SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –A group of foreigners abducted by Taliban in eastern Afghanistan are well and have been moved to a "safe area" inside the country, a spokesman for the militants has said.
The Taliban leadership will decide what to do with the group, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP news agency on Tuesday.
Eight Turks, a Russian, a Kyrgyz man and an Afghan were seized after their helicopter made a forced landing on Sunday.
"They have been moved to a safe area, they have no health problem and they are fine. They are inside Afghanistan," Mujahid said by phone from an undisclosed location.
The Mi-8 helicopter carrying Turkish road engineers from the eastern city of Khost to Kabul landed in Azra district of Logar province, a hotbed of Taliban activity.
The Taliban on Monday claimed that nine of the group were Americans and two were Afghan interpreters, but appeared Tuesday to back away from that assertion.
"We are still receiving information but initial information obtained from our mujahedeen (holy warriors) said that they were American," the spokesman said.
"We will have to wait for more information."
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul said on Monday the force assisted a search by Afghan authorities for a helicopter, but gave no further details.
A spokesman said it was a civilian aircraft and not part of ISAF.
Hamidullah Hamid, governor of Azra district where the helicopter came down, said on Monday the aircraft belonged to a Turkish company which has a big project in Khost, but gave no further details. Local tribal elders are reportedly working to secure their release.
Turkey, one of only two Muslim-majority members of NATO, has about 1,800 soldiers serving with ISAF, but unlike its European allies, their mission is limited to patrols and its troops do not take part in combat operations.
Ankara has historically close ties with Kabul and last September Turkey extended by one year its command of the part of the ISAF force which covers the region around the Afghan capital.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) At least two Afghan civilians have been killed in an attack by US-led forces on a bus in western Afghanistan, Press TV reports.
Local officials say a third victim was also injured after US-led soldiers opened fire on the bus in Afghanistan’s western Herat Province on Wednesday.
Reports say the bus had been traveling behind a convoy of US-led forces before it was attacked by the soldiers. Officials say the death toll may rise.
Following the attack, the families of the victims and the other passengers on the bus held a protest, demanding justice, and called for the withdrawal of the US-led forces from their country.
The US military has not yet commented on the incident.
The deaths come days after the United Nations said that the number of civilians killed or wounded in Afghanistan dramatically increased in the first three months of 2013 compared to the same time last year.
The United States and its allies entered the war in Afghanistan in October 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but after more than 11 years, insecurity remains high in the country.
Many civilians have lost their lives in US-led operations in various parts of Afghanistan over the past decade, with Afghans becoming increasingly outraged at the seemingly endless number of the deadly assaults.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - Up to 12 civilians - 10 children and two women - are reported to have been killed in a Nato air strike in eastern Afghanistan.
A further six women are believed to have been injured in the incident in Shigal district, Kunar province.
Villagers and officials told the BBC that the casualties were inside their homes when they died.
Nato confirmed that "fire support" was used in Shigal but said it did not have any reports of civilian deaths.
A local official said eight Taliban insurgents had also died in the air strike on Saturday, which is reported to have caused the roofs of several houses in three villages to collapse.
He said the strikes were called in to support a major operation by US and Afghan government forces.
Tribal elder Haji Malika Jan told the BBC: "The fighting started yesterday morning [Saturday] and continued for at least seven hours. There were heavy exchanges between both sides.
"The area is very close to the Pakistani border and there are hundreds of local and foreign fighters, mostly Pakistanis, in the area.''
In a statement, the Nato-led International Security Assistant Force (Isaf) said: "We are aware of an incident yesterday in Kunar province in which insurgents engaged an Afghan and coalition force.
"No Isaf personnel were involved on the ground, but Isaf provided fire support from the air, killing several insurgents. We are also aware of reports of several civilians injured from the engagement, but no reports of civilian deaths. Isaf takes all reports of civilian casualties seriously, and we are currently assessing the incident.
"The air support was called in by coalition forces - not Afghans - and was used to engage insurgent forces in areas away from structures, according to our reporting."
