Saturday, March 1, 2008

Wiretap Issue Getting Hot?

Engineers Without Borders is continuing its anti-wiretap campaign with another press release:

The family of Engineers Without Borders hostage, Matthew Simon, is shocked at the lack of action of the US government in handling the hostage situation in Afghanistan. "As a US citizen who has devoted his life to the cause of improving the welfare of individuals around the world and carrying the good name of the United States, we would have expected that there would be more action taken to preserve his life," said James Simon, Matthew's father. The Simon family has been holding constant vigil at the St. James Presbyterian Church in Jamestown, North Carolina. The family has been gathering there with other community members since early Friday afternoon. Said Simon's mother: "I can't believe our government isn't doing anything more to get my son back!"... Mrs. Simon encourages others "to press Washington to take swift and decisive action in bringing our children home."

In a related development, Democratic Presidential aspirant Barack Obama denounced illegal wiretapping early this morning at his campaign headquarters in Texas. Engineers Without Borders has called for a rally in front of the State Department this afternoon to protest the lack of vigorous diplomatic activity to free the hostages.

The Central Intelligence Agency indicated through a spokesman that any and all wiretaps are subject to FISA rules and are made under the authority of the President.

Illegal Wiretaps?

Engineers Without Borders, a non-governmental organization operating in Afghanistan, released the following this evening:

EWB is charging that the CIA and other domestic agencies are illegally tapping telephone lines and email correspondence without appropriate FISA approval. ACLU lawyers have requested an immediate injunction against this illegal invasion of privacy of an outstanding U.S. based NGO. This is yet another systematic abuse of executive authority that has been typical of this administration, and we abhor this illegal behavior.

The Central Intelligence Agency had no comment on this allegation.

Day of Quiet

Ghazni Province, Afghanistan was eerily quiet on Saturday, a day after up to twelve hostages were seized by a Taliban affiliated militant group. Afghan government officials report that the hunt continues for the group responsible for the slayings of seven US servicemen, and presumably the murder of German Army Lieutenant Maria Stadler. After an early morning shootout in Ghazni City, no violence has been reported. Sources inside ISAF indicate that the shootout was related to the search for hostages, but there has been no independent confirmation of this. The militant group, "Warriors of Hattin" has stated that they will kill another hostage at 9pm this evening Kabul time; just under four hours from now. The militant group's demands include the release of prisoners in Kandahar, the paying of a ransom, and certain changes in ISAF practice in Afghanistan.

Identity of Slain Hostage Confirmed

The United State State Department has released the following statement:
The United States Government can now confirm the identity of one, Lt. Maria Stadler, killed by her jihadist captors in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan. Her body has been recovered by US officials and will be repatriated for proper burial.

The German Foreign Ministry has called the slaying "heinous and deplorable".

Friday, February 29, 2008

Terrorist Group Claims Hostage Executed

The terrorist group "Warriors of Hattin" has posted a video to its website indicating that a German hostage, Lieutenant Maria Stadler, has been executed. This report has not yet been independently confirmed.

The Deadline Passes

The terrorist deadline for killing a hostage passed five minutes ago. No announcement has been made. INN has received unconfirmed reports of furious efforts at diplomacy on the part of the Afghan and Pakistani governments.

NGO Orders Evacuation of Afghanistan

Engineers Without Borders, a non-governmental organization that assists in infrastructure and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and elsewhere, has ordered its personnel to evacuate the country in response to the kidnapping of at least one of its members. The engineer, Matthew Simon, has appeared in a militant-filmed video from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.

Engineers Without Borders Press Release:

EWB has been undertaking a long-term analysis of the effectiveness of development projects in Afghanistan. We have come to the conclusion that these projects are not achieving the expected goals. In addition, the hazardous security environment in Afghanistan has put our personnel in unnecessary danger. Consequently, we have temporarily suspended all activities, and our personnel are currently evacuating the country.

*Breaking News* Merkel Press Conference

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany announced at a press conference this evening "a sincere hope that the hostage crisis would be resolved in a peaceful fashion". The family of Lieutenant Standler, including her two children, her brother, her husband, and her mother, appeared with Chancellor Merkel. "I want my mama to be safe," said Hans Stadler, age 6. The appearance is believed to constitute an emotional appeal to the militant group holding Lieutenant Stadler.

*Developing Story* Hostage Crisis in Afghanistan

INN has confirmed that several Westerners have been taken hostage in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. A militant group calling itself "Warriors of Hattin" has seized at least three hostages, and has published videos of the hostages on its website. One hostage is Joseph O'Neill, a Foreign Service Officer with the United States Department of State. Another is Matthew Simon, an aid worked with Engineers Without Borders. The third hostage has been identified as Lieutenant Maria Stadler of the Bundeswehr. The militant group has threatened to execute the hostages by 7am Kabul time (9:30 eastern) if its demands are not met.

