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April 14, 2002


U.S. Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan
The Associated Press
Monday, April 15, 2002; 7:36 AM (Washingtonpost)

WASHINGTON –– An explosion killed and injured an unknown number of American soldiers working Monday to clear ordnance in Afghanistan, defense officials said.

The Pentagon said the number of casualties had not yet been determined and that officials were trying to get more information.

"It was an accident," said Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

The explosion occurred Monday afternoon near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, he said.

About 7,000 Americans are deployed in Afghanistan to continue the anti-terrorism effort of destroying Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, blamed in the Sept. 11 attacks on America, and his Taliban supporters.

Troops have been scouring caves and countryside in the search – often finding and blowing up weapons caches. There also are many land mines left over in Afghanistan from years of war.



US troops attacked in Afghanistan, expect more clashes

Monday April 15, 2:28 PM

US troops and their Afghan allies have come under fresh attack from al-Qaeda extremists in Afghanistan and are expecting more clashes over the summer, a spokesman said.

US Major Bryan Hilferty said Monday a joint US-Afghan patrol was attacked by suspected al-Qaeda militants on Saturday at an undisclosed location somewhere in Afghanistan.

Air support was called in and five out of an estimated 20 attackers were killed but there were no casualties among the coalition forces.

"Vehicles had bullet holes but there were no casualties on our side," Hilferty said.

Later Saturday and again on Sunday, he said, rocket-propelled grenades were fired near this airbase 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Kabul.

"In the evening of the 13th (April) there were two explosions southwest of the airfield," he told reporters.

"After investigation we determined the explosions to be caused by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Last night there were two more explosions near the airfield -- we believe they were also caused by RPGs."

He did not elaborate on who was believed responsible for the rocket attacks here.

Hilferty said the US-led forces in Afghanistan had expected an upsurge in al-Qaeda and Taliban activity with the end of winter.

"We have always thought that spring is a campaining season historically. We expect a resurgence of activity," he said.

The rocket attacks here are the most serious incident near this air base since it became a major staging point for coalition forces in February.

Hilferty on Sunday said coalition troops were engaged in another gunfight resulting in the deaths of suspected al-Qaeda extremists, but he also refused to disclose the location of this clash.

No injuries to coalition troops were reported in that attack.

In other operations, suspected al-Qaeda members were captured and new weapons caches were uncovered, he said.

US-led coalition forces, bolstered by the recent arrival of British troops, have been scouring Afghanistan for the remnants of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and his Taliban backers.

The US army says there has been little direct contact with the enemy since the end of its massive Operation Anaconda offensive in eastern Afghanistan in mid-March, which was launched from this sprawling base.

The latest incidents come ahead of the scheduled arrival of former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah after almost three decades in exile.

Security forces in the capital are on high alert after officials with the interim cabinet said they had uncovered a bomb plot targeting Zahir Shah and interim leader Hamid Karzai.

Last week Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim narrowly escaped an assassination bid after a mine was detonated near his car in the eastern city of Jalalabad.


Two dead as Afghanistan rattled again by quakes

Monday April 15, 2:00 PM

KABUL (Reuters) - Earthquakes have rattled Afghanistan and two people were killed in the northern district of Nahrin where hundreds of people have died in a series of tremors over the last three weeks, local residents said on Monday.

They said a quake on Sunday afternoon killed two men and injured five people in the Nahrin district village of Mohammad Dad.

"It is difficult to gather the whole details because the villages are sparsely populated. We know of at least two dead so far," said one.

Another tremor in the early hours of Monday morning shook wide areas of the country, but there were no immediate reports of deaths.

Pakistani seismologists said the Sunday quake measured 5.3 on the Richter scale, only a little less intense than the series of shallow quakes which killed some 1,000 people in Nahrin district late last month.

Another killed some 50 people last week and destroyed what the first earthquake had left of three villages in the Nahrin area.

The toll was relatively light because many people in the district had lost their homes in last month's quakes and were living in tents, aid workers said.

The seismologists said the epicentre of Sunday's quake was 400 km (250 miles) north of the Pakistani city of Peshawar near Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan. They had no immediate reading on the early Monday tremor.

