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Context of 'June-September 2009: Kalashnikov AK-47 Prices Soar in Afghanistan as Demand Rises; Arms Heading North'

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Taliban presence map: January-September 2009.Taliban presence map: January-September 2009. [Source: International Council on Security and Development]An international research and policy group reports that the Taliban have attained a permanent presence in about 80 percent of Afghanistan, up from 72 percent in November 2008 and 54 percent in November 2007. The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), formerly known as The Senlis Council, also reports that another 17 percent of Afghanistan is seeing “substantial” Taliban activity. Furthermore, it reports a recent sharp rise in Taliban activity in the north, a formerly peaceful area. “The dramatic change in the last few months has been the deterioration of the situation in the north of Afghanistan, which was previously one of the most stable parts of Afghanistan. Provinces such as Kunduz and Balkh are now heavily affected by Taliban violence. Across the north of Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of insurgent attacks against international, Afghan government, and civilian targets,” states Alexander Jackson, a policy analyst at ICOS. Spokeswoman Jane Francis says ICOS’s data is based on reports from a team in Afghanistan and was gathered from daily insurgent activity reports between January and September 2009. “The unrelenting and disturbing return, spread, and advance of the Taliban is now without question,” says Norine MacDonald QC, president and lead field researcher for ICOS. [International Council on Security and Development, 9/10/2009; Associated Press, 9/10/2009]

Entity Tags: International Council on Security and Development, Alexander Jackson, Jane Francis, Norine MacDonald, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. [Ferghana Information Agency, 10/12/2009; Press TV, 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/12/2009] Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. [Asia Times, 10/16/2009]
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. [Eurasianet, 10/13/2009; Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/6/2009] Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. [Nukhost Daily via UNAMA, 10/14/2009]
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. [Press TV, 10/12/2009] McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” [Asia Times, 10/16/2009] Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. [Press TV, 10/17/2009] According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]

Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sanobar Shermatova, Rahim Rahimi, Taliban, Stanley A. McChrystal, Najia Aimaq, Sayed Rafiq, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Moen Marastyal, Afghan National Security Forces, Amir Gul, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, Ghulam Haidar Haidar, International Security Assistance Force, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hamid Karzai

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The price of the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle more than doubles in Afghanistan. Time reports that the price of a Chinese-made AK-47 smuggled in from Pakistan has risen to $400 from $150 in just three months. The Independent reports that the weapons are going for $600 apiece and that a steady stream of them is heading to the north of the country. Both sources suggest that the surge in demand for the guns is due in part to mounting tensions over the disputed August presidential elections, which are widely perceived by Afghans, diplomats, and foreign observers as marred by fraud in favor of current President Hamid Karzai. “People are arming themselves,” Time quotes one Western official in Kabul as saying. In the Panjshir Valley, the heartland of the Northern Alliance and a Tajik stronghold of presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah, former Mujahedeen commander Gul Shah Mohammed tells The Independent that the Tajiks will not tolerate being deprived by a fraudulent poll. “We know how to use these weapons, we haven’t forgotten how to fight,” he declares. [Independent, 9/2/2009; Time, 9/10/2009] Such a dramatic rise in price is an ominous sign of demand in a country already awash in weapons. In addition to the demand and flow of arms to the north, also portentous is the sharp rise in Taliban presence and activity in the previously peaceful northern regions of Afghanistan (see Between January and September 2009), and reports that Taliban and other insurgents are being ferried to the north by helicopter (see May-October 12, 2009).

