Blair's 'rebuild Afghanistan' pledge to cost 15 bln: World Bank
Tuesday January 8, 7:58 PM AFP
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the first visit to Afghanistan by a western leader since September 11, offered to help rebuild the war-torn country -- an exercise the World Bank said would cost 15 billion dollars (17 billion euros).
Washington piled the pressure on Pakistan to crack down on its Muslim extremists and defuse tensions with India to allow the unhindered pursuit of its "war on terrorism", which was likely to move to other targets once the Afghan campaign was over, a senior US official said.
The situation on the ground remained shaky, with an al-Qaeda fighter blowing himself up with a grenade at a Kandahar hospital ward he and six others had been barricaded in since the city fell to anti-Taliban forces a month ago.
Blair, who late on Monday flew into Baghram air base north of Kabul at the end of a three-country South Asian tour, stressed the international community was "here to help for the long term".
"The purpose is to offer our support and partnership for the new interim government and through them give a very strong message to the people of Aghanistan," he told reporters.
Afghan leader Hamid Karzai welcomed the support. Blair said Karzai had told him the military action was "a source of liberation" and there was "now the real prospect of a stable and prosperous future".
The World Bank's acting head Abid Hassan said in Islamabad that 15 billion dollars would be needed over the next 10 years to rebuild the country, shattered by more than two decades of war.
To rebuild basic infrastructure such as hospitals, water supplies, power plants and schools would require "around one billion to two billion dollars a year" over the next decade, the Nation daily quoted him as saying.
But Antonio Donini, head of the UN Development Program for Afghanistan, said no reconstruction was likely before an assessment survey was completed, probably in three months' time.
"The long-term process cannot be de-linked from issues of governance and political dispensation," he warned, ahead of a January 21-22 donor's conference in Japan.
Reconstruction was a top item on the agenda of a meeting of the Karzai government on Monday, which decided to set up a committee headed by Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah to coordinate international reconstruction efforts.
In Washington, President George W. Bush said the crisis between India and Pakistan has yet to be defused and pressured Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to intensify a crackdown on militant Islamic groups.
"I don't believe the situation is defused yet. But I do believe there is a way to do so," Bush told reporters. "We are working hard to convince both... there is a way to deal with their problems without going to war."
The United States is concerned that the latest crisis, sparked by a deadly December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament which Delhi blames on Pakistan-backed Muslim militants, could hamper its campaign against terrorism.
"It's very important for President Musharraf to make a clear statement to the world that he intends to crack down on terror," Bush said. "And I believe if he does that and he continues to do what he's doing, it'll provide relief."
Musharraf, after meeting Blair on Monday, announced a plan to combat mainly Muslim "militancy" in his country but said details would come later.
"We are taking steps within Pakistan to bring some degree of normalcy, balance, introducing a tolerant society, checking any form of militancy," he said. "A final decision will be given when I come and address the nation in a few days' time."
In Kandahar, an Arab al-Qaeda fighter of unknown nationality blew himself up with a hand grenade to avoid capture as he tried to flee the hospital where he had barricaded himself with six colleagues, a security official said.
The seven men were hospitalized in November after being wounded in the battle for the airport of Kandahar, whose fall on December 7 signalled the end of the Taliban regime.
Before the Taliban fled, they reportedly gave the Arabs -- most of them believed to be Yemenis -- food and weapons so they could defend themselves, the source said.
Armed with grenades and surrounded in the former women's section of the hospital, the Arabs held out, threatening to blow themselves up if anyone tried to arrest them, he said.
One attempt by a local commander, backed by US troops, failed on December 23.
As the US military campaign in Afghanistan appeared to be drawing to a close, US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the focus now would be to deny terrorist groups sanctuary in places such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines.
In an interview Tuesday in The New York Times, Wolfowitz said Somalia fitted the bill of a lawless state that drew terrorists.
"Obviously Somalia comes up as a possible candidate for al-Qaeda people to flee to, precisely because the government is weak or nonexistent," Wolfowitz said. But he acknowledged that US options there were limited because "by definition, you don't have a government you can work with".
In the Philippines, the United States was providing "direct support to Philippine military operations" against the Abu Sayyaf group, which it believes has links with al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz said.
But he added that Philippine officials were "very anxious to do it themselves... That's the crucial standard for them".
He also expressed concern about the situation in Indonesia.
"You see the potential for Muslim extremists and Muslim terrorists to link up with those Muslim groups in Indonesia and find a little corner for themselves in a country that's otherwise quite unfriendly to terrorism," he said.