People in the area said Sunday's quake coincided with heavy rain in a country which, in addition to the ravages of two decades of war, has suffered three years of drought.

That meant tremors were even more destructive in a region where most houses are made of mud.

"It has been raining here too and that will also cause houses to collapse quicker even by a small jolt," said a villager in nearby Kunduz province.

People in the area said the earthquakes also triggered landslides and blocked some of the few roads.

International aid agencies which rushed to help last month had enough food, tents and other equipment in the area, although the rain was hampering operations on Monday, witnesses said.

But that aid got to the needy in the quake-prone Hindu Kush quickly this time, unlike 1998 when it took weeks to get help to the area after a quake killed several thousand people.

That occurred when the ultra-Islamic Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan and their relations with international aid organisations was bad.
US wants permission for Pakistan raid targeting bin Laden: report

Monday April 15, 1:20 PM (AFP)

The United States believes Osama bin Laden is hiding in the mountains of Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan and is seeking Islamabad's permission to stage a raid there, the US newsweekly Time reports.

In the issue, out Monday, the magazine said Christina Rocca, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, visited Islamabad last month seeking permission for the raid from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf is hesitant to approve the operation, the magazine quoted sources as saying, because the fierce tribes in the region are well-armed and sympathetic to Afghanistan's former Taliban regime.

Bin Laden -- chief suspect in the deadly September 11 suicide attacks in the United States -- has so far eluded US attempts to capture him. President George W. Bush said earlier this month he did not know if bin Laden was dead or alive.

But Time said US officials now seem convinced bin Laden is hiding somewhere along the rugged and untamed border between the two countries, possibly due to intelligence gleaned from captured documents and militants belonging to bin Laden's al-Qaeda group.

Among those captured recently was Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, or Abu Zubaydah. Abu Zubaydah, believed to be a key lieutenant of bin Laden with particular knowledge of operations outside of Afghanistan, was among 29 people captured late last month in Pakistan in raids on suspected al-Qaeda hideouts.

Interim Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah said Sunday during a visit to Abu Dhabi he also believed bin Laden was alive and living somewhere on the borders of Afghanistan.
Amnesty blasts US over detainees in Afghanistan and Cuba

Monday April 15, 12:21 PM (AFP)

Amnesty International published a report hitting out at violations of the rights of prisoners being held by the US army in Cuba and Afghanistan.

"The USA's 'pick and choose' approach to the Geneva Convention is unacceptable, as is its failure to respect fundamental international human rights standards," the organization said Monday in the 62-page document, which was sent to the US government earlier.

Amnesty repeated its request to Washington to be allowed to visit the prisoners held in Afghanistan and at the US Guantanamo base in Cuba where some 300 alleged members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda or the Afghan Taliban were sent.

A previous request sent to the US government in January came to nothing, the London-based human rights organization said.

In its report, Amnesty again accused the United States of failing to grant the detainees rights that are universally recognized for any suspect placed in provisional detention.

It denounced the American authorities' failure to give the detainees prisoner of war status, to grant them access to a lawyer or to bring them before a competent tribunal as laid down in the Geneva Conventions.

"The US government must ensure that all its actions in relation to those in its custody in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay comply with international law and standards," Amnesty International wrote.

"This is crucial if justice is to be done and seen to be done, and if respect for the rule of law and human rights is not to be undermined."
Iran, Afghanistan to Promote Commercial Cooperation


Monday April 15, 11:01 AM

KABUL, April 15 Asia Pulse - Iranian Minister of Economy and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri and Head of the Chamber of Commerce of Afghanistan Mohammad Avaz Fadaei, discussed ways of boosting commercial ties during two days of talks held in Kabul.
Improving two-way commercial cooperation to keep up with the commercial standards of the market as well as establishing joint trade and construction companies were among topics discussed.

The two sides also agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish a joint chamber of commerce.

Mazaheri, heading a large economic delegation from among Iranian traders and private industrialists, left Tehran for Kabul Friday morning.