International forces are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Civilian deaths in Western military operations have been a source of friction between the Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai and the US and its Nato allies.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –A car bomb blast killed five Americans, including three U.S. soldiers and a young diplomat, on Saturday, while an American civilian died in a separate attack in the east.
The diplomat and other Americans were in a convoy of vehicles in Zabul province when the blast occurred, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.
The soldiers and the diplomat died in the blast along with a civilian employee of the Defense Department and Afghan civilians, Kerry said. His statement gave no overall death toll.
The Washington Post identified the diplomat as Anne Smedinghoff, 25, citing her parents. Smedinghoff was Kerry's embassy guide and aide when he visited Afghanistan last month, the paper said.
Local and international officials in the region said earlier that six people died in the blast: three U.S. soldiers, two U.S. civilians and an Afghan doctor.
Provincial governor Mohammad Ashraf Nasery was in the convoy, but was unharmed, local and NATO officials said.
"Our American officials and their Afghan colleagues were on their way to donate books to students in a school in Qalat, the province's capital, when they were struck by this despicable attack," Kerry said in his statement.
He said he had met the diplomat during a trip to Kabul, and spoke to her parents after her death. Four other U.S. diplomats were wounded, one critically, Kerry said in his statement.
The convoy was near a hospital and a NATO base at the time of the explosion. Five Afghans, including a student and two reporters, were wounded, a local official said.
The attack came as the top U.S. general, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in the country for a short visit to assess how much training Afghan troops need before U.S. troops pull out as planned by the end of 2014.
In an attack in Afghanistan's east, an American civilian working with the U.S. government was killed during an insurgent attack, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
Zabul shares borders with Pakistan to the southeast and Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban, to the south.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Zabul attack in a text message from spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi. He said a car bomb killed seven foreigners and wounded five others, although he later revised the toll to 13 foreigners killed and nine wounded.
The Taliban routinely exaggerates casualty figures.
The killings followed a bloody Taliban assault in the country's west on Wednesday that killed 44 people in a courtroom in Farah province. The United Nations says civilians are being increasingly targeted.
In a statement posted online earlier on Saturday, Ahmadi said the Taliban would continue to target Afghan judges and prosecutors.
"The Islamic Emirate, from today onwards, will keep a close watch over courthouses, all its personnel and all those who try to harm Mujahideen and will deal with them the same as the judges and prosecutors of Farah.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Barely able to walk even with a cane, Ghulam Rasool says he padlocked his front door, handed over the keys and his three cows to a neighbor and fled his mountain home in the middle of the night to escape relentless airstrikes from U.S. drones targeting militants in this remote corner of Afghanistan.
Rasool and other Afghan villagers have their own name for Predator drones. They call them benghai, which in the Pashto language means the "buzzing of flies." When they explain the noise, they scrunch their faces and try to make a sound that resembles an army of flies.
"They are evil things that fly so high you don't see them but all the time you hear them," said Rasool, whose body is stooped and shrunken with age and his voice barely louder than a whisper. "Night and day we hear this sound and then the bombardment starts."
The U.S. military is increasingly relying on drone strikes inside Afghanistan, where the number of weapons fired from unmanned aerial aircraft soared from 294 in 2011 to 506 last year. With international combat forces set to withdraw by the end of next year, such attacks are now used more for targeted killings and less for supporting ground troops.
It's unclear whether Predator drone strikes will continue after 2014 in Afghanistan, where the government has complained bitterly about civilian casualties. The strikes sometimes accidentally kill civilians while forcing others to abandon their hometowns in fear, feeding widespread anti-American sentiment.
The Associated Press — in a rare on-the-ground look unaccompanied by military or security — visited two Afghan villages in Nangarhar province near the border with Pakistan to talk to residents who reported that they had been affected by drone strikes.
In one village, Afghans disputed NATO's contention that five men killed in a particular drone strike were militants. In the other, a school that was leveled in a nighttime airstrike targeting Taliban fighters hiding inside has yet to be rebuilt.
"These foreigners started the problem," Rasool said of international troops. "They have their own country. They should leave."
From the U.S. perspective, the overall drone program has been a success.
