Afghans Say 17 Civilians Killed in U.S. Raids
Wed Feb 12, 6:35 AM ET
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Provincial Afghan authorities said at least 17 civilians had been killed in bombing raids by U.S.-led forces that Washington says are aimed at rooting out remnants of the Taliban.
Haji Mohammad Wali, spokesman for the government of Helmand province, told Reuters an official of its Baghran district had reported the civilian deaths there after relatives came to the district headquarters.
"The people came crying, saying their relatives had died or were missing," Wali said by telephone from Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah.
U.S. military officials told reporters Wednesday that B-52 and B-1 bombers had pounded a mountain ridge in central Afghanistan (news - web sites) after ground forces spotted about 25 armed Taliban suspects taking up offensive positions.
Twelve suspects were captured during the operation near the village of Lejay in the Baghran Valley Tuesday, U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King told a news briefing at Bagram Air Base, the U.S. headquarters in Afghanistan.
He said U.S. ground forces called in air support over a period of eight hours after spotting men armed with AK-47s and rocket grenades moving along the ridgeline.
He said he had no information about possible civilian deaths.
Wali said the report of the civilian deaths had been passed on to the Kabul government. He said he had no information on casualties from fresh bombing the area Tuesday night.
Haji Jilani, a resident of Shina Keli village in the Baghran valley, told Reuters he had seen bodies of two women, two children and a man in a riverbed from his house on a mountainside.
MOSTLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN KILLED
According to the reports, there were 17 deaths, mostly women and children, he said.
A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said he did not have any details of casualties. However, he said the government had asked the coalition to avoid bombing during the Eid-al-Adha Muslim holiday, which began Tuesday and runs through Thursday.
"In general, the government prefers they shouldn't bomb in respect of Eid days, unless it is very necessary," Tayab Jawad said. "The government has asked them to avoid bombing during this time."
U.S. military spokesman King said a Danish F-16 dropped a 500 pound GBU-12 bomb, while U.S. B-1 and B-52 bombers dropped 2,000 pound JDAM "smart" bombs during the latest raids.
Asked who the opposing fighters were thought to be, King said: "We believe that they are probably most closely associated with Taliban remnants."
About 13,000 U.S.-led coalition troops are in Afghanistan hunting remnants of the former Taliban regime and the al Qaeda network blamed for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The Afghan government has said that 48 people were killed and 117 wounded in Uruzgan province last July when a U.S. AC-130 gunship attacked a wedding party.
The U.S. military gave a toll of 34 dead and 50 wounded mostly women and children but said the aircraft had come under hostile ground fire.
King said the operation in Baghran, code-named "Eagle Fury" was continuing, as was another in the neighboring province of Bamiyan.
"The intensity to a certain extent depends upon on the enemy," he said. "If the enemy presents itself in a posture to attack us, then we will engage them."
New bin Laden Tape Claimed in Britain
Thursday, February 13, 2003 4:35 AM EST
LONDON (AP) A British-based Islamic news agency said Thursday it has a new audio recording of Osama bin Laden in which he predicts he will die as ``a martyr'' this year in an attack against his enemies.
The Al-Ansaar news agency said that the 53-minute tape was allegedly recorded this month and acquired from a seller who advertised over the Internet.
Imran Khan, who runs Birmingham-based agency Al-Ansaar, told The Associated Press that he translated the tape, describing it as poetic with several verses from the Quran.
``In this final year I hurl myself and my steed with my soul at the enemy. Indeed on my demise I will become a martyr,'' the al-Qaida leader purportedly says.
``I pray my demise isn't on a coffin bearing green mantles. I wish my demise to be in the eagle's belly,'' he continues.
Khan said experts contacted by Al-Ansaar believed the ``eagle'' referred to the United States and the quote revealed bin Laden's wish to end his life in a final act of terrorism.
In Washington, U.S. counterterrorism officials were reviewing a transcript of the tape, but said they could not verify it was an authentic message from the terror chief.
While the speaker mentions an apparent intention to die in the coming year and uses some rhetoric similar to bin Laden's, officials said they could not be certain of the speaker's identity without reviewing the actual recording. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Khan said the agency, which has released previous bin Laden tapes, had used the same sources to check the validity of the new tape. His claims could not be independently verified.
If authentic, the tape would be the latest in a series by bin Laden since the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Tuesday, the Al-Jazeera satellite station aired the purported voice of bin Laden telling his followers to help Saddam Hussein fight Americans, and U.S. officials claim the message backs Washington's charge that the Iraqi leader has ties to the al-Qaida terror network.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to dismiss any al-Qaida-Iraq link an interview to be published Thursday, saying it cannot be proved that the al-Qaida leader is still alive.
