Friday, April 4, 2014

War Watch April 4 , 2014 - Afghanistan Presidential Election( First Round ) in focus ( Security is the watch word ) - One foreign journalist has been killed and another critically wounded in a shooting in eastern Afghanistan, a day before the country's presidential elections -- Assaults targeting international observers and the election commission itself have left open questions regarding the legitimacy and the security of Saturday's vote -- Taliban gunmen have abducted an Afghan candidate running for a seat in the provincial council of Sar-i-Puland and seven members of his entourage, an Afghan official has said. . ....... Ahead of their own Election in April , Iraq death counts mount ....... Syrian refugees hit the one million mark just for Lebanon , Syria Opposition makes accusation of Assad use of chemical weapons once again , battles near Damascus delay chemical shipments .....


AL Jazeera......

Foreign journalist killed in east Afghanistan

One reporter shot dead and another critically injured in border area, a day before presidential polls.

Last updated: 04 Apr 2014 08:18
Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
One foreign journalist has been killed and another critically wounded in a shooting in eastern Afghanistan, a day before the country's presidential elections.
The attack in Khost province on Friday highlights the poor security in country ahead of the polls, which the Taliban has vowed to disrupt, threatening to use "all force necessary".
The shooting comes less than a month after Swedish journalist Nils Horner was killed in broad daylight in Kabul's heavily patrolled diplomatic district.
The Committee to Project Journalists says journalists operating in Afghanistan are under "mounting pressure", with threats and harassment coming from "the government, the military, state security organisations, insurgent groups, and regional and ethnic power brokers seeking a return to power".
Saturday's election will mark the first democratic transfer of power from one president to another - a turning point after 13 years of fighting armed groups that has claimed nearly 3,500 members of a US-led coalition of troops and many thousands more from Afghanistan's security forces.
Pakistan's government has guaranteed to beef up security along its border with Afghanistan in order for the country's elections to run smoothly, as many of the border regions are under the control of Taliban fighters.
Afghanistan's Interior Minister Umer Daudzai said on Thursday that the election will take place in a "secure environment".
The Haqqani network, one of the most active armed groups in Afghanistan, operates in Khost province.
Daudzai and other security officials acknowledged that eastern Afghanistan remained one of the most difficult areas to control but insisted government security forces were ready to protect voters nationwide.
He also promised troops would remain neutral amid fears that tribal and other loyalties could create a conflict of interest.
Nearly 200,000 Afghan forces are being deployed to protect voters and polling stations. It will be a key test of their readiness to provide security as international combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of this year.

Who is watching Afghanistan's elections?

Some international observers pulled out amid security concerns, creating legitimacy fears for presidential vote.