While the Pentagon operates the drones in Afghanistan, the CIA for nearly a decade has used drones to target militants, including Afghans, in Pakistan's border regions. CIA drones have killed al-Qaida No. 2 Abu Yahya al-Libi and other leading extremists.
Still, criticism of the use of drones for targeted killings around the world has been mounting in recent months. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights has launched an investigation into their effect on civilians.
Rasool said his decision to leave his home in Hisarak district came nearly a month ago after a particularly blistering air assault killed five people in the neighboring village of Meya Saheeb.
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, confirmed an airstrike on Feb. 24 at Meya Saheeb, but as a matter of policy would neither confirm nor deny that drones were used.
Rasool said that he, his son, half a dozen grandchildren, and two other families crammed into the back of a cart pulled by a tractor. They drove throughout the day until they found a house in Khalis Family Village, named after anti-communist rebel leader Maulvi Yunus Khalis, who had close ties to al-Qaida.
The village is not far from the Tora Bora mountain range where in 2001 the U.S.-led coalition mounted its largest operation of the war to flush out al-Qaida and Taliban warriors.
"Nobody ever comes here. It's a little dangerous sometimes because of the Taliban," said Zarullah Khan, a neighbor of Rasool's.
But the historic significance of his newfound refuge was lost on Rasool.
"Who's Khalis? We stopped when we found a house for rent," he said, grumbling at the monthly $200 bill shared among the three families packed into the high-walled compound where he spoke with the AP.
Standing nearby, Rasool's 12-year-old grandson, Ahmed Shah, recalled the attack in Meya Saheeb. The earth shook for what seemed like hours and the next morning his friends told him there were bodies in the nearby village. A little afraid, but more curious, he walked the short distance to Meya Saheed.
"I wanted to see the dead bodies," he said. And he did — three bodies, all middle-aged men.
ISAF reported five militants were killed, but Rasool claimed they were businessmen. One of the dead had a carpet shop in the village, he said.
Disputes over the identities of those killed have been a hallmark of the 12-year war.
In Pakistan, an AP investigation last year found that drone strikes were killing fewer civilians than many in that country were led to believe, and that many of the dead were combatants.
In Afghanistan, the U.N. has reported that five drone strikes in 2012 resulted in civilian casualties, with 16 civilians killed and three wounded. It reported just one incident in which civilians were killed the previous year.
At the other end of the province from Meya Saheeb and Khalis Family Village lies the village of Budyali. To get there, one must drive along a long, two-lane highway often booby-trapped by militants, before turning turning off onto a narrow, dusty track and finally cross a rock-strewn riverbed.
A Budyali resident, Hayat Gul, says the sound of "benghai" is commonplace in the village. He says he was wounded nearly two years ago in a Taliban firefight with Afghan security forces at a nearby school that led to an airstrike.
Tucked in the shadow of a hulking mountain crisscrossed with dozens of footpaths, the school now is in ruins.
The early morning strike on the school took place on July 17, 2011, hours after the Taliban attacked the district headquarters and the Afghan National Army appealed to their coalition partners for help.
Gul said he and a second guard, 63-year-old Ghulam Ahad, were asleep in the small cement guard house at one end of the school. They awoke to the sound of gunfire as more than a dozen Taliban militants scaled the school walls around midnight, chased by Afghan soldiers.
A bullet struck Gul in the shoulder. Frightened and unsure of what to do, Ahad stepped outside the guard house and was killed. Bullet holes still riddle the badly damaged building.
Village elders and the school's principal, Sayed Habib, said coalition forces responded to the army's request for help with drones, fighter jets and rockets.
The air assault, which residents say began about 3 a.m. and likely included drone strikes, flattened everything across a vast compound that includes the school. Habib said 13 insurgents were killed.
ISAF confirmed that airstrikes killed insurgents in the Budyali area on that day but would not say what type of airstrikes or provide any other details.
Habib and a local malik or elder, Shah Mohammed Khan, said that in the days leading up to the airstrikes the sound of drones could be heard overhead.
"Everyone knows the sound of the unpiloted planes. Even our children know," Habib said.
The elders were critical of the U.S. attack. They said they would have preferred that the Afghan soldiers try to negotiate with the Taliban to leave the school and surrender.
