Kerry makes unannounced Afghanistan visit
John Kerry, then a U.S. senator, meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul in October 2009.
March 25th, 2013
08:21 AM ET

Kerry makes unannounced Afghanistan visit

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a previously unannounced stop in Afghanistan for a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday, the day that a U.S.-run prison that bred tension between the nations was handed over to the Afghans.

Kerry landed in Kabul on Monday afternoon and was expected to meet with Karzai at the presidential palace later in the day.

Kerry's visit comes on the day that the United States handed over control of a U.S.-run prison near Bagram Air Base to Afghan authorities. The detention facility was a sticking point between U.S. and Afghan officials.

The visit also comes amid other tensions between Karzai and the NATO-led coalition forces that escalated after a bomb blast in Kabul this month that killed nine people. Karzai said afterward that there are "ongoing daily talks between the Taliban, Americans and foreigners in Europe and in the Gulf states."

March 19th, 2013
10:55 AM ET

Syrian regime, rebels make chemical claims

The specter of chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian civil war emerged on Tuesday, with the government and rebels each blaming the other side for using such munitions.

The embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad accused rebels Tuesday of a deadly chemical weapons missile attack. At least 25 people died and dozens more were injured Tuesday in the town of Khan al-Asal in Aleppo province, Syrian state media said, quoting government figures. Rebels rebuffed the claims and blamed the regime.

November 3rd, 2012
11:58 AM ET

Rebels battle aerial bombardment in Syria

Rebel fighters in Syria sought to move against the government's increasing use of deadly air power Saturday, with an attack on the Taftanaz military airport in the northerly Idlib province.

An opposition activist in the north told CNN the air base was surrounded and that about 200 regime troops were thought to be inside. The rebel Free Syrian Army intends to hold the perimeter of the base, he said.

Government media claimed forces have heroically repelled the attack, killing "large numbers of terrorists," as it terms the rebels. The state-run news agency, SANA, said the rebel fighters' weapons and vehicles also had been destroyed.

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Filed under: Syria • World
'Day of rage': Gunfire, tear gas in streets of Beirut
October 21st, 2012
09:37 AM ET

'Day of rage': Gunfire, tear gas in streets of Beirut

[Updated at 10:25 a.m.] Many protesters are calling for the Lebanese government to be dismissed.

Protesters are furious with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a billionaire supported by Hezbollah.  Read more here.

[Updated at 10:11 a.m.] Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, on Lebanese TV, said he understands the feeling of anger, but that violence and attempts to enter the Serial - the government palace - are unacceptable.

[Updated at 9:52 a.m.] Much of the violence appears to have died down.  Video from the scene shows most protesters gathered in a square, chanting and waving flags.

The flags indicate many of the protesters are aligned with the March 14 movement,  the anti-Syrian regime coalition that emerged after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That movement was key in forcing the withdrawal of Syrian troops, which had long occupied neighboring Lebanon and pulled out months after Hariri was killed.

Some protesters accuse Syria of involvement in al-Hassan's assassination.  Syria condemned the blasts very quickly after they happened on Friday.

Read CNN's profile of Wissam al-Hassan here.

Lebanon's former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri - Rafik al-Hariri's son - spoke to al-Jadeed TV, calling on supporters to stay away from the Serail, the government palace.

[Updated at 9:42 a.m.] Tear gas filled streets of Beirut and gunfire could be heard Sunday as furious protesters clashed with police.

Crowds of men - many of them covering their faces with cloths to avoid inhaling the tear gas - wielded sticks and waved flags.  Video showed at least one stick set on fire and tossed over a barrier.

Reports indicated the gunfire may have been authorities shooting into the air in hopes of breaking up the crowds.

Many of the protesters tried to reach the prime minister's office.

The violence came after some politicians had called for Sunday to be a "day of rage" in response to a bombing Friday.

That attack was the country's most high-profile assassination in more than seven years.

Soldiers had carried the flag-draped coffins of  intelligence chief Brig. Gen Wissam al-Hassan and his bodyguard through the streets of downtown Beirut.

Throngs of people had packed the city's central square for the ceremony Sunday.

Friday's attack - in broad daylight, at one of the capital's busiest intersections - left a crater more than a meter deep.

October 20th, 2012
11:18 AM ET

Syrian leader under fire over Beirut bombing

A day after the most high-profile assassination in Lebanon in more than seven years, accusations over who's responsible homed in on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a billionaire supported by Hezbollah, announced Saturday that he plans to stay in power, despite having offered his resignation to appease those who claimed al-Assad was behind Friday's car bombing that killed Lebanon's intelligence chief, Brig. Gen Wissam al-Hassan.