``And his relations with Baghdad cannot be proved, either,'' Putin was quoted by the daily Le Telegramme as saying in the interview given Wednesday, the last day of a three-day state visit to France that ended in Bordeaux.
Khan said the new Ansaar tape claims a U.S.-led war on Iraq is a precursor to an invasion of Saudi Arabia.
The speaker also calls for individual attacks against ``Americans and Jews'' around the world as well as larger acts of terrorism, Khan said.
Khan said the speaker also bragged about how the Sept. 11 attacks took just a few people to create such damage.
Khan said the seller of the tape spoke with a Saudi accent but he declined to say when it was acquired. Khan said Al-Ansaar had held talks with several news organizations about selling the tape and it expected it to be released publicly shortly.
In May 2002, Al-Ansaar released a video of bin Laden which it claimed showed he had survived the U.S. war in Afghanistan. But Al-Jazeera said the tape was filmed before the war even began.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said the department was unaware of the tape, saying it would need to hear the tape before considering a response.
U.S. War Room in Afghanistan Tells Tale
Thursday, February 13, 2003 2:59 AM EST
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) The war room at the Bagram Air Base is open 24 hours a day, but few may enter and a sign reading ``Who Else Needs to Know?'' reminds people to keep silent about what happens here.
Inside, desks covered with laptops face a giant video monitor and U.S. military planners coordinate all combat operations in the still-dangerous eastern third of Afghanistan where allied forces hunt al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives. The mountains here may even be Osama bin Laden's hiding place.
The room is officially known as the 82nd JOC the 82nd Airborne Division's Joint Operation Control. It has rarely been shown to reporters.
Here, two dozen or so staffers direct helicopters, planes, artillery and troops.
``This is the hub of it right here,'' said Lt. Col. Michael Shields, the senior operations officer who oversees the war room, constructed of plywood in the middle of an old airplane hangar.
The war room answers to a larger control room responsible for all combat operations in Afghanistan, but it handles the war's hottest area.
If U.S. troops are attacked, the soldiers in the war room decide how to respond. If an enemy base is detected as recently happened during operation in the Adi Ghar mountains the officers can direct planes and men to the location in seconds.
The room itself is a mix of old and new technology. Clunky old phones with secure lines look like World War II relics next to snazzy laptops. Up-to-date intelligence reports continually pop up in e-mail windows.
The big video monitor usually displays a digital map of Afghanistan, any section of which can be highlighted with a mouse click. Officers can zoom in so tight that a cluster of red blobs appears, pinpointing troop locations.
The officers say they try to never forget that each blip on the screen represents flesh-and-blood soldiers.
``To me, it's not in the back of my mind. It's in the forefront. That's what drives our decisions because we realize that if we make a mistake, people die,'' said Maj. Anthony Yando, who heads daytime operations.
``There's nobody up here who doesn't know what it's like to be out there,'' said Maj. Steve Devore, director of operations.
The war room is staffed around-the-clock by two shifts. If officers aren't directing an operation, they're conducting drills.
Tables and chairs are lined up in a semicircle, with the battle major and his chief of staff in the center. All decisions pass through them.
Behind them are the battle captains, in touch with the soldiers and constantly plotting their locations. On either side are battle officers monitoring communications, and intelligence officers with the latest info.
Even before a U.S. unit comes under fire, those desks likely are aware of the danger.
``Sometimes you can get little bits and pieces and start anticipating. You'll get a report that there's suspected enemy activity in a place, so you start thinking a little bit ahead,'' Devore said.
``Probably that's the most difficult thing the fog of the battlefield. You'll have one unit reporting one piece of the information and another reporting another piece and they don't necessarily fit very well,'' Yando said.
The room's second layer is composed of an air defense artillery watch officer and a fire support officer desks that can lob Patriot missiles against incoming aircraft and mobilize artillery. Nearby staffers maintain contact with the area aircraft.
Rounding out the team: weather forecasters; a liaison with the Afghan authorities; Army lawyers ready to consult the rules of engagement; unexploded ordnance experts; and a nuclear, biological and chemical watch officer.
On the outer edge are liaison officers representing all subordinate or sister units.
``I listen to every single one of these staff sections to tell me what's available and then based on available assets that I can send down there to support, I'll make the decision,'' Yando said.
Large paper maps like those in old war movies sit ready in the back in case the power goes out.
While tensions run high in the heat of combat, officers say cool heads will prevail.
``We don't let it get loud and we don't let it get tense,'' said Shields. ``Generally it's calm. It's got to be that way.''
