان. از این جهت محور موضوع های مطرح شده در این کاریکاتورها، انتقاد از حکومت و چهره های حکومتی است".
پیش از این نیز مردم در بامیان با روشهای طنزآمیز مقامات دولت افغانستان را به دلیل آنچه که عدم توجه به بازسازی و توسعه اقتصادی این ولایت خوانده می شود، مورد انتقاد قرارداده اند.
در یکی از موارد، شماری از شهروندان این ولایت جاده ای خاکی داخل شهر بامیان را به رسم اعتراض از حکومت کاهگل کردند.



در یک مورد دیگر شماری از مردم این ولایت در اعتراض به عدم توجه مقامهای دولت در زمینه تهیه آب آشامدنی و برق، " الاغ هایی" را که در انتقال آب آشامدنی از رودخانه به خانه ها از آنها استفاده می کردند، "تقدیرنامه" دادند.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Anatomy of a tragic error

How a cascade of false assumptions led to a fatal U.S. military strike on a group of Afghan civilians
POSTED ON APRIL 22, 2011, AT 10:03 AM



Children play outside their homes in central Afghanistan: In February 2010, the U.S. military accidentally killed more than a dozen civilians, including two children. Photo: Corbis SEE ALL 42 PHOTOS
NEARLY THREE MILES above the rugged hills of central Afghanistan, American eyes silently tracked two SUVs and a pickup truck as they snaked down a dirt road in the predawn darkness. The vehicles, packed with people, were three and a half miles from a dozen U.S. special operations soldiers, who had been dropped into the area hours earlier to root out insurgents. The convoy was closing in on them.

At 6:15 a.m., just before the sun crested the mountains, the convoy halted. “We have 18 pax [passengers] dismounted and spreading out at this time,” an Air Force pilot said from a cramped control room at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Sitting 7,000 miles away from Afghanistan, the pilot was flying the Predator drone whose cameras had picked up the vehicles’ movement more than an hour earlier. He was using a joystick to operate the craft while watching its live video transmissions and radioing information to the unit on the ground.

The Afghans unfolded what looked like blankets and kneeled. “They’re praying,” said the Predator’s camera operator, seated in Nevada near the pilot. By now, the Predator crew was sure that the men were Taliban. “This is definitely it, this is their force,” the cameraman said. “They’re gonna do something nefarious,” chimed in a third man in Nevada—the mission’s intelligence coordinator.
At 6:22 a.m., the drone pilot radioed an update: “All…are rallying up near all three vehicles.” The camera operator watched the men climb back into the vehicles. “Oh, sweet target,” he said.

NONE OF THOSE Afghans was, in fact, an insurgent. They were men, women, and children going about their business, unaware that a unit of U.S. soldiers was just a few miles away, and that teams of U.S. military pilots and video analysts had taken them for a group of Taliban fighters. Though the Americans were using some of the most sophisticated tools in the history of war, the high-tech wizardry would fail in its most elemental purpose: to tell the difference between friend and foe.

The Afghan travelers had set out early on the cold morning of Feb. 21, 2010, from three mountain villages in southern Daikundi province, a remote region 200 miles southwest of Kabul. More than two dozen people were wedged into the three vehicles. They included shopkeepers going to Kabul for supplies, students returning to school, people seeking medical treatment, and families off to visit relatives. There were several women and as many as four children younger than 6. They had agreed to meet before dawn for the long drive to Highway 1, the country’s main paved road. To reach it, they had to drive through Oruzgan province, an insurgent stronghold.

“We weren’t worried when we set out,” said Nasim, an auto mechanic who says he was traveling to buy tools and parts. “We were a little scared of the Taliban, but not of government forces,” he said referring to the Afghan national army and its U.S. allies. “Why would they attack us?”

AMERICAN AIRCRAFT BEGAN tracking the vehicles at 5 a.m. The crew of an AC-130, a U.S. ground attack plane, spotted a pickup and an SUV converge from different directions. At 5:08 a.m., they saw two of the drivers flash their headlights in the darkness. With that, the travelers became targets of suspicion.

A few hours earlier, a dozen U.S. special operations soldiers, known as an A-Team, had been dropped off by helicopter near Khod, five miles south of the convoy. The elite unit was moving on foot toward the village to search for insurgents.

Another U.S. special operations unit had been attacked in the district a year earlier, and a soldier had been killed. This time the AC-130, the Predator drone, and two Kiowa attack helicopters were in the area to protect the A-Team.

Under U.S. military rules, the Army captain leading the A-Team, as the operation’s ground force commander, was responsible for deciding whether to order an airstrike. At 5:14 a.m., six minutes after the two Afghan vehicles flashed their lights, the AC-130 crew asked the A-Team what it wanted to do about the suspicious vehicles. “Roger, ground force commander’s intent is to destroy the vehicles and the personnel,” came the unit’s reply.

To actually employ deadly force, the commander would also have to make a “positive identification” that the adversary was carrying weapons and posed an “imminent threat.” The evidence to support such a decision would come from two distant sources: In addition to the Predator crew in Nevada, a team of “screeners”—enlisted personnel trained in video analysis—was on duty at Air Force special operations headquarters in Okaloosa, Fla. They sat in a large room with high-definition televisions showing live feeds from the drone.

“We all had it in our head, ‘Hey, why do you have 20 military-age males at 5 a.m. collecting each other?’” an Army officer involved in the incident said later. “There can be only one reason, and that’s because we’ve put [U.S. troops] in the area.”

AT 5:15 A.M., the Predator pilot thought he saw a rifle inside one of the two vehicles he’d first spotted. “See if you can zoom in on that guy,” he told the camera operator. “Maybe just a warm spot,” the operator replied, referring to an image picked up by the infrared camera. “Can’t really tell right now.”

At 5:30 a.m., not long after the first two vehicles were joined by another SUV, the convoy halted briefly, and the drone’s camera focused on a man emerging from one of the vehicles. He appeared to be carrying something. “I think that dude had a rifle,” the camera operator said. “I do, too,” the pilot replied. But the ground forces unit said the commander needed more information from the drone crew and screeners to establish a “positive identification.” The small convoy continued south, in the general direction of Khod.

At 5:37 a.m., the pilot reported that one of the screeners in Florida had spotted one or more children in the group. “Bull----. Where!?” the camera operator said. “I don’t think they have kids out at this hour.” He demanded that the screeners freeze a video image of the purported child and e-mail it to him. “Why didn’t he say ‘possible’ child?” the pilot said. “Why are they so quick to call kids but not to call a rifle?” The cameraman was dubious too. “I really doubt that children call,” he said.

A few minutes later, the pilot, who was tasked with radioing the screeners’ observations to the ground unit, appeared to downplay the screeners’ report, alerting the A-Team to “a possible rifle and two possible children near the SUV.”

THE PREDATOR VIDEO was not the only intelligence that morning suggesting that U.S. forces were in danger: Teams of U.S. intelligence personnel with sophisticated eavesdropping equipment were vacuuming up cell phone calls in the area. For several hours, they had been listening to chatter in the area that suggested a Taliban unit was assembling for an attack. The drone crew took the intercepted conversations as confirmation that there were insurgents in the convoy.

The screeners continued to look for evidence that the convoy was a hostile force. Even with the advanced cameras on the Predator, the images were fuzzy. The Predator crew and video analysts remained uncertain how many children were in the group and how old they were. “Our screeners are currently calling 21 MAMs [military age males], no females, and two possible children. How copy?” the Predator pilot radioed the A-Team at 7:38 a.m. “Roger,” replied the A-team, which was unable to see the convoy. “And when we say children, are we talking teenagers or toddlers?” The camera operator responded: “Not toddlers. Something more toward adolescents or teens.”

