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A US Army combat brigade -- 3,500 to 4,000 troops -- is set to arrive in Afghanistan in January
Neither the motive nor the culprits behind the blast were clear. But provincial government chief Haider Khan Hoti said "external forces" could be to blame — a comment understood in Pakistan to mean India.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become.
For the incoming Obama administration, a first priority will be to weigh which is the greater risk: drawing down American forces too quickly in Iraq, potentially jeopardizing the gains there; or not building up troops quickly enough in Afghanistan, where the war effort hangs in the balance as security worsens.
There are about 62,000 international troops currently in Afghanistan, including about 32,000 Americans, a military spokesman said, but they are spread thinly throughout the country, which is nearly the size of Texas.
American commanders say they desperately need more.
Military officials say that if General McKiernan’s requests are met, deployments in the next year and a half or so will include four combat brigades, an aviation brigade equipped with attack and troop-carrying helicopters, reconnaissance units, support troops and trainers for the Afghan Army and the police, raising American force levels to about 58,000.
The American military command said it had incomplete statistics for the level of violence in those provinces. “Frankly, in Wardak and Logar, we don’t know what we don’t know,” Colonel Nielson-Green said in an e-mail message. “There are few of our forces present in those areas, hence the reason for the incoming brigade there.” “I suspect that violence will increase as we place this unit but will go down over time,” she added, “because we assess that there are considerable enemy support areas in both provinces and we will be going after them.”
Of immediate concern, American and NATO commanders say, is the need to safeguard the capital, to hit new Taliban strongholds in Wardak and Logar, and to provide enough security in those provinces for development programs, which are essential to maintaining the support of Afghan villagers.
Sediqa Mubariz, a member of Parliament from Wardak, said in an interview that she would welcome any additional American troops in her province. Ms. Mubariz said security had been so poor that since last year she had not been able to travel from Kabul to her home district in Wardak, only 50 miles away.
Under the terms of a US-Iraq pact that comes into effect in January, US forces must leave Iraq by the end of 2011. They must leave urban areas by June 2009. Iraq has seen a decline in the overall level of violence that came in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion. But officials say that attacks could increase in the run-up to provincial and general elections next year. There are also concerns that opposition fighters could launch attacks as US forces begin to leave the country's town and cities.
Gates, who will retain his position in president-elect Barack Obama's administration, said that the United States' enemies should not try to take advantage of the early stages of the incoming government.
"There is no doubt that Iran has been heavily engaged in trying to influence the development and direction of the Iraqi government - and has not been a good neighbour," Gates said. "Iraq wants to be your partner ... And, given the challenges in the Gulf, and the reality of Iran, you should wish to be theirs."
Gates told the conference that Washington was not looking to remove Iran's leaders but it wants Tehran to make changes. "Nobody is after a regime change in Iran. What we're after is a change in policies and a change in behaviour.
"The president-elect and his team are under no illusions about Iran's behaviour and what Iran has been doing in the region and is doing in terms of its own weapons programmes."
An Iranian delegation had been due to attend the meeting but did not show up for Gates's address.
EDIS Number EQ-20081217-138792- Common Alerting Protocol Magnitude 6.2 (Strong) # Date-Time [UTC] 17 December, 2008 at 10:56:00 UTC # Local Date/Time Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 23:56 at night at epicenter Location -17.8000 -178.2500 Depth 534.00 km (331.81 miles) Region Country Distances 387.7 km (240.91 miles) N of Alo, Wallis and Futuna Affected people
EDIS Number EQ-20081218-138873-TON Common Alerting Protocol Magnitude 6.2 (Strong) # Date-Time [UTC] 18 December, 2008 at 20:57:38 UTC # Local Date/Time Friday, December 19, 2008 at 09:57 in the moorning at epicenter Location -23.56 -179.94 Depth 546 km (339.27 miles) Region Country Tonga Distances 92.74 km (57.63 miles) S of South Minerva Reef, Affected people Source RSOE-EMSC Generated Tsunami Not or no data!
Earthquake Details Magnitude 7.8 (Preliminary magnitude — subject to revision) Date-Time * Saturday, January 03, 2009 at 19:43:59 UTC * Sunday, January 04, 2009 at 04:43:59 AM at epicenter Location 0.700°S, 132.800°E Depth 48 km (29.8 miles) set by location program Region NEAR THE NORTH COAST OF PAPUA, INDONESIA Distances * 144 km (90 miles) W (278°) from Manokwari, Irian Jaya, Indonesia * 169 km (105 miles) E (85°) from Sorong, Irian Jaya, Indonesia * 612 km (380 miles) ENE (57°) from Ambon, Moluccas, Indonesia * 915 km (569 miles) SSW (192°) from KOROR, Palau Location Uncertainty Error estimate not available Parameters NST=041, Nph=041, Dmin=600.6 km, Rmss=2.42 sec, Gp= 36°, M-type=moment magnitude (Mw), Version=1 Source * West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center/NOAA/NWS Event ID at00101183
Locals live in fear of Taliban 'shadow government' gripping parts of Kandahar
Indeed, the newly-appointed governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa, disputes the Taliban's claim to tracts of the province. Wesa said he heard no mention of a shadow Taliban government during his recent meetings with district governors. "I highly doubt (the shadow government's existence) because I know ISAF and other international forces, they are working in the area, there are some operations going on," Wesa said. "No, that's maybe a rumour." Wesa's shadow government doppleganger is said to be Mahibullah Akhunzada. He replaced Mullah Mahmood, who was killed last year in an air strike in Khakrez district. Akhunzada, 55, refused to speak with a Canadian journalist. However, he told an Afghan journalist there are shadow governors in all but three of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
Taliban elements in Quetta and its outskirts in order to undermine the power of the actual democratic forces. The Afghan refugees, besides being a burden on the economy of Balochistan, have become the biggest cause of lawlessness and terrorism in the country’s largest province, Baloch said. Billions of rupees were being spent on eliminating the Taliban and their supporters in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the NWFP, he said, asking why the government was ignoring the ‘alarmingly dangerous moves’ of the Taliban and giving them protection in Quetta. The BNP leader criticised the government for initiating fresh operations in Dera Bugti and Naseerabad areas, adding that such unprovoked operations were likely to escalate tensions in Balochistan. “The government is making Balochistan a battlefield again,” he said.
Another administration official, Jehangir Khan, said 300 trucks had traveled through the pass to the Afghan border on Friday, many carrying supplies for Western forces. The U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of the fuel for its troops, the U.S. Defense Department says. The attacks have exposed the vulnerability of supply links for Western forces struggling to subdue an intensifying Taliban insurgency and NATO has been forced to look for alternative routes, including through Central Asia into northern Afghanistan. There are two routes into Afghanistan from the Pakistani port of Karachi, one through the Khyber Pass and the other through the town of Chaman to the southwest, leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar. They are likely to become even more important as the United States increases the number of its troops in Afghanistan, perhaps doubling the number to about 60,000 next year.