Credits: All from AP - from left: Martin Mejia (Lima 2000), David de la Paz (Mexico City 1999), Jose Luis Magana (Mexico City 1998), Nasser Nasser (Ramallah 2002), Srdjan Ilic (Kosovo 1998) & Nasser Nasser (Ramallah 2000).
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May 7, 2010
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Killing The Messenger
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Translations of key INSI information are available below in PDF format.
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AKE's Intelligence Department regularly provides private, focussed reports on a range of political and security issues to suit our clients' needs. If you would like to discuss your requirements or receive a quote please contact intel@akegroup.com or +44 (0)20 7816 5454

Flashpoints

Central (including Kabul)
Districts 2, 5, 11, 15 Kabul City (Kabul); Surobi District (Kabul); Musayi District (Kabul); Paghman District (Kabul); Ghandak Valley, Shiber District (Bamyan); Dih Yak District (Ghazni); Ajristan District (Ghazni); Khogyani District (Ghazni); Ghazni City, Ghazni District (Ghazni); Qarabagh District (Ghazni); Andar District (Ghazni); Tagab District (Kapisa); Mihtarlam District (Laghman); Puli Alam District (Logar); Baraki Barak District (Logar); Sayd Abad District (Wardak); Jalrez District (Wardak); Jaghatu District (Wardak); Maydan Shahr District (Wardak).

South and East
Sangin District (Helmand); Nad Ali District (Helmand); Marja District (Helmand); Reg District (Helmand); Nahri Sarraj District (Helmand); Kandahar City (Kandahar); Khakrez District (Kandahar); Kandahar District (Kandahar); Zhari District (Kandahar); Shah Wali Kot District (Kandahar); Panjwayi District (Kandahar); Dand District (Kandahar); Spin Boldak District (Kandahar); Maiwand District (Kandahar); Bak District (Khost); Khost (Matun) District (Khost); Spera District (Khost); Sabari District (Khost); Tere Zayi District (Khost); Pech District (all areas) (Kunar); Chapa Dara District (Kunar); Marawara District (Kunar); Chawkay District (Kunar); Sirkanay District (Kunar); Manogai District (Kunar); Narang District (Kunar); Mata Khan District (Paktika); Gayan District (Paktika); Dila District (Paktika); Gardez District (Paktika); Khoshamand District (Paktika); Urgun District (Paktika); Shwak District (Paktya); Zurmat District (Paktya); Chamkani District (Paktya); Dand Wa Patan District (Paktya); Khogyani District (Nangarhar); Achin District (Nangarhar); Dur Baba District (Nangarhar); Jalal Abad District, including Jalal Abad City (Nangarhar); Khash Rod District (Nimroz); Zaranj District (Nimroz); Bargi Matal (Nuristan); Mandol District (Nuristan); Tirin Kot District (Uruzgan); Dihrawud District (Uruzgan); Ataghar Districts (Zabul); Qalat District (Zabul); Shinkay District (Zabul).

North
Baghlan Jadid District (Baghlan); Dushi District (Baghlan); Wayawhan District (Badakhshan); Fayzabad District (Badakhshan); Mazar-i-Sharif District (Balkh); Dehdadi District (Balkh); Chahar Bolak District (Balkh); Khan Abad District (Kunduz); Mardian District (Jawzjan); Gosfandi District (Sar-e-Pul).

West
Ghormach District (Badghis); Murghab District (Badghis); Mugur District (Badghis); Jawand District (Badghis); Bala Buluk District (Farah); Farah City (Farah); Qaysar District (Faryab); Pashtun Kot District (Faryab); Khwaja Sabz Posh District (Faryab); Shirin Tagab District (Faryab); Almar District (Faryab); Chaghcharan District (Ghor); Herat City, Herat District (Herat).

The Flashpoint section is not a comprehensive list of all attacks in the previous reporting period but should be used by personnel to give an indication of the spread of attacks.