At 7:40 a.m., the A-Team radioed that its captain had concluded that he had established “positive identification” based on “the weapons we’ve identified and the demographics of the individuals,” plus the intercepted communications. Although no weapons had been clearly identified, the pilot replied: “We are with you.” The pilot added that one screener had amended his report and was now saying he’d seen only one teenager. “We’ll pass that along to the ground force commander,” the A-Team radio operator said. “Twelve or 13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous.”

AT 8:43 A.M., Army commanders ordered two Kiowa helicopters to get into position to attack. By then, though, the convoy was no longer heading toward Khod. The three vehicles had changed direction and were now 12 miles from the special operations soldiers. The drone crew didn’t dwell on that news, thinking the convoy probably was trying to flank the A-Team’s position.

The Predator crew began discussing the coming attack. The drone’s one missile was not enough to take out a three-vehicle convoy. The more heavily armed Kiowa helicopters would fire on the vehicles; the Predator would target any survivors who tried to flee.

A little before 9 a.m., the vehicles reached an open, treeless stretch of road. The A-Team commander called in the airstrike.

“Understand we are clear to engage,” one of the helicopter pilots radioed. Hellfire missiles struck the first and third vehicles. They burst into flames.

ON THE GROUND, the damage was horrific. Nasim, the 23-year-old mechanic, was fortunate that he was merely knocked unconscious. Many fellow travelers were dead. “When I came to, I could see that our vehicles were wrecked and the injured were everywhere,” he said. “I saw someone who was headless and someone else cut in half.”

The Predator crew in Nevada was exultant, watching men they assumed were enemy fighters trying to help the injured. “‘Self-Aid Buddy Care’ to the rescue,” one crew member said. “I forget, how do you treat a sucking chest wound?” said another.

Soon, however, the crew in Nevada and the screeners in Florida realized something was wrong. At 9:15 a.m., the Predator crew noticed three survivors in brightly colored clothing waving at the helicopters. They were trying to surrender. “What are those?” asked the camera operator. “Women and children,” the Predator’s mission intelligence coordinator answered. “Younger than an adolescent to me,” the camera operator said.

U.S. and Afghan forces reached the scene two and a half hours after the attack to provide medical assistance. Medevac helicopters began taking the wounded to a hospital in Tarin Kowt, in Oruzgan. By the U.S. count, 15 or 16 men were killed and 12 people were wounded, including a woman and three children. Elders from the Afghans’ home villages said in interviews that 23 had been killed, including two boys, Daoud, 3, and Murtaza, 4.

That evening, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, went to the presidential palace in Kabul to apologize to President Hamid Karzai. Two days later, he went on Afghan television and promised “a thorough investigation to prevent this from happening again.”

In separate investigations, the Army and the Air Force reached similar conclusions. The military has taken steps to address the problems it identified, but no member of the operation faced court-martial.

Several weeks after the attack, American officers traveled to the villages to apologize to survivors and the victims’ families. They gave each survivor 140,000 Afghanis, or about $2,900. Families of the dead received $4,800.

By David S. Cloud. ©2011 by the Los Angeles Times

Don't Negotiate Over The Heads Of The Afghan People




Many Afghans are loath to see the return of the Taliban, especially women. Life has never been easy for Afghan women, but it has never been worse for them than it was under the Taliban.
April 22, 2011
By Muhammad Tahir
Everywhere you turn, it seems, someone is talking about talking with the Taliban.

The Europeans have been in favor of the negotiating with the Taliban for years. Now Washington has jumped on the bandwagon.

And it's not just U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently gave a much-noted speech about the impossibility of winning the war in Afghanistan by military means alone. She's supported in that by David Petraeus, who commands U.S. and international forces in the country, and other U.S. generals. The Obama administration recently approved $50 million in support of Afghan government efforts to "reintegrate" the Taliban into society.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has long pushed the cause of "reconciliation" with the insurgents, must be pleased. But what about other Afghans?

Certainly not Malalai Joya. She is a former member of the Afghan parliament whose membership was suspended in 2007 for criticizing the presence of warlords, warlord-supported politicians, and the Taliban in parliament. She accused them all of past human rights abuses.

This is what she had to say about possible negotiations with the Taliban

"What kind of negotiations they are talking about?" she asked during a recent appearance on the U.S. radio and TV news program "Democracy Now." "The people want all those killers to be brought to criminal courts for the war crimes they have committed."

She also took issue with Washington's conciliatory stance towards the Taliban. "The U.S. government tells its own justice-loving people and the rest of the world [that] we are negotiating with a moderate Talib," Joya said. "We have no moderate Talib. How can they recognize whether one terrorist is moderate and another isn't moderate?"

Not Speaking For All Pashtuns

Joya's opinion is significant not only because she represents the younger generation (she was born in Farah Province in 1978). It is also worth listening to because she is a Pashtun.


Malalai Joya would like to see the militants prosecuted for human rights abuses.
Public opinion in the West tends to think of the Taliban as a group that represents the majority views of Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtuns. And the fact that the majority of the Pashtuns in parliament supports negotiations with the militants would seem to support this. But Joya's position shows that it's not that simple.

All figures on the ethnic makeup of Afghans have to be taken with a grain of salt. Most counts agree that the Pashtun, who probably account for a bit less than half of the population, represent a plurality of Afghans. Still, it is extremely hard to tell how many of them support reconciliation with the Taliban and how many think like Joya.

And even if the majority of the country's Pashtuns support the idea of talking with the insurgents, that still leaves many questions unanswered. The reason is that many other ethnic groups have bad memories of Taliban rule.

Tajik Resistance...

The country's second-largest ethnic group is the Tajiks, who make up somewhere from 25 percent to 40 percent of the population. It was the Tajiks who formed the core of the group that resisted the Taliban regime right up until its end in 2001. The Panjshir Valley, a Tajik heartland that was surrounded by the Taliban for years, never gave up.

The Tajiks are highly unlikely to forget the killing of their legendary leader, Ahmad Shah Masud, at the hands of Al-Qaeda terrorists allied with the Taliban in 2001. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri targeted Masud precisely to make life easier for their Taliban allies, who have never expressed a word of regret for the assassination.

"There is no way the Tajiks would sit down with the Taliban," says Ahmad Zia Masud, the brother of the slain Tajik guerilla leader. "It's a grave mistake that the West is supporting these so-called negotiations."

In one of his recent speeches Masud assailed "international efforts" to bring the "weak and corrupt government" of President Karzai "together with a fundamentalist group."

Nor is Masud speaking from the perspective of a resentful outsider. That he served for years as a vice president of Afghanistan in Karzai's own administration gives his views additional weight.

...And Hazara, Uzbek Fears

The Hazaras, Afghanistan's third-largest group, are extremely frightened by the idea of the Taliban returning to the government. This should come as little surprise considering the extent to which they suffered under Taliban rule.


Afghanistan's Tajiks have not fogotten the assassination of Ahmad Shah Masud.
Hazara leaders say some 15,000 of their people were killed by forces loyal to the Taliban regime. On April 7, 2002, UN investigators reported finding evidence of three mass graves near the central Afghan city of Bamiyan. The remains are believed to belong to ethnic Hazaras killed by the Taliban during their last month in power.

The Taliban targeted them out of a combination of traditional disdain for the group, who are regarded by many Afghans as inferior, and contempt for the Shi'ite beliefs held by many Hazaras.

Even now Hazaras recall those events as if they had happened yesterday.