 Last updated: 03 Apr 2014 19:11
Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Campaigning in Afghanistan has been marred by violence, with the Taliban vowing to disrupt the April 5 vote [AFP]
Kabul, Afghanistan - Security has been a scarce commodity in Afghanistan for some time, but the Taliban's recent spate of attacks intended to disrupt the April 5 elections - and the promise of more to come – have amplified the sense of insecurity.
Assaults targeting international observers and the election commission itself have left open questions regarding the legitimacy and the security of Saturday's vote.
In an attempt to calm nerves and promise a safe day at the polls, the Interior Ministry, coupled with Afghan Special Forces, planned a press conference on Thursday to answer security questions.
But things did not go as planned; after Wednesday's deadly attack on the MOI's compound within central Kabul's heavily guarded "steel belt", it started to seem that the Taliban can strike at will.
So can the security apparatus improve confidence?
Members of the Interior Ministry didn't attend the press conference, so different branches of the Special Forces were left to attempt to quell concerns from the population.
In response to a question on election security, Mohammed Zaher Azimi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence told Al Jazeera that the threat to Afghanistan comes from "known circles outside the country".
As long as that threat exists, "the innocent people of Afghanistan…will continue to have such worries, as will we," said Azimi, who dismissed the attacks, such as the one on the Serena Hotel on March 20, as an "embarrassing" act by the Taliban, "not one of bravery and strength".
"If only they'd fight us face to face," he said.
Observing the observers
The Taliban, however, prefers to fight in the shadows and few involved with the vote feel safe. 
Two election commission offices have been attacked, as has a hotel where international election observers were staying, prompting the majority of them to leave.
Afghan observers, however, are not going anywhere.
If bullets fall from the sky like rain, I will still go to the polling station.
- Abdul Munir Azizi, Afghan election observer
"If bullets fall from the sky like rain, I will still go to the polling station," said Abdul Munir Azizi, 32, who will be working as an election observer with the Afghan Women's Rights Network. "Afghans have seen the worst of it…we have even experienced civil war. Now people would sacrifice their lives, but they will definitely go to vote."
Still, the departure of the observers is a worrying development. 
Hassan Wafaey, a political analyst and researcher, said the role of international observers is crucial as it can make or break the legitimacy of the next government in the eyes of Afghan people.
This is, after all, a population that almost expects corruption and fraud as a matter of course.
The Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan, a civil society organisation promoting democracy, found that 25 percent of those surveyed think these elections will be fair. And that poll was done before the current eruption of anti-election violence.
"The role of international observers will be very important in the upcoming elections because of the experience with corruption in previous elections," said Wafaey, who also works with several civil society groups.
Attacks such as the one on the Serena Hotel, where one international observer was killed, prompted key observers such as the National Democratic Institute to pull out. The Taliban has promised more attacks.
"The number of the national observers is higher than in previous elections, but they are not seen as important," he said.
"International observers are seen by Afghans as being better educated and having more experience and expertise," said Wafaey, adding that local observers might not feel as free criticise the process or point out corruption. "It's obviously going to affect the legitimacy of the election."
A 'genuine Afghan process'­­
Shams Rasekh, chief of the observation mission at Transparent Election for Afghanistan, an independent civil society group, said that "credibility is definitely linked to security…we've asked the government to provide more security."
His group has trained roughly 7,000 election observers around the country, but Rasekh told Al Jazeera that he is concerned that most of the roughly 290,000 domestic observers might not be properly trained or might not be impartial, as candidates themselves have veritable armies of observers they'll be sending to the polls on Saturday.
The numbers have not yet been finalised, but just under 10,000 international election observers might still be in Afghanistan by Saturday, including the European Union's monitoring mission. This is less than previous elections, Rasekh said, noting that the Asia Foundation and National Democratic Institute have pulled-out of the country. 
That leaves a vacuum that will need to be filled with local observers. While some gained experience in previous elections, other could inadvertently violate election laws because they are not familiar with methodology and procedures.
Presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai alone has submitted around 40,000 names to the Independent Election Commission to be approved as poll observers.
Security forces faced an attack on a police station in Jalalabad on March 20 [AP]
One of three frontrunners in the race, he has nothing but praise for how the security situation has been handled in the lead up to the vote.
"Our security forces need to be praised, both for their sacrifice and for their accomplishments," Ghani Ahmadzai told Al Jazeera.
"Compared to the threats, they've done very well," he said, adding that election day "is a genuine security issue."
For a candidate running in the race, he said the lack of foreign observers is not going to put a dent in the legitimacy of the results.
"This process has been a genuine Afghan process," said Ghani Ahmadzai.
"In 2004 and 2009, the international community was at the forefront of managing, funding, et cetera," he said. "So far, this has been a totally Afghan process…monitoring will be done by a conscious public."
There are, however, concerns over how the electoral commission's reports concerning the security situation will affect do poll workers, observers and voters. Fears of violence could impact voter turnout on Saturday.
"We won't ask that the media not report on security issues," said Heshmatallah Radfar, a member of the IEC media commission, at a briefing on Thursday. "But we ask that they keep the mental health of election workers and voters in mind and that they not exaggerate the security threats."
Indeed, the hope remains that even if the Taliban's threats materialise in some areas, people will still generally turn out to vote, and trust that those votes will count.
Azimi, the Defence Ministry spokesman, remains optimistic about the process and how voting will impact the long-term security outlook. "The people of Afghanistan should know that the submission of every vote constitutes a tooth-breaking blow to our domestic and international enemies," he said.   

Taliban 'abduct' Afghan provincial candidate

Council candidate and seven others were taken overnight in the northern Sar-i-Pul province ahead of April 5 poll.

