Political Landscape

The Enteqal Seven (7): Opportunities and Concerns in the North


More than one month has passed since Mazar-e Sharif was officially transitioned to the responsibility of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), along with the cities of Herat, Lashkargah and Mehtarlam, the provinces of Bamian and Panjshir, and most of Kabul. In the last of this series of blogs, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini, with the help of Enayat Najafizada, analyses the transition in Mazar with a look at the approaching second batch of areas to be transitioned, which is said to significantly involve provinces in the northern region.

The transition of security in the urban district of Mazar-e Sharif from ISAF to the ANSF was marked by a solemn ceremony on 23 of July this year. Among others, Governor Muhammad Atta Nur, the Head of the Transition Coordination Commission Ashraf Ghani, the ministers of Defence and Mines, Rahim Wardak and Wahidullah Shahrani respectively, and the Head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) Abdul Khaliq Farahi were present. (The German foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had visited the city the previous day, to reaffirm Germany’s economic commitment after transition.) However, the day itself made little difference, as most seem to agree that the capital of Balkh province had been in the hands of the Afghan forces for the last few years.

According to ISAF sources, early this year Mazar-e Sharif was assessed at the third stage in a scale of four describing the involvement of ISAF in security activities. In this scale,‘stage one’ represents a situation were ISAF and ANSF carry out all the activities down to the patrol level together, and ‘stage four’ represents  the achieved transition after which ISAF will be only available to give advice to the ANSF ‘over the phone’. The city was then already close to stage four long before the actual transition, and it has reached ‘transitioned’ without significant problems.*

Those I spoke to, during my recent visit to Mazar seemed to agree that the transition of Mazar was  inevitable, given the importance of the city and its centrality to the whole northern region. Brigadier General Zalmay Weesa, the commander of ANA 202 Corps ‘Shahin’(also brother of the Kandahar Governor), phrased it in terms of morale: ‘Everybody was waiting for the transition to happen, the people of the city and the enemy. The people desired that it was their own boys to be in charge of their security, and the insurgents were making propaganda, saying that the ANSF would not be able to carry out that duty successfully.’ Weesa added that Mazar was just the beginning of transition and that the strategic objective of his ANA corps was to achieve an overall control of the area ‘from Pul-e Khumri to Badakhshan to Fariab’, and he professed himself confident that further transitions of security will take place soon.

On a different note, similar conclusions were reached by a journalist in Mazar. He argued that the ‘transition [of Mazar] was important in political terms for the international community, but did not have any effective significance on the ground’, and emphasised that ‘it is now important that the rest of the province is transitioned, firstly, because for a long time the security situation in Balkh has been praised in every occasion and, secondly, because the province does not share a problematic border with Pakistan like many other provinces do.’

ISAF, ANSF and local media all agreed that the threat to the security of the province comes as much from the factional rivalries among political parties and local strongmen, as it does from the Taleban. Illegal armed groups of various shapes and form far outnumber the Taleban, and these groups are used by rivals in local power struggles. This seems to be true for most of the northern region, which sees different groups acting as insurgents in a situation were the boundary between them and the ideologically committed Taleban is often blurred. In Balkh province, Hezb-e Islami networks linked to Juma Khan Hamdard, currently governor of Paktia, are accused of trying to disrupt the security situation to hamper the hegemony attained by Muhammad Atta Nur, the Jamiati commander turned governor and regional heavyweight. In Fariab, it is Jamiatis blamed of contacts with the Taleban in opposition to Dostum’s Jonbesh. At the same time, in many areas of the north, former members of Jonbesh are said to have joined the Taleban or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), also present in the area (for a comprehensive discussion of insurgent groups in the northern region see AAN reports here and here). Even Hazara commanders linked to Mohaqqeq’s faction of Hezb-e Wahdat are allegedly keeping their ‘taleban’ ready in some southern districts of Balkh province.

‘That’s the state of politics today: You are the governor and the taleb at the same time, it has really become an awful situation.’ The comment from a local journalist reflects the ambiguity of a situation where armed groups, who have managed to skip the various disarmament programs, are able to rule outside of the major urban areas. The legitimization of some of these groups in arbaki units over the past years years did not help reduce the confusion.** Although not as massively present as in neighbouring provinces such as Kunduz, pro-government militias are active in at least two of the districts west of Mazar, Chahar Bolak and Chimtal, and these are arguably the most volatile districts of the province. In Chahar Bolak the militias amount to around 150 individuals, but more than their not exceedingly high number it is the object of their ultimate loyalty which create problems.