Pakistani human rights body criticizes arrest of 350 Afghan refugees
By MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A leading Pakistani human rights group on Tuesday criticized a police roundup of about 350 allegedly illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, saying the government was abusing its power with the arrests. The arrests took place following house-to-house raids during the past month in and near the capital, Islamabad, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Afghan embassy officials said. Authorities said the roundup targeted refugees living in the country illegally.
The group said the roundup was a "clear case of abuse of law and the executive authority" because immigration laws were being enforced on Afghan refugees, who have already been living in Pakistan for decades without passports or visas.
"The tendency to justify unlawful acts in the name of security can in no circumstances be condoned," HRCP Secretary-General Hina Jilani and Punjab section Vice Chair Salima Hashmi said in a statement.
Random raids by police on Afghan slums in Islamabad and elsewhere are not uncommon.
"There will be nothing wrong in asking the refugees to return to the places designed for their temporary stay in Pakistan and await repatriation, but they must not be deprived of their liberty and exposed to severe hardships they do not deserve," the human rights group said.
A senior diplomat at the Afghan embassy, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said the Pakistani and Afghan governments had sought to resolve the matter without it becoming public.
Millions of refugees fled Afghanistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion started nearly a quarter century of war in the country. A large number of them have returned home since the Taliban government was ousted as a result of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 events, but many still live in several cities of Pakistan.
In December, Pakistan and Afghanistan announced a plan to send 1.8 million Afghan refugees home within three years, closing most remaining camps after more than two decades of operation. About 1.5 million refugees, most from Pakistan, returned home last year.
Karzai warns of regional instability if aid agencies leave for Iraq
KABUL, Feb 12 (AFP) - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday warned of regional instability if foreign aid dries up amid the looming possibility of war with Iraq.
"If something goes wrong it will not only be Afghans that will suffer," he said in an interview broadcast on BBC World Service radio.
"Our neighbours will suffer with us equally."
Karzai said foreign aid must continue until Afghanistan had enough physical infrastructure and government institutions to function on its own.
"Until Afghanistan gets on its own feet with regards to institutions of government and the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the country it would not be wise (for aid agencies to leave) Afghanistan would be vulnerable and that vulnerability is not something that we would want," he said.
Karzai also called on Pakistan to help end cross-border attacks from militants which he said have been taking place in Paktika, Paktia, Kandahar and Helmand provinces, but warned Afghans would not take any attacks lying down.
"Afghans will defend themselves. Afghans will not allow their nation to go back to the kind of disastrous interference that they have faced over the past many years.
He added: "If Afghanistan suffers others will suffer with us."
Panel: U.S. Should Focus on Afghanistan
Wednesday, February 12, 2003 3:53 PM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) Threats posed by Iraq and North Korea should not deter the Bush administration from its efforts to rebuild Afghanistan and establish a secure democracy, leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Wednesday.
They also expressed concern about recent fighting involving U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan and warlords' continued control of parts of the country. The lawmakers again urged that 4,900-member international peacekeeping force to expand its operations beyond Kabul, the capital.
The committee chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, said the U.S. ability to attract allies in the fight against terrorism will be enhanced if progress toward democracy continues in Afghanistan.
``Our commitment to Afghanistan is also a demonstration of how we will approach post-conflict Iraq,'' said Lugar, R-Ind. ``American credibility is on the line in these situations and we must understand that failure to follow through could have extremely negative consequences on the war on terror.''
The committee's senior Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, said Afghanistan already has ``dropped off the radar screen'' in the United States and elsewhere.
``What level of commitment will the administration display once Afghanistan winds up behind Iraq and North Korea and whatever comes next?'' Biden asked. He said warlords, drugs and terrorism remained a problem in Afghanistan ``and we've made precious little progress on the three.''
The State Department's coordinator for Afghanistan, David T. Johnson, and the Pentagon's assistant secretary of international affairs, Peter Rodman, reaffirmed the administration's resolve to remain engaged in Afghanistan.
Johnson said reliance on the warlords and their forces for security in the countryside would continue but eventually could undermine the goal of creating a stable and effective central government.
The objective, he said, is to train a national army and police force to extend the control of President Hamid Karzai's government beyond Kabul. The United States is working with France and Germany to train Afghan army and police forces.
In the meantime, Johnson said the international peacekeepers will have to maintain a presence in Kabul at least through elections in June 2004. He said the United States is not opposed to expanding the force's operations beyond Kabul, but that no country has volunteered.
Germany and the Netherlands took control Monday from Turkey of the 22-nation peacekeeping force, which first deployed on the streets of Kabul in December 2001 after the ouster of the Taliban regime. The Germans have proposed that NATO take over when its mandate ends in six months; otherwise, Spain or Canada could inherit the job.
In the Afghan countryside, Johnson and Rodman said the United States was working with the government to establish 50-to-60 member provincial reconstruction teams. They include American civil affairs specialists, engineers, medical personnel, linguists and U.S. regular and special forces.
