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Security Lapses Exposed

Safety concerns raised as Kabul assembly gets underway.
By Wahidullah Amani

Hundreds of local and international forces have been deployed in Kabul to ensure that the Loya Jirga passes off without incident, but concerns over security remain.


The Taleban have issued threats of an attack during the gathering, convened to discuss and approve a new constitution for Afghanistan.


Many hundreds of Afghan National Army, ANA, national police, and international forces have surrounded the tent where the Loya Jirga is underway. In addition, local law enforcement officers have set up checkpoints on the approaches to the city.


A city as sprawling and hilly as Kabul presents plentiful opportunities for anyone intent on wrecking the proceedings - and despite the precautions taken, there are still holes in the tight security loop around the event.


An improvised bomb detonated Saturday east of the presidential palace - a similar explosive went off two weeks ago just along the perimeter of the Intercontinental Hotel, shattering windows of the houses nearby. Also on Saturday, 20 rockets were discovered near Bagram Air Base.


In the Shakar Dara district north of Kabul, security forces Sunday uncovered a cache of mines, bombs, small artillery, grenades and rocket launchers. And on Monday in Kabul, 60 rockets, about 60 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines and various small weapons were confiscated.


The Loya Jirga tent itself, on the site of the polytechnic compound, is surrounded by three security fences; there are also watchtowers with armed soldiers.


The inner security ring is guarded by American and German coalition soldiers and by ANA troops, who were trained by foreign military advisers. Afghan troops together with national police, who have also undergone training in the past year, are in force around the outer circles.


Interior ministry police affairs head Haroon Asifi told IWPR, “Extreme security measures have been taken for the Loya Jirga. Day and night, national army, national police, coalition forces and ISAF take care of the security.” He would not give any exact numbers of forces involved in this vast special detail.


Asifi said more security measures have been taken for this Loya Jirga than the previous ones because the police force is better organised and trained and communications have improved.


“There are threats [to] the Loya Jirga,” Asifi acknowledged, but he insisted that they have been dealt with.


However, as of Sunday, the day the Loya Jirga opened, it was still possible to get around the checkpoints by sneaking onto small local roads and pathways that wind around the hills overlooking the gathering..


Press cards, which give access to the Intercontinental and the main road near the Loya Jirga, were issued Sunday to some media organisations without photos, raising the possibility of misuse.


A female Afghan reporter who did not have a press card hitched a ride with a UN car, which got her nearly all the way up to the Loya Jirga tent before her credentials were checked. Only at this point was she turned back.


Cars with female passengers are usually waved through checkpoints in Kabul.


Checkpoints along major roads into the city were being more closely guarded than usual, but IWPR reporters at those on the roads from Jalalabad and Kandahar witnessed drivers handing money over to officers to get them through and the latter issuing allegedly arbitrary fines.


One taxi driver who passed through the Kandahar road checkpoint, Sheer Mohammed, told IWPR that he had to pay 500 afghanis (about 10 US dollars) to the police. “I have all legal documents for my car, and they just asked me why I stopped my car at the wrong place,” he said.


Truck drivers also complained about similar fines at the western gate of the city, further to the west of the Kandahar road checkpoint, and cabbies griped that even within Kabul, police were demanding payments for “problems” with their documents.


However, National police officers and ANA troops at crucial checkpoints near the Loya Jirga and Intercontinental did not appear to take any bribes, in three hours of observation by IWPR reporters.


Rahim Gul Sarwan, Wahidullah Amani and Shahabuddin Terakhel are independent journalists in Kabul participating in a special Loya Jirga reporting project.


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