Speaking to Agence France Presse on March 20, Ibrahim, a villager in Bamiyan Province, described one of these events. "The Taliban lined us up in two rows and started shooting us one by one," he said. In another AFP report, Hazara villager Syed Zia described the Taliban organization as "the worst creature on earth."

The Uzbeks, Afghanistan's fourth-largest group, have similar tales to tell. They have fought several brutal wars with Taliban militants, and in 1998 the Taliban killed thousands of them during an advance on the Uzbek-dominated city of Mazar-e Sharif.

To be sure, the Uzbeks responded with comparable brutality once their forces regained the upper hand. In 2001 there were stories of Taliban prisoners massacred by Uzbek commander General Rashid Dostum's men. The prisoners were locked in shipping containers and left to die in the hot desert sun. Controversy over the incident still rages.

More Than Reconciliation Needed

But it is precisely the complexity of this bloody history that makes it unlikely that genuine peace can be achieved without genuine reconciliation. And genuine reconciliation cannot be achieved by fiat. Nor can it be achieved by pretending that all is well, or that everything will be great if everyone simply agrees to move ahead and forget about the past. You can only avoid mistakes in the future by honestly confronting what has happened.

That applies in particular to the women of Afghanistan. It's no secret that, under the Taliban government, women were completely isolated from public life and deprived of basic rights, such as access to education. Contrary to widespread popular belief in the West, this was not the traditional way of doing things in Afghanistan.

Life has never been easy for Afghan women, but it has never been worse for them than it was under the Taliban. The Taliban regime transformed the parts of the country under its control into an open jail for women, a place where female Afghans were periodically brutalized in the name of justice.

So when President Karzai says that his nation supports negotiations with the Taliban, one is entitled to ask: Which nation does he have in mind?

Even if one can claims that the president received a clear mandate from the public during the last election -- a claim undermined by the number of independent assessments that disputed its fairness -- that is still no excuse for depriving the country's ethnic groups of a direct voice in the peace process. The question of power-sharing with the Taliban is far too important to be left to Karzai alone.

A genuine and sustainable peace process must include a formal mechanism to ensure that everyone's concerns are properly addressed. The best forum would be a conference sponsored by the international community -- perhaps one reminiscent of the Bonn Conference in 2001 that brought the interim government to power after the fall of the Taliban.

At the same time, it should be clearly stated that no real reconciliation can take place without a truth-finding process to clarify the nature of crimes against humanity committed both by the Taliban and its opponents during the long years of internal Afghan conflict.

This does not necessarily have to lead to criminal prosecutions. That would undoubtedly complicate the efforts to find a lasting peace in Afghanistan. The experience of post-apartheid South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission offers a fitting example of the sort of process Afghanistan needs. The Karzai government is fond of referring to "reconciliation" but less eager to talk about the "truth" component of the equation. But lasting peace cannot happen without both.

It is understandable that Karzai wants to prove his leadership. It is equally understandable that the international community wants to leave Afghanistan in secure hands when foreign troops are withdrawn.

But the risks are great. By leaving the process up to the Karzai government at the exclusion of the broader concerns of the Afghan people, leaders in the West run the peril of squandering everything that has been achieved at the cost of vast amounts of blood and treasure. Comparable mistakes have been made in Afghanistan in the past, to the detriment of both Afghans and the world. Let's not make them again.

Muhammad Tahir is a Washington correspondent for RFE/RL and former correspondent of the IHA Turkish News Agency in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

Source,

http://www.rferl.org/content/commentary_dont_negotiate_over_heads_of_afghan_people/9502595.html

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rioters Set Fire to Australian Detention Center

By AP / KRISTEN GELINEAU Thursday, Apr. 21, 2011

(SYDNEY, Australia) — Rioters at an Australian immigration detention center set fire to several buildings, climbed onto rooftops and hurled tiles at officials who were scrambling on Thursday to bring the chaotic protest to an end.
Up to 100 people being held at Sydney's Villawood Detention Center were involved in the riots, which began Wednesday night when two detainees climbed onto a roof, immigration officials said.

Protesters set an oxygen cylinder alight, which led to an explosion, and nine buildings — including a medical center and dining hall — were gutted by fire. Firefighters brought the blaze under control early Thursday and no one was injured.
Around 400 people are held at Villawood. Many of them are asylum seekers, but the facility also houses people who have overstayed their visas.
On Thursday, seven detainees remained on the roof of one of the complex's buildings, next to a large sign that read: "We need help."
Immigration department spokesman Sandi Logan said he could not confirm reports the men were protesting because their visa applications had been rejected.
"But any suggestion that they're not being informed of the progress of their claim is nonsense. ... I don't know the motivation," Logan said. "But it's clearly not going to help, in terms of endearing their settlement in Australia."
Logan said officials would not negotiate with the protesters until they came down off the roof. Criminal charges could be filed against the rioters, some of whom threw roof tiles and pieces of furniture at officials trying to get the blaze under control, Logan said.

"This is obviously unacceptable behavior that will have to be investigated," Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan said.
Mohamed Alameddine, who lives across the street from the facility, said he heard a massive bang as the oxygen cylinder exploded, and the screaming and shouting of protesters and the riot squad.
"It was just like black fumes going up the sky. Buildings — one after one — they just went down," Alameddine, 17, told The Associated Press. "You could see the riot squad in there — everyone was just going crazy."
Australia has seen a surge of asylum seekers fleeing Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan, and protests at detention centers have become relatively common. The influx has led to a heated political debate as opposition politicians blame the flow on a relaxation of immigration policies by the ruling Labor Party.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2066629,00.html#ixzz1KAMT8Woe

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

If Cairo Came to Kabul

David SwansonApril 18, 2011

Before Tahrir Square happened almost nobody predicted that President Hosni Mubarak would be forced out of office by a movement that didn't pick up a gun. Had President Barack Obama expected that outcome, he might have publicly backed Mubarak's departure before, rather than after, Mubarak stepped down.

Obama can be seen as overcompensating for that performance in Libya, but there he is placing faith in weapons. Anybody can do that. Egypt still has a long way to go on its path to a just society. But the question of whether Tunisian-Egyptian movements will find success elsewhere is the question of whether people can take the far more challenging step of placing trust in nonviolence.

Those who believed a nonviolent movement, one that would involve youth and women, could gain power in Egypt, worked for years to make it happen. Those saying it couldn't be done were not permitted to get in the way of those doing it. Nonviolent strategists like American Gene Sharp advised the organizers of a force that developed completely beneath the U.S. media's radar. What burst forth earlier this year appeared to be spontaneous. It was not.

It will come as a surprise to most Americans, and indeed to most Afghans, that a dedicated group of Afghan youth has begun building a principled and disciplined nonviolent movement for peace, independence, and unity in Afghanistan. By independence, the Afghan youth mean independence from the United States and NATO, but also from Pakistan and Iran and all other outside control, as well as independence from rule by the Taliban, warlords, and oligarchs of all stripes. By unity, they mean national Afghan unity inclusive of all ethnicities.

Bringing Cairo to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, will not be achieved by occupying a central square this week and gradually increasing the crowd size for months and years as Afghans come to appreciate the value of the movement. Taking over the streets of the capital, if that tactic is employed, will not happen until a great deal of groundwork has been laid. That groundwork will likely involve several steps that have been identified by those working on this project.

ETHNIC UNITY

First, ethnic divisions will have to be healed. Afghanistan is 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek, and smaller percentages of several other ethnic groups. As long as these groups are rivals, it will be more difficult for the people as a whole to challenge corrupt oligarchs. A newspaper editor in Kabul told me he believed that even legitimate, credible elections -- something Afghanistan has not had -- would not produce a just and stable representative government, because any president would be from one ethnic group and not the others.