Areas of continued concern

The triangle of provinces of Logar, Ghazni and Wardak remain a fertile location for insurgents and insurgent activity. The likely movement of insurgents through different provinces means the central region remains vulnerable. Generally, districts through which arterial roads run in the provinces of Logar and Ghazni are especially likely to suffer security-related incidents. Andar and Qarabagh Districts in Ghazni are a particular problem. Wardak Province should be considered hostile. The Behsud District of Wardak has seen some significant clashes between Hazaras and Kuchi nomads (with the former claiming that the latter are supportive of the Taliban). However, all Hazara areas in the centre of the country should be considered liable to such disturbances. In the aftermath of the abduction of the Bangladeshi national on 15 September, Logar should be considered vulnerable to abduction for foreign personnel.

The southern zone, particularly Helmand, Kandahar (with Kandahar City and the Zhari, Panjwayi and Maiwand Districts currently the most dangerous), and Uruzgan Provinces should be considered extremely hazardous. Road travel in these areas – but especially in Helmand and Kandahar – is extremely dangerous as the level of violence in most weeks demonstrates. Zabul should be considered very susceptible to hostility.

The eastern belt of Paktika, Khost, Paktya, Nangarhar, Nuristan (especially the Kamdesh District but also Mandol District) and Kunar provinces (particularly the Korengal Valley north of Asadabad and Pech District in general – but especially the Watapur area) continue to be of concern. Khost, Kunar and Paktika have witnessed ongoing hostility; these areas are considered by some to be as dangerous, if not more so, than the above-mentioned southern areas. Kunar sees regular improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and attacks on security force positions. Nangarhar should be considered volatile for a number of reasons.

The western provinces of Herat, Ghor and Farah seem to have lapsed back into instability this week. A number of incidents, particularly in Badghis and Farah provinces, confirm the susceptibility of even previously stable provinces to insurgency attacks and to acts of banditry. While briefings continue to single out Farah as being more unstable than the other provinces in the region, it is worth noting that uncertainty exists throughout the west, albeit on a lesser scale compared to the southern zone. Badghis is reported to suffer from the presence of hostile Pashtun forces.

Northern provinces are no exception to instability as recent attacks on government and security personnel in Badakhshan and Kunduz demonstrate. Isolated incidents, however, do still occur in Balkh and Baghlan and caution should be exercised in the other provinces of the region.

The series of suicide bombings since the beginning of September in Kabul make the capital measurably less secure. Suicide bombings in Kabul, as in the rest of the country, have targeted military and security personnel primarily, but attendant civilian casualties from suicide bombings give cause for considerable concern.

District offices and organisations associated with the police and the local power structure, such as governors’ offices, local police forces, and in particular, Afghan National Army (ANA) troops, and Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel – with their outposts and convoys – are especially likely to be targeted for attack.

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF – composed of NATO troops and troops from countries not in NATO) United Nations and NGO (non-governmental organisation) facilities are especially vulnerable. NGOs and international NGOs (INGOs) that work closely with provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) should be aware that they might be specifically targeted for having a military appearance.

Especially in regard to associating with ISAF or CF (Coalition Forces), base attacks are a concern in the south (especially Helmand and Kandahar) and in the east (Kunar). Personnel staying in military bases in the southern, central and eastern regions should be aware of the propensity for standoff attacks. Rockets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are especially popular insurgent forms of attack, and may occur without warning. The smaller and more remote bases are most at risk, although large installations (such as Kandahar Airfield) are also susceptible.

Many of the more remote areas of the country are still at considerable risk from landmines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from previous conflicts.

