Marines targeted by al-Qaeda rockets Monday, 13 May, 2002, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK BBC News
Al-Qaeda ammunition has been blown-up by marines
Royal Marines in eastern Afghanistan have been the target of an attempted rocket attack.
Two rockets, on crude self-timers, were aimed at the operating base of British troops in mountains near Gardez, in the Paktia province.
It's a serious incident
Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ben Curry
The rockets were set to fire when water had emptied from containers.
The attempt was foiled after a local warlord, Sherzaz, discovered the 107mm rockets 7km (4 miles) southeast of the marines' base and informed British troops.
It is not known who planted them.
Marines say it is possible it was al-Qaeda or Taleban fighters still left in the area and not found by Operation Snipe.
Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ben Curry said the warlord's motives for informing the Marines about the rockets are unclear.
He could have had a genuine concern for the welfare of the British commandos or might have been trying to curry favour, he said.
It is the first time during Operation Snipe that British forces have been aware of being targeted.
British commanders say the rockets were not accurately aimed and may not have hit the marines' position if fired, but they described the discovery as significant.
Lieutenant Colonel Curry said the rockets were wired to a timer to allow the assailants to escape before they exploded.
"[The timer] was dripping. It's a serious incident," he said.
"I'm not saying they would have actually landed on the forward operating base because it's a fairly inaccurate weapons system."
All-Qaeda stored 30,000 to 40,000 cache of rockets, mortar shells and projectiles
The operating base is the centre for re-supplying the troops in the mountains and refuelling the helicopters which carry them.
It is also a staging post for the marines and some were passing through the position on their way back to the headquarters in Bagram.
The news comes within days of the marines destroying an enormous ammunition store containing tens of thousands of rockets, found in several caves near a main road between the cities of Khost and Gardez.
KABUL (AFP) - The European Union's special envoy to Afghanistan has confronted the country's powerful deputy defence minister Abdul Rashid Dostam over the conditions in which hundreds of Taliban prisoners are being held, comparing them to Auschwitz.
Klaus-Peter Klaiber met Dostam in his northern fiefdom of Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday and also visited the nearby Shebarghan prison where more than 2,000 Taliban prisoners are still thought to be detained.
"It looks like Auschwitz," the German diplomat told AFP late Sunday.
"The people have nothing on their bones anymore. They are being treated like cattle, crammed into tents. It's unbelievable, unbelievable.
"The kitchen, you cannot imagine. There were ghost-like figures just stirring soup. It was awful.
"I was with two colleagues and I told them I was amazed they could stand it so long when you see their faces, worn-out eyes without hope."
A group of 204 Pakistani prisoners returned to their homeland on Saturday after being freed from Shebarghan earlier in the week, some of them as young as nine.
But more than 500 Pakistanis are still believed to be in the jail along with some 1,500 mainly ethnic Pashtun Afghans.
Thousands of Taliban were arrested last November after a lengthy battle in the northern city of Kunduz. Most of them were shipped to Shebarghan after their surrender and many are believed to have died on the way.
The International Red Cross stepped in to feed the prisoners last month, supplying those in the worst state with special milk.
Klaiber said "hundreds" of sick and undernourished prisoners were being kept in a separate section but the others had "one and half metre square live-in room."
He said although there appeared to be momentum leading towards the freedom of the Pakistani prisoners after an agreement between Kabul and Islamabad, the same was not happening with the Pashtun inmates. Fewer than a hundred of the youngest and eldest had been freed.
"It's time after five months that they (the Afghan government) tackled this issue," he said.
"I think (interim leader Hamid) Karzai as a Pashtun would be hoping to get these prisoners out."
Dostam, one of Afghanistan's most powerful regional warlords, was appointed deputy defense minister in recognition of his influence in the north as the government struggled to exert its authority beyond Kabul.
"The strategy of the interim administration is understandable," said Klaiber.
"If you cannot beat the warlords you join them. But you have to ask yourself whether it will ultimately work."
Klaiber told Dostam the situation was inflaming anger in the Pashtuns' southern heartland.
"I told him you are treating them badly and that adds to the frustrations of the south. He agrees with that and the interim administration agrees with that."
The envoy said Dostam acknowledged that those still being held were no more than rank-and-file Taliban members.
"They really did not really do anything wrong but fought on the wrong side. They are not al-Qaeda. General Dostam agrees that the big fish have gone."
Klaiber warned that many of the Pashtuns would be too weak to travel the hundreds of miles to their homes by donkey when they are released and urged the interim government to pay for them to be driven by bus. The freed Pakistanis were flown back to their homeland.
Dostam's spokesman Faizullah Zaki said the general was prepared to release the prisoners but wanted to ensure no dangerous inmates were released.
"He is ready under monitoring, under supervision, to release as many as possible in order to ensure ... that those who are still considered dangerous are not released," Zaki told AFP.
The spokesman added that Dostam shared the "concerns" about conditions in Shebarghan but his main priority was to improve the conditions of the local population, rather than of the prison.
"This is not the time to ask for funds for the prison. We need funds for the schools and hospitals," Zaki added.
"The north has not been receiving any funds from the centre (Kabul). There's a shortage of funds and too many urgent needs."
Foreign donors have guaranteed that trouble spots such as Afghanistan will not divert crucial aid away from East Timor and that all its funding requests will be met as it moves to independence, senior leaders said.
"I was feeling much more concerned, two or three weeks ago, than now. Because now we already got some response from the donors and they are very, very positive," Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri, who will become prime minister on May 20, told a press conference on the eve of two-day donors' talks.
"That means that the international community is still concentrating some attention to East Timor. That's no problem at all for the next three years, I think."
East Timor is seeking 90 million dollars from 25 bilateral and multilateral donors to plug its projected budget deficit for its first three years of independence, until Timor Sea oil and gas taxes can meet its government spending requirements.
It is also seeking extra development and reconstruction grants.
Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta said that in recent talks donors had allayed earlier fears that the international aid pool would be depleted by other disaster-stricken regions.
"There have been some concerns on our side in previous weeks that Afghanistan, now maybe Congo, and Palestine could divert attention from East Timor, and some governments actually expressed these concerns that they would be overstretched," he told the conference.
"But in our many weeks of discussions with the European Union countries, with Japan, with the US and other donor countries like Portugal and Australia, the fact of the matter is that there is no wavering of support for East Timor."
Ramos Horta said this was the first time, after five major donors' conferences since 1999, that all East Timor's funding requests had been guaranteed by donors before the start of official talks.
"We are supremely confident that in spite of pressure from elsewhere, pressure for attention for support, the donor community will stay engaged in the next few months and years to come," the foreign minister said.
"All of them believe it's very important to continue to provide support as a model for other UN missions elsewhere, as an inspiration and encouragement."
Deficit projections until 2005-06 have been reduced from 150 million dollars last year, to 90 million dollars. East Timor's government plans to cover 166 million dollars of a projected 256 million dollar expenditure over three years from its own tax-raising efforts.
"(Donors) have been very impressed with the performance of the government, impressed with the strategic development plan and the enormous effort we have made in order to reduce the budget," Ramos Horta said.
"At the same time they know that East Timor is labelled a success story for everybody, for East Timorese, for the UN and for the donor countries, and it has to be consolidated, this success. You cannot call something a success and then you rush to leave and then that success can unravel."
Poverty alleviation was the infant nation's top budget priority, Alkatiri said, adding that 38 percent of spending for the next fiscal year had been allocated to education and health.
It would be raised to almost 50 percent in 2003-04.
The pipeline is Afghanistan's biggest foreign investment project
Afghanistan hopes to strike a deal later this month to build a $2bn pipeline through the country to take gas from energy-rich Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India.
Afghan interim ruler Hamid Karzai is to hold talks with his Pakistani and Turkmenistan counterparts later this month on Afghanistan's biggest foreign investment project, said Mohammad Alim Razim, minister for Mines and Industries.
"The work on the project will start after an agreement is expected to be struck at the coming summit," Mr Razim said.
The construction of the 850-kilometre pipeline had been previously discussed between Afghanistan's former Taliban regime, US oil company Unocal and Bridas of Argentina.
The project was abandoned after the US launched missile attacks on Afghanistan in 1999.
US company preferred
Mr Razim said Unocal was the "lead company" among those that would build the pipeline, which would bring 30bn cubic meters of Turkmen gas to market annually.
Unocal - which leads a consortium of companies from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Japan and South Korea - has maintained the project is both economically and technically feasible once Afghan stability was secured.
"The Afghan side assures all sides about the security of the pipeline and will take all responsibilities for it," Mr Razim said.
Afghanistan plans to build a road linking Turkmenistan with Pakistan parallel to the pipeline, to supply nearby villages with gas, and also to pump Afghan gas for export, Mr Razim said.
The government would also earn transit fees from the export of gas and oil and hoped to take over ownership of the pipeline after 30 years, he said.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been surveying routes for transferring local gas from northern Afghan areas to Kabul, and to iron ore mines at the Haji Gak pass further west.
"ADB will announce its conclusion soon," Mr Razim said.
The pipeline is expected to be built with funds from donor countries for the reconstruction of Afghanistan as well as ADB loans, he said.
The Times of India
AFP [ SUNDAY, MAY 12, 2002 8:28:07 PM ]
KABUL: Wali Masood has founded a new Afghan political party to fulfil the political vision of his brother, the late anti-Taliban military commander Ahmad Shah Masood, who was assassinated in September.
"It will be a very broad-base multiethnic political party and based on the vision of my brother, a national vision that promotes national unity, moderate Islam, democracy and a parliamentary system," he said in an interview with AFP.
He refused to reveal the name of the party but said he hoped to launch it before the Loya Jirga, a traditional assembly which will next month choose a transitional government to run Afghanistan.
"I hope we will able to announce the official creation of the party before the Loya Jirga. The movement will be launched officially before Loya Jirga," he said.
"We want to get everyone on board, Shoura-i-Nazar (commander Masood's politico-military organisation) is just part of the whole set-up," said the 39-year-old who recently returned to Afghanistan after spending 17 years in London.
"I've been establishing the party for two months now. Since then, it has been a great success," he said, adding that it included "all his followers, all the people who were with Masood during the resistence." Dedicated to the cause of his late brother, he said he was focused on realising the goals of commander Masood who was killed before he was able to fulfil his ambitions.
"My mission is to achieve the remaining mission of my brother." A symbol of the resistance to the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and a hero of the fight against the hardline Taliban, Ahmad Shah Masood died at the age of 48, assassinated on September 9 last year by suspected members of the al-Qaeda network allied to the Taliban, posing as journalists.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials believe that a letter partially drafted by U.S. postal worker now in custody may have had a role in the death of an Afghan resistance leader, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
U.S. authorities believe that Ahmed Abdel Sattar, 42, helped write a letter of introduction for two men who posed as journalists to kill Gen. Ahmed Shah Massoud in northern Afghanistan last fall, the Post said.
Sattar, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen, has not been charged in Massoud's murder on Sept. 9, 2001. But a conversation in the summer of 2001 about the letter surfaced during a wiretap involving Sattar, who is charged with serving as a communications center for an Egyptian terrorist group allegedly directed by Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman from his U.S prison cell, the Post reported.
Abdel-Rahman was convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up New York landmarks, including the World Trade Center.
U.S. authorities believe that Massoud was killed as a preemptive strike in advance of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon two days later that killed more than 3,000 people, the newspaper said.
Another Egyptian man who allegedly helped draft the letter, Yassir Sirri, has been charged by Britain with conspiring to kill Massoud. Sirri has denied any involvement in Massoud's death, the Post reported.
"It's clear that this was a letter for these two guys (Massoud's killers)," an official, who asked not to be named, told the Post. "But how much Sattar knew about the mission isn't clear."