"The aim of the visit is to follow up the execution of agreements reached between Iran and Afghanistan during interim Afghan President Hamid Karzai's trip to Tehran in February," Mazaheri said.

(IRNA)
Good health and hygiene vital to Afghan campaign
By John O'Callaghan

Monday April 15, 10:24 AM

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Heeding their mothers' advice may be the best way for troops to counter one of the most dangerous enemies they face in Afghanistan's high altitudes, shifting temperatures and clouds of dirt.

"Disease can take out whole units in a very short time," said Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald Smith, the division surgeon for U.S. forces at Bagram Air Base, the main staging post for international operations against Taliban and al Qaeda remnants.

Citing the disastrous Soviet experience in Afghanistan, he said the rules mother taught -- wash your hands before meals and after using the latrine, wear clean underwear, take a shower and tidy up after yourself -- apply doubly in the field.

"Around two-thirds of soldiers in the Soviet military were hospitalised for some kind of disease or non-battle injury. Most were preventable," Smith said. "The bottom line was the ability of the command to enforce basic sanitation."

Winter weather has checked malaria, borne by mosquitoes, and other diseases carried by sand flies and ticks. The occasional snake or scorpion poses a danger, but the most common complaints are colds, diarrhoea and muscle strains.

"YOU'VE GOT TO BE FIT"

It's early to bed and early to rise for the 5,000 U.S., British, Australian, Spanish and other troops at Bagram, just north of Kabul -- partly because there's not much to do after dark, but also because the thin air multiplies fatigue.

At 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) at Bagram and up to 13,000 feet (3,900 metres) in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the body works harder to get oxygen into the bloodstream, making long treks and heavy tasks more arduous.

"Up there, the loads we've got to carry, what we've got to do, you've got to be fit," said British commando Dan Farmer. "Otherwise, you're lagging behind, you can't carry the weight."

The Royal Marines of 45 Commando Group will shoulder a pack weighing up to 40 pounds (18 kg) plus weapon and a similar amount of extra ammunition, mortar rounds, radio sets and other supplies for their missions in the mountains.

The commando combat pack includes 48 hours of rations, two extra water bottles, a sleeping bag and mat, a waterproof poncho, a mess kit, a toiletry pack and all-important spare socks.

U.S. weigh about 75 pounds (34 kg) without counting weapons, a flak jacket and combat webbing.

"The guys will do fitness most days," said Sergeant Steven Melbourne, who alternates days of 30- to 40-minute runs with weight-lifting.

"The level of fitness of all units of the British forces is quite high now, but we're specialised in certain types of things like mountain warfare and high altitudes."

Soldiers begin the day with push-ups, sit-ups and chin-ups, or by hitting the weights at two makeshift gyms.

Despite fumes and dust kicked up by passing trucks, joggers take to the dirt roads and concrete air strip. The running tracks are well defined as almost everywhere else is heavily mined.

U.S. soldiers also stay fit by playing volleyball and tossing a baseball or football on sandy patches of land near their tents. At least one British commando brought a soccer ball.

HOT SHOWERS, CLEAN LATRINES

The first U.S. troops to occupy the bombed-out former Soviet base in November lived in frigid and spartan conditions as they combed the area for mines and guarded against the constant threat of counter-attack by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

"In deployments, our focus is on the battle. Many times, because of the uncertainty of war, you can end up putting soldiers in a group fast into an area before your support can get there to make the environment hospitable," said Smith.

"The commanders are very aware of trying to make sure they can balance soldier efficiency and abilities with the mission at hand. It's a very delicate act."

Bagram is far from a holiday camp, but conditions have improved dramatically with portable latrines and hot showers much of the time.

"Things like good latrines are basic but vital," said Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Harradine of the Royal Marines. "If they're not set up properly, all of a sudden you have the guys coming down with all sorts of stomach problems."

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

Even when fit and healthy, the soldier needs fuel.

In the field, U.S. soldiers carry "Meal, Ready-to-Eat" (MRE) packs containing 1,200 to 1,300 nutritionally balanced calories -- about a third of the daily requirement of troops in combat.

