U.S. Marines and Afghan Troops Launch Attack on Taliban-Held Town

American and Afghan troops launched an attack on Marja, a Taliban-held town in southern Helmand Province, The Associated Press reported. In this attack, commanders say they will do something they have never done before: bring in an Afghan government and police force behind them.

American and British troops will stay on to support them. Marja is intended to serve as a prototype for a new type of military operation, based on the counterinsurgency thinking propounded by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal in the prelude to President Obama’s decision in December to increase the number of American troops here to nearly 100,000.

Abdullah withdraws from run-off vote

Afghan ElectionsOpposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah announced on Sunday that he was pulling out of this week’s run-off presidential election in Afghanistan.

“The decision which I am going to announce was not an easy one. It was a decision that I have taken after wide-ranging consultations, with the people of Afghanistan, my supporters and influential leaders,” Abdullah told supporters.

“In protest against the misconduct of the government and the Independent Election Commission (IEC), I will not participate in the election,” he added.

Abdullah’s decision is set to plunge Afghanistan into further uncertainty, with the country having been in political limbo since the first round of voting on August 20 which was tainted by widespread vote-rigging.

Following the widespread fraud in the first round, Abdullah had demanded President Hamid Karzai sack the head of the IEC Azizullah Ludin and suspend four ministers who campaigned for the incumbent.

Abdullah’s camp had set a deadline of Saturday for Karzai to bow to his demands, saying that he would not take part in a contest that would not be free and fair.

His demands have so far received short shrift, with the IEC saying Ludin can only be dismissed by the Supreme Court, while Karzai said Abdullah had no right to interfere in ministerial positions.

Karzai’s share of the vote in the first round fell to 49.67 percent after a UN-backed watchdog deemed around a quarter of all votes cast to be fraudulent.

Insistent that the fraud had been overstated, Karzai only agreed to a run-off under extensive diplomatic pressure from Washington, highlighted when he made the run-off announcement standing alongside US Senator John Kerry.

Asked whether the outcome of a run-off with only one candidate would result in a legitimate government, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that such situations were “not unprecedented.”

“We have see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward. I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election,” she said.

“I’m not going to comment on what any of the candidates might decide to do,” Clinton said, adding: “It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made.”

Abdullah won just over 30 percent in the first round and would have had a mountain to climb if he was to overhaul Karzai in the run-off

UN report warns of Afghan heroin threat to peace

UN report warns of Afghan heroin threat to peaceThe United Nations has published a report on Afghanistan’s opium industry, warning that a “perfect storm of drugs and terrorism…may be heading towards central Asia.”

It says the equivalent of 3,500 tons of opium are smuggled out of Afghanistan every year, while less than two percent is seized by the authorities.

About two-thirds of the opium paste made from poppies is turned into heroin in the country, the rest being exported as opium.

Europe is the biggest overseas market, followed closely by Russia and Iran, which is grappling with an epidemic, particularly among young people. 42 percent of the world’s opium users are in Iran.

The profits from the trade are being split between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, fuelling their war machines and funding insurgencies and terrorism worldwide.

However the lion’s share of the 43.5 billion euro annual market goes to organised crime outside Afghanistan.

The UN Security Council has demanded the drug barons be prevented from travelling and have their assets seized, but this has not happened.

An estimated 12,000 tons of opium is stockpiled in Afghanistan, enough to supply the world for more than two years, and crop eradication campaigns are only having limited success.

Karzai and Abdullah prepare for run-off

A day after Afghanistan’s president said he would accept a run-off presidential ballot, his main challenger has confirmed he also accepts a second vote.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah welcomed the decision of the Independent Election Commission to hold a vote on November the 7th.

Abdullah said: “We have certain suggestions, recommendations and conditions in order to avoid widespread massive fraud in the upcoming elections”.

President Hamid Karzai bowed to international pressure after a UN-backed panel said it found evidence of fraud in a vote held on August the 20th.

Aleem Siddique, from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said: “Preparations now are in full swing for a second round, for this year’s Presidential Elections in Afghanistan. All voting materials are now in the country, the ballot papers have been printed”.

But there are warnings from some experts that there is not enough time to restore confidence in the electoral process and make all of the logistical preparations fair.

Times defends Taliban ‘bribes’ story

A leading newspaper in Britain has defended its claim that Taliban fighters were paid not to attack Italian troops in Afghanistan. The Times said it had proof that bribes were offered, despite furious denials from Rome. The paper revealed that the Taliban itself confirmed the story, backing up information from sources inside NATO.

“The reason we know about those payments is because the US intelligence services, according to our sources inside NATO, managed to tap phone conversations between insurgent commanders and Italian intelligence agents,” said Times reporter Tom Coghlan.

The Times said a deal was struck last year whereby militants were paid not to attack Italian forces operating east of Kabul. A local Taliban commander has now said it was agreed that neither side should target the other. Two senior Afghan officials have also confirmed the story.

In Rome, the Italian government reacted with outrage, accusing The Times of being anti-Italian.

“No government has ever worked in the way The Times has described,” said Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa. “I find it hateful that this newspaper seems to be repeatedly running a campaign of anti-Italianism, using all sorts of rubbish without checking. They just publish the report.”

The alleged bribes came to light when French troops replaced the Italians but knew nothing about any payments. The Taliban said it thought the Italians had reneged on the deal and attacked, killing 10 French soldiers.

EU and US at odds over Afghanistan

When it came the call was loud and clear. US General Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, wants a major shift in strategy to battle the Taliban and he needs 40,000 more troops and equipment to do it.

But where are they coming from?

euronews channel-Its a dilemma for the Obama administration as the Europeans look to be stepping back from the fray as casualties mount, costs soar and public opinion begins to dip.

The US president held talks with NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen and made a clear point.

“This is not an American battle. This is a NATO mission as well. And we are working actively and diligently to consult with NATO every step of the way.”

Europe’s defence ministers are meeting in Gothenburg and what to do in Afghanistan is high on the agenda.

The blocs foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, indicated that the EU would wait for the results of the Afghan election before committing to any new Afghan plan.

As it stands 68,000 US soldiers are in Afghanistan backed by 35,000 from other countries, mostly Europe.

40 percent of US generals back the call for a 40,000 troop surge.

Europe wants 17,000 instructors to train 13,000 Afghan soldiers and 80,000 police.

Caught in the middle is President Obama while his top brass want extra firepower his main allies lean toward a training strategy.

General McChrystal gave his reasons for wanting a speedier end to a difficult conundrum.

“We need to reverse the current trend and time does matter. Waiting does not prolong a favourable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, public support will not last indefinitely.”

He is not alone in his thinking, General Henri Bentegeat, who heads the EU’s Military Committee, says its not a problem of troop shortages but a lack of political will that is keeping Europe from deploying more military in the country.

EU Ministers are set to grasp this nettle again at a formal meeting in Brussels in November.

Obama consults on Afghanistan as casualties mount

As fighting intensifies in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama is meeting members of Congress to help define future strategy in the conflict.

Insurgent violence has already reached its highest level since the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.

euronews channel-Two foreign troops were wounded today in a bomb blast against a coalition convoy in Wardak province, west of Kabul. And the British Defency Ministry announced that a soldier from the UK has
been killed on a foot patrol in southern Helmand province.

NATO forces said today that they had killed more than 100 fighters in a fierce battle in eastern Afghanistan at the weekend in which eight Americans died. It was the deadliest firefight for US troops in more than a year.