Most of these arbaki seem to have been appointed by the local governor and be composed of former Jamiati fighters; this does not always go well with local villagers, sometimes linked to rival Hezb-e Islami networks. The two districts also host Balkh’s most significant Pashtun population that contributed the majority of the affiliates to Hezb-e Islami in the region. Local politicians linked to Hezb-e Islami like Gul Rahman Hamdard, who stood unsuccessfully in the last parliamentary election, or the leader of the Pashtun Solidarity Council Amir Jan Naseri, a former Taleban commander who had joined the Northern Alliance at the eleventh hour, are often complaining about alleged violence and intimidations against Pashtuns at the hands of ‘unknown’ gunmen, whom they link to the rival Jamiat party and the governor.

Atta is by far the longest serving governor in Afghanistan, having been appointed in July 2004. He argues that his longevity depends on the outstanding performance of his administration and that this is also why he has remained in place notwithstanding his clear support for Karzai’s main opponent in the 2009 elections, Dr. Abdullah. (Atta is also the supporter of a parliamentary system and a semi-federal state. For an analysis of Atta’s policies see our guest blog here and a Carnegie paper here). In fact, the reasons of Atta’s continuing power in the province transcend the efficiency with which he governed and enhanced the economic development of Mazar. He is said to be one of the first beneficiaries of the business wealth he contributed to create by guaranteeing some degree of stability, as he is reportedly earning consistently through the supply of fuels from the Uzbek border – one of the major import items, of which of course exists even a thriving black market. Atta’s economic and political strength, coupled with the support he enjoys from the US, allowed him to become the paramount Jamiati leader for most of the northern region in the course of time.

For a person in Atta’s position, there is much to loose. Reportedly, Governor Atta has been growing increasingly concerned about his own security after the recent spate of killings of high-ranking government officials. He reduced his once numerous public apparitions and moves around in an impressive convoy even inside the city (I counted 11 pickups, 4 of which with dark windows plus seven vehicles for the armed escort; for a second I thought that they were waging war against a neighbouring province). He is also more and more vocal about the threat posed by insurgents to Balkh and the north in general. No surprise, he particularly blames local Hezb-e Islami networks for providing ground for the insurgency to develop and he also regularly denounces the role of the Pakistani ISI in supporting insurgents in the north (see here).

One of Atta’s policies has been to co-opt Pashtun elders and strongmen. For example, the head of the Provincial Council Dr. Afzal Hadid, is considered close to Atta. Recently, former Hezb-e Islami commander Akhtar Muhammad Ibrahimkhel, who was appointed head of the Provincial Peace Council three months ago, seems to have scaled down his hostile attitude towards the governor. When I met him he was commemorating the anniversary of the death of his son Wali Muhammad, killed by an ISAF raid on his house, a raid ‘misdirected by political enemies.’ He was also soothing the grief-struck family of Majnun, one of his old Hezbi commanders in Chahar Bolak, shot dead in his village a few days before by ‘Taleban. They are Pashtuns and they kill their own kin, they are bereft of any intellectual faculty.’ His firm refusal to hint at any involvement of political rivals in the second instance was remarkable.

The presence of ‘real’ Taleban in Balkh is not to be underestimated. As Ibrahimkhel pointed out, ‘all they need to do is start a small group, and then because of the military operations and the killings they are able to gather the support of more people.’ Even if they are not targeting the city itself, their activities have recently been encroaching closer to Mazar, in districts like Nahr-e Shahi and Balkh. The riots that attacked the UNAMA compound the first of April should be considered separately, even if the presence of an organized element in the crowd seems probable, it is unclear if this ‘organised element’ was ascribable to direct support for the Taleban.*** But the attack on the UNAMA compound did have a significant impact, at least psychologically: This was the first time in a decade that Mazar-e Sharif had been hit by such a degree of violence. In the months following the attack, the efforts of the insurgents to strike inside the city seem to have multiplied, with a marked increase in the (previously virtually absent) IED attacks. In the last of these incidents, when a bicycle-bomb went off prematurely at the outskirts of the city on 20 July, four civilians were killed, along with the bomb carrier.

