Australian SAS man dies in Afghan mine blast
Australia suffered its first fatal casualty of the US-led war on terrorism with the death of a special forces soldier in a landmine blast in Afghanistan at the weekend, officials said.
The soldier, a member of the Perth-based Special Air Service Regiment (SAS), died of injuries he received when his vehicle ran over an anti-tank mine late on Saturday, army chief Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove said.
"We all mourn the death of a good and brave soldier," he told reporters.
No one else was injured in the incident in which the soldier had apparently been the only occupant of a Landrover patrol vehicle leading a convoy when it hit the mine about 4.30 p.m. local time (1200 gmt) on Saturday.
Australia's 150-strong SAS contingent has been involved in special reconnaissance to seek out and observe weapons dumps left by retreating Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
SAS comrades at the scene administered emergency first aid and an hour later the US military parachuted in a medical team comprising a surgeon and three medics.
The soldier was evacuated by US combat search and rescue helicopter to a US medical facility at the southern Afghan city of Kandahar but died soon after arrival.
Cosgrove said the soldier's family had requested his name be withheld at this stage.
In January another SAS soldier received serious injuries to his foot when he trod on an anti-personnel landmine. He is now recuperating in Perth.
Cosgrove said the issue of landmine awareness had been reviewed after the last incident and it had been concluded that the training was outstanding and no change was needed.
"Any place where there are landmines constitutes a danger to all concerned," he said.
"In this case the military tend to operate in areas of highest danger for obvious reasons.
"Our soldiers over there have been working extraordinarily hard to remove the instruments of terror and war, arms caches, military equipment, left behind in abundance.
"These are obviously focal points where mines are emplaced by evil people."
Pakistan provides airbus to Afghan pilgrims
Islamabad, Feb 17, IRNA -- Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has provided an airbus to take Afghan Hajj pilgrims from Kabul to Jeddah.
Official sources said Sunday that the plane has been provided following a telephonic conversation between Chairman of the Afghan Interim government Hamid Karzai and President General Pervez Musharraf.
Karzai had requested President Musharraf to provide aircraft to carry the Afghan pilgrims to the holy land.
The PIA airbus will carry 270 pilgrims form Kabul and go to Jeddah via Karachi.
Meanwhile, PIA's first chartered flight from Islamabad to Kabul also landed in the Afghan capital Sunday morning after 21 years.
Sunday February 17, 9:59 AM
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Famed for their tough bargaining skills and high-quality wares, Afghanistan's carpet sellers are on a roll again.
With a flourish passed down the generations, a shopkeeper unfurls a striking red carpet and begins to bargain.
"One hundred dollars and no less," he shouts.
Fifteen minutes of vigorous haggling and several cups of tea later and the deal is done -- $90 for a carpet of finest Karakul wool with a rug portrait of slain opposition leader Ahmad Shah Masood thrown in for another ten.
Few carpets in the world can match the quality of those from the north of Afghanistan.
Lying on the old Silk Route from Europe to China, villages with exotic names such as Altibalaq produce carpets of breathtaking beauty, which find their way to the main northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif and its warren of carpet shops.
There they are bought by merchants who export them around the world -- or at least they were until the Taliban Islamic purists put Afghanistan's international relations in a deep freeze.
"We couldn't export anything when the Taliban were here because they had very bad relations with other countries," said Feda Muhammed, a 33-year-old carpet seller.
"Now my sales are 40 percent better and we're starting to export to the United States, Europe and the Arab countries again."
With an international reputation for quality and artistry, carpets may be the shattered Afghan economy's only world-beating export industry.
But the industry is still very much in the family.
The men get to sell the carpets and quaff endless cups of tea with prospective buyers, while the women stay at home and spend up to one month squatting on the floor painstakingly weaving a single carpet.
"Our ancestors before I can remember were carpet makers. My grandmother is 83 and she's been knitting carpets since she was seven," said Abdul Rahim, 26, who like many of the carpet sellers is an ethnic Turkmen, renowned for their rich carpet-making traditions and weaving skill.
Determining the quality of a carpet is much like choosing a fine wine. Carpets from the village of Altibalaq near the northeastern town of Kunduz are said to be some of the best, but Rahim says standards vary from year to year and village to village.