However, Wolfowitz said, direct US military action there was unlikely "because it's such a big and disparate place".
Tuesday January 8, 4:20 PM
KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three former ministers from Afghanistan's ousted Taliban government have surrendered as the U.S.-led war to find Osama bin Laden and punish his protectors enters its fourth month.
On the diplomatic front, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's staunchest ally in its war on terrorism, told the Afghan people the world would not abandon them now the Taliban, who sheltered bin Laden, had been defeated.
"We are always on the side of the Afghan people against the Taliban," Blair, the first Western leader to visit the country since the hardline Muslim militia were deposed, said late on Monday. "And we remain on the side of the Afghan people today."
A spokesman for Kandahar governor Gul Agha said on Tuesday the ousted ministers of defence, justice and mines and industry had given themselves up to authorities in Kandahar, the former southern stronghold of the Taliban.
"Ministers of the Taliban and senior Taliban are coming one by one and surrendering and joining with us," spokesman Khalid Pashtoon told Reuters by telephone.
"Among those who surrendered were former minister of defence Mullah Ubai Dullah, minister of justice Mullah Turabi and minister of mines and industry Mullah Saadudin," he said.
Separately, an Afghan tribal commander said the head of the militia's information department and one of their senior spokesmen, Abdul Hayee Motmain, had been detained and handed over to U.S. forces.
But the whereabouts of Saudi-born bin Laden and his top ally, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, were still a mystery.
Washington started bombing Afghanistan on October 7, vowing to hunt down al Qaeda leader bin Laden, whom it accuses of masterminding September 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in the United States.
But as the third month passed, U.S. officials were showing growing signs of frustration that their efforts to capture bin Laden and Mullah Omar had so far proved fruitless.
A military spokesman said on Monday U.S. forces were going to stop "chasing the shadows" of bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and focus on eradicating remaining pockets of al Qaeda resistance.
"We're going...to focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are...so that we can develop a better intelligence picture," Navy Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem told a Pentagon briefing.
"The job is not complete," he said, adding that Washington was casting a worldwide and a regional net for al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
NO SIGN OF OMAR
U.S. officials had raised hopes that Mullah Omar might be captured over the weekend as anti-Taliban forces negotiated with tribal chiefs in Baghran, northwest of Kandahar, for the surrender of fighters thought to be protecting him.
But there was no sign of him and there were conflicting reports he had either fled or was never in Baghran.
Stufflebeem said U.S. officials probably "assumed a little too much" in believing negotiations were about Mullah Omar.
Meanwhile, a CBS News poll found that 60 percent of Americans believed the war would not be won until the United States had tracked down bin Laden.
Nearly all the 1,060 adults interviewed in the poll backed the position of President George W. Bush that bin Laden should be taken "dead or alive" and they had little desire to start winding down the military campaign.
Another U.S. military official said sweeps of Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan by U.S. special forces and anti-Taliban Afghan forces found evidence bin Laden had been there, but it was unclear how recently.
Britain's Blair flew into Bagram air base north of Kabul after meeting Pakistani and Indian leaders in a bid to cool tensions between the neighbours and nuclear rivals that threaten to undermine efforts to catch bin Laden.
"The international community is here to help in the long term, but Afghanistan's future is the hands of the Afghan people," he said.
A delegation of U.S. senators visiting Afghanistan brought a similar message.
"We are not going to repeat the mistake that was made after the Soviets were pushed out of here and the rest of the world essentially walked away," Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said after meeting Afghan interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
The senators spoke of rebuilding the country devastated by two decades of war.
Earlier, U.S. jets pounded a suspected al Qaeda camp in eastern Afghanistan, and special forces on the ground pursued al Qaeda fighters attempting to regroup.
At the Pentagon briefing, Stufflebeem said the aircraft attacked a cave complex at Zhawar Kili near the Tora Bora region on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, and the area remained among the most dangerous for U.S. forces and their Afghan allies.
"They (al Qaeda) are attempting to try to regroup so that they can amass for leadership and mischief purposes," he added.
Despite concern among some tribal leaders about the civilian toll from the bombing, the new U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said after arriving on Saturday Washington would keep bombing until it had eliminated the Taliban and al Qaeda.
A 14-year-old boy became the conflict's latest fugitive, slipping out of the grip of Afghan elders who were to decide whether to hand him over to the Americans for allegedly killing a U.S. soldier in an ambush.
Elders put off a meeting to decide the fate of the boy suspected of killing Sgt. Nathan Ross Chapman as he had vanished.
Tuesday January 8, 2:26 PM AFP
After Afghanistan, the United States will likely focus on denying terrorist groups sanctuary in places like Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told The New York Times.