Another key area for insurgent activities during the last ten months has been the Mazar-Shibergan section of the ring road. Taleban have been able not only to disrupt normal traffic flows on this once safe highway through IEDs, but also to occasionally establish illegal checkpoints right after sunset. A specific joint ISAF-ANSF operation was mounted before the transition in July to clear the areas adjacent to the road. Operation Ebtekar is now in its ‘hold’ phase, an Afghan-led one as all phases of the operation reportedly were, and although statistics of killed and arrested insurgents are presented as a token of success, the security on the road, especially in the Shibergan part, is far from reassuring, with IED activity on it quickly resuming after the major military operations were over.

It is the very relatively good security enjoyed by Balkh province until now that in a way makes it an easy target for insurgents now: A low degree of activity is sufficient to radically alter perceptions and to trigger nervous reactions by local political actors.

And on top of it all, there is transition. With the second batch of transition areas to be announced next month, there could be more challenges for security in the north. According to many sources inside the ANSF and the ISAF alike, the second batch of the enteqal will include several northern provinces. The most certain place where transition will happen is Samangan. This was recently confirmed by General Babajan, head of the ANP 303 Northern Zone Command. The tiny Finnish PRT presence in Samangan was evacuated already in early April. This was done after a protest against it shook the sleepy city of Aybak, the provincial capital, on 4 April. The move was unexpected, but was certainly triggered by the fear of widespread riots after the Mazar killings, which had originated from the burning of the Quran in the US as the – frankly not so massive – protest in Samangan.****

Other provinces mentioned as probable candidates for the second transition are Takhar, Badakhshan and Sar-e Pul. It is not clear if Takhar and Badakhshan will be transitioned at the same time. The increase of security problems in parts of Sar-e Pul makes it a somewhat hazardous choice. Of course, considering that recently most of the state officials in volatile Kunduz declared their readiness for transition, Sar-e Pul could still look like a very reasonable and feasible choice.

What of the rest of Balkh province, then? It is included in the list of would-be transitioned areas of course. Once the economic commitment from the international partners is guaranteed, local authorities could in fact welcome the idea. Only, it is not clear if the JANIB (Joint Afghan Nato Inteqal Board) would prefer to transition a strategic province like Balkh in a three-tempoed process, comparable to the timetable reportedly adopted for Herat province. (Some districts of Herat, along with Ghor and Nangrahar’s capitals, Chaghcharan and Jalalabad, are also believed to be part of the second transition group). In Herat of course this could be a forced choice, given the size of the province and the recent dramatic escalation of insurgent activity in districts like Obeh and Pashtun Zarghun. A full-scale transition of Balkh and of several other northern provinces in the next months could provide a tough, although needed, test of effectiveness for the ANSF, also for their ability to rein the most uncontrollable elements inside the various militia projects.

* This although, according to the report of an international organisation, an estimated 5000 soldiers (the figure must include both ANP and ANA) were brought into the city during the spring to enforce better security in view of the transition. They were reportedly drawn from other areas of the province and this can have created security personnel shortages elsewhere.

** These units experienced a sudden growth in the second half of 2010, around the same time the Afghan Local Police (ALP) project started. Notwithstanding an often repeated will to integrate all previous militia projects under the umbrella of the ALP, arbaki in Balkh have not been touched as yet. ISAF officers interviewed by AAN assured that there are plans to this effect, while General Weesa opined that all armed militias must be registered with the government, they must be composed by individuals of good repute and without previous criminal record and they must be acting for the public good; his men would confiscate illegally detained weapons whoever the owner. In 2008, UNAMA estimated the amount of illegal weapons in the Swedish PRT area of responsibility (Balkh, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pul, Samangan) at 40,000 (click here). There are also reports of a newly projected force for the protection of sensitive infrastructure, to be deployed in some northern areas.

*** Countering Governor Atta’s early claims that the rioters originated mainly from other provinces – or at least from other districts of Balkh province – the recent decision of the tribunal, which sentenced 13 rioters (three to the death penalty, the rest to jail terms from 6 months to 16 years) clearly states that all of the guilty are residents of Mazar-e Sharif urban area. The sentences are to be reviewed by the Appeal Court.

**** The Samangan governor declared that, even if the withdrawal was not part of the security transition (still to be announced then), it had taken place after an agreement between him and the ISAF troops had been reached, and because they had failed to provide security and reconstruction to the province. The head of Samangan Provincial Council on his part made it clear that he would instead welcome a stronger PRT willing to throw more money in for the development of the province.