Last updated: 31 Mar 2014 06:54
Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
The Taliban have vowed to use force to disrupt the April 5 national and local elections [Reuters]
Taliban gunmen have abducted an Afghan candidate running for a seat in the provincial council of Sar-i-Puland and seven members of his entourage, an Afghan official has said.
Governor Abdul Jabar Haqbeen said on Monday that candidate Hussain Nazari and seven others were taken overnight in the northern Sar-i-Pul province.
They were travelling in a taxi to the provincial capital and had no security escort with them, he said.
The governor said elders in the community were trying to negotiate with the Taliban to get Nazari and the others released.
Afghanistan is holding elections on Saturday for a new president to replace Hamid Karzai, as well as for provincial council members.
The Taliban have vowed to use force to disrupt the April 5 vote and have stepped up attacks in the lead-up to the polling.
On Saturday, suicide bombers targeted buildings near the Independent Election Commission headquarters in Kabul, leaving four attackers killed and at least two police officers injured.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.
Last Friday, Taliban fighters also attacked a Kabul guesthouse used by a US anti-landmine charity, killing two people including a teenage girl.


Deadly clashes kill dozens near Iraqi capital

At least 45 people killed in clashes and blasts as Iraqi troops battle armed groups near Baghdad.

Last updated: 03 Apr 2014 21:23
Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Clashes between Iraqi government troops and al-Qaeda-inspired fighters have claimed the lives of tens across the country, where electoral fever is on the rise ahead of general elections scheduled for April 30.
Forty fighters and an army officer were killed near Baghdad on Thursday, authorities said, as attacks elsewhere in the country left five people dead.

The Associated Press news agency reported that a statement was posted on the Interior Ministry's website, in which spokesman Saad Maan Ibrahim said 40 "terrorist attackers" were killed when members of security forces foiled an assault by armed groups on a military base in Youssifiyah.
Maan said that one army officer was killed. Youssifiyah is about 20km south of Baghdad.

Police officials said the attack started late on Wednesday and lasted for a few hours. They confirmed the military's account and said the assailants withdrew after the arrival of security enforcements to the area.

On Thursday afternoon, a car bomb exploded in a commercial street in Mahmoudiya town just south of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 12, police said.

Another car bombing in the town of Haswa, 50km south of Baghdad, killed one person and wounded five, according to police's narration.

Medical officials in nearby hospitals confirmed the casualty figures from the car bombings. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to journalists.

Violence has escalated in Iraq over the past year. Last year, Iraq saw its highest death toll since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007, according to United Nations figures.

The country will hold its first parliamentary elections since the withdrawal of US troops.

In the city of Hillah, a car bomb exploded on Thursday near the house of Ali al-Maliki, a Shia candidate running in the upcoming election. The explosion killed a civilian passer-by and wounded six.
Police said that neither al-Maliki nor any family members were hurt in the attacks.

Al-Maliki is running in the bloc headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Hillah is 95km south of Baghdad.

102 Killed, 62 Wounded As Militants Attack Iraq Army Base
by , April 03, 2014
As many as 102 people were killed and 62 more were wounded today. Dozens of people were killed during an attack on an army base in Yusufiya. The Interior Ministry and local officials gave inconsistent casualty figures.
Two militants were killed as they tried to sneak out of GarmaSix more were killedduring an attack on a checkpoint.
In the Falluja region, eight militants were killed.
Very conflicting information has been released about an attack at army base inDwiyliba near Yusufiya. The Interior Ministry claims that more than 40 gunmen were killed, but only one soldier died in clashes. Local sources say that 12 soldiers were killed, and as many as 40 militants were killed, wounded, or arrested. The area was sealed off.
Dwiyliba is within an area once known as the "Triangle of Death". It is just south of Baghdad and very close to Anbar province. During the U.S. occupation and sectarian war, this region was particularly restive. In recent weeks, though, it appears that militants from Anbar are attempting to take territory here, perhaps as a prelude to entering Baghdad.
Five people were killed and 11 more were wounded when a car bomb was detonated outside a Tuz Khormato restaurant.
A car bomb in Mahmoudiya killed one and wounded 11 more.
In Baiji, gunmen killed two policemen. A body was found. Gunmen wounded four policemen.
In Baghdad, sticky bomb placed under a car wounded the driver and a passenger.Two militants were killed south of town. An attempt to take over a checkpoint failed.
A roadside bomb in Buhriz killed two policemen and wounded four others.
In Tal al-Sh’eir, clashes left three SWAT members wounded and one bystander dead.
Gunmen killed one person in Tikrit. A professor was wounded in a shooting.
In Baquba, a bomb wounded a woman and her daughter. A body was found.
militant leader and three aides were killed during an operation in Aiyn al-Jahash.


Syrian refugees hit million mark in Lebanon

UNHCR says figure is "a devastating milestone for a host community stretched to breaking point" and urges more support.