Projections

International headlines have been dominated this week by reports of the two suicide bombs in Kabul. Previously, Kabul had been more secure, relative to much of the rest of the country, but in excess of 40 deaths in these two incidents, making a total of four incidents in 14 days, marks a significant deterioration in the security environment in the capital (AKE has raised its rating for Kabul from 35 to 42 over the course of the last two weeks). The broader picture that these two incidents flesh out is not only a general increase in violence as experienced nationwide, but also greater use of suicide bombers. This week also saw suicide attacks in Helmand and Uruzgan, together with suicide belts/vests found in Kabul province, a warning issued for Jalalabad City and several insurgents, claiming to be undergoing training as suicide bombers, arrested in Ghazni. Events in Kabul suggest that the threat of suicide bombing is not confined to the more typically insecure regions (such as the south and east), and, despite all 17 suicide bombs since the start of September 2007 targeting security or military personnel, the number of attendant civilian casualties means that all personnel should re-evaluate their security procedures and increase vigilance for the foreseeable period.

Kidnapping remains a clear threat to foreign personnel operating throughout the country. The four members of the Red Cross (ICRC) kidnapped on 27 September, were negotiating with the Taliban for the release of a German hostage abducted in July and were, as expected, released without harm this week. The role of the ICRC in negotiations is clearly the reason their abduction was declared almost immediately by the Taliban to be a mistake. Indeed other NGOs and INGOs have found themselves regularly targeted in the current reporting period, in addition to Afghan nationals abducted either for political reasons or for criminal purposes, ie ransom. Kidnapping remains more heavily prevalent across central, southern and eastern provinces – as AKE security risk ratings would in themselves suggest – but in the light of a security situation that has seen a marked deterioration in the recent weeks, all sensible security precautions should be taken, wherever personnel are located in the country.

Other groups that remain at risk of insurgent attacks are Provincial Reconstructions Teams, domestic and international security personnel (NATO, ISAF, ANP, ANA), and government personnel. Assets and infrastructure that remain vulnerable include the wide variety of government buildings and institutions, and military and NGO compounds. Also at risk is infrastructure whose origin or purpose does not conform to either the political or ideological mindset of insurgent groups. In this regard, and perhaps more likely in the light of this week’s publication of the Taliban’s conservative constitution (see below), school buildings are an example of one type of infrastructure that remains at risk. Built by PRTs, their subsequent destruction speaks not only to reversing any gains made by the internationally-supported Karzai government, but also to a more conservative ideology that does not countenance girls being similarly educated to boys.

Finally, personnel are reminded of the continuing month of Ramadan, due to end on 11 October. Aside from cultural sensitivities, personnel are advised not to relax any of their security procedures: it is reported that Taliban forces are undertaking a new offensive called “Nasrat”, meaning “victory”, during this month. The increase in incidents in the last couple of weeks could be seen to support this campaign, although it is more likely that it is part of a more general increase in insurgent activity.

Political

An increase in violence in the last few weeks has brought closer to the surface a dislocation in policy direction not only between the Karzai government and its NATO allies, but also within the NATO coalition itself. The two suicide attacks in Kabul this week killing over 40 individuals, together with the marked deterioration in security throughout the country, including previously more stable western and northern regions, have focused the attention of all sides on how the conflict is being fought, and the best – or maybe just quickest – way to bring it to an end.

The difference in policy direction between the United States and Karzai’s government is marked. At a time this week when President Karzai repeated his offer of talks with Mullah Muhammed Omar and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the United States issued a wanted list of 12 mid-level insurgents, each with a bounty on his head, ranging from $20,000 to $200,000. This is not simply a case of carrot and stick though. The United States has shown considerable reluctance to be part of the type of reconciliation that Mr Karzai is contemplating, especially when such an offer is made to two leading and high-profile anti-government figures. Indeed, support from the United States this week, via Kurt Volker, deputy head of the European and Eurasian Affairs office at the State Department, explicitly underlines support for negotiation with those who have renounced violence.

Indeed, peeling those with reconcilable demands away from the insurgency to isolate the more radical militants is a reasonable strategy. Giving the strategy momentum is some of the acts of the Taliban across the country, which designate the Taliban as much an enemy of the “people” as foreign forces. This week, the appalling hanging of a 15 year old boy in Helmand for having American money in his pocket is the type of act to damage the appeal of the Taliban. Similarly, villagers leaving their homes in Shah Walikot, Ghorak and Maiwand districts for quasi-shanty town existence on the outskirts of Kandahar City are doing so not only because of ISAF air strikes, but also because of Taliban harassment and insistence on installing themselves among the civilian population. The publication this week of the Taliban constitution, with its endorsement of sharia law and a strictly conservative interpretation of Islam (and the attendant lack of educational opportunity for girls), is likely to make some insurgents think twice about attaching their fortune to that of the Taliban.

