Saturday, December 20, 2014
U.S. Sends Four Guantanamo Prisoners Home to Afghanistan
VOA News / December 20, 2014
WASHINGTON - Four Afghans held for over a decade at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been sent home to Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Saturday, the latest step in a slow-moving push by the Obama administration to close the facility.
The men were flown to Kabul overnight aboard a U.S. military plane and released to Afghan authorities, the first such transfer of its kind to the war-torn country since 2009, according to a U.S. official.
Obama promised to shut the internationally condemned prison when he took office nearly six years ago, citing the damage it inflicted on America's image around the world. But he has been unable to do so, partly because of obstacles posed by the U.S. Congress.
With a recent trickle of releases, including the transfer of six prisoners to Uruguay earlier this month, Guantanamo’s detainee population has been gradually whittled down to 132.
The repatriation of the four Afghans, identified as "low-level detainees" who were cleared for transfer long ago and are not considered security risks in their homeland, had been in the pipeline for months.
But in a measure of what one senior U.S. official described as an improving relationship with the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, Washington went ahead with the transfer after he formally requested it.
The continued detention of Afghans at Guantanamo – eight remain there – has long been deeply unpopular across the ideological spectrum in Afghanistan.
The release comes at a time when most U.S. troops are due to leave Afghanistan by year-end even as Taliban insurgents are intensifying their bloody campaign to re-establish their hardline Islamist regime that was toppled in a U.S.-backed military intervention in 2001.
All four men – identified as Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir – were originally detained on suspicion of being members of the Taliban or affiliated armed groups.
But a second senior U.S. official said: “Most if not all of these accusations have been discarded and each of these individuals at worst could be described as low-level, if even that.”
The Afghan government gave the United States “security assurances” for the treatment of the former prisoners and was expected to reunite them with their families, the official said.
Guantanamo was opened by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, to house terrorism suspects rounded up overseas, with Afghans originally the largest group. Most of the detainees have been held for a decade or more without being charged or tried.
Thirteen other prisoners of various nationalities have been transferred from Guantanamo since early November, and several more could be repatriated or sent to countries other than their homelands by year-end, U.S. officials said.
Obama still faces major obstacles in trying to shut down the prison, among the biggest being the Yemeni detainees who make up more than half the remaining inmate population. Most have been cleared for transfer but are unable to return home because of the chaotic security situation in the Arabian Peninsula state.
Two weeks ago a U.S. Senate report delivered a scathing indictment of the harsh Bush-era interrogation program used on terrorism suspects. Obama banned the techniques when he took office in 2009.
UN Says Afghan Civilian Casualties Hit Record High
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
December 20, 2014
The United Nations says civilian casualties in Afghanistan reached a record high this year, up 19 percent compared to last year.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in Kabul on December 20 that a total of 3,188 civilians were killed and 6,429 were injured by the end of November.
The annual report said that "the number of civilians killed and injured this year in Afghanistan is the highest ever recorded by the United Nations."
It also said that "ground engagement of troops and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the leading causes of the civilian casualties."
The report noted that the number of women and children hurt rose 14 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
Based on reporting by dpa and Xinhua
2014 Sees Highest Civilian Casualty Figures Recorded
NEW YORK, 19 December 2014 – The number of civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan this year is the highest ever recorded by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said its head, Nicholas Haysom, at a press conference at UN headquarters in New York today.
Mr. Haysom, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, highlighted the devastating impact of the conflict on Afghan civilians.
“One of the measurements of the security situation has been civilian casualties,” the special envoy said. “Civilian casualties are a particularly tragic and very prominent part, even benchmark, of the horror of the violence that ordinary Afghans face.”
As of 30 November, UNAMA has recorded more civilian deaths and injuries during 2014 than in any other year since it began its authoritative reports in 2009.
Civilian casualties increased 19 per cent overall from last year, said Mr. Haysom, who was joined at the briefing by Georgette Gagnon, the director of UNAMA Human Rights. These casualties resulted mostly from ground engagements between parties to the conflict, improvised explosive devices, and suicide and complex attacks. Insurgents were responsible for at least 75 per cent of the casualties, said Ms. Gagnon.
In his briefing to the Security Council yesterday, Mr. Haysom referred to the 23 November suicide attack on a large crowd watching a volleyball match in Paktika, killing at least 53 civilians, including 21 children, as an example of a shift in approach of anti-Government elements.
Mr. Haysom told journalists that UNAMA is continuing discussions with all parties, including the Taliban, to strengthen mitigating measures to limit the impact of the conflict on civilians.
Ms. Gagnon announced that the number of civilians killed and injured in the first eleven months of this year in Afghanistan total 9,617, with 3,188 civilian killed and 6,429 injured.
Children civilian casualties increased 33 per cent compared to 2013, with casualties among women up 12 per cent. Ms. Gagnon said that current projections indicate that 2014 will be the first year that the civilian casualty count will pass 10,000 civilian casualties since UNAMA began its reports.
Deadline fixed for new cabinet
Khaama Press / December 20, 2014
The house of representative of Afghanistan has set a deadline of one week to the new government to introduce their cabinet to the house.
The house of representative on Saturday said if government does not introduce the cabinet in one week they will announce their decision.
Members of the house in their Saturday’s session were accusing the heads of the government for sharing power which has postponed the introduction of the new cabinet.
They called on the president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah to introduce the cabinet for the sack of people ASAP.
It has been the 3rd month of the new government but the cabinet is not introduced at this time.
Political analyzers believe the delay of the cabinet is one of the key reasons for increase of insecurity in the country.
Drone Strike Kills At Least Five Militants In Pakistan
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
December 20, 2014
A U.S. drone strike has killed at least five militants in Pakistan's restive tribal region near the Afghan border.
Security officials said on December 20 that the strike occurred in North Waziristan, in the Mada Khail neighborhood of the Datta Khail area.
North Waziristan is the largest of several sanctuaries that Islamist militants linked to Al-Qaeda still control on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan's military has stepped up an offensive it launched in mid-June to regain the territory from the insurgents.
Based on reporting by AFP and dpa
Sartaj Aziz says Pakistan will not conduct raids in Afghanistan
Khaama Press / December 20, 2014
Pakistan has no intention to conduct raids in Afghanistan in a bid to eliminate terrorism safe havens posing threats to Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz, advisor to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Saturday.
The remarks by Aziz comes as local newspapers have reported that the Pakistani military will launch raids in Afghanistan if the Afghan military did not take any action against the safe havens of the Pakistani Taliban.
The reports followed by Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raheel Sahrif’s visit to Kabul, a day after militants launched a deadly attack on an army-run school in Peshawar city.
Aziz said Pakistan will not blame the foreign intelligence, specifically the India’s top external intelligence agency – RAW, for Peshawar school attack.
He said Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to carry out coordinated actions against terrorists in their respective areas.
According to Aziz, the two countries have also agreed not to let anyone use their soil against each other.
Over 130 school children were massacred following an attack at the Army Public School on 16th December on Wardsak Road in Peshawar.
The attack was carried out by a group of militants belonging to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who claimed responsibility behind the massacre and said the attack was carried out in revenge to Pakistani military operations which left scores of civilians dead.
The Pakistani government claimed that the TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah, based in Afghanistan was involved in plotting and coordinating the attack together with the group’s commanders.