The Dand district center is a novelty in the badlands of Kandahar province. As the seat of both the top government official and U.S. forces based in the area, it's a seductive target for Taliban militants looking to make a statement.
When are U.S. forces in Afghanistan allowed to shoot back when they come under attack? An episode last month illustrates the quandary American troops face.
It's another hot day on the boardwalk. The long line of customers who are waiting for iced cappuccinos, many in shorts and sunglasses, runs out the café door and around the corner, a stone's throw from the outdoor hockey rink and volleyball courts.
Marine Sergeant Landon McLilly squinted into his rifle scope at a group of suspected Taliban militants in the hazy near distance.
The commander of international forces in Afghanistan was scheduled to pay a surprise visit to Marines at Combat Outpost Hanson in Marjah this week, some four months after they waged a fierce offensive to break the Taliban's grip. Instead, General Stanley McChrystal headed back to Washington, his job in jeopardy over published remarks that criticize President Obama and senior staff members for hamstringing efforts to turn around the nine-year war.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's peace jirga earlier this month was pretty close to a bust. Powerful northern rivals were conspicuously absent, as were the Taliban, who instead dispatched a pair of suicide bombers to disturb the proceedings, detonating not far from where the conference took place. The violence, however, overshadowed a rare moment of unity among influential lawmakers and elders: a full-throated call to release of hundreds of prisoners, possibly even including Taliban, languishing in Afghan and U.S. military jails.
Fifteen months ago, coalition and Afghan forces traveling the road that slices through this rugged mountain valley, less than an hour's drive from the capital Kabul, were attacked so frequently by Taliban gunmen it was nicknamed the "Valley of Death" — one of the country's many. Today, school children walk home on the pavement and apple farmers tend their orchards without fear of firefights.
It was hailed as a game-changing breakthrough in the U.S. military's effort to rally Afghan tribes against the Taliban-led insurgency. In late January, elders of the Shinwari, an influential Pashtun tribe in eastern Nangarhar province, pledged to confront militants operating in their territory and punish anyone who cooperated with them. Within weeks, however, they turned their guns on each other: a land dispute between two subclans erupted into a firefight that has left 13 people dead and another 35 injured. It has cast doubt over a U.S.
Nazir Ahmad says he heard gunfire coming from a guardhouse in the early hours of Friday, outside the large adobe compound he shares with nine other families. Thinking that thieves were trespassing, he and several men ran into the ink-black courtyard, where they were struck down by grenade explosions and gunfire. "They were shooting lasers," says Ahmad, 35, confusing the laser-sights on his assailants' weapons with actual bullets. Shrapnel flew into his cheek and hit his 18-month-old daughter in the back.
As the ice recedes, Greenland's government seeks to exploit new-found minerals and will bottle melted glacier ice to sell in supermarkets. Jason George and Christopher Booker report.