Habib and the village elders recalled the attack while sitting in the middle of the devastated school, where debris was still scattered across a vast yard. They pointed toward a blackboard, pockmarked with gaping holes.
"Shamefully they destroyed our school, our books, our library," said Malik Gul Nawaz, an elder with a gray beard and a pot belly.
Habib said that in an attempt to rebuild the school, a contractor constructed a boundary wall before another Taliban attack. He fled with nearly $400,000 in foreign funds.
The roughly 1,300 students now take classes at a makeshift school made up of tents provided by UNICEF. Gul, who was taken to a U.S. military hospital at Bagram Air Base after the attack and treated for the bullet wound to his left shoulder, is now a watchman at the new school.
He held a small photograph of his dead colleague, Ahad, in his trembling left hand.
"We want to end this war," Gul said. "Enough people have been killed now. We have to find unity."
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – NATO troops in Afghanistan have unsuccessfully tried to impose a foreign ideology in a war unwinnable by military means, the UK military has said. The planned 2014 pullout is expected to leave Kabul unable to survive the Taliban onslaught.
The Afghan mission of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), now in its 12th year, closely resembles the failed Soviet occupation of the country, a damning British internal report argued. The document was prepared in November last year by a British Ministry of Defense think tank and obtained by the Independent newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.
“The highest-level parallel is that both campaigns were conceived with the aim of imposing an ideology foreign to the Afghan people: The Soviets hoped to establish a Communist state while NATO wished to build a democracy,” the document said. “Equally striking is that both abandoned their central aim once they realized that the war was unwinnable in military terms and that support of the population was essential.”
Both occupying forces found it difficult to deal with insurgencies they overwhelmed militarily, the report said: “The military parallels are equally striking; the 40th Army was unable decisively to defeat the mujahedin while facing no existential threat itself, a situation that precisely echoes the predicament of ISAF. Neither campaign established control over the country’s borders and the insurgents’ safe havens; both were unable to protect the rural population.”
Most NATO troops will pull out of the country next year, leaving behind a fragile and unpopular national government and a strong armed opposition, much like the Soviet Union, the report noted.
“Both interventions have been portrayed as foreign invasions attempting to support a corrupt and unpopular central government against a local insurgent movement which has popular support, strong religious motivation and safe havens abroad,” it said. “In addition, the country will again be left with a severely damaged and very weak economic base, heavily dependent upon external aid.”
In a grim warning, the document points to the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as one of the reasons for its weakening and eventual collapse: “The international setting for both campaigns has significant similarities with world opinion judging both as failed interventions. Both faced a loss of confidence in their strategic world leadership and increasing domestic and financial pressure to abandon the enterprise.”
The assessment, which a Ministry of Defense spokesperson said was meant “to stimulate internal debate, not outline government positions,” mirrors another assessment prepared by the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). In its annual Military Balance report released this week, the think tank forecast that the Afghan insurgency would not be eliminated by the end of 2014.
“The hope is that it can be reduced to such a level that it no longer poses an existential threat to the state and can be contained by Afghan forces,” the IISS said, predicting that in 2015 the country would be “a patchwork of insurgent activity.”
Colonel and Afghan war veteran Evgeny Khruschev believes that both Soviet and American campaigns in Afghanistan bear strong similarities.
“Foreign occupation of Afghanistan, again. In historical perspective, 9/11 and subsequent US invasion in Afghanistan is delayed iteration of CIA’s Wilson’s War: a strategic payback for American anti-Soviet proxy jihad in Afghanistan. They have put in motion chain reaction and now, after 12 years, still have no clue how to control & manage their runaway ‘freedom-fighting’ terrorist assets,” he told RT.
The colonel is also sure that ‘US learning curve in Afghanistan has been inverted from day one’.
“Washington had studiously ignored the Soviet lessons learned – only to repeat all Soviet mistakes on a larger scale and pile up on their own genuine blinders,” added the veteran.
A bitter divorce
The transition talks between Kabul and the US-led ISAF are continuing amid bitter accusations and recriminations. Last Sunday, after two suicide bombers killed 19 people, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused foreign troops of colluding with the Taliban to justify their presence in the region.