*Breaking News* Shocking Hostage Video Online

An unnamed terrorist organization has posted a video of a hostage taken in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. In the video, the hostage, Matthew Simon, indicates that other hostages are also in custody, and that the militant group will being executing hostages at 7am Kabul time (9:30pm eastern time) if demands are not met. The website does not specify the terrorist demands.

American Engineers Taken Hostage in Afghanistan

By Kenny Colston

At least two American citizens have been taken hostage in the Ghazni providence of Afghanistan earlier this morning.

As earlier reported, there could be at least 10-12 hostages in total taken hostage. At least two of the engineers are part of the organization Engineers Without Borders. Another possible hostage could be a German foreign national.

According to a high ranking official in the CIA, the hostages did have protection while working in Afghanistan. The Defense Department and the Pentagon refused to comment on the situation at this time.

But according to the CIA official, diplomatic efforts are being made, but if necessary military force or covert operatives could be used.

"Our goal is to get people back safely," the official said. "We will get our Americans back safely."

But an official within Engineers Without Borders, Karen, confirmed reports that at least two of their employees cannot be located. The company employs up to 200 people all over the world. But if diplomatic and military options don't work out, Engineers without Borders would be willing to find other ways to get the hostages freed.

More information will be released later tonight.

Seven US Soldiers Killed in Attack in Ghazni Province

Reports from Ghazni Province, Afghanistan now indicate that seven American soldiers have been killed in an ambush outside of the town of Janda. One civilian has also been killed. This represents the greatest single day loss of life to US forces in Afghanistan in the last two years.

*Breaking News* Provincial Reconstruction Team Seized in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan

Sources inside the German government are reporting that contact with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghazni Province of Afghanistan has been lost. The team is American led, and includes American servicemen and servicewomen, several American civilians, and a small German contingent. There are no reports thus far on the fate of the team.

Parents respond to word that kidnapped US aid worker feared dead


KABUL, Afghanistan -- An American aid worker's parents, who live in Washington state, say they are heartbroken to receive "credible reports" that their daughter and her Afghan driver, kidnapped in southern Afghanistan a month ago, are feared dead.

"While these reports remain unconfirmed, we are beginning to accept that the hoped-for outcome may no longer be possible," George and Peggy Mizell of DuPont, Wash., said Thursday in a statement.

Cyd Mizell, 50, and driver Abdul Hadi were kidnapped in a residential neighborhood of Kandahar on Jan. 26. Mizell worked on aid projects for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation, or ARLDF.

"Although we have no confirmation of their deaths, we have received information over the past few days indicating that our two aid workers have been killed," said a statement posted on the group's Web site Tuesday.

Afghan and U.S. officials said Wednesday they could not confirm the report.

"Cyd knew before she went to Afghanistan that it could be a dangerous place, but she went because she loved the Afghan people and dedicated her life to serving them," her parents said in their statement. "We are trying to understand why someone would kill a gentle, caring person who came to their country to help the poor."

Kandahar's Gov. Assadullah Khalid said he did not have any information about the case, and a U.S. Embassy official in Kabul said he could not confirm the report.

No group has claimed responsibility for the abductions.

Although the kidnappings happened in an area known for insurgent activity, the Taliban denied that its fighters had taken the two. Kidnappings for ransom by criminal gangs in Afghanistan have been on the rise in the past year.

An official with ARLDF in Kandahar said the group had received reports in recent days from two Afghan sources that Mizell and Hadi are dead. He said officials were working with the Red Cross to try to recover the bodies. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Mizell, of Eureka, Calif., was wearing a burqa - the traditional all-encompassing dress worn by many Afghan women - when she was taken.

Mizell taught English at Kandahar University and gave embroidery lessons at a girls' school. She spoke the local language of Pashtu well, colleagues said. She had worked for the foundation in Kandahar for the last three years.

Several foreigners - including 23 South Koreans, two German construction workers and two Italian journalists - have been kidnapped in Afghanistan in the last year, but kidnappings of Americans have been rare.

An American civilian was briefly abducted in Kabul in April 2005 but escaped by throwing himself from a moving car. Two of the 23 South Koreans kidnapped in July were killed, as was one of the Germans. The other foreign abductees were freed.


Associated Press Writer Fisnik Abrashi contributed to this report.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Battle Company is Out There

WE TUMBLED OUT of two Black Hawks onto a shrub-dusted mountainside. It was a windy, cold October evening. A half-moon illuminated the tall pines and peaks. Through night-vision goggles the soldiers and landscape glowed in a blurry green-and-white static. Just across the valley, lights flickered from a few homes nestled in the terraced farmlands of Yaka China, a notorious village in the Korengal River valley in Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Kunar. Yaka China was just a few villages south and around a bend in the river from the Americans’ small mountain outposts, but the area’s reputation among the soldiers was mythic. It was a known safe haven for insurgents. American troops have tended to avoid the place since a nasty fight a year or so earlier. And as Halloween approached, the soldiers I was with, under the command of 26-year-old Capt. Dan Kearney, were predicting their own Yaka China doom.