Sattar, a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Post office, earned $40,000 per year working at the main post office in Staten Island, New York. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
According to Sattar's indictment, an Islamic Group leader asked him to help expand the group's presence in the United States three years ago. The group has taken responsibility for the 1997 massacre at Luxor, Egypt in which 58 tourists and four Egyptian security guards were hacked and shot to death.
Since his arrest on April 9, Sattar has not been allowed a visit from his family or a telephone call, the Post said.
Afghanistan's warlords are pocketing huge sums of money in the form of customs duties which should be filling the interim authority's coffers in Kabul.
Between six and seven million dollars in customs duties are paid each month at Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan but only a trickle reaches the capital, officials say.
"Per month we get around 200,000 dollars in customs duties, when we should have approximately six or seven million per month for all Afghanistan," said Customs Department director general Safi Shah Mahmood.
"I have problems with the provinces of Herat, Nangarhar, Kandahar and Balkh, just about everywhere in fact in the six border posts."
The interim cabinet under chairman Hamid Karzai, appointed with UN backing in December after the fall of the Taliban, has been trying in vain to assert its authority in the countryside.
But warlords continue to rule their regions like personal fiefdoms, raising private militias and taking taxes meant for the central government.
This at a time when the interim authority is pleading for billions of dollars of international aid to rebuild the country after more than 20 years of war.
"Earlier we had more customs from Pakistan. Now 60 percent of the customs are collected in the west, at the Iranian border. A lot of goods are coming from Iran and a lot are transiting through Iran from Dubai," Mahmood said.
He accused Ismail Khan, a hero of the mujahedin war against the Soviets and the self-styled "Emir of Herat" near the Iranian border, of ignoring Kabul's authority and refusing to cooperate with the fledgling national government.
"Ismail Khan is keeping all the money for himself. I sent him a letter telling him 'please send the physical money to Kabul' -- I never got any answer. The minister of finance also sent him a letter," Mahmood said.
He said there were similar problems with Abdul Rashid Dostam, the deputy defence minister who controls most trade across the northern border with Uzbekistan, as well as Gul Agha and Haji Qadir who control key trade routes from Pakistan.
Mahmood said he was able to calculate the total customs income from the copies of the receipts he received, but he rarely saw the cash.
"The only place where there is no problem is the international airport," said the former mujahedin fighter who left a life in exile in Australia to contribute to the post-Taliban reconstruction of his homeland.
He served in several customs posts during the 1970s, but fled to Pakistan before the Soviets invaded in 1979.
Mahmood returned after the Soviet withdrawal in 1992 and worked for a few months as customs director under the mujahedin government, but left for Australia when heavy fighting broke out between rival factions.
Now he believes that if he could just get the provincial strongmen to pay the government its dues, 70 percent of the national operational budget would be secured.
Mahmood said the situation might improve after June, when a Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly of provincial tribal elders, will convene to choose a two-year transitional government ahead of general elections.
But for the moment, he said the interim cabinet was "too occupied with security," amid persistent outbreaks of fighting between the warlords and the ongoing threat of attack from Taliban or al-Qaeda remnants.
"The provinces help themselves, and Kabul looks on," he said.
By Ian McWilliam
BBC correspondent in Kabul
Afghanistan's national airline, Ariana, has resumed flights between the Afghan capital, Kabul and Islamabad, the capital of neighbouring Pakistan.
Diplomatic relations between Islamabad and the interim government in Kabul had been wary, at best
Sunday morning saw the first general passenger flight between the two countries since Ariana stopped flying to Pakistan under the Taleban.
The Pakistani airline, PIA, is also due to begin flights between the two capitals shortly.
The resumption of flights will re-establish an important link between the two neighbours and is another indication that Afghanistan is rebuilding its ties with the outside world after years of isolation.
Diplomatic relations between Islamabad and the interim government in Kabul had been wary, at best.
But some two million Afghan refugees still live in Pakistan and there are significant trade and business ties between the two countries.
The head of Ariana Airlines, Jahed Azimi, says he also expects business from foreigners working for the many international organisations which have been moving into Kabul. The flight will cost $200 for a one-way ticket.
Ariana Airlines has been coming to life since the lifting of United Nations sanctions which had banned all international flights from Afghanistan in the last years of the Taleban.
The sanctions were removed in February after the Taleban's collapse.
Not long ago, Ariana was down to only one working aeroplane, but with the recent purchase of a Boeing 727 from American Airlines, it has doubled its fleet.
India's announcement that it is to give the Afghan airline three European Airbuses will be another major boost.
Internationally, Ariana already flies to Delhi and the United Arab Emirates.
It has only one domestic route to the western city of Herat, but Captain Azimi says he hopes Ariana planes will link all of Afghanistan's main cities once the regional airports are upgraded and when the routes are considered commercially viable.
Monday, May 13, 2002 4:58 AM EST
May 13, 2002 (Al-Bawaba via COMTEX) -- Syria's President Bashar al-Assad received Sunday a letter from Afghan's interim government leader Hamed Karzai regarding the situation in his country.
The letter was delivered by the Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah during his meeting with al-Assad at the presence of Syrian foreign minister Farouk al-Sharaa, KUNA reported.
According to a presidential spokesman, the letter dealt with Afghan-Syrian ties and the enhancement of cooperation between the two countries and other neighboring and Islamic nations.
For his part, Abdullah who had met earlier with al-Sharaa, expressed hope that peace and stability would prevail in Afghanistan following years of turmoil.
This marks Abdullah's first visit to Syria as a member of the Afghan interim government. (Albawaba.com)
By Al-Bawaba Reporters
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's interim government on Saturday released more than 200 Pakistani supporters of the former ruling Taliban, captured during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan last year, a senior Afghan official said.
Faizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum, said 204 Pakistanis were flown home after being released from Shiberghans prison in the north of the country.
