Recent News from ACT! for America

By Lianne Gutcher, Special for USA TODAY

September 20, 2011
QALAT, Afghanistan – Asked about the rigors of being a female cop in this sparsely populated Afghan province, Fatima Tajik is blunt.

"We want to leave our jobs," Tajik tells her NATOmentor, U.S. Army Maj. Maria Rodriguez. "We are risking our lives for little money: $220 per month. We also have families to take care of. All the women in Zabul hate us. Everyone hates us."

The women in this town where strict Islamic customs pervade all aspects of daily life call the policewomen "whores" for working alongside Americans and men to whom they are not married, she says. The women get phone calls telling them they will be beheaded if they don't quit the force.

Rodriguez, Female Engagement Team leader and provost marshal of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, acknowledges the death threats and that a bomb had been placed in a teacher's home. But she asks the women to persevere.

"We don't want you to quit," Rodriguez says, promising to talk to her commander about what could be done to help the women feel safer.

The scene reflects the scope of the challenge the Afghan government and NATO forces face here in Zabul province — which abuts the Taliban's traditional homeland of Kandahar province — as they try to modernize daily living and protect Afghans from their former overlords.

The Afghan government and NATO see the female officers corps as crucial to achieving those goals.

There now are about 1,150 women in the Afghan National Police, less than 1% of the force. The Ministry of Interior wants 5,000 police women on the job by 2014.

Women are needed to perform duties that men are forbidden from doing in this tribal society in which ancient Islamic customs were strictly enforced long before radical, militant Taliban clerics took over the country in the 1990s.

For example, policewomen search women at checkpoints and are sent into the female quarters of civilian compounds where insurgents often hide.

To avoid checkpoint searches by male officers, armed male terrorists often cloak themselves in head-to-toe burqas that typically are worn by women.

The Taliban also has used women as suicide bombers. In one case, insurgents handed a bag containing a bomb to an 8-year-old girl and blew her up as she approached a police checkpoint.

"Integrating Afghan women into this (security) process supports our combined efforts to eliminate insurgent activity and eliminate Taliban influence across Afghanistan," says Lt. Col. Wayne Perry, director of media outreach for the International Security Assistance Force, which oversee coalition operations. "These programs, and the woman participating in them, will go a long way in setting the conditions to support the process of transition in Afghanistan."

In the two years ending in December, NATO will spend $20 billion — one-third of Afghanistan's gross domestic product for the same period — training, equipping and developing the Afghan National Security Forces that are supposed to take over for U.S. troops and others by the end of 2014.

Among those forces are the Afghan National Police. It is a notoriously corrupt force, but nonetheless critical to the U.S.-led counterinsurgency strategy, which relies on local police to prevent the Taliban from retaking towns cleared by the military.

That's why retaining women who have stepped forward to become police officers is increasingly important.

After meeting with Rodriguez, the frustrated women police officers, who wear full burqas while on the job in public, decide to stick with the force — for now.

However, many other policewomen have quit under pressures from a community in which fundamental Islam is prevalent.

"If it were true," says Tajik of the slurs against policewomen, "we would have quit, too."

'The police force needs women'

The capital of Zabul province is Qalat, which is Persian for "fortified place."

The city of several thousand people is known for its 19th-century British fortress, and for being among the first places the Taliban resumed power after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that forced the group from Kabul. The province got its first airstrip only five years ago, and it's unpaved.

The Afghan National Army was largely welcomed by locals when it arrived with U.S. special forces, Romanian troops and civilian engineers.

Since then, the number of roadside bombs has declined and some projects to improve transportation and education are moving forward.

Bibi Khala Girls' School, with places for 1,500 pupils, opened about two years ago, and fertilizer and seed is being handed out to farmers to encourage them to replace the poppy crop that is converted to opium and sold with the help of the Taliban for a cut.

But some things are not changing.

When 30 women here completed a 2½-month police training course, they were lauded by their U.S. mentors for the vital role they were going to play in bringing security to the nation.

Then, almost immediately, more than 20 of the new recruits quit amid rumors that the local police chief was abusing some of the women sexually, according to Fatima Tajik.