More than one month has passed since Mazar-e Sharif was officially transitioned to the responsibility of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), along with the cities of Herat, Lashkargah and Mehtarlam, the provinces of Bamian and Panjshir, and most of Kabul. In the last of this series of blogs, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini, with the help of Enayat Najafizada, analyses the transition in Mazar with a look at the approaching second batch of areas to be transitioned, which is said to significantly involve provinces in the northern region.

The transition of security in the urban district of Mazar-e Sharif from ISAF to the ANSF was marked by a solemn ceremony on 23 of July this year. Among others, Governor Muhammad Atta Nur, the Head of the Transition Coordination Commission Ashraf Ghani, the ministers of Defence and Mines, Rahim Wardak and Wahidullah Shahrani respectively, and the Head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) Abdul Khaliq Farahi were present. (The German foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had visited the city the previous day, to reaffirm Germany’s economic commitment after transition.) However, the day itself made little difference, as most seem to agree that the capital of Balkh province had been in the hands of the Afghan forces for the last few years.

According to ISAF sources, early this year Mazar-e Sharif was assessed at the third stage in a scale of four describing the involvement of ISAF in security activities. In this scale,‘stage one’ represents a situation were ISAF and ANSF carry out all the activities down to the patrol level together, and ‘stage four’ represents  the achieved transition after which ISAF will be only available to give advice to the ANSF ‘over the phone’. The city was then already close to stage four long before the actual transition, and it has reached ‘transitioned’ without significant problems.*

Those I spoke to, during my recent visit to Mazar seemed to agree that the transition of Mazar was  inevitable, given the importance of the city and its centrality to the whole northern region. Brigadier General Zalmay Weesa, the commander of ANA 202 Corps ‘Shahin’(also brother of the Kandahar Governor), phrased it in terms of morale: ‘Everybody was waiting for the transition to happen, the people of the city and the enemy. The people desired that it was their own boys to be in charge of their security, and the insurgents were making propaganda, saying that the ANSF would not be able to carry out that duty successfully.’ Weesa added that Mazar was just the beginning of transition and that the strategic objective of his ANA corps was to achieve an overall control of the area ‘from Pul-e Khumri to Badakhshan to Fariab’, and he professed himself confident that further transitions of security will take place soon.

On a different note, similar conclusions were reached by a journalist in Mazar. He argued that the ‘transition [of Mazar] was important in political terms for the international community, but did not have any effective significance on the ground’, and emphasised that ‘it is now important that the rest of the province is transitioned, firstly, because for a long time the security situation in Balkh has been praised in every occasion and, secondly, because the province does not share a problematic border with Pakistan like many other provinces do.’

ISAF, ANSF and local media all agreed that the threat to the security of the province comes as much from the factional rivalries among political parties and local strongmen, as it does from the Taleban. Illegal armed groups of various shapes and form far outnumber the Taleban, and these groups are used by rivals in local power struggles. This seems to be true for most of the northern region, which sees different groups acting as insurgents in a situation were the boundary between them and the ideologically committed Taleban is often blurred. In Balkh province, Hezb-e Islami networks linked to Juma Khan Hamdard, currently governor of Paktia, are accused of trying to disrupt the security situation to hamper the hegemony attained by Muhammad Atta Nur, the Jamiati commander turned governor and regional heavyweight. In Fariab, it is Jamiatis blamed of contacts with the Taleban in opposition to Dostum’s Jonbesh. At the same time, in many areas of the north, former members of Jonbesh are said to have joined the Taleban or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), also present in the area (for a comprehensive discussion of insurgent groups in the northern region see AAN reports here and here). Even Hazara commanders linked to Mohaqqeq’s faction of Hezb-e Wahdat are allegedly keeping their ‘taleban’ ready in some southern districts of Balkh province.

‘That’s the state of politics today: You are the governor and the taleb at the same time, it has really become an awful situation.’ The comment from a local journalist reflects the ambiguity of a situation where armed groups, who have managed to skip the various disarmament programs, are able to rule outside of the major urban areas. The legitimization of some of these groups in arbaki units over the past years years did not help reduce the confusion.** Although not as massively present as in neighbouring provinces such as Kunduz, pro-government militias are active in at least two of the districts west of Mazar, Chahar Bolak and Chimtal, and these are arguably the most volatile districts of the province. In Chahar Bolak the militias amount to around 150 individuals, but more than their not exceedingly high number it is the object of their ultimate loyalty which create problems.