"They went home in two planes. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the central government and Pakistani diplomats were present during the releases," Zaki told Reuters by telephone from the north.
The Pakistanis released from the notorious Shiberghans prison were the third group to be set free since Afghan and Pakistani leaders met last month.
Encouraged by militant Islamic groups, thousands of Pakistanis went to Afghanistan last year to fight alongside the hardline Taliban against the U.S.-backed opposition in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Afghan intelligence sources told Reuters there were about 6,000 Pakistanis in Afghan jails.
Early this month Afghanistan released a group of 30 Pakistani men who were cleared by U.S. and Afghan investigators of any link with Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks.
The Taliban and their allies in bin Laden's al Qaeda group were driven from the capital Kabul in November and from their southern strongholds the following month.
Moscow, Russia, May 13, 2002 (RosBusinessConsulting via COMTEX) -- During the visit of a delegation of the Afghan Government to Uzbekistan, Deputy Chairman of the Provisional Government and Minister of Water and Electricity Shaker Kargar conducted negotiations with Director General of state joint-stock company Uzbekenergo Ergash Shoismatov in Tashkent. The parties discussed the demand for electricity supplies in the northern Afghan province Balkh. After the meeting, the ministers signed a cooperation agreement. According to the agreement, Uzbekistan will supply 30 megawatt a year to Afghanistan, the Russia Journal reported.
Sunday May 12, 1:20 AM
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The U.S. military says it is committed to hanging on in Afghanistan for the long run, but its British allies seem less certain.
Two apparently diverging views on the state of play in the Afghan war emerged this week as the top British officer on the ground declared the campaign against the elusive fundamentalist Taliban and al Qaeda Islamic militants "all but won".
Not so, said Major General Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, the two-star commander of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division and chief of the 12,000 to 13,000-strong U.S.-led, international forces in Afghanistan.
While Western troops out scouring the mountains of eastern Afghanistan have not had any major contact with rebels since Operation Anaconda in March, Hagenbeck said in an interview the enemy remained active.
"We do know of instances where al Qaeda and Taliban in the last couple of months since Anaconda have gone into local areas and spread a lot of money around in an effort to garner the support from the local people," he told the Financial Times and Los Angeles Times in a joint interview.
"Now whether that is translated into actual recruits for them can be debated, but that effort is ongoing and we are watching it very closely.
With few visible enemies left after the Taliban and al Qaeda either dispersed, melted back into the population or slipped across the porous border to Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, the combat-hungry international troops are getting itchy feet.
Headlines in British tabloids declaring the 1,700-strong deployment of Royal Marines to Afghanistan a "Phoney War" do not help.
ALL BUT WON?
This week, the top British commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Roger Lane, said the campaign against the rebels was all but won and he expected large offensive operations by coalition troops to peter out "in weeks rather than months".
British military sources at Bagram air base, the coalition's headquarters north of Kabul, say there is no real gap between British and American thinking.
Hagenbeck on Friday acknowledged there would be a "winding down" of large-scale operations.
Nevertheless, Lane's words have been interpreted among journalists, soldiers and some of the allies as preparing the public for a British pullout or a switch from combat deployment to more specialised training for Afghans to help themselves.
"I'm not prepared to draw (Lane's) conclusion yet," Hagenbeck told the newspapers.
LOT TO BE DONE
The American military clearly believes there is still a lot to be done in the country racked by more than two decades of war if Islamic militants are not to again find it a welcoming base from which to launch attacks like those against the United States on September 11.
Hagenbeck said he saw a need for some considerable time to have a significant fighting force at the ready for another Anaconda, when U.S.-led forces battled hundreds of rebels in the Shahi-i-Kot valley.
There was also a need to keep a wary eye on the Pakistani border in case the Taliban or al Qaeda staged a resurgence from the tribal lands where the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam finds echoes in conservative ethnic Pashtun traditions.
At a prayer breakfast on Friday attended by U.S., British, Australian, Polish and Canadian troops, the general said the rebels had learned not to take the coalition on in numbers.
That did not mean they had stopped planning attacks that could fling Afghanistan off the path to stability, however.
"The fact is that the al Qaeda and Taliban always have other means to accomplish their desired ends," he said.
"They would much prefer to destroy civilians in a market in Kandahar, a school in Bagram or a Loya Jirga (grand council) meeting in Kabul than to again take head-on the U.S. and coalition forces here in Afghanistan."
Hagenbeck said he was aware many of the soldiers under his command had begun to ask themselves if it was time to go home.
But he said the coalition forces had not just been charged by their countries' leaders with killing or capturing al Qaeda and Taliban fighters but also with creating "the conditions for a more stable and normalised Afghanistan".
"When we have to get through the tedious long days when the fight is not going on, I would tell you to keep in mind again why we're here."
By Brian MacQuarrie, The Boston Globe Staff, 5/12/2002
SAMANGAN, Afghanistan - From the top of a bare dirt hill overlooking a bone-dry river bed, the ravages of war are visible as far as the eye can see.
But here, in the breadbasket of this battered country, the warriors are 2 inches long and too numerous to count. They are locusts, billions of them, marching relentlessly across the wheat fields of northern Afghanistan, scouring the scorched earth for food.
After two decades of war, several years of drought, and four recent earthquakes, Afghanistan is seeing its worst locust plague in 30 years.
''For most people, this crop was the last throw of the dice,'' said Andrew Harvey, a United Nations consultant helping to lead the battle against the locusts. ''They're just recovering from the drought, from the political situation. Many of them have sold their livestock for seed.''
Farmers watch in dread as massive bands of locusts move inexorably across Samangan, Baghlan, and Kunduz provinces toward the next wheat field, the next orchard, the next vegetable patch. UN officials estimate that this year's pests hatched with the potential to destroy 70 percent of the region's wheat crop.
When the possible devastation to northern Afghanistan's farms is combined with the ripple effect it will have by pushing up food prices in the country's cities, Harvey said, the plague ranks as the worst in the world. The United Nations, through its Food and Agriculture Organization, has been working nonstop to stem the locusts' march. A combination of pesticides and manual efforts to herd and kill the insects has shown promising results.