Part of the problem continues to be that Afghans are not finally responsible for security in the country: that role is still with the foreign forces; and the issue is to build security and identity. Last week’s announcement by Brigadier-General Vincent Lafontaine, operations commander of the 40,000 strong NATO force in Afghanistan, about the inability of the ANA to hold large regional areas at least until 2009 is a factor of the ANA’s lack of equipment, lack of numbers, light experience and inadequate literacy rates. On the subject of identity, the role of ethnicity is important: ethnic Pashtuns of the ANA are rarely deployed in the south of the country where confrontation with other Pashtuns is likely; instead, it is frequently ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks that are deployed here. The Pakistani army has a similar problem in its tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan: a large percentage of the army is ethnically Pashtun, and unwilling to fight intra-ethnically: strong evidence of this was seen in the capture of around 250 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan in August. It seems likely, therefore, that in addition to improvements in the security environment, the Karzai government will also have to address the issue of a national identity that is weak at best. And even though President Karzai himself is Pashtun and has always resisted the Taliban, the notion of having a national identity above an ethnic identity is not easily replicated among the population as a whole.

Summary

If the last reporting period saw a measured decline in security across the country, then the current week has seen this emphasised in Kabul, with two multi-casualty suicide bombs on 29 September and 2 October. The attacks undoubtedly were targeted at the heart of the foreign-backed Karzai government and mark a new level of tension in what had been previously considered as a relatively safe city. However, the deterioration in Kabul, and continued hostility in the southern and eastern provinces, have nevertheless been tempered by a return, however temporary, to more peaceful activity in the northern and western regions. Although it is not yet clear whether the marked increase in insurgent activity in the previous week’s reporting represents anything more than a temporary spike, personnel operating in these provinces should still be aware of the threats posed at this time. Suicide bombing has become more noteworthy since the recent attacks in Kabul, although as an insurgent tactic it has long been and will continue to be a more present factor in the southern and eastern regions (for example as it was in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces this week).

The central region continues to exhibit marked instability, although suicide bombing has been only used sporadically. The main threats in this region, in addition to small arms fire and IED attacks on government, military, and security personnel, revolve around the risk of kidnapping. The abduction and subsequent release of the ICRC personnel is but the most vivid example of an ongoing campaign against foreign and local NGO personnel designed to undermine the process of reconstruction in the country.

The southern and eastern regions of course remain considerably hostile to any personnel operating there, and tend to demonstrate an accentuated version of incidents throughout the rest of the country. A plethora of IED attacks, small arms fire ambushes, and RPG attacks serve only to demonstrate that without better-trained ANA personnel, more numerous ISAF soldier commitments, or, in the long-term, a political agreement with certain insurgent factions, a prolonged reduction in instability is unlikely to be forthcoming.

The lack of heavy casualty incidents in the western and northern regions represents a return to the status quo that existed before last week’s spike in insurgency. Such is the infiltration of insurgents into different provinces and regions, the extent to which this week’s stability is anything more than temporary in nature will only be determined in the coming weeks.

AKE’s Afghanistan Security Briefing is an all-source intelligence product compiled with information from an array of open and privileged sources, and essential contribution from AKE Security Risk Specialists. AKE would like to thank the Afghanistan NGO Security Office (ANSO) in particular for the provision of incident report information.

This is an abridged version of AKE's Afghanistan Security Briefing. The full version is sent out on Tuesdays and Thursdays and is available to subscribers. For a free 14-day trial please contact intel@akegroup.com

For more in-depth analysis of the security situation in Afghanistan as well as other world hot spots see Global Intake, AKE’s online strategic information and intelligence tool.

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