May 20, 2010

President Karzai set to boost brother's power in Kandahar


(Ruhullah at his Kandahar compound)

Is President Karzai poised to sign off on a lucrative new business deal that could boost the power of his controversial half-brother's in Kandahar?

Karzai is weighing approval of an expansive new business deal that could give Ahmed Wali Karzai increased influence over the lucrative security business that protects supply convoys for U.S.-led forces in southern Afghanistan.

Kandahar leaders and the Afghan Interior Ministry are pushing the plan as a way to unite rival security companies and bring some measure of control to the volatile convoy security business in the region.

But critics say the deal will only solidify Ahmed Wali Karzai's hold on power by elevating one of his allies to head the new company.

Under the plan, the new security firm will be run by Ruhullah, a Kandahar strongman who already controls long stretches of the supply route.

Ruhullah, who got his start in the field by offering protection to CNN and CBS crews back in 2001/02, says the deal will allow him to create a formidable force of about 2,500 people.

Interior Ministry regulators said Ruhullah will only be able to start with 500.

Either way, the deal would give Ruhullah expansive new clout in Kandahar.

Ahmed Wali Karzai said he would help the company, but would have no direct role in running the business.

But the close links between Ruhullah and Ahmed Wali Karzai were evident last week when we went to speak to the two in back-to-back interviews.

After meeting Ruhullah at his dusty compound on the outskirts of Kandahar, we drove into the city center 15 minutes away for an interview with Ahmed Wali Karzai at his fortified compound.

When we emerged from the interview an hour later, Ruhullah was standing there in the anteroom, waiting to meet with Ahmed Wali Karzai.

You can get details on the deal here.

May 18, 2010

Kabul blast hits NATO convoy near COIN academy

The attacker hit just after 8 a.m. and detonated more than a half ton of explosives as a NATO convoy made its way through early morning traffic on the edge of the Afghan capital.

From a few miles away, outside the presidential palace, the car bomb sounded like a large, hollow trucking container being dropped on a nearby street.

But the explosives, which one investigator estimated to be about 1,300 pounds, sent armored SUVs aloft and blew a massive hole in the cement wall alongside the road.

Afghan officials said 12 Afghan civilians were killed and four dozen more were injured. Many of them were riding on a public bus that was hit squarely by the nearby blast.

NATO said six service members, including five Americans, had been killed by the bomber.

Bombblog1 A few yards from the crater, American soldiers used a camouflage blanket to cover one body alongside a ravaged Suburban that appeared to be part of the NATO convoy.

Blood soaked into the dirt road and shrapnel could be found in fields hundreds of yards from the blast site.

The attack took place on a crowded, dusty, pothole-riddled street running from central Kabul out towards the Afghan parliament, and an Afghan army base nestled in the valley below Kabul's Darul Aman Palace, the iconic hilltop palace built in the 1920s by King Amanullah Khan.

(The bullet-riddled, bomb-scarred, abandoned palace has become a longstanding symbol of the ravages of decades of war in Afghanistan.)

The valley is also home to the U.S. military's counter-insurgency academy, the intelligence center meant to push the dominant military thinking in Afghanistan that puts protecting the civilian population as the priority ahead of killing insurgents.

Tuesday's attack took place two hours before Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a palace press conference meant to showcase his successful Washington visit that was engineered to rebuild his brittle relationship with the Obama administration.

His press conference was largely overshadowed by the morning's attack.

Karzai's half-brother linked to illegal land grabs

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the controversial half-brother of President Hamid Karzai, has led a political strike in Kandahar to protest a new military report -- obtained by McClatchy Newspapers -- that accuses him of blocking Afghan officials for reclaiming public land illegally seized by his allies.

Ahmed Wali Karzai vowed to keep the Kandahar provincial council shut down until his half-brother's government in Kabul sends a special delegation to investigate the claims.

"The shura is not going to do anything until this thing is cleared up," he told McClatchy in a telephone interview Monday, referring to the 14-member council. "If they can find one thing in this report that is true, I am ready to accept any kind of punishment."

The eight-page, handwritten report details several cases in which Ahmed Wali Karzai's relatives, friends, and allies are building lucrative projects on military land.

In one case, the report said, Ahmed Wali Karzai personally intervened to prevent military officials from reclaiming government land being illegally used by two of the Kandahar kingpin's allies who control much of the security business in the area.

"When the delegation asked these officials why they had neglected their work, they told them, 'We were told orally by Ahmed Wali not to touch these guys; let them work,' " said Maj. Gen. Sher Mohammed Zazai, the Afghan army corps commander in Kandahar, who ordered the investigation.

But Ahmed Wali Karzai characterized the charges as politically motivated allegations from critics who resent his vast power in southern Afghanistan.

"There are more than 100,000 Popalzai in Kandahar, so I am responsible for anything they do?" he said. "If an American commits a crime in Afghanistan, should we blame it on Obama?"


Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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