But the plague is so vast, and in such a remote region, that the victor in this battle will not be known until the June harvest.
Until then, desperate farmers such as Abdul Satar, 45, are venturing to the plains near here every day, from 4 a.m. to dusk, to do what little they can to repel the locust horde.
''It's been two months that I've been coming here. It's very difficult work,'' said Satar, a wheat farmer. ''They have already destroyed my crops. We have sold all our livestock in order to survive.''
Samangan province is ground zero for the plague. Satar works the front lines with his small children and other farmers, waving his arms and swatting at the advancing columns of locusts with rags and clothing. Their goal is to steer the pests into long, hand-dug ditches and bury them before they can reach the next farm.
The effort seems futile against a numberless host that appears to make the ground move as it surges forward. Shah Mahmood, a UN field supervisor, estimates that 50 percent of the rain-fed wheat crop in Samangan has been destroyed.
However, Harvey insists that this ''mechanical control,'' as he calls the human campaign to halt the locusts, has been an effective complement to the chemical warfare that is now being used in the few remaining days before the locusts grow wings, begin to fly, and become more difficult to fight. Once the locusts become airborne, their range of destruction will increase exponentially.
The farmers know that, and UN help is often seen as the only hope for many Afghans watching the locusts advance toward their fields. At a bakery in Samangan village recently, UN field workers were besieged by farmers who reported that locusts had reached their crops.
With outstretched hands, one 58-year-old farmer pleaded with Mahmood to protect his wheat.
''Yesterday at 2 p.m., the locusts attacked my land,'' the farmer said. ''One or two days is all we have. We will have nothing to eat.''
In an irony of nature, the infestation coincided with the first good crop that northern Afghanistan has enjoyed in three years. Cruelly, that coincidence was almost to be expected. The three years of drought that preceded the plague helped lay the harsh environmental conditions that often promote a bumper crop of locusts.
''Someone is really not batting on their side,'' said UN coordinator Richard China, who is supervising the overall battle from Kabul.
In addition to nature's tricks, the country's Taliban leaders did not organize any effective locust-control programs during the drought, UN officials say.
Harvey said the UN efforts have helped stabilize the locusts' advance in many areas, but their numbers in inaccessible regions will not be known until they leave their hideaways and fly toward the remaining wheat fields.
''We're waiting. We don't know what's going to happen,'' he said.
In the meantime, tractors, vehicle-launched sprayers, hand-held pesticides, and a small army of frantic farmers are being used to hold back the enemy.
Villagers say they will be forced to leave Afghanistan for Pakistan or Iran, even as hundreds of thousands of their displaced countrymen are returning home, if the locusts are not controlled. But many of them remain philosophical about the possibility of another natural calamity on top of their earlier woes.
''Maybe we did something bad, so that God has sent this disaster to punish us,'' said Abdul Salam, 40. ''We are waiting for the favor of God. We can't do anything more than that.''
By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer
PAKTIA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (AP) - The four caves contained one of the biggest munitions caches found by the U.S.-led coalition, and it took British bomb disposal experts just a second to blow it all up.
But in a country where the mountains and hillsides are honeycombed with caves that have been used for decades to hide arms for warlords, Islamic rebels, the Taliban and al-Qaida, few coalition commanders have any illusions about searching through them all.
"We'd have to be here for a hundred years," British Lt. Col. Tim Chicken said, looking out over an expanse of desolate hills covered with desert shrubs in southeastern Afghanistan.
A thousand soldiers led by Chicken began sweeping through Paktia province two weeks ago, combing the countryside on foot for possible al-Qaida or Taliban holdouts. None have been found.
The mostly British force also is looking for caves and weapons caches that could be used by the enemy. "They're not generally easy to locate," Chicken said.
Aided by intelligence reports, his troops found and searched four caves dug into rocky hills with pickaxes at Sarom, a few dozen miles south of Gardez. Some were 100 yards deep, stacked floor to ceiling with Russian and Chinese rockets and mortar shells. In all, the caves housed up to 40,000 bombs, some dating back to 1940.
Used by Afghan guerrillas to fight Soviet troops in the 1980s, the arms were handed on to warlords and then taken over by the Taliban when they seized power in the mid-1990s. Chicken said nobody claimed to own the caches today.
On Friday afternoon, Chicken ordered all of them destroyed in a single controlled explosion that British officers said was among the largest conducted by Royal Engineers since World War II.
Local villagers were warned to stay far away. British troops watching from a hill a mile from the caves turned and ran when huge plumes of black smoke and fire turned into a mammoth wall of brown dust and debris moving rapidly toward them.
Several rockets soared over the valley and explosions continued for hours into the night. On Saturday, fires still smoldered at one of the collapsed caves. A huge crater that partially collapsed a hill was all that was left of another.
"The first goal is that munitions that are destroyed cannot be used against us," said U.S. Army Capt. Tony Rivers. "The second goal is that destroyed munitions cannot injure someone else."
The search for arms caches is a daunting task in a country where every hill and mountain seems filled with tunnels, caves and underground bunkers. Rivers said searching them all is out of the question.
"It's not conceivable to search an area the size of Texas overnight. It's literally filled with caves. It's definitely a long-term process," he said.
Few people the British troops have come across have offered information on where such caves are. A U.S. special forces soldier, speaking on condition of anonymity, speculated the people fear angering warlords who want the arms.
Chicken said his troops, laden down with backpacks, tents and rifles, had traveled only about 12 miles since Operation Snipe began — averaging roughly a mile a day. Sleeping in the open under stars, they are resupplied with water and food by helicopter.
When arms caches are found, they have to be checked slowly for booby traps. When the British searched through the caves near Sarom, they called in bomb disposal experts from the main allied air base at Bagram.