Afghans should be so lucky as to have that problem! The reality is that until the ethnic groups unite, and other progress is achieved, Afghans are unlikely to be able to compel their government to hold open and verifiable elections.

Ramazan Bashardost, a member of the Afghan Parliament, finished third in the official count of the 2009 presidential election. He is Hazara, and the first and second-place finishers were Pashtun and Tajik respectively. But Bashardost told me that he received more support from outside his ethnic group than from within it. Bashardost is a proponent of Gandhian nonviolence, ethnic unity, and national independence. He employs no security guards, cruises around town in a beat-up old car, and holds court in a tent in an empty lot in a particularly poor neighborhood.

Bashardost favors political reforms that would empower the legislature and disempower the president as well as political parties, thus allowing greater representation of minority groups. Bashardost is a powerful voice on the inside of the Afghan government for peace and nonviolence. Here is video of an interview I conducted with him. But Bashardost is not an activist or an organizer. He is a unifying figure, but he is a politician.

Teck Young Wee is another story. He is a medical doctor and a native of Singapore who began working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan 9 years ago and moved to Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan seven years ago. He was taken in by an Afghan family and given the name Hakim. Bamiyan is relatively free of U.S. forces and therefore something of a success story in terms of suffering low levels of violence.

Hakim has been mentoring youth in Bamiyan and elsewhere. The Bamiyan youth, primarily Hazara and Tajik, primarily boys and young men, but including girls and young women and other ethnic groups as well, have established the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV). Peace is a radical idea, and apparently frightening to some. Hakim received threats from unidentified sources, and the people of Bamiyan created a warning system to protect him that involved plans to put their own bodies in the path of any violence. The threat has faded.

AYPV have taken steps toward ethnic unity, controversially arranging for college students from every ethnic group to room together. A similar approach of using housing rental policies to integrate the country on a larger scale is something I've heard advocated by professors in Kabul.

Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers from Bamiyan in the north have made particular efforts to reach out to Pashtun youth in the south. Peace volunteers hand made cell phone cases from second-hand leather and hand sewed the word 'Peace' in the Dari language on them. They sent these to Pashtun youth in Kandahar along with a video message. Then they phoned Pashtun youth leaders to say they had done this out of love and a desire for reconciliation. A Pashtun leader, in Hakim's words (here's video), "said this is impossible - he couldn´t believe it." He said "this is a love you have shown us and we will never forget it." That's a powerful statement in a country where the things you most commonly hear people say they will never forget are acts of violence.

Hakim stresses that part of eliminating ethnic divisions will have to be recognizing and addressing the forces that strengthen them, namely the violence of warlords backed by the United States and NATO. Here, as elsewhere, is a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Unity is needed to drive out the occupiers, but the occupiers are a barrier to unity. Yet, this is always the way, and such traps have been opened before.

WOMEN BEHIND THE WHEEL

A second part of the groundwork that is probably needed is the empowerment of women. A nonviolent peace movement stands a far greater chance of success, experts say, when it includes women and embraces a movement for women's liberation.

An Afghan film director Sahraa Karimi has produced an engaging and illuminating documentary called "Afghan Women Behind the Wheel". When she told me the title with a bit of an accent, I thought the last word was "Veil." It could almost as well have been. The film is about the limited rights and options of women in a country that is not just poor and war-ravaged, but in which many men passionately believe women to be inferior.

The movie has great footage for anyone wondering what life in Kabul looks like, and it tells the stories of a number of women who learn to drive. In a scene that drew laughs from all the Afghans watching it with me, a driving instructor tells them "Another important thing is traffic lights, even though we don't have any." He goes on to explain what red, yellow, and green mean. I'm told there are a few traffic lights, but I haven't seen them.

Something else you won't see much of is women drivers. The women in the movie are violating a taboo. When they begin driving, vicious rumors are spread about them, including that they are working!

It's actually very hard for anyone to find a job in Afghanistan, and driving lessons cost a good percentage of the average annual income. Some of the women in the movie are in fact working, one in a health clinic, one in a school, and one decides to become a taxi driver. She describes an unloved childhood and a forced marriage to a man 18 years her senior, a man who abused her. She enjoys the sport of Kabul driving, not a skill easily learned by anyone. Her story resembles the others' -- fathers prefer sons, sons inherit property, marriages are forced.

The taxi driver sees driving as the one thing she is able to do, and she is terrified of not being able to afford the gasoline to continue doing it. She dreams that cars might run on water. The same woman builds a house herself and loves it, but is afraid that her stepfather next door might hurt her or her children, and so lives in an apartment. Better times and changes come into her life, which is quite touching and revealing.



I certainly hope to see many more women driving in Afghanistan. If women are going to lead a movement, as they must, to reject both the U.S. occupation and the Taliban, they cannot remain in the position of children always asking for a ride.

THE YOUTH WILL LEAD

A third part of a successful movement will be the educating and organizing of youth. In Afghanistan, 68% of the country is under age 25, and the life expectancy at birth is 44. A nation this young will rise or fall with the actions of youth.

This is almost certainly an advantage, in that youth have fewer years of trauma, bitterness, and ideologies of vengeance to overcome. While some of the leading members of AYPV lost family members to the Taliban, it is the youth more than their elders who carry less weighty memories and resentments. Watch this video of Afghan kids at an orphanage and you will feel more confident about Afghanistan's future whether you want to or not. Watch this one of Afghan shepherd boys with slingshots and the possibility of David nonviolently halting Goliath's assaults may appear within reach.

While Hakim is their mentor, the young men of AYPV are the leaders of this budding movement. They are thoughtful, experienced beyond their years, relentlessly energetic and upbeat. Abdullah, age 15, whose father was killed by the Taliban, recently explained his desire for peace and nonviolence from all sides to a defender of the US/NATO occupation. The icy response was that the Taliban ought to have killed him as well. Abdullah was told that he was too young to know real suffering. But the younger man was the wiser in this conversation, responding without anger or hatred and opposing the maintenance of a vicious cycle of violence.

One morning earlier this month, four members of Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers spoke to a college class in Kabul. The professor with the loudest voice argued that the United States and NATO wanted the good of all people. Faiz, age 20, was among those who spoke up in response. Speaking to elders is not part of the tradition these young men have grown up in, but they believe it has become necessary. Some eyes were opened. About half the class, by the end of the session, seemed to believe that peace might be possible.

IMAGINING PEACE

A fourth important step is precisely that of persuading Afghans who have no experience with peace that peace is indeed possible, and that the nonviolent tools of peace are powerful enough to bring it about and to resist violent seekers of power, whether Afghan or foreign.

The U.S. military encourages Afghans to believe that only foreign violence can prevent domestic terror. Here's a video showing U.S. advertisements for war in Afghanistan. A poster shows an Afghan baby with the words "suicide bomber or doctor?" The Peace Volunteers reject the notion that one violent force is needed to hold off another.

Afghanistan's history has much to draw on in countering the idea that violence is inevitable. In particular, there is the history of a nonviolent Pashtun army under the leadership of Badshah Kahn resisting the British occupation of what was then the Northwest Frontier of India and is now Pakistan. A new film telling this story should be viewed by all Americans, but more importantly by all Afghans.

Imagining peace in Afghanistan is made difficult by decades of war, by traditions of honor and vengeance, by the current ubiquity of violence, but also by factors that dominate the lives of Afghans while often slipping from the minds of the rest of us. Afghans are hungry, miserable, suffering, and scared. Many have little or no electricity, healthcare, or potable water. In Afghanistan 850 children die every day.

There is no difficulty in motivating Afghans to protest in anger. But organizing a disciplined campaign of nonviolence moved by justice, while free of anger, may prove -- as it usually is -- more of a challenge.