The allegations provoked a rebuke from several US officials, including ISAF chief Joseph Dunford. The US general said in an advisory obtained by the New York Times that "Karzai's remarks could be a catalyst for some to lash out against our forces."
The day after the Afghan President’s comments proved to be the deadliest for NATO troops in the country in 2013. Two US soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded in a suspected insider attack by a man dressed in an Afghan army uniform, and five Americans were killed in a helicopter crash that was blamed on bad weather.
"We're at a rough point in the relationship," Dunford said in his advisory. "[Militants] are also watching and will look for a way to exploit the situation – they have already ramped up for the spring."
In a move to mitigate the damage, Karzai’s office said Thursday the US and Afghanistan remain strategic partners, and that his statements "had been to correct rather than damage this relationship."
The harsh exchange came as Karzai has ramped up his nationalist rhetoric, pressuring for a swifter transition of authority in the country from foreign troops to the Afghan security forces. The president recently clashed with the US Military over repeated delays in the scheduled handover of Afghan detainees. He has also banned foreign troops from university campuses, and banned US Special Forces from two provinces over claims of harassment. Karzai also stopped Afghan forces from calling in US air strikes.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- The United States has increased its use of drones as international forces prepare to leave Afghanistan.
Yet, every civilian the drones kill by mistake is another victory for the Taliban's recruitment campaign.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Abdul Rahim was in Kabul when the raid on his family home took place. When he returned to his house in Maidan Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan, he found blown-off doors, shattered windows and closets in disarray.
But what Abdul Rahim remembered most were the faces of his brother Nasibullah's children. Hours after seeing their father shot dead by US special forces, tears still lined their cheeks.
"This is not only our house - it happens in every village," Abdul Rahim said as he pointed to the spot where two helicopters he said were carrying the American commandos landed in the early hours. "They came and killed him [Nasibullah] and left."
Abdul Rahim's mother recounted that the soldiers "shouted, telling us that from the elderly to the children, everyone had to come out. They were on top of the roofs. They were everywhere".
When they came out of their home, Abdul Rahim's mother said Nasibullah tried to address the US special forces that surrounded them, but they shot him "on the spot. He fell face-down".
As she ran from what she called the "special Americans", Abdul Rahim's mother looked back to see Nasibullah bleeding.
An Afghan translator for the Americans told her: "Don't shout, don't do anything - stand over there."
She, along with Nasibullah's wife and children, were taken to a field. "Everyone in the village saw. This is what the Americans did to us."
Ordered to leave
Cases like these are what Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, hoped to put an end to when he ordered US special forces to leave Wardak province by mid-March.
A statement explaining the decision cited a case in Wardak in which nine villagers were "disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force" last October. The whereabouts of the nine - who include seven truck drivers and two schoolteachers - remain unknown. "In a separate incident," the statment read, "a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge."
Karzai may have been spurred to act when Mohammad Halim Fidai, Wardak's provincial governor, complained that the number of allegations of abuse, disappearances and killings have been rising.
Though Abdul Rahim and residents of three other villages in the province told Al Jazeera that US forces "harass" them, initial media reports also said Afghans working with the special forces were contributing to the abuses in Wardak.
In a series of interviews with Al Jazeera, families in the province, government officials and journalists painted a grim picture of the long-standing "insecurity and instability" in Wardak, blaming both US special forces and Afghans.
Wardak, an hour's drive west of Kabul, has long been considered a restive area. Asadullah Hamdam, the former governor of Uruzgan province, said the elders he spoke to complained of armed groups of Afghans, believed to be associated with US special forces, who have been torturing, kidnapping and killing villagers.
"These are people who specifically work with the special forces and have no legal standing in the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF]," Hamdam said.
Many Afghans in the area believe these irregular forces, which also do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Afghan defence or interior ministries, have accompanied US special forces on secret missions, including night raids such as that experienced by Abdul Rahim and his family.
In one district, locals said if the armed Afghans find nothing else, they will take away families' gosht-e-kagh, or lamb jerky, a wintertime staple in Afghanistan.