At times crawling on their knees to feel for mines in the dirt and using laser pens to check for tripwires, it took five hours to make a superficial check in a single cave 30 yards deep.
Chicken said his men would build a fence around the site to keep locals from wandering too close. Any bombs still unexploded could be unstable and could pose a risk.
"We don't want these things," said Hazir Mohammad, a 31-year-old goat herder. "These foreign soldiers are getting rid of them. It's good."
By MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistani police have arrested more than 400 Afghans in a major crackdown on illegal immigrants parallel to the sweep of Islamic militants that began after a suicide bus bombing killed 14 people in Karachi, officials said Sunday.
Police said the illegal-immigrant campaign in the area around the capital, Islamabad, is unconnected to the bombing Wednesday, but other officials note suspicions that the attack on a bus full of French naval engineers may have been carried out by radicals linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida network from Afghanistan (news - web sites).
Interior Ministry officials said the country's security agencies believe that some Taliban and al-Qaida men are living near Islamabad dressed like Afghan refugees.
Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan said the police wanted to question the Afghan immigrants about the killing of two police officers and the wounding of another in a routine, pre-dawn vehicle check Wednesday near Islamabad. The surviving officer said the attackers were Afghans, he said.
The Afghan Embassy protested the crackdown on immigrants.
"We are very much concerned on the arrest of our citizens as they were living here peacefully for the last 23 years. We don't know what caused the police to take such an extreme step," Abdul Jabbar Naeemi, a diplomat at the Afghan Embassy, told The Associated Press.
Police said they were only rounding up Afghans without refugee status who lack valid documents and who had violated immigration laws or committed other crimes.
By Sunday 416 Afghans had been arrested in Islamabad and nearby Rawalpindi in the sweep that began Friday, police said.
"Some of them have confessed their involvement in crimes," said senior police official Murwat Shah. "In some cases they had looted valuables from houses near Islamabad after taking the occupants hostage."
The Afghan Embassy said the arrests were unwarranted and noted that they came despite the recent goodwill effort to return pro-Taliban Pakistanis captured in Afghanistan since U.S.-led air strikes began last October.
More than 230 Pakistani prisoners have been released over the past two weeks, with 204 arriving in Pakistan on Saturday. Pakistani officials are continuing to detain them while they check their identities and try to determine whether they committed any crimes.
"These arrests were shocking for us," Naeemi said. "We have taken up this issue with the Pakistani Foreign office, and we hope and expect that Pakistan will release our nationals without any delay."
About 400 people have been arrested throughout the country in the parallel, nationwide sweep of Islamic militants that began almost immediately after the bus attack.
Pakistan has angered Islamic fundamentalists by siding with U.S.-led coalition forces in the war against terrorism.
The death toll in the bus bombing included 11 French citizens, two Pakistanis and an unidentified person presumed to be the driver of the car full of explosives. Twenty-three people, including 12 French citizens, were wounded.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing.
ISLAMABAD, May 13 (AFP) - More than 500,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland from neighbouring Pakistan since the beginning of March, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.
UNHCR Pakistan representative Hasim Utkan said the movement represented a "historical groundswell" and called on the international community to honour its pledges of aid after the collapse of the Taliban regime last year.
"If the refugees believe in their country's future, we expect the donors to financially support this impressive vote of confidence," he said in a statement.
"What we need now is funds both to continue the repatriation operation smoothly and to start reintegration and rehabilitation in Afghanistan, so the returnees can start to rebuild their lives immediately and do not lose faith."
International donors and financial institutions pledged 4.5 billion dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan at a landmark conference in Tokyo in December.
But so far only a tiny fraction of the pledges have been converted into cash for the interim authority and the United Nations which is leading efforts to put Afghanistan back on its feet.
Pakistan and Iran together host some three million Afghan refugees.
Kabul - Afghanistan's soccer coach Aziz looks out across Kabul's theatre of dreams and recalls the days when 30 000 people would fill the Olympic Stadium to watch the national team.
It has been 24 years since the nation's finest took on international opposition, a period during which the stadium became better known around the world as an execution venue for the Taliban.
Now Aziz, who played as a centre forward against Iran in the last international match in Kabul, is responsible for putting Afghan football back on the map.
The 48-year-old has his work cut out: there are no professionals, no matches lined up and a new strip has still to be chosen to reflect the post-Taliban era.
"You couldn't fit anyone else in the stadium when we last played an international here," he said.
"We used to take on teams such as Iran, India and Pakistan on a regular basis and we usually won. Back then we were coached by the Russians."
The 1979 Soviet invasion and subsequent 23 years of conflict blew the whistle on top-level soccer in Afghanistan, prompting all but three of the national side to decamp to Germany.
The much-travelled Aziz also took his talents abroad to Bahrain and Russia before fleeing to the Pakistani city of Peshawar after the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996.
He is convinced there is no shortage of interest in the game but a lack of money and the reluctance of international teams to play in the war-torn country is holding up development.
"There is a lot of interest. You can see a lot of children playing in the streets. But the problem is we have not got any money."
In February there was chaos outside the stadium, jammed to 25 000 capacity, as a team of UN soldiers took on the de-facto Afghan national side and security forces beat back frustrated fans who couldn't get in.
Zalmai Payanda, head of the Afghan football federation, said the prospects of the team entering the qualifying rounds for the 2006 World Cup in Germany were not looking good for financial reasons.
"We would love to have the chance to face other national sides but we don't have enough money to travel to matches abroad and pay our own bills," he said.
"I have asked other national teams to come to Kabul (including world champions France, India and Iran) but so far no one has accepted."
German legend Franz Beckenbauer accompanied Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Kabul last week when he handed over three goalkeepers' tops to Payanda but there is still no strip for the outfield players to pull on.
The national side used to play in light blue but Aziz said he hoped the new strip would reflect the green, black and red of the national flag which was reinstated earlier this year for the first time since former king Mohammed Zahir Shah's ouster in 1973.
Soccer was permitted by the Taliban but they were hardly fans.