"To hold me personally responsible for the assassination is unfair," he told reporters. "I have always respected and admired al-Hassan, who has done great things for Lebanon."

Mikati's decision to stay heads off a power vacuum in Lebanon's government, as sectarian tensions flare particularly as the effects of Syria's 19-month civil war spill across borders and threaten the region.

The senior Lebanese security official and at least nine others died in the explosion in the typically peaceful and cosmopolitan Ashrafiyeh district of East Beirut.

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Filed under: Lebanon • Syria • World
June 18th, 2012
04:34 PM ET

Uniformed Afghans attack NATO troops, killing 1, officials say

[Updated at 5:19 p.m. ET] Attackers in Afghan police uniforms gunned down a member of NATO's peacekeeping force in southern Afghanistan on Monday, the allied command in Kabul reported.

The International Security Assistance Force said the three gunmen "immediately fled the area and are currently being sought."

No other details were released by NATO, but a U.S. official in Washington told CNN the fatality was an American and that as many as eight or nine others were wounded.

Uniformed Afghans - either insurgents in disguise, or members of the country's police or military - have been behind numerous killings of U.S. and NATO troops this year. The incidents have fueled mutual distrust between Afghan and NATO forces in the now-decade-old conflict.

U.S. officials confirm release of senior Taliban prisoners
May 7th, 2012
10:50 AM ET

U.S. officials confirm release of senior Taliban prisoners

Up to 20 high-level insurgent prisoners have been released from NATO custody in Afghanistan over the past two years in an effort to boost peace negotiations with the Taliban in various regions of the country, according to U.S. officials.

The insurgents, held at the jointly-run NATO-Afghan detention facility of Parwan, are considered "bad guys," said one U.S. official who did not want to be identified discussing a sensitive issue. Their release was undertaken, the official said, often at the request of the Afghan government. In all cases, they were assessed as unlikely to rejoin the insurgency.

The official added that the Taliban detainees had been in the maximum security Parwan detention center “for a reason” – but that NATO "does not release anyone when there is a high likelihood they will rejoin the insurgency." The official said he was aware of only two releases in the last nine months.

Some previously released Afghan detainees, especially from the U.S.-run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have allegedly rejoined the insurgency, suggesting such programs are not without risk.

The U.S. official said the releases occur “when officials determine that the benefits significantly outweigh the risks.”

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Filed under: Afghanistan • National security • NATO • Security
March 5th, 2012
11:14 AM ET

Taliban link Afghan attack to Quran burning

A suicide bomber blew himself up at an entrance to Afghanistan's Bagram Airfield on Monday, an attack the Taliban called revenge for the burning of Qurans by U.S. troops there last month.

The blast at the base, north of Kabul, killed two civilians and wounded two others, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said.

A Taliban spokesman claimed 12 U.S. soldiers, including Special Forces members, and nine Afghans were killed in the blast, part of the group's "revenge campaign" for the Quran burning.

An Afghan official, however, said two personnel from the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan were wounded, and a spokesman for the mission, the International Security Assistance Force, said initial reports suggested no ISAF casualties.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Military • U.S. • World
Two U.S. troops killed near protest of Quran burning
Afghans show copies of Qurans allegedly set fire during a protest this week outside Bagram Airfield.
February 23rd, 2012
10:35 AM ET

Two U.S. troops killed near protest of Quran burning

[Updated at 10:35 a.m. ET] Two American troops were killed in Afghanistan on Thursday near a demonstration where people were protesting the burning of Qurans by NATO troops.

The troops were killed by a person wearing an Afghan National Army uniform, a U.S. official said, asking not to be named discussing casualties.

The troops are among at least nine people who have been killed near or amid demonstrations that have erupted in Afghanistan since the burning of the Islamic religious material by NATO troops at the beginning of the week. It is not clear if the troops were killed in revenge for the burning of Qurans, but the attack occurred at a base outside of which the demonstration was taking place, a local official said.

The protest and shootings came as the Taliban called on Muslims to attack NATO military bases and convoys and kill its soldiers following the admission that NATO troops had incinerated Islamic religious material at Bagram Airfield.

Afghan officials investigating the Quran burning urged Afghans to respond wisely and avoid protests "that pave the ground for the enemies of peace," they said in a statement Thursday.