Rodman described the teams as ``a flexible, creative instrument to bring a transition from combat operations to stability operations.'' Johnson said the administration hopes the teams will enhance security and permit government authorities, international organizations and representatives of donor nations to go about reconstruction work in a more secure environment.
Croatia sends first peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan
Tuesday, February 11, 2003 7:57 PM EST
Belgrade, Feb 11, 2003 (Xinhua via COMTEX) Croatia will send a company of military police to Afghanistan on the first United Nations peacekeeping mission undertaken by the Croatian army, Tanjug agency reported on Tuesday.
The 44-strong company includes four women, all of whom are trained and examined strictly by foreign military experts. They will depart in two groups, on February 15 and at the end of the month.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan told the company at its encampment, Tuesday, that they were leaving at a critical time, when the international community faced the crisis in Iraq.
Canada Sending Up to 2,000 Troops to Afghanistan
Wed Feb 12, 5:00 PM ET By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada said on Wednesday it would send up to 2,000 troops to Afghanistan later this year to bolster a U.N. peacekeeping mission, a move that could limit Canadian participation in a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq.
The announcement would seem to help avert a major problem for Ottawa, which is keen to stay on the right side of its most important ally, the United States, while watching opinion polls that show most Canadians oppose the idea of a war on Iraq.
Defense Minister John McCallum said Canada, which sent 850 troops to Afghanistan for six months last year, would dispatch a battle group and a brigade headquarters to join the Kabul-based 22-nation International Security Assistance Force for one year.
"We have decided to serve... It will be a significant contribution starting in the late summer," he told reporters, saying no decision had been taken on how many troops the cash-strapped and heavily stretched armed forces could spare.
Officials said a battle group typically involved between 800 to 1,000 soldiers, while a brigade headquarters comprised about 500 to 1,000 troops.
Jim Munson, the chief spokesman for Prime Minister Jean Chretien, said the announcement was not linked to Iraq.
"This has nothing to do with a possible war on Iraq. This has everything to do with the international war on terrorism. The two cannot be linked at this time," he told Reuters.
But McCallum himself admitted that it would have an impact on any Canadian contribution to an Iraq campaign.
"The more one sends to one place the less one may have available for other places," he said, adding that the deployment of troops would underline Canada's commitment to the war against terrorism.
Chretien facing increasing unrest inside his own Liberal Party over the idea of backing a unilateral U.S. assault on Iraq insists Canadian troops would only join a campaign if it were authorized by the U.N. Security Council.
But many observers say that Canada's heavy dependence on the U.S. economy means Ottawa has no choice but to agree to whatever Washington decides on Iraq.
Chretien may well be gambling that any political damage from a decision by Ottawa to back a unilateral U.S. assault would be limited if no Canadian ground troops took part.
The official opposition Canadian Alliance party immediately accused the Liberals of using the armed forces to help the government out of a tricky problem.
"(The troops) expect to be on the front lines. They don't expect to be relegated to a second-tier mission to fill in for the Americans," Alliance defense spokesman Leon Benoit told reporters.
While declining to commit itself to joining an attack on Iraq, Canada has nonetheless dispatched military planners to the U.S. command post in the Gulf state of Qatar. McCallum spokesman Randy Mylyk said the planners would remain in Qatar discussing how Canada might fit in to an eventual war on Iraq.
Canada has two warships, two maritime patrol aircraft, three transport planes and about 850 military personnel in the region searching for al Qaeda or Taliban operatives from Afghanistan.
Indian deputy prime minister blames Pakistan for Taliban, al-Qaida
By LAURINDA KEYS, Associated Press Writer
NEW DELHI, India - India's deputy prime minister said on Tuesday that Pakistan's support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan allowed the al-Qaida terrorists to strike at the United States and other countries. "I can't forget that Pakistan lent its support to these non-state combatants who went to attack other countries," Lal K. Advani said, referring to al-Qaida and other groups that found refuge in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Pakistan has repeatedly said it did not support al-Qaida. Pakistan was one of three countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that recognized the Taliban regime.
Pakistan threw its support behind the U.S.-led coalition against terror after Sept. 11. Pakistan and U.S. officials say that more than 400 al-Qaida and Taliban have been arrested in Pakistan since then.
"All these terrorists are non-state combatants. They cannot sustain themselves for long unless they have the backing of some state power," Advani said.
"The United States and its allies will have to cast a wider net to address all the root causes" of the terrorism that led to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, he said. "A state like Pakistan must never again be allowed to cause so much disruption and stress in world politics."
Advani spoke at the closing session of an anti-terrorism conference organized by the youth wing of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads India's government.