Most of these arbaki seem to have been appointed by the local governor and be composed of former Jamiati fighters; this does not always go well with local villagers, sometimes linked to rival Hezb-e Islami networks. The two districts also host Balkh’s most significant Pashtun population that contributed the majority of the affiliates to Hezb-e Islami in the region. Local politicians linked to Hezb-e Islami like Gul Rahman Hamdard, who stood unsuccessfully in the last parliamentary election, or the leader of the Pashtun Solidarity Council Amir Jan Naseri, a former Taleban commander who had joined the Northern Alliance at the eleventh hour, are often complaining about alleged violence and intimidations against Pashtuns at the hands of ‘unknown’ gunmen, whom they link to the rival Jamiat party and the governor.

Atta is by far the longest serving governor in Afghanistan, having been appointed in July 2004. He argues that his longevity depends on the outstanding performance of his administration and that this is also why he has remained in place notwithstanding his clear support for Karzai’s main opponent in the 2009 elections, Dr. Abdullah. (Atta is also the supporter of a parliamentary system and a semi-federal state. For an analysis of Atta’s policies see our guest blog here and a Carnegie paper here). In fact, the reasons of Atta’s continuing power in the province transcend the efficiency with which he governed and enhanced the economic development of Mazar. He is said to be one of the first beneficiaries of the business wealth he contributed to create by guaranteeing some degree of stability, as he is reportedly earning consistently through the supply of fuels from the Uzbek border – one of the major import items, of which of course exists even a thriving black market. Atta’s economic and political strength, coupled with the support he enjoys from the US, allowed him to become the paramount Jamiati leader for most of the northern region in the course of time.

For a person in Atta’s position, there is much to loose. Reportedly, Governor Atta has been growing increasingly concerned about his own security after the recent spate of killings of high-ranking government officials. He reduced his once numerous public apparitions and moves around in an impressive convoy even inside the city (I counted 11 pickups, 4 of which with dark windows plus seven vehicles for the armed escort; for a second I thought that they were waging war against a neighbouring province). He is also more and more vocal about the threat posed by insurgents to Balkh and the north in general. No surprise, he particularly blames local Hezb-e Islami networks for providing ground for the insurgency to develop and he also regularly denounces the role of the Pakistani ISI in supporting insurgents in the north (see here).

One of Atta’s policies has been to co-opt Pashtun elders and strongmen. For example, the head of the Provincial Council Dr. Afzal Hadid, is considered close to Atta. Recently, former Hezb-e Islami commander Akhtar Muhammad Ibrahimkhel, who was appointed head of the Provincial Peace Council three months ago, seems to have scaled down his hostile attitude towards the governor. When I met him he was commemorating the anniversary of the death of his son Wali Muhammad, killed by an ISAF raid on his house, a raid ‘misdirected by political enemies.’ He was also soothing the grief-struck family of Majnun, one of his old Hezbi commanders in Chahar Bolak, shot dead in his village a few days before by ‘Taleban. They are Pashtuns and they kill their own kin, they are bereft of any intellectual faculty.’ His firm refusal to hint at any involvement of political rivals in the second instance was remarkable.

The presence of ‘real’ Taleban in Balkh is not to be underestimated. As Ibrahimkhel pointed out, ‘all they need to do is start a small group, and then because of the military operations and the killings they are able to gather the support of more people.’ Even if they are not targeting the city itself, their activities have recently been encroaching closer to Mazar, in districts like Nahr-e Shahi and Balkh. The riots that attacked the UNAMA compound the first of April should be considered separately, even if the presence of an organized element in the crowd seems probable, it is unclear if this ‘organised element’ was ascribable to direct support for the Taleban.*** But the attack on the UNAMA compound did have a significant impact, at least psychologically: This was the first time in a decade that Mazar-e Sharif had been hit by such a degree of violence. In the months following the attack, the efforts of the insurgents to strike inside the city seem to have multiplied, with a marked increase in the (previously virtually absent) IED attacks. In the last of these incidents, when a bicycle-bomb went off prematurely at the outskirts of the city on 20 July, four civilians were killed, along with the bomb carrier.