Last updated: 03 Apr 2014 17:42
Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon has exceeded one million, in what the UN refugee agency calls a "devastating milestone" for a small country with depleted resources and brewing sectarian tension.
Refugees from Syria, half of them children, now equal a quarter of Lebanon's resident population, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement, warning that most of them live in poverty and depend on aid for survival.
UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres described the figure as "a devastating milestone worsened by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point".
"Tiny Lebanon has now become the country with "the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide," and is "struggling to keep pace", Guterres said in a statement.
"The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering," he said.
'Generational challenge'
Jan Egeland, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has 1,000 relief workers in and around Syria, told Al Jazeera that the figure could easily be "more than half a million" higher.
Egeland said not all of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon had officially registered with the UN, an annual requirement to receive food rations, health and education services - and the process often takes months.
"I don't think we are understanding the scope and breadth and magnitude of this crisis," Egeland said.
Al Jazeera talks to Niamh Murnaghan, the Norwegian Refugee Council Country Director, who says the refugees in Lebanon are in desperate need of help.
"This is not just another war, this is a generational challenge and we are not up to meeting that challenge."
Syria's three-year war so far has killed more than 150,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, while half of the population is estimated to have fled their homes.
Of those who have fled Syria, nearly 600,000 have registered as refugees in Jordan and around 670,000 in Turkey. The UNHCR registers 2,500 new refugees daily in Lebanon.
According to Guterres, "Lebanon has experienced serious economic shocks due to the conflict in Syria", while security has deteriorated as a result of rising regional instability.
Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Tripoli in northern Lebanon, said the cost of the Syrian crisis to Lebanon had been estimated at $.2.5bn in 2013 alone, not just from aid and providing services.
"It affected tourism, trade investment, even the wages in Lebanon have been affected because Syrians will work for much less," our reporter said.
The influx has put severe strains on Lebanon's health and education sectors as well as on electricity, water and sanitation services.
"The Lebanese people have shown striking generosity, but are struggling to cope," Guterres said.
The UNHCR chief urged the global community to boost its support for Lebanon.
"International support to government institutions and local communities is at a level that, although slowly increasing, is totally out of proportion with what is needed," Guterres said.
The humanitarian appeal for Lebanon "is only 13 percent funded," even as the needs of a rapidly growing refugee population become ever more pressing.
"The number of school-aged children is now over 400,000, eclipsing the number of Lebanese children in public schools. These schools have opened their doors to over 100,000 refugees, yet the ability to accept more is severely limited," he said.
Guterres said the majority of Syrian refugee children, however, were out of school.
Because of the dire economic situation their families endure, many children are now working, "girls can be married young and the prospect of a better future recedes the longer they remain out of school".

Syrian opposition accuses Assad of new poison attack

BEIRUT Thu Apr 3, 2014 4:08pm EDT
(Reuters) - Opposition activists again accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of using poison gas in Syria's civil war on Thursday, showing footage of an apparently unconscious man lying on a bed and being treated by medics.
The alleged attack on the neighborhood of Jobar in the capital Damascus comes a week after the Syrian government sent a letter to the United Nations claiming it had evidence that rebel groups were planning a toxic gas attack in the same area.
Reuters could not independently verify the footage or the claims due to security restrictions on reporting in Syria.
Activists from the opposition "Jobar Revo" group posted the video on YouTube of a man being treated with oxygen and being injected by medics. A voice off-screen said Thursday's date and that there was "a poison attack in Jobar."
Another opposition group, the Syrian Revolutionary Coordinators Union, said that all those affected by the gas were "in a good condition". There has been on-off fighting between rebels and government forces in Jobar this year.
In a letter dated March 25 and circulated by the United Nations this week, Syria's U.N. envoy, Bashar Ja'afari, said his government had intercepted communications between "terrorists" that showed a man named Abu Nadir was secretly distributing gas masks in the rebel-held Jobar area.
Ja'afari said in the letter addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security Council that this information "confirms that armed terrorist groups are preparing to use toxic gas in Jobar quarter and other areas, in order to accuse the Syrian government of having committed such an act of terrorism."
A U.N. inquiry found in December that sarin gas had likely been used in Jobar in August and in several other locations, including in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where hundreds of people were killed.
The inquiry was only looking at whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. The Syrian government and the opposition have each accused the other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it.
The Ghouta attack sparked global outrage and a U.S. threat of military strikes, which was dropped after Assad pledged to destroy his chemical weapons.
But the Syrian government failed to meet a February 5 deadline to move all of its declared chemical substances and precursors, some 1,300 tones, out of the country. Syria has since agreed to a new timetable to remove the weapons by late April.
Syria's three-year civil war has killed more than 150,000 people, a third of them civilians, and caused millions to flee.

