Coalition and Afghan troops kill 50 al-Qaeda fighters: Kabul radio
Friday March 29, 7:28 AM
US-led coalition forces and Afghan soldiers have killed 50 al-Qaeda fighters and injured three others in a fresh assault in eastern Afghanistan, Kabul Radio reported.
Quoting an unnamed official from the interim Afghan defense ministry, the public Afghan radio said late Thursday the extremists were killed in an air and ground assault, and indicated it took place in the mountainous district of Neka in Paktika province.
Neka lies just 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Shahi Kot valley in neighbouring Paktia province, where coalition and Afghan forces had conducted the massive 17-day Operation Anaconda offensive against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters earlier this month.
The radio report did not specify when the latest assault took place, nor did it mention whether there were any casualties among the coalition troops or Afghan allies.
The Pentagon said it could not confirm the report.
"We cannot validate that," said General Richard Myers, chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Operation Anaconda, which was the biggest ground assault so far in the five-month military campaign in Afghanistan, began on March 2 and was declared over early last week.
US military officials had said hundreds of the extremists had been in sophisticated cave hideouts in the valley, but conceded some may have escaped. Afghan commanders said many escaped towards the border with Pakistan.
Paktika and Paktia border Pakistan.
Earlier Thursday an Afghan commander was quoted by the the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) as saying that Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters were planning to launch guerrilla attacks in eastern Afghanistan next month.
"Taliban and al-Qaeda have planned guerrilla attacks and they want to launch them in April," Hazrat Ali, who commands army units in eastern provinces, told the private Pakistan-based news agency.
He did not specify who the extremists were planning to attack.
Ali said the Afghan forces were "keeping a close eye on their activities and would punish them severely."
"We do not want bloodshed but we will not spare them. We will fight them wherever they are."
Ali, 38, was one of two commanders who led Afghan forces in operations against al-Qaeda fighters in the remote Tora Bora region near the Pakistani border last December after they were driven from the capital Kabul and their southern base in Kandahar by US-bombing raids and the Northern Alliance.
US military and intelligence officials have warned several times in recent weeks that attacks by the extremists against coalition troops were likely to escalate with the onset of spring.
Meanwhile a US special forces soldier was killed early Thursday and another wounded after stepping on buried munitions near Kandahar, a military spokesman said in Washington.
The dead soldier was identified in a brief Pentagon statement as Chief Petty Officer Matthew Bourgeois, of Tallahassee, Florida, a member of the elite Navy SEAL commandos.
Friday March 29, 3:57 AM
KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military denied an Afghan radio report on Thursday that Afghan and international troops had killed 50 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in the east of the country.
Official Kabul radio reported fighting in Neka district in Paktika province, about 50 km (30 miles) south of Gardez, where U.S.-led forces fought the biggest ground battle of the latest Afghan war in March.
"We have no reports of any direct action missions involving U.S., coalition or Afghan forces whatsoever," Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Charlie Portman, spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, said.
The Central Command is responsible for the U.S.-led military effort in Afghanistan.
Radio Kabul gave no details of which coalition forces might have been involved or exactly where the fighting took place.
"In Paktika province, Neka district, as a result of a joint operation against Taliban-al Qaeda by the Afghan Defence Ministry and international coalition, 50 fighters were killed and three wounded," the radio said.
The report sparked speculation that a new offensive against rebels might have started or that an ambush caught remnants of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters fleeing the Battle of Shah-i-Kot near Gardez.
The U.S. military has said it killed hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban troops during two weeks of bombing and fighting in the snow-capped mountains around Gardez earlier this month.
However, local Afghan commanders said that many of the al Qaeda and Taliban fighters had escaped across mountain paths before their caves and trenches were finally overrun by U.S., Canadian and Afghan troops in the middle of March.
Operations have continued in the region since then to track down remnants of the al Qaeda and Taliban forces.
On March 17, U.S. troops killed 16 people in an attack on a convoy believed to be carrying al Qaeda guerrillas about 45 miles (70 km) southwest of Gardez.
One U.S. soldier was shot in the arm on March 20 when suspected al Qaeda forces attacked an airfield used by coalition forces near the eastern town of Khost.
Earlier on Thursday, the independent Afghan-Islamic Press agency quoted a commander in the eastern province of Nangarhar as saying Taliban and al Qaeda forces were gathering in his region and preparing to launch guerrilla attacks.
"They have contacted people and distributed money," AIP quoted commander Hazarat Ali as saying.
Much further to the south, an American Special Operations soldier was killed and another wounded on Thursday in an apparent landmine explosion south of the Afghan city of Kandahar.
Friday March 29, 12:57 AM
NAHRIN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - International aid agencies poured tents, water, blankets, food and medicines into the northern Afghan town of Nahrin on Thursday for the survivors of a series of earthquakes that killed hundreds of people.
But, as the country observed a day of mourning for victims in Nahrim district, thousands of homeless Afghans faced a fourth night on icy windswept hillsides despite the best efforts of aid agencies to find them shelter.
