Norway threatens to cut Afghanistan aid

Norway has threatened to reduce aid to Afghanistan, signalling increasing frustration among donor nations over the Kabul government's failure to implement reforms as NATO troops prepare to withdraw.

At an aid meeting in Kabul on Wednesday, Norway said that Afghanistan was not living up to its commitments to prepare for credible elections, to improve women's rights and to fight corruption.

The meeting was held one year after a conference in Tokyo where donors pledged $16 billion to Afghanistan on strict condition that progress would be made to reform the country as foreign military intervention winds down.

Norway, one of the ten biggest aid donors, made a stinging submission to the meeting in Kabul and said that a "reduction in our bilateral programme is one option that will be considered" due the failures of the Afghan government.

"Norwegian authorities note with disappointment the slow and uneven progress that has characterised the follow-up to the commitments made (in Tokyo)," said the statement seen by AFP on Sunday.

"Too few of the commitments have been adequately met… we still feel that more consistent and determined efforts to achieve real progress could have been made."

The 2014 presidential election is a benchmark test of whether the massive international military and aid effort in Afghanistan since 2001 has been worthwhile, but many donors fear that the polls will not be free or fair.

Two election laws have been delayed in parliament for months, leaving little time to arrange the April 5 vote to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who rose to power with US support after the fall of the Taliban regime.

"We had expected a more determined political effort to establish the necessary electoral architecture. It should have been in place by now," the Norwegian submission said.

"Widespread corruption is (also) not addressed in an effective manner," it added.

The last presidential election in 2009 was marred by fraud, and the international community fears that another flawed poll would wreck claims that the costly 12-year military and aid effort in Afghanistan has been a success.

At Wednesday's meeting, the United States, the European Union and other donors pushed Afghanistan for more progress, but the Norwegians were determined to take a stronger stand.

"Our statement speaks for itself, but when they have not delivered as they should, it is natural for us to take a bit of time to draw our conclusions from that," Norwegian ambassador Nils Haugstveit told AFP.

"The key phrase here is mutual accountability," he said. "We will deliver in accordance with our pledges as long as they deliver from their side. It became quite clear that the Afghan commitments have only partially been met."

Norway in 2008 pledged 750 million kroner ($120 million) a year until 2017 in aid to help Afghanistan recover from decades of conflict.

The country currently has 166 troops in the 100,000-strong NATO-led military mission, and is involved in mentoring elite Afghan special forces in the capital Kabul.

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Norwegian troops battle Taliban gunman in siege at luxury Kabul hotel

Gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul and killed at least six people including a Ukrainian, sparking a 12-hour battle with Afghan forces backed by Norwegian troops that left terrified guests scrambling to escape.

Norwegian troops battle Taliban gunman in siege at luxury Kabul hotel
An Afghan security personnel stands guard as smoke billows from the Intercontinental Hotel during a fight between gunmen and Afghan security forces in Kabul on Sunday. PHOTO: WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP
Officials said the death toll from the attack on the six-storey Intercontinental Hotel, claimed by the Taliban, could rise as staff were still checking rooms.
The overnight assault on the hilltop hotel overlooking the Afghan capital, which ended Sunday, sparked dramatic scenes as guests climbed down bedsheets tied to balconies to escape. One lost his grip and fell in television footage by Afghanistan's Tolo News station, which also showed black smoke and flames billowing from the hotel.
Special forces were lowered by helicopters during the night onto the roof of the landmark 1960s building. Afghan security forces killed all six attackers, the interior ministry said. Earlier the ministry had put the number of attackers at four.
They were aided by Norwegian troops, Norwegian military officials told public broadcaster NRK. Norway has helped train Afghan elite forces since 2007.
“Five Afghans and one foreigner have been killed,” interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP Sunday, adding around 150 people were rescued.
“The body of the foreigner, a woman, was recovered from the sixth floor as the last attacker was being killed,” he added.
Ukrainian foreign ministry official Vasyl Kyrylych confirmed that one of its citizens was among the dead and said the Ukrainian consul was flying to Kabul.
Najib Danish, another interior ministry spokesman, said 41 foreigners had been rescued and warned the death toll could rise as authorities were still checking each room. At least six people were wounded, the interior ministry has said.
It was not clear how many people had been inside the hotel. The CEO of Afghan airline Kam Air, Captain Samad Usman Samadi, said 42 of its personnel had been there — at least 16 of whom are still missing.
“We fear for their lives,” he told AFP.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault via email. The attack followed security warnings in recent days to avoid hotels and other locations frequented by foreigners in war-torn Kabul, one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan for civilians.
“We are hiding in our rooms. I beg the security forces to rescue us as soon as possible before they reach and kill us,” one guest, who did not want to be named, told AFP by telephone during the siege.
His phone has been switched off since then.
'Fleeing like crazy'
Officials said four gunmen burst into the hotel, which is not part of the global InterContinental chain, on Saturday night, opening fire and taking dozens of people hostage.
Afghan Telecom regional director Aziz Tayeb, who was one of dozens of people at the hotel attending an IT conference, said he saw the attackers enter.
“Everything became chaotic in a moment. I hid behind a pillar and I saw people who were enjoying themselves a second ago screaming and fleeing like crazy, and some of them falling down, hit by bullets,” Tayeb told AFP.
Local resident Abdul Sattar said he had spoken by phone to friends who are hotel staff and had been trapped inside.
“Suddenly (militants) attacked the dinner gathering… (then) they broke into the rooms, took some people hostage and they opened fire on some of them,” he told AFP.
Rahimi said the attackers were armed with light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades when they stormed the hotel, a popular venue for weddings, conferences and political gatherings.
Security in Kabul has been ramped up since May 31 when a massive truck bomb killed some 150 people and wounded around 400 — mostly civilians.
 Devastating attacks
But the resurgent Taliban and Islamic State are both scaling up their assaults on the city, with multiple devastating attacks in recent weeks.
The attack on the Intercontinental was just one of several bloody assaults on Sunday. In a village in the northern province of Balkh, Taliban militants went from house to house in the middle of the night, pulling police from their homes and shooting them dead. At least 18 officers were killed, deputy police chief Abdul Raziq Qaderi told AFP. In Herat in the west at least eight civilians were killed when a car hit a Taliban-planted roadside mine, officials there said.
The last major attack on a high-end hotel in Kabul was in March 2014 when four teenage gunmen raided the Serena, killing nine people including AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad.
The overnight siege is not the first time the Intercontinental has been targeted: in 2011 a suicide attack claimed by the Taliban killed 21 people there, including 10 civilians.
Danish said authorities were questioning how the attackers got past the hotel's security, which was taken over by a private company three weeks ago.
“We will investigate it,” he said.
A hotel employee told AFP that as he fled the hotel he saw the new security guards running for their lives.
“They didn't do anything, they didn't attack. They had no experience,” the man said on condition of anonymity.