In an interview, Wolfowitz said that Somalia, perhaps more than any other place, fitted the bill of a lawless state that draws terrorists.
"Obviously Somalia comes up as a possible candidate for al-Qaeda people to flee to precisely because the government is weak or nonexistent," Wolfowitz was quoted as saying.
Wolfowitz, however, acknowledged that American options were limited in Somalia, where, he said, "by definition you don't have a government you can work with."
The Central Intelligence Agency, he added, is "looking for exactly those sorts of people" that the United States can use as proxy forces, as it did with anti-Taliban factions in Afghanistan.
The US military have deposed the Taliban regime and are wiping out the al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan, while searching for its leader, Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
In the Philippines, the United States "might include direct support of Philippine military operations" against the Abu Sayyaf group, which US officials say has links with al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz said.
But he added that Philippine officials were "very anxious to do it themselves," The Times said.
"That's the crucial standard for them," Wolfowitz was quoted as saying. "They're very willing to take help within the framework of helping them help themselves."
The deputy defense secretary also expressed concern about the situation in Indonesia where Islamic militants have fought with Christians on Sulawesi Island and in Maluku Province.
"You see the potential for Muslim extremists and Muslim terrorists to link up with those Muslim groups in Indonesia and find a little corner for themselves in a country that's otherwise quite unfriendly to terrorism," he said.
"In the case of Sulawesi, the concern is there isn't enough military to protect the local population or to create the kinds of stable conditions that keep terrorism down," Wolfowitz is quoted as saying.
He said the United States was prepared to provide assistance to Indonesia and spoke in favor of reviewing certain restrictions about conducting joint exercises with the Indonesian military, which has been accused of human rights abuses.
However, the deputy defense secretary said it was unlikely the United States would consider direct military action in Indonesia, "because it's such a big and disparate place," according to The Times interview.
Monday January 7 4:25 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Ending weeks of speculation as to whether its military could make a meaningful contribution on the ground in Afghanistan (news - web sites), Canada said on Monday it was sending 750 soldiers to the Kandahar region to help U.S.-led operations.
``We're good at peacekeeping, but if we have to be involved in combat, we can do that too,'' Defense Minister Art Eggleton said in announcing the six-month deployment, which will begin over the next five weeks.
``This is the first time the Americans have asked a coalition ally to join them on the ground in their operations in Afghanistan.''
The Canadian troops will help root out remaining pockets of fighters of the Taliban and the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), suspected of directing the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, and they could join offensive combat operations.
They will also help with reconnaissance, clearing land mines, securing Kandahar airport and processing prisoners.
The announcement ends months of debate and speculation about Canada's role in Afghanistan, whether it would be a prominent participant in the force Britain is putting together there, or whether its military was in a strong enough position to fight at all after years of budget cutbacks.
Recent military planning has focused less on combat and more on peacekeeping, an international role in which Canada has played a leading part.
Former External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson, later to become prime minister, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for forging the idea of a U.N. peacekeeping force to handle the Suez crisis the year before.
Reinforcing its view of the tradition Pearson started, Canada proudly puts a peacekeeper on its new $10 bill.
Ottawa put 1,000 light-infantry troops on 48-hour deployment alert back in mid-November, and Prime Minister Jean Chretien visited them in Alberta the following week to wish them well.
But Chretien raised eyebrows when he said he wanted the troops to bring ``peace and happiness as much as possible'' and not face ``a big fight,'' and the soldiers stayed on base while the politicians bickered about their role.
At one stage Britain wanted just 200 engineers for its International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and said most of the Canadian soldiers might not be needed for another three months.
The command of the force would pass from Britain to Turkey, rather than to Canada, because the allies felt that Turkey, with its predominantly Muslim population, would to be more palatable in Afghanistan.
Eggleton said European politics became part of the decision-making process, and he appeared relieved to be asked to join the U.S. operations.
With earlier deployments from the navy and the air force, the new contingent brings Canada's total contribution to the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism to 2,500, the fourth largest of any country.
Eggleton said that total could swell to close to 3,000 once more aircraft were deployed.
Forty Canadian commandos have already been operating for several weeks around Kandahar, but not as part of larger-scale regular military operations.
Reconnaissance units within the 750-strong force could begin moving to Afghanistan in seven to 10 days. The rest are to be in place no later than Feb. 15.
Tuesday January 8, 1:02 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Mullah Omar, the former leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement, is probably still hiding in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province said on Tuesday.
Several senior members of the Taliban have surrendered, including three ministers in the old government, spokesman Khalid Pashtoon added.