"The aid is here, but it is difficult getting it to people," one U.N. aid official said.
"People are fearful of coming back into the town because of aftershocks, so they are staying on open hillsides."
U.N. officials say a series of earthquakes that began on Monday evening killed at least 800 people and made up to 20,000 families -- perhaps 100,000 people -- homeless. Further tremors rocked the area on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Aftershocks continued on Thursday, bringing down more mud buildings and terrifying already traumatised survivors.
Across the war-ravaged, drought-stricken country, flags flew at half mast for the day of mourning declared by interim leader Hamid Karzai, who visited Nahrin on Wednesday and promised the survivors everything would be done to help them.
"Our hearts are with you. Everything will be done," he said.
ROADS BLASTED OPEN
Aid poured in on helicopters and, after two of the three roads in the area blocked by quake-triggered landslides were blasted open, by truck.
"We want to go as fast as possible," U.N. official Stephanie Bunker told Reuters in Nahrin.
Another priority was getting water purification tablets to an area gripped by drought for the past four years.
"Rivers are muddy and contaminated, which is why water is a priority," Bunker said.
U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told reporters in Kabul: "We have food on site to feed people for the next three months."
Bunker said thousands of tents and blankets had already been distributed and more were on the way to Nahrin, 160 km (100 miles) north of Kabul.
Some people from outlying villages devastated by the quakes came with donkeys to haul food and blankets back to their shattered homes.
Landmines, the legacy of years of civil war in which Nahrin was once on the front line, complicated the task.
"We have about 800 confirmed dead and 600 injured in this immediate area," Bunker said. "We fear casualties in outlying villages we have not yet been able to reach. We don't have a precise death toll."
The U.N. spokesman in Kabul put the toll at between 800 and 1,000.
SURVEY SHOWS MAJOR DAMAGE
A U.N. aerial survey showed an earthquake-shattered area with a 15-km (9-mile) radius in the foothills of the rugged Hindu Kush mountains.
It showed 25 percent of all the houses in that area, which included 42 villages, had collapsed and 50 percent were seriously damaged. Only 10 percent escaped intact.
"In all my life and in the memories of my father and his sisters there has never been an earthquake like this. It was a killer," Mauhaldin, a 62-year-old who was born in Nahrin and has never left the immediate area, told Reuters on Wednesday.
The United Nations was using mobile clinics and ferrying seriously injured to hospital by helicopter. People from surrounding villages brought their injured to Nahrin on mules and donkeys.
The U.N. regional coordinator for northern Afghanistan, Farhana Faruqi, said rain was expected in the next few days, making it vital to get more tents and blankets in.
Nahrin -- a town of 10,000 people famed for its wrestlers and some of the toughest players of buzkashi, a horseback game with a headless goat -- was very close to the quake epicentres.
Nahrin district, through which Alexander the Great passed in his conquest of the Hindu Kush, has a population of some 80,000.
It will need an extensive reconstruction effort.
U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokeswoman Rebecca Richards said in Kabul that longer-term needs were already being assessed.
A four-member disaster assessment team was sent to the area on Thursday to start determining what would be needed, she said.
Friday March 29, 2:18 PM
ADELAIDE, Australia, March 29 (AFP) -
Security officers have clashed with demonstrators gathering for an Easter protest at Australia's isolated Woomera immigration detention centre, organisers said Friday.
Scuffles broke out as government security officers attempted to move some of the demonstrators camped near the centre in the South Australian outback to another site at the Woomera township two kilometres (a mile ad a half) away.
Television news footage showed the security officers fighting with a handful of demonstrators who appeared to be attempting to resist.
Organisers say they are expecting up to 5,000 people to attend the protest against Australia's policy of mandatory detention for illegal immigrants.
Woomera, the largest and most isolated of Australia's six detention centres, has seen repeated riots, hunger strikes and self-mutilation by detainees, who are mostly from Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Almost 1,000 protesters, who include left-wing activists and refugee support groups demanding an end to immigration controls, were said to be already in Woomera.
Leading refugee activist Cyrus Sarang, president of the Sydney-based Refugee Action Collective, said police were practising martial arts and testing water cannons in preparation for further clashes.
Sarang said he spoke to some of the detainees and claimed some feared for their safety after security officers had threatened them.
"Riot police are practising martial arts in front of them," he said.
"They are also using water cannons and running around coming close to the fence. They are practising how to attack."
Sarang said some of the officers had kicked down protesters' tents and dismantled them.
"They told the protesters to move to the town, 'you are not welcome here', but the protesters are saying 'we're not moving, this is a free country'."
He said the officers maintained the area was restricted, although the protest site was a kilometre (more than half a mile) from the centre.
A spokesman for the Australian Protective Service said its officers were conducting riot training at the centre in preparation for protest action, but denied they were threatening detainees.
He also denied they had been practising martial arts or using water cannons in their training.
A immigration department spokesman said federal security officers conducted operation response training in an "unoccupied area out of sight of detainees" on Thursday in preparation for the demonstration.