India Tests Rocket That Can Hit Pakistan
By NEELESH MISRA, Associated Press Writer
NEW DELHI, India - India conducted its fourth missile test this year Wednesday, firing a supersonic cruise missile capable of hitting major cities in Pakistan. Islamabad denounced the test as a sign of New Delhi's "massive militarization." The test comes at a time of tension between the two nuclear armed nations. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since British colonialists left the South Asian subcontinent in 1947 and came close to a fourth one last year.
India's defense minister, George Fernandes, said the Brahmos missile was launched off an Indian Navy destroyer and accurately hit its target. The army said it hopes to deploy the anti-ship missile next year.
India developed the missile with Russia's help. The two countries say they plan to export the missile to developing countries. The Brahmos has a range of 185 miles and has a payload of 440 pounds but cannot carry a nuclear warhead. It flies at more than 1,400 mph, twice the speed of sound.
India, like Pakistan, also possesses ballistic missiles that are capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads and can strike deep within the neighboring country.
A cruise missile travels horizontally. A ballistic missile travels in a parabolic arc. Late last month, India conducted two tests of an Akash surface-to-air missile. Earlier in January it test-launched a more powerful short-range ballistic missile, the Agni-I, which is capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Pakistan too has conducted a series of missile tests in recent months. India says Pakistan's missile program is heavily aided by China and North Korea. India and Pakistan rushed 1 million troops to their 1,800-mile border last year. The buildup followed a Dec. 13, 2001 attack on India's Parliament that New Delhi blamed on Kashmiri separatists it says Pakistan supports. Tensions remain high.
Last week India ordered a senior Pakistani diplomat out of the country after accusing him of giving money to the separatists. Four Pakistan Embassy employees were also expelled. It was the second round of expulsions in as many months.
Afghan Army gets ahead by getting along
The National Army, which accepted 600 more recruits Sunday, is increasingly effective, experts say.
By Scott Baldauf | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - In the past two months, Capt. Mohammad Fahim's men have learned how to march, how to rappel from tall buildings, how to fire weapons, and how to defend their country from internal and external threats.
But the most important lesson - and the greatest challenge, in this multiethnic society - may be simply learning to get along with one another.
"We can give assurance to the Afghan people and the people of the world that Afghans can make their country united," says Captain Fahim, alongside his platoon of 40 freshly-trained recruits at Pul-e Cherkhi Military Training Base. "And we in the Army are going to prove it."
Such optimism - buoyed by the graduation from basic training Sunday of 600 soldiers - is welcome in a country devastated by 23 years of war, nearly half of it fought along brutal ethnic lines.
But Afghan officials and Western diplomats agree that Afghanistan's best hope for preserving internal peace - and creating a new faith in the idea of Afghanistan - may be in its newly formed Afghan National Army. Drawing its recruits from a cross section of Afghan society - from seven major ethnic groups and a half-dozen language groups - the Afghan Army is an experiment in trust, where every soldier must believe that he is fighting for the same cause, and not just preparing for civil conflict.
With six battalions, or 3,600 men, now trained by French and US Special Forces, the Afghan National Army is already being forced to prove its mettle. The 3rd Battalion, for instance, just spent a two-month tour of duty at the dangerous forward border post of Orgun-e along the Pakistani border, undergoing antiguerrilla and antiterrorist training with American Special Forces.
But US military officials say the Afghan National Army is already causing a ripple effect in Afghan society. According to Col. Roger King, US military spokesman at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, a small Afghan military unit based in central Bamiyan Province managed to disarm a local group of fighters last week without firing a shot. What convinced the rebel fighters to surrender, Colonel King says, was not the Army's superior training but rather its blend of ethnic groups.
"One of the things about the Afghan National Army is that it's made up of a mixture of Hazaras and Tajiks and Pashtuns, and that puts a different face on it whenever we do operations," says King. "It gives us additional approaches to some of the things we do."
French military instructor Lieutenant Le Roux (who declined to give his first name), says he has seen a remarkable change in the men he has trained over the past two months.
"Two months ago, there was a lot of tension and a lot of arguments," he says. "But now, nobody talks about ethnicity. They are living together, respecting each other. For me, the National Army is a base to rebuild and reconstruct Afghan society."
Still, plenty of questions beset the Afghan Army. Can its recruits keep pace with its more numerous Al Qaeda and Taliban enemies (estimated at some 5,000) now thought to be regrouping under the leadership of Afghan commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar? Does it have the training to avoid being trapped and picked apart by guerrilla attacks? Most of all, will Afghan foot soldiers stay loyal to a government that pays them $40 a month in training and $60 a month for full-time duty?