Mirwais Wardak, managing director of the Kabul-based NGO Peace Training and Research Organisation,said these groups often comprised former fighters in Afghanistan's civil war. "They come from other provinces looking for revenge" for perceived past affronts, he said.
Beyond Kabul's control
With the active regrouping of the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami - the two largest armed opposition movements in the country - in Wardak, the arming of irregular Afghan groups is especially worrisome for a government dealing with fears of a civil war after international troops withdraw in 2014.
Senior officials of the international coalition in Afghanistan said they would be willing to meet with provincial leaders to discuss the accusations that US special forces and those working with them are responsible for abuse. But many Afghans believe that these groups, whether local or foreign, are beyond Kabul's control.
"There is no government to ask why they are cruel to us. No one has come to ask us what happened," Mohammed Hakim, Abdul Rahim's neighbour, told Al Jazeera.
Hares Kakar, an Afghan journalist who has reported from Wardak, said the US "may not always be knocking down people's doors, but they are paying and arming these Afghans who lack [ANSF] uniforms and registration, and are given guns anyway".
This lack of accountability, said Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist who writes extensively about US national security, is made all the more problematic by what he describes as "a system of incentives for the special forces to maximise the number of operations and the number of people that they capture or kill in those operations. They get credit for that - they put out numbers and their budget goes up".
Further complicating the issue of jurisdiction are reports that some of the Afghans accompanying US special forces may in fact be Afghan-Americans or Afghan-Europeans who have come to work with NATO as translators, "cultural advisors" or fixers.
"How can you hold them accountable? They have two passports; they can easily escape," Wardak, the NGO director, told Al Jazeera.
One Afghan-American adviser to ISAF in Paktia province said "it is not beyond imagination" that abuses by special forces occurred. "It has happened and it will continue to happen." Speaking to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity because her ISAF contract does not authorise her to talk to the media, the source said the abuse is not always physical.
For instance, she alleged that translators sometimes "work to their own benefit: rather than translating what the person said, they would often tell their superior what they wanted to hear".
This, said the ISAF adviser, is especially problematic in a country where the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan spy agency, has been known to detain and torture people based simply on accusations of Taliban affiliation.
For Abdul Rahim and his family, this is an especially prescient point.
"He wasn't in the Taliban. He wasn't working with the government. He was a poor man, a bus conductor," said Mohammed Hakim, Abdul Rahim's neighbour, of Nasibullah.
To improve accountability, Karzai has given all irregular Afghan forces established by the NATO coalition three months to fall under government control. The deadline, declared only days after US special forces were told to leave Maidan Wardak, may be meant to pre-empt restive areas from falling into the wrong hands.
Former government officials such as Hamdam support the president's decision. "The sooner Afghan security forces can take control over the nation, overall, the better," he said.
Though some regard Karzai's order for the American special forces to leave as emotional, others see it as a strategic political manoeuvre to shake off the "puppet" image that has dogged his decade-long tenure. The Afghan president has frequently complained that the US military is undermining the Central Asian nation's independence.
"It's the final months of Karzai's presidency. He wants to show 'we don't need foreign forces anymore,'" said Kakar, who was at the press conference announcing the deadline for the withdrawal of the special forces from Wardak.
"NATO must listen and show respect to the Afghan president and his wishes. But at the same time, it is NATO's responsibility to find out who is responsible for these acts," said Hamdam.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- On the surface, the Gul sisters seemed to have it all: they were young, beautiful, educated and well off, testing the bounds of conservative Afghan traditions with fitted jeans, makeup and cellphones.
But Nabila Gul, 17, a bright and spunky high school student, pushed it too far. She fell in love.
Her older sister, Fareba, 25, alarmed at the potential shame and consequences of Nabila’s pursuit of a young man outside of family channels, tried to intervene. Their argument that November day ended in grief: side-by-side coffins, both girls dead within hours of each other after consuming rat poison stolen from their father’s grain closet.