"It's lies," says Tajik, who has been a policewoman for three years.

Even the suggestion of impropriety here can damage a woman's honor and bring shame on their families.

In Helmand, the province to the south of Zabul, women face a similar dilemma.

A surge of U.S. Marines in Helmand has forced the insurgents to the outskirts. The 16 women now on the police force are supported by the government — but not always by the community.

"Helmand is very conservative province but people understand that the police force needs women — and not just for ensuring security," says Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Provincial Governor Gulab Mangal.

"It is also better for our culture: If women keep joining the police, then other women will take their lead and start filling key roles in other sectors throughout Afghanistan," he says.

"Islam says women are free to work, and it's good for Afghanistan because they can play key role in reconstructing the war-torn country."

Many influential Afghans disagree with Ahmadi's view.

Nabil Muradi, a mullah and tribal elder from Kabul province to the north, says it is wrong for women to join the security services.

"I have heard, and people believe, that (unmarried) men and women in the army and police have sexual relations with each other," he says. "These women become prostitutes. Afghanistan is an Islamic country and we have to follow the laws of Quran not the laws of westerners."

Some provinces are less resistant to the idea, says Canadian Navy Capt. Angus Topshee, director of Afghan National Police instruction centers at the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.

"There are lots of variations in attitude to women in the force," Topshee says. "In the Kabul area, there is a lot of receptiveness. But in other parts of the country, it is a complete anathema."

Working in secret

In Zabul's provincial police headquarters, the lack of resources for policewomen and the extent of the community's hostility toward them is clear. The nine women remaining on the provincial force said they have no uniforms and no weapons. They complain about name-calling and slurs for working alongside U.S. troops and men.

Bibi Shireeni Tajak says she will stay on the job despite the risks."I was married when I was 11. My husband was 40. I had a baby at 12. I have no education. The Taliban killed two of my brothers by beheading them," she said. "I was stuck at home and I went kind of crazy. I decided to become a policewoman, and I fell in love with the job."

Another policewoman, Bibi Anwara, says her husband divorced her when he learned she had joined the force.

"When I told him I had quit, he remarried me. Now I do the job in secret," she said, proudly producing her police ID card, which she keeps tucked in her bra.

Afghanistan's most senior policewoman, Brigadier Gen. Shafiqa Quraishi, said women will be integral to the future of law enforcement in Afghanistan even though some today are relegated to administrative work and even tea-making.

"There are women in counternarcotics and counterterrorism units, as well as medics and crime-scene investigators," she says, seated at a large desk surrounded by international advisers.

Shafiqa is particularly pleased with the Family Response Unit, which investigates men who abuse their wives and children, and a complaint procedure for women on the force who claim to have been harassed by male co-workers.

"Since Afghanistan is a religious country, most of the men don't want their women to join the police force," she says. "That is why we are focusing our efforts on changing their attitudes so they will let their daughters, mothers and sisters join the police force."

Fawzia Koofi, a member of parliament, agrees: "I know it is not culturally accepted by the people, but our society needs them to make a contribution to improving security."

The NYPD issued a 27-page booklet called "Best Practices for Nightlife Establishments" to teach operators how to spot possible terrorists.

The NYPD's updated guide to bolstering the safety of city nightclubs offers tips on how to spot patrons who are bombed - as well as those carrying bombs.

The 27-page booklet, titled "Best Practices for Nightlife Establishments," advises owners to be cautious about nervous customers who are sweating profusely and with "bulging veins in the neck."

"Counter-terrorism security plans should include training for all staff in the detection of possible suicide bombers," the guide, released Monday, says.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly insisted the guide, produced in conjunction with the New York Nightlife Association, is not meant to "alarm, but to help owners and operators craft effective strategies for terrorism prevention and preparedness."

On how to spot would-be terrorists, the guide recommends being alert to people with "visible wires and tape" protruding from their clothing and "individuals who are obviously disguised."

Nightclub workers should also be aware of people casing establishments by photographing or videotaping.

"Be on the lookout for people with suspicious bags and identical bags being carried by several individuals," the guide suggests.