Col. Ahmad Jan, a former commander in the Northern Alliance and now a commander in the 6th Battalion of the Afghan National Army, says that his men have an advantage over their enemies hiding in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"The Taliban did not have good training, they were just rushing at us with large numbers, and we could repel them because we were better soldiers," says Colonel Jan. "But now we are able to fight any terrorist attack and anything else they can throw at us."
Cpl. Mohammad Reza, an ethnic Hazara in a unit evenly divided among Farsi- and Pashto-speaking Afghans, says the mood in his unit is very good, for the time being.
"I hope it's not going to be split along ethnic lines in the future, but at the moment we make no [distinctions between] Tajiks and Pashtuns and Hazaras," says Corporal Reza. "Like everyone else here, I joined to defend my soil."
Terrorists Still a Threat, U.S. Official Tells Afghans
By CARLOTTA GALL, New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 10 — The American special envoy to Afghanistan said today that it was unacceptable that members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were chased out of Afghanistan only to be given sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal areas, where Qaeda members are present.
The envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, was in the Afghan capital to reassure the Afghan government and people of continued American support "no matter what happens in Iraq." At a news conference in the heavily fortified American Embassy in Kabul, he said recent fighting in southern Afghanistan had shown that terrorists, whether from the Taliban or Al Qaeda, still posed a significant problem.
"There are some key Taliban figures in Pakistan, and I don't think all they are doing is having tea there and sitting in their homes," he said. "They are probably plotting and encouraging negative developments in Afghanistan. And it is also true there are some Al Qaeda people in the border areas."
Mr. Khalilzad would not comment on the level of assistance or encouragement the groups were receiving from official Pakistani channels, but said the United States government's understanding with the Pakistani leadership was that the groups should not be given sanctuary.
"We regard the Pakistani government to be a partner, and we will work with them to deal with these problems," he said.
There has been an increase in recent weeks in cross-border activity from Pakistan by militants opposed to the American presence in Afghanistan. Hundreds of American soldiers battled with rebels in southern Afghanistan two weeks ago, and have spent days since sweeping the mountains and caves to clear the area.
Afghan officials complain that Pakistan is not only doing nothing to apprehend Qaeda and Taliban troublemakers, but also that it is actively encouraging them. American military officials have also expressed frustration at Pakistan's failure to contain the cross-border activity.
Mr. Khalilzad also showed a rare sign of impatience with the Afghan government today, saying it needed to do "more and better" in its part in the reform and reconstruction of the country.
He reinforced the American commitment to assist Afghanistan even in the event of a war in Iraq. "The U.S. is capable of doing more than one thing at the same time," he said, "and resources required for Afghanistan, in its entirety, we are able to deliver on and we are committed to delivering on, no matter what happens in Iraq."
The United States has spent more than $840 million — in aid money, State Department expenditures and some military expenditure — since October 2001 in Afghanistan, Mr. Khalilzad said, and will continue the same level of spending through 2003. He added that President Bush would reinforce the American commitment in person when President Hamid Karzai visits Washington on Feb. 27.
But there was a new tone to this visit. His discussions over the last three days with Afghan officials have concentrated on the overhaul and reconstruction of Afghanistan's security, political and economic institutions, and he said the government was not doing enough.
"I would like to have seen more institution building, on the security track, the army, police and the justice system," he said. "There is a civil service commission that has to reform the bureaucracy; not much has been done. I hope and expect it will do more."
He added, "I do hear complaints about the quality of service that you still get from government departments."
An overhaul of the justice system has barely gotten under way, he said, and a United Nations program, supported by Japan, for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed fighters into civilian life, was supposed to have happened this year but had not. The lack of progress on disarmament and demobilization, even in Kabul, had contributed to the unsatisfactorily slow pace of creating a new national army which the American government has responsibility for, he said.
Mr. Khalilzad also criticized the government for its failure to pay attention to the regions. He said the the United States was using its influence to make provincial leaders cooperate with the central government in paying taxes and cooperating on security. But he said the center needed to do its part.
"It should be looked at as a two-way street rather than a one-way street of the regions submitting to the center," he said. "The center needs to do better."
Afghanistan: Focus on mental health
KABUL, 12 February (IRIN) - Standing in a gated cell, Nurallah Herawi wants out. "Open the door. I want to go outside," the former police officer told IRIN. While his request is a simple one, staff members at Afghanistan's only mental hospital, a decrepit and ill-equipped facility in the capital, Kabul, are not so sure.
Brought in five days earlier by his wife, the 45-year-old suffers from acute schizophrenia and is known to lash out. As doctors ponder his treatment, Herawi is confined to room number three, a darkened cell reserved for patients deemed violent.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about four million people, or some 20 percent of the population, suffer from mental health problems or some form of diminished capacity. Depression - particularly amongst women - remains widespread, while thousands of children demonstrate learning or behavioural problems, many the result of war-related trauma. In Afghanistan, devastated by decades of war, poverty and dislocation, cases like Herawi's are hardly uncommon.