Entity Tags: Hamid Karzai, Gul Shah Mohammed, Abdullah Abdullah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai attempts to cut a secret deal with one of his presidential election rivals in a bid to knock his strongest challenger from the race, to ensure a clear victory and, ostensibly, the minimization of sectarian violence a tight result might provoke in the hyper-armed country. In the proposed deal, Karzai asks former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani, a candidate currently running third in the polls, to give up his election bid in exchange for a job as “chief executive”—a post described as similar to prime minister—in a Karzai government. Such an agreement would likely unite the Pashtun vote and knock Karzai’s main contender, Abdullah Abdullah, out of the race. Karzai’s offer will be confirmed by several sources, including Ghani himself, and may have backing from top US officials. “If Ghani agrees to the terms, Karzai will dump his team and move forward, with Karzai as president and Ghani as chief executive,” one campaign official will tell The Independent. During the election campaign, Karzai has made deals with tribal leaders and various warlords, promising them positions and patronage in exchange for the votes they control. The Independent cites international officials who believe that as many as 20 cabinet positions have already been pledged.
Karzai's Offer Confirmed - President Karzai’s brother, Qayum Karzai, is the first to approach Ghani with the proposal according to sources close to Karzai’s inner circle. Karzai presents Ghani with the argument that Ghani can’t win the election anyway, and even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to hold on to power. Ghani’s staff will also confirm that Karzai emissaries make an offer, but they say that Ghani has no plans to pull out of the race and will continue his campaign. Ghani himself will later confirm Karzai’s overture. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” he will tell reporters in the province of Faryab (see August 8, 2009).
Top US Diplomats Holbrooke and Eikenberry Back the Proposal - Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador, are understood to have discussed the proposal with Ghani, according to the Independent report. “It makes sense,” a policy analyst with close links to the US administration says. “Holbrooke likes Ghani, and he has come round to the fact that Karzai will probably win.” Furthermore, The Independent notes that the idea of a chief executive was originally devised in Washington as a way of handing the responsibility of running the government to a skilled technocrat, a profile that certainly fits Ghani. The Washington Post will later report that according to Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, US officials back the idea of a new chief executive position under Karzai. The Post also reports that US officials have discussed the “chief executive” proposal with Ghani. US embassy officials, however, deny any involvement in back-room deals. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Washington Post, 8/14/2009]
Threats of Post-Election Armed Protests, Civil War - Analysts and journalists suggest that Afghanistan’s coming elections threaten to split the country along ethnic and sectarian lines, possibly igniting a civil war reminiscent of the 1990s (see March 13, 1994). “The whole country is armed. Everybody has weapons. You have to keep everyone happy,” one Afghan analyst says. Anticipating fraudulent results, Abdullah’s campaign staff have threatened to hold demonstrations if Karzai wins. Abdullah’s supporters, who are largely Tajik, have warned of Iranian-style protests, but “with Kalashnikovs,” should Karzai win a second term. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Reuters, 8/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Holbrooke, Karl Eikenberry, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Ashraf Ghani, Abdul Qayum Karzai, Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Ashraf Ghani, one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s main presidential election rivals, denies that he has agreed to withdraw from the August 20 election in exchange for a top position in a future Karzai government. Karzai proposed the back-room offer to Ghani in late July (see Late July 2009) in the hope of securing victory over leading contender Abdullah Abdullah. In the proposed deal, Karzai offered Ghani a job as “chief executive” in his (future) government if he would agree to drop out of the race. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” Ghani tells reporters in Faryab province. However, it appears that Ghani, a former finance minister under Karzai, is holding out for a better deal. Suggesting that he is not ruling out a return to government if allowed to implement his plans, he says, “There would have to be very very firm commitments, time-bound set of activities, full embracement of the program that I’ve articulated for the next 10 years.” [Reuters, 8/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Abdullah Abdullah, Hamid Karzai, Ashraf Ghani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his administration is investigating reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the increasingly unstable northern provinces of the country (see May-October 12, 2009), US, NATO, and Afghan officials reject the reports and insinuations that Western forces are aiding the Taliban or other militants. US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, denounces reports that the US is secretly helping Afghanistan’s enemies with weapons and helicopters as outrageous and baseless. “We would never aid the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, that are killing our soldiers, your soldiers, and innocent Afghan civilians every day,” he says. [Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/15/2009] A Karzai campaign staffer says that Karzai did not mean to imply the helicopters were American. “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] According to the Ariana Television Network, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Werner Hans Lauk, professes ignorance when asked about Karzai’s claim that helicopters are carrying armed individuals to the northern provinces. Germany is assigned command responsibility for the north. [Ariana Television Network, 10/14/2009] “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” says Brigadier General Juergen Setzer, who is the recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the north, which has overall control of the air space in that region. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” Captain Tim Dark, of Britain’s Task Force Helmand, is also vehement in his denunciation. “The thought that British soldiers could be aiding and abetting the enemy is just rubbish,” he says. “We have had 85 casualties so far this year.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Werner Hans Lauk, Karl Eikenberry, Juergen Setzer, International Security Assistance Force, Hamid Karzai, Moen Marastyal, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Taliban, Tim Dark

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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