Another key area for insurgent activities during the last ten months has been the Mazar-Shibergan section of the ring road. Taleban have been able not only to disrupt normal traffic flows on this once safe highway through IEDs, but also to occasionally establish illegal checkpoints right after sunset. A specific joint ISAF-ANSF operation was mounted before the transition in July to clear the areas adjacent to the road. Operation Ebtekar is now in its ‘hold’ phase, an Afghan-led one as all phases of the operation reportedly were, and although statistics of killed and arrested insurgents are presented as a token of success, the security on the road, especially in the Shibergan part, is far from reassuring, with IED activity on it quickly resuming after the major military operations were over.

It is the very relatively good security enjoyed by Balkh province until now that in a way makes it an easy target for insurgents now: A low degree of activity is sufficient to radically alter perceptions and to trigger nervous reactions by local political actors.

And on top of it all, there is transition. With the second batch of transition areas to be announced next month, there could be more challenges for security in the north. According to many sources inside the ANSF and the ISAF alike, the second batch of the enteqal will include several northern provinces. The most certain place where transition will happen is Samangan. This was recently confirmed by General Babajan, head of the ANP 303 Northern Zone Command. The tiny Finnish PRT presence in Samangan was evacuated already in early April. This was done after a protest against it shook the sleepy city of Aybak, the provincial capital, on 4 April. The move was unexpected, but was certainly triggered by the fear of widespread riots after the Mazar killings, which had originated from the burning of the Quran in the US as the – frankly not so massive – protest in Samangan.****

Other provinces mentioned as probable candidates for the second transition are Takhar, Badakhshan and Sar-e Pul. It is not clear if Takhar and Badakhshan will be transitioned at the same time. The increase of security problems in parts of Sar-e Pul makes it a somewhat hazardous choice. Of course, considering that recently most of the state officials in volatile Kunduz declared their readiness for transition, Sar-e Pul could still look like a very reasonable and feasible choice.

What of the rest of Balkh province, then? It is included in the list of would-be transitioned areas of course. Once the economic commitment from the international partners is guaranteed, local authorities could in fact welcome the idea. Only, it is not clear if the JANIB (Joint Afghan Nato Inteqal Board) would prefer to transition a strategic province like Balkh in a three-tempoed process, comparable to the timetable reportedly adopted for Herat province. (Some districts of Herat, along with Ghor and Nangrahar’s capitals, Chaghcharan and Jalalabad, are also believed to be part of the second transition group). In Herat of course this could be a forced choice, given the size of the province and the recent dramatic escalation of insurgent activity in districts like Obeh and Pashtun Zarghun. A full-scale transition of Balkh and of several other northern provinces in the next months could provide a tough, although needed, test of effectiveness for the ANSF, also for their ability to rein the most uncontrollable elements inside the various militia projects.

* This although, according to the report of an international organisation, an estimated 5000 soldiers (the figure must include both ANP and ANA) were brought into the city during the spring to enforce better security in view of the transition. They were reportedly drawn from other areas of the province and this can have created security personnel shortages elsewhere.

** These units experienced a sudden growth in the second half of 2010, around the same time the Afghan Local Police (ALP) project started. Notwithstanding an often repeated will to integrate all previous militia projects under the umbrella of the ALP, arbaki in Balkh have not been touched as yet. ISAF officers interviewed by AAN assured that there are plans to this effect, while General Weesa opined that all armed militias must be registered with the government, they must be composed by individuals of good repute and without previous criminal record and they must be acting for the public good; his men would confiscate illegally detained weapons whoever the owner. In 2008, UNAMA estimated the amount of illegal weapons in the Swedish PRT area of responsibility (Balkh, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pul, Samangan) at 40,000 (click here). There are also reports of a newly projected force for the protection of sensitive infrastructure, to be deployed in some northern areas.

*** Countering Governor Atta’s early claims that the rioters originated mainly from other provinces – or at least from other districts of Balkh province – the recent decision of the tribunal, which sentenced 13 rioters (three to the death penalty, the rest to jail terms from 6 months to 16 years) clearly states that all of the guilty are residents of Mazar-e Sharif urban area. The sentences are to be reviewed by the Appeal Court.

**** The Samangan governor declared that, even if the withdrawal was not part of the security transition (still to be announced then), it had taken place after an agreement between him and the ISAF troops had been reached, and because they had failed to provide security and reconstruction to the province. The head of Samangan Provincial Council on his part made it clear that he would instead welcome a stronger PRT willing to throw more money in for the development of the province.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape, War & Peace