"There are fire trucks on site but, again, it's unfortunate that they need to prepare for the range of scenarios where detainees may respond to incitement by protesters."
South Australian Police said they were on stand-by, but had yet to decide what involvement they would have
Friday, 29 March, 2002, 12:45 GMT
About 80 towns and villages were badly affected Efforts to deliver aid to areas of northern Afghanistan hit by the recent series of earthquakes are now being threatened by deteriorating weather conditions.
Freezing rain, expected to last several days, is reported to be turning dirt roads in Baghlan province into mud and threatening to prevent crucial helicopter deliveries of food and other basics.
Relief efforts have also been disrupted by landmines and aftershocks
Thousands of displaced people continue to camp outside the market town of Nahrin, afraid to return to their homes because of continuing aftershocks.
However, a convoy of international peacekeepers has arrived in Nahrin with medical supplies. The number of dead confirmed so far stands at about 800, with 500 others seriously injured. Afghan officials earlier predicted the number of dead could reach 3,000. The tremors, which began on Monday evening, devastated Nahrin and nearby villages in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains.
The interim Afghan government, the United Nations, charities and foreign military forces are all involved in relief efforts.
"Food is the main priority now", said UN regional coordinator for northern Afghanistan Farhana Faruqi.
Water was the next priority, with huge water containers being moved to 14 selected villages, she said.
Food drops were being considered as a last resort as aid teams struggled to reach devastated outlying villages.
Another aid worker - Joerg Denker of Mercy Corps - estimated that aid of some sort had now reached 95% of affected villages.
"The situation is improving, but I was out in a remote region distributing blankets until 2am, so there still are areas where the need is great," he said.
Engineers on ground
A mobile hospital is being set up by the convoy of the International Security Assistance Force which brought five doctors and 20 other medical staff to Nahrin.
The team plans to deal with broken bones and other injuries sustained in the quakes.
The party also includes engineers to see whether it is possible to restore electricity and reconstruct rebuildings.
US and British helicopters have ferried more than 90,000 kilogrammes of aid to the town, including rice beans, wheat, water, blankets, tents and medical supplies, a US military spokesman said.
Thu Mar 28, 2:02 PM ET
By BURT HERMAN, Associated Press Writer
NAHRIN, Afghanistan (AP) - Land mines disgorged by aftershocks and landslides are slowing aid workers trying to reach earthquake victims in a desperately poor region of Afghanistan.
Crews trying to deliver food and tents must now move gingerly on roads once considered safe, the United Nations (news - web sites) and private aid groups said Thursday. Other shipments are being brought in by British and U.S. helicopters.
"When the land moves like this, it litters the areas that have been de-mined," said Chris Hyslop, an emergency program officer with the aid group Mercy Corps. "I can't speak for all the humanitarian agencies, but we don't go anywhere it isn't safe."
On Thursday, the battered country observed a national day of mourning as it struggled to count the dead from Monday's quake.
The 6.1-magnitude quake heavily damaged nearly 80 villages in a mountainous region nine miles wide, leaving an estimated 100,000 people homeless or cut off from food supplies.
The United Nations said the death toll stood at about 600 Wednesday but the final toll was expected to be between 800 and 1,200.
On Wednesday, relief workers brought food, medicine and tents to the quake-shattered town of Nahrin, 100 miles north of Kabul. U.S. and British forces dispatched six helicopters laden with California dates, wheat, blankets, and military rations.
Authorities decided to distribute supplies in Nahrin's neighborhoods rather than a central location, but in a country without local radio, few got the word. Many of them who showed up at the central aid point were driven off by Afghan soldiers wielding long sticks.
Abdul Ghahir, whose 3-year-old daughter died in the earthquake, joined the line at an abandoned air base in Nahrin, but came away with nothing.
"My wife and children sent me here to bring bread," he said. "What should I do?"
In the largely isolated Burka region, an estimated 12,000 people were homeless, Hyslop said. Monday's quake leveled 95 percent of the mud brick homes in the area's 11 villages, while aftershocks took care of the rest, he said.
"If it's not destroyed," Hyslop said. "It's about to fall down."
Tents and blankets had been distributed to 9,000 families by midday Thursday, said U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker. In all, an estimated 23,000 families, or 140,000 people, were affected in the two districts where the earthquake hit, and the majority need some kind of assistance.
The scale of the devastation surprised Chief Warrant Officer Sam Baker, who landed his Chinook helicopter among mounds of mud rubble that was once Nahrin.
"There couldn't have been more than five or 10 houses that were intact," said Baker, 38, of Clarksville, Tenn.
U.S. soldiers jumped out of the helicopters and circled them as aid was unloaded, providing cover in case of attack.
A mobile hospital unit from the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry was heading from Tajikistan, Interfax news agency reported. The international force in Kabul was to bring a mobile medical unit, along with four doctors and eight medics.
Teams of physicians from Medecins Sans Frontieres were being sent to look for injured survivors not able to make their way to Nahrin
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