Interviews with family members and government and hospital officials here reveal a tragedy of miscalculation: Under pressure from her older sister to halt communication with the boy, Nabila tried to eat just enough poison to scare her family but not kill herself. But she misjudged. Overwhelmed by guilt and grief, Fareba followed by taking her own life on the doorstep of the city’s most holy shrine.
The sisters’ deaths shattered their family and have struck a chilling chord for the residents of Mazar-i-Sharif, a city increasingly marked by the despair of its young women. For many, the deaths have come to symbolize a larger crisis: an intensifying wave ofsuicide attempts.
Although the government says it does not collect data on these cases, the city’s main hospital says it has been overwhelmed, with three or four such patients coming in every day, up from about one or two a month a decade ago.
The number of attempts has grown with such speed that the head of investigations for the police, Col. Salahudin Sultan, says he can no longer follow up on them.
“We don’t have the time or resources to investigate these,” he explained. “We would hardly get anything else done.”
As for the questions of why, and why here, there seem to be as many theories as there are cases. Most explanations focus on Mazar’s status in Afghanistan as an affluent cross-cultural hub, relatively more liberal and exposed to European influences. While Afghan girls here regularly are exposed to the social norms of the West through television serials and the Web, the fact is that they live in Afghanistan’s conservative and male-dominated society. The clash is cruel, and can be heartbreaking.
“Most of the girls don’t die, but they all take poison or at least threaten to kill themselves,” said Dr. Khowaja Noor Mohammad, the head of internal medicine at Mazar-i-Sharif Regional Hospital. “This is their cry for help.”
The doctor who tried to save the Gul sisters, Dr. Khaled, produced a patient ledger for the past two months. As he pored through the list, he uttered the names of several young women who had attempted suicide: Fatima, Mariam, Zulfiya, Zar Gul, Basbibi.
“There are probably 200 cases in here of attempted suicide,” said Dr. Khaled, who goes by a single name, waving the ledger in the air. “In the last 12 hours, we had three.”
Perhaps no case is more emblematic, or more discussed, than the deaths of the Gul sisters.
The two came from an educated, progressive family. Mohammed Gul, their father, is a prosecutor. Nabila was on the cusp of graduating from high school, and planned to attend college in the city. Fareba was already attending college and hoped to follow her father’s footsteps into the legal profession. The young women were determinedly modern, and would not have seemed out of place in many Western cities.
Nabila was impetuous, with a quick temper and a strong sense of self. She often challenged what Fareba told her, rejecting the deference held for elders in Afghan society. Fareba, a softhearted woman who often wept after small arguments, confided to a close friend that she felt Nabila did not respect her.
Their last fight, the morning of Nov. 26, involved a boy Nabila said she was in love with. Fareba thought the relationship was inappropriate, and urged her sister against it. Nabila refused, and the two began shouting.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Several NATO and Afghan service members were killed Monday when an assailant wearing an Afghan service uniform opened fire on the group, and some of the victims were Americans, NATO's International Security Force officials said. It was unclear if the Americans were U.S. troops, or nonmilitary personnel.
The attack happened late Monday morning in eastern Afghanistan, said Maj. Adam Wojack, a spokesman for the NATO-led force.
The incident appeared to be the latest "green-on-blue" attack, or strike against coalition members by people dressed in police or army uniforms. Assailants conducting similar subterfuge killed dozens of coalition troops in 2012.
On Friday, a coalition contractor in eastern Afghanistan was killed when people wearing Afghan National Army uniforms turned their weapons against ISAF members, NATO said.
The last coalition soldier killed in a "green-on-blue" attack was a Briton, who was slain on January 7. And in the last similar fatal assault on U.S. troops, two Americans were killed October 25.
The coalition has been working to thwart such insider attacks.
Coalition soldiers are required to have a loaded weapon within reach at all times. In addition, the coalition ended training for hundreds of Afghan soldiers last year until the completion of background checks for insurgent links.
Most of the insider attacks are believed to be the result of Afghan soldiers suffering from combat or emotional stress, a Defense Department official told CNN in September after an especially deadly weekend for coalition troops.
Only about 15% of the "green-on-blue" attacks are believed to be the result of insurgent links, and about 10% come from infiltrators not affiliated with the military, the Defense Department official said.