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY

A fifth factor is the building of alliances abroad, something the AYPV have been busy with, hosting dozens of foreign peace activists in Afghanistan, scheduling global conference calls on Skype, and sending messages far and wide. Here's a video of U.S. peace activist Kathy Kelly speaking in the United States last week about her visits to Afghanistan.

The U.S. embassy has refused visas to members of AYPV who have been invited to visit and speak in the United States. What possible harm can the U.S. State Department believe would come from Americans meeting a few Afghans face-to-face and hearing about their plans for nonviolent activism and peace? Former Afghan member of Parliament Malalai Joya recently had a visa to the United States accepted following intense public pressure; so such reversals are possible.

THE REVOLUTION HAS BEGUN

Whether a nonviolent movement will succeed in Afghanistan we have no way of knowing. Whether the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and others inspired by them will play a major role, I certainly can't say. Briefly visiting Afghanistan has imprinted the views of a small unrepresentative sample of Afghans on my mind in a way that no reading about the nation can do; and even those who live there are unable to predict the future. If a nonviolent movement achieves power, the basic sequence of events is hard to foresee. The U.S. military could be forced out before a representative government is established, or vice versa. Or everything could come at once. The point I want to make is that such a thing is completely possible and that it may have already begun.

The small group of thoughtful, committed citizens that Margaret Mead said can change the world has already begun working toward peace and justice in Afghanistan. They've begun small. Here's a video of the Peace Volunteers installing an illuminated sign with the word for 'Peace' on the side of a mountain. Here they are planting trees for peace last month. Here's a candlelight vigil. And here is a slideshow from what I hope will be the first of many marches for peace in Kabul -- this one held on March 17th of this year.

The march was covered by all of the local television stations in Kabul as a startlingly new phenomenon. Peace? Who even dreams of such a thing, much less proposes a strategy to build it? Police surrounding the marchers with batons and riot gear were a less unusual sight.

Of course, there have always been marches and protests in Afghanistan. As in the United States, such events receive far less media attention than do acts of violence. But most such demonstrations do not propose nonviolence, peace, and love. They oppose particular campaigns of violence and are generally considered at risk of spawning violence of their own. When I was in Kabul earlier this month, students at Kabul University held a march against the U.S. occupation. I would have loved to attend and speak against the crimes of my own government, but as an American I was strongly urged to go nowhere near an event at which being an American could get me killed.

The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have sought to send their message of nonviolent opposition to war to the heart of the empire. Here's a video of U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry in Bamiyan telling the AYPV that he will deliver their message to President Obama. Here's a video of Congressman Keith Ellison promising the same.

The messages send out by the AYPV are eloquent and important. The immediate actions they advocate include establishing an international mediation team, a cease fire, a peacekeeping force, crisis teams, a unity campaign, restorative justice, and clean elections.

In another direct appeal the Afghan youth implore:

"Humanity has taken too long and lost too many in implementing non-violent, civil ways to resolve human conflict. We human beings can do better than repeatedly resorting to force and war to address human hurts and needs. Stop the killings, stop killing one another, stop killing the people. Stop killing us."

David Swanson is the author, most recently, of "War Is A Lie" http://warisalie.org .

Monday, April 18, 2011

New gear to tackle Taliban summer push

By Adam Bennett
5:30 AM Monday Apr 18, 2011




The deployment of eight light armoured vehicles and other new weapons systems to New Zealand troops in Afghanistan will help them deal with an anticipated upsurge in insurgent activity, says Joint Forces Commander Air Vice Marshal Peter Stockwell.

It was revealed on Friday that five light armoured vehicles (LAV) were recently airfreighted to New Zealand's provincial reconstruction team in Bamiyan Province and three other vehicles had been redeployed from New Zealand's SAS contingent in the country to the PRT at the same time.

The new vehicles and associated personnel are in addition to the extra infantry sent to Bamiyan after Lieutenant Timothy O'Donnell of Feilding was killed in an ambush there last August.

Air Vice Marshal Stockwell said the deployment of the LAVs was part of the defence force's response to "the level of commitment, organisation and planning by the insurgents" in the attack that killed Lieutenant O'Donnell which had not previously been encountered by the PRT.

"We need to be making sure we have the right sort of equipment there."

The need for better equipment coincided with upgrades to the LAVs such as extra armour and roof-hung seats to protect against roadside bombs and mines, which made the vehicles more suitable for the conditions.


Air Vice Marshal Stockwell said an increase in insurgent activity was also expected in coming weeks.

"Typically what happens during their winter season, and because of the high terrain where many of the mountain passes are impassable because of snow, there is a drop off in insurgent activity.

"In fact many of them head back to Pakistan and elsewhere so we don't often have a lot of insurgent activity during that winter period.

"We're expecting that as the summer season begins we will see the insurgency rise up again and that's why we want to [be] better prepared to deal with that."

The Army had also deployed a number of other weapons systems "about which I'm not prepared to go into detail".

"We're making sure we're giving our troops what we believe to be the best kit we can give them to do the job they've go to do."

The Government has set a cap of 140 on provincial reconstruction team numbers and up until the death of Lieutenant O'Donnell the actual number had fallen to about 118 including 10 people based at Bagram airforce base further south. However, following the attack extra infantry were sent to Bamiyan taking the number to about 133 and with the deployment of the LAVs the number was "right up close" to the 140 cap, Air Vice Marshal Stockwell told the Herald.

There was no indication that more than 140 personnel would be required in Bamiyan but Air Vice Marshal Stockwell said that would have been a topic of discussion for Foreign Minister Murray McCully in this week's Berlin talks with his counterparts from other ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) countries.

Source,
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10720058

Afghan opposition to forced asylum seeker returns

Updated April 18, 2011 14:23:29

A senior Afghan MP has rejected the Australian Government's plans to forcibly return failed Afghan asylum seekers.

Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq has called on the Afghan government to scrap an agreement with Australia to allow deportations. A former Afghan government official involved in the agreement says there's no possibility of involuntary returns within the next two years.

Reporter: Sally Sara, Afghanistan correspondent


SALLY SARA: High profile member of the Afghan Parliament, Al Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq, has returned from an official visit to Australia with a strong message.

He wants the Afghan government to scrap a deal allowing the involuntary return of failed Afghan asylum seekers.

(Al Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq speaking)

He says if the Australians try to send back these people, of course the government should change their decision.

Mr Mohaqiq is a powerful former militia leader, who represents members of Afghanistan's ethnic Hazara community.

Hazaras make up the majority of Afghan asylum seekers in Australian immigration detention.

Mr Mohaqiq raised some of his concerns during his visit to Australia and met Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Parliamentary Secretary Senator Kate Lundy.

(Al Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq speaking)

He says he doesn't agree with forcing people to return and the friends he met in Australia, the Minister and the Senator, didn't mention returning people by force.

Afghanistan, Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees signed an agreement in January allowing the forced return of failed asylum seekers as a last resort.

The Federal Government says the deal is very clear. The UNHCR agrees.

The Government is preparing to start returning some of the estimated 50 rejected asylum seekers by the end of the year.

But former Afghan deputy minister for refugees and repatriation, Abdul Rahim, says that's not going to happen.

ABDUL RAHIM: It will not be possible in one or two years that any Afghans return.

SALLY SARA: It won't happen?

ABDUL RAHIM: It won't happen, it should not happen. If the agreement is implemented properly it should not happen.

SALLY SARA: The former deputy minister was involved in the Afghan government's side of the agreement. He says sending Afghan asylum seekers back against their will would violate the agreement because there is not enough security and development in Afghanistan.