The booklet also has plenty of tips on how to spot plastered patrons, advising they're usually the ones with slurred speech and bloodshot eyes who appear "sick, confused, abusive, profane, antagonistic or incoherent."

Read more:
Sep 19 01:13 PM US/Eastern
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to face angry protests during his visit to New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly.

United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group, has demanded that managers of the upscale Warwick Hotel refuse to host Ahmadinejad and his delegation and have urged a boycott of the international hotel chain.

"Ahmadinejad is the leader of a criminal regime allied with Al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and guilty of atrocious human rights violations," UANI president Mark Wallace said in a statement.

The group has also paid for a billboard to be placed near New York's famed Times Square showing Ahmadinejad and stating: "As we remember 9/11 ten years later, Al-Qaeda's silent partner is coming to New York."

Iran has denied harboring Al-Qaeda militants, and conclusive evidence has never emerged of a link between Tehran and the extremists who attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

But Western countries have repeatedly accused the Islamic republic of seeking to develop an atomic weapon -- charges Tehran has vigorously denied.

Tehran has been hit by a series of UN sanctions for its refusal to rein in its controversial uranium enrichment program.

New York's Columbia University was hit with a firestorm of controversy last week after reports that a student group would dine with Ahmadinejad, which the New York Post tabloid described as dinner with a "madman."

The student group, called the Columbia International Relations Council and Association, or CIRCA, later said the dinner was only tentative. Members of CIRCA did not respond to requests for comment.

Ahmadinejad is due to address the UN General Assembly on Wednesday and hold a press conference Friday.

Tehran has not confirmed whether the dinner with students will take place, but Iran's mission to the UN did not rule it out.

"Each year, the president attends meetings with the different classes of the American people who are interested in meeting him, and his meeting with the students of different universities is part of the same plan which happens (at a different place and with a different group) every year," the mission said in a statement carried by Iran's semi-official FARS news agency.

Iranian media reported last week that Ahmadinejad was planning to bring a gift for delegates at the UN: a book detailing the "injustices" suffered by Iran during its World War II-era occupation by Britain and the Soviet Union.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly sparked protests and provoked anger during his annual visits to the UN General Assembly.

Last year he sparked fury when he accused the United States of staging the 9/11 attacks in his speech at the assembly.

In 2009 a dozen delegations, including the United States and France, staged a walkout to protest his fiery speech to the assembly, which they branded as "hateful and anti-Semitic."

The Associated Foreign Press


 TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Several IHOP locations are re-opening after seven IHOP locations in Ohio and Indiana were raided early Tuesday morning by the FBI, Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and local police.

Officials with Homeland Security tell us the investigation is currently sealed and cannot release any additional information. 

A well-placed source with Toledo Police Department tells WTOL 11 the investigation surrounds allegations of money laundering and possibly undocumented workers. This source also told us there may be allegations of terrorism, but a spokesperson with IHOP's corporate office says they have been told there are no terrorism links.

Locations that were raided:

- Talmadge Road in west Toledo

- Fremont-Pike location in Perrysburg

- Airport Highway in Springfield Township

- Central Avenue in Sylvania Township near McCord road

- An IHOP in Lima, Ohio

- An IHOP in Findlay, Ohio

- An IHOP in Evansville, Indiana

Homeland Security confirms search warrants were executed at 6 a.m.

All seven of the restaurants are owned by Terry Elk. Elk is from our area and WFIE, our sister station in Evansville, Indiana, confirmed Terry Elk's real name is Tarek Elkafrawi.

The FBI told WTOL they raided two homes and two storage units have also been searched. A source tells us the storage units were rented by Maazen Kadir. According to the Better Business Bureau website, Kadir is the primary contact for the Talmadge Road location and is listed as the area managerWTOL reporters witnessed FBI agents removing many boxes from the locations. It is unknown what the boxes contain.

Elkafrawi was at a national meeting of IHOP store owners this morning and is now on his way back to our area.

IHOP also said they have been in contact with the FBI and the other authorities and, again, IHOP is saying they have been told this investigation is not related to terrorism.

Copyright 2011 WTOL. All rights reserved. Link: 


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