[Initial post, 8:09 a.m. ET] President Barack Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Qurans by NATO troops, calling the act an inadvertent error, Karzai's office and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Thursday.

"We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, including holding accountable those responsible," Obama said in the letter, according to Karzai's office.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the airfield Tuesday, furious over reports of the burning.

Belief Blog: Rioting over Quran burning is un-Islamic, scholar argues

Some Qurans and other Islamic religious materials gathered for disposal from a detention facility at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan were improperly burned, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force said Tuesday.

"This was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials," Gen. John Allen said. "It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it, we immediately stopped and we intervened."

February 16th, 2012
03:42 PM ET

'We'll die for our country, it doesn't matter,' Syrian activist says

Editor's note: With the Syrian city of Homs under siege, CNN interviewed an opposition activist using the pseudonym of "Danny" to find out more about what was happening on the ground. Danny, whose real name CNN is protecting, escaped the slaughter.

CNN traveled to an undisclosed location recently to interview activist Danny. For his safety, we are not disclosing where that was, and Danny has since moved.

Before leaving Homs, Danny shared his stories with CNN and posted videos on YouTube purporting to show the violence in Syria. CNN cannot verify these videos independently, but they appear to show a desperate situation. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh caught up with Danny to ask him about what's going on in Syria, what scenes keep him up at night and what he hopes will happen.

There are many things Danny wants the world to know about what he and others in the Syrian city of Homs have gone through. But mostly, he wants people to know it has gotten so bad, and so many people have died that it has become the norm in that town.

"What people have to see is the children getting killed. Not just the children, but when someone dies and the relatives get used to it," Danny says.

"One of my friends, his father got killed two weeks ago. I hugged him and he cried a little bit, but he kept going for like an hour, an hour and a half, going, coming, he was asking for a pen. So I caught him and I said, 'Why do you want a pen?'

 "He said he wanted to write on my Dad's body, on the sheets, his name so I don't lose it between the bodies.

"People are getting used to that kind of bodies in the street."

The scenes that have played out before him can keep Danny up all night. There are situations and people whom he remembers vividly.

"I've seen lots. You would not imagine. If I would go on about what I've seen, it would take me hours.

"What about the kid we picked up who's got no jaw left and he's still alive? What about the kid that's lost his two legs, and he's still alive? What about the kid who's lost his arms? My friend who's paralyzed now?  My friend who's lost his arm? My friend who lost an eyeball? My friend who got hit by a (sniper's bullet) that went in his mouth and went out ... (who) lost his teeth?

"These are all people who are scarred for life. I would rather get killed than be scarred like that.

"That's what people are scared about now - not dying. We'll die for our country. It doesn't matter.

"But that's different to losing a piece of your body."


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December 14th, 2011
09:23 AM ET

Jailed Afghan rape victim freed

An Afghan woman imprisoned for adultery after a relative raped her has been freed after President Hamid Karzai intervened on her behalf.

The woman, identified only as Gulnaz for her own protection, had been sentenced to prison for 12 years after she reported that her cousin's husband had raped her two years ago. Wednesday, she was free, at a women's shelter in Kabul, with her daughter.

Her plight gained international attention when the European Union blocked the broadcast of a documentary about her ordeal, saying it would further jeopardize her safety.

After the attack two years ago, Gulnaz hid what happened as long as she could. She was afraid of reprisals. But soon she began vomiting in the mornings and showing signs of pregnancy. It was her attacker's child.

In Afghanistan, this brought her not sympathy, but prosecution. She was found guilty by the courts of sex outside of marriage - adultery - and sentenced to 12 years in jail. She was only 19.

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Filed under: Afghanistan
November 27th, 2011
04:36 PM ET

Nearly 5,000 sign petition calling for release of Afghan rape victim

Afghan President Hamid Karzai received a petition Sunday with nearly 5,000 names endorsing a plea for the immediate release of a rape victim who has been jailed because of her attack and is being forced to marry her rapist.

Kim Motley, a lawyer for 21-year-old Gulnaz, said the palace received the petition, which gathered 4,751 names in just over 48 hours, on Sunday afternoon. The petition comes with an official plea for clemency addressed to the president, who has the power to immediately pardon Gulnaz, currently in jail for adultery because her attacker was married at the time of the attack.

Gulnaz was sentenced to 12 years after the attack as her rapist was married though that term was recently reduced to 3 years.

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Filed under: Afghanistan