ABDUL RAHIM: We should not dump Afghans back to the situation that forced them to leave their country.

SALLY SARA: The deal continues to stir a strong political reaction in Afghanistan, especially from ethnic Hazara leaders.

It's unclear what will happen when the Federal Government attempts to send back the first failed asylum seekers later this year.

As the debate goes on, so too does the wait for the family of 20-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, Meqdad Hussein.

His body still hasn't been returned to his relatives, a month after he was found dead at Scherger Immigration Detention Centre in Queensland.

His cousin Ali Hassan says the family is hoping to have a face to face meeting with Australian police in the next two days, if God is willing.

(Ali Hassan speaking)

DNA tests will be carried out before Meqdad Hussein's body is finally sent home to his family.

Source,

http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/connectasia/stories/201104/s3194618.htm

Afghan opposition to forced asylum seekers return : listen

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Taliban block Ghazni road

By Farzad Lameh
2011-04-12


GHAZNI – Taliban militants have blocked the road between Jaghori and Qarabagh districts in eastern Ghazni Province since April 9, hindering travel in the area.


The Taliban has warned drivers to stay off the road during the blockade, Safar Ali Saqeb, a member of the Ghazni provincial council, told Central Asia Online.

Travellers now have to drive 6-7 hours, rather than the usual 2 hours, to go between the towns, a Jaghori resident said.


“We demand the government consider the blockade a very serious problem and act to reopen it as soon as possible,” said Ghazni provincial councilwoman Hamida Gulistani.


“We understand the blockade causes many problems for people, such as how to supply food for themselves and how to have access to healthcare centres,” said Provincial Deputy Governor Ali Ahmadi.


“The insurgents don’t want the road to be asphalted,” Ahmadi said. “We are working together with Afghan and coalition forces to get rid of this problem.”

Source,

http://centralasiaonline.com/cocoon/caii/xhtml/en_GB/newsbriefs/caii/newsbriefs/2011/04/12/newsbrief-10

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

USHA Urges Afghan Government to Rebuild the Bamiyan Buddhas and Hindu Religious Structures Destroyed by the Taliban

By Mohammad S.Solanki (Executive Editor)
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: USHA HEADQUARTERS
Date: Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 8:37 PM
Subject: USHA Urges Afghan Government to Rebuild the Bamiyan Buddhas and Other Religious Structures Destroyed by the Taliban
To: Pakistan Hindu Post



Please Sign the Petition:

http://www.change.org/petitions/demand-to-rebuild-bamiyan-buddhas-and-other-hindu-heritage-sites-in-afghanistan?share_source=share-petition_em&ue=sei

USHA Urges Afghan Government to Rebuild the Bamiyan Buddhas and Other Religious Structures Destroyed by the Taliban





April 7, 2011 – Atlanta - The US Hindu Alliance sent the following letter to the President of Afghanistan urging the Afghan government to commence immediate reconstruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddhas as well as all Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras destroyed during the reign of the Taliban. USHA has also launched an online petition campaign to mobilize public opinion supporting the Bamiyan Buddha Campaign.

Text of the Letter

Honorable Hamid Karzai, President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Dear Mr. President,

In the nineties, after the emergence of the Taliban as a ruthless and barbaric force in Afghanistan, hundreds of historically significant religious sites were destroyed within a span of 6 years. Of these the Bamiyan Buddha Statues, have received the greatest worldwide attention.

Built in the second century, under the guidance of Emperor Kanishka, the statues were the result of more than 200 years of painstaking craftsmanship and stood as a testament to the spiritual importance of Afghanistan to the Hindu community. A masterpiece representing the 3000 year old Hindu civilizational identity of Afghanistan, these UNESCO heritage sites at Bamiyan, were destroyed by the Taliban, using anti aircraft guns, artillery, anti tank mines, dynamites and rockets.

Since then, numerous governmental agencies and eminent personalities have demanded the reconstruction of these symbols of world heritage. Several governments and philanthropists have also offered financial assistance for the reconstruction of these rare statues. However, the Afghan government has not shown its determination to reconstruct these monuments which were adored, admired and worshipped for centuries by millions of people around the world. In addition, hundreds of other sites of religious importance to Hindus and Sikhs were also destroyed.

A lesser known fact about Afghanistan is that a majority of the population of this land were Hindus for many Millenniums. Even until 1002 CE, Afghanistan was ruled by Hindu kings, including the last Hindu dynasty of the Shahi lineage. Recently, ever since the take-over of the Afghanistan by the Taliban, more than 144 Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras were also destroyed, some of them more than 1,400 years old.

After the defeat of the Taliban, the people of Afghanistan and the rest of the world expected the immediate reconstruction of not only these monuments, but also the other Hindu and Sikh places of worship. Yet no steps of restoration and reconstruction have taken place. The Afghan government is yet to fulfill their moral obligation to Hindus and the world at large.

Until the Afghan government restores its own lost treasures, Afghanistan will not earn the respect of the civilized world. Hence, on the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha Statues, we, who have opposed the barbarism of the Taliban in the past, hereby demand the immediate reconstruction of the Bamiyan statues as well as all the destroyed Hindu Temples and Sikh Gurudwaras.

Sincerely,

Gokul Kunnath

President

US Hindu Alliance

www.ushaonline.org

Note: The United States Hindu Alliance (USHA) is a national non profit, non partisan advocacy organization of Hindus to protect and promote the interests of Hindus worldwide. For details, please visit www.ushaonline.org.

Combat by camera

David Cloud has the weekend's must-read investigating a Predator drone strike in Daikundi province on February 21, 2010, that killed between 15 and 23 Afghan civilians, including women and children (LAT). Then-top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal reprimanded four senior and two junior officers in Afghanistan, and the Air Force disciplined the Predator crew in the U.S.; families of those killed received $4,800 in compensation.

Source,

http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/04/11/daily_brief_pakistans_top_spy_visits_dc

Monday, April 11, 2011

Predator drones: High-tech tools and human errors

By DAVID S. CLOUD
Tribune Washington Bureau
Published: Sunday, Apr. 10, 2011 - 1:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 10, 2011 - 1:42 pm
Nearly three miles above the rugged hills of central Afghanistan, American eyes silently tracked two SUVs and a pickup truck as they snaked down a dirt road in the predawn darkness.

The vehicles, packed with people, were 3 1/2 miles from a dozen U.S. special operations soldiers, who had been dropped into the area hours earlier to root out insurgents. The convoy was closing in on them.

At 6:15 a.m., just before the sun crested the mountains, the convoy halted.

"We have 18 pax (passengers) dismounted and spreading out at this time," an Air Force pilot said from a cramped control room at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, 7,000 miles away. He was flying a Predator drone remotely using a joystick, watching its live video transmissions from the Afghan sky and radioing his crew and the unit on the ground.

The Afghans unfolded what looked like blankets and kneeled. "They're praying. They are praying," said the Predator's camera operator, seated near the pilot.

By now, the Predator crew was sure that the men were Taliban. "This is definitely it, this is their force," the cameraman said. "Praying? I mean, seriously, that's what they do."

"They're gonna do something nefarious," the crew's intelligence coordinator chimed in.

At 6:22 a.m., the drone pilot radioed an update: "All ... are finishing up praying and rallying up near all three vehicles at this time."

The camera operator watched the men climb back into the vehicles.

"Oh, sweet target," he said.

None of those Afghans was an insurgent. They were men, women and children going about their business, unaware that a unit of U.S. soldiers was just a few miles away, and that teams of U.S. military pilots, camera operators and video screeners had taken them for a group of Taliban fighters.