In their southern stronghold of Kandahar, kick-off times had to be brought forward to avoid any clashes with evening prayers while one visiting Pakistani team even had their heads forcibly shaved in punishment for wearing shorts.
The stadiums in Kabul and Kandahar were used as venues for public executions with victims hanged from the goalposts or shot by the corner flags.
Since the fundamentalist militia's downfall in November Kabul's Olympic Stadium has played host to a number of games featuring some of the capital's top amateur sides.
A team from Peshawar and a side from Tajikistan have also agreed to take part in a tournament with some of Afghanistan's top club sides this month. Sixteen amateur teams make up two league divisions in the Afghan capital.
Aziz concedes that Afghanistan has fallen light years behind its neighbours over the last two decades.
"We need our players and our trainers to go abroad. There is talent up front but the organisation is not there."
World Cup fever though looks set to pass Afghanistan by as the national television broadcaster does not have the rights to show the games from Japan or South Korea next month, according to Payanda.
"We are trying to get them video-taped by someone so we can watch them all later." - Sapa-AFP
THE WASHINGTON TIMES Published 5/13/2002
KABUL, Afghanistan — In the days of the Taliban regime, the people here endured hunger, religious oppression and political violence. But at least this dusty, smog-choked capital offered one good thing they can no longer count on: cheap rent.
Since the U.S.-led campaign ousted the Taliban, nonprofit groups, journalists and international aid officials coming in have pushed up housing costs beyond anything that ordinary Afghans can afford.
"Get out of Kabul," Ashraf Ghaum, an Afghan official, bluntly told a group of foreign journalists and NGO (nongovernmental organization) officials gathered for a conference recently. "You're driving up the rents."
Rents in chic neighborhoods have risen the highest — perhaps fiftyfold, residents and real-estate brokers say.
An Arab NGO recently signed a $4,800-per-month lease for a six-bedroom villa that went for $300 a month during the Taliban era, said Ghodratollah Yadegar, a real-estate broker who gleefully cited numerous examples of houses he had recently rented out at exorbitant markups.
The British Embassy recently rented a 10-bedroom house for $10,000 a month. It went for $400 during Taliban rule. In the safe, decent neighborhoods of Shahr-e-now or Vazir Akbar Khan you won't find a two- or three-bedroom place for less than $1,500.
"The Taliban were terrible for the real-estate business," said Mr. Yadegar. "There were no foreigners here who wanted to rent."
Even in poor neighborhoods with no electricity or running water, rents have increased, said Hamed Safi, a geologist and authority on Kabul's infrastructure, from about $50 to $250 a month.
"Some of the people are coming here and returning to Pakistan because of the cheap rents there," Mr. Safi said.
In the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, he said, you can rent a place with electricity and running water for about $110 a month.
Salaries in Kabul are measly. Some local doctors make no more than $100 a month.
"Rents here are too high for Afghan wages," said Golmakai Shah, a former Washington and New York resident who returned to Afghanistan recently to run the Kabul theater. "I can't afford the rents here. I'm staying with a friend."
Many Kabul residents, unaccustomed to the whims of the free market, have demanded government intervention.
"Right now rents seem to be determined entirely by property dealers and house owners," said an unsigned letter in the May 2 issue of Kabul Weekly. "I request from the official bodies to set affordable house prices so that the poor can live without difficulties."
Monday, May 13, 2002
HERAT, Afghanistan The road tells the story. Trucks overloaded to absurdity creep along the highway like columns of ants. Minivans are so full that passengers routinely ride on the roof through the desert. Refugees huddle on sacks in the open air or sit crammed into ancient buses that belch black smoke, move slightly faster than the trucks and seem to have come from Germany many, many years ago. Predatory traffic - pickup trucks and late-model sport-utility vehicles - also speeds along, oblivious to the craters and crevasses. Gunmen are invariably packed in back, and the cars fly the country's red, green and black flag. A picture of the slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud or the king, or whatever local warlord the gunmen answer to, is also obligatory.
The highway from Kabul to Herat draws a 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) crescent across Afghanistan, where on any day much of the population seems on the move. The road also traces the map of an unfinished country. A trip last week from end to end crossed regions as fractured and insecure as the highway that binds them. Six months after the collapse of Taliban rule in Kabul, the capital is an island of progress. There are cell phones now, and men in business suits who run from one meeting to the next, their briefcases carrying plans for the reconstruction of a shattered land. Everywhere there are houses and schools and roads and clinics being rebuilt.
But outside the capital, the government of the interim leader, Hamid Karzai, seems as nonexistent as the billions of dollars in aid that the world has promised but not delivered.
Along the Kabul-Herat highway, Afghanistan's future is taking shape in the isolation of mud villages and provincial towns. In Ghazni, south of Kabul, a new commander has vowed to disarm an entrenched militia. In the Taliban's desert birthplace of Kandahar, young men play soccer wearing once-forbidden shorts in the stadium the Taliban used for public executions. In Herat, a regional power is challenging Kabul and public works projects are beginning without waiting for foreign money.
Also visible last week were hints of the country's many conflicts, old and new. In the mountain passes of Farah Province, menacing gunmen prowled the highway. In Kandahar, a huddle of dazed, skeletal Taliban fighters, released after five months in prison up north, sat on the lawn of the governor's palace, some too sick to move. In Helmand Province, an angry farmer crumbled in his hands the remains of his opium crop and demanded to know why the faraway government had killed it.
And everywhere, there were the returning refugees, among the hundreds of thousands who have decided in recent weeks to make their way in Afghanistan.
In a bleak way station near Herat, one refugee from Iran refused to climb on a decrepit bus that an aid group had hired to take him and 34 other men from Herat to Kabul.
"We are not sheep!" he screamed, minutes before he, too, hit the road. The highway was once the pride of Afghanistan, a "smooth, wide highway paved since 1966," as a 1970s tourist guidebook touted it. Today the road is disintegrated by war and neglect into a rutted track in places. In 1977, the guidebook reckoned it would take 13 hours to cruise from Kabul to Herat.