"Altibalaq used to be the best but not any more. People are bringing in new techniques and villages are always in competition with each other."
TALIBAN "LIKE ANIMALS"
Despite the Taliban leaders' preference for sitting on carpets rather than Western-style sofas, few of the traders mourn their passing and say their disdain for tradition extended to carpets.
"The Taliban were like animals. They didn't know a good carpet from a bad one so we just sold them cheap carpets," said Rahim. "We were buying carpets from all the people that were leaving because they couldn't stand the Taliban.
"Now people are coming back to the country and buying carpets again."
One-eyed Khalyar Boy, who has been selling carpets for 41 years, sits in his shop and dreams of a return to the days of King Zahir Shah's reign, when tourists from around the world flocked to buy his wares.
Told that the exiled king is expected to visit Mazar-i-Sharif for next month's Nawroz festival celebrating the start of spring, his eyes light up.
"Everyone will be happy if he comes," he said. "When he was in power, business was at its best and then the Soviets came to Afghanistan and ruined everything."
"Things aren't as good now as when the king was here, but I am optimistic about the future."
The prospect of tourists returning to the historic city is enough to make any carpet seller's mouth water. They privately admit that foreigners are no match for them when it comes to bargaining.
"Of course, prices are higher for foreigners because they are taking the carpets out of our country," said Rahim, eyeing a group of approaching U.S. soldiers.
Karzai seeks to end disorder
Sunday, 17 February, 2002, 10:13 GMT (BBC)
Karzai pledged to review security appointments
Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai has said that he will not allow the country to go back to the days of looting, murder and gun-running.
In a carefully worded statement, Mr Karzai said that if necessary he would ask for a change in the mandate of the international peacekeeping force in Kabul.
If the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve further we will make sure the international security forces are asked to take a stronger role, I will ask for every measure to bring security to the Afghan people
And those responsible for the murder on Thursday of Civil Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman would be dealt with sternly and according to the justice system, he said.
Rahman was buried on Saturday after being beaten to death at Kabul airport.
Mr Karzai is due to meet the Saudi Arabian ambassador on Sunday to ask for the extradition of three suspects in the killing.
Saudi Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdel Aziz said on Saturday that his government had not yet received any extradition request despite earlier reports that Riyadh had agreed to return the three men.
Five people are already in custody for the murder and two others are being sought in Afghanistan itself.
Rahman's murder - initially blamed on pilgrims on their way to Mecca - is a sensitive issue because all the suspects come from within the ministries of interior, defence and intelligence.
The ministers and the suspects are all members of one of the armed factions, Jamiat-i-Islami.
Hamid Karzai defended the ministers, saying that in the wake of the murder they had acted as patriots rather than comrades of those who had been arrested.
The interim leader has promised to deal sternly with Rahman's murderers
And he said that if necessary he would ask for a change in the United Nations mandate which authorises the international peacekeeping forces.
"If the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve further, we will make sure the international security forces are asked together with the Afghan forces to take a stronger role," he said.
"I will ask for every measure to bring security to the Afghan people."
His statement followed an incident on Saturday, in which UK peacekeeping forces were shot at for the first time in Afghanistan.
Troops returned fire after an unidentified gunman attacked an observation post.
No return to past
But Mr Karzai also said he would not allow Afghanistan to go back to the ways of the past, when he said looting and murder were commonplace.
BBC Kabul correspondent Kate Clark says this sounds like a clear reference to the mid-1990s when the armed factions, including Jamiat, were last in government in Kabul.
Those years were marked by inter-factional fighting, cronyism and lawlessness.
Mr Karzai said they would be looking afresh at appointments to the Afghan security services.
At the moment most personnel come from Jamiat. Many were appointed before the interim leader took office, including, he said, the murder suspects
Afghan Troops Discover bin Laden Video
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Afghan soldiers have discovered a videotape related to Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) in a village south of Kabul, officials said Sunday.
The tape was discovered in the village of Kulangar in Logar province, officials from the Ministry of Information and Culture said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They had no details on the content of the tape but said it related to bin Laden. They did not say when the tape was found.
The tape is in the custody of officials in Logar province and is expected to be delivered shortly to the Intelligence Ministry in Kabul, the capital, for analysis, the officials said.
U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan (news - web sites) are hunting for bin Laden, accused by Washington of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
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