The Americans were using some of the most sophisticated tools in the history of war, technological marvels of surveillance and intelligence gathering that allowed them to see into once-inaccessible corners of the battlefield. But the high-tech wizardry would fail in its most elemental purpose: to tell the difference between friend and foe.

This is the story of that episode. It is based on hundreds of pages of previously unreleased military documents, including transcripts of cockpit and radio conversations obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the results of two Pentagon investigations and interviews with the officers involved as well as Afghans who were on the ground that day.

The Afghan travelers had set out early on the cold morning of Feb. 21, 2010, from three mountain villages in southern Daikundi province, a remote central region 200 miles southwest of Kabul.

More than two dozen people were wedged into the three vehicles. Many were Hazaras, an ethnic minority that for years has been treated harshly by the Taliban. They included shopkeepers going for supplies, students returning to school, people seeking medical treatment and families with children off to visit relatives. There were several women and as many as four children younger than 6.

They had agreed to meet before dawn for the long drive to Highway 1, the country's main paved road. From there, some planned to go north to Kabul while others were headed south. To reach the highway, they had to drive through Oruzgan province, an insurgent stronghold.

"We traveled together, so that if one vehicle broke down the others would help," said Sayed Qudratullah, 30, who was bound for Kabul in hope of obtaining a license to open a pharmacy.

Another passenger, Nasim, an auto mechanic who like many Afghans uses one name, said that he was going to buy tools and parts.

"We weren't worried when we set out. We were a little scared of the Taliban, but not of government forces," he said referring to the Afghan national army and its U.S. allies. "Why would they attack us?"

American aircraft began tracking the vehicles at 5 a.m.

The crew of an AC-130, a U.S. ground attack plane flying in the area, spotted a pickup and a sport-utility vehicle with a roof rack converge from different directions.

At 5:08 a.m., they saw one of the drivers flash his headlights in the darkness.

The AC-130 radioed the Predator crew in Nevada: "It appears the two vehicles are flashing lights, signaling."

With that, the travelers became targets of suspicion.

At Creech Air Force Base, 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas, it was 4:30 p.m., nearly dinner time.

A few hours earlier, a dozen U.S. special operations soldiers, known as an A-Team, had been dropped off by helicopter near Khod, five miles south of the convoy. The elite unit was moving on foot toward the village, with orders to search for insurgents and weapons.

Another U.S. special operations unit had been attacked in the district a year earlier, and a soldier had been killed. This time the AC-130, the Predator drone and two Kiowa attack helicopters were in the area to protect the A-Team.

The Predator's two-man team - a pilot and a camera operator - was one of the Air Force's most-experienced. The pilot, who had flown C-130 cargo planes, switched to drones after 2001 and had spent more than 1,000 hours training other Predator pilots. (The Air Force declined to name the crew or make them available for interviews.)

Also stationed at Creech were the Predator's mission intelligence coordinator and a safety observer.

In addition, a team of "screeners" - enlisted personnel trained in video analysis - was on duty at Air Force special operations headquarters in Okaloosa, Fla. They sat in a large room with high-definition televisions showing live feeds from drones flying over Afghanistan. The screeners were sending instant messages to the drone crew, observations that were then relayed by radio to the A-Team.

On the ground, the A-Team was led by an Army captain, a veteran of multiple tours in Afghanistan. Under U.S. military rules, the captain, as the ground force commander, was responsible for deciding whether to order an airstrike.

At 5:14 a.m., six minutes after the two Afghan vehicles flashed their lights, the AC-130 crew asked the A-team what it wanted to do about the suspicious vehicles.

"Roger, ground force commander's intent is to destroy the vehicles and the personnel," came the unit's reply.

To use deadly force, the commander would first have to make a "positive identification" that the adversary was carrying weapons and posed an "imminent threat."

For the next 4 1/2 hours, the Predator crew and the screeners scrutinized the convoy's every move, looking for evidence to support such a decision.

"We all had it in our head, 'Hey, why do you have 20 military age males at 5 a.m. collecting each other?'" an Army officer involved in the incident would say later. "There can be only one reason, and that's because we've put (U.S. troops) in the area."

The Afghans greeted each other and climbed back into the two vehicles, heading south, in the general direction of Khod.

At 5:15 a.m., the Predator pilot thought he saw a rifle inside one of the vehicles.

"See if you can zoom in on that guy," he told the camera operator. "Is that a ... rifle?"

"Maybe just a warm spot from where he was sitting," the camera operator replied, referring to an image picked up by the infrared camera. "Can't really tell right now, but it does look like an object."

"I was hoping we could make a rifle out," the pilot said. "Never mind."

Soon, a third vehicle, waiting in a walled compound, joined the convoy.

At 5:30 a.m., when the convoy halted briefly, the drone's camera focused on a man emerging from one of the vehicles. He appeared to be carrying something.

"What do these dudes got?" the camera operator said. "Yeah, I think that dude had a rifle."

"I do, too," the pilot replied.

But the ground forces unit said the commander needed more information from the drone crew and screeners to establish a "positive identification."

"Sounds like they need more than a possible," the camera operator told the pilot. Seeing the Afghan men jammed into the flat bed of the pickup, he added, "That truck would make a beautiful target."

At 5:37 a.m., the pilot reported that one of the screeners in Florida had spotted one or more children in the group.

"Bull ... -where!?" the camera operator said. "I don't think they have kids out at this hour." He demanded that the screeners freeze the video image of the purported child and email it to him.

"Why didn't he say 'possible' child?" the pilot said. "Why are they so quick to call kids but not to call a rifle."

The camera operator was dubious too. "I really doubt that children call. Man, I really ... hate that," he said. "Well, maybe a teenager. But I haven't seen anything that looked that short."

A few minutes later, the pilot appeared to downplay the screeners' observation, alerting the special operations unit to "a possible rifle and two possible children near the SUV."

The special operations unit wanted the drone crew and screeners to keep tracking the vehicles. "Bring them in as close as we can until we also have (attack aircraft) up," the unit's radio operator said. "We want to take out the whole lot of them."

The Predator video was not the only intelligence that morning suggesting that U.S. forces were in danger.

Teams of U.S. military linguists and intelligence personnel with sophisticated eavesdropping equipment were vacuuming up cellphone calls in the area and translating the conversations in real time. For several hours, they had been listening to cellphone chatter in the area that suggested a Taliban unit was assembling for an attack.

"We're receiving ICOM traffic," or intercepted communications, the A-Team radioed the Predator crew. "We believe we may have a high-level Taliban commander."

Neither the identities of those talking nor their precise location was known. But the A-Team and the drone crew took the intercepted conversations as confirmation that there were insurgents in the convoy.

At 6:54 a.m., the camera operator noted that the drone crew and screeners had counted at least 24 men in the three vehicles, maybe more. "So, yeah, I guess that ICOM chatter is great info," he said.

The screeners continued to look for evidence that the convoy was a hostile force. Even with the advanced cameras on the Predator, the images were fuzzy and small objects were difficult to identify. Sometimes the video feed was interrupted briefly.

The Predator crew and video analysts in Nevada remained uncertain how many children were in the group and how old they were.

"Our screeners are currently calling 21 MAMs (military age males), no females, and two possible children. How copy?" the Predator pilot radioed the A-Team at 7:38 a.m.

"Roger," replied the A-Team, which was unable to see the convoy. "And when we say children, are we talking teenagers or toddlers?"

The camera operator responded: "Not toddlers. Something more towards adolescents or teens."

"Yeah, adolescents," the pilot added. "We're thinking early teens."

At 7:40 a.m., the A-Team radioed that its captain had concluded that he had established "positive identification" based on "the weapons we've identified and the demographics of the individuals plus the ICOM."