What is new, however - over one year after the demise of the Taliban - is the continued lack of resources to meet this challenge. "There is an extreme shortage of expertise with regard to mental health," the WHO mental health officer, Dr Sayed Azimi, told IRIN. "We don't have trained qualified psychiatrists in the country, and the facilities to treat patients are inadequate," the Indian-trained physician - the only trained psychiatrist in the country - observed.
But inadequate is an understatement. Down the hall in a room permeated by the stench of urine, Javid Bydia, a 29-year-old former military officer from the western city of Herat, looks agitated. Brought in for reasons similar to Herawi's, he suffers from hallucinations and bouts of violence. "I have headaches all the time. Sometimes I hear voices," the father-of-three told IRIN.
Meanwhile, in the same room, another former soldier - his legs chained together to prevent escape - mumbles as he sits on his bed. "I'll be good. I promise," he says over and over again.
While conditions within this 40-bed unit are undeniably poor, strangely both of these men are considered lucky. Although there is a small outpatient mental health centre in Sherberghan, the provincial capital of northern Jawzjan Province, the Soviet-built former central clinic in Kabul remains the country's only facility remotely geared to helping those suffering from mental illness and trauma - a fact that baffles Afghan health workers.
"After two decades of war, 95 percent of the population were affected psychologically, and yet there is only one mental hospital for the entire nation," Dr Abdul Ahad Awarah, a former assistant at the hospital, told IRIN. "While we have thousands of regular hospitals, mental health has completely fallen to the wayside."
Deeply frustrated, the clinical psychiatrist maintained that no organisation - including the UN - had demonstrated a real willingness to help. "People aren't interested. It simply isn't a priority for them," he said.
Sadly his contention could be correct. Grossly under-resourced, the unit can barely provide the basics, much less treatment. "Conditions here are very poor," Dr Ahmad Shafi Zia, one of 21 attending doctors and 15 nurses working around the clock, told IRIN. "If any patient comes here, there is little we can do for them," he said. "We just try to keep them from hurting themselves."
To keep warm, patients routinely sleep in their soiled clothes for days on end, while the facility's antiquated heating system stands broken and unused. There are regular power cuts; the water supply remains sporadic and the water pump works for only one hour a day. "There is only one bathroom for 40 people and no hot water," Zia said, adding that food consisted of a meagre dish of rice, beans and water.
Drugs treatment at the centre is nonexistent, and patients are expected to purchase their own medicine on the open market. "Many of these people have no means to do this," Azimi conceded, recalling how until just recently families were given prescriptions for not just the medicine, but also a chain and lock to shackle the patient.
For 2003 alone, just US $100,000 has been allocated for mental health for the whole country. "This isn't enough to provide supplies for this one hospital, much less the whole country," Zia noted.
With limited resources, WHO aims to integrate mental health into primary health care services by providing training to general practitioners working in the various provinces. "So far, we have trained 40 practitioners on mental health," the WHO official said.
But lack of expertise on mental health starts at the top at the hospital. Dr Khetaab Kakar, the current director of the hospital, is actually a surgeon. Though he has received some training from WHO, he is not a trained psychiatrist.
For most of the staff, their training in the field of mental health is even more limited, with much of it conducted on an informal basis only. "We have to improve the knowledge and skills of doctors and nurses first," Azimi said. "The primary emphasis of our activity at the hospital is training," he added, noting that there was little motivation amongst staff to provide care. And with salaries often unpaid and averaging about $40 a month, it is not difficult to understand why.
Equally troubling, however, is the stigma attached to the issue of mental sickness. According to Azimi, it's a taboo subject not just in Afghan society, but also within the health ministry itself. After the ministry was awarded a recent donation of ambulances, it allegedly ignored a request by the mental health facility, leaving it the only hospital in Kabul without an ambulance.
"Their impression of mental health compared with other sectors is quite different," Azimi said, noting that in order to improve conditions at the hospital, they do not only need resources but also the will to do so. "Nobody is interested to work there," he remarked. "The ministry is now forcing some people," he asserted.
Following the overthrow of the Taliban, WHO issued an appeal for help. "Mental disease that one would see in any population has not been attended to for years in Afghanistan," Azimi observed, stressing the urgent need for mental health services to be established throughout Afghanistan.
"During the Taliban time, we never had people coming from rural areas - now we do," Awarah noted, adding that many new arrivals were simply being turned away.