Clashes rage near Damascus as coast battles delay chemical shipments   

April 04, 2014 12:55 AM
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army's Al Rahman legion help a wounded fellow fighter covered in blood in the Mleha suburb of Damascus during what the rebel fighters said was an offensive against them by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, April 3, 2014.  (REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army's Al Rahman legion help a wounded fellow fighter covered in blood in the Mleha suburb of Damascus during what the rebel fighters said was an offensive against them by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, April 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)
UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT: Fierce clashes between regime troops and rebels raged in neighborhoods in and around the capital Thursday, activists and state media said, amid reports that clashes in a coastal province killed a top foreign fighter who was a former Guantanamo Bay detainee.
The coastal offensive by rebels has also prompted the Syrian authorities to delay the scheduled shipment of chemical materials, a U.N. spokesman said.
Activists reported heavy clashes and government air raids in the Damascus suburb of Mliha, as well as the capital’s eastern Jobar neighborhood.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 rebels were killed in the Mliha clashes and three in Jobar, with the regime reportedly sending reinforcements to push ahead with its offensive against the rebel-held areas.
It said regime forces targeted Mliha with a surface-to-surface rocket.
Syria’s state news agency said four mortar bombs slammed into Harasta, northwest of Damascus, killing six children and wounding five more. Another five people were wounded when a mortar bomb struck the upscale central neighborhood of Maliki, the agency said.
The Observatory said mortar bombs also struck Ummayad Square, close to the state TV and radio stations, as well as the army command. It said there were no casualties.
In the coastal campaign, Syrian troops killed a Moroccan militant once detained at the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay prison, private Lebanese television station Al-Mayadeen and Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar said. The stations described him as the chief of the hard-line Sham al-Islam Movement.
The stations said Brahim Benchakroun, better-known in Syria as Abu Ahmad al-Maghribi, was killed Wednesday while fighting government forces in northern rural Latakia, where rebels launched an offensive late last month, capturing several villages while also gaining their first access to the sea.
The Observatory said Benchakroun was critically wounded Wednesday but could not confirm whether he had been killed. A Latakia-based activist, Mohammad Abul-Hassan, said Bencharkoun was defending the strategic hill known as Observatory 45 that fell to the rebels last week.
American authorities handed Benchakroun over to Morocco in 2005. He was captured in Afghanistan, where he had moved in 1999, according to Islamist websites.
Abul-Hassan said Benchakroun used to be a member of the Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda-linked group. Benchakroun then set up his own Sham al-Islam group after Nusra split with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
The Sham al-Islam Movement took part in a rebel offensive in August that captured several Latakia villages before eventually being dislodged by government troops. Latakia is a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad, and the ancestral home the leader’s Alawite sect.
Thursday’s clashes around Observatory 45 killed or wounded 20 regime troops and paramilitaries, and a total of 11 rebel and jihadist fighters.
Despite the destruction and relentless violence of a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people, Assad is quietly preparing the ground to hold presidential elections early this summer to win another seven-year term.
No date has been set yet for the vote, which must be held between 60 and 90 days before Assad’s current seven-year term ends on July 17. Last month, the Syrian parliament approved an electoral law opening the door – at least in theory – to potential contenders besides Assad.
On Thursday, 11 nations that support the main Syrian opposition group in exile sharply criticized the notion of holding elections amid a raging civil war.
The group, which includes the U.S. as well as its Europe and Gulf allies, accused Assad of viewing such elections as a means “to sustain his dictatorship,” and said the recent moves by the Syrian government to lay the foundations for the polls to “have no credibility.”
In New York, diplomats heard that Syria has packed 40 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal into containers to be taken outside the country and destroyed, while convoy security has been deployed to deal with violence around Latakia. “Syrian authorities informed the joint mission that in view of the deteriorating security situation in Latakia province it would be temporarily postponing scheduled movements of chemical materials,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.
Syria’s U.N. envoy warned that the government may be forced to delay its transports due to the security situation and might miss another deadline for moving the ingredients of its gas program out of the country.