The Korengal Valley is a lonely outpost of regress: most of the valley’s people practice Wahhabism, a more rigid variety of Islam than that followed by most Afghans, and about half of the fighters confronting the U.S. there are homegrown. The rest are Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens, Uzbeks; the area is close to Pakistan’s frontier regions where Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other Al Qaeda figures are often said to be hiding out. The Korengal fighters are fierce, know the terrain and watch the Americans’ every move. On their hand-held radios, the old jihadis call the Americans “monkeys,” “infidels,” ‘’bastards” and “the kids.” It’s psychological warfare; they know the Americans monitor their radio chatter.

Read the rest...

Opposition confident in Pakistan

Opposition supporters are celebrating victory in Pakistan after an election intended to complete the transition from military to civilian rule.

They are confident supporters of President Pervez Musharraf are heading for a heavy defeat.

Early unofficial returns suggest some of the president's allies have lost their seats, but it is expected to be some time before a clear trend emerges.

Polling was delayed after the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

On the streets of Karachi, young supporters of Ms Bhutto's PPP party celebrated late into the night, dancing and firing guns into the air, says the BBC's Jill McGivering.

But across the city, their main political rivals, allies of President Musharraf, were also claiming victory, our correspondent adds.

Most official counts will not be declared until later on Tuesday.

Street protest threats

A number of people were killed in clashes between rival party supporters during Monday's election, and there were reports of missing ballot boxes.

But there was also widespread relief that there were none of the major bomb attacks which had marred the run-up to the election.

Fears of violence had dissuaded many of the country's 80 million eligible voters from leaving their homes, and voter turnout was estimated to be less than 40%. Close to half a million security personnel, including about 80,000 soldiers, had been deployed to quell any outbreak of fighting.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accused the PML-Q party that backs Mr Musharraf of fixing votes and attacking supporters of his PML-N party in some areas.

Asif Ali Zardari, Ms Bhutto's widower and the leader of her PPP party, had threatened to launch street protests if the election was rigged.

One international election observer, US Senator Joseph Biden, said he feared instability if electoral malpractice was suspected.

"If the majority of Pakistani people do not think the election was fair then I think we have a real problem," he said.

For his part, Mr Musharraf, who voted in Rawalpindi, vowed to work in "harmony" with whoever won Monday's election.

Polls suggest a fair vote is likely to result in a hung parliament, with none of the three biggest parties winning a majority, analysts suggest.

Attention will then turn on the PPP, and whether it chooses to join forces with pro-Musharraf parties, or with Mr Sharif's party.

Mr Sharif is staunchly opposed to the president, and if the two opposition parties jointly gain two-thirds of the seats, they may try to impeach Mr Musharraf, correspondents say.

Mr Musharraf stepped down as army chief late last year. He has ruled the country since seizing power in a coup in 1999.

Prince Harry in Taleban fighting

Prince Harry has been fighting the Taleban on the front line in Afghanistan, the MoD has confirmed.

Harry, 23, who is third in line to the throne, has spent the last 10 weeks serving in Helmand Province.

The prince joked about his nickname "the bullet magnet", but said: "I finally get the chance to do the soldiering that I want to do."

The deployment was subject to a news blackout deal, which broke down after being leaked by foreign media.

Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt, who is head of the British Army, said he was disappointed the news had leaked.

In a statement, he said: "I am very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us.

"This is in stark contrast to the highly responsible attitude that the whole of the UK print and broadcast media, along with a small number overseas, who have entered into an understanding with us over the coverage of Prince Harry on operations."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Prince Harry had been an "exemplary solider".

"The whole of Britain will be proud of the outstanding service he is giving," he said.

"I want to thank Prince Harry and all of our service personnel for their contribution and service."

'No showers'

The prince spent Christmas Day in a former Taleban madrassa, sleeping on a camp bed and having to wash outdoors.

In an interview while in Helmand Province, Harry - a member of the Household Cavalry - talked about life as a soldier on the front line.

"I haven't really had a shower for four days, I haven't washed my clothes for a week.

"It's very nice to be sort of a normal person for once, I think it's about as normal as I'm going to get.

"I am still a little bit conscious of the fact that if I show my face too much in and around the area - luckily there's no civilians around here because it's...a no-man's land.

"But I think that if, up north, when I do go up there, if I do go on patrols in amongst the locals, I'll still be very wary about the fact that I do need to keep my face slightly covered just on the off-chance that I do get recognised, which will put other guys in danger.

"The Gurkhas think it's hysterical how I am called the 'bullet magnet', but they've yet to see why."

The deployment comes after the prince's planned tour to Iraq last year had to be cancelled because of a security risk.

Speaking ahead of the tour, Harry spoke of his relief over the mission.

He said he felt: "a bit of excitement, a bit of phew, finally, [to] get the chance to actually do the soldiering that I wanted to do ever since I joined really."

The Prince of Wales's communications secretary, Paddy Harverson, said: "Prince Harry is very proud to serve his country on operations alongside his fellow soldiers and to do the job he has been trained for."


This is part of a foreign policy simulation for the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. The events depicted are not actually happening.