Whereas WHO, given the limited resources, is rightfully addressing the issue of training, and efforts are under way to move patients to a new facility in the near future, it is clear that much more is needed. Reaffirming what he described as widespread neglect when it came to mental health in Afghanistan, Azimi said: "What we are doing is not enough. We can do so much more."
Man wounded in landmine explosion near Kabul airport
Wednesday, February 12, 2003 3:41 AM EST
KABUL, Feb 12, 2003 (Xinhua via COMTEX) An Afghan man was seriously wounded in a landmine explosion near the Kabul international airport on Tuesday.
The 45-year-old man was collecting scrap metals near the airport on Tuesday when he stepped on a land mine believed planted in the area during the country's war against the Soviet occupation in 1980's, a spokesman of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said here on Wednesday.
The wounded man had been sent to a military clinic inside the airport, which was guarded by the ISAF French contingent.
ISAF troops, who arrived in Kabul in December 2001 to carry out the UN-mandated security mission in Kabul and its surrounding areas, have involved in activities of clearing land mines in the capital city, a hangover of over two decades of war in the country.
ISAF explosive ordnance disposal teams had removed and neutralized over 175,000 items of heavy weapons and ammunition including land mines during the last six months, ISAF said.
However, Turkish general Hilmi Akin Zorlu, who handed over the command of the 22-nation ISAF troops to German General Norbert Van Heyst on Sunday, warned last week that the proliferation of land mines still remained to be a threat to people in Afghanistan.
Afghan Traffic Policeman Tells a Tale
Wednesday, February 12, 2003 2:34 AM EST
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) In a career spanning Afghanistan's bloody quarter-century, traffic policeman Mohammad Tahir has seen his nation's fortunes played out time and again on the streets of its cities.
Tahir has seen tanks of Russian invaders who set off more than two decades of bitter fighting, trucks of rival warlords loaded with rockets, and pickups loaded with Taliban zealots who raced across the desert plains to seize Kabul in 1996.
Today the roadhogs are more likely to be expensive Japanese four-by-fours owned by the United Nations or jeeps and armored cars belonging international peacekeepers who enforce a fragile calm over Kabul.
Through the decades of turmoil, Tahir and his men have donned their uniforms and manned their traffic cones, serving at times as rare reminders of civil decorum, no matter how tattered, in a world slipping into anarchy.
``Traffic police have no link to politics,'' said Tahir, standing at his post one afternoon in western Kabul, the most devastated section of a smashed city. ``We merely provide a service to society.''
Tahir's service began 23 years ago, the same year Russian troops rolled into Afghanistan in support of an allied communist regime.
He recalls with pride how on New Year's Eve, as the invasion was under way, he stopped a column of 50 Russian tanks from driving through the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif.
``I told them to drive around to avoid messing up the decorations,'' Tahir said.
After the Soviet pullout in 1989, former rebel allies proceeded to rocket much of Kabul to dust in what Tahir refers to simply as ``the bad time.''
``Everyone had weapons and they just blew right past the police,'' he said. ``They'd go the wrong way down a one-way street, however they liked.''
Since a U.S.-led coalition drove the hardline Taliban from power in late 2001, the traffic police are busier than ever writing tickets, registering vehicles and keeping order on the traffic-clogged, bombed-out roads that still lack working traffic lights or even lane dividers.
Around Tahir's traffic circle swirls a motley, honking parade of passenger buses painted in greens and yellows, second-hand Japanese-made sedans, creaky taxis and horse carts all seeming on the verge of colliding before slipping past each other by a hair's breadth.
Kabul's brittle peace has brought an explosion in the number of vehicles, most bought second-hand overseas. Some have steering wheels on the right, others on the left.
The Kabul government recently began restricting the number of new taxis and is trying to move car dealerships to the city's outskirts to reroute out-of-town traffic. Other cities have suffered similar growth in traffic.
Roads are narrow, rutted and divided by jagged chunks of stone and concrete. Parking is anywhere you find it, except where armed men shoo drivers away from military and government installations.
Drivers are different too, Tahir says.
``People used to take tests. They knew how to drive and they obeyed the rules. But now a lot of people just pay the money and drive however they like,'' said Tahir, who claims to be 48 but has gray hair and a deeply lined face.
As if on cue, a sedan skidded to a stop for a pedestrian just yards away, drawing only looks from the policemen.
``It's difficult, but we've basically got things under control,'' Tahir added. ``We still get respect.''
A colleague disagreed. ``We can't do anything if it's a powerful person involved. They're their own law,'' he said.
Still, Tahir says he's proud of his contribution and sees brighter days ahead for Afghanistan. He even hopes one of his nine children will follow him into the job, he says.
``This is work that helps society,'' he said. ``It is worthy of respect.''
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