"Probably Mullah Omar is still in the north of Helmand province around Baghran," Pashtoon, spokesman for Kandahar governor, Gul Agha, told Reuters by telephone.
"Baghran is a very big, mountainous area. It is difficult to find him quickly. Thousands of our forces are looking for him, he can't escape from us," Pashtoon said.
Pashtoon said three ministers in the regime forced from power in November by the U.S-led military campaign, had surrendered to authorities in Kandahar.
"Ministers of the Taliban and senior Taliban are coming one by one and surrendering and joining with us," he said.
"Among those who surrendered were former minister of defence Mullah Ubai Dullah, minister of justice Mullah Turabi and minister of mines and industry Mullah Saadudin," Pashtoon said
(CNN) -- U.S.-led airstrikes are intensifying in eastern Afghanistan in an attempt to flush out suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members attempting to flee into Pakistan.
Meanwhile, high-level visitors to Afghanistan promised Monday that allied support would endure over the long haul.
The steady string of bombing runs near Miram Shah in eastern Afghanistan has been going on since Sunday. The sparsely populated area holds the Zawara camp, a suspected terrorist training site that was bombed by U.S. missiles in 1998. The camp reportedly contains ordnance, explosives and tunnels.
In addition, intelligence reports indicate al Qaeda members may be hiding in the area, U.S. officials said. (Full story)
At the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, a nine-member delegation of U.S. senators arrived Monday and met with interim government chairman Hamid Karzai during their second stop on a tour of nine Asian nations.
America must stay "committed and engaged" in Afghanistan to help rebuild the country and prevent terrorists from gaining another foothold there, several of the senators said.
"I think people are proud we are involved here, understand we need to be here to protect our own security," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "And it would be a terrible mistake to walk away and let this place fall back into the dictatorship and poverty that is the ground in which fanatical extremists like [Osama] bin Laden grow."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also visited Afghanistan to underline what he says is the international community's long-term commitment to rebuild the war-torn country.
• Air Force officials tracking the movements of a teen pilot minutes before he crashed a Cessna plane into a Tampa, Florida, office tower Saturday did not perceive him as a threat, even as he came within 100 feet of a major U.S. air base, a Pentagon official said Monday.
• Richard Reid claims he used a recipe from the Internet and explosives purchased from a man in Amsterdam for $1,500 to fashion a sneaker bomb capable of blowing up an airliner, U.S. government sources said Monday.
• Thousands of people are putting in long hours to reach the new viewing platform overlooking the former World Trade Center site in New York. The line has snaked for blocks through lower Manhattan as people wait their turn to witness the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
• The U.S. military has transferred Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, the captured al Qaeda leader who once ran terrorist mastermind bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, to the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea. The warship is also holding American Taliban fighter John Walker and Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.
• The first contingent of 70 German troops is due to arrive in Afghanistan to join the international stabilization force. The German troops -- 50 paratroopers and 20 communications and medical experts -- left Cologne-Bonn airport for the Dutch city of Eindhoven on Tuesday.
• President Bush used his recess appointment power Monday to name John Magaw to the newly created position of undersecretary of transportation for security. Magaw can serve until the end of the next congressional term without being confirmed by the Senate.
• The Pentagon refused to say Monday how many senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are in U.S. custody and said it would stop speculating on the whereabouts of bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The U.S. military has detained 346 fighters, including 300 in Kandahar, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said.
• Afghan tribal leaders said that a 14-year-old boy may have been responsible in the death of Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman. Reuters reported the boy escaped custody near the Afghan-Pakistan border, and tribal leaders were convening a council to discuss whether to hand him over to the U.S. military. Chapman, 31, was the first U.S. serviceman killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan. His remains are scheduled to arrive Tuesday in the United States.
• The Singapore government said it has broken up a network of militants targeting the U.S. Embassy and American businesses after arresting 15 people with suspected links to al Qaeda.
• Bush came to the defense Monday of the Secret Service agent ousted from a flight Christmas Day, calling the Arab-American man "honorable" and saying he would be "surprised" if the agent had been hostile. American Airlines CEO Don Carty said in a weekend statement that one of his pilots was "not going to let an angry man with a gun on his airplane."
• The estimate of the number of dead in the September 11 World Trade Center attacks has fallen to 2,893, officials said Monday. The city Office of Emergency Management said 619 people are confirmed dead, while 309 people are listed as missing with no death certificates issued, and 1,965 death certificates have been issued for victims whose remains have not yet been identified.
|Back to News Archirves of 2002|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).