Last week, it took 24 hours of driving over five days. Months after the Taliban's fall, no repair work has begun. On this trip, the first surprise came just four hours south of Kabul: a cluster of pickup trucks signaling a public demonstration in a place that rarely sees one. The sight was followed by a striking sound, a guttural chorus rising in intensity from dozens of men. "Allah-hou! Allah-hou! Allah-hou!"
Practitioners of Sufi mysticism, the men were an advance welcome party, chanting their blessing to the leader of their sect. Soon, the convoy bearing the leader, Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani, would arrive in Ghazni, a major event in a mostly forgotten place.
Ghazni is not far from Kabul, and was itself the capital of a great empire nearly 1,000 years ago that conquered India for Islam. But these days, the town is known mostly for its strategic location between Kabul and Kandahar, and its instability as a place where dueling factions of Tajiks, Hazaras and Pashtuns refuse to give up their guns.
Not surprisingly, Gailani's arrival was the top story on the radio news that night. The fact that there is a radio station in Ghazni is news. It went on the air two weeks ago and is a tiny outpost of hope, broadcasting every night from 6 to 8.
In a city with no telephones or electricity, this is a major development, as was the hiring of two women to read the news and announcements.
In the sweltering dust bowl of a city that gave birth to the Taliban, leaflets started appearing a few weeks ago, threatening girls and their female teachers who have returned to class after six years of confinement to their homes by the Taliban.
"The leaflets were saying, we will kill you, we will burn down your house," said Gulalli Sherzai, who teaches a third-grade class of 60 boys. Some students stopped coming to school, and there were reports that two girls had been abducted on the way to class. Kandahar's governor assigned an armed guard to every school, but many people are still on edge.
Sherzai said she was frightened to go to work. "Since the leaflets, I'm scared," she said. "I'm not going to school as usual. I'm attending my work every day, but there is a butterfly in my stomach that somebody might attack me, might shoot me,"
No one knows whether the leaflets are the beginning of a backlash or simply the isolated scare tactics of a few Taliban holdovers.
Flags supporting the new government are draped all over the city, and once-forbidden music now blares late into the night in the only major Afghan city without a curfew. But Kandahar looks and feels like a place slowly being left behind by the new government in Kabul. There is little of the frenetic rebuilding that characterizes the capital, and the bombed-out headquarters of the Taliban's religious police sits untouched months after the war, a cratered landmark on the city's main street.
The pink and white poppies for which Helmand Province is famous still wave gently in the hot wind. This year's opium crop is in full bloom, almost ready for harvesting, and fields of the flowers decorate the roadside from Kandahar.
But turn off the highway, drive half an hour through the desert from the provincial capital in Lashkar Gah and different kinds of poppies appear: dead ones, in field after field. Starved for water, they died where they stood. Amid the brittle stalks that represented what was left of his crop, Nadir Khan picked one of the pods and crumbled it in his broad hand. Instead of lucrative opium, the most he can now get out of this pod is a handful of poppy seeds worth pennies. Now, he wants the government to pay for the poppies it killed.
The central government's poppy eradication program is the most ambitious of Karzai's tenure, an $80 million effort paid for by the World Bank to destroy the poppy crop while paying farmers about $700 an acre. That is far less than they would make selling opium, but more than if they had chosen to grow wheat.
The program has resulted in political turmoil, with protests throughout the area when the eradication teams began their work last month. In Lashkar Gah, farmers chanted "Death to America!" and one person was killed in the melee.
Now, though, farmers have mostly stopped blocking the eradication and started demanding their share of the money. An official dispatched by the central government arrived from Kabul to hand out the cash, an estimated $17 million in Helmand already. He is guarded by British soldiers as he makes the rounds. But Khan feels cheated. Instead of eradicating the poppy fields and giving out the promised money, local leaders in Nad-a Ali district, the single biggest opium-producing district in Afghanistan, simply ordered the Helmand Valley Authority to turn off the irrigation water about three weeks ago. The poppies died, and with them the farmers' hope for reimbursement. You have no crop left to eradicate, the farmers were told, so you aren't eligible for the money.
On Monday, a van ride between Lashkar Gah and Herat was interrupted by 11 encounters with gunmen, most at what appeared to be at least semiofficial checkpoints.
In Farah Province, where there was no checkpoint, a half-dozen armed men approached the van in a narrow gorge. The leader tried to stop the van by walking into the road with his rifle pointed toward the vehicle, while three accomplices, one toting a rocket launcher, ran down a hill toward the road. The driver slowed, but then accelerated past the men.
Half an hour later, another gunman on the roadside waved at the van to stop. When it did, the conversation went like this:
Gunman: Give me some money, a small sum.
Translator: No. I have some foreigners with me, and if you make me give you money, they will tell the world that there is no security in Afghanistan.
He then waved the van on.
In Herat, a late-night audience with Ismail Khan, the self-styled emir of southwest Afghanistan, began with a lecture. "Herat is very different from other Afghan cities," Khan said. "Culture has 2,500 years of history here." He added, "When a city is better in culture, it should be better in other terms as well." Khan's benign dictatorship is a contrast to the idealistic but so far ineffective democratic ambitions of Kabul. And where Karzai is folksy, Khan is imperious. Aides instruct a translator to refer to him only in the third person, and the emir will not shake hands with a female reporter.
His administration is also different. Streets are cleaned, and the local government has money in its coffers thanks to bustling trade with Iran. A large military force provides security. By most accounts, this is one of the safer places in Afghanistan.
Asked about handing over money collected in the province to Kabul, Khan deflected the question several times. Mostly, he was eager to extol the benefits of his one-man rule, which he said had brought "more order, more discipline." But there is also less freedom.
"We should not expect freedom to be given right away," he said, responding to a question about whether women are more restricted in his province than in other areas of the country. "The people are not ready for it."
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