The days of tinned beans and mystery meat are long gone. Now, there are 24 boil-in-the-bag delicacies ranging from Thai chicken and grilled beefsteak to pasta with alfredo sauce and black bean and rice burritos.

Pouches of fruit, crackers, peanut butter and cake round out the meal. Hygiene items include moist towelettes and small bundles of toilet paper and two pieces of gum.

"You are more active during field training, deployment and combat than in garrison," the instructions inside the packs say. "Military rations are good performance meals."

That may be so, but they're also a bit bland -- hence the tiny bottle of hot sauce inside every plastic pack.

On base, the troops get a hot breakfast -- usually eggs and waffles, boxed cereal and fruit -- and a hot dinner. For lunch, boxes of MREs are stacked up next to the mess tent.

Those who get hungry between meals stock up on potato chips, chocolate bars and other snacks at the camp PX. Care packages from home are the most welcome arrivals at the mailroom.

Troops who have spent months living on standard army rations got a rare treat during a recent visit by a U.S. congressional delegation.

"Salad?" one U.S. officer quipped. "I haven't seen salad for ages."

U.N. "returnee" chief watches Afghans go home
By Brian Williams

Monday April 15, 4:38 AM

ISLAM QALA, Afghanistan (Reuters) - UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers stood on the Afghan-Iran border watching dozens of refugees head home to Afghanistan on Sunday and happily declared he was now high commissioner for returnees, not refugees.

In a symbolic appearance at the rain-soaked border as the United Nations' biggest repatriation operation moved into top gear, the former Dutch prime minister dodged trucks and cars going both ways at the busy crossing point.

Over the next six weeks, the UNHCR hopes to move nearly a quarter of a million refugees home to Afghanistan from Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

Some have been in exile since the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion started decades of war in their homeland.

Others left home when a four-year civil war broke out in 1992 after the Soviets departed. The most recent exiles were refugees from the rule of the fundamentalist Taliban.

Over the decades nearly five million Afghans fled as refugees and there are still estimated to be about 1.5 million in Iran and 2.5 million in Pakistan.

"One year ago I was at this spot and met Taliban fighters as High Commissioner for Refugees. Now I am the High Commissioner for Returnees," Lubbers, a former Dutch prime minister, smilingly told Reuters.

HAPPINESS AND PAPERWORK

As he spoke, about 200 Afghan men women and children -- with even the very young laden down with belongings -- spilled from several trucks to start paperwork that would head them on journeys to all parts of Afghanistan.

"This is a happy and proud day for the UNHCR," Lubbers said.

Lubbers' visit was event-filled.

Due to torrential rain hours before his arrival at the border -- after several years of drought -- Lubbers' convoy was halted by flooded roads and he had to travel by helicopter.

The UNHCR has not encouraged the refugee return right now, fearing an uncertain security situation and land mines. But it has taken on the task of helping settle those making the trip.

"I left Kabul with my wife and two children five years ago because of the Taliban," said Mohammad Nasir, who worked as a construction worker in Tehran.

"I now have four children, I don't have a job and little money. But I am going home."

Abdul Hussein, 31, who lost his left leg as a mujahideen fighting the Soviets 12 years ago, was pushed in a wheelchair by friends across a muddy field to the U.N. processing centre about 100 yards (metres) from where Lubbers spoke.

'I WANT TO DIE IN MY OWN COUNTRY'

"I worked as a shoemaker in Iran making shoes for amputees like me," he said. "I only have an uncle in Kabul and don't know what I'll do when I get there. But I want to die in my own country."

Masjed Sharif said he decided to return after hearing from relatives that he would be safe in his home province of Parwan.

Since the formal repatriation started last week, only several thousand refugees have returned from Iran. Many awaited assurances from relatives that it was safe and others were delayed by the long distances they must travel to the border.

The rain was likely to delay returns further.

To encourage returns from Iran, the interim administration of Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has allowed refugees to resettle where they like instead of only in the provinces they came from.

Refugees in Pakistan were kept in refugee camps, but those in Iran were absorbed into its cities and most refugees spoke warmly of their time there, despite their desire to resume life in their homeland.