Although no weapons had been clearly identified, the pilot replied: "We are with you."

The pilot added that one screener had amended his report and was now saying he'd seen only one teenager. "Our screener updated only one adolescent, so that's one double-digit age range."

"We'll pass that along to the ground force commander," the A-Team radio operator said. "Twelve or 13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous."

At 8:43 a.m., Army commanders ordered two Kiowa helicopters to get into position to attack.

By then, though, the convoy was no longer heading toward Khod. The three vehicles, which at one point were within three miles of the A-Team, had changed direction and were now 12 miles away. The drone crew didn't dwell on that news, thinking the convoy probably was trying to flank the A-Team's position.

The Predator crew began discussing its role in the coming attack. The drone was armed with one missile, not enough to take out a three-vehicle convoy. The more heavily-armed Kiowa helicopters, using the call sign "BAM BAM41," would fire on the vehicles; the Predator would target any survivors who tried to flee.

"We're probably going to be chasing dudes, scrambling in the open, uh, when it goes down," the pilot told his camera operator, whose job was to place the camera cross hairs on insurgents, so the pilot could fire the missile. "Stay with whoever you think gives us the best chance to shoot, um, at them."

"Roger," came the reply.

A little before 9 a.m., the vehicles reached an open, treeless stretch of road. The A-Team commander called in the airstrike.

"Understand we are clear to engage," one of the helicopter pilots declared over the radio.

Hellfire missiles struck the first and third vehicles; they burst into flames.

Qudratullah, one of the Afghan travelers, recalled, "The helicopters were suddenly on top of us, bombarding us."

Dead and wounded were everywhere. Nasim, the 23-year-old mechanic, was knocked unconscious.


"When I came to, I could see that our vehicles were wrecked and the injured were everywhere," he said. "I saw someone who was headless and someone else cut in half."

The Predator crew in Nevada was exultant, watching men they assumed were enemy fighters trying to help the injured. "'Self-Aid Buddy Care' to the rescue," one of the drone's crew members said.

"I forget, how do you treat a sucking chest wound?" said another.


Soon, however, the crew in Nevada and the screeners in Florida realized something was wrong.

"The thing is, nobody ran," one crew member said.

"Yeah, that was weird," another replied.

At 9:15 a.m., the Predator crew noticed three survivors in brightly colored clothing waving at the helicopters. They were trying to surrender.

"What are those?" asked the camera operator.

"Women and children," the Predator's mission intelligence coordinator answered.

"That lady is carrying a kid, huh? Maybe," the pilot said.

"The baby, I think, on the right. Yeah," the intelligence coordinator said.

The Predator's safety coordinator, cursing in frustration, urged the pilot to alert the helicopters and the A-Team that there were children present. "Let them know, dude," he said.

"Younger than an adolescent to me," the camera operator said.

As they surveyed the carnage, seeing other children, the Predator crew tried to reassure themselves that they could not have known.

"No way to tell, man," the safety observer said.

"No way to tell from here," the camera operator added.

At 9:30 a.m., the pilot came back on the radio.

"Since the engagement," he said, "we have not been able to PID (positively identify) any weapons."

U.S. and Afghan forces reached the scene 2 1/2 hours after the attack to provide medical assistance. After 20 minutes more, medevac helicopters began taking the wounded to a hospital in Tarin Kowt, in Oruzgan. More serious cases were later transferred to Kabul.

"They asked us who we were, and we told them we were civilians from Kijran district," said Qudratullah, who lost a leg.

By the U.S. count, 15 or 16 men were killed and 12 people were wounded, including a woman and three children. Elders from the Afghans' home villages said in interviews that 23 had been killed, including two boys, Daoud, 3, and Murtaza, 4.

That evening, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, went to the presidential palace in Kabul to apologize to President Hamid Karzai. Two days later, he went on Afghan television and promised "a thorough investigation to prevent this from happening again."

The Army and the Air Force conducted their own investigations, reaching similar conclusions.

The Army said evidence that the convoy was not a hostile force was "ignored or downplayed by the Predator crew," and the A-Team captain's decision to authorize an airstrike was based on a misreading of the threat when, in fact, "there was no urgent need to engage the vehicles."

The Air Force concluded that confusion over whether children were present was a "causal factor" in the decision to attack and, in an internal document last year, said drone crews had not been trained to notice the subtle differences between combatants and suspicious persons who may appear to be combatants.

The military has taken some steps to address these problems. Screeners now have access to radio traffic, so if a drone pilot makes a mistake, the screeners can correct it. Drone crews and screeners are now trained to use more precise descriptions in radio transmissions. And, shortly after the incident, McChrystal banned the use of the term "military age male," saying it implied that every adult man was a combatant.

Some officers in the Pentagon drew another lesson from the incident: An abundance of surveillance information can lead to misplaced confidence in the ability to tell friend from foe.


"Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything," said Air Force Major Gen. James O. Poss, who oversaw the Air Force investigation. "I really do think we have learned from this."


McChrystal issued letters of reprimand to four senior and two junior officers in Afghanistan. The Air Force said the Predator crew was also disciplined, but it did not specify the punishment. No one faced court-martial, the Pentagon said.

Several weeks after the attack, American officers travelled to the villages to apologize to survivors and the victims' families.

They gave each survivor 140,000 afghanis, or about $2,900.

Families of the dead received $4,800.

(Staff writer Cloud, who covers the Pentagon, reported from Washington. Laura King, Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Kabul, along with special correspondent Aimal Yaqoubi in Afghanistan, located and interviewed survivors. Except where indicated, all quotations attributed to the Predator drone crew in Nevada, the AC-130 crew flying over Afghanistan and the Army special operations soldiers on the ground were drawn from the official transcript, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.)

Passport Dinner Tour planned for April 29

Posted: April 11
Updated: Today at 7:30 PM


Morning Sentinel Staff


EAST WILTON -- The Wilson Grange will host a Passport Dinner Tour at 6 p.m. April 29. This month's destination will be Afghanistan. A young guest will represent one of Afghanistan's most colorful and interesting ethnic groups, the Hazaras. Participants can follow his life's journey as a child in a peaceful rural province, then as a refugee with his family during the Taliban regime, followed by the relocation to Kabul during a period of stability and normalcy.


Dinner will cost $12 per person and is by reservation only. To make a reservation, call 645-2400 or e-mail mewood@beeline-online.net.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Refugee free to embrace his heritage

06 Apr, 2011 03:10 PM
GROWING up in the desolate hills of Afghanistan Mosa Gherjestani dreamed of one day flying an aeroplane.
The freedom of flight attracted him, the freedom his Hazara people did not possess under the oppression of the Taliban.

When he arrived as a refugee in Merrylands in the 1990s Mr Gherjestani grabbed his newfound freedom with both hands.

Now, 13 years on he lives in a comfortable home, hosts his own radio show, has a degree in business and holds a pilot's licence.

"For hundreds of years the Hazara people have been taught they couldn't achieve," he said. "When I was young everyone was against me, they said 'how could you be a pilot?'."

Mr Gherjestani helped set up the Hazara Council of Australia to teach his community to reach beyond the limits their former home placed on them.

"In central Asia they said we were nothing, but anything is possible in Australia," he said. "It's all about education."

The community leader said many older Hazaras struggled to assimilate into the Australian way of life while many of their children had forgotten their Hazara heritage.

"The government helps Hazaras with material needs but there is no one to help psychological needs," he said.

"This organisation is designed to teach the Hazara community about Australia's systems, values and culture and, at the same time, keep the Hazara history alive."

Source,

http://www.parramattasun.com.au/news/local/news/general/refugee-free-to-embrace-his-heritage/2128501.aspx