"Iran was good to us. We were treated as brothers," Mohammad Sharrif said.

Many young men at the border crossing were dressed in western clothes -- and smartly dressed at that -- rather than the traditional dress still favoured by most Afghans.

A few women covered themselves with full-length burqas, the rest topping their outfits with headscarves.

The UNHCR provides the refugees with $10 each, food and transport to their place of choice. They are also helped with temporary accommodation when they arrive.

Lubbers is mid-way through an eight-day tour that has already taken him to Tehran. He meets Karzai later this week and then travels to Pakistan.


Clashes overshadow Afghan assembly


Monday, 15 April, 2002, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK

Royal Marines are to start combat operations soon

Thousands of people have gathered in northern Afghanistan to start selecting candidates for a grand national assembly amid reports of an upsurge in al-Qaeda guerrilla activity.
The remote rural district of Mardyan is starting the selection process for the Loya Jirga - the assembly which will meet in June in the capital Kabul to choose a new government.

But British and American forces in Afghanistan say they have noticed a sharp increase in al-Qaeda activity in the east of the country, the BBC's Jonathan Charles reports.

Our correspondent, who is at the British Royal Marines base at Bagram Airport near Kabul, says 1,700 Marines are poised to start combat operations.

But the weather in the snow-capped mountains is improving, making it easier for remaining al-Qaeda and Taleban units to move around.

Attacks

A US military spokesman said there were two explosions on Sunday night at an airfield used by coalition forces in the south-eastern city of Khost, near the spot where two rocket-propelled grenades exploded the previous night.

Loya Jirga
1,450 delegates
1,051 elected members
Guaranteed seats for 160 women
53 seats for current government
100 seats for Afghan refugees and six for internally displaced Afghans
25 seats for nomads

The spokesman, Major Bryan Hilferty, said a joint US-Afghan patrol also came under fire on Saturday night and five al-Qaeda or Taleban attackers were killed when an AC-130 gunship returned fire.

It was the second such attack in 24 hours. The allied forces did not suffer any casualties, the spokesman said.

The patrols are believed to have been operating in or near Khost province.

The allied forces' task is made all the more difficult by the terrain - mountains in the area soar to 3,600 metres (12,000 feet).

Our correspondent quotes intelligence sources as saying many al-Qaeda members have fled to neighbouring Pakistan, regrouping out of reach of the British and US forces.

Special occasion

In Mardyan, the start of what could be a more democratic government in Afghanistan was accompanied by festivities, with men on horses galloping through the main square, other men dancing to drums and children singing.

Afghan nomads: The Loya Jirga will reflect the country's diversity

The most senior United Nations official in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, was flown in especially to give people reassurance and support the democratic process, the BBC's Kate Clark reports from the scene.

She says the presence of the most powerful man in northern Afghanistan, Abdul Rashid Dostum, was also highly significant.

He is the interim government's deputy defence minister and a key factional leader, and the UN says it is important that Afghans see him publicly lending his support to the process.

Some 1,500 delegates will assemble for the Loya Jirga in Kabul to select the next government.

Democratic traditions

There has been no census in Afghanistan for decades and that means direct elections are not yet possible.

But there are strong democratic traditions - Afghans are used to sitting down for hours, thrashing out issues and reaching decisions by consensus.

The fall of the Taleban left three different armed factions in control of the north.

The other problem is that ordinary Afghans do not seem to know what the arrangements are for the Loya Jirga: when it will be held, how the delegates will be chosen, what it will do.

King's return

In Wardak province, west of Kabul, the forces of rival commanders are reported to be gearing up for more battles.

Nine people were reported killed in clashes on Friday between forces loyal to the interim administration, commanded by Muzaffaruddin, and those of royalist Ghulam Rohani Nangali.

Afghanistan's exiled 87-year-old king is scheduled to return later this week - raising fresh security fears.

King Zahir Shah is backed by interim leader Hamid Karzai, and is returning to inaugurate the Loya Jirga.

But with violent ethnic rivalry and a high level of lawlessness entrenched in Afghanistan, there is concern that forces hostile to the